Wednesday, August 31, 2005
I've got 2 pieces in this week's City Paper. One is a System of a Down/The Mars Volta live review, which was a show I wasn't even planning to go to, until Bret, the CP arts editor, e-mailed me the day before the show. He had 2 tickets and couldn't go, and I guess since I did a SOAD album review for him a couple months ago, he offered them to me if I could review the show. I offered the other ticket to a few friends, and a couple really wanted to go, but noone was able to on such short notice. So I ended up going alone and giving away the other ticket (ok, I sold it, but for a pretty low amount, just enough to cover the cost of parking downtown). It was an awesome show!

My other article (and my first lead story for the arts section!) is a profile of a Baltimore MC named Skarr Akbar, and I've got a post over at Gov't Names with more info about him and a few mp3's.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, August 30, 2005
top ten:

1. Toni Braxton - "Take This Ring"
2. Ying Tang Twins f/ Pitbull - "Shake"
3. George Kranz - "Din Daa Daa"
4. John Mellencamp - "Ain't Even Done With The Night"
5. Dayton Family - "Flint Town"
6. R. Kelly f/ Twista and Do Or Die - "Hit It Til The Morning"
7. Lyle Lovett - "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)"
8. 213 - "Another Summer"
9. Alicia Keys - "Unbreakable"
10. Bossman - "Untouchable"

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, August 29, 2005
VMAs play-by-play via ILM. Or the short version, my top 10 favorite moments of last night:

- R. Kelly's live premiere of a new chapter of "Trapped In The Closet"- "RUFUS SAYS CHUCK I'M SORRY/BUT I'M GOIN' BACK TO MY WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFE"

- Diddy's Captain Eo-esque "journey of sight and sound"! Getting served by Omarion! Bringing out MC Hammer!

- Ludacris coming out with Rare Essence and performing the Go-Go version of "Pimpin' All Over The World" that I repped for a minute ago. "D.T.P.! D.C.! R.E.! LET'S GO!!!"

- Jay-Z on his office job: "I got chairs and pencils and pens"

- My Chemical Romance's surprise performance at Diddy's personal request

- Eric Roberts Eric Roberts Eric Roberts

- John Norris's bedazzled purple tanktop

- Usher explaining krumping to America

- Fat Joe's super classy and funny G-Unit diss (and 50's subsequent uncensored f-bomb tantrum)

- Tony Yayo's waving-his-hands-in-front-of-his-mouth gesture

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, August 28, 2005
Last night I went to see my friend Chris's band Private Eleanor play an album release party with the Seldon Plan. I'd seen them once before but hadn't heard a lot of the new album, which they played all of plus one of their best old songs. The show was at the Current Space, which was a gallery I'd never been to before. I thought it was odd for an art space to be right in downtown Baltimore where everything is big businesses and parking garages, so I wasn't surprised when it turned out to be a temporary space. Turns out the city of Baltimore is allowing some buildings that are going to be demolished at some point soon to temporarily house stuff like galleries. It's kind of funny, too, since the current exhibit is all about urban renewal and has all these slogans pretty much protesting stuff like what's going to happen to the building it's in, which is going to be turned into a bunch of luxury condos.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 26, 2005
Important: people that know me in real life, e-mail me @ or leave a comment and I will send you my new phone # and home address. J.G. and I are moving into our new apt. in Upper Fells Point/Butcher's Hill, east Baltimore this weekend, and I (finally) got a cell phone. We probably won't be able to get our bed in until Sunday, but J.G. says she's spending the night on Saturday even if it means we have to sleep on the floor. I'm pretty thrilled about finally getting back into the city, we'll be just a few blocks from where my dad's lived for 15 years, so that's already home to me. And I'm real ready to get out of Cockeysville, the only thing cool about living there was having a phone number that started with 666.


Thursday, August 25, 2005
TV Diary

1) Weekends At The D.L.
I’ve never been much of a fan of D.L., thought he was the weak link in Kings Of Comedy and a wack standup, but he always comes across smart and honest in interviews, so I thought this show might be decent. His monologues are even worse than his standup, though, especially because his default way of playing off lame jokes that get tepid applause is by saying “you know it’s true!” over and over, which gets really really old when he says it 10 times in the first 5 minutes of the show. The scripted bits seem promising, though, the one with the cop with the meth lab was pretty good. And the looseness of the segments w/ guests is kinda refreshing, letting people drink booze on the set and stuff, except when he brings in Best Week Ever type hacks to make the same damn pop culture wisecracks they do on BWE.

