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Mish Mash Indie Music Reviews February 2004

Issue #61 April 2004

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Goodbye, Babylon


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Alan Lomax: Caribbean Voyage
The Ponys
Brian Bonz
The Jeff Harris Band

DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH - Nothing New From Brian Ewing
April 23rd - June 12th 2004
Brian Ewing's first solo show. Original art and posters on exhibition: including the hard to find sold out stuff and one of a kind pieces.
Subterranean: San Francisco
563 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 431-9504

Perfect Life

Full Contact Music
11 song CD

This release from former Cure keyboardist Lol Tolhurst and singer Cindy Levinson is the perfect blend of the mechanical and human side of pop music, which is also appropriate given the conjoined nature of their moniker, Levinhurst. Tolhurst provides the cold and deliberate sounds of electronic music, while Levinson incorporates her spirited and atmospheric vocals.

Tolhurst brings a decidedly 80s flavor to his musical inspirations, harkening not only from his days with The Cure, but from groups like Kraftwerk and The Art Of Noise, among others. The 80s influence is not hard and fast, but it definitely plays a major role, borrowing from the sterile, sometimes dark sounds of New Wave and post New Wave. Add to that a mix of modern dance beats, and the foundation is set.

Levinson, on the other hand, is more enigmatic in her influences. Her style plays more of a New Age role, her vocals providing more in the way of sounds and feeling instead of a concentration on lyrics, as if her voice is a solo instrument. In this sense, she carries the melody, while the disjointed music becomes a machine-driven rhythm section. It's a blend which works in spite of itself, and it's pulled off skillfully.

MISH MASH Mandate: Curious Conjunction

Levinhurst Website

The Alan Lomax Collection
Caribbean Voyage The 1962 Field Recordings
The French Antilles: We Will Play Love Tonight

Rounder Records
26 song CD

The world owes a lot to the memory of Alan Lomax, the man who took it upon himself to document native and rural songs worldwide with his traveling tape recorder. Here, for the first time, Rounder has released a wealth of recordings from his 1962 excursions in the Caribbean, namely Guadeloupe, St. Barthelemy, and Martinique. While this collection features the Afro-Creole cultural songs you might expect, it also reveals another side of Caribbean music which you might not, such as the influences of workers brought to the Caribbean from India, who added their own personal stamp to the native music.

The Guadeloupe section of songs are repetitious religious-based songs, which have a call-and-answer quality about them. The drums are in the forefront, while the voices provide the melody in a chant-like fashion. In St. Barthelemy, the Creole sound comes alive with the accordion playing the central themes, providing a more traditional European feel to the music. From Martinique, we get a mix of rural and urban sounds, soulful drum calls in the country juxtaposed against the more Latin-flavored, multi-instrumentation of the biguine in the city.

Included in this collection are extensive liner notes, which present the history of Lomax's travels in the Caribbean, along with translations of the song lyrics and photos of a few of the musicians. Truly, a work of art which captures a slice of time in the evolution of Caribbean music.

MISH MASH Mandate: King Creole

Alan Lomax Website

The Ponys
Laced With Romance

In The Red Records
12 song CD

I don't think I've ever heard a band quite like The Ponys, one that grabs you by the throat right out of the box, and won't let go until its done with you. Their brand of lo-fi noise pop is serrating and jarring, all the while served up with a classic punk rock attitude. Maybe you should think Sonic Youth meets The Clash, or maybe not, because such a comparison really doesn't do this group justice. Let's just say that they're raw, loud, and noisy. Did I mention they're loud?

Guitars are the name of the game, and The Ponys simply drench their sound with layers and layers of overdriven guitars. Sometimes they drone, at other times they shimmer---sometimes they do both at the same time. It's a lovely cacophony which just overwhelms the listener with sheer guitar noise. Drowning in all of these large riffs are the vocals, which gasp around for a semblance of melody in all this glorious disarray.

It all comes together nicely in songs like Fall Inn and Chemical Imbalance, two tracks where the mixture of pop and the wall of guitars meet perfectly. Fall Inn begins with an intro that sounds straight out of a surf movie, which then merges into a reckless pop adventure. In contrast, Chemical Imbalance begins with a bouncy guitar line possibly borrowed from London Calling, and then the song just drives along with a herky-jerky motion, hopping along with a cool start-n-stop rhythm which never quite settles into the groove. Rounding out the album is The Only One, a tune which takes the guitar onslaught to a whole new level, pummeling us with riff after huge riff, ending in a huge train wreck of noise at the end. Man, this is one mess you'll never forget.

MISH MASH Mandate: Pony Ride

In The Red Records Website

Brian Bonz
Susan The Boy Scout EP

Electric Frog Recordings
5 song CD

This smart little EP from Brian Bonz takes advantage of its lack of focus. At times it is deconstructive, at other times just fuzzed-out pop. The lack of direction takes you to five different destinations, whether it be the erratic collage of sound in The Hunger Song, the acoustic pop of Monday American Traffic, the dissonant angst of The Ballad Of Jean Grey, the indie jangle rock of A Season Of Handshakes, or the electronic atmospheres of Blue-Eyed Brazil. Bonz has apparently set out to keep us all guessing, and he does a great job of it, in just under 20 minutes.

MISH MASH Mandate: Boney Maroney

Electric Frog Recordings Website

Jeff Harris Band
Lemon Yellow

12 song CD

Jeff Harris has that tight, polished, sweet, no-nonsense rock sound. His songs seem to drift out of the stereo without effort, easing on down the middle of the road. While this might seem as if it would be ho-hum, you can't help but find yourself tapping your feet and singing along.

The songs presented here are right on the money---whether it's the cheeky, modern acoustic pop of Perfect or the prime time rock steady Pop Star, Harris knows how to write a strong song which takes on a life of its own.

If there's a drawback here, it's that Harris doesn't really take many risks. The one time he goes out on a limb and shines brightly is the quiet and introspective Guatemala, where the polish is stripped away for a few moments, and the emotion lays bare. A few more songs like this, and Jeff Harris will be a force to be reckoned with.

MISH MASH Mandate: Lemon Polish

Jeff Harris Band Website

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