K Records Roundup: New 2000 Releases
Various Artists and Records From K
Reviewed by Greenbacks Russell
Tuesday, September 5 2000, 12:25 PM
The bulk of K Records' 2000 releases are a good cross-section of the indie rock scene at the turn of the century. Though K is semi-famous for a rough and ready, minimalist rock sound exmplified by its first flagship group, The Beat Happenings, K covers a broad spectrum of styles that sound quite dissimilar to one another. The eclecticism of the Olympia label's most recently releases really drives this home, as Calvin Johnson's roster moves from one genre to the next, not always with the best results.
Portland's Wolf Colonel comes closest to what you'd expect: short, concise guitar pop songs, with occasional harmonies. They don't sound particularly of the moment, nor do they sound retro for that matter; to Wolf Colonel's benefit, this record sounds as if it could have come out anytime over the last decade. If anything, Wolf Colonel remind me of a less glossy Weezer. Vikings of Mint seemed a bit ordinary the first couple spins, but the third one won me over. You wouldn't be completely wrong to think you've heard it before; likable, but it definitely needs extra vocal personality for more impact.
IQU are at the opposite end of the sound spectrum. Drum machines, Japanese children's choir samples, no lyrics, some organic live instruments. You might call it "rocktronica." Teenage Dream's opening title track goes through various phases of sung and spoken-word samples, keyboard squiggles, standup bass, and a Jesus & Mary Chain-style punk guitar part that got my attention. But when the guitars appeared for the third time, about 6:40 into the song, there seemed no conceivable need for it to be anywhere near that long, standing at eight minutes total. Following that are eight remixes of "Teenage Dream":
1. A brief reshuffling of the elements, an edit almost;
2. Digital cut ups (no, that's not your CD player crapping out);
3. Mostly beats and samples, cutting up the keyboards into a different melody, pretty dull;
4. Same approach as 4, but more dancey;
5. Veering towards hip hop, w/scratching and electric pianos over beats;
6. I'm bored now. Two more to go. Oops! The guitars are back, and there's a bassline; the best yet, but still too long;
7. Sounds like a theremin over beats;
8. More theremin-like sounds, but ambient.
The end result that is unlike their first full length, Chotto Matte a Moment, IQU's second outing, Teenage Dream ss an abstract, hour-long song whose source material isn't good enough to merit all the time given over to it.
Holiday in Rhode Island, the fourth album by The Softies, differs little from its predecessors. It's full of modest jewels, melancholy acoustic folk-pop numbers, serene and beautifully sung. Splashes of xylophone and celeste are a new touch, showing a bit of evolution in their sound. The opening track establishes a mood and never lets go. Over the entire album, the cumulative effect of the same tempo/tone/sound is tedious, diluting the impact of individual songs. Lack of variety is a common problem for many indie bands. I prefer hearing The Softies on K Records compilations, where one song at a time leaves me wanting more.
Whereas the Softies stick to one thing, The Microphones (a.k.a. Phil Elvrum) are all over the place, even within songs. Creative but messy, I'd expect Phil's bedroom to be dense with records, CDs, cassettes, dirty dishes, and several weeks' worth of crumpled clothes. It Was Hot is a bit more hi-fi than their prior releases, it's sound collage indie rock, a nice leap beyond their prior work without abandoning their broad sonic palette, with aspirations to Brian Wilson-style vocal beauty.
The CD cover has a bunch of photos cut into little strips and reconstructed in random order. This suits the music, which keeps you guessing what's coming up next. The sprawl of sound isn't very song-friendly; structures are loose, fragmentary, but it works a good percentage of the time. Though most of their songs are short, one of my favorites is "The Glow," which at an epic 11 minutes goes by far more swiftly than shorter IQU songs. Intriguingly good.
Most ambitious of this batch is The Transfused CD, a rock opera concept album by The Need and Nomy Lamm. Aided by Chainsaw Records' honchess Donna Dresch, The Need supply the music, assisted by some two dozen voices. Starting off with wheezy echoes of Kurt Weill, the music is actually more straightforward than The Need's own releases, driven as it is by a wordy narrative. The story line is an apocalyptic vision of a post-industrial America where the lower class underlings (The Transfused) struggle against a business/military monolith called The Corporation, where the reward for a hard days' work is air to breathe.
It's a rock opera, and it does rock. While undeniably interesting, The Transfused lacks songs, and wading through it is too much of a chore to regard it as more than a curiosity. It's reminiscent of The Mekons' Pussy, King of the Pirates in that it's more compelling philosophically and thematically than it is actually listenable.
For more information on all these releases, visit the K Records website