Monday, October 16, 2006

Indie-Music Reviews for the Atention Deficient: Devotchka and Hem

(Also published as a regular column at Blogcritics e-zine)

And you may ask yourself, "What is this swine-loving blogger listening to this week?"
For those of you new to this series, let me familiarize you with how it works.

In keeping with this increasingly globalized,glibly compressed, irrevocably speedy, and immanently forgettable media culture, I have devised a simple review system that also allows you to voyeuristically peek into my ipod window but without all the trouble of having to wade through a paragraph or two of self-indulgent prose. I mention its usually 90s,80s, 70s, or, sometimes digging way back into ancient history,60s, influence, and give you a sentence or two explaining (sometimes in high modernist poetic fashion or haiku) why it's cool. All of these artists are creative exemplars of postmodernist pastiche. Little if anything in indie rock is thoroughly new, but the pastiche of styles can be impressive.

If you're not in a hurry, if your life isn't hurly-burly;if you're not thinking right now, "damn, here I am on the internet and I've got so much crap to do!"--well, I'm not talking to you.

Again, here's how it works. What am I listening to?

Thanks for asking.

Devotchka. Transplanted from Denver to New York City. Devotchka, like Gogol Bordello, demonstrate the effects of global music flows in the fast-moving and far-reaching e-world today. They produce quite varied experiments sometimes classified as circus, polka rock, and Spaghetti Western. On the heels of 2004’s impressive How it Ends (Cicero), their most recent album Curse Your Little Heart (Ace Fu, 2006) may even be their best so far. And it’s a cover record, which includes a string-backed lounge tribute to Carson Parks’ 1967 hit “Somethin’ Stupid,” and an intoxicatingly balkanized rendition of “Venus in Furs,” to name only two. As with other re-interpretations today, these are most impressive in their creative distance traveled from the original template. In Nick Urata’s vocals, Chris Issak-meets-David Byrne to the background of cocktail croons, westerns, and orchestral marches (a signature from their last album’s “How it ends,” featured in the recent underground hit film “Little Miss Sunshine”). A major Devotchkean thread is exemplified by the track “El Zopilote Mojado,” which has a strong mariachi style but is anchored in a gypsy tuba’s timekeeping; more orchestra-like strings are then layered on the traditional mariachi trumpets. Long live these hybrid generic forms that provide a refreshing alternative to the global music conglomerates’ officially administered trends.

Devotchka IN Haiku:

A Mariachi

gypsy brass n western love

child reared by T-Heads.

Hem: George Winston gone Japanese folk meets a re-habbed Cat Power, perhaps a super slow Karen Carpenter. Some songs seem to inch like irrevocable lava toward a chorus of “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down” (cf. I swear I’ve never been this far before.”). Echoes of an even clearer Aimee Mann and Kristen Hersh in the vocals of Sally Ellyson, a voice that rings virtue like a thumped crystal glass. As if Joni Mitchell had returned to infuse her voice into wondrously low-fi-arrangements by Dan Messe that carefully orchestrate harmonicas, soft-acoustic guitars, strings, horns, and piano while moving across indie-chamber pop, folk, and twang. Funnel Cloud (Nettwerk, 2006) is the latest round of such compositions but aimed this time at singer Ellyson’s wedding supposedly crashed by a tornado. Fast this is not. Those of you tyrannized by speed in your lives, take refuge in Hem!

Hem In Haiku…

George Winston gone East

Cat Power gets voice lessons

Everything Old is.

Like you, I gotta run. See you next time on "Indie Music Reviews for the Attention Deficient."

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