The New Year EP
(Magic Marker Records)
Dear Nora won my immediate devotion with their sweet, straightforward, melancholy pop, and the gentle harmonies between singer/guitarist Katy Davidson and singer/drummer Marianna Ritchey. While Dear Nora's essential two-part vocal sound is maintained in these eight-track recordings, it's credited as a solo effort. Ritchey isn't listed as a participant on the album, and Davidson's simple, clever songwriting that shone so bright in last year's We'll Have a Time seems unfinished and slightly less inspired. A tea kettle whistles through an awkward and lengthy introduction to "How It Changed the Town," a touchingly naïve tune about the changing colors of the leaves and the passage of time in a small town--a song I found incredibly moving during their live performance. On tape it feels distracted and noncommittal, and most of the other songs feel more like an exercise. If you expect a collection of doodles and rough experiments, you won't feel let down--but I didn't, and I do. CORIANTON HALE
Send Me a Lullaby
Spring Hill Fair
(Jet Set Records)
"The Go-Betweens are a three-piece who indulge in an amazingly perverse brand of pop music. They don't possess a grain of escapism between them and share an acid sense of the absurd. They give us a foggy message which is undoubtedly dark and subliminal, bittersweet but satisfying."
The lines above come from a 1981 review of Send Me a Lullaby, the Go-Betweens debut reissued this month (along with albums two and three) on Jet Set Records. While I don't make a habit of quoting other reviews in my own, this prehistoric summation captures the Australian band's elusive essence so perfectly it could be the epitaph on their tombstone.
Even more impressive is this early reviewer's near-psychic ability to suss out such particulars from the Go-Betweens' debut. By all accounts (including the band's), 1981's Send Me a Lullaby is the tip of the Go-Betweens' iceberg, displaying a roughness the band would soon leave behind for good. Still, Lullaby scores as an invaluable portrait of the artist as a young band, boasting a handful of songs that rank with the band's best (most notably the brilliantly elliptical "It Could Be Anyone").
With 1983's Before Hollywood the Go-Betweens hit their singularly perverse stride. No description of the band is complete without the word "difficult," but let me elaborate. The Go-Betweens aren't Trout Mask Replica difficult, they're Steely Dan-meets-Gang of Four-meets-Cole Porter difficult. This is beautiful, complex pop made by smart, subtle, demanding artists, but don't fret: Every ounce of attentiveness the Go-Betweens require of their listeners is repaid with a beauty available nowhere else.
For fans of brainy, literate pop, both Before Hollywood and 1984's Spring Hill Fair are must-owns. Hollywood captures the band at its most delicate, twirling around in ballet slippers with poisoned points, while Spring Hill Fair (released when the band was a four-piece) stomps around in steel-toed boots, with harder guitars, pub-chant choruses, and a lead-off track (the impossibly gorgeous "Bachelor Kisses") that throws what follows into stark relief. For those of you lucky enough to already own the G-B oeuvre, each of these re-releases comes with a bonus disc of rarities. Go forth and prosper. DAVID SCHMADER
YEEK YAK AIR FORCE
Yeek Yak Air Force
It's true that Yeek Yak Air Force's debut full-length (produced with typical sensitivity by Phil Ek of Built to Spill fame) is yet another sonic offering of pretty-ugly indie rock in Seattle style du jour. But what lofts it airily above that greasy hipster fray is the raw, unabashed, nearly operatic emotionalism of singer/songwriter/bass player Ollie Byrd. If I close my eyes, I cannot help but picture him wearing a horned headdress, gesturing from the mouth of a dark cave as he wails obscurely about "Lightning Bugs," "Scuba Gear," and "Midnight Bowling in Renton." Oh, how dearly he wants us to understand him! But oh, how maddeningly obscure his motives remain. Driven by a rumbling bass and lightened by the shimmer of cymbals, this complex, anthemic rock is heartfelt without being hysterical, and funny without being fey. Yeek Yak Air Force makes the kind of intensely personal music that may never reveal its secrets fully, but with continued listening it will surely make you revel in its perplexing mystery. TAMARA PARIS
Yeek Yak Air Force play w/Hate Mail Express, the Dutch Flat, and Ana Oxygen on Thurs Aug 8 at Graceland.