2) Too Late With Adam Corolla
I was kinda curious whether this would be a straight talk show or what, but it turns out to be more or less a replica of Loveline minus Dr. Drew. They even take calls for much of the show most nights, although people ask more general questions, not just sex advice. I think Adam is generally pretty funny when he's just bullshitting and ad-libbing, though, although he kinda suffers from not having Dr. Drew as a straight man to bounce off of. The episode where the guest was Matthew Lesko was pretty funny, though.

3) A Current Affair
Well, you already know.

4) Trailer Fabulous
I'm kinda fascinated by this s how, conceptually it's a hokey Pimp My Ride type hip MTV variation on fix-em-up TLC shows but with a bizarre cast led by some weird white rapper who was signed to So So Def and his album only came out in Europe. It's pretty funny sometimes, especially when they intercut multiple flubbed takes of the same scene or line, like when the gay guy that looks like Joe Dirt kept mispronouncing Ashton Kutcher's name over and over even when people would show him how to pronounce it right.

Labels: ,

Sunday, August 21, 2005
in my stereo:

Lake Trout - Not Them, You
Skarr Akbar - The Hood Legend: The Best Of Skarr Akbar Part 3
Comp - U Will Be A Believer: Bang-A-Rang Gang Mixtape Vol. 2
Davon - Bottom Floor
Dinosaur Jr. - You're Living All Over Me
Little Feat - The Last Record Album
System Of A Down - System Of A Down
The Who - The Who Sell Out
T.I. - Trap Muzik
various artists - DJ Crunk Mix Presents Crunk Da Mix Tape 2

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, August 20, 2005
Do you have a photo of yourself, your family, your friends or your parole officer holding (or in some way interacting with) an Iced Zoo Biscuit? E-mail us your pics and, if we deem them worthy, you'll join our glazed gallery, our frosted fanbase, our sugary spectacle, our... okay, I'll stop. .

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 19, 2005
I'm glad I decided to see Grand Buffet for the 2nd night in a row on Tuesday, because their show in Baltimore was ten times better than the one in D.C. (aside from the Scrooge McDuck/Nazi gold banter from the night before). They always have a loyal audience that shows up everytime they play the Ottobar and they feed off that. I knew from the moment Grape-A-Don walked in with a bunch of balloons shaped like a palm tree, a turtle and the sun that it was gonna be a good show. They had some technical difficulties with their discman, and apparently lost a disc with the instrumentals for a lot of their new stuff on it, so they played a great 45-minute set full of old Undercover Angels/Cigarette Beach-era stuff. Ned Oldham played unbilled before GB and I didn't even know that's who it was until someone mentioned it way after he played, and I didn't stick around at all that time for Magnolia Electric Co.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Foo Fighters review in City Paper this week.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Tonight I attempted, for I think the first time, that old trick of going to 2 shows in different places in one night. First I went to Fort Reno, which I hadn't been to at all last summer but went a few times the 2 summers before that, so I'm glad I got to at least one show this year. There's always at least one or two bands I wanna see there every summer. I went to see the new Dischord band Medications, who are basically 2/3rds of Faraquet, who I liked a lot and who they sound more or less just like (the 2 mp3s on their website happen to be my favorite songs from their album and EP respectively, so consider that a reccomendation). I'm working on a review of their album, so I won't say too much about them, but they were pretty good, although their drummer sometimes got a little caught up in the intricacies of their mathy rhythms and missed cues or almost messed up the song. They were opening for Mary Timony, and Devin Ocampo, the guitarist/singer from Medications is her drummer on her current album and tour. I didn't like her much last time I saw her and she wore that damn kittie mask, but I was kinda looking forward to seeing Devin drum with her, since I loved his drumming on the 2nd Smart Went Crazy album. But I decided to get out of there and get across town to meet my friend Mike and see another show.

