Into the Trees
Anyone who saw Unwed Sailor play the Continental a few months ago had the privilege of seeing this rowdy Chicago band blithely tear up the stage to make Jonathan Ford and co.'s follow-up just a little bit more difficult. The entire quartet played with unnerving levels of energetic abandon, but the centerpiece of the show was unquestionably Angela Mullenhour, the feisty, all-smiles vocalist in possession of endless charisma and a voice matching both the orgasmic caterwaul of Karen O and the ethereal effeminacy of either CoCo Rosie vocalist.
Live, the band sounded like the most aggressive parts of Broken Social Scene condensed into an intimidating 40-minute set that happily submitted to the scabrous, melodic patchwork of bands like Pavement, Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth.
I enjoyed the show immensely, but I didn't discover the album until a few weeks ago, when I found it on the "recommended" shelf of a Chicago record store. As such, this review is a bit tardy, but I couldn't resist sharing such an excellent discovery.
On disc, the music tends to be more melodic and less scabrous, but that incorrigible, Gen-X indie spirit has its fingerprints all over this band. Mullenhour sings with a unique sense of controlled chaos--her voice is both fragile and assaultive, always teetering on the edge of collapse at never less than full volume.
Recurring images of city burnouts, wayward, substance-abusing lovers, and spiritually-searching youth create a landscape of romanticized bohemia on Into the Trees, and the album, at times, certainly threatens to fall into melodrama. Tracks like "Oh, Man!," "Got Nothing" and "Gin Divides Us" would come dangerously close to angsty, beatnik histrionics if not for Mullenhour's oddly joyful, self-aware delivery. As it stands, the music--her emotive, optimistic vocals combined with lively, stripped-down guitar melodies--is entirely too pop-oriented to fall prey to the less-than-sunny lyrics. There's a Malkmus-esque sense of balance to it--negative and positive elements collide to create messy, emotionally complex music that's somehow extremely easy to listen to.
Fifteen years ago, Sybris would've resided in the untouchable stratosphere of those aforementioned bands (Pavement, Yo La Tengo). In an alternate universe, 40-something record store owners would now be wearing Sybris t-shirts, and talks of a possible reunion for next year's All Tomorrow's Parties would set the music blogs ablaze in hope and speculation.
Bittersweetly, Sybris exists in the here and now, at a time when an overpopulated sea of talent is being swallowed up by the faddish, fluid tastes of fickle listeners who mainline the next big thing straight into their iPod-addled veins on a daily basis, in constant search of the next fix (not judging, just stating the facts--we're all digital junkies). To paraphrase a worn cliché, Sybris is a swap-meet band living in a file-share world. --Josh Kline
The Jonas Brothers
A Little Bit Longer
This is the future of corporate-engineered music.
It's kinda eerie. Until recently, this children's "band" was white noise to me, but last week they made the cover of Rolling Stone, with a photograph that made the snarling adolescents look as if they were primed and ready to follow Jet through a haze of chain-smoke and an ocean of whiskey to the next depraved post-show celebration.
I didn't read the article, but I recalled a Disney Channel/Miley Cyrus association that suddenly became very confusing, so I needed to hear the album for myself.
What did I discover? Essentially, a mass-produced boy band (a la N-Sync) that, instead of catering to surface WASP notions of the "urban" (read: hip hop) lifestyle, has capitalized on the middle-american teenager's infatuation with the danger and rebellion associated with the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Instead of the Backstreet Boys acting as a young girl's entry point into the world of R&B, these guys are submitting themselves as a primer for the pre-pubescent boy's inevitable discovery of music as an attitude and fashion choice. The fact that the "musicians" appear to play their instruments themselves is merely incidental. This isn't music--it's auto-tuned corporate branding.
It's Jet-lite, with a parent-friendly twist. Supposedly vice-free, straight-laced teenagers, the Jonas Brothers are filling a demographic void as an age-appropriate facsimile of the soulless, sex-drugs-and-rock'n'roll charlatans that mom and dad won't allow their kids to listen to.
Unfortunately, the music doesn't operate as a lead-in to a boy's discovery of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Aerosmith (unlike the School of Rock All-stars, those soulful 12 year-olds who are taught to hammer and wail as a form of cathartic self-expression); rather, it affirms the status quo early on--future record sales of asinine corporate liaisons pretending to be "bands" are assured now by your kid's current obsession with the Jonas Brothers. It's another brilliant form of branding--brainwash 'em now and reap the financial reward for decades to come. --J.K.
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