Thursday, June 15, 2006
FEATHERS | Feathers | Gnomonsong
Feathers, a large and mostly acoustic new-folk outfit, is unlikely to cause any meltdowns whatsoever. Singer/multi-instrumentalist Meara O’Reilly eschews any talk of Feathers’ forebears, saying instead that she and the rest of this octet are simply inspired by one another. Sitar player Greg Petrovato claims that, for his part, he’s ignorant of current trends.
Feathers’ first widely available full-length does indeed smack of self-imposed exile. Much of that has to do with Kyle Thomas, an elfin-voiced vocalist who sounds like Marc Bolan la-la-la-ing his way through a bad head cold. Perhaps because his reedy vocal presence is so distinctive, Thomas evokes no period more than the one we’re living through right now. That’s not to say that he and his fellow Feathers vocalists come across as up-to-the-minute on such hippified songs as “Silverleaves in the Air of Starseedlings” and “Old Black Hat With a Dandelion Flower.” They just don’t sound like they’re swiping anyone else’s old black hat with a dandelion flower.
Instrumentally, too, the band projects a vibe that’s downright isolationist. Though electric guitars sometimes ring out, much of the consistently excellent Feathers could be rendered with whatever might be lying around your average mountaintop home. Acoustic guitars and hand drums perform much of the heavy lifting. But there is also a toy xylophone (“Ulna”), some sort of bell or chime (“Past the Moon”), and a banjo with questionable intonation (“Van Rat”).
Obviously, it takes more than a yurt in the sticks to make good folk music. Thomas & Co., however, have achieved some degree of folk purism by doing things the old-fashioned way: using blackout-proof instruments to entertain themselves. That might explain why Feathers ends with “Come Around,” a honest-to-goodness all-hands-on-deck singalong. —Brent Burton
TAPES ‘N TAPES | The Loon | Ibid
Sporting palpable, musical touchstones that make easy discussion-board talking points, Minneapolis quartet Tapes ’n Tapes is prime “blog rock”—indie rock made popular through grassroots music journals. The Web offers so much giddily imbued and embedded media, it’ll keep your metacarpals scurrying across that keyboard to explore more cliques with your clicks, and Tapes ’n Tapes offers a similarly saturated indie OCD name-that-influence syndrome. Pavement, the Pixies, Tangiers, Wire and the Feelies have all been plucked from the referential reservoir and bandied about, at times accurately.
Where Tapes ’n Tapes succeed is in unhurriedly surging arrangement. The rhythm is at times jagged and others jangly, and the embellishments smooth and jazzy atop a roots-brushed strum. There is neither too much bombast nor ballast, and the stylistic references don’t sound over-thought or overwrought. It will spawn MP3s ’n MP3s. —Tony Ware
MATTHEW SWEET | Girlfriend | Volcano/Legacy
Power popper guy from New York, comes outta nowhere, good-sized hit, cult following—does this justify a reissue plus outtakes?
Somewhat, but not quite. Matthew Sweet’s updated takes on Chilton/DB’s were revelatory in 1991 if for no other reason than the entire genre had been more or less dormant (with the exception of the Smithereens’ modest hits). His own modest hit, the title track of this two-fer, was indeed unique—instead of going for Byrds-y jangle, he aimed higher and newer, adding the strident picking of ex-Voidoid/Lou Reed guitarist Bob Quine and Television’s Richard Lloyd.
Yes, the alternate mixes here aren’t gonna change anyone’s mind, nor are the twin covers likely to boggle and baffle, although the Neil Young guitar showcase “Cortez The Killer” was made for this band. Sweet was and is a modest singer with better taste and common sense than 99 percent of his competition, and a true fan will soak up every minute of this. —Johnny Angel