Friday, April 27, 2007

Nathan Oliver

Nathan Oliver:
"Black Ship White Sails"
"No Name"
(from Nathan Oliver 2007. Buy it here.)
My Space :: ReverbNation

Nathan Oliver's self-titled debut CD is a little gem of well-crafted, folkish pop songs. UNC dental student Nathan White enlisted a fine cast of musicians to flesh out his creations, including Lee Waters (Work Clothes), Matt McCaughan (him again -- Rosebuds, Portastatic, etc), and the production skills of Zeno Gill.

I'm not sure that the dental student thing is that relevant to the music, but I suppose that spending that much time staring into people's mouths might twist your perspective a bit. And there is something pleasingly off-center about this album, from the sonic quirks that make this more than generic guy-with-guitar rock (I guess that's viola on "Black Ship White Sails"?) to the obscurely dark tone of the lyrics. White ranges from quiet, acoustic numbers like "Sleep Song" -- mainly guitar, but still there's a noise in the background that complicates things -- to straight-ahead rockers like "Greys and Blacks". In between, he nods to the Violent Femmes ("Old Slow Poke") and reimagines the Ace of Base song "All That She Wants" in a bleakly haunting manner. But amidst all this, White has some lovely pop songs, and the two numbers that I'm featuring highlight that craft.

Nathan Oliver plays Sunday night (4/29) at the Cave in Chapel Hill, opening for the Trolleyvox. They don't have any more shows on their calendar after that, so check them out now!


Monday, April 23, 2007

The Rosebuds: Night of the Furies

The Rosebuds:
"Get Up Get Out"
"I Better Run"
(from Night of the Furies 2007. Buy/download)

I've been giving the new Rosebuds music time to sink in before I say anything about it. It's quite a departure from their previous albums, most easily glossed as "Rosebuds-go-new-wave". Given my real fondness for their prior output, I felt like I owed them more than my initial, knee-jerk "I don't like this" response. So I've listened to it plenty, and thought about it a lot. I've come to see some good things about it, but it's still not really doing much for me.

There are certainly some continuities here. Ivan Howard still has a knack for melody and nice bits of la-la-la/ooohhh-ahhh. The lyrics and overall tone carry on the darker vein the band had opened up on Birds Make Good Neighbors. Really, I think the lyrics are pretty interesting -- the overall album has a sort of Southern Gothic/Faulkneresque feel to it, with the relentless pull of grim fate hanging over the proceedings.

But earlier Rosebuds albums bounced along with a charming casual energy -- Ivan's jangly guitar, Kelly Crisp's organ, shuffling drums -- and an overall organic feel. Night of the Furies, on the other hand, is dominated by 80s synth patches and drums that are either programmed or processed so much they might as well be. Bass is far more prominent, and the guitar is pulled way back. A few changes are welcome -- it's good to hear Kelly taking more lead vocals, and the occasional touches of piano are nice -- but on the whole, the production just doesn't work for me.

And I do think it's the production more than the songs themselves, which as I noted above, have strong lyrics and a good melodic core. I wish this version was a remix album and I could hear the originals. Failing that, I suspect that they open up a bit live, especially with a fine drummer like Matt McCaughan on board. There are some live performances from SXSW here and a video here (via Scan) that seem to confirm this idea.

I'd like to think my reaction is more than simple rockism or reactionary change-is-bad sentiments. Maybe it's a bit of both, since I do feel like the production puts what could be some compelling songs at a bit of an emotional reserve, and I keep trying to imagine what they would sound like as "old-school Rosebuds songs". Maybe I'm just wrong -- Night of the Furies seems to be pretty well-received in most quarters -- but to my ears, this is a misstep by a good band. I'll definitely be looking to see what happens next.

Update 5/4: This review gets at a lot of what I was trying to say, in a much more articulate manner. Thanks Robbie!


Friday, April 06, 2007

Callum Robbins Benefit at BCHQ on Saturday

Fin Fang Foom: "In Harm's Way" (from With the Gift Comes the Curse 2005. Buy/download)
Red Collar: "Used Guitars" (from The Hands Up EP 2007. Buy/download)
Caltrop: "Dr. Motherfucker" (from Caltrop 2006. Buy)

There's a couple of good causes you can support by attending this show tomorrow night. First of all, you can help a cool fledgling performance space in Durham, Bull City HQ, get off the ground. It's great to see a grass-roots place like this spring up, and I certainly hope they can make a go of it. (Especially in light of this fascinating discussion and the closure of a couple of fine venues in Raleigh lately.) They could use a good turnout.

This show in particular is a benefit for Callum Robbins, the fifteen-month-old son of "DC punk rock icon, J. Robbins", who was has a brutal disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. I don't really know Robbins' work in bands like Gvmt Issue, Jawbox, and Channels, but I have kids, and thus huge sympathy for parents dealing with such a serious -- and expensive -- problem. This show is part of a much wider effort to help support Callum, and you can certainly make a direct donation, but seeing this show would be a great way to kick in as well.

So, the music: I've said my piece about Red Collar before. They are great -- don't miss their tour blog for some interesting thoughts about the SXSW experience. I don't know the other bands well at all, but Fin Fang Foom (MySpace/ReverbNation) seems to do some interesting, moody post-punk/math rock stuff. I think the title of their 2001 release Texture, Structure, and the Conditions of Mood is pretty evocative, though the little that I've heard of their later work sounds a little less raucous and thus (to me) a bit more interesting. I'll have to investigate further. Caltrop puts out some complex metallic rock that's more interested in being heavy than being fast. Red Collar's probably the odd man out here -- they are far more straight-ahead rock than the other two -- but there's definitely some interesting music on tap. Suggested donation $5; starts at 8; 723 N. Mangum, Durham.

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