Lancaster County Prison
What I Love About America--One Drinky-Winky Records (564 Sackett St. Brooklyn NY 11217)
Live! At The Village Idiot New York City--Coolidge Records (157 Coolidge Terrace, Wyckoff, NJ 07481)
Lancaster County Prison is an excellent example of what I think of as 'grass-is-always-greener' syndrome: musicians (and people in general) in places like, say, Bloomington tend to think the 'really cool shit' is going on in places like New York, California, and Chicago, whereas people in those large urban areas tend to think the real shit is happening in all those out-of-the-way places they can't get to. So wannabes in towns like Bloomington form pseudourban funk bands or mod bands or ska bands or whatever they perceive as being in fashion, and groups like this New York City ensemble do the country thing after leaving their noisy Lower East Side rock n' roll bands.
Thus, Lancaster County Prison is an irony-soaked country band, the kind that writes songs like "Fat, Old, Drunk, and Proud!" (containing the line "This new country music really sucks") and covers John Cale's "Bring It On Up". The lyrics on What I Love About America often seem to refer to the country music audience in a slightly disparaging way, and don't seem quite as funny as they ought to be or an ironic as they might be; they don't really want to be mistaken for hicks from the sticks, they want you to know they're actually urban hipsters--they're too tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing. It's not exactly conceptually striking, or particularly rewarding, either taken at face value or ironically (though it sounds more than a bit well-scrubbed to be taken at face value). When it all comes together, as on the particularly well-written "Rejoice!" (written and sung by bassist Mark DeAngelis) I'm willing to overlook the jokey They Might Be Giants attitude, and if nothing else the found letter included inside the booklet provides the tone of hilarity lacking in the music itself. Recommended for college-educated, casual country-music purchasers who like smartass in-group humor and people who take the whole 'alternative-country' thing far too seriously.
The live album Live! At The Village Idiot New York City works a bit better, mainly because it's less 'well-scrubbed' but also because the instrumental performances edge a little closer to fiery. The band works in a few more traditional numbers by oldsters such as Merle Haggard and Roger Miller as well, which makes the whole thing a little less smarmy--though "Rejoice!" isn't here, to my disappointment. It's still pretty jokey, but the beer-soaked environment depicted in the booklet photos and the one-night (November 8, 1997) one-take recording circumstances bring the whole thing more comfortably down to Earth. The really involved may even want to spring for the corresponding live videotape which promises unreleased songs, also available from Coolidge Records.
Killing Some Dead Time--Velvel/Fire (Velvel Records LLC, 740 Broadway, New York, NY 10003)
British-resident/Swedish-in-origin trio Libido produces classic pop-rock music in many traditions going back at least as far as the Beatles, but the most striking influence here is Seattle pop worshippers the Posies; several passages here strongly recall such Posies numbers as "Definite Door" and "Golden Blunders". Still, I guess hoping for a strikingly original British pop band is like hoping for a strikingly original So. Cal punk-pop band: sure, in theory it could happen (and if it did it might be really lucrative for somebody), but in practice the best you're gonna end up with is Green Day or Oasis. So it's no surprise that nothing on Libido's debut album Killing Some Dead Time is too much of anything that would take it too far out of the mainstream--it's a carefully considered balance that rocks out within restraints and keeps the melody at the fore. It's quite well-crafted but its conscious classicism keeps anything uniquely original from surfacing; still, melodic pop/rock devotees who have worn their cherished copies of the Posies' Dear 23 and Frosting On The Beater ought to be pleased to find such a remarkable simulacrum, and the band kicks up enough instrumental fire to perhaps make it worthwhile to check out if they happen to float through a venue nearby.
I forgot all about this band. I guess they haven’t made an album in three years and now they’re back. Still whiny pop-punk. Still doing nothing for me. This is the kind of band that totally doesn’t get that a band should rock if they’re gonna make pop-punk music. I’m sure someone likes this band but it’s probably someone who’s never heard any of the eight million bands who do this exact same thing better. Seriously, it’s not a good thing when I wish I was listening to Blink 182 instead. At least their drummer is good, this drummer is uselessly plodding along. Fuck this shit, I’m taking it off right now. This band has been around far too long to still be this bad. (Honest Don’s) – Aaron J. Poehler
self-titled--Grand Royal records
Liquid Liquid isn't exactly a household name, but a good chunk of one of their songs is well-known as the musical basis for the Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five hit "White Lines", and although back in those pre-sampling and sampling law days Liquid Liquid didn't profit monetarily from this appropriation, now Grandmaster Flash worshippers the Beastie Boys have rereleased Liquid Liquid's entire canon of three 12" vinyl EPs (plus a few unreleased live tracks) on one CD (packaged as much like a vinyl record as possible for a CD, even including an inner sleeve, albeit not a printed one). Liquid Liquid's music is percussion based and driven; while there are songs and other instruments here, they're completely secondary to the groove and the rhythm, or more specifically the snare and the bass--the overall effect is like the contemporaneous Talking Heads if they had a really solid rhythym section and pumped it up in the mix so that it obscured whatever gibberish David Byrne was spouting. While this isn't essential music--at the end of the CD one has the feeling that the formula has been explored about as far as it would go--it's certainly among the most credible and movingly rhythmic of white-skinned funk acts, and a clear precedent for the music of the proprietors of Grand Royal Records, not to mention an illustrative example of how white and other derivations of black music make their way back into black music.
