wears the trousers magazine


fields plot new single and tour
October 30, 2008, 8:07 pm
Filed under: news, trouser press, where's the gigs | Tags: , , ,

Band’s second album out in March

Anglo–Icelandic relations may be slightly strained of late (on account of them losing millions upon millions of our shiny English pounds), but glamorous Icelandic singer Thorunn Antonia is still very much a part of homegrown indie rockers Fields, who release their eagerly anticipated second album Hollow Mountains (so that’s where they’ve been hiding all our cash) in March next year. Phew!

In fact, you won’t even have to wait that long to reacquaint yourselves with the band’s anthemic brand of guitar pop as they’ve got a new single coming out on December 1st. Recorded on GarageBand, produced by guitarist/co-vocalist Nick Peill and mixed in New York by Chris Zane (Les Savy Fav, The Walkmen), ‘Are You Ready Yet?’ first surfaced back in July alongside another new track, ‘Worst Love’, and proved to be a suitably energetic guitar workout with Thorunn’s girly sweetness once again the perfect foil for Nick’s soaring vocals.

Continue reading



2007 reviews dump: e f

The following reviews were published on our old MySpace blog in 2007.

_______________________________________________________________________

Eisley
Combinations •••½
Rykodisc

Despite the fact that two of their number aren’t yet out of their teens and that their eldest member is just 25 years old, the Texan family affair that is Eisley celebrates its tenth year of existence with the release of Combinations, their second album for major label Warners. One thing is clear right from the outset; it may have only been two short years since their sparkling debut Room Noises charmed its way into the hearts of a predominantly adolescent audience with truckloads of fanciful quirks, but the five DuPree kids are no longer ingénues – the band are growing up fast.

Having taken their name from Mos Eisley, a spaceport in the ‘Star Wars’ films, the band are no strangers to sci-fi and the chance to be produced by ‘Battlestar Galactica’ score composer Richard Gibbs was almost certainly leapt upon – a brave move, sure, but one that has paid some handsome dividends. Though Gibbs occasionally lapses into clichéd territory (the rainfall that fades in and out of ‘If You’re Wondering’ being the number one offender) and the band stick mostly to the safe side, Combinations contains sufficient variety to keep appreciation levels at a near constant high.

The vocals, as ever, are resplendent and glorious; Sherri’s malleable, exquisite soprano mingles with sister Stacy’s slightly deeper tones in a manner recalling a poppier, more widescreen version of ‘90s duo Pooka. Opener ‘Many Funerals’ sees the two trading lines as they flutter and charge over snarling electric guitar, a clear departure from the gentler, more whimsical pop-rock of Room Noises. Themes of death and sci-fi collide on the driving first single ‘Invasion’. Inspired by the Jack Finney novel ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’, its unnervingly catchy indie-pop clatter is accentuated nicely by Eisley’s trademark harmonies, packaged here as an impressively soaring rock vocal.

For the most part Eisley succeed when stepping outside of what has come before. The brilliant ‘Ten Cent Blues’ is a love rival story song that Rilo Kiley would be proud of (“she is cheesy, she is scrawny, with her uncanny styling / I’m teasing, she is pleasing, she just has no wit”), while ‘Come Clean’ is perhaps their most sumptuous, elegant composition to date, the tail end of which is given added oomph by the unexpected arrival of third sister Chauntelle, brother Weston and cousin Garron on backing vocals. The title track is a straight up love song, given a mystical twist, with ‘Taking Control’ and the commanding ‘A Sight To Behold’ also worthy of attention.

Combinations sags a little early on with the side-by-side pairing of ‘Go Away’ and ‘I Could Be There For You’, the former being overly repetitive and the latter excessively bland, but for the most part Eisley pull it off with style. Fans of their debut might miss that album’s more childish and playful elements, but (in the UK at least) compensation arrives in the form of two bonus tracks, ‘Golly Sandra’ and ‘Marvellous Things’, both of which have previously appeared on Eisley EPs. While these more frivolous inclusions could threaten to detract from the album as a whole, the country twang of ‘Golly Sandra’ is at the very least thoroughly enjoyable and the quality of the ‘Alice In Wonderland’-inspired ‘Marvellous Things’ speaks for itself.

Alan Pedder

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Electrelane
No Shouts No Calls •••
Too Pure

No Shouts No Calls is the fourth studio album from the Brighton-based low-fi ladies and, in typical Electrelane fashion, doesn’t deviate far from what has gone before. In fact it doesn’t deviate at all – if there’s one word that best describes this band it’s ‘subtlety’. There are muffled vocals, crunchy guitars, buried organs and the occasional ukulele – nothing sounds clean or polished. But that’s just you’d expect from the band who are forever the queens of understatement.

There’s a sense of greatness about many of the songs, many of which feature a near-orchestral climax, yet impending doom continues to flow through most of the music. Verity Susman’s deadpan vocals do nothing to dispel the air of foreboding that wafts from the organs and fuzzy guitars. Yet this is a funeral dirge with a lift – in a similar vein to the way Arcade Fire rejoice in how bad everything is in the world right now. How appropriate that the mighty Fire have invited Electrelane to support them on their US tour.

As usual the minimalist lyrics are notoriously hard to understand, allowing little insight into the stories behind the angst present in much of the music…unless you listen very carefully. ‘The Greater Times’ is yet another tortured Electrelane lament of unrequited love, continually threatening to break out into a raucous chorus of elation but never quite making it. And with lyrics like “there’s no meaning now” and “I’m tearing down the walls without you”, it’s easy to see why.

It’s also clear that Electrelane will probably never quite shake off the Stereolab comparisons, and there are plenty of nods to their low-fi cousins here. The crescendo-ing organs on ‘Tram 21′ are eventually joined by ghostly backing vocals and the thrashing guitars rage throughout, all making for great background music but tends to lack the punch of something you’d find yourself naturally humming along to. That said, the hauntingly beautiful ‘In Berlin’ has some ‘proper vocals’ as Susman goes all choirgirl and angelically sings to her lover. The usually unintelligible lyrics are ditched in favour of deep felt dedications of love and outpourings of angst, making this a love song to charm even the coldest of hearts.

Elsewhere, ‘Between The Wolf & The Dog’ also threatens to be catchy but retreats into its shell of raucous guitar-distortion jamming, with murmurs of Susman’s voice cooing along with the vaguely ‘80s synth tune buried deep within. It’s subtly brilliant and will no doubt delight the band’s existing fans, but the lack of anything ‘new’ means it’s unlikely to win them any new supporters.

The standout track is without a doubt ‘Cut & Run’ – starting calmly with ukuleles and tambourines and blossoming into yet another love song, with desperate cries for the lover that Susman can’t bear to lose: “It’s the end I need to know / before I have to let you go / just not ready to be alone”. It’s beautifully simple and folk-rock at it’s finest. ‘To The East’ is another fanbase pleaser, an organ-filled, Krautrock-inspired jam, it’s not surprising that this was the album’s first single and not ‘Cut & Run’. This is what Electrelane (and No Shouts No Calls) are really all about.