Mike and I went down to the Black Cat's 'backstage' downstairs bar to see Grand Buffet, who were great as always, although we missed their first couple songs and they didn't play very long, since they were opening. But they did the non-LP favorite "Treehouse" and some other good ones. A lot of their shows have this odd rhythm where they play a 2-minute song and then talk for 4 minutes at a time between songs. Mike is gonna be in Baltimore tomorrow night so we might end up going to see GB again at the Ottobar to get a full set. They're touring with Magnolia Electric Co., who we only stuck around for the first few songs of. It's kind of an odd match, Grand Buffet opening for some country rock played by a Luke Wilson/Scott Bakula-looking guy, but they always seem to end up touring with mismatched bands.

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 12, 2005
A Current Affair Blog: An A Current Affair Blog is my new team blog about A Current Affair. Anyone else who's willing to watch A Current Affair once a week and write about it is welcome to join.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 11, 2005
top ten:

1. Ludacris/Rare Essence - "Pimpin' All Over The World" (Go-Go Remix)
2. Fatman Scoop - "Pon De Remix"
3. Ammo - "Gully Musick"
4. The Posies - "Second Time Around"
5. Elton John - "The Bitch Is Back"
6. Rx Bandits - "Decrescendo"
7. Lil Kim - "Lighters Up"
8. 112 f/ Three 6 Mafia - "Closing The Club"
9. Elvis Costello & The Imposters - "Country Darkness"
10. Rolling Stones - "Wild Horses"

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Scott Amendola Band review in City Paper this week. Man, I'm prolific as hell lately, huh? Thanks to Jeff for sending me the promo.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Cassidy review in Stylus today. I probably would've given it a B!

Note: In light of the end of Stylus in 2007, I decided to archive the text of all my reviews for the site on this blog for posterity, since I don't what the future holds for the Stylus domain, and have included both the letter grade ratting that accompanied the original review, and an adjusted rating that I would give the record now in retrospect.

I’m A Hustla
Full Surface/J
Stylus rating: C
Adjusted rating by reviewer: B

Last year, Cassidy gambled with crossover success and fell flat on his face. After years as a third string Ruff Ryder and ghostwriter for the stars, most of Cassidy’s advance buzz rode on his reputation as a battle rapper and an infamous battle with fellow Philadelphia rising star Freeway. But when his time to shine came as the flagship star of Swizz Beatz’s label Full Surface, instead of releasing a hard song to cement his rep, Cassidy opted to go straight to R&B radio with his first single, “Hotel” featuring R. Kelly.

Perhaps sensing the cognitive dissonance between the two biggest sources of his fame, Cassidy named his debut album Split Personality, and tried to pass it off as a concept album, dividing the tracklist into three personas. But the album struggled to go gold, giving Cassidy neither street cred nor the sales he was aiming for. A year later, Cassidy resurfaced with the single “I’m A Hustla,” flowing relentlessly over one of Swizz’s hardest, iciest beats. And thanks to the hook, a chopped up Jay-Z sample, the song became a surprise hit, and Cassidy began to turn around his image, grimacing like he wanted everyone to forget his babyfaced grin in the “Hotel” video.

Cassidy’s second album was originally titled Personality Change to reflect his new approach, but was switched to I’m A Hustla to capitalize on the single’s success. The first track brings back Split Personality’s theme, though, resurrecting one of Cassidy’s old personas to battle with his new persona on “The Problem Vs. The Hustla.” Again, he doesn’t quite pull off the concept, mainly because the two personalities not only have the same voice, but also flow in more or less the same way. But it turns into a great exhibition of Cassidy’s self-awareness and wit, as he becomes his own worst critic. The Hustla gets in the best jibes against The Problem: “You a disgrace, who wrote your shit? Mase? / Your album wasn't nothing like the shit on the mixtapes / First you was hustling, bustin’ them shells / Then you went commercial to get a couple of sells / That's what you got, a couple of sells / And you probably wouldn't have sold those if wasn't for Kels.” The Problem comes back strong with what many thought of “I’m A Hustla”, though: “That track would have been wack if it wasn't for Jigga.”

