Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Music to My Ears V
A three-pack of new record reviews!

Choo Choo La Rouge: "Wall to Wall" CD
What if Bob Dylan led Slot Machine instead of John Holkeboer? We might get this rootsy indie rock, ably presented at the Upstairs Lounge not too long ago. Kicking off with the cyclical and distortion-ridden "Cards," which features some excellent plaintive yet positively confident vocals, this seven-song CD makes me appreciate Choo Choo La Rouge's live act even more. They were good at the Kendall Cafe. They were good at the Upstairs. And they're good on record. I do have to make fun of the chorus' "Whoo-hoo"'s as a trite songwriting tactic -- as opposed to Naked Raygun's "Whoa-hey-oh"'s -- but Choo Choo quickly redeems itself with its alt.country via Munly de Hardy ballad "Worse Mistakes." There's a little Johnny Cash, Robyn Hitchcock, and Lemonpeelers in here, and this CD makes it clear why Choo Choo would fit in on any Boston-area indie-pop or alt.country bill; had I known, I would've booked them with Clare Burson and Gloria Deluxe. Now that I do know, it's songs like the Weakerthans via Neutral Milk Hotel-like "Ragged Dick" and the Spoilsport-plus-"A Simple Desultory Phillipic"-era Simon and Garfunkel-styled "Hearsed and Rehearsed" that'll keep this in heavy rotation. Choo Choo puts the alt in alt.country. Sunny bubblegum pop, beat pop, alt.country -- Choo Choo has it all. I even remember "In the End" from the show." Kudos.

Freezepop: "Fashion Impression Function" CD
A tongue-in-cheek but true take on early-'80s synth pop music a la early Depeche Mode, Yaz, Human League, and -- dare I say it? -- the Kitchens of Distinction. It's not so much parody as it is selfless homage, and it's much better than also-Boston-based Lifestyle. Freezepop comprises the Duke of Candied Apples, Liz Enthusiasm, and the "other" Sean T. Drinkwater, wth Duke and Enthusiasm seeming to be the true aficionadoes. "Lazy"'s vocals, courtesy of the dreamy Enthusiasm, remind me of Papas Fritas, which is a nice vocal nod, and the overall vibe is rather sleepy and happily sluggish. The beats aren't overly aggressive, the bleeps and swells are tastefully placed, and these songs could easily be twee pop indie-rock anthems were it not for their couching in Yamaha-fueled synth pop. The male vocals on "Shark Attack" are a nice touch, riffing off of Soft Cell and White Town (a modren reference!). Many of the songs are mixes and remixes by Kodomo, Commodore Vic, and others. There's even an All Your Base Are Belong to Us remix, ably taking Freezepop out of the past and into the future. Again, this is much more than a kitschy return to the past. Freezepop's retro reproductions -- even the Pizzicato Five-like remix by Kodomo -- are honest, earnest, and appreciative kicks in the pant of Synthpop. I'll be listening to this a lot. Robotron vs. K-Rad. Servotron vs. Pracky Pranky. Brilliant. Archenemy Record Co., P.O. Box 802, Boston, MA 02134.

Matters & Dunaway: "Midtech" CD EP
Andre Obin and Thomas Gallagher collaborate on this five-song CD of intelligent dance music that's at times reminiscent of Greyboy and other times reflective of Medeski, Martin & Wood. This music was recorded last fall entirely on a Yamaha MD8, bringing together the best of live performance and sequencing. Surprisingly -- to me -- the pieces are all relatively short -- 3-6 minutes -- which helps my attention span immensely. Bass riffs are a big part of the first two tracks, "Movement" and "Spidercheck," and there's a certain Beastie Boys aspect to Matters & Dunaway's compositions -- I could put in the Beastie's DVD and hear Ad Rock freestyling over much of this -- but for the most part it's rather laid back and just on the edge of ambient ("Honduras" is almost all ambient IDM plus some misleading skronk.). DJ Spooky is invoked as the synths swell and the beats kick in. Overall, impressive. But "Stars in the Lake" is most interesting of all. Be sure to wait for its Trans Am-like opening leading into some Sea and Cake-styled guitar noodling. This track leads me to think that these might be suggestions of songs, but there's enough promise that, given a live band and a little more edge and risk, Matters & Dunaway could be a truly great project worth following.

All three of the above records were purchased at the now-closed Other Music in Cambridge. RIP.

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