Thursday, May 11, 2006

Starlight Mints/Drowaton/7.1 and Calexico/Garden Ruin/8.1

I dig the Lips, too, but for this Oklahoma band to furnish its third album of sun-warped indie pop with such a referential cover is a conceit

Starting a CD review out with comments on its cover smacks of indie rock Cliff's notes - especially when the visual review is so far off. It took me a while to dig before I could see a resemblance between Drowatron and the Flaming Lip's Zareika. The resemblance is a stretch -Drowton's abstract geometric shapes have more similarity to a Stereolab cover. Besides, the cover wasn't designed by the band but by Oklahoma graphics designer David Hoffner who has done posters for the Starlight Mints - most likely done long after the record was finished. Hoffer's cover art doesn't tie the Mints' to the Flaming Lips anymore than the 18 point chipboard cover shows the Swans' influence on the Starlight Mints. Musical influences show up in music, not in album artwork.

The rest of the review seems more negative than its 7.1 rating would suggest. That disparity made me add Drowaton to my shopping list on my next trip to the record store. However, the reviewer's ears are pretty much correct; this is a more dense record for the Starlight Mints. When that density works in the favor of the Mints' charming and bizarre nostalgia, such as on "Pumpkin", "Pearls" and "The Bee", you get some solid tracks. However, several songs would use some slimming down. The end result is a CD with a few good tracks, some okay tracks, but no clunkers - a 7.1 might be a little generous, but the review as written maybe evens that out a few tenths of a point. But I still don't hear the Flaming Lips.

Garden Ruin is beautifully fleshed out and focused, retaining some of the duo's Southwestern elements but shifting the horn sound from Ciudad Juarez to Los Angeles.

I don't have much to add to Joe Tangari's review of Garden Ruin. It's a more song based record (check), the last track is great (check). In fact, if all Pitchfork reviews were this good (and they re-instituted their letters section), we'd probably be out of business. Garden Ruin is essential for Calexico fans and a good pick for fans of Americana influenced guitar rock.

The only thing I'd add to the review is a mention of Garden Ruin's artwork by illustrator James Jean. Not every CD begs you to own the cover art, but Jean's cover and insert illustrations add a huge amount to the package. On his blog, Jean shows the process that he used to work with the band and develop the illustrations. Now, you may be wondering if a mention of the cover art even belongs in a review. Since you can decide to buy music online without cover art. it's good to know what you're getting for your extra money. The package for Garden Ruin makes the physical copy of the CD worth it. And it has nothing to do with the Flaming Lips either.