Age of the Sun

(Emperor Norton)

Psychedelic sugar highs.

It's easy to understand the fetish appeal of the Elephant 6 music collective,


CD Reviews


Age of the Sun

(Emperor Norton)

Psychedelic sugar highs.

It's easy to understand the fetish appeal of the Elephant 6 music collective, that bunch of fellow travelers that includes bands like Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, and the Apples (in Stereo). E6 groups operate in their own close-knit worlds crowded with singles and albums ripe for collecting. Of course, none of it matters a whit if the music's crap. Thankfully, that's not the case on Age of the Sun, the first full-length disc from the Sunshine Fix, otherwise known as Olivia Tremor Control co-founder Bill Doss with assorted friends from Japancakes, Of Montreal, and other bands. Musty though they are, the album's good-vibes lyrics—"Can you see yourself being somebody else," "There's a better way to be"—are palatable because they're kept in their place: They work for the melodies, not vice versa. Furthermore, experimentation isn't given the chance to melt into self-indulgence. The atmospheric trip that opens "That Ole Sun," for instance, drops the listener in a bright, melodic meadow before it approaches the point of spacey tediousness. Age of the Sun is proudly psychedelic, but it's also unabashedly pop. Consider it a head spin for those who prefer sugar highs to acid trips. Chris Nelson


Sleeping on Roads


Solo debut from Mojave 3 (and Slowdive) frontman reminds us who writes the songs.

When I interviewed Neil Halstead early last year, he attempted to convince me that his debut solo record, Sleeping on Roads, would likely disappoint his longtime fans: "It doesn't sound like Mojave 3." I shook my head. Like many who've followed Halstead's career, it was difficult to believe that his solo release would vary that much from his previous work. And, with the finished copy of Roads here on my desk, it's hard to imagine exactly what was running through his mind when he made this comment. Though Roads discards Mojave 3's dusty steel guitar for muted trumpets and cellos, everything else about this record settles like gentle dust into Halstead's carefully carved-out grooves. The guitars and keyboards are a drifting curtain of sound, and on tracks like "Hi-Lo and Inbetween," the heavy-lidded, honeyed vocals actually seem to float, tethered only by Halstead's introspective lyrics. "Dreamed I Saw Soldiers" borrows the melody from Damien Jurado's "Ohio" and adds new lyrics; the result is gorgeous. If Halstead thinks that his songwriting is not crucial to Mojave 3, Sleeping on Roads demonstrates otherwise. This record reinforces the suspicion that he is the primary reason why his bands have recorded such resplendent, enduring records. No shift of backing musicians can mask that fact. Tizzy Asher

Neil Halstead plays the Tractor on Sun., Feb. 17.


Read Music/Speak Spanish

(Saddle Creek)

Bright Eyes' golden boy and company stage their own WTO riot.

This is the stuff that broken dreams are made of. "I don't wanna be ashamed to be American/But opportunity, no it don't exist," Conor Oberst seethes on Read Music/Speak Spanish, lashing out with disgusted determination at today's rising tide of Starbucks and strip malls. More than just another well-intentioned but clich餠critique of capitalist culture, the debut by Lincoln, Neb.'s Desaparecidos brilliantly captures disillusionment with the 9-to-5 rat race and the notion that dreams don't mean shit if you can't pay your rising rent. By personalizing its critiques through people's real everyday struggles, Read Music/Speak Spanish comes alive in a way that few albums do. For instance, the two-part "Man and Wife" charts the deleterious effects that money has on a couple's marriage. Credit also vocalist-guitarist Oberst for much of the album's emotional tone. So while the five-man band's music clashes and crashes in a way that fans of Bright Eyes' emo-folk might not expect of their indie-rock idol, Oberst is still singing like he's hyperventilating every time he opens his mouth, voicing the anti-consumerist concerns and fears of those who, against a poor economic outlook, dare to dream. Jimmy Draper

The Desaparecidos play the Paradox on Mon., Feb. 18.


Words of Wisdom and Hope

(Alternative Tentacles)

Words of advice: Edit, edit, edit.

Like cult fave Jonathan Richman, veteran eccentric Jad Fair splits listeners into two camps: those who find his quirky romanticism endearing and those with whom Fair has long since worn out his welcome. I'm of both minds. I admire the tenacity of anyone who continues to pen love songs wrapped in Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wolfman imagery 20 years into the game. But tenacity and redundancy are close kin. His sincerity can still be winning. "I've got a crush on us," Fair sings in "Crush on You," portraying that early romance stage when you're in love with being in love. And his odd details are mysteriously charming: "The writing's on the wall," he says in "I Feel Fine," "not some kinda trash like your cousin wrote—good writing." But, as you might expect of someone who's put out 40 or so albums, Jad could also use an editor. In "The Power of Your Tenderness," he sings, "My heart is literally jumping like a kangaroo/Well, maybe not literally, but poetically." Sure, the contradiction makes the lyric conversational, but more than that, it feels sloppy, particularly on an album that also includes lines like "um" and "that thing that water goes down" (he means a drain). Compounding the sense of languor is Teenage Fanclub's music, which often ambles so aimlessly that several numbers are nearly indistinguishable from one another. Chris Nelson

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