For the most part, Cassidy plays the part of The Hustla convincingly throughout the album, keeping the R&B jams to a relative minimum and keeping everything else grimy. Essentially, it’s the album people wanted from him the first time. This doesn’t mean he entirely lives up to his boasts or rep as a lyricist, though, and the more serious tracks serve to highlight the limitations of his repetitive style, saying the same word at the end of every line and rhyming the second-to-last word in the same style as Beanie Sigel.

Considering that over the past year, practically every MC on the East coast has been once again running to late 90’s kingpin Swizz Beatz for a single, Cassidy has the hometeam advantage in being on the super producer’s own label. Swizz doesn’t dominate his protege’s album, though, only producing four songs and performing the hook on another, although all his contributions, especially the title track and the dazzling “C-Bonics” instrumental are clearly from the top shelf of his vault. More highlights come from lesser known beatmakers, including G-Unit producer Needlz and Ruff Ryders’ own Neo Da Matrix. Neo, currently best known for Juelz Santana’s “Mic Check,” laces three tracks with the kind of chaotic, seesawing string loops that Dipset fans go nuts for when lesser lyricists than Cassidy spit on them.

I’m A Hustla has a short but promising roster of guest MCs that’s deployed inconsistently. Nas shows up on “Can’t Fade Me,” but his agenda is clearly to give exposure to his dull new protege Quan. And Raekwon’s appearance is oddly on one of the album’s few soft R&B records, “So Long.” But Lil Wayne and Fabolous aren’t wasted on “6 Minutes,” with the 3 MCs spitting 32 bars or more each with no chorus over a frantic Neo beat.

If Cassidy was worried about proving his street cred with I’m A Hustla, the murder charges he was arrested on shortly before the album’s release sadly did a better job of that than his rhymes. His current incarceration also casts an unpleasant irony on the album’s last song, “The Message” which laments the multitude of black entertainers who have been prosecuted by the law. And while the album is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t quite give Cassidy a strong legacy to leave behind if he does go behind bars for a long time.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2005-08-09

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 08, 2005
J.G. and I adopted kittens! They're in a foster home with their mother right now, but they'll be old enough for us to take home right after we move into our new apartment at the end of the month. This is the girl, who J.G. has named Lucy, and this is the boy, who I haven't decided on a name for yet.


Friday, August 05, 2005
Elvis Costello & the Imposters with Emmylou Harris and Larry Campbell @ Wolf Trap, 7/31/05
(I'll add the setlist later if it shows up on this site, but it was pretty similiar to this show's setlist, except some of the first few songs were different or in a different order.)

Last week, I got a call from my friend/ex-roommate/ex-bandmate Mike, asking me if I wanted an Elvis Costello ticket. His dad had bought a few, but then the people he was going to take fell through, and since Mike knew I'm a big EC fan, they extended the offer to me, which was pretty nice of them. I wanted to see him when he came to the new Ram's Head in Baltimore a couple months ago, but by the time I decided I could afford a ticket, they were sold out. And the only other time I saw EC before, 3 years ago on the When I Was Cruel tour, was kind of a weird experience. I bought a ticket to see him in Philly, and then had car troubles a couple days before the show, and out of desperation asked for a ride on an EC newsgroup. I ended up hitching a ride with this weird bickering couple who was following Elvis around the country on tour. It was real nice of them but still an odd experience.

So anyway, on Sunday, me and Mike and his girlfriend and his dad went to see EC at the Wolf Trap, which is this gigantic wooden outdoor theater in northern Virginia that I'd never been to before. It's so rare that I see a show at a seated venue, it's an odd experience for me, but nice, and we had a good view. It was the last show of Elvis's summer tour with Emmylou Harris, playing both as part of the same set, singing each other's songs together.

The first 30-40 minutes of the show was just Elvis and the Imposters doing their usual rock show, starting with "Uncomplicated" and "Clown Strike", which was kind of a pleasant surprise since that's one of my favorites off Brutal Youth but not a real obvious one to play. Also good versions of "Chelsea" and "Clubland", which had an extended guitar solo that concluded with Elvis playing the melody of "I Feel Pretty" on guitar. "Country Darkness" might've been my favorite performance of the night, though, really subtle shifts of dynamics from loud to soft in the band. Then Larry Campbell came out and played slide guitar on "Waiting For The End Of The World", and after that Emmylou came out and accompanied the band for about an hour.