Sharon Kean

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Trip The Light Fantastic ••
Polydor

Sophie Ellis-Bextor (don’t forget the hyphenation) is an interesting proposition. Starting out in indie band theaudience (don’t forget the lack of space) in the late 1990s, our girl Soph made it common knowledge that she was not so fond of pop and dance music. A few short years and one big musical U-turn later, she scored a #1 hit providing vocals for Spiller’s ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’ (don’t forget the brackets) and went on to churn out two solo albums full of disco-pop stompers that presented her as the ‘du jour’ posh-girl singer with the odd-shaped face. So, was the whole campaign a cynical marketing ploy to capitalise on her unexpected chart success, or was it simply an affectionate deviation to the pure pop sounds she no doubt listened to during her youth? Really, it’s hard to be sure.

Ellis-Bextor’s career somewhat hit the skids when her second, more adult, album Shoot From The Hip failed to rouse much interest and tumbled from the charts almost as quickly as it had appeared. Taking no chances, Trip The Light Fantastic ticks all the appropriate boxes and sets out to guarantee pretty much what you’d expect from someone trying to resurrect her inner popstrel – a careful retreading of the winning Kylie blueprint. Any pop princess worth her salt would scratch out the eyes of her closest competition to get her hands on a Cathy Dennis song, and ‘Catch You’ is a blistering slice of pop confection, with clever lyrics and jaunty choruses. The fee for Dennis must have been too high, however, as the rest of the album flags beneath the weight of cloying, calculated numbers like ‘New York City Lights’ and ‘Today The Sun’s On Us’.

It doesn’t help that Ellis-Bextor seemingly comes from the moon/June/spoon school of songwriting and, unfortunately, lyrics as banal as “I’ve become fond of having you near / the way I’m fond of breathing in air” can’t be improved with the gloss of the world-class, occasionally inventive production. And there are more lyrical gems where that one came from; “every night before I sleep / I hope and pray you’re mine to keep” and “I have been storing all my devotion / it flows like an ocean” helpfully pad out the cringe-inducing moments on offer.

Three albums into her pop career, Ellis-Bextor fails to convince that she is producing the music that she’s genuinely enthused about. Whether this is because of her trademark deadpan delivery (that’s what makes her posh, you see) or the fact that most of the album’s material wouldn’t even make it to the shortlist for Hilary Duff’s next project is not immediately apparent. Pop music is supposed to be jubilant and thrilling, but, with the exception of a few highlights, Trip The Light Fantastic dismally fails to live up to its promise.

It’s a shame, for Sophie surely has it in her to be a true icon, her calculated swagger often reminiscent of a young Debbie Harry. The moments of genius on Trip The Light Fantastic, however, are too few and far between to really recommend it. Maybe one day, Soph (but next time, please, don’t forget the tunes).

Keith Anderson

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dana Falconberry
Paper Sailboat EP ••••
Self-released

Released last year but only recently coming to the attention of Wears The Trousers courtesy of the brilliant emusic.com, Dana Falconberry’s debut solo EP comprises a tantalising sextet of songs of wonderful musicianship and lyrical excellence. From melancholy Gallic folk to ravishingly jaunty, sultry numbers, Falconberry covers it all. Opener ‘My Sweetheart, My Dear’ lulls and cossets you into dreams of balmy nights filled with fireflies and the sighs of fading love. An accordion blusters low in the mix as Falconberry’s mesmerising acoustic plucking wraps around and squeezes you tightly. Then, just as you’re cosying up to it, ‘Leave In The Middle Of The Night’ dances onto the scene like a spontaneous tango in a Mediterranean plaza. Within moments, Falconberry transports us to a velvety, seductive world, albeit one where an edge of sadness is never entirely out of earshot and there’s no time for getting cold feet.

At this point you might expect the magic to stop since EPs so frequently contain two standalone songs coupled with a few hurried afterthoughts. In this case the diamonds continue to sparkle with no rough in sight. If there’s a full-length release of this remarkable quality waiting in the wings, it’ll be stunning. Falconberry clearly has some good friends to call on; the musicians involved in this recording read like a who’s who of independent artists with immense gravitas. There’s Patty Griffin on piano, Luis Guerra on bowed bass and Michael Longoria on percussion, amongst others. Falconberry is the undisputed star of the show, however, with her tender and intelligent lyrics holding each song aloft. As the title track unfolds, letters become vessels, ink begins to run and time moves backwards; it’s a Salvador Dali painting in an aural incarnation.

The Gallic sounds of ‘Sadie’ conjure up a darkly sleepy waltz accompanied by muffled drums, gentle and then discordant clamped vibraphones and stomach-hitting bass notes. Fans of famed whistlers Andrew Bird and Otis Redding will enjoy the song’s atmospheric tweeting coupled with the understated power of Falconberry’s croon. Sadie is a heartbreaking ode of longing and regret, of history and unending space. It’s a fitting closer to an EP that is partly a desolate exploration of emotion and character and partly a hazy riverbank fiesta.

Gem Nethersole

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Feist
The Reminder ••••½
Universal

Canadian chanteuse Leslie Feist is no stranger to the highest of praises. For those with their fingers firmly on the pulse, her name has long been associated with scenesters such as her one-time room-mate Peaches and the multi-talented, multi-guised Gonzales, who featured her heavily throughout his career before helping her to mould her own. Others will be aware of her involvement with Broken Social Scene who, like Feist herself, have gained a huge cult following but evaded mainstream success. For the more casual listener, 2004’s sublime Let It Die (co-written and produced by Gonzales) would have been their first introduction, and after extensive touring of her debut album proper, The Reminder arrives as a weighty demonstration of how much her presence has been missed.

Let It Die was a half originals, half covers collection that provided the ideal playground for her most powerful asset – that astonishing voice. Switching between languages, styles and octaves, her vocal performances were seldom short of breathtaking. The Reminder goes further, cementing Feist’s reputation as a sensitive composer. Here she delivers an impressive catalogue of well-crafted, deceptively brilliant songs, once again working with Gonzales and enlisting outside help from Mocky and UK soul/techno darling Jamie Lidell. The result is an album that seamlessly spans a variety of styles, eras and moods.

Lead single ‘My Moon, My Man’ is regarded by some as her most commercial sounding song to date, but despite its undeniable pop sensibilities it comes snugly wrapped in a thick sultry blanket and effervesces with passion. ‘1234′ is similarly radio-friendly, but still so touching and so completely organic that by no means could her work be seen as ‘sell-out’ or hollow. In interviews, Feist has described the recording process where musicians all taped their parts in a room together (particularly on ‘1234′), letting the sounds bleed between microphones for a warm, collective sound, and this decision breathes real life into the recordings, escaping the often stifling ‘studio’ sound.

Feist rocks the dancefloor harder than ever with tracks like the Nina Simone reworking ‘Sea Lion Woman’, ‘I Feel It All’ and ‘Past In Present’, all of which shimmer with vibrancy and energy. Of course, this being Feist, even these songs contain a touching sentimentality; ‘I Feel It All’ bristles with hope and strength as she boldly declares, “I’ll be the one who breaks my heart.” On the flipside, her vulnerability comes to the fore. ‘The Park’ aches longingly as she sings, “It’s not him who’ll come across the sea to surprise you / not him who will know where in London to find you,” while ‘The Water’ bubbles beautifully and ‘Intuition’ is literally heart-stopping.

