Tracks and Fields – Review

va-tracksandfields200Tracks and Fields

(Kill Rock Stars)
by Scott Deckman

The stakes? The Indier-Than-Thou Championship of Rockville, USA (a.k.a. Olympia, Washington). In this corner, clocking in at 73:31, we have Tracks. In the other corner, we have Fields, bringin’ 74:36 of noise. Without further ado, let’s get at this like Courtney finding Kathleen Hanna in bed with Kurt circa ’92.

From Olympia, by way of Mopeville, we have The Legend! warbling “I’m Not Like That,” sounding a cross between a drunken Peter Murphy and Robyn Hitchcock, and God-bless’m. Antietam‘s “This Lush Life” renews the post-Kristin Hersh menacing electric folk, but it’s still kinda Bonnie Raittish boring at the same time. His Name Is Alive‘s “Peace in Detroit” updates Diana Ross via Marvin Gaye, while Superchunk‘s “Everyone Gets Crushed” does what you’d think it’d do: Kills you with melodic kindness and 12-year-old pre-pubescent vocals.

What is this, a member of the Famile Danielson on a human secularist vegan goddess worshipin’ comp? Heck yeah. On first listen, “Our Givest” seems like a weaker version of the same tune that appears on this year’s Brother Danielson Brother is to Son record, and on second and third and fourth and fifth listen you may think so too… and you’d be right. But it gets closer each time, as this rawer rendition highlights what makes the white-robed reveler distinct: Brother (a.k.a. Daniel Smith) has a weird-ass voice second only to another Christian-leaning goof (and I mean far, far leaning), Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes. On this version, you get to hear his soulful-if-odd Southern Jersey whiteboy tenor, and it’s actually quite touching… and embarrassing. Another big plus is the naked baseline, choice. Dos‘ “Make Her Me” mixes sinister dual basses, feminist politics, societal misogyny and psyche folk less dynamically than godmother Ani DiFranco… that and Mike Watt.

Gas Huffer doesn’t give a damn, as its “Release the Robots” rocks like Melvins impersonators or a sludgier, catchier lo-fi Nashville Pussy minus the private parts; but the dumb “irony kids” robotic fuck-you at the end makes the song just good. John Wilkes Booze keeps the ethos and then some with a live recording of “We’ve Got Room in Outer Space,” coming off like a socially-conscious Ted Nugent balancing both “Cat Scratch Fever” rock and Amboy Dukes quaint retro keyboards. On second thought, Seth Mahern kinda sounds like Justin Hawkins, so fuck’m. The Capricorns‘ “Steve and Tiffanie” is all Corin Tucker ’80s wet dream, and sets up the best track on the whole shebang, Cynthia Dall‘s “Eric’s Song.” Perched somewhere between Mary Lou Lord’s happy-face-namedropping-subway-plying-acoustic-guitar-sunnyside-up and Heather Nova’s ethereal vocals, this is a deceptively complicated tune. Banjos (or something like them) compete with other stringed instruments and keyboards to create incongruous swirls, all lolling around Dall’s hypnotic voice. Perhaps better-known as a collaborator with Smog (or maybe even as a transgressive shutterbug), Dall’s overall output has been slim, and it’s a shame. I’ve never done heroin, but I imagine this is what it feels like, poor junkie bastards. And nice male backing vocals by Aaron Dall to boot.

Where was I, oh yeah, shut up. Okay, The Lovers‘ “Birds in the Sky” suffers in comparison, and let’s be honest, whiney-girl-with-guitar is kinda played, even in Sensitive Indie Valhalla. Xiu Xiu‘s live “Clowne Towne” is even more weepy – and apparently sounds nothing like the band’s usual studio work – but at least the metallic-sounding guitar has some worth. Gravy Train heaps on the feminist politics (though tongue-in-cheek) on “Ghost Boobs,” a tale of woe from a chick who dieted away her only redeeming asset: Big swingin’ tits! And she laments like a coy peppermint almost-Betty Boop in ’80s keys and squeaky Square Pegs vox (notice a trend here?).

Then the rock finally shows up again, and thank the Lord. The Buff Medways‘ “Pink 14” actually does, with Billy Childish (Chatham, England’s Jon Spencer, plus a million other things) leading a psycho-garage attack full of hooks, snooty limey vocals, and overall debauchery. A keeper. Madrid, Spain’s The Charades? Okay, more retro rock. “The Only One” woulda fit right in with Bow Wow Wow, which is a compliment, I guess.

The Wiretaps make you wish that more ’80s new wave bands had been this good. “TV Life” combines Lisa Rickenberg’s sexy deadpan reminiscent of The Waitresses with Dave (I’m not a pornstar) Holmes’ sinister guitar. That’s followed up with Brooke‘s “Inside Out,” her soft voice evoking mental images of Joey Lauren Adams-cum-Juliana Hatfield, so the “Who/What The Fuck Am I?” choruses bring the double entendre up a notch. Young People may employ quite a few instruments, but they actually sound like a single riot grrrl on “Version Valley,” and not much else. More singspeak than song.

Next comes neo-metal underground sensation Jucifer‘s “Amplifier.” Recorded live at the 40 Watt Club on 9/26/03 in Athens, Georgia, the low-end percussion of drummer (and boyfriend) G. Edgar Livengood and low-end fuzz guitar of cutie (and girlfriend) G. Amber Valentine juxtapose the latter’s airy voice, making it all softly sinister. Think a more coherent Kim Gordon raised on Black Sabbath and Marianne Faithfull instead of The Velvet Underground and Glenn Branca. Smashing. Total Sound Group Direct Action Committee‘s “Wake Me When I’m Over” rambles like Spencer Moody with an Elvis complex. King Cobra‘s Rachel Carns needs to start singing like a human being and not a sideshow attraction. “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us” is actually fairly well-written psychedelia with (what else?) keygoddamnfuckinboards, so it’s too bad.

