American Rock

I mentioned previously how much I fell for 'Invisible' by Athens' The Possibilities. I said how much I was looking forward to hearing their Way Out album. Well, now I have. And now I don't care so much.

'Invisible' still sparkles. It still reaches inside me and grapples with my spine. It still makes me recall the likes of early '90s American Rock made by bands like Poole, The Technical Jed or Ultra Cindy; the kind of noises released by labels like Spin Art or Brilliant. It still caresses the night in spring kisses, still dreams in monochrome of arc lights over the ocean. It's still that good. It's just such a shame that the remaining eleven tracks don't match it, don't really even come close. Instead they tend to lumber around the floor, weighed down by heavy drums and guitars that are dark brown and go 'crunch' when they would be far better off being electric blue and going 'whoooosh'. Instead they seem content to tread the same old sounds made by more traditional rock artistes like, oh goodness, I don't know... pick someone dull and loud. Anyone dull and loud... they sound like them. But don't pick up this album. Instead pick up the excellent Sweet 16 Parasol sampler, and let 'Invisible' seduce you in isolation. The Possibilities are one of the oh-so-many groups who really should just make one one-sided single and dissolve into the night. (And that's a COMPLIMENT, by the way...)

California's Arrogants made something of a name for themselves in selective circles with their debut Your Simple Beauty EP of 2000. Much beloved by those who dreamt of the offspring that might be the result of a mating ritual between The Primitives, New Order and The Field Mice, Your Simple Beauty was a touch lush summer leaves, a dash sullen Fall skies and a slice of suburban dereliction. Pretty neat stuff. Sad to say then that the two year wait for a follow-up has been somewhat in vain, as the neatly titled Nobody's Cool slides backwards into a pool inhabited by what sounds like much less intriguing bedfellows. Where once Arrogants sounded just a little gorgeously dazed, now they sound too sprightly, coming on like The Sundays with too much diction and not enough ice in the cooler. A great shame. Maybe the intrigue will return in the future... my fingers are certainly crossed.

I'm not sure that Massachusetts' three piece New Radiant Storm King know exactly who they are, or would like to be, although after ten years and five previous albums, you'd think they'd have figured it out by now. Listening to their Winter's Kill album is a little like listening to a compilation album of American (Indie)Rock with contributions from the likes of Built To Spill, Buffalo Tom, Pavement and Tortoise (in their debut album guise) with strange snatches of anglo influences from Dream Academy (its in the melody of opener 'In The Spirit of Distance', to which I always want to sing along 'and the morning lasted all day, all day...'), Television Personalities (okay, again, it's only the most tangential of recollections, brought on by the line about the picture of Dorian Gray in the aforementioned opener - the sound is nowhere near that made by Dan, Jowe et al) and maybe Mogwai or fellow Chemikal Underground bods Magoo (remember The Soateramic Sounds of Magoo? Good, wasn't it?). So whilst it's far from an unpleasant listening experience, I'm left with the feeling that New Radiant Storm King is a band with too many disparate influences pulling in too many directions; too many attempts at being someone else rather than boiling the influences into a tasty new brew. And, again, after ten years, you'd think they'd have managed to concoct their own recipe. Occasionally they do approach something delightful and fresh, like on the upbeat 'Montague Terrace' which could be a noisier and roughed up American cousin of Lucksmiths in their Pop Assault mode, or the brooding 'Lesslie Skyline' and 'Colony Falls' which both shimmer like the sun on frosted grass in November mornings. It's in these two moments, with their hints at the aforementioned Tortoise and Red House Painters, or indeed their contemporaneous Australians Deloris, that New Radiant King are at their best.

Off to Austin, Texas now for The Gloria Record, whose Start Here was released recently by Ryko in conjunction with the Arena Rock Recording Company. What a horrible name. Makes me think of dreary blokes sitting in a boardroom (might be a bedroom, but with the wrong attitude it might as well be the boardroom) thinking up marketing strategies for airbrushed asinine rock... Which Start Here, to give The Gloria Record their due, isn't quite, but only not quite and you get the idea I'm sure. On one of my magnanimous days I'd suggest that Start Here is pleasant enough, but since when was pleasant really enough, after all? It's got some earnest breathy vocals that unfortunately too often hint at the desperately awful band that starts with 'radio' and ends in 'head'; it's got some luxurious oscillating guitars and some dynamic drums that come on just a bit bombastic, as if they dream of being hammered by Larry Mullen; it's got some nice acoustic strumming and even some noodling electronics going on in the mix. All ingredients that when mixed with great vision and soul can lead to great art, or, as is more often the case, uninspired and un-engaging tat. The later being the case here, and hands up who didn't see THAT coming... The Gloria Record sound too pedestrian, too mediocre and too damned ordinary. Stop right here.

So it's left to the Yeah Yeah Yeah's to restore some faith in the sounds coming from across the ocean. It's left to the Yeah Yeah Yeah's to remind me of all that Rock can be, and more. It's left to the Yeah Yeah Yeah's to make me leap around the attic, to bounce off the walls and send my Ross Macdonald novels crashing to the floor. It's left to the Yeah Yeah Yeah's to offer up a single that singlehandedly reclaims the term 'sexy as fuck' and renders all else impotent, at least for the 3 minutes or so that it takes for 'Machine' to play itself out.

Of course the Yeah Yeah Yeah's sound like Siouxsie and the Banshees reincarnated as a blues-punk-acid-garage band on 'Machine'. Of course the Yeah Yeah Yeah's sound like Huggy Bear on the one and a half minute yelp and grind of 'Graveyard'. Jesus, that's why I love them so much. That's why they sound so fucking GREAT. I just thought you knew... I just thought you'd take that for granted and get on with the dancing, the bouncing off the walls, the shouts and screams and yelps and avowals of devotion.

'Machine' comes out in the UK on the wonderful Wichita label on November 4th. I'm so glad I don't have to wait that long. Sometimes being a music 'journalist' is cool. Yeah yeah yeah.

© 2002 Alistair Fitchett