For each of The Reminder‘s songs, the judgement of the right production values to tease out the character is impeccable. ‘The Limit To Your Love’ and ‘How My Heart Behaves’ in particular are staggering, the latter aptly ending an album that documents both a triumphant celebration of success and a wistful acknowledgement of weaknesses and failures. Perhaps the running order could use some fine-tuning; just as energy builds into ‘My Moon, My Man’, the drift into ‘The Park’ sombres the tone a touch too soon, but from ‘Sea Lion Woman’ onwards, the chronology of songs is well judged. Also, in a long programme, ‘Brandy Alexander’ pales next to the album’s stronger moments, so possibly some harsher editing could have been exercised.

Minor quibbles aside, The Reminder is a startling piece of work. True to its title, it marks the powerful return of a unique talent and a definite indication that the last thing anyone should ever do is to let this incredible artist slip from their memory.

Rod Thomas

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fields
Everything Last Winter •••
Atlantic

Things you never thought you’d hear in 2007 #1: Kylie’s hairdresser has made an album of baggy-influenced shoegaze folk.

Highly tipped for mainstream success, publicity surrounding Fields has centred on the aforementioned hairdresser (bassist Matty Derham), the striking appearance of co-vocalist and keyboard player Thórunn Antonía (also of The Honeymoon), several well-received EPs and liberal comparisons to My Bloody Valentine. Feedback-phobics can, however, rest assured that Everything Last Winter is a more pastoral affair than its early ‘90s antecedents. While the Anglo-Icelandic four-piece have been heavily influenced by the widescreen soundscapes of shoegaze, their bittersweet, if sometimes winsome, boy-girl vocals nicely offset any guitar noise.

The band are at their best when at their most muscular, however, with opener ‘Song For The Fields’s vocal lines given added body by guitars that recall The Smashing Pumpkins’ more melodic moments. ‘If You Fail We All Fail’ takes them into more avant-garde territory, with distorted vocals and military drumming intertwined round a guitar line reminiscent of M83’s work on Before The Dawn Heals Us. Elsewhere, songs like ‘You Don’t Need This Song (To Fix Your Broken Heart)’ or ‘Skulls & Flesh & More’ seem to echo with the clear-eyed optimism familiar to anyone with a record by Fairport Convention or short-lived ‘70s collective Agincourt in their collection.

Ultimately, though Everything Last Winter is a promising record with a pleasantly wide frame of reference, it leaves the sensation that Fields have not quite succeeded in offsetting their musical debts. Perhaps this can only be expected of a band formed little over a year ago and rushed headlong into recording a full album with little time to turn a distinctive sound into an original voice. Perhaps if the hype pays off enough to buy Fields a year away from the spotlight, they might make the genre-busting record Everything Last Winter could have been. As it is, this album imitates instead of innovates, which is a shame. Watch out for their third album though, because – if the business lets them get that far – it may well prove worth the wait.

Chris McCrudden

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Fiery Furnaces
Widow City ••••½
Thrill Jockey

Five albums into their career, and there’s general blogospheric consensus that The Fiery Furnaces’ duo of sister and brother Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger are undergoing some kind of artistic renaissance. Never having gotten round to listening to any of their past material, though, I have to take Widow City on its own merits, but what merits they are! The band revealed on this album sound (re)invigorated, possessed of sprawling ambition and the restless, inventive energy needed to pull off those conceits.

Having said that, it’s lucky that first impressions are neither indicative nor lasting. ‘The Philadelphia Grand Jury’ opens on a rinkydink drumbeat intercut with 1970s AM radio guitars – a combination that just screams out ‘novelty’ and not one designed to get the juices flowing – but quickly morphs into something far more interesting, a kind of suite where distinct styles of engaging noodling bookend a leftfield pop song about being sentenced to death by the aforementioned good men and true. No, I can’t think of another band who would pen a ditty with a vocal hook as clumsy-sounding as “I hope they notarise my will” either, but hey, it works; and it’s by no means the only time on the album where you’ll find yourself singing along to lyrics that read as though they should never be sung.

In fact, it’s pretty safe to say they should definitely not be sung unless by a vocalist as capable as Eleanor. She’s able to carry off songs like ‘The Philadelphia Grand Jury’, the driving, skittering ‘Navy Nurse’ (hook: “She’s a nurse / she’s open-minded / she’s involved”) or the frantic ‘Uncle Charlie’ where knotted streams of verbiage like “make my wish for the day / no more revenge cobbler, whisky pie / my cheeks were the colour of dead jellyfish / lying on the beach” fly past amidst a whirl of instrumental shards. Impressively the siblings carry it off without sounding either whimsical or affected, but always tuneful and even catchy. The melodies communicate on a far more direct level than the words, which revel in hyper-literate streams of consciousness or picaresque stories. ‘Right By Conquest’, for example, may be a conversation between a conquering lord and his underling, or it could be an oblique ode to a promised seduction.

It makes perfect sense that Eleanor’s foil in the Furnaces’ musical crucible is her brother, as the instrumental backdrops he creates are incredibly sympathetic to the character of her voice and words. It’s a parallel universe they inhabit, but without the preciousness of, say, CocoRosie; within their baroque arrangements beats a heart of pure pop. Even though the main melody in ‘The Old Hag Is Sleeping’ is built from children’s laughter, whistles, accordions and static, the song sets out at a joyful lope, declaiming its story of a wife spurned with a rueful grin.

I’ve been listening to this album for a week now and it feels like I’ve only scratched the surface of what these 16 songs have to offer. The Furnaces’ back catalogue now waits tantalisingly in my future, but for now Widow City is an absolute triumph that’s plenty to be getting along with.

Adam Smith

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lily Fraser
Shadow Walking ••••
Self-released

And the winner of the 2007 Grammy Award for ‘Best Opening Line On A Debut Album is…Lily Fraser! It’s a real category, honest, I checked. And with “I’ve got fear of housewives / of patient mothers and quiet lives / I’ve got fear of disappearing / of engineering my own demise,” Shadow Walking is a shoe-in! Better than that, the slightly unhinged, eyelid-twitching sentiment expressed in the lyric perfectly sets the scene for the dozen tracks to come. The whole album is shot through with a barely restrained mania that threatens at any moment to brandish a carving knife and whip out a bunny-filled saucepan.

Several the tracks on Shadow Walking also appear on Fraser’s previous, self-titled CD, but that was in many ways more of an extended demo than a true album. Here, they are presented in a slightly more restrained mood – just a touch of brilliantly demented energy. And this just serves to underline the ominous and brooding undercurrent that runs through them like a seam of black rock, a creepily satisfying bed on which to lay the angels-and-demons vocal delivery. Fraser expresses her psychodramas like a pro, sweeping effortlessly between crystal purity and a powerful single-mindedness.