Little Monstrosity - "Indifference"/"Whisper" 7" (MonkeyBrain Records)
Three-piece punk-pop along the Nirvana axis, not so sweet as to rot your teeth but not so rough as to offend the ear. I much preferred Sabrina Orrison's vocal on the A-side to (presumed sibling or spouse) Paris Orrison's Elvis Costello-esque turn on the flip. "Whisper" actually just seems to go on too long with too little point, but "Indifference" is pretty good; she comes across equal parts L7 and Fetchin' Bones' Hope Nicholls--not the most original thing in the world, admittedly, but definitely enjoyable for what it is. I don't know how Little Monstrosity would wear on me over the course of a whole album, but it works for the three minutes it takes to play the A-side. I just won't play the B-side, that's all, and I'll hope some more substance turns up should I ever get sent a Little Monstrosity full-length. -Aaron J. Poehler
"Routine"/"Mail Freud" & "Sun Unaware" 7" (World Domination Records)
This 7" is a beautifully done full-color picture disc, one of the most vivid, striking vinyl picture discs I've ever seen. Unfortunately the music wasn't any good, but the record looks great! It seems like the band is trying to be 'interesting' or 'different' more than they're trying to be 'good' or even 'cool' or 'competent'. Two of the songs (one the A-side) just faded out at the end at what seemed a randomly selected point. Once upon a time you could blame this sort of thing on too much art school (especially for UK bands), but today I guess it's too much pseudo-intellectual music writing or too many pretentious records in the collection. I was hoping for more since the record looks so good. Oh well, I guess that's what I get for getting my hopes up. –Aaron J. Poehler
Long Fin Killie
Amelia--Too Pure (3a Highbury Crescent London N5 1RN UK)
Just as they were starting to make some slight impact upon the American record racks, Britain's promising Long Fin Killie have split up, leaving their final album Amelia and the promise of spinoff projects in the future for the mourning fans. The album jumps with electronic rhythms and leaping bass lines, overlaid with the soulful crooning that served as the band's hallmark; the overall effect is disjointed and not completely satisfying despite occasional striking portions. It just doesn't add up to a cohesive album of work, and the stylistic affectations don't make up for the empty heart at the center of the record. It's more like an assembly of parts or lines for a record rather than a collection of songs or finished tracks, and sometimes the parts even sound like they got flown in from other people's records: one backing vocal part is a direct lift from an early Pavement song, and little else here doesn't call somebody else's work to mind whether it's the instrumentation, the melody, or simply the mood. Amelia (named, of course, after vanished pilot Amelia Earhart) comes off affected and not particularly affecting; the breakup and the album don't combine to leave one feeling that the world is left any the worse for wear by the loss of the group. Hopefully the future endeavors of the ex-Killies will be more substantial and rewarding than what they left behind.
Fun for the Whole Family--Bottom Heavy Recordings/Moonshine Music (8525 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069)
Lord Runningclam's Fun for the Whole Family is a bite-sized chunk of electronica; six tracks of silicon-based music that--as promised in the title--stands up to home-based listening, as opposed to merely being the soundtrack for hallucinating, hyperactive dancers. David de Laski (Lord Runningclam himself) mixes up an appealing platter that utilizes recordings of legendary voice-over man/Word Jazz artist Ken Nordine, bridging over thirty years of the history of psychedelicized studio creations, as well as a sample from the classic Woody Allen film Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex… But Were Afraid To Ask. Much more creative than your usual rent-a-loop electronic dance disc! Why, the record doesn't even drone on and on for over an hour: it's not quite thirty-five minutes long. Nice to know some electronic artists understand the benefits of tight editing. The most listenable electronic disc I've run across in some time, and it's pleasing to hear one with a sense of humor as well.
Hold My Life--Ignition Records
Upstate New York rock quartet Lughead has apparently come to have their debut album released by the grace of an unexpected source; the liner notes of Hold My Life (presumably named after the classic Replacements song) thank "Ticketmaster--yeah, that's right, Ticketmaster--who singlehandedly moved our careers to the next level." It's not hard to see how Lughead came out on top of Ticketmaster's battle of the bands: their melodic Live/Nirvana-based commercial alternative sound is energetic and polished. Where the band is lacking is in clear individual characteristics; most of the songs, while well-crafted, often sound like echoes of someone else's work and lack any unique qualities, anything that is Lughead and Lughead alone. The lead guitar lines are especially weak at times, being less fiery than fluttery, and the bass playing could be a bit more imaginative, but when it all clicks together on tracks like "Pull The Plug" or "Today (Could Be The Day)" you can hear glimmers of the direction Lughead should be headed in. With some solid work and a couple more albums worth of material under their belts it's easy to imagine Lughead being a fairly successful second-tier band opening for the likes of Live or Pearl Jam. Given their success with corporate connections to date--in addition to Ticketmaster, the Hold My Life disc features Netscape software and a computerized MCI hookup--they should be in a decent position to learn about the ins and outs of dealing with large companies and work their way onto a major label roster. The disc also features a live music video which you can check out if you have a Windows-based computer--I don't, so I didn't.