Title: "The Crayon Theatrical"
Label: Skeptical Cat Recordings, 1998
Copyright: Scabby Brooks Music 1996-98 (BMI)
For the past three years, artist Michael Homyk has been recording and releasing DIY music under the name "The Crayon Theatrical". Immediately, Hoymk's unique sense of pop hits you between the eyes. His style is hard to describe; it reminds me of early 80's pop, yet it has a somewhat twisted 90's view on life. Homyk keeps it simple with short songs utilizing only a few instruments (mainly guitar, bass, and drums), yet he manages to add depth with unusual chord progressions and obtuse lyrics.
For most of the cassette, this combination is hit or miss, but it all comes together perfectly on the lead-off song "On the Prairie". All the elements are tight, and the song structure is perfect. And, just when you're getting into the groove, it ends... Leaving you wanting more.
"Doll House" has a cool percussion pattern that strangely reminds me of the beginning of the Phil Collins hit "In the Air Tonight" (the part before the drums kick in). Homyk's best lyrics come from the tune "Jigsaw Girl": "I know she's missing pieces...Maybe she's a Jigsaw Girl/With a puzzle head like me". And, the tape is rounded out with a cheesy number called "Small Town Underground", which is so drippy it sounds like a TV sitcom theme; and naturally it ends up getting stuck in your head all day long!
Mish Mash Mandate: Melodious & melancholy 80s-flavored pop with a 90s attitude.
Title: "Lost Angels" b/w "to find"
Label: Vertigo Records, 1998
Copyright: zumbop music 1998 BMI
Format: 7" very blue vinyl
Formerly a group of four from San Diego, FLOODED has been pared down to a duo consisting of vocalist/guitarist Michael Mixt and vocalist/drummer LaDuska York. This particular single is a preview of their upcoming CD "Duce Luna", the follow-up to their 1997 5-song EP "Zumbop".
"Lost Angels" is best described as beat poetry over California-styled "punk" music. York provides the vocalization, which sort of reminds me of Kim Gordon/Sonic Youth or maybe one of the many Grrrl bands from the early 90s. The lyrics are ramblings of images conjured up by L.A., "An operation!/Before anyone can read the word malajusted!/It seemed it was the very air, the water, the earth" which fit well with the heavy-handed rhythms, creating a perfectly disjointed picture. And just when you think you've found another cool punk band, it gets a little more complicated. The ending reveals a deeper side of the band-- they completely stop the action and use ambient noise to fade out the song. So now on to side-B...
Houston Fire Department is apparently a side project of FLOODED that implements the keyboards of Turtle. This is totally unlike side-A in that it uses ambient noise, electronic beats, and a conga. This is a very different and interesting side of the band that makes this single even more exciting. Mixt provides the heavily reverbed vocals along with a creeping guitar on the side. Further detective work at their web site indicates more surprises on their previous EP. Highly recommended.
Mish Mash Mandate: Multiple-personality California band.
Label: Ellipsis Arts, 1998
Format: CD with a 96 page booklet (Foreword by Tom Waits)
My friend Robert says that you can think of any object in the world, and someone out there has discovered something pointless you can "do" with it and then "master" that activity. Famous cases in point: The Frisbee & The Hackey Sack. This collection of songs kind of falls into that category. "Gravikords..." is an exploration of experimental musicians and their unique instruments, compiled by executive producer Bart Hopkin, who seeks out these musical pioneers.
You could almost dismiss this CD as a mere novelty, but there's a method behind the madness which overcomes the curiosity factor. Admittedly, some of this is unlistenable, yet most of it has enough true musical semblance that keeps you coming back for repeat listens.
Originally released in a larger package with an in-depth full book on experimental music, this scaled back version concentrates solely on the work at hand. 19 artists and their respective instruments (most of which were made by the artists)are represented with a song and a chapter in the book which gives a little background on their unusual talents and non-traditional instruments. Tom Waits provides a highly colorful foreword, which describes his love for this type of music.