Songs like ‘Exposed’ and ‘Shout It Out’ inhabit the insecurities which plague our 21st Century lives, the riffing cello and guitar giving oomph to the angst of the lyric. Elsewhere, the use of the harp in place of conventional keyboard backing provides a sense of disjointedness from the real world, which, again, reflects the tone. But it’s not all wild-eyed histrionics. ‘Wake Up Sweetheart’ and ‘The Time Has Come’ occupy a more comforting place. And for all her soul-searching intensity, Fraser doesn’t take herself too seriously. On ‘Untapped Violence’, a tremolo-drenched guitar line adds just enough Addams Family absurdity to beautifully counterpoint the manic darkness of the words.

Seek her out if you dare.

Trevor Raggatt

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fursaxa
Alone In The Dark Wood •••
ATP

First visit: this album, Tara Burke’s fifth as Fursaxa, does so many things that any right-thinking person would love that it’s impossible not to fall for it instantly. It immediately draws you into its soundworld, for one, the repeated descents of the brief ‘Introduction’ leading the listener, white rabbit-like, into a shadowed, rarefied place. When ‘Lunaria Enters The Blue Lodge’, woody drones seep from the halls and alcoves to create a hallowed atmosphere that seems set to envelop with misty fingers, before an abrupt tack leftward ends on unsettling voices circling a disjointed strum. There’s some impressive alchemy performed here from frugal beginnings, like the ghostly chorale of ‘Nawne Ye’ that consists of nothing but Burke’s voice layered and curling around itself, or the title track’s simple mandolin figure that flickers behind a crystal screen of wordless song. If the title’s meant onomatopoeically, the midnight forest is a wonderful place to be.

First return: Fursaxa’s music has always been about atmosphere and intimation, weaving simple layers of organ drone, acoustic guitar and percussion into dense tapestries threaded with her multitracked vocals. Her reliance on vocals and the pure, circular nature of the melodies they sing give the music a spiritual air, occasionally evocative of plainsong. But even compared with its immediate predecessor, 2005’s Lepidoptera, Alone In The Dark Wood relies less on traditional melody or structure. The lunar humming of ‘Cle Elum’ recreates with sourceless acoustics the shimmering lunar soundscape breathed out by Biosphere’s Geir Jenssen on Autour de la Lune. Or there’s ‘Bells Of Capistrano’, where a cloud of flutes hovers around churchly chimes.

Diminishing return: something else that Burke has opted to change on this album is the employment of length to maintain her carefully wrought atmospheres. Many of these 13 songs can most usefully be described as tone poems, snippets of sonic environments that drift apart before leaving a mark. Which is all very well, but I don’t think I’m being selfish in wanting to spend more time being silvered by the moon of ‘Cle Elum’. Longer spent ‘Drinking Wine In Yarrow’ would also be good, its plucked guitars, banjos and assorted shakers talking together like the No Neck Blues Band, but it’s as if those revered heads developed ADHD and gave up after a minute or two. Upon repeated listening, even the longer songs like the title track and the witchy ‘Black Haw’ seem to break their embrace too soon, and a little frustration creeps in.

Slight return: the music on Alone In The Dark Wood is often mesmerisingly beautiful, but it has to be considered something of a failure on its own terms. Fursaxa sets out to cast a spell, to entrance and hold the listener in her sonic universe; but by trying to tease out so many dimensions of her sound, she seems to have diluted its essential impact. These songs need more time to unfurl, to truly seep in and transport. Bear this in mind, though, and there’s plenty to marvel at here.

Adam Smith

 

 



2005/06 reviews dump: f

The following reviews were all published on our old website between May 2005 and December 2006.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Faun Fables
The Transit Rider •••½
Drag City

Anchored by the creative brain of Dawn McCarthy, Faun Fables is a rare breed of band, an avant-garde ensemble whose members appear to be in a near constant state of flux. In more recent years, McCarthy’s closest allies have been prog rock enthusiast Nils Frykdahl (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) and performance artists Jenya Chernoff and Matt Lebofsky. If you were bewitched by 2004’s minor breakthrough The Family Album, you’ll almost certainly love The Transit Rider. Taking the dramatics to a whole new level, the album is based on material of the same-titled theatre show that McCarthy and Frykdahl developed and toured in 2002. Though the band now operates out of California, the idea for the play came about when McCarthy moved to New York and felt hopelessly stuck and held down by the subway system. Troubled by the city’s pace of life, her disconnection from nature’s cycles and rhythms led her to compose an entire song cycle about her situation, which she performed whilst singing, acting, playing instruments and running the tech at the same time.

Slotting nicely into the cycle are powerful and moving interpretations of traditional folk songs, such as ‘House Carpenter’ and an adaptation of Polish songwriter Zygmunt Konieczny’s ‘Taki Pejzaz’, translated into English by McCarthy and friends and gifted a gorgeously intense arrangement. Painting a delicate picture of abject pain, its mood is hard to shift even long after the song has finished. The sheer conviction and humanity of this interpretation is due in no small way to McCarthy’s versatile, expressive vocals (which you can also find stamped all over the new Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy album).

Faun Fables’s own compositions are innovative and have a refreshingly narrative song structure, though sometimes quite bizarre. At the more unusual end of the spectrum lies the opener ‘Birth’, a song that takes train sounds and primal screams and conjoins them in an entrancingly hypnotic introduction. ‘Transit Theme’ is just as bewildering, with its dramatic chord structures and bonkers exclamation of “the tokens are 1.25! / I am the transit rider, open to public violence”. Equally confusing compositions include the slightly pretentious psych folk/prog rock-leaning ‘Fire & Castration’ – imagine Depeche Mode relocated to New Weird America – and the dialogue embracing ‘The Questioning’ (“is this a good way to sit?”…”what if the ceiling were to fall on your head?”…”do you want a piece of heart candy?”).

Despite these few OTT attempts, Faun Fables have generously stuffed the album with interesting and intriguing compositions. ‘In Speed’ is a theatrical, fast- paced portrait of a professional coffee junkie – think businesswoman in suit and trainers clutching a super-size Starbucks – and is spookily accurate. “Let’s speed up without grace and running,” sings Frykdahl in his low voice, adding “you’ve got a nail through your heart.” Elsewhere, ‘Dream On A Train’ and ‘I’d Like To Be’ convince mostly through their heartfelt synopses and carefully explored instruments.

Although it is often slightly confusing and exceedingly abstract, The Transit Rider succeeds as a magical exploration of theatre and music that managed to stir and move the listener. Of course, it might make much more sense if you watch the theatre show too (as is recommended) – then again, it might not! – but unless they bring it to Britain, we of limited funds will just have to enjoy the music and the freedom of imagination.

Anja McCloskey 
originally published October 5th, 2006

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Eddi Fiegel
Dream A Little Dream Of Me:
The Life Of ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot ••••
Sidgwick & Jackson

Contrary to popular belief, body fascism did not begin with the birth of Heat magazine in 1999. Nor did it spring from the bowels of inventor Logie Baird when his ‘Televisor’ colonised with alarming speed much of the human race. Even if the fig leaf didn’t quite make Eve’s behind look big in it, the point is that people, and especially women, of a larger size have always had it hard. That’s not to say that television (and to some extent, Heat magazine) never had or no longer has an impact. Since its arrival in the late 1950s, the medium has majorly compounded the fears and insecurities of generations of women. Indeed, while the flower power epoch surely swung, there is also room to reflect on a lesser-known angle – the Slimming Sixties.

