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the pathetic caverns - music

The Fever

City of Sleep

(Kernado, 2006)

At first glance, The Fever's mostly monochromatic packaging -- a photo collage by singer Geremy Jasper, it turns out -- and 19th-century typefaces suggest a Decemberists rip-off. The Fever's songs often seem to be set in unspecified past decades, and they're peopled with vampires, grifters, and circus freaks, but any resemblance ends there. The Fever's influences are obvious enough -- the high octane blues of The Reverend Horton Heat, some of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' vocal histrionics, the clattery percussion (and prominent marimbas) of Tom Waits, a touch of Nick Cave's gravelly delivery and fondness for grotesqueries, and a booze-soaked aura common to all of the foregoing. City of Sleep requires some tolerance for kitsch, but fortunately the Fever usually put their songcraft ahead of the schtick. Songs like "Gypsy Cab/Down on Dog Street" are rocking and hooky no matter where or when they take place, and Jasper proves himself a strong and versatile vocalist. Some of the lyrics, like those of "Circus Girl," are slight and derivative, but City of Sleep also offers some vivid phrases like "a mouthful of moths sailing through the dark like a prison dart" (from "Eyes on the Road"). Keith Stapleton's guitar leads -- brief, with no wasted notes and several different viciously nasty tones -- are also particularly noteworthy.

This review originally appeared at Avoid Peril.

French Kicks

Two Thousand

(Vagrant, 2006)

My predominant impression of Two Thousand is space. The considerable reverb on the recording evokes a physical space in which the music unfolds. It sounds to me like a large room with solid walls. The arrangements tend to be sparse. The guitar parts are constructed mostly of single-note runs or chords that fade out before the next is struck. Nick Stumpf's drumming is lively but never busy, marked by brief, tasteful fills. No single instrument -- not even the vocals -- carries the main thread of the song. The hooks aren't in catchy choruses; they're in the surprising way the songs fit together. My favorite track is "Keep It Amazed," which quotes Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing" to intriguing effect, but throughout Two Thousand French Kicks demonstrate that indie rock doesn't need to rely on volume or freneticism to generate interest.

This review originally appeared at Avoid Peril.

Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom

(Ipecac, 2006)

Peeping Tom's mastermind is Mike Patton (of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle), aided and abetted by a cast of guest stars including Dan the Automator, Kool Keith, and Norah Jones. Anyone who's followed Patton's career will know not to expect a typical rock/rap crossover, and "typical" is exactly what Peeping Tom doesn't deliver. It's more trip-hop than anything else (although loud guitars do season a few tracks), but it's deeply weird, and scarcely dancefloor-friendly. Just when you think you've got a handle on a groove, it's likely to lurch into a different tempo. A song may suddenly dissolve into a wash of harp strings, or the drums might grind to a halt and start running backwards. Peeping Tom may not offer consistent rump-shaking or head-banging pleasures, but it definitely rewards close listening -- it's packed with sonic details and surprises. "Your Neighborhood Spaceman" and "Don't Even Trip" (chorus: "Don't even trip/Don't get too big for/Your britches") are a little goofy, and even the darkest songs usually have humorous touches. Highlights include the trip-hop/nu-metal collision of "Five Seconds" (listen to the chorus on headphones at least once), Kool Keith's laid-back narrative/rap on "Getaway," and Norah Jones' snide, "R"-rated "Sucker."

This review originally appeared at Avoid Peril.

Snow Patrol

Eyes Open

(A&M/Fiction, 2006)

Eyes Open may not technically be a "concept album," but it's very closely knit, with recurring images of hands, hearts, and eyes, both open and closed. Gary Lightbody sings in the voice of a man who refuses to acknowledge the inevitability of an impending breakup. Many of the lyrics are banal and unspecific ("I've gotta see you one last night," "I don't quite know how to say how I feel," "It's so clear now that you are all that I have") which is a shame, since other lines ("It's hard to argue when you won't stop making sense," "Put Sufjan Stevens on, and we'll play your favorite song,") suggest that the Snow Patrol is capable of writing with more personality than the indie rock equivalent of Dan Fogelberg -- which is how they sometimes come off. Most of Eyes Open's songs are slow to mid-tempo. Several of them start quietly, with just voice and a single guitar or piano, and build toward a cathartic crescendo. The glossy, big-budget production doesn't always serve these songs well; it smooths out the dynamics and robs them of some of the impact they might otherwise possess. My own favorite is the closing "Finish Line," which opens with the narrator lying on the ground outside at night, perhaps drunk, listening to insect sounds. It's less bombastic than the rest of the album, and it feels more personal and authentic.

This review originally appeared at Avoid Peril.

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