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New Music Reviews

33 1/3: Murmur
by J. Niimi
Continuum Books
144 page softcover book

In their ever-growing 33 1/3 music series, Continuum
Books has ventured into the mysterious world of Southern Gothic with J. Niimi's commentary on the R.E.M. 1983 debut album, Murmur.

Niimi's approach is fitting for such a landmark and mystical musical masterpiece. Instead of just giving us the straight story of how it came into being, Niimi gives us some new thoughts to chew on about R.E.M. and the band's connections to Southern Gothic and "mystery and manners".

The first part of the book deals with the actual making of the album in Charlotte, which Niimi provides with revealing insight from producer Mitch Easter and engineer Don Dixon. What is most striking about the story is that we are reminded that R.E.M. was once a group of literal nobodies from Athens, Georgia who were creating an album which was very different from anything else going on at the time, and all on a shoestring. It puts a certain perspective on the early days of independent rock music in general, in the context of a band making music without expectations of superstardom or high praise.

From there Niimi dissects and examines each song on the album individually, almost note for note. It helps to have the album on hand during this part of the book, as he goes into great detail about the sounds and effects created for the record. Then, he sets off on a more abstract journey, trying to decipher meanings hidden (or not hidden) within the lyrics, along with a discussion of how the music of Murmur fits into the concept of Southern Gothic.

While obviously lacking an overall focus, the book does a good job of bringing the reader into the world of R.E.M. and the circumstances surrounding their official full-length debut album which changed the music world. A must-read for fans.

MISH MASH Mandate: Calling Out In Transit
Continuum Website

Pernice Brothers
Discover A Lovelier You
Ashmont Records
13 song CD


From the beginning strains of the first track on Discover A Lovelier You, I could tell that this latest effort from Joe Pernice was going to be a little bit different from his previous releases. My first clue was a droning guitar which runs throughout the aforementioned song, There Goes The Sun, heavily reverbed to the hilt like on an old surf tune. Pernice has buried the effect just under the surface, lending an anxious edge to an otherwise laid-back & melancholy song. The result isn't immediate, but it establishes a subtle and uneasy theme which seems to permeate the album.

While Pernice has always been on the depressing side, there's a bitterness which surfaces here that sort of takes over. Over his career, Pernice seems to have drawn on the influences of either the intricate songwriting of Brian Wilson or the angst of Morrissey, and on this album it appears that The Smiths has won out in terms of inspiration. With that having been said, this record doesn't reach out and grab you, as much as absorb slowly under your skin.

MISH MASH Mandate: Joe Smith
Pernice Brothers Website


Big Fish Ensemble
Raze The Duds
Sardine Records
45 songs on 2 CDs


Back in the early 90s, there was a thriving Atlanta music scene, although you probably don't know much about it unless you were there. As the eyes of the industry were focused intently on Seattle, the bands of Atlanta and Athens were busy plugging away, doing their own thing without a care of what was happening on the other side of the country. Big Fish Ensemble, in the group's own way, was probably one of the more important bands to surface during this brief moment in time---even though they remained underground for their entire career.

With a quirky sound that fell somewhere between Camper Van Beethoven and The Talking Heads, they thumbed their noses at conventional pop music and crafted their own unique and humorous niche. While they released a handful of polished studio albums which were fabulous, they also amassed a great deal of basement tapes, live tracks, and demos---the "duds" of which are represented here, the bastard children which didn't really make it to the official releases for one reason or another.

As a longtime fan, I personally wouldn't call them duds (especially with an early version of "Girl From Waycross", and a live duet with The Indigo Girls on Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love And Understanding"), but I could see where someone not already familiar with the band would be perplexed by the lo-fi explorations like "El Triunfo" and the group's infamous collaboration with Deacon Lunchbox on his poem "Hummingbird Hotel". In other words, it might not be the best introduction to the band from a newbie's standpoint---but it would be one heck of a discovery.

MISH MASH Mandate: Dud Ranch
Big Fish Ensemble Website

Wiretree EP
4 song CD

Even though all the songs on this EP were written and performed by one guy, Kevin Peroni, you'd swear it was a full band ripping it out live in the studio. The songs are rock solid and and edgy, delivered with a punch that you'd only expect from a tight-knit group. Peroni laces his songs with big Brit-rock guitars and sensibility, then pumps up the volume with old-fashioned American attitude. A brilliant piece of work, and I can only hope he's working on a full-length release.

MISH MASH Mandate: Extended Play
Wiretree Website

New American Wing
New American Wing
16 Song CD

If you've ever wondered where jazz will be going in the 21st century, perhaps the answer lies with New American Wing. This oddball little trio does their best to take the remnants of musical deconstruction and put them back together again. There are so many influences wound up in here, it's hard to really get a handle on what the group is trying to do---but it is a wonderful listening experience all the same.

While their approach is somewhat avant garde, they aren't afraid to incorporate traditional melody in a meaningful way, relying on bare-boned sounds to create their light, lyrical passages. In a sense, they've taken the spirit of bebop and run it through the filter of minimalism. Nothing is wasted, and the songs seem to float along on a cushion of weighted air, just hanging above the surface. Beautiful, and simple.

MISH MASH Mandate: The Shape Of Jazz To Come
New American Wing Website

The Oggs
Valley Of 1,000 Smokes
11 song CD

Imagine the best that 80s New Wave had to offer, put it in a blender along with grunge and modern rock, and you might get something close to The Oggs. This cheeky duet has a knack for taking a catchy pop structure and adding an edge to it.
Perhaps the best example of this on the album is Alcohol, a song which starts off with electronic percussion and a smooth bass groove, underpining a melody straight out of the pop how-to instruction book. The real fun comes when they pump up the guitars and take it up another notch, combining the later angst lessons of grunge and emo rock.
The best thing here is that even though they flirt with selling out, they never quite make it all the way there, keeping you on your toes from beginning to end.

MISH MASH Mandate: Oggilicious
The Oggs Website

The Konks
The Konks
Bomp! Records
12 song CD

Man, if you like your music rawer than rare steak, The Konks should be on the top of your list of bands to check out, and I mean immediately. To call this garage rock would be an understatement---as a matter of fact, considering the sound quality, I would be surprised if this album wasn't actually recorded in a garage.

The Konks bash out classic fuzzy guitar rock, using all three chords, all two drums, and all the vocal volume lead screamer/drummer "kurt" can muster. Strangely enough, they cover a mid-life Aerosmith tune, Let The Music Do The Talking, even though it only bears a slight resemblance to the original.
By the end of this one, you'll be exhausted from shimmy-ing yourself into oblivion, that is, if you haven't been hauled in by the police for disturbing the peace.

MISH MASH Mandate: King Konk
The Konks Website
Bomp! Records Website

© 2005 Mish Mash Music Reviews, All Rights Reserved

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2005 Mish Mash Music Reviews, All Rights Reserved