The explosion of teen girl pop singers that ushered in the decade put the focus of many promoters firmly on their protégées’ sex appeal. The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Ronettes and their like were all youthful, fresh and distinctly uncurvy. Although dieting was already rife among female performers – Dinah Washington, for example, was a diet pill addict – the added pressure of TV appearances and the dreaded extra projected pounds was immense. Then, as now, a bit of extra baggage could send a career down the dumper. Florence Ballard of The Supremes was one such example, allegedly sacked from the band in 1967 for being overweight, among other things. Nine years later, depressed, lonely and drunk, she died at just 32 years of age.

Ellen Naomi Cohen, better known as ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot also died aged 32. Not as has been so ignobly rumoured by choking on a ham sandwich, but from massive coronary heart failure as she slept, having earlier completed the final show in a wildly successful run of solo performances at the London Palladium. As this tender account of her life reveals, the dichotomy between Cass’s charismatic outward personality and her internal struggle with her own self-image was evident from a young age. Born in Baltimore during World War II and talking by the age of two, as a teenager, Cass was as intelligent and politically aware as many of the adults who surrounded her. Being fat by the age of seven had done nothing to endear her to those her own age and their rejection haunted Cass right to her grave, despite all that she went on to achieve. From her initial faltering efforts to become “the famous fat girl” she so desired to her audacious attempts to break into the group that would become The Mamas & The Papas, Eddi Fiegel carefully picks apart Cass’s famed ambition from her genuine need to be loved. Fiegel’s fondness for her subject, while clearly apparent in every tale, is admirably never allowed to cloud or bias the story. Written over nearly four years and based on more than 100 interviews, what we get here is a mostly sympathetic but balanced account of a well-loved and unique individual.

Where the book becomes unmissable is in Fiegel’s account of the final days of The Mamas & The Papas. As adultery and unrequited love tore them apart before they had even recorded their second album, Elliot’s long struggle to extricate herself from the sorry mess without losing all she had worked for is all too vivid. The band finally folded in October 1967. Elliot’s first solo album, Dream A Little Dream Of Me, followed a year later, and a second, Bubblegum, Lemonade & Something For Mama in 1969. By then, despite having a young daughter (Owen Vanessa Elliot was born in April 1969 and contributes to the book in places), Cass had a significant drug habit and went through a number of damaging relationships with assorted Lotharios and downright spongers. Even at the time of her death, she was engaged in a one-sided relationship with shady promoter George Caldwell who mysteriously disappeared after her death.

As Fiegel notes, however, Elliot wouldn’t have stood for the ‘tragic’ tag so many have lumbered her with. Her independence and resilience defied such lazy thinking. Rarely has a mould been so completely shattered than the one from which Ellen Naomi Cohen emerged – she was the people’s princess before Diana was in training bras. In her introduction, Fiegel tells how rocker David Crosby offered her $100 if she could find a single person who hated Cass. Unsurprisingly, his money went unclaimed.

Alan Pedder
originally published September 3rd, 2005 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fields
Live at the Fleece & Firkin, Bristol •••
June 25th, 2006

Warm-ups, I have realised, are not supposed to be heard by outsiders for a very simple reason – bands invariably sound awful. The singer(s) will undoubtedly be out of tune. Indeed, early on in the evening, heard through the ancient industrial walls of Bristol’s Fleece & Firkin, Fields sound like shrieking banshees in the middle of a massacre of shouty East End market stall holders. This, perhaps, is why half of the audience leave before they’ve even entered the venue. A few manage to convince themselves that it was only the roadies testing the equipment, while fans of the band wonder if singer Thorunn Antonia is in possession of a hideous cold.

So far, not really that good, and the bar staff haven’t even served a drink yet. Fortunately, all is rescued when, taking to the stage ahead of headliners Larrikin Love, Fields launch into ‘Song For The Fields’ and a hundred ears prick up in an instant – “wait a minute, I’ve heard this”. It’s one of those songs that you can’t work out whether they’ve half-inched an opening chord from Bob Dylan or from some indie club classic. People sitting down at the back begin to lean against the walls instead and gradually the whole audience moves towards the stage. At times, Antonia’s voice can seem screechy and at odds with fellow Fields vocalist Nick Peill, but generally the pair have good chemistry. After a seven-song set, including some of the new tracks on their forthcoming EP, notably ‘Roll Down The Hill’, the band depart to the genuine applause of the majority.

From tonight’s performance, it’s clear that Fields are destined to be more than just another support band; they’re fast becoming headline material for smaller venues like the Fleece. With just a little more practice and perhaps a careful eye on the watch so as to ensure the audience hear only what they’re supposed to, Fields may eventually turn into acres.

Tiffany Daniels
originally published July 2nd, 2006

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Fiery Furnaces
Rehearsing My Choir •••
Rough Trade

Those of us still surviving after the Fiery Furnaces’s last long-player (length being a somewhat paradoxical notion in their terms – an ‘EP’ released earlier this year raced in at a heady 41 minutes) are surely deserving of some sort of reward. Blueberry Boat was a challenging beast in no uncertain terms; an extended rock opera invoking the spirit of Tommy, but at times coming across like a tub of acid assaulting a crazed school orchestra. Yes indeed, we who have clung on have the scars to prove it.

Certainly, it’s no idle rhetoric to say that, from the bluesy pop sensation of their cult 2003 debut Gallowsbird’s Bark onwards, Illinois-based siblings Eleanor and Matt Friedburger have always slipped through the grasping fingers of definition. Almost aggressively progressive, but with an effortless cool that The Strokes could never buy, the duo have constantly challenged listeners to absorb their oeuvre in terms of entire albums, rather than songs. It’s an almost quixotic approach in the days of 79p iTunes singles, yet utterly admirable too.

A reward of sorts comes here. In third album Rehearsing My Choir (another, Bitter Tea, is due as early as January), we find a singular conceit truly becoming of the epithet ‘concept’. The album constitutes eleven interwoven tales of Chicago from the 1930s to the 1950s, as told through the eyes and (mostly spoken) vocals of Olga Sarantos, director of the Illinois state choir for over 65 years and, more specifically, the Friedburgers’s grandmother. So bring forth stories of wounded gangsters, dodgy back basement deals and the previously unimaginable hell that is trying to make candy when you’re due to meet your father in-law for the very first time.

On first impression, the Furnaces seem much more at home here. Their tendency to soften bluesy rock into a kind of psychedelic lullaby blossoms under the restraint of shorter songs and narrative focus. Odd instruments are still the main musical nuance and there’s certainly no sign of your everyday verse-chorus-verse, but there are at least splatterings of rhythm and release – ‘The Wayward Granddaughter’ pumps along with the kind of urgency that only a didgeridoo can muster, while ‘We Wrote Letters Every Day’ sticks in the head after only a few listens. It’s this lack of salient obscurity that makes Rehearsing My Choir a much more forgiving prospect. Sarantos’ octogenarian vocals are at once commanding and brusque, yet also disturbingly reminiscent of a female Simpsons’ Barney.