The part of the set with Emmylou was nice and laid back, some of her stuff, some covers, and some of Elvis's more countryish stuff from King of America and Almost Blue. Elvis also seemed to talk and tell stories a lot more than I think he usually does, which was nice, some funny anecdotes that I probably shouldn't bother trying to re-tell effectively. Steve Nieve is generally my favorite part of the band to watch, and even on the more subdued material he can be kind of animated, running around switching from one keyboard to another to accordian to melodica. The melodica in particular was a nice touch, especially playing that melody on "American Without Tears".

After an hour or so with Emmylou, she left the stage and Elvis and the Imposters played for a while longer, focusing heavily on The Delivery Man material. That album has kinda grown on me since last year, I didn't listen to it much when it came out, but it's pretty likeable. And those songs came across really well live, even ones I didn't like much on the album, like "Needle Time" and the title track. "Bedlam" is still my favorite off that album, though.

They came back out with Emmylou Harris for the encore, and the best surprise of the night was the cover of "Wild Horses", which was great, I love that song. Elvis laid it on the anti-war sentiment a bit thick, closing with "Peace, Love & Understanding" and "The Scarlet Tide", and got a lot of applause for it. By the end, the show ran at almost exactly 3 hours, with only the breif pause before the encore. Good show, although definitely a bit exhausting. Thanks again to Mike and his dad for inviting me.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 04, 2005
Grand Buffet review in Stylus today, another one I worked kinda hard on because I'm a big fan and I wanted to get it right. I've talked about them a little bit here before, and they really are great live, so I might reccomend seeing them before checking out the CD, and they happen to be touring the whole country in the next couple months.

Note: In light of the end of Stylus in 2007, I decided to archive the text of all my reviews for the site on this blog for posterity, since I don't what the future holds for the Stylus domain, and have included both the letter grade ratting that accompanied the original review, and an adjusted rating that I would give the record now in retrospect.

Grand Buffet
Five Years Of Fireworks
Stylus rating: B+
Adjusted rating by reviewer: A-

Five Years Of Fireworks is a greatest hits album by a group you’ve probably never heard of. Since the late 90’s, the Pittsburgh duo Grand Buffet have been honing their deeply silly strain of indie rap in obscurity. And for their first national release available somewhere other than the group’s own website and live shows, they’ve assembled a package including a DVD and a retrospective collection featuring highlights from the 2000 album Sparkle Classic and the trilogy of EPs Undercover Angels (2001), Cigarette Beach (2002) and Pittsburgh Hearts (2003).

Grand Buffet have amassed their small cult of followers through constant touring, often opening for fellow white indie rappers such as Sage Francis and Sole. But Grand Buffet project no trace of the seriousness or messiah complexes of their tourmates. If anything, they’re more Bloodhound Gang than Anticon. It’s hard to tell when, if ever, anything that Lord Grunge and Grape-A-Don do or say is meant to be taken seriously. Their concerts often seem like elaborate put-ons, wherein they seem to change nicknames (Fred Durts and Mr. Pennsylvania, M-Dog and Iguanadon, Matt and Nate Kukla) from night to night and make constant inside jokes and tongue in cheek speeches.

Instead of the dusty jazz samples or herky-jerky IDM production touches typical to undie rap, Grand Buffet’s beats, produced mostly by Jarrod Brandon Weeks (a.k.a. Lord Grunge), seem to draw their inspiration largely from synth pop. Big, glistening keyboard riffs and four-on-the-floor dance beats are a strangely appropriate backdrop for their surreal raps, delivered mostly by Jackson O’Connell-Barlow (a.k.a. Grape-A-Don). And if he rapped slowly, awkwardly, or like the Sugar Hill Gang, Grand Buffet would never rise above novelty, the kind of cringe-inducing joke rap that only people who don’t actually like hip hop could enjoy. But Grape-A-Don is a stunningly dexterous MC, winding absurd, intricate stories into every verse, like the most inane, nonsensical daydream fully realized. Whether he does a disservice to his own skills by filling his dense rhymes with pop culture references and juvenile jokes is up for debate.

