Thursday, April 6, 2006
SOUTH | Adventures in the Underground Journey to the Stars | Young American
Frequently soft and sleepy-voiced, South is hardly an overwhelming band. The trio’s last album, 2003’s With the Tides, was full of ambient rock ballads. Its latest, Adventures in the Underground Journey to the Stars, is more up tempo, but even electric numbers like “You Are One” and “A Place in Displacement” sound strangely mellow and tastefully wound with chiming melodies and lead singer Joel Cadbury’s light, wistful voice.
Appreciating South requires a close and attentive listen. Cadbury, guitarist Jamie McDonald, and drummer Brett Shaw write the kind of pop songs you can replicate on any instrument—acoustic guitar, piano—without losing their original charm. As clichéd and obvious as UK balladry is these days, songs like “Pieces of a Dream” and “What Holds Us” are nevertheless effectively romantic. “The essence of time is what holds us tight,” sings Cadbury on the latter.
South’s new album won’t set the world on fire, but the group puts on a winning performance in its own quiet way. (MR)
STEVE MACKAY | Michigan and Arcturus | Radon
Saxophone player Steve MacKay has played a crucial role in the secret history of American underground music. Listen to Funhouse by the Stooges and his manic skronk and wail is there with blistering resonance. The Violent Femmes, Mike Watt and J. Mascis all have called upon his stormy lungs. Rather than rest on his laurels, MacKay’s ever-mutating Radon Ensemble traverses gut-punching swells of jazz, noise and improvisation.
Michigan and Arcturus cycles through nearly a dozen players and captures turbulent and baroque instability. Fuzzed-out recording qualities add grit to an already visceral drive in “The Moment Is Sinking, pt. 1” and “Oirt Rewop,” illustrating the real-time spontaneity summoned during these sessions. Sound levels in “Los Altos Blues” shred the red line into ribbons, trying desperately to contain a brutal balance of drone and melody.
All in all, it’s the imperfections that make these songs perfect. (CR)