The combination of Eleanor’s matter-of-fact vocals and Matt’s seemingly bottomless box of crazy instruments elevates the tales into circus and vaudeville, and yet the melancholy still slots into place. “We can talk about it, but memories are best often sung” Sarantos tells, or rather scolds us. There’s no doubt the Fieries are fighting against musical form to save us from our own predictable expectations, and to a certain extent they have succeeded in this latest endeavour. Each song floods the imagination with a slice of tasty Americana that’s light years away from the likes of Beck and Cake. For the less adventurous, however, there remains a longing pang for the halcyon days of ultra-catchy tunes and memorable riffs.

Ian Buchan
originally published September 2nd, 2005 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Fiery Furnaces
Bitter Tea ••••
Rough Trade

Their PR will tell you that The Fiery Furnaces are a “quirky indie-pop duo”, but quirky doesn’t really even begin to cover the bases. The opening track of this fifth album in three years gives the listener a very good idea of what is to come, i.e. anything and everything. So while Eleanor Friedberger’s vocals on opener In ‘My Little Thatched Hut’ conjure up a repetitive, incantatory chant reminiscent of the sinister fairytale aura of PJ Harvey’s ‘Down By The Water’, her brother Matt’s musical mélange tells a whole different story. Tribal drums vie with bursts of electronica, while gentle acoustic guitar is stomped all over by squealing feedback. It’s Underworld meets Natalie Merchant and the resulting scuffle is noisy, unpredictable and thrilling; both parties surface bruised and grinning.

The synth on ‘Darling Black-Hearted Boy’ grates like the theme tune of a ‘70s kids’ TV show, but somehow in a good way, while the title track that follows morphs and warps the previous melody into a frantic Space Invaders-esque sonic landscape of frenzied bleeps and glitches. This is an immediate and exciting record with unpredictability as its buzzword. Eleanor’s spoken word vocal delivery is often reminiscent of Patti Smith, particularly of her ‘Land’ trilogy, and the mystical overtones present on several songs also recall some of the punk poetess’s vintage tracks. Like Smith’s, songs like ‘Oh Sweet Woods’ mix everyday settings – parking lots, anonymous hallways – with a simmering threat of violence and an otherworldly, almost religious presence, invoked here by the presence of the nameless figures pursuing the poem’s central character and the backwards vocals they speak in. It’s an undisputed album highlight, a disturbing narrative set to a funky handclap beat.

Matt played everything on the record, apart from drums, and the music here is so dazzlingly varied that the lyrics occasionally get lost in the maelstrom. But it won’t be long before a line like “till the bulldozers turned us into whole-fruit fruit bar stix and china markers” (‘Borneo’) pulls you out of your musical reverie and boggles your brain even further. The band’s inventiveness has its downside, although it’s a small one – the jagged textures and sudden changes in time signature can become somewhat wearying and you may find yourself longing for a consistent melody, though you’ll struggle to find one across the record’s epic 75 minutes. However, to criticise a band for being too inventive is perhaps unfair; I know who I’d plump for given the choice between the Fieries and any number of the formulaic radio-friendly unit shifters that flood commercial radio stations.

The Fiery Furnaces are a highly prolific band who are still brimming (overflowing even) with ideas. And though they may bewilder and occasionally frustrate, they more than compensate for this with their sheer originality and experimental verve. Those searching for classic pop song structure will find it (nearly) on ‘Benton Harbour Blues’; those searching for pretty much anything else – ‘70s punk meets the ‘Grange Hill’ theme tune anyone? – will probably find it here too. See, everybody’s happy!

Danny Weddup
originally published June 5th, 2006 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

50 Foot Wave
Golden Ocean ••••
4AD 

Fifty feet is pretty big if you think about it, and by thinking I mean Googling, and by Googling you’ll find it’s an oddly common anecdotal measure. Only the other week, for instance, a man was walking his dog Charlie along the Great Orme cliff in Cardiff when he heard a splash from the ocean 50 feet below. “Gosh, did you hear that, Charlie”, the man may have wondered before realising that yes, Charlie had indeed heard it because Charlie was it (www.dogsinthenews.com, we love you!). But while some might find such a chestnut of interest, we at Wears The Trousers are suckers for useless, distilled fact. Indeed, to this reporter, drilling through to the no-frills zone provides as much lascivious pleasure as a tabloid gossip column does to others. So, here we go again… 50 feet is equal to the world record for women’s triple jump, a third of the height of the leaning tower of Pisa, the distance from the chin of the Sphynx to the sand it sits on and the size of a certain Queenie, according to our Peej. Oh, and it’s also the height to which this remarkable band aspire.

50 Foot Wave are two-thirds Throwing Muses (singer/guitarist Kristin Hersh and bassist Bernard Georges) and one-third drummer Rob Ahlers, and this is their first full-length album following last year’s delightfully noisy eponymous EP. Put quite simply, the trio’s deliveries are tight and piping hot, and what the songs of Golden Ocean lack in the complexity shown by some of their peers, the band’s dynamic power and crisp, razor-sharp playing more than make up for it. But that’s not to say these tunes are simple, no sir. They’re sneaky and infectious, coming up from behind to smack you with a six-string and leave you begging for more.

Those more familiar with the Muses and with Hersh’s intermittently sedate solo work may have difficulties reconciling the snarling frontwoman of 50 Foot Wave with their beloved indie rock heroine and married mother of four. Golden Ocean is fast and nasty in comparison, drenched in the feedback and power chords that can turn an ugly grunge-rock duckling into a bloody great vicious black swan. In my view, rock has been missing the hissing for far too long (same goes for handclaps, but more about that some other time). Every song seems to have some kind of story behind it, but that layer is better absorbed once your body recovers from the initial reverberations.

Golden Ocean may just awaken the inner mosh monster in anyone who hears it. ‘Long Painting’ and ‘Dog Days’ in particular conjure the blinding strobe and pointy elbows of a lost youth. It’s that rare rock beast that succeeds in really making a statement and will amply reward any Daisy Chainsaw, Husker Dü, Pixies or L7 fans looking for something familiar but new.

Endre Buzogány
originally published November 7th, 2005 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kat Flint
The Secret Boys Club EP ••••
Naz Recordings

In case you haven’t discovered her yet, believe me when I say that Kat Flint is a rare and wonderful find; recently awarded the New Lyricist Award by Channel 4, her lyrics are beautifully crafted to speak of the dangers and joys of modern life. The Secret Boys Club EP is released through Rough Trade Shops and is doing very well indeed, deservedly topping the sales of even major artists such as Arctic Monkeys and Dirty Pretty Things. 

