| Beulah ---The Coast is Never Clear/ Velocette Records
---Reviewed by Catherine Lee
Beulah's CD The Coast Is Never Clear is one of the best cross dressing, transgenre pieces of work that I've heard in the last 6 months. Yeah, it's Indie, but it's actually Pop: lush, crooning, harmonizing, catchy, sing-a-long (pop pop pop) - but yeah, it's Indie. On " A Good Man is Easy to Kill " we get dirty, distorted guitars accessorized with clear, angelic flutes and adorned with horn solos that elevate the mood from Halloween silliness to exhuberant drag-queen fun. Now that's dressing to impress!
"Gene Autrey" is a gem of dark lyrics, "Everybody drowns sad and lonely," against a glittering instrumental smorgasboard that creates a vision of sunny California musically broad enough to include both Californias. The music video for the same song is a captivating animation with exquisite timing and memorable characters which personify the instruments and the odd mythology of California. "Silver Lining" is a pop-indie love song to Punk Rock - irresistable to those of us who say " Punk Rock " with a smile. There's a Pavement mood here, but it sounds like kinship rather than thievery.
Song titles & lyrics are funny, desperate & playful on their own, like "Popular Mechanics for Lovers" & "Gravity's Bringing Us Down". Both musically and lyrically, all tracks inclusive are this fun and this clever; each instrument is genre liberated - from slide guitar to garage detuning, with rhythm players evoking all the tempos and rhythms available to rock, indie, & California influences. I hope Beulah still moniker themselves as a San Francisco band, because their music makes us proud SF citizens.
--- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot / Nonesuch Records
---Reviewed by David Hellman
By now everyone should be familiar with the legend that has followed this album around. Or, take the five-cent tour. Of course legend would also have it that the album so spurned by its original label wound end up being a masterpiece. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Reprise was certainly stupid to dump this album, but this work is also a tad shy of the masterpiece everyone expects it to be.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (YHF) finds its place in the evolution of Wilcos sound. Fortunately it offers a welcome retreat from the wonderful but excessively polished pop of their last album, Summerteeth. Ever since Mr. Tweedy parted company with Uncle Tupelo, Wilco has been fighting against being lumped into the Alt-Country amalgam, which is confining for a band with this much range. YHF is further proof that Wilco wants to change the way they're perceived by the public.
YHF is an experimental effort filled with some truly lovely songs. The first track "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" appears purposely designed to annoy record executives. It's filled with lush but low-fi instrumentation and muddy vocals that just scream out "we're different ". It wouldn't surprise me if this was all the executives had to listen to before making their move.
Oddly enough, despite the effort to be the madmen-at-the-mixing board, this track sets the stage for what turns out to be a psychotically pleasurable piece of craftsmanship. Tracks that beg for repeats include "War on War" with its bouncy tongue in cheek nihilism and "Jesus, etc." a song about loneliness and the need for love. Indeed, most of the songs on YHF are mournful and centered around the loss of innocence and youthful pleasures. Listening to these lyrics, I'm sure that Tweedy and Co. are delusional and dangerous while I'm beguiled by the ability to channel this insanity into Wilco's music. "Heavy Metal Drummer" is disappointing after the dark tension of "Ashes of an American Flag", but the following "I'm the Man Who Loves You" and "Pot Kettle Black" are redemptions which prove no one in this band lost any talent trying to craft a radio single. This may not be the next White Album, and it's not equal to the explosive and creative effort of Being There, but it's definitely worth all of Wilco's efforts and you'll be missing something important if you don't hear this Foxtrot cadence.
Hives --- Veni Vidi Vicious / Burning Heart / Epitaph
---Reviewed by Catherine Lee
The Hives Veni Vidi Viscious is the endorphine button & you will be the lab rat who pushes it repeatedly because it makes you so high - high in the obsessive, addictive way. Wheeeeeee!
When we saw The Hives open for The International Noise Conspiracy in December, 2001 we immediately dropped our jaws & inhibitions - compelled to jump around with joy & wonder to the manic (yet perfectly performed) energy of The Hives Live Show. We had to agree with the smirking yet generous Pelle Almquist as he yowled with magnetic flamboyance, "We're The Hives & we're your favorite new band!".
The CD does not fail. It isn't the live show, but every crashing & succinct drum beat is present, the guitars & vocals perfectly punk yet garage in delivery. Crazy, sputtered & howled singing ride the crest of the music without any sense of limitation or inevitable end. It's clever, witty, or non-sensical - every song a good time with another coming right after it. It's like getting drunk on the first beer, without ever getting too full or sloppy on all the subsequent beers - nearly impossible with beer but made real by The Hives
Veni...V V is oddly familiar, as if you've heard these great songs in the background your whole life but never caught the whole song. It's not disagreeably derivative of the great manics, like Iggy Pop, but rather like descendents of a primal sound - the Howl. If you don't like Veni...V V on the very first listen, then don't bother. For the rest of us, the visceral immediacy jacks right into the marrow to shake the bones.
/ Lost Highway
---Reviewed by B.C. Heathcliff
Pneumonia took so much time (3 years), distribution shuffling and the overwhelming glow of Adams' Heartbreaker that this CD didn't get the rapturous reception it deserved. Pneumonia is why Alt-Country originally earned a separate genre-fication from Country and Indie. The Whiskeytown lyrics are an odd combo of relationships worthy of R.D. Laing (too weird for country) & a working class relationship with "bills to pay" (too dustbowl for slackers). Every song is organic & authentic with a twist on the hard-soft of grunge - songs alternate between open spaces where each instrument or vocal is like a lone kite flying in the sky, to tightly layered and intertwined textures like flames in a fire. The loss of Whiskeytown as a band that plays together will knaw you after you hear this CD.
"Jacksonville Skyline" ("I was born into an abundance of inherited sadness") & "My Hometown" evoke the poetry of poverty with a haunting desperation and resignation about the twin powers of (the paycheck) class and love. "What the Devil Wanted" is the odd one, even avant-garde by Alt-Country standards: sampled record skips and a vintage textured piano, like it's played at the far end of a long wooden hallway, ghosted by Adams' dreamy vocals about wasted time yields an accessible yet dislocated piece that's admirable and likable for different reasons. "Crazy 'Bout You" & "Easy Hearts" are the best moments of Caitlin Cary and Ryan Adams in great Whiskeytown bursts of harmonizing vocals and music. "Don't Wanna Know Why" & "Ballad of Carol Ann" sound and feel like extensions of Strangers Almanac, which I've over played, but now gets a reprieve thanks to a case of Pneumonia.