CD Reviews

JOAN OF ARC

So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness

(Jade Tree)

Textbook Windy City indie: uncompromising, pretentious, indulgent, radical.

Like every Joan of Arc album, this one is unlistenably gorgeous. Lest you find that disclaimer paradoxical or, worse, ultraretarded, just know that I am not assigning So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness the more complimentary "gorgeously unlistenable" tag, although at times it is, albeit the converse more often. OK, sorry about that last sentence, dudesjust trying to hijack JOA's schizo songwriting style into paragraph form. It doesn't take, but let's keep it at least a little figurative. The Kinsella menglib frontman Tim and freakishly proficient drummer Mikelike applying commas, clauses, and ellipses to their still influential, clean-channel compositions. As usual, traditional verse-chorus-verse repetition is anathema, so Tim's rare mantramuttering, "The problem is, you can't understand what the problem is" beneath a blanket of squeaky cornet in "The Infinite Blessed Yes"leaps out as a worthy talking point. Joan of Arc's jazzy, combative guitar tangents snap under scattershot piano interludes, ugly harmonics, and even delicate, barely audible fingerpicking. "Mr. Participation Billy" is a brutal, physical narrative of literally broken men, set to something out of a goddamn snow globe. It's all as daunting as it is breathtaking. I'm betting on no lower body movement whatsoever at the live show. ANDREW BONAZELLI

Joan of Arc play Graceland at 9 p.m. Tues., March 11 with Dance Imperative. $8.

THE MENDOZA LINE

If They Knew This Was the End

(Bar/None)

Brit-hyped Georgia combo takes a trip through its back pages.

In the current ish of tastemaking British mag Uncut, a gushing live review of Brooklyn-by-way-of-Athens combo the Mendoza Line trots out all the usual typical U.K. superlatives: "stomping pop perfection," "exuberant stage presence," "intelligence and wisdom is their compass after emotional storms wreak havoc," etc. But if you've seen the loopy-but-charming Line in person (or sampled the drawling, twisted Americana of last year's Lost in Revelry), it reads less as hypejust sincere heavy breathing on the journalist's part. Meanwhile, a mini-window into the past has just opened up, courtesy of the folks at Bar/None responsible for 2000's We're All in This Alone. The CD at hand collects recordings intended for the group's aborted '96 debut; revealing liner memoirs of founding member Tim Bracy detail the entire debacle. The Line was clearly at odds with the then-thriving Athens retro-ish psych-pop indie scene (Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, etc.). Songs in general favored either a rootsy folk vibe (the twangy guitar rush of "I Behaved That Way" perfectly nestles alongside the woozy-cool piano/trumpet arrangement of the Giant Sand-like "The Aragon and Trianon") or a ramshackle, medium-fi-but-incessantly-hookish indie-pop approach frequently reminiscent of Yo La Tengo and Sebadoh. As such, the disc isn't a starting point for newcomers, but a treat for those already smitten by the Line and its still-growing musical gifts. FRED MILLS

TALL DWARVES

The Sky Above the Mud Below

(Carrot Top)

Jangling garage pop stays strong.

After nearly 25 years of cranking out weird little lo-fi pop songs, our boys in New Zealand have gone digital, but the studio updates are no great cause for concern. The 25 songs on this release (actually a full-length of Knox-n-Bathgate stuff plus an EP of songs made by the duo with help from friends like Jad Fair and Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Magnum) are, for the most part, the same as they ever were: simple, silly, smart, and strange. Ever the adept manipulator of the Casiotone, the drum machine, and other fun toys, Chris Knox stirs childlike wonder into Alec Bathgate's multifarious guitar work, resulting in a curious mix of fuzzed sturdiness and gentle pop. On "Room to Breath," Bathgate makes references to VU's "Sweet Jane" with the 12-string, while Knox uses his Mellotron to set the blue mood. On the atmospheric "We Are the Chosen Few," Bathgate plugs in, as Knox, thanks to the miracles of multitracking, layered synths, organ, and some of his own noodling guitar. Elsewhere, the duo excellently exploits the sweet evocation of instrumental charm, the shimmy of the slide guitar, and the dirty ooze of thick bass. And, as always, the lyrics are a perfectly peculiar mixed bag of nonsense and hearts-on-their-sleeves earnestness. Clearly, the duo's new tools were weapons of time management and not lo-fi mass destructionthe Tall Dwarves continue to be maximally minimalist and cleverly cool. And, oh yeah, if you like what you hearespecially the more garagey, rockin' stuffhunt down Knox and Bathgate's pre-Tall Dwarves projects Toy Love and the Enemy. You'll be glad you did. LAURA CASSIDY

 
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