CD Reviews

MERCURY REV All Is Dream (V2) Butter my beans, the kids are back!

Mercury Rev sound like a bunch of Muppets who wandered away from Sesame Street and set up shop in a houseboat heavily stocked with quasilegal hallucinogens and purring happy cats; they're a cult of cute monsters who grew up in a floating bubble and got younger with age. All Is Dream is part Deserter Songs (their 1998 release), part Donovan, part James Bond themes, part Soft Machine, and a little Radiohead—all the good elements of prog rock and orchestrated melody whirled and buzzed into a dizzy slurry of confused repeating sing-alongs that command you to eat Pop Rocks and fuck on furry blankets. Yet, for all the chopping and blending, comparisons to the Flaming Lips may be almost too obvious to make. Founding member Dave Fridmann has produced the lion's share of Lips albums, so of course there is going to be much similarity in the way that his own records sound: wide open drums, warm strings, panned recording with shining mini-parts that span song bridges as a tinkle in yer ear. But where the strength of the Lips lies in the rawk, the strength of Rev lies in the arrangements. The simplicity of the final product belies the complexity of each song. All Is Dream succeeds like Deserter Songs did, and deferring to the words of the esteemed Pat Morita as spoken to a naive Ralph Macchio, "Same but different. Very good." Mark Driver

VELVET CRUSH In the Presence of Greatness (Action Musik) A Single Odyssey (Action Musik)

Ten years later, Matthew Sweet-styled debut still at the top of the power-pops.

Though officially a power-pop trio consisting of drummer Ric Menck, guitarist Jeff Borchardt (Honeybunch), and vocalist Paul Chastain on guitar, bass, and other "cool stuff," Velvet Crush are most known for their work with "floating fourth" member Matthew Sweet. It's not an unfair or unfounded association, either: As co-producer of their earliest and best recordings, Sweet often contributed musically to the band, and his influence is obvious. On their recently reissued 1991 debut, the excellent In the Presence of Greatness, Velvet Crush jingle and jangle through 10 bittersweet tracks with all the brokenhearted desperation and determination of their pal's Earth and Girlfriend, as well as incorporating sounds and styles of other influences like Big Star, R.E.M., and Teenage Fanclub. Still sounding thrilling and alive a decade after its initial release, the Greatness reissue is the band's companion piece to this month's A Single Odyssey, a 20-track documentation of Velvet Crush's complete non-LP output, including a previously unreleased outtake of Gene Clark's "Elevator Operator." At times a bit disjointed as it spans the bits and pieces of the band's career from 1990 to 2000, the compilation is nonetheless a must-have for fans wanting Velvet Crush's musical miscellanea collected on one convenient disc. For listeners unfamiliar with the oft-overlooked and undiscovered trio, however, Greatness is the perfect starting point. Jimmy Draper

CLINIC Internal External (Domino) A visit to this Clinic might make you twitch.

Listen to Internal External a couple dozen times and chances are that you still won't know what a single song is about. Chances are you won't give a damn. Clinic makes mood music. And though they keep the tempo high, the mood here shouldn't be confused for giddy or upbeat; it's nervous—nail-bitingly, hair-twirlingly, skin-crawlingly nervous. Tracks like "Voodoo Wop," "2/4" (which features some "Sister Ray"-style organ), and the delicious "Return of Evil Bill" are twitch-inducing affairs of the first order. Several passages have the same amphetamine-laced quality as some of the best of the Fall's recent output, but instead of a barking, drunk guy at the helm, Clinic vocalist Ade Blackburn sounds like a well-scrubbed school lad. His voice isn't especially commanding, but it's smooth enough at least to not be in the way, either. The '60s-style keyboards, thumping bass drums, and floating melodica strains (the presence of which should not encourage comparisons with that lackluster Gorillaz album) are the real stars on Internal External. They may lend a stifling sameness to the songs—the mournful "Distortions," which sounds like an escapee from the Velvet Underground's third album, is the only real departure here—but it's a pretty snazzy number nonetheless. If these guys learn a few new tricks, their next album is going to be a killer. Paul Fontana

TARA JANE O'NEIL In the Sun Lines (Quarterstick) Former Rodin/Retsin/ Sonora Pine guitarist Tara Jane O'Neil frees herself from the singer/songwriter ball and chain.

Let's get one thing straight: Tara Jane O'Neil is not Cat Power Junior. Certainly, this New York City-based guitarist knows the power of a sad song and proficiently channels her own personal pain into her work. But on In the Sun Lines, O'Neil's sophomore solo outing for Quarterstick, O'Neil draws a subtle line between her work and the more song-oriented strains of Cat Power's Chan Marshall. O'Neil is not so much a songwriter as she is a sound sculptor, using the textures of her voice and guitar to create atmosphere and mood. The result is striking; tracks like "In This Rough" and "Your Rats Are" unfurl slowly and passionately, like flowers in time-lapse photography. Her delicate alto teeters on the brink of collapse, and the dusky, echoing guitar sounds as if it were recorded through several layers of rain-streaked glass. The drawback to this is that O'Neil does not present us with a tangible, lyric-based world vision that can be filed away. Rather, she gives us a total package—her persona as both a singer and a musician. While this approach is common ground for male musicians, it's still somewhat new for women and O'Neil will undoubtedly encounter resistance because she does not write "songs" in the way that her peers do. Whether that makes In the Sun Lines an absolute failure of Southern Gothic or a triumph of atmosphere depends on how resistant you are to change. Tizzy Asher

 
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