Grand Buffet’s scatalogical sense of humor is on full display on “Double Crazy,” which is literally about eating shit, and “1000 Percent,” in which Lord Grunge admits to crapping his pants. Two songs, “Cool As Hell” and “You’re On Fire,” are about going to hell and pledging allegiance to Satan, which brings us another component of Grand Buffet’s humor: their constant ridicule of Christian conservatives. I can think of few things I’d want to hear less than middle class liberals sarcastically lampooning rural Republican stereotypes. But I just couldn’t help but howl with laughter the first time I heard “Americus (Religious Right Rock),” which sarcastically lays out the following platform of opinions: “We’re not holier than thou, but holy cow! / There’s people doing stuff God would never allow! / Like guys kissing guys, and poor people too / There’s plenty of jobs, find something to do!”. Occasionally they do sneak some sincere political commentary into their songs, though, with the environmentalist stance of lines like “they trample the vegetation with their ATVs / So now they’re fucking with the ghost of Johnny Appleseed,” from “Cool As Hell”.

Like the previous releases it draws from, Five Years Of Fireworks clocks in at under 35 minutes, and every song runs under 3 minutes. Grand Buffet know better than run any one joke into the ground. In the liner notes to last year’s 50-minute rarities compilation Dicer: The Unheard Funk Tracks, they swore “this is NOT an album. We will NEVER make an album this goddamned long.” Still, for a career retrospective, they could’ve included more, and longtime fans my cry foul at the omission of favorites (no “We’re Into This”? no “Nate Kukla’s History of Lemonade”?). Though the tracks are not presented in chronological order, there is evidence of progress. The vocal distortion on early songs like “Candy Bars” smacks of an adolescence spent listening to Check Your Head. But later tracks from Pittsburgh Hearts and the only previously unreleased song on the collection, the bizarre battle cry “Birdwater Highway,” are among the best on the album.

What makes Five Years a worthy purchase for fans and newcomers alike is the DVD. Nearly an hour of live footage, culled from over a dozen different shows from throughout Grand Buffet’s career, is perhaps more likely to convince nonbelievers than the album. Favorites like “Pink Deadly” and “Candy Bars” really are best seen and heard as they’re delivered in concert. Between that highlight reel and the CD, this is a nearly perfect introduction to the world of Grand Buffet. The motto once emblazoned on their early self-released discs—“No Label. No Fans. No Problem.”—has been replaced on Five Years Of Fireworks by “Label. Fans. Problem.” Judging by this, they may have to get ready for a lot more of each.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2005-08-04

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Posies review in Stylus today. The last time a review of mine ran in Stylus, I griped here that the rating they gave it was not the one I submitted with the review, because I hadn't been told yet about their new policy. Now, the editor reads the review and gives it a rating based on what the writer says about the album, and a rating that's consistent with their rating system. Which is fine with me, because I was never sure I really had a handle on how to rate things there, and I don't really like to rate things either. Especially since I end up getting really neurotic about whether I'm consistent with my ratings and I don't, say, rating something really high that ends up not even in my top 10 at the end of the year. Stylus hasn't put anything up on the site yet as a disclaimer that the reviewers aren't deciding the ratings anymore, but just bear that in mind from now on. And though I'm fine with that policy, if I disagree with the rating, I probably will mention it here from time to time (I probably would've given this one the same rating they did, as it happens).

Not having to give it a rating really did help me finish this review, though, it was a tough one for me. In the 7 years since the Posies last released an album, they made the transition from a band I liked to one of my favorite bands ever. And on first listen, Every Kind Of Light was a pretty big disappointment. But it's quickly grown on me, and though I still think it's pretty flawed and inconsistent, I may end up thinking pretty highly of it.

Note: In light of the end of Stylus in 2007, I decided to archive the text of all my reviews for the site on this blog for posterity, since I don't what the future holds for the Stylus domain, and have included both the letter grade ratting that accompanied the original review, and an adjusted rating that I would give the record now in retrospect.