Flint has the same vocal presence as every great female solo artist; perfect and simultaneously unique. Her songs, rightfully described as “a love letter to the children we were, the adults we become and the places we make for ourselves in the world”, are deliciously nostalgic, craving the innocence we had when we were but young ‘uns. That said, it’s not simply fanciful whimsy either. Flint is smart enough to realise that we may be able to look to the past, but we’re constantly shuffling forward. ‘Anticlimax’ neatly surmises the EP’s spirit with the admirably economical lyrics, “because all I need is time, to grow up, to grow forward and to grow wise”.

Flint has the same vocal presence as every great female solo artist; perfect and simultaneously unique. Her songs, rightfully described as “a love letter to the children we were, the adults we become and the places we make for ourselves in the world”, are deliciously nostalgic, craving the innocence we had when we were but young ‘uns. That said, it’s not simply fanciful whimsy either. Flint is smart enough to realise that we may be able to look to the past, but we’re constantly shuffling forward. ‘Anticlimax’ neatly surmises the EP’s spirit with the admirably economical lyrics, “because all I need is time, to grow up, to grow forward and to grow wise”.

Opener ‘Fearsome Crowd’, arguably Flint’s masterpiece thus far, is a paranoid tale of love, childhood and surviving both, while ‘Ohio’ tells of the more sinister side of modern life, recounting a tale of prostitution in junkyards. Elsewhere, ‘Headrush’ finds Flint pleading for the Apocalypse, while ‘The Blinking’ and ‘London Lullaby’ make for an engaging pair of bitterly honest ballads.

Magical is often an overused description in the musical world, but it truly applies to this particular lady. Ironically, despite the indie uprising of recent years, her category has been partially ignored and similar talents dropped by labels; if The Secret Boys Club EP is similarly ignored, it would be a criminal offence. Don’t let it happen.

Tiffany Daniels
originally published June 16th, 2006 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Josephine Foster
A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing ••••
Locust

With A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing, opera school dropout turned freak-folk songstress extraordinaire Josephine Foster has created a wonderful album free of form and conformity. It is a rather unconventional and exceedingly brave take on 19th Century German Lieder, which many regard as one of the classic schools of songwriting. Composers such as Schumann, Brahms and Schubert created wonderful and delicate works using the lyrics of the literary geniuses of the romantic era including Goethe and Eichendorff. Naturally, these compositions have been performed and recorded many times, yet Foster has found a way to filter them through a unique and magical lens using a mix of modern and classical instruments and a sound that reminds one of church recordings of the early 1900s.

‘An Die Musik’, Schubert’s ode to the wonders of music, opens the seven-song suite. Sounding at first quiet and delicate with rhythmical strumming and Foster’s angelic vocals, it soon develops into an electric guitar workout in which the instruments are played lazily and messily, giving one of the world’s most famous classical works a rather outlandish sound. ‘Der König in Thule’, also a Schubert composition, embraces the evanescence of love and life. A rough sounding electric guitar in lead melody accompanied by a softer countermelody sounds at first strangely modern, but after several listens appears effortlessly cool, Foster’s versatile vocal adding to her straightforward, honest adaptation.

Everything on this album has been played to emotional perfection. Foster has clearly been indulged with complete artistic freedom. It’s refreshing to listen to delicate and moving songs that have not been pushed to alien-sounding technical precision by commercially driven producers. Wolf’s ‘Verschwiegene Liebe’, a longing ode to the freedom of thought, and Brahms’s ‘Die Schwestern’, a wonderful and sound-layered piece about the unextinguishable bond between sisters, both strongly benefit from Foster’s approach; free from constraint, heavenly and moving. The instrumentation and arrangements are almost playful, always responding to the call of Foster’s voice. Schumann’s ‘Wehmut’ and ‘Auf einer Burg’ and Schubert’s ‘Nähe des Geliebten’ have such a strong recording approach, it’s as if you were discovering original works by this dark, delicious enchantress.

The songs may date back over 100 years, but in Foster’s fair and capable hands the dust never settles on these dramatic and arresting interpretations. Startling stuff.

Anja McCloskey
originally published June 12th, 2006
 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lily Fraser
Lily Fraser ••••
Self-released

How often do we see overused phrases like “a stunning debut from a truly original new talent”? And how often does it in fact refer to a rehashing, albeit an accomplished one, of whatever is the flavour of the moment? It’s rare enough to happen across something that really strikes you as being original, let alone taking you somewhere you’ve never quite been before, but this eponymous debut recording (it’s not an ‘album’ as such, more a collection of demos) by Lily Fraser may just be one of those happy exceptions.

Necessarily, then, it’s something of an arduous task to pick out suitable comparators for the purpose of describing the music. Broad and sweeping statements are precluded and more targeted comments may only reflect an instant or two. In one lyrical section, the phrasing recalls Fish’s unusual stream of consciousness scanning – but this is no Marillion album; in another, there’s a hint of Siouxsie Sioux – but this is no post-punk proto-goth; in another still, the carefully deployed theatrics and production resemble Freddy Mercury’s more whimsical moments – but this is certainly not A Night At The Opera. Enough befuddled reviewer excuses you say? Well then, if compare we must, the readiest benchmark that comes to mind is Kate Bush; not primarily because Fraser shares that auteur’s fragile but powerful upper register and falsetto, but more the inventiveness she infuses into her four-minute dysfunctional psycho-dramas. That said, the vocal performances throughout are uniformly stunning, swooping down from an angelic choir into a dark, vengeful siren in the space of just a few notes.

The unusual mix of instruments certainly helps to set the tone. Magical washes of harp and haunting cello create an ominous musical subtext, particularly on tracks like ‘Exposed’ where the two instruments are played in a manner that could only be referred to as riffing. Urgency is also found in opener ‘Shout It Out’ with its dance-based rhythms and Fraser’s insistent vocal setting out a manifesto for what is to come. It’s as if communicating her thoughts is a psychological imperative, not just a collection of ditties. ‘Man To Man’ presents an ironic hymn to the glorious sadness of low self-esteem and the futility of seeking real significance in meaningless sexual encounters, while ‘Beautiful Life’ restores the yang to the previous yin by showing that even in life’s shady undergrowth lies beauty and value. ‘About You’ introduces an air of melodrama, with a 1930s matinee idol introduction setting the tone for a scathing attack on the stunted emotions of certain men, while ‘Disagree’ and ‘It’s You’ echo the sombre danse macabre. The juxtaposition of moods seen with the warm, meditative ‘Which One Am I?’- a slice of bluesy, Gothic folk á la All About Eve – and ‘Old Devil Shine’, which spins a cautionary noir yarn, its timeless mood contrasting with unsettling gramophone-textured vocal sections, is undeniably affecting.

Impending tragedy and Victorian melodrama are very much the order of the day with Fraser, and the sheer depth and quality of the recording is little short of breathtaking. On the basis of these first though hardly tentative steps, it is clear that she and her unconventional blend of simultaneously engaging and disturbing sounds are close to creating a Kick Inside for the 21st Century.

