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February 08, 2006 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-02-08

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February 8, 2006
arts. michigandaily.com

Ui be ,SiY~tigrtn 3 &iI


Courtesy of Electric Six
Hipster. But so not redefined.
Electric Six suffers
from lrical overkill


By Alexandra Jones
Daily Arts Writer
Many longtime Belle & Sebastian fans will feel
frustrated when they hear The
Life Pursuit. Ever since 2003's Belle &
sparkly, soulful Dear Catastro- Sebastian
phe Waitress marked a drastic
shift away from shoegazer sen- The Life Pursuit
timent and gauzy, to-fi produc- Matador
tion for the Glasgow pop septet,
some hardcore devotees have felt they've been
deserted for ABBA-esque backing vocals, amped-
up bass and funky, sunny hooks. They'll feel that
Belle & Sebastian no longer make music in the
same sanctified language.
On their latest, B&S test our faith while simul-
taneously struggling- with their belief in their own
work. Despite near-deification from a devout fanbase,
they're people just like us - and though their music
can sound intensely intimate, even divinely inspired,
their ethos isn't universe-defining, true-since-the-
beginning-of-time theology. They're musicians, not
apostles; they write songs, not gospel.
And that's the attitude fans (or anyone who's ever
formed an opinion about the group's oeuvre) will have
to take to appreciate the chrome-shiny pop exultations
that producer Tony Hoffer - the guy responsible for
the electrified eroticism of Beck's Midnight Vultures
- has brought to their new sound.

Gone are stripped-down torch songs like "We Rule
the School" and "Fox in the Snow." The absence of
those intimate moments can make Pursuit feel a little
hollow on the first few listens, as if it's all glitzy melo-
dies and big smiles. But thematically, the group deals
with new directions as well as tests of faith; the fact
that they've created an album that believably explores
these ideas within an ultra-pop framework - hooks
galore, a boosted rhythm section and even guitar solos
- shows the complexity and artistic force behind
all those catchy melodies. Fans of all stripes should
be ecstatic: The group has graduated to a brand-new
sonic palette in which they can work more magic.
The cool, syncopated piano of "Act of the Apostle
I" opens Pursuit. The two-part story of a girl strug-
gling with her faith during her mother's illness frames
tracks that illustrate characters at different junctures
in life and the band's own stylistic experimentations.
The art-school hellion of "Sukie in the Graveyard"
eclipses the timid Mary Jo and dreamy Judy, other
archetypal female figures in Murdoch's back cata-
logue, with her runaway antics and nude modeling for
drawing classes. The story is punctuated with a joy-
ful, ascending organ hook that's just one of Pursuit's'
many infectious musical tropes. The vocal effects
and blues-rocky riff of "The Blues Are Still Blue"
create the impression that Murdoch discovered a lost
Aladdin Sane-era David Bowie track. The AM Gold-
style backing vocals and searing guitar solo (!) on
"We Are the Sleepyheads" and "Song for Sunshine's"
chilled-out funk progressions, however, might take a
little getting used to -" but when would anyone have

~Courtesy of
a Matador
... take the
the ants
expected Belle & Sebastian to sound like this and
sound so good?
Pursuit's second half suffers from a slight lack of
momentum, simply because of the bloc of brilliant,
danceable tunes on the first half. The sweet, sincere
"To Be Myself Completely," a contribution from gui-
tarist and underrated B&S member Stevie Jackson,
comes closest to their old-school sound; the effect is at
once comforting and a little sobering. And Pursuit's
first single, "Funny Little Frog," doesn't stand out
much on the album, let alone as another addition to
the band's rich singles catalogue, despite the fact that
its candy-coated melody provides a welcome jolt of
energy before the album's gentler denouement.
"For the Price of a Cup of Tea," in which a social
pariah discovers a 7" at a record store, sets a sentimen-
tal mood for closer "Mornington Crescent." Despite
the shift to a slow-tempo, retrospective tone, the track
points forward to a new future. With its tinkly piano
and constant, Ringo-esque drums, "Crescent" sounds
somehow unlike anything they've released: It's not a
quirky, pop exercise on unrequited love, but an expan-
sive ballad on emotions far more complex.
And the fact that Belle & Sebastian can still do
sentimental without sounding like their old selves
shows that this growth is a good thing. The Life Pur-
suit hasn't narrowed their thematic or sonic scope.
Rather, this new direction opens up creative possi-
bilities for one of the most musically dynamic bands
of our time. They've given us 10 years worth of fan-
tastic records, and the least we can do in return is
hear them out for the next decade.

