Issue December 11, 2007

CD Reviews: 12-07

Electric Western
Yardsale
(SELF-RELEASED)

Until now, Louisville’s Yardsale has been something of a chameleon. It has seen a number of different lineups and has released everything from weird indie pop to alt-country to punk — sometimes all on the same album. But Yardsale seems to have found its center on its third release, Electric Western.
This is a collection of mostly low-key country and pop tunes that ponder life and relationships, with the last song fittingly, albeit gloomily, looking toward the afterlife. Tunesmith Kirk Kiefer is in especially fine form on the softer, acoustic-based “While She Sleeps” and tongue-in-cheek “Kari I Know” (take note, “Mythbusters” fans), and he finds his inner Mike Nesmith in the stomping opener, “Standing Here.”
Western’s signature is a conspicuous pedal steel that inhabits most of the tunes like a ghost, setting an unlikely but unforgettable mood for the proceedings. Perhaps that’s the sound of Yardsale finding the identity it’s been looking for. Yardsale celebrates its CD release this Friday, Dec. 14, at the Pour Haus (1481 S. Shelby St., 637-9611). —Kevin Gibson

Soap and Water
Chuck Prophet
(YEP ROC)

There is not a better-preserved 43-year-old than Chuck Prophet. This is simultaneously a massive compliment and a huge slam. From the portrait on the cover (shaggy haircut, trendy sneakers) of the jacket to his lyrical themes (naked girls, break-ups), Prophet exudes a distinct “kid with a guitar” air. The man has managed to stay 20 years old forever.
As helpful as I’m sure this must be in the dating department, I can’t help but feel that Chuck ought to have more to show for his two-plus decades in the music business.
A life-long musician, he’s recorded with a multitude of iconic rock stars and has more than a dozen albums. Frankly, with that history, he should be bringing more to the table than mere technical competence. Soap and Water is the album that a fresh-faced Jason Mraz character would make. It’s not bad music, it just displays a complete lack of experience. If Battle of the Bands winner was the image he was trying to project, he nailed it perfectly. —Kirsten Schofield

At The Poles
Seven Storey Mountain
(THICK RECORDS)

Well-done, aggressive post-punk that channels some strong spirits. Think Wire, Gang Of Four or Killing Joke by way of Fugazi and Jesus Lizard, and you’ll be in the same zip code.
Seven Storey Mountain hail from Arizona and this, their third LP in 10 years, is a nicely dissonant slice of well-throttled guitars, angular grooves and melodic vocals that aren’t adverse to lung-shredding punishment if the song so requires.
“Take The Lead” is a top choice, with its subtle, circular guitar pattern giving way to a driving chorus that reminds me of Chicago punk legends Naked Raygun. But maybe that’s just the vocals of main belter (and producer) Lance Lammers. He rises above this comparison in the oddly shaped but potent “Sinking In,” or the grimy “Elevator.” The latter begins with a confounding, Lizard-esque riff attack, then evolves into a sing-along punk number. A nice touch.
“Take The Lead” is a fairly accessible song, and perhaps the best choice for a single with its muscular and reasonably straightforward delivery. “Sweet Forty-Nine” is packed with noise and intensity, but it’s a slow-building, tense attack, with a raved-up chorus and rolling drums. At The Poles is a finely-crafted, albeit brief (31-minute) set of tunes that are punchy and dynamic. They bring back a time when Touch & Go ruled college radio, and weird noise-rock was nothing to be ashamed of. —Todd Zachritz

Only Trying to Help
Ryan Ferguson
(BETTER LOOKING)

I admit I had to listen to Only Trying to Help five times before I liked it, but eventually it grew on me. Ferguson, a San Diego native whose work you may know from his previous band, No Knife, has put together an album of engaging California surfer power pop with blatant touches of The Flaming Lips (that said, the song “In the Sea” is one of the disc’s best offerings).
No Knife’s sugary punkness was entirely forgettable, so it’s good to see that Ferguson is more musically sophisticated these days. Not all the songs here are strong, though, and as often as not, end up relegated to “doesn’t interfere with my sitting here at the computer paying my bills” status.
But then along comes a sweet little song like “Must Be Friday Night,” and my attention is put right into Ryan’s pocket and stays there ’til the last chord is struck.
However, freed again, this not-so-bad little record that took a while to grow on me is all too easily washed off. —L. Park

