Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Chin Up Chin Up + Sybris = Flameshovel Records

How many indie label do you think there are in the U.S. no less the entire world? It would be safe to say the number would be in the hundreds of thousands.(I would actually be curious to find out just how many there really are so if you know the answer to this question, please post it!) Anyhow I began pondering this when the small label Flameshovel got three of their cds reviewed in the span of just about a month at Pitchfork.

Narrator, Sybris, and Chin Up Chin Up were also all given pretty darn good reviews which I am not complaining about but damn, how many labels would KILL to be in that position. Not even some of the biggest indie labels get that sort of love from PFM. I am interested to know how Flameshovel scored such massive attention and while I wish I could say a great label and great bands deserve it, we all know the real world doesn’t always work that way. Maybe there is some extra bond because they are based out the same region? Whatever mojo this label has going on, high-five to you. You get double the love now because here I am blabbing about you too. High-ten.

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I had to double check the band’s liner notes because unless the studios they name are bedroom studios, I can’t fathom how Chin Up Chin Up could play hushed in a way that makes The Red House Painters seem boisterous. They attack each instrument so delicately that that they wouldn’t wake a baby sleeping in the next room. I do quite a bit of home recording and out of personal experience this EP sounds like a band afraid to make noise because neighbors will be pissed or a noise sensitive roommate will hate them. Artists who make music at home suffer this dynamic softening all the time but bands in a real studio usually do not. As a recording nerd (add that to my growing geek list) this particular aspect of C.U.X2 confounds me.

This reissue cd with bonus tracks straddles in theory a rhythm section that reminds me of early Modest Mouse (minus the power) but the vocal pitter-pattter rattles on like a steady rain. The singer’s constant wordy but whispery approach creates a distracting ruckus over equally as busy guitar parts. An indie-tronic band rocking on their tippy toes needs layers of sound to work with each other, not against and this is specifically my main point of contention with this release.

PFM opens their review with this to say “Hearing it now, it obviously sounds like a first step, but it reaffirms what many heard on We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers: a poppy spin on a familiar sound, a singer still finding his voice, and a band with a great deal of “potential.” On the opposite end of the spectrum had I heard this EP first I would have filed this band under thanks but no thanks. To match Chin Up Chin Up in style I would soften the 7.0 PFM rating by half. ( Sorry Insound, I know these guys are one of your "very favorite bands")

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For those who are not a part of the music industry, a one sheet is basically a cheat sheet sent to press, radio, retail, and sales staffs about one particular artist. It is mailed in tandem with whatever new cd the band has out and gives everything from basic band history, to a list of bands they (the label or band) have decided they sound like, and honestly just about whatever other info a record label thinks will sell people on their band. The fun part about occasionally seeing these one sheets is discovering just how many writers seem to replicate / reword for word these sheets rather than actually tell you what they thought of the music. Often this same info can be found on the label or band website and to show you a little example of what I am talking about, here are some bits from the Flameshovel site and the Sybris one-sheet :

RIYL: Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Swervedriver, Slowdive ( IE for fans of / sounds like)

“To complete it, there's Mullenhour's (singer) acrobatic voice that acts as the band's two-headed catalyst - she has the ability to either ground their sonic chaos or run the whole thing right off the rails. At times, the kinetic Sybris sound invokes Slayer fronted by Edie Brickell (the tail end of "Blame It On the Baseball") and at others it feels more like the lovechild of Belly and Swervedriver ("Best Day In History In Ever"). The band even manages to produce songs that could have wound up on the album of an imagined My Bloody Pixies supergroup ("Neon" and "Breathe Like You're Dancing"). “

Here’s what PFM had to say : “Sybris hark back to the Smashing Pumpkins model, when bands were interested in making what we used to call the Unified Statement, not rummaging though through genres like a trunk full of costume jewelry, and when roles were more concrete-- less instrument swapping, more stability.”

And : “Yeah Yeah Yeahs might abruptly ramp the song up to a yowling blues splatter, but Mullenhour puts on her best Edie Brickell coo as her band rolls smoothly through understated dynamic shifts, building incrementally to a thrashing middle section, sinking through a quiet descent, then a upwelling to a mountainous, distortion-drenched re-crescendo.”

I could go on but I think the above is a very nice example that YES bands do sound like other bands but does a writer have to use the same exact point of reference? Edie Brickell? Listening to Sybris a million other one of a kind voices come to mind but I have to be honest, E.B. was not on the top of my list. In fact it would have never even crossed my mind had it not been placed in my head via the label site. The Smashing Pumpkins connection is a little more understandable but there could have easily been 100 other bands from that same time period to use as an example.

I feel bad using this particular band / release to raise awareness that writers are often fed the words they use to describe a band… but here is why I really truly terrible: Sybris are incredible, even if their style harkens back to the more mainstream alterna-rock of the 90’s. Its not that the vocals or their music reminds me of just one band, it’s the plain old idea of a band sounding 100% like themselves.

I wish I could remember where I read this quote but it said something like “it isn’t perfect but it's just right.” This was the same thing I felt when I first heard PJ Harvey, Come, Cat Power, Scarce, Helium, and Throwing Muses back in the day. (Matador Records alone in the mid 90’s had a ton of women who better than rocked.) It would be difficult to charge any one of these ladies with the blatant imitation of another. Each were powerful, distinct, gusty, and unraveled (naked) yet unmistakably all were / are absolutely unique.

I don’t want to dwell on the fact that Sybris has a woman fronting them because that detracts from the fact that the entire band is worthy of equal attention. As a unit they return back to a time when it was okay to be a cockeyed rock band as long as you did it well. (In this bands case think of guitars ringing like church bells in a cave during a thunderstorm and there you have a sonic base to where this band builds from.) A woman in this band is not and should not be the key focus here, the quality of the music they make should be.

Pixies? Yes. Smashing Pumpkins? Sure. MBV? Why not, they are sited in just about every other review these days. Does Sybris hold their own? Yes, 100%. Do they deserve an 8.0? Yes, and then some.
PS: Just so you don't think I am only picking on PFM about this, try this little test. Google Edie Brickell + Sybris and you can see for youself that more than 10 different sites use that same EXACT description. Lame.