Semiautomatic completes this nostalgia trip back to when blue Mohawks were “threatening” and MTV was muse du jour. Like much of Tracks and Fields, “Search & Seizure” is ripe with that word that begins with a k, automaton female vocals and a bit too much posing. Grow up, people. Things end on a bright note though, with Alaska!‘s “RU Listenin.” Not listed on the sleeve, this track is singer-songwriter done right, and it should be, with band members making up two-thirds of Foke Implojun (né-Folk Implosion); acoustic guitar and layered vocals accompany a leisurely stroll through James Mercer’s flower garden, and it leads to a more traditional, less dynamic, though equally fertile landscape.

Shoplifting‘s “Hegemony Enemy” starts the counter attack with poorly-recorded drunken Olympia indie rock live to two track, then Biography of Ferns proudly presents “John the Barber,” emo owing as much to Pavement as DC straight-edge post-hardcore. These Seattlites pull off insouciance rock pretty well. Radio Berlin‘s “Bright Things” comes off as bad Peter Murphy (I know) or worse Morrissey, while Measles Mumps Rubella‘s “Fantastic Success II” makes me a bit sick with their gadgety techno and backward-sounding vocals way down in the mix. A dance beat that’s seven minutes long doesn’t help matters either, unless you’re on the floor on certain substances. Slumber Party‘s “Electronic Boots Remix: Brown Rice vs. Young Soul Rebels Sound System” foists up a crazy buzz with vocals channeling the great Patty Donahue of The Waitresses (twice in one review!). This robotic techno gives the listener the affect of going under the tattoo or electrolyses needle, either/or, while Sleetmute Nightmute‘s “Walking Backwards” is a techno nightmare replete with thudding-cum-murky drums’n’guitar and incoherent female vocals – part of this is as heavy and discordant as Psalm 69-era Ministry, which leads to Need New Body‘s “Ggaannkk,” annoying industrial mishmash for a postmodern world.

Male Slut‘s (a.k.a. Thurston Moore) “Industrial Radio Blues” capitalizes on noisy-yet-coherent almost-no-wave, what Sonic Youth forgot to do in the closing millennium. He tosses Joey Ramone (R.I.P.) a kiss to seal the deal. “I’m Your Doctor Now” sees The Paper Chase‘s John Congleton warning, “Don’t put your faith in these hands, your ass belongs to the Lord,” and with big beats, piano and samples a’plenty, I have no choice but to obey. But didn’t we already know this, John? Former “It” boy Devendra O Banhart‘s “Poughkeepsi” (demo version) sounds antiquated, like some circus performer circa 1850 from parts unknown, but strangely familiar all at once. Laura Veirs‘ “Icebound Stream” twists weird folk psych. This is The Beatles with acolyte Charlie Manson riding shotgun instead of Paul McCartney. Thanksgiving‘s “The ‘In The Lake'” (don’t get on me about the stupid name) is another whiner, a ’60s throwback (recorded in one take and seemingly in front of a small audience) you’d expect to see in a Family Ties flashback, Elyse singing “Big Yellow Taxi,” Steven rockin’ the beard and bandana.

Nedelle‘s “Begin to Breathe” might not be the most complicated song I’ve ever heard, but its airy “La la la la la la la la, lah lah, lah lah” is akin to stumbling upon a quirky-but-pleasing flick on Sundance or FLIX. Sahara Hotnights prove that chicks can throw down as well as anybody, covering one of the greatest punk rock songs of all time, “Rockaway Beach.” It might sound a bit odd at first, four honeys from Sweden covering the Ramones, but these mamas are more than eye candy, as you can just picture Joey telling Rolling Stone or VH1 that, “I really dig what these girls have done with one of our best songs.” Okay, so I’m a little biased. It’s all because of that damn ad that ran in magazines (and my imagination) a year or two ago, you know the one, the one where Maria Andersson is punk-rock logos at the mic, mouth gaga agogo, all but making horny bastards lose it in their pants.

Sweet Heat‘s Tamar Berk’s alto evokes Johnette Napolitano on “Oh Johnny,” and is covered in sludgy post-Mudhoney grit, with a bit less noise but plenty of attitude and atmosphere. C Average keeps the sludge coming with a post-Sabbath doom and gloom instrumental with a flair for the psychedelic. “Stalwart (Main Title)” has balls, if anything.

I been through the desert on a horse with no name, it’s good to rip off a song all the same. Though to be fair, with “Golden Cloud” (acoustic), Dead Meadow could be swiping …The Dandy Warhols Come Down…, replete with loudly hypnotic acoustic guitar and drugged-out drone. It sounds good, so who gives? Closer The Decemberists‘ “Everything I Try to Do, Nothing Seems to Turn Out Right” keeps it honest with an organ-drenched mushy ballad. But all this Brit posing: I thought Portland was supposed to be cool?

So after 12 rounds of chords, cords, beats, and whores, we have a unanimous decision. By competitive but comfortable decision, it’s Tracks over Fields. Congratulations Tracks, 2004 Indier-Than-Thou Champion of Rockville, USA.