Hurl: We Are Quiet In This Room (My Pal God)
This EP is a definite grower. At first I was just moderately respectful of both the band's chops and the sense of unity the EP had, but every subsequent listen has pulled out new things to be awed by. All this before it became more than obvious that the songs themselves were all great examples of extremely mathy indie rock, like what would happen if Minus the Bear's DNA was mixed with Don Caballero's. The two guitarists expertly wind around each other without stepping on toes, bassist Matt Jencik - sometime Don Cab member, and it shows - ably handles the more melodic playing over the guitars' scenery and while the drummer isn't a virtuoso he navigates and directs the changes with a nice, deft touch. I still wouldn't call this a sterling example of the form, but it's certainly one that keeps me coming back. [8.4/10]
The Azusa Plane: Cheltenham (Ochre)
90 Day Men: 1975-1997-1978 (Temporary Residence)
I struggle with what to rate this one, honeslty. On it's own terms it's definitely upper-middle tier post-hardcore imbued math rock - think the intersection of Unwound and U.S. Maple - with fantastic bass playing and hints towards bigger, brighter things based on the ease with which it uses atmosphere. In the scope of what 90 Day Men would become shortly hereafter, once they brought on keyboardist Andy Lansangan and moved into much less abrasive waters, it's significantly lacking and utterly juvenile. So how to proceed? Do I rip into it for not being anything like the band that, quite frankly, I don't think they knew they could become, or do I set aside the future greatness and offer it praise for being what it is?
If the rating wasn't a big enough clue, I lean towards the latter quite decidedly in this case; regardless of how it fails to measure up to the twin triumphs of To Everybody and Panda Park, this doesn't even seem to be the work of the same band. This is a group of young, angry guys who worship at the altar of Steve Albini ("Streamlines and Breadwinners" couldn't sound more like Shellac if it tried) but have a nascent sense of songcraft that occasionally rubs against their more abrasive instincts ("My Trip to Venus" is incredibly catchy, especially that little guitar break in the chorus, for all its dissonance.) They probably spent a bit of time digging through the Gravity Records back catalog ("Sweater Queen" calls to mind Clikitat Ikatowi until it builds up to that half-speed breakdown) but might have eyes towards Chicago-bred post rock even before they know how to harness that sound ("Sink Potemkin" and especially "Hey, Citronella!" seem to have appropriated an epic streak or two from that lot, even as they thrive on uncomfortable levels of abrasion.) It's a very young sounding release, but at the same time it's incredibly practiced and polished. It's of two minds, but never sounds like an identity crisis. It doesn't hint towards the melodic beauty that they'd unleash a few years later, but it works its own kind of magic within its own confines. [8.1/10]
Download link and image courtesy of Last Train to Cool.
Clinic: Cement Mixer (Aladdin's Cave of Golf)
The B-sides aren't as much of a letdown this time out, probably owing to the whole not having to live up to "Monkey on Your Back" thing. "Kimberly" especially seems like the blueprint for most of Clinic's better ballads from here on out - unsettling as fuck, but with a weirdly sweet undercurrent. "Voot" fills the instrumental requirement, and while it doesn't quite match "Evil Bill" in that department it's a nice enough way to end the single. [8.5/10]
Clinic: Monkey on Your Back (Aladdin's Cave of Golf)
So yeah, without extending myself into further hyperbole, "Monkey on Your Back" is absolutely perfect. It's perfect in the macro, it's perfect down to the tiniest details, like that bass swoop that kicks in during the second verse then becomes part of the main riff for the third, or the weird 'frame missing' vibe that the instruments dropping out before the third verse lends to the song. It's not the first time the Clinic showed just how good they could be - "Porno" was equally noteworthy if not as perfect - but it's the first time they hit the nail right on the head without any reservations. It's their mission statement, really: take Spectorian grandeur, add Velvet Underground abrasion, let the atmosphere do the rest. Really, even if the rest of this single was utter gash there's no way that I could hand it less than 4 stars.
Luckily though, both of the B-sides deliver even if it's on a much lesser scale than the A-side. "Evil Bill" in particular re-affirms the band's ease with mood and atmosphere as it takes about half the running time of most post-rock tracks to develop a similarly deep reserve of mood and tension. "D.T." is much more slight than either of its bookends, but in terms of displaying the band's versatility it does a decent job of showing how well they take to noisier material while still retaining their core Spectorian vibe. Neither lives up to the standard that "Monkey" sets, but both are integral parts of the band's canon nonetheless. [9.1/10]
Download link courtesy of Amor Louco. Contains the full self-titled compillation with all three of Clinic's early singles.
Tintoretto: The Sound of Someone You Love Who Is Leaving...And It Doesn't Really Matter (Highwater)
Dowload link courtesy of Wisconsin Sickness.
Clikatat Ikatowi: River of Souls (Gravity)
Download link and image courtesy of Shiny Grey Monotone.
Three Mile Pilot: Three Mile Pilot (Gravity)
Oh, and "On a Ship to Bangladesh" is the least 3MP thing they've ever done, and it's also awesome in all its cheesiness. Not a highlight so much as an interesting side-trek that merits note. [8.2/10]
Jaga Jazzist: Magazine (Smalltown Supersound)