CD Reviews: the Tripwires, Spiral Stairs

The TripwiresHouse to House (Spark and Shine)At last year's REVERB, I was immediately taken with the Tripwires for this reason: In their power pop, one hears more than the usual Cheap Trick/Beatles influence. There is still plenty of that here, no question, but it's blended smoothly with the dry twang of Dale Hawkins, the woven harmonies of the Everly Brothers, and the deft craftsmanship of the Fastbacks. In other words, much more than mere power pop. A local supergroup of sorts, the Tripwires are all better known for everything else they've done: Frontman John Ramberg is the guitarist for The Minus 5, bassist Jim Sangster played with Young Fresh Fellows, guitarist Johnny Sangster has produced Mudhoney, and drummer Mark Pickerel pounded skins for Screaming Trees and is currently one of the country's more underrated Americana performers. Thus it's hardly surprising that there's more to their music than Anglo-janglo melodies.Their latest album, House to House, is wall-to-wall energetic pop, each song hooking you with a colorful melody but holding you with actual narrative. In a sand-in-honey voice—at times reminiscent of a male version of Visqueen's Rachel Flotard—Ramberg delivers basic but smart verse. The curly riffs of "Something in a Friday Night" and "Drawing a Blank" are pure pop fun, but there is a maturity to be found here. This is your adult-Friday-night-getting-ready-to-go-out-on-the-town jam. BRIAN J. BARRSpiral StairsThe Real Feel (Matador)For all the emotions conveyed on Spiral Stairs' debut album, few of them come from the lyrics. Instead it's Scott Kannberg's artful and nuanced use of sounds that create the most impact. Spiral Stairs is Seattleite Kannberg's pseudonym (he's also Pavement's founding guitarist and Preston School of Industry's former frontman), and his first official solo album is a cathartic tribute to his recent divorce. Aptly titled The Real Feel, this solid album's 10 musical tracks focus on sounds and senses. Kannberg's beautiful instrumentation mimics the bass-heavy style of the Stranglers; the deep lines on the opening track "True Love" create a dark atmosphere. When Kannberg sings, his voice reminiscent of Billy Bragg, he's more interested in creating feelings than words. He repeats the phrase "true love" again and again, and while it's not a unique lyric, it's the way Kannberg uses the words that carries the meaning. He nearly wails those two syllables, his voice just about to crack—which is as powerful as any more poetic lyric about love. He does the same on "Sublico Shuffle": The refrain is "sacred secret" repeated while Kannberg overenunciates over a swirling low guitar. It's clear that secrets were a strong and destructive force in his marriage.If The Real Feel has any flaw, it's that Kannberg tries to do too much on these songs. He's clearly thought about every note on this album—there's barely a silent moment here—and it's overwhelming. Then again, maybe the distorted guitars, synthesizers, and complicated words are Kannberg's way of masking the intense emotions he's put on display. PAIGE RICHMOND

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