Rock It to the Moon (Mr. Lady)
Instrumental masterpiece from Brighton's buzz band du jour.
"Just because we don't have lyrics doesn't unintensify how we feel," says Electrelane guitarist Mia Clarke. Not that the decision to play instrumentals should require an explanation: Anyone who's heard Kid Rock or Eminem knows that having lyrics doesn't guarantee that a musician has something to say. After the U.K.-based four-piece released its first single in 2000, its beautifully cinematic 'n' spacey soundscapes quickly garnered countless comparisons to acts such as Quickspace, Mogwai, Pram, and Stereolab. But with a sonic palette that beautifully blends film-noir atmospherics, flared tempos, and screaming, seething organs, the four women in Electrelane are undoubtedly rooted in the raw, exhilarating energy of punk (Sonic Youth, Yoko Ono, the Stooges). Most of Rock It to the Moon's 11 songs are constructed around two guitars, bass, drums, and Farfisa, but the band smartly toys with its (im)pulses, inventively building, then avoiding, crescendos and incorporating everything from hand claps and glockenspiels to dog barks(!) and saxophones. The result is an album that's so intense, original, and engaging that it's without a doubt the year's first musical masterpiece. And Electrelane accomplished it without singing a single word. Jimmy Draper
Los Halos (Loveless)
Godspeed, you black-backpack-wearing shoegazer.
What would a Loveless Records release be without My Bloody Valentine- inspired noise and stoned guitar lines? It'd be that Vendetta Red record, of course, but let's talk about Pennsylvania's Los Halos. At times, their self-titled release (available on www.loveless.com and at local independent record stores) plays like a segue between local Loveless veterans Voyager One and the aforementioned emo rockers; the elusively named frontman, Samezvous, frequently breaks out of quiet sidewinder guitar lines only to arrive at that high-decibel holler that the kids these days are so over the moon about. The opener, "You Should Have Known By Now," exists solely on those six words repeated ad nauseam over some similarly repetitive high-hat chitchat and rumbling guitar lines. The song builds slowly for two minutes before surrendering to a violent change of heart. By the three-minute mark, Samezvous is screaming like only a man who's got an awful lot of confidence in his ear, nose, and throat specialist can scream. Tracks like "Infinity Bitch" evoke a kinder, gentler, less masturbatory Mogwai; layers of guitars elbow each other out of the way for minutes at a time until something cannonball crazed and chaotic finally takes center stage. Although the epic-length songs usually return to their initial states of quiet brooding, occasionally passing through a surefooted, straightforward singer/songwriter stage on the way, it's the mood of those echoing outbursts that lingers the longest. Laura Learmonth
Calling Albany (Kindercore)
Leave your name (-dropping) at the door.
In theory, cultural name-dropping in rock songs shouldn't be a problem (it's different in hip-hop, where the technique comes naturally. Figures such as Yoko Ono, Brian Wilson, and—ahem, Barenaked Ladies—are part of our landscape as much as things like Mustangs and Coke. But name checks often play like lazy songwriting, as if we're to feel an instant bond with a song because we "know" the same people. On their second album, Calling Albany, acoustic rock outfit Vermont (led by the Promise Ring's Davey Von Bohlen) gives us "The Ballad of Larry Bird" and "Arrest Harrison Ford!" (that's in addition to relatively excusable references to "Three Times a Lady" in "Commodores 64" and to the Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road" in "Hello_Goodbye Sex.") The problem is that these references barely move beyond the chuckle stage. The fragile melancholy melody in "Larry Bird" is undercut by the refrain, "I'm a straight shooter, like Larry Bird." Contrast that to the genuine desperation of "Bells of Saint Alcohol": "I drink alcohol to get on through the summer/And I'd do just about anything to get on through the winter." In the Promise Ring, Von Bohlen can hide anxiety behind volume. In this gentle setting, it feels like he's trying to conceal it behind humor—an understandable instinct, but one that sells himself and his listeners short. Chris Nelson
The Worst You Can Do Is Harm
Turning bad times into good art.
If the Long Winters' debut, The Worst You Can Do Is Harm, is at all autobiographical (and the letters, dedications, and childhood photos included with it are meant to imply just that), then main man John Roderick must have some fuming exes out there right now. Here's a guy—apparently a selfish, commitment-wary, substance-using guy—who's assembled an indie-rock A-list (Death Cab for Cutie, Harvey Danger, the Posies) to turn his obvious screwups into a pretty dang decent rock album. Relationships in Roderick's songs are doomed, often from the start. "If you think you're gonna be here long/I'm gonna miss you so much when you're gone," the singer predicts in the depressed "Unsalted Butter." Throughout the album, Roderick's assistants underscore the emotional havoc with subtle musical touches. Harmonies from Harvey Danger singer Sean Nelson evoke the charm bandied by a codependent manipulator. Roderick is at his best when his music packs a punch; his softer songs sound too much like self-pity. Still, The Worst You Can Do Is Harm is composed mostly of compelling tales—ones you'd probably rather listen to than live in. Chris Nelson
The Long Winters play at the Sunset Thurs., Feb. 7 and the Crocodile Sat., Feb. 9.