"Smoke Before My Eyes" b/w "On and On"
"I used to feel a burning fire running through my bones," David Fowler sings on "Smoke Before My Eyes," one of two elegant folk tunes that haunt the grooves of the band's new 7-inch. And while Fowler and his harmonious backing chorus conclude that the inspirational flame went poof, this band's creative engine is surely crackling, if ever so slowly. (Two-plus years since the debut EP and they've only graced us with two measly songs?)
The lazy, ethereal shuffle and its Yo La Tengo-inspired lullaby B-side "On and On" are ornate, soothing and stunning, capturing imagination not by shock and awe but sheer beauty. Released on orange vinyl with a gorgeous screen-printed sleeve, it's almost as lovely to look at as to listen to.
Tree of Snakes
"Drummer Moved to New York, Bassist Moved to California"
Capping off their recorded output with a hand-packaged CD-R, Jeff Fernengel's silly/snotty/smart punk combo burns through 18 tracks in 30 minutes. The fittingly haphazard finale features all the proper Snakes hallmarks from lovelorn frustration ("Alexandria") to clever comedy ("Zombie Denial") to outright absurdity ("Big Tomato"). It's a must-have for anybody who has ever pounded PBR while this band unleashes cartoonish chaos.
Still, clearing the vaults has resulted in a fair amount of chaff among the wheat. I'm glad this album exists, but unless you've been around the block with Fernengel and company, I'd advise tracking down the "I Am the Lion" 7-inch and working your way forward. If you can resist the charms of "Serious Knife Fight," you'll have no use for this album - and you're probably no fun.
Joey Hebdo Band
"Live at Rumba Cafe"
Hebdo's whispery solo debut "Prosciutto" showed pleasant progression from the unfortunate rasta stylings of his earlier project, Blackcoin. But if Hebdo is better off recording on his own, Jay Alton's recording from last winter at Rumba shows the songwriter can still benefit from teamwork on stage.
Hebdo uses his players to spin out the music in several satisfying directions, including juke-joint pop and skanked-out surf rock. Most exciting are the psych-rock excursions, particularly chant-along opener "Nobody's Following Me," one psychedelic freakout away from Akron/Family. Only rarely does it slip into overly jammy territory; I'd rather stay out of "When You're In It."
Hebdo's cordial interjections, shape-shifting songs and unreleased material beg the question: Why don't musicians release live albums anymore?