The percussion stations of Phil Dadsen are long hollow tubes that are struck with rubber bats; the result sounds strangely like the way-out reverbed guitars of early surf music on Dadsen's cut "Pacific-3-2-1-Zero". Don Buchla's Buchla 400 is full of electronic bleeps and repeats that remind me of the "Close Encounters" mothership. Then there's Michel Moglia's Fire Organ (or Pyrophone) which uses fire and tubes to create underwater "whale" sounds. And a nice surprise is Clara Rockmore's performance of "The Swan" on a Theremin (created by true pioneer Leon Theremin earlier this century). This thing makes the weirdest singing-voice sounds, produced by waving your hand between two antennas protruding from an electric device (maybe you remember that Jimmy Page liked to toy around with one). This piece is great; I've never heard anyone play one so well.
And then there's the questionable: Barry Hall's Flowerpotophone (guess what it's made of) and Wendy Mae Chamber's Car Horn Organ. No thanks to both.
While listening to this, you realize there's a certain visual element missing. The book has pics and does a good job describing the instruments, but it would be nice to see exactly how they work. Otherwise, it's an adventure worth taking.
Mish Mash Mandate: True Alternative Music
Label: Ice Cream Headache, 1998
At first, I wasn't overwhelmed by fIVE dOLLAR mILKSHAKE. Their songs are simple and straightforward, and nothing really jumped out at me on the first few listens. But this stuff grows on you gradually, and I found myself getting sucked in more & more; finding something new each time I hit the play button.
fdm's style is embedded in roots rock with a touch of folk. It's a natural live sound, not unlike the Wallflowers or Counting Crows(especially when they throw in the Hammond), yet these guys have their own distinct flavor. I have a feeling that the best time to catch these guys is in a live setting, even if they're just rehearsing, where there are no distractions from the music.
Lead singer Jaime d'Almeida's brilliantly unpolished vocals seem like a cross between Five Eight's Mike Mantione and Adam Duritz from the aforementioned Counting Crows. D'Almeida blends well with the other instruments, and the end result is at its best on the groovy "Let Go" and the manic "It's A Fish" (my two faves, by the way).
These guys are subtle; their music sneaks up on you and you find yourself singing along before you even realize it. All this plus some clever humor in the CD packaging makes this one a can't miss.
Mish Mash Mandate: Sneaky & subtle music that grows on ya.
Title: "Chasing the Mad Rabbit"
Label: J-Bird Records, 1998
These guys love to rock, and they're not ashamed to admit it. Obviously frustrated with the status quo of the 90s music scene, guitarist/instrumentalist Michael Trapp and vocalist Matt Wells have taken it upon themselves to spread the classic hard rock gospel.
It's all here: the huge riffs, the full-throttle solo runs, the flashy guitar histrionics, and of course, the obligatory power ballads. You may laugh, but these guys are serious. The scary thing is, they're good. REAL good. And they have just enough 90s savvy to keep it sounding up-to-date (as in the NIN inspired track "Rejoice").
Trapp is a musician's musician; he plays all the instruments (and he plays the heck out of 'em), while Wells provides the vocals. They list Sabbath & Zep as obvious influences; and while they aren't quite at the same level as those guys, they do pack a punch and could hold their own against any hard rock band currently out there. Trapp has also done his homework: his songwriting is incredibly tight and on the money every time, so nothing really qualifies as filler, even with 16 songs on the CD. And, every song has a distinct style & sound, so that there's little repetition.
Trapp's guitar work is fast and furious, and Wells has a range that would be the envy of any metal crooner. Sometimes he sounds more like Ozzy than Ozzy does (yet sometimes he doesn't sound like the Oz at all-- how does he do that?).
It all comes to a head with the CD opener "Karmic Wheel", which incorporates all the various bells and whistles of this power duo. It's got the hooks, it's catchy, and it rocks. What more could you ask for?
Mish Mash Mandate: I wanna rock.
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