Getback
Little Brother
(ABB)

North Carolina’s Little Brother returns for their third full-length, minus producer 9th Wonder, and it’s their best yet.
This is easily one of my favorite hip-hop albums this year. Phonte Coleman and Rapper Big Pooh don’t seem to miss 9th, with production by Illmind, Khrysis, Hi Tek and more, with one 9th Wonder production.
Lead single “Good Clothes” is an ode to the fashions and friendly retail hookups of the early ’90s. When was the last time you heard a song name-check J. Riggings? Phonte and Pooh do a great job of balancing the grown-and-mature talk with that little taste of ig’nunt shit we all do.
Check the closing to “After the Party” for the self vs. conscience debate as the club closes:
This is the last call, for the jump-off express
All potential passengers please leave your pride and dignity in the parking lot
And come holla at the ***** in the red ’93 Civic
One deluxe pass on the jump off express gets you
One meal at the 24-hour restaurant of your choice
Followed by 15 minutes of passion on my momma futon
Those with self-esteem need not apply
Little Brother has made a classic. —Damien McPherson

I Was Born In Louisiana
Harmonica Red and the New Heard
(PAID)

I must say it: Just like Harry Potter, who did not choose the wand but instead the wand chose him, such is the case with George R. Heard. The Lee Oskar harmonica has clearly chosen Heard, and he has bowed and surrendered beyond any sublime expectation.
Performing all lead vocals throughout this album, breaking only to manhandle two and three diatonic harmonicas at a time, Heard and his crew bequeath their substantial following — and those of us who are new to their scene, an amalgam of downright fine stuff.
Little could top belonging to a musical genre titled Cajun swamp rock, unless it’s being physically present at one of its shows. I’ve seen my share of Cajun shows, and although I have not yet been indoctrinated to the teachings of Harmonica Red, I feel the surge up my spine upon simply listening to the CD.
At high volume, of course. —Michelle Manker

Hands Across the Void
Tiny Vipers
(SUB POP)

Sub Pop’s website helpfully describes this album by Seattle-based singer and guitarist Jesy Fortino as Tiny Vipers as “acoustic/goth.”
Fortino is a guitarist seemingly more inspired by the ambient textures of John Fahey and British psych influences that have inspired fellow “goths” Current 93, than by anyone else more interested in catchy pop hooks.
Without any other musicians around, there is a constant sparseness to the songs on Void that can often leave one wanting more. Perhaps, for example, a more pleasing voice to help make the crazy go down easier. Fortino’s voice is similar to, but not as horrifyingly atonal — sorry, “artful” — as Joanna Newsom’s. When she stumbles onto a catchy verse, in the song “Swastika,” no less, it goes away quickly.
In an 11-minute song performed by her alone (could she be a Jandek fan?), it requires more patience than usual. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. Except when it is. —Peter Berkowitz

I’m Not There soundtrack
Various Artists
(COLUMBIA)

This is better than it probably should have been. A double disc of Bob Dylan covers that supports a film in which six different actors portray Dylan could prove to be as spotty as, say, Bob’s output in the ’80s.
To the producers’ credit, none of the selections smacks of overt commercialism. Part of the saving grace can be granted to the album’s continuity. Calexico provides support for a handful of artists, including Jim James, Willie Nelson and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The “house band,” dubbed The Million Dollar Bashers, features Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley, Tom Verlaine and Smokey Hormel.
Mira Billotte’s rendition of “As I Went Out One Morning” deserves repeated listens, as does Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s dignified version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” The aforementioned Gainsbourg stops the proceedings absolutely dead. I mean, I’d wager that if you put a mirror under her nose, it would register no condensation. Why anyone so talented would affect such an annoying vocal delivery is beyond me. The only other glaring disappointments are John Doe’s rather phoned-in performances and Antony & the Johnsons’ choice of the overdone “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” I would much rather have heard him croon “Sweetheart Like You.” —Michael Steiger