Reviews: Braid, Remora, The Static Minds

Anthony Mark Happel

alberta darling

Well, brothers and sisters, kids, dogs, cats, chinchillas… we won two of the State Senate recall elections here in the Badger State and unseated two very troubling Republicans who seemed to be willing to tow the Tea Party line anywhere they were asked to, and one of those races wasn’t even close. On the downside we lost the other four, and while all were within reasonable range of being winnable, the real killer was the race between the Republican incumbent Senator Alberta Darling and her opponent, Representative Sandy Pasch. Darling has become, shall we say, not the darling of anyone outside of the governor’s air-tight legislative Tea Party bloc.

She’s followed the governor right down the destructive trail he’s blazed and she had made a lot of political enemies throughout her district, but she also has the Koch brothers and other Tea Party money behind her and she flooded televisions with a super-expensive ad campaign that, in terms of production values, didn’t really look all that great.

She was trailing late in the evening with about 20% of the vote still not reported when, suddenly, there was a big swing in the count when the most conservative county in the state finally got their votes in. Darling surged from four or five points behind to four or five ahead and she sailed to victory from there. The same county has had issues before and has been investigated, and now there are investigations being called for once again. The feds really need to look into this one.

The story so far is that the Republicans retain control of the State Senate by one vote, along with control of the State Assembly, but there has been a dissenter in the ranks for Senate Republicans in the past, and if he were to come over to the side of sanity there’s no telling what might happen. The dam could burst for the Teabaggers. The official conservative talk radio line on behalf of Governor Walker, who remains in his underground bunker, is that his plan is working, which we can tell because “no parks have been closed” and services are still “being provided.” Sound familiar, New Jersey? Okay, whatever you say…

At any rate, tomorrow there is another recall involving two Democrats who should retain their seats and the current status quo should obtain for a while, but at the end of October we can begin collecting signatures to recall the governor, and that’s when the masses of working people should come out of the woodwork, as my grandma used to say.

It won’t be easy but the state of California recalled Governor Gray Davis over the Enron-induced rolling blackout scandal and brought Ah-nold to the governor’s mansion. Of course, Davis has been largely vindicated by the documentary film, Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, and yes, we all know things didn’t end so well for Ah-nold, but, come on, what else did we expect? I’m thinking we can do better, and the precedent has already been set. We got the NFL back, with minimal training camp, and the World Champion Green Bay Packers defending their title, after another confused labor dispute, and we’ve got a governor to boot from office. It’s going to be an autumn to remember. Now, let’s play some music…

Braid, Closer To Closed (Polyvinyl)

Braid were originally extant and recording actively from ‘92-‘97, making a name for themselves among the more serious “indie music” audiophiles and college radio-types, and they recorded some interesting music in that span. They also played 597 shows in 47 states and 18 countries, so they got around a little bit. They broke up in ’98, disbanding as they were peaking in popularity. There have been two posthumous comps released, and they regrouped to tour in ’04, but this time it might stick for a little while longer. Picking up largely where it all left off, “The Right Time” lunges out of the speakers and announces itself with a smack in the kisser. Themes of failure at love, and wanting another chance bleed through as they fall back into their own nerdy groove. A cover of Jeff Hanson’s “You Are the Reason” is good, and “Do Over” doesn’t have as much as energy as the others, but it still gets its point across. Worth hearing for the spidery guitar work, this is not dissimilar from some mid-90s math-rock, but with more personality. Plays just fine right alongside other Polyvinyl bands. The next record should see them right back in stride.

Brian Hoffer, Into The Boulevard (Hoffer Songs)

Milwaukee singer/songwriter Brian Hoffer doesn’t know how to read notated music, but he’s written over 2,500 songs since age seven. He plays guitar and piano and writes from a fairly direct perspective. Seven other musicians assist him on this recording, including some under-utilized violin and cello that could have raised the bar throughout if employed more. His vocals are not always real strong, and that can be to his disadvantage, but he rises above that on more than a few songs. “Keep Each Other Cold” gets cooking and shows what he’s capable of, and “Cat & Birds” is not bad at all. He’s a Beatles fan, and he’s been compared to They Might Be Giants, but I also hear some LMNOP in his vocals, and a moment or two of downunder-style pop-rock, so there’s that. The best song here is “Superman Somehow,” one of those crossover tracks that could be prominently featured on a teen movie soundtrack, and I mean that un-sarcastically. It’s a pretty darn good cinematic pop tune. Keep on keepin’ on…

Remora, Scars Bring Hope (Silber)

Remora (Brian John Mitchell) reminds me of the infamous Jandek, the abstruse, Texas-based sub-underground songwriter who’s been regaling the world with one homemade, dissonant, idiosyncratic album after another for over twenty years. Mitchell’s fifteen year career may not be as prolific as Jandek (no one’s is) and his songs may not be as abstract or as abrasively incongruent as Jandek (no one else’s are), but the sheer size of his musical cajones is something to be admired on the same level as the J Man. The basis of Remora’s music is a minimalist link between the wonders of uncluttered melodic pop music ideals and a dark, murky meta-post-punk gothic angst. “Awake Arise” is scary good, like a Melvins improv jam and it could go on for hours, and the uplifting and simultaneously dirge-like “Let Me Die With A Coin In My Pocket,” shouldn’t even work on paper, and yet on record it’s an exceptional tone poem that darts between searching and forlorn and Hell. “Let’s Fall in Love” goes kind of post-alt- country in an acidic way, “We Come from the Sea” is Bailter Space-like gut churning anti-pop about the Cthulhu mythos, and there’s another song that’s too good to spoil here. It just has to be heard. The guitar playing is mostly unhinged from any form or model, and it often sounds as if it’s being invented as you hear it, with only enough aural material to barely hold the song together. This guy should definitely have a bigger audience among the experimental music crowd, at the very least. I’ll continue to do my little part to try to make that happen.

The Static Minds, Electricity (Custom Made Music)

Right off the bat I like the debut by this Raleigh, NC band, that includes former members of The Cherry Valence and The Dragstrip Syndicate. Apparently, they’ve all been in a bunch of other bands too. They open with “Shakin’ In My Grave” and call up the ghosts of the once great Quadrajets and the once great Hellacopters. Yes, it’s also rooted in the MC5, as most things of this kind are, but they do break free of that a little bit, for better or worse, like on “Feel Good,” where they head straight for the early 70s and could be opening for Deep Purple or Spirit. They lose their way on the second half of the album as they almost go hair-metal with some of their more conventional rock moves, but they pull out of it after a couple songs. Things pop back into place on the groovy “She’s Gonna Love Me” and “Midnight.” In the end, a little more whiskey and a few more spins of the real “Motor City Madmen” might be in order. (Fuck Ted Nugent in the ass with a red hot cattle prod.)

Somerdale, Brighter Than Before (Zip)

Somerdale is a serviceable power-pop-cum-indie rock band that splits songwriting duties and vocals between three members, but, primarily between James Caputo and Chuck Penza. Caputo sings on four of the tracks, Penza on six and drummer J.J. Fennimore gets one. And Caputo is definitely the best singer among the three (“Bent On Napalm” “Sugar Valley CA”, for example), although Penza can do some serious vocal calisthenics if he tries, and he brings a very different tone to bear on the songs he sings. They do an above-average cover of “Walk Away Renee,” and it’s a hell of a lot better than some other versions I’ve encountered. The whole album is sort of fey and may feel lightweight to some people, and they could use some more time in the songwriting lab (like all of us), but their hearts are in the right place. A little more volume wouldn’t kill them either.

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