The Posies
Every Kind Of Light
Stylus rating: B-
Adjusted rating by reviewer: B

The Posies broke up in 1998, and have been backtracking and reneging on that promise ever since. They decided to call it a day after being dropped from Geffen, following a modest run as alt-rock also-rans that never managed to capitalize on being a Seattle band in the early 90’s, despite having signed a major label deal well before the grunge explosion. So they wrapped things up with a prolonged round of farewell tours, and one last album, Success, which was surprisingly cohesive for a thrown together collection of new recordings of rarities and unreleased old songs. But founders John Auer and Ken Stringfellow couldn’t keep away from each other, and in their seven-year breakup, never went even two years without performing together.

Since the Posies’ failed attempt at breaking up, Auer and Stringfellow have toured several times as an acoustic duo and as the full electric quartet, and released two live albums, a box set of rarities, and an EP of new material. With all this posthumous activity, it’s unsurprising that the Posies are now officially back together with their sixth album of new material. After being kicked back down to indie level post-Geffen, they’ve now resurfaced on Rykodisc, who have wrapped Every Kind Of Light in that cozy green-tinted jewel case usually associated with their prestigious reissues, almost as an acknowledgement that the Posies’ continued existence is itself a blast from the past.

On previous albums, Auer and Stringfellow split lead vocal and songwriting duties 50/50, alternating songs in album running orders and concert setlists. But on Every Kind Of Light, for the first time, the songwriting credits are shared by the whole band, including the new rhythm section, drummer Darius Minwalla and bassist Matt Harris. And Auer’s voice dominates the material, singing lead on 6 of the first 7 tracks. It’s a welcome shift of the spotlight, though, since Auer’s solo debut has been delayed time and time again and is now due in 2006, while Stringfellow has released 3 solo albums already. And Auer in turn delivers most of Every Kind Of Light’s standouts, including the single “Conversations.”

Ken Stringfellow’s songs on Every Kind Of Light reflect the keyboard-driven direction of his recent solo work more than his previous output with the Posies, who rarely strayed from guitar/bass/drums arrangements. On “Could He Treat You Better?” he attempts bluesy soul for the kind of ill-fitting genre pastiche that dominated last year’s solo effort Soft Commands. “That Don’t Fly” is a piano ballad much like a dozen others he’s written in the last few years, but also among the best of them, wherein Stringfellow, who recently moved to France, parallels his separation from America with the breakup of a relationship. The political undertones of the album aren’t always so subtle or elegant, though, and the cringe-inducing “Sweethearts Of Rodeo Drive” is full of hamfisted wordplay like “the black CNN has gone all HSN” and “paper or plastic body bags,” along with bizarre namechecks of Adrien Brody and Shaquille O’Neal.

Though the Posies’ last releases of original material, 1998’s Success and the 2001 EP Nice Cheekbones and a Ph.D., emphasized quiet acoustic material, Every Kind Of Light features some of the band’s heaviest fuzzbox action since the Don Fleming-produced thump of 1993’s Frosting On The Beater. Several songs, including “All In A Day’s Work” and the silly, upbeat “I Finally Found A Jungle I Like!!!” turn up the amps as loud as ever. But only “Second Time Around” combines those high volumes with the tremendous hooks of the band’s power pop roots, resulting in a track that ranks up there with “Solar Sister” as the Posies at their best. Truth be told, though, the band’s connections to power pop were always a little overstated, their songwriting too baroque and melancholy to really belong alongside all those bands aping The Raspberries. But “Love Comes” is perhaps the sunniest power pop tune The Posies have ever written, bouncy, bright and full of harmonies and jangly guitar leads.

Every Kind Of Light presents a wider variety of sounds and moods than any previous Posies album, thanks largely to a couple of lighthearted tunes, and a greater presence of keyboards than ever before. But most of these deviations from the classic Posies sound also account for the album’s weakest or most awkward moments. Still, consistency has never really been the Posies’ strong suit, and their latest has only a slightly spottier ratio of hits to misses than their best albums. And if that playful experimentation is what it takes to give the Posies a shot in the arm and make this more than a one-off reunion, so be it, because Every Kind Of Light provides ample evidence that there’s still plenty of mileage in the chemistry between the band’s songwriters.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2005-08-02

Labels: , ,