Don't worry about blowing a fuse
to Electric Six's
newly released Electric Six
Senor Smoke: To .
misquote one of Senor Smoke
Electric Six's previ- Metropolis
ous hits, "Danger,
danger - moderately high voltage."
Still nattily dressed and oddly nick-
named, the Detroit sextet returns with
their followup to 2003's Fire. The
band's major-label debut as Electric Six,
Fire's "Naked Pictures (Of Your Moth-
er)" and "Gay Bar" propelled them to
the "Top of the Pops" in the U.K. Their
syncopated singles also found success
stateside - Senor Smoke shakes up the
same white-boy funk, disco-rock cock-
tail with outlandish lyrics, but nothing
quite matches the must-dance-now
quality of "Danger (High Voltage)."
Electric Six try once again to rep-
licate the aggression of their first big
hit with frontman Dick Valentine
growling and yelping all over the
album about vibrators and the Back-
street Boys. He loves manipulating his
coarse, arena-rock voice even while
comparing girls to Capri Sun drinks.
Valentine's versatile voice is one of
the biggest reasons why some songs
are funny and some fall flat: He can
sound like an angry, constipated Fred
Flintstone, while at other times he
cribs Jack White's feline falsetto.

By Kimberly Chou
Daily Arts Writer

Valentine is also the last original mem-
ber of the band formerly known as the
Wildbunch. Since cutting their teeth at
famous Detroit dives like the Gold Dol-
lar in the late '90s, the guys of Electric
Six have rotated their lineup more often
than Destiny's Child.
While an ever-changing roster some-
times means creative change, on Senor
Smoke Electric Six's schtick gets old.
Most songs follow a similar format:
dense rhythm and choppy bass, blurts of
synthesizer and the occasional strange
detail such as the vaudevillian keyboard
on "Taxi To Nowhere."
Generally, vocals toe the line of
'80s power-ballad grandiosity, while
"Future Is In the Future" features
Earth, Wind and Fire-style trum-
pet shouts. But "Dance Epidemic"
is a- throaty, punchy song that works
despite its adherence to the band's
typical songwriting recipe. But other
songs with "dance" and "future" in the
title - two of Electric Six's favorite
words - don't fare as well. "Future
Boys" and "Dance-a-Thon 2005" are
repetitive and pointless.
Although Electric Six manage to
cover Queen without turning into Brit
copycats The Darkness, they can't
stop the absurd lyrical overkill. Senor
Smoke is fun, superficial dance-rock
and will do only if you're not search-
ing for existentialist lyrics or guitar
wizardry. But for a frothy good time,
you'd better hope they take'you back
to their days at the "Gay Bar," because
on Senor, Electric Six just don't put out
like they used to.

The 'Omnibus' has left the station

By Matt Emory
For the Daily

Missoula, Montana doesn't come to mind as a birth-
ing ground for new musical talent. That type of nurturing
environment for fledgling musicians
is usually associated with places like Tarkio
Portland or Montreal.
Colin Meloy was well aware that Mon- Omnibus
tana was no place for a band to spread its Kill Rock Stars
wings, and left his college group Tarkio
to head for Portland, where college-rock favorites the Decem-
berists were eventually conceived. Ten years after Tarkio was
formed, the only place to find old Colin was through bootleg
MP3s or a lucky find at the record store.
That is, until now.
Tarkio has been revived through Kill Rock Stars
Records's rerelease of the band's three-year-long catalog.
Omnibus, a double-disc, 27-cut album, shows off pre-
Decemberists lead singer Meloy who, joined by Gibson
Hartwell, Louis Stein and Brian Collins, set out to play
the alternative country and indie-rock scene in 1996.
The relics of Meloy's lyrical skills are uncovered on
Omnibus. "Tristan and Iseult" is a snappy narrative
describing two troubled lovers that sounds much like the
Montanan's later work. "Neapolitan Bridesmaid" states
beautifully, "I can't stand waiting while the lights are
changing on me," and resonates with themes of grow-
ing up and moving on. But lines about girls flipping off

cop cars and summer-reading lists shows that Meloy isn't
immune to lyrical pitfalls.
Elsewhere, "Helena Won't Get Stoned" presumably
tells the story of a Catholic school girl who just won't get
stoned. But dig a bit deeper and Meloy's disdain for the
capital city's addiction to weed becomes clear. It would
be a stretch to find a title like this on any new songs from
the Decemberists, but the concept works. The quick gui-
tar and twangy country sound blends well with the song's
subject matter.
Most tracks on Omnibus have a Wilco-like feel to them:
a mix of slow and somber storybooks and fast-tempo won-
ders. Some even take advantage of the band's alternative-
country prowess - banjo and violin add head-bobbing
spark to "Caroline Avenue," and "Weight of the World"
places optimistic thoughts ("I got two feet on the floor /
I guess that's all I need") against a finger-picking guitar
riff that makes for a pleasant, toe-tapping tune.
Perhaps the greatest pitfall of Omnibus is its size. Most
tracks clock in at around five minutes, some even pushing
seven. With so many tracks, the album feels like a mara-
thon. "Never Will Marry," a melancholy midtempo tune
that showcases Meloy's descriptive storytelling style,
drags and loses strength toward the end of its near six-
minute track time.
Just because Tarkio's name derives from a dot-on-the-map
town in Montana doesn't mean the band's music is lacking.
Omnibus has a fewtoo many songs that sound alike: a short-
coming typical of a young band. But a combination of alter-
native country, drug use and college rock rarely disappoints,
even if it comes 10 years after the trend has faded.

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