Teenage Fanclub don't do the immediate hit-making gratification thing like they used to, but that's because Man-Made finds the Scottish power-pop icons gently prompting the rest of us to look forward, not back. It's a serious request, considering the timeless perfection of principal songwriters Norman Blake, Gerard Love, and Raymond McGinley's soaring post-Byrds harmonies and smart guitarmonies on everything from Bandwagonesque to Grand Prix. The band's new focus certainly isn't on explosive hooks and broad dynamics anymore, nor is it on some brash, academic Midwestern experimentalism kick—but that's not to say that Man-Made is a total snooze. It's just a very linear record. Recorded and mixed by Tortoise's John McEntire, the album's 12 neatly packaged songs trot forward at a tight, dense, mid-tempo 4/4 gait and tonality that can be equal parts disengaging or soothing, depending on one's dedication. "Only with You" is an oddball example of the band's pass at classicist noir pop, and "Cells" builds on a lyrical theme of growing old, passing away, and decomposing. Man-Made's gently cohesive, newfound sonic cleanliness doesn't make for the same kind of listen that a fan looking for the Big Star within is probably yearning for. But screw that. Aside from the excellent perk of radio single/album opener "It's All in My Mind" and the crunchy "Born Under a Good Sign," Man-Made is a delicate, precious thing worth that fifth, seventh, and one-hundredth hopeful listen. JOAN HILLER
Another Day on Earth
Depending on whom you ask, Brian Eno is either the hit-record producer for U2 and Talking Heads, the avant-gardist composer of such landmark ambient works as Music for Airports, or the crackpot pop guy who, upon leaving Roxy Music just as they were poised to be huge, made four of the weirdest, coolest, and most indispensable solo rock records of the glam-rock era. This last conception has always carried the most weight with me, because those four records—Here Come the Warm Jets, Before and After Science, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), and Another Green World—represent an entire cosmology of songwriting and sound building, followed immediately by a sharp left turn into musical territory that all but abandoned the great progress that had led up to it. If the premise of such a career change is that the artist feels like he's exhausted the possibilities of his original style, Eno's almost total abandonment of song-based music has been all the more painful. Regardless of the merits of his ambient adventures or the global hit records he's been producing all along, it's easy to feel like Eno—the real Eno, the feather-boa-adorned bedroom pop star—has been in total seclusion for 30 years.
His new album, Another Day on Earth, is sort of a cold splash of water in that regard. It's a solo record, with songs that he wrote and that he sings and plays most of the instruments on, and while the abstracty lyrics and vocal tone haven't really changed (at the very least, it's great to hear him singing again), there's no mistaking the Brian Eno of 2005 for his mid-'70s counterpart. The textures here are soothing (as opposed to exciting), the songs languid (as opposed to nervous), and the sounds, while obviously painstakingly constructed, hint at a combination of digital plug-ins (as opposed to anything else). It's obviously totally unfair to expect an artist to cling to a style or an identity or even a set of tools, especially through the long passage of time. And when you consider the work being done by Eno's contemporaries (consider Todd Rundgren's last several records), things could be much worse. But then again, when you give people 30 years to wonder when you're going to follow up your best work, you can hardly blame them for wondering what happened. SEAN NELSON
Kill Rock Stars Video Fanzine 2005
(Kill Rock Stars)
Dear punk rock, you're the closest thing I've got to a brother. But I forget. And I'm sorry. It's things like this, KRS's video comp, that bring me back and make me remember why so many people are punk por vida. Footage of kids passionately air drumming at a (surprisingly well-filmed) Unwound show! Semiautomatic's live vid intercut with shots of dogs pissing on lawn chairs! Mecca Normal employing "psychedelic" junior-high '80s camcorder editing effects and making it look like high-grade FUN! The seething, unabashed violence of Born Against's live set! Hella as ragdolls! These are all things that make me feel very good about life, and about punk, and totally make up for the fact that Quix*o*tic's segment was a phoned-in snooze, and that the Gossip's saucy, fire-spittin' video shoulda been 10 hundred hours longer. ADAM GNADE
THE JUAN MACLEAN
Less Than Human
Guitarist/synthesist John Maclean spent the '90s helping Six Finger Satellite sound ahead of their time. The Rhode Island group fused Chrome's distortion and aggression to DAF's rhythmic pummel. In the process, 6FS foreshadowed the recent influx of mechanized '80s dance music infiltrating today's underground; too bad 6FS split before they could reap any rewards. (Trivia note: Former 6FS live soundman and producer of the band's final album, Law of Ruins, is LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, who co-runs DFA. Good karma in action.)
