Friday, March 30, 2007

Don Dixon

Don Dixon:
(from The Entire Combustible World in One Small Room 2006. Buy/download)

Don Dixon has a long history of involvement with great southern rock music. In the 1970s, he was a member of Arrogance, probably the first of North Carolina's should-have-made-it-big bands (and mentioned in just about the first post I ever wrote, though I didn't know much about them back then). Subsequently, he produced R.E.M.'s Murmur with Mitch Easter, and worked on other records in that vein by Chris Stamey and others. He also released a couple of well-regarded pop albums in the 80s and 90s.

Last year, Dixon put out his first new recording in a while, The Entire Combustible World in One Small Room. Each of the songs is a slice of life taking place in a single room -- it's less of a concept album than one with a nice device to ground the songwriting and unify something about the point of view. As Dixon notes, "the the rooms are almost characters in the songs" themselves.

Combustible World is full of smart songwriting, and the great production that you'd expect from someone with Dixon's track record. It strikes me as similar to late-80s/early 90s Elvis Costello -- sharply observed songs and interestingly arranged music that covers a pretty diverse range of styles in the course of the album. "Roommate" is one of the most straight-ahead pop-rock songs on the album, the story of a girl who can't really admit to herself that she's fallen in love with her roommate. "ICU" stands out to me since I'm always a sucker for interesting percussion sounds. The album has plenty of other good stuff, including a cover of Let's Active's "Room With A View".

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Noisy Rockshow feat. the Nein, Maple Stave, Sorry About Dresden

The Nein:

"The Vibe" (from Wrath of Circuits 2005. Buy/download)
"Decollage" (from Luxury 2007. Buy/download)
(MySpace :: ReverbNation)

I'm still absorbing Luxury, the latest release from Durham's art-punk quintet the Nein, but since they are part of a great line-up in a free show at Local 506 tonight, it seems like a good time to give them at least a nod. If nothing else, the show should be loud, including not only the Nein, but Maple Stave and a rare appearance by Sorry About Dresden. I saw Maple Stave at Troika last fall -- their recordings don't do justice to the racket they make! But it's not "nothing else", of course, because the guys in Maple Stave have the technical proficiency to pull off their complex songs, and Sorry About Dresden carry on the classic Chapel Hill indie rock tradition in fine style.

I'm still mulling over Luxury, so I don't have a detailed analysis. (Not that I'm ever much of an album-review guy...) Although I'm generally enjoying it, it's a good bit more experimental than Wrath of Circuits, and I haven't been able to give it a close enough listen to work out what I think of this shift. As these reviews note, this time around, the songs were built from the ground up with tape effect/sample guy Dale Flattum on board (rather than grafting his contributions onto already-written songs), which makes for a more varied and ambitious sound. As with most challenging music, its appeal is not as obvious on first listen. We'll see how it shakes out for me in the long run, but hats off to the Nein for pushing their sound in unexpected directions.

I've posted one song from each album, not because they're particularly representative of either one -- they're not at all, really. But they do sum up something about the difference between the two. In one sense, they are similar to each other, with some spacey sound effects and great pounding percussion. But "Decollage" is more out-there, walking the edge of falling apart.

I've been experimenting with my Reverb Nation account a little bit this week. As a music-oriented social networking site, they have MySpace beat badly in terms of technology and general experience. I suppose the main "drawback" is that you can't customize the appearance of your page, but given the nasty layouts so common on MySpace, I'm not so sure this is a negative at all. In any case, one thing you can do is assemble a mix from various artists and plug it into your own site. So here's a sampler of the various bands at Local 506 tonight -- you can download most of them for yourself if you go to Reverb Nation.

The Oak Room

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Crunchy power pop from Stratocruiser

"Starched White Shirt" (from Revolutions 2006. Buy/download.)

Not a lot of time for posting this week, but I'm committed to keeping this thing rolling. So let me just say that I've been really enjoying Revolutions, the recent release from Chapel Hill's power pop/classic rock quartet Stratocruiser. While I question the necessity of their Led Zep cover, their originals carry on in a fine Cheap Trick-T Rex vein. Great for air guitar! I'll offer up one song here; you can listen to a few more on their MySpace page.

Also: shows to see this weekend: On Friday, the Rock for a Cure show at Broad Street Cafe featuring Red Collar (great show last week, guys!), Can Joann, The Relatively Calm, Saunter, and Jeff Crawford. On Saturday, the grand opening of Bull City HQ, featuring Dead Elephant Bicycle, the Future Kings of Nowhere, Beloved Binge, Eberhardt, and Mandarin Dynasty. (Chaz has to be Durham's MVP this year -- great record store, key Troika guy, and now spearheading this new performance space. Great work!) Wish I had time to say more about these, but perhaps I'll come back to some of these bands soon.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Red Collar EP release

Red Collar:
"Used Guitars" (from The Hands Up EP 2007. Buy/download)

There's a lot of good stuff happening for Durham's Red Collar. They've put out a great EP on 307 Knox and have a release show this Friday at 305 South. Even better, they got a slot at the Reverbnation showcase at SXSW later in the month. Couldn't happen to nicer folks.

The EP features two songs that the band has had up on MySpace for a while ("Used Guitars" and "Witching Hour") and two that are new (to me) ("Hands Up" and "Stay"). As I've noted earlier, the music is smartened-up punk, and the lyrics are thoughful and sensitive to the plight of folks on the verge of being crushed by forces beyond their control. The disillusion of "Used Guitars" is compelling -- listen to Jason Kutchma spitting "We can't be everything we wanted to be" as the song winds up -- while "Stay" manages to find a glimmer of hope in amidst creditors and auditors. In addition to the well-crafted lyrics, the music is pretty smart as well: "Hands Up" makes the most of a nifty pair of interlocking guitar parts, and the "Stay" gets a jolt from some jumpy odd-time sections.

Grayson Currin gives the EP a thoughtful look in this week's Independent, and the Daily Tar Heel has a nice conversation with the band. (I already thought Jason was pretty cool, but to know that he covered "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?" in a former band takes the cake...)

So, the CD release show at 305 South on Friday is $5, which also gets you a copy of the EP. There's another show at the Broad Street Cafe the following Friday (3/9), a benefit for the Leukemeia and Lymphoma Society. Among others on the bill is Can Joann, a band that carried the promise of the Aiden Grace EP into last year's strong release, Hurt People Hurt People. Here's hoping Red Collar can follow the same trajectory.

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