Trevor Raggatt
originally published March 31st, 2006 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Edith Frost
Calling Over Time ••••
Telescopic •••½
Wonder Wonder ••••
Drag City

Edith Frost is living, wonderful and irrefutable proof that even cowgirls really do get the blues. Her knack with a minor key and simple but never underspun stories is, or should be, the envy of many. Why she is not revered in wider circles remains a mystery – one that may well be favourably and deservedly solved when her long-awaited fourth album It’s A Game is released later this year. As a generous precursor to this long anticipated arrival, Drag City has graciously reissued all three of her previous efforts to reacquaint us with their charge.

Signed to the label in 1994 after mailing in a copy of her demo alongside a fan letter to Drag City luminary Will Oldham (aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), Frost’s first release was a self-titled EP fashioned out of those very same four-tracks. It was followed in 1997 by the album Calling Over Time, an unprepossessing gem of a record showcasing a voice not much unlike a Patsy Cline for the modern disaffected. In the wake of a painful divorce, Texan-born Frost, then aged 31, relocated to Chicago from New York where she had been playing in a number of long-forgotten bands. Having befriended members of the Drag City stable and other Chicagoan icons of indie, including Gastr Del Sol, Rian Murphy, Eleventh Dream Day’s Rick Rizzo and The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan, the sessions for Calling Over Time certainly had no shortage of talent in the studio. That the results live and breathe as they do (albeit with a slight sense of spacey disconnectedness) is testament to the skilful pool of players. The lasting sense is one of reassuring melancholia; that is to say, her songs are rarely depressing – they’re a little too detached and distant for such extremities – but somehow comforting in their minimalistic mulling over of fate’s crueller twists. Standout tracks include the divorce bruiser ‘Temporary Loan’, the achingly pragmatic ‘Too Happy’, the heartbreaking ‘Wash Of Water’ and the weary defeatism of ‘Albany Blues’.

Frost returned the following year with the even hazier but more meaty Telescopic. Opening with the fuzz-strewn lo-fi indie pop of ‘Walk On The Fire’, a dark and mournfully menacing song that early Liz Phair would have chewed an arm off for, the album signalled a clear progression from its sparser predecessor. Production duties were fulfilled by the curiously monikered Adam & Eve, better known as Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema of Drag City signings Royal Trux. Other contributions came from the ever-present Rian Murphy and Tsunami’s Amy Domingues. Lyrically, Telescopic mostly offers more of the same soul-searching of her previous releases, with one notable exception. ‘You Belong To No One’ is a cabaret revenge song, a sashaying fuck-you that runs rings around her lonesome schtick and never fails to raise a smile. Musically, ‘Bluish Bells’ is further confirmation of Frost’s ear for an ingratiating mind-trick. Amid pleasingly retro jangly keyboard effects and an inobtrusive fuzz guitar motif lies a melody that’s lifted from an old Willie Nelson song played backwards. The gorgeous ballad, ‘Tender Kiss’, is similarly impressive, mixing violin, flute and a subtle complex programmed drum pattern with some of her finest vocal harmonies.

As mirrored by the simplicity of its quietly dramatic and organic sleeve, Wonder Wonder signified a step away from Telescopic‘s thicker fog of indie aspirations. That’s not to say that Frost had returned to her humbler origins – Wonder Wonder is a much more ambitious and focused record than her previous work, once again featuring Rian Murphy on production and a dozen other players, not to mention Steve Albini as sound engineer. Many of the songs have the feel of a twisted orchestra, but the central stylistic touchstone is subdued and thoughtful country. Songs like the snappy title track and the immensely hummable ‘Cars & Parties’ (surely her great lost single) sit comfortably alongside trickier material. ‘The Fear’ is reminiscent of an eerie midnight walk through a haunted fairground, while ‘True’ is the very definition of desolate. She also gifts us what is surely a country standard in waiting with ‘Honey Please’. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Emmylou Harris cover it at some point in the future. Closing with ‘You’re Decided’, a break up song laced with despair and regret, the listener is left with little doubt that Edith Frost’s ability to convey any emotion precisely and without lyrical excess is a wonder in itself.

Like Cissy, the feet-finding heroine from ‘Even Cowgirls Get The Blues’, Edith Frost has hitched a ride with many a kind friend, travelling with them through a myriad of musical landscapes. Ultimately though, she has been at the helm of her own evolution and these timely reissues should plenty whet the appetites of fans of Lisa Germano, Cat Power, Barbara Manning, and, of course, Will Oldham before the next instalment comes along.

Alan Pedder
originally published August 22nd, 2005 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hannah Fury
Subterfuge EP ••••
MellowTraumatic

Self-styled Trauma Queen Hannah Fury has at last shuffled off her musical slumber. It’s been six long years since her unsettling debut album, The Thing That Feels, and three since her last EP. What has she been doing? Well, not losing one iota of her touch for a start; Subterfuge is the most sinister thing to come out of Texas since the Bush Administration, and all the better for it. Kicking off with a deliciously subversive, almost perverse take on The Turtles’ 1969 hit ‘You Showed Me’, Fury teasingly twists and plays with the melody and phrasing to great effect. And while it’s not as nakedly ambitious or successful as her gloriously gut-wrenching cover of ABBA’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’ (from 2001’s sublime Meathook EP), it sets up Subterfuge’s overarching ‘love me or else’ theme very nicely indeed.

The sheer intensity of ‘My Next Victim’ continues this motif, with hell hath no fury lyrics like “you don’t want none of my sugar / you just want that skanky snatch, no offense to her” delivered with an eerie and unwavering focus, its very matter-of-factness recalling Lisa Germano’s ‘…A Psychopath’ reverse engineered and seen through an opiate haze. The fabulously titled ‘Girls That Glitter Love The Dark’ is equally impressive with its From The Choirgirl Hotel-era Tori Amos flourishes and lush, hypnotic multi-tracked vocals. Illuminating couplets like “girls that glitter defile hope / we think that love is just tightening that sad little rope” languish in the mix with a general air of self-destructive obsession.

But perhaps the finest distillation of Fury’s particular brand of musical malaise is the multimedia track, ‘Carnival Justice (The Gloves Are Off) Part II’. Whether heard alone or in tandem with Chris Ohlson’s creepy video featuring a pair of custom-made marionettes (The Queen of Hearts and Anathema Rose to their friends), it’s an undeniably spine-tingling experience. So precisely layered are the distorted, whispery vocals, it’s almost as if she were singing in parseltongue. Needless to say, it’s the kind of song that the religious far right would love to play backwards in fear (hope?) of finding an ode to the devil. Which would be rather silly regardless, because they would then miss out on some of Fury’s best writing to date – “if you think you scored, your vision must be blurred / welcome one and all to the Theatre of the Absurd / mmmmmy heart is like the Moulin Rouge / all lit up in subterfuge” – with all its Jean Genet-conjuring dramaturgy.

Whether or not Fury intends a literal interpretation of ‘A Latch To Open’s closing sound effect of an emancipated bird fleeing its prison (and I’m inclined to believe she doesn’t), it’s tempting to see it as something symbolic. A brusque farewell to writer’s block, perhaps. For as wonderful as this enchanting EP undoubtedly is, it’s ostensibly a prelude to a far greater prize; that long-awaited full-length coming later this year. Amen!

Alan Pedder
originally published February 20th, 2006