Reborn as DFA solo artist the Juan Maclean, this New Hampshire-based producer continues to show love for the affectless, stiff-limbed dance music that made the Reagan era somewhat bearable. However, the menacing overtones that marked 6FS largely have dissipated into club-friendly, retro-futurist robotica. In his detailed press notes, Maclean admits to being a suicidal ex-druggie, but Less Than Human contains glimmers of optimism—sonically, at least—that suggest though he'll never attain the bliss of being an automaton, he just may be able to find consolation in warped synth tones, Konk-like disco funk, and swirling, spacey fantasias. Less Than Human is a solid debut, but, as with LCD Soundsystem, the Juan Maclean's preceding singles packed a more potent punch than does this debut full-length. Maybe Maclean could use more angst... DAVE SEGAL
Girls with Glasses
Dorothy Parker once observed, "Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses." But if Partyline's Girls with Glasses is any indication, specs-sporting ladies are better off on their own anyway. After all, the debut finds the Washington, D.C. trio—singer and professional shit-talker Allison Wolfe, guitarist Angela Melkisethian, and drummer Crystal Bradley—throwing a garage-punk party that's far more fun than anything their male counterparts in D.C. are doing these days. Recorded by Chris Touchton (Da Hawnay Troof, XBXRX), the six-song EP brims with the sort of DIY feminism and hilariously smart-assy rhetoric that Wolfe previously brought to her brilliant riot-grrrl bands Bratmobile and Cold Cold Hearts. Just don't assume Partyline is Wolfe's same ol' shtick: Despite the opening "Unsafe at Any Speed," an anti-Nader anthem that should've been a rallying cry for the DNC last fall, here she's less about taking to task dumbshit guys than big-upping her own band. She's also celebrating smart women on danceable, wonderfully rudimentary songs like "No Romantic" and "Nuthaus." Still, the band's MO may be best summed up in their cover of Nikki and the Corvettes' "Girls Like Me," when Wolfe joyously exclaims, "Girls like me were born to rock 'n' roll!"—especially the ones with glasses. JIMMY DRAPER
The Glasgow School
Attention aspiring hipsters: Here's another obscure band for you to champion for major cred points. Orange Juice emerged in the late '70s and became a crucial cog in the little-known trendlet known as the Young Sound of Scotland. Led by future pop star Edwyn "A Girl Like You" Collins, Orange Juice crafted literate, witty songs that jangled and spangled with brash insouciance. Like many worthy groups before them, they faded into obscurity, but Orange Juice also inspired bands like Franz Ferdinand, Belle & Sebastian, and Teenage Fanclub. The time's ripe for an Orange Juice retrospective.
The Glasgow School wisely focuses on Orange Juice's early output. The quartet specialized in self-deprecating yet sprightly tableaux of heartbreak and brief, illusory glimpses of romantic triumph. (The rousing chorus to "Consolation Prize" goes, "I'll never be man enough for you.") OJ's songs are typically effusive yet never excessively so, because disappointment always looms in songwriters Collins and James Kirk's worlds. This is epitomized by "Love Sick," which evokes the headlong, palpitating adrenaline rush of the title condition, even as Collins sings, "sorry to mope, but it's what I do best." Another highlight is "Simply Thrilled Honey," a pop song with the intricate beauty of a lace doily and the scrappy energy of a young soccer player. With guitars as tartly sweet as the band's liquid namesake, Orange Juice distilled Velvet Underground/Talking Heads jangle and recessive soul genes into a distinctively charming brand of underdog pop. DAVE SEGAL
To Sur with Love
Graves' indie-gorgeous, summery sleep-pop brought Greg Olin some popular acclaim for last year's Yes Yes Okay Okay. To Sur with Love is a collection of 13 tracks recorded over the last four years, and it runs in the same vein: laid-back, dreamy, and occasionally jump-started by an alert drumline. However, I disagree with some of the superlative claims ladled on Graves—old music review stand-bys like "pleasantly disarming," etc.—nor did I find the lyrics particularly inspired, evocative, or clever. As a generalist, I would seat Graves in the somnambulant, sensitive-chic box—the kind of pillowy-soft noise-making that makes indie girls wet their panties. Exhibit A is a descriptive quote from Hush Records' website: "Olin makes music in the same way a person would do yoga. It is a practice." Ugh. To his credit, Olin occasionally pierces the surface with an eye-opening phrase, melody, or a messy sample. Sur is at its best in these moments. EVAN JAMES
Illuminated by the Light
It can be an agonizing crossroads when a musician that has provided you with years of reliable joy begins to challenge your comfortable preconceptions—the sort of trial brought on by sonic dabblings, a slight slipping of standards, or just plain ol' jumping the shark. It's a crossroads, like any relationship, that can result in either a severing of ties or a strengthening of the bond. For most fans of Ian Svenonius, that crossroads came with the dissolution of the Make-Up, and the subsequent formation of Weird War (briefly called Scene Creamers, and then Weird War again. I know, it's confusing). The Make-Up (and before them, Svenonius' Nation of Ulysses) were a brilliantly conceived, completely self-contained rock idea as much as they were a band—their music as specific and singular as their brilliant self-mythology. Weird War (featuring Make-Up mate Michelle Mae and Six Finger Satellite's Alex Minoff), in contrast, seem more like musical dilettantes, approaching each release with a muddy sort of stylistic dabbling—from the shredding MC5-isms of 2003's I Suck On That Emotion to the psychedelic white funk of 2004's If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em.
With Illuminated, the War dip a toe into the fading vogue of T. Rex-ian glam—albeit with considerably more success than most contemporaries. Not the best Weird War record (and certainly not the worst), Illuminated probably won't realign anyone who has fallen off of the Svenonius bandwagon—but it is solid enough to keep hope alive for the rest of us. Through it all, Svenonius remains one of punk's most inspired frontmen, but Weird War's shiftless experiments have never completely lived up to his promise. ZAC PENNINGTON
★★★★ Burbank Airport ★★★ Portland Airport ★★ Oakland Airport ★ Sea-Tac Airport