Math and Physics Club

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Jangle pop. Unfamiliar readers will find that Hurry Home Dark Cloud has a multitude of issues with typical genre conventions. Predominantly, we find they are too confining and often pigeonhole an act unfairly.

However, despite the laughably absurd genre title, jangle pop fits Seattle crew Math and Physics Club quite well. So well, in fact, that a cut from last years EP sounds eerily similar to influential eighties band The Smiths – perhaps the most celebrated purveyors of pop that jangles.

“Nothing Ever Happened” appears to be distinctly fashioned as a homage to the work of The Smiths, seeing as the carefree guitars and utterance of lines such as “I must be terribly lonely” are textbook Morrissey trademarks.  

It’s sunny, upbeat music that sounds awfully pleasant during a long Saturday afternoon. Considering the depressing dearth of music this breezy and blissful, we’ve composed an open letter to the band:

Dear Math and Physics Club,

More, please.

Sincerely,

Your friends at Hurry Home Dark Cloud

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“Nothing Really Happened” from Baby I’m Yours EP (2007)

Published in: on March 16, 2008 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Eiffel 65

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Europop. Denoting both the given genre of the group and the title of their breakout record, Eiffel 65 enjoyed an extremely successful year in 1999. With lead single “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” hitting the number one spot on charts in nearly every civilized nation on Earth, there was a point in which the track became such a ubiquitous staple on radio it became as reviled as James Blunt’s “Beautiful.”

To the everlasting joy of thousands, “Blue” hasn’t been heard from since at least 2002. It’s the sort of track that will invariably (if it has not already) appear on Time Life produced Remember the Nineties discs along with dance-oriented essentials like “Macarena” by Los Del Rio and “Wannabe” by Spice Girls.

Europop was unabashedly accessible, almost to a fault. This accessibility was enhanced by trendy (well, at the time) gimmicks such as extensive use of vocoders. I don’t believe a single lyric was sung though anything but a voice synthesizer. 

Granted, it was a dance record, and as American Bandstand proved back in the seventies, people will pretty much dance to anything as long as there is a discernible rhythm.

The bulk of the record is composed of nitwitted by-the-numbers dance melodies for club hopping automatons. “Move Your Body”, “My Console”, “Hyperlink”. . . .those are probably three parts of the same song.

Still, Europop did have its flashes of astuteness. “Too Much of Heaven” is a damning statement on rampant consumerism, while still strangely encouraging dancing to lines like “No love, no friendship, nothing else.”

At best, Eiffel 65 will remind you of Violator-era Depeche Mode. At worst, they will recall everything vile about the nineties’ fascination for provisional dance pop.

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“Blue (Da Ba Dee)” from Europop (1999)

“Too Much of Heaven” from Europop (1999)

The Smiths: Meat Is Murder

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Meat Is Murder, the sophomore effort from pioneering English band The Smiths, found the act experimenting with a myriad of genre bending styles. First of all, Morrissey’s long time penchant for Elvis-esque rockabilly is in full gear (i.e. “Rusholme Ruffians”) as well as more sensitive, introspective ballads (“I Want the One I Can’t Have”).

Not immediately accessible, and with no standout radio single, the record would remain one of The Smiths least favored records. It’s remarkable, then, to recall that Meat Is Murder is the only original album to chart at #1 in the U.K. The inclusion of the immensely popular “How Soon Is Now” on the U.S. release ensured that Meat Is Murder would also sell reasonably well stateside.

The politically charged ideology is abjectly confrontational but never quite approaching tiresome. Lettuce love lullaby “Meat Is Murder” is, like veganism, an aquired taste. Though a bit preachy and self-righteous, the lyrical content does hold some sad truths. Just recently, to the shock of no one, it’s come to light that some slaughterhouses routinely employed torture.

“Barbarism Begins At Home” and sister song “The Headmaster Ritual” serve as compelling odes decrying the stringent disciplinarian tactics of English schoolhouses.

Perhaps the most amusing track is “Nowhere Fast” with it’s giddy declaration of “I’d like to drop my trousers to the Queen” amid typically dispiriting reflective imagery such as: “I think about life and I think about death, and neither one particularly appeals to me.” Brilliant.

Meat Is Murder is primarily regarded as an important step in the creative growth of The Smiths which reaches its peak with the monumental third release The Queen Is Dead. Check back soon for an upcoming discourse on that album as we continue our spotlight series on The Smiths.

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“Rusholme Ruffians” from Meat Is Murder (1985)

“Barbarism Begins At Home” from Meat Is Murder (1985)

The Smiths

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“It’s time the tale were told of how you took a child and you made him old.”

So begins the eponymous debut album by seminal eighties band The Smiths. From there, the record unravels to reveal layer after layer of complex lyrical arrangements that touch on everything from distresses concerning social economics to denouncements of abject murder.

In defiance of their contemporaries, The Smiths adopted a back-to-basics approach – which their very name suggests. They dressed down in t-shirts and denim, rather than gaudy costumes or stage outfits. They utilized the standard structure of guitar/bass/drums at a time when synth was everything.

Frontman Morrissey wasn’t afraid to wordlessly vocalize or display an almost comical falsetto on tracks like “Miserable Lie.” Guitarist Johnny Marr was just coming into his own as an accomplished arranger, as if he was only then realizing the power his instrument held to impel tracks like “This Charming Man.”

In short, The Smiths were young yet eloquent, and what they lacked in experience they made up for with surprisingly erudite sentiments.

Take “This Charming Man”, for example, an early single penned with such ace insight that an inscrutable line like “Why pamper lifes complexity when the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat” doesn’t pan out as obtuse but rather quite fetching.

The bulk of the album continues this trend of shrewd awareness for humanity’s darker recesses: “Pretty Girls Make Graves” is a sexually-androgynous ode to romantic frustration, and “Hand in Glove” continues this theme with lines like “No, it’s not like any other love. This one is different.”

The Smiths was a landmark album and a sign of great things to come. This album and the ones proceeding it would influence acts as diverse as Belle & Sebastian, Radiohead, Doves, and Suede in the years to follow.

Check back soon at Hurry Home Dark Cloud for upcoming reviews of the remainder of The Smiths catalog, including the oft-forgotten live album Rank.

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“This Charming Man” from The Smiths (1984)

“You’ve Got Everything Now” from The Smiths (1984)

Published in: on March 9, 2008 at 10:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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Headlights

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Wow. Headlights’ sophomore album Some Racing, Some Stopping is hands down the best new release thus far this year.

Consumate pros at their craft, which happens to be solid indie pop, Headlights came out of nowhere to offer Earth the moonstruck beauty of “Cherry Tulips”. One listen is practically guaranteed to have you downloading their latest within minutes.

Be sure to stop by their myspace for upcoming tour dates, I hear they put on a hell of a show!

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“Cherry Tulips” from Some Racing, Some Stopping (2008)

Published in: on March 8, 2008 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jaymay

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Dames. It has been noticed that since the inception of Hurry Home Dark Cloud not a single female artist has held center stage. Further, there has been a distict lean towards music from bygone years rather than more recent releases.

Lest it be said that we are stuck in the past or, worse, misogynistic: it is with great pleasure that I introduce the exceptionally talented Jaymay.

Her debut Autumn Fallin’ was released a few months ago and has been steadily gaining momentum, culminating in an expanded March 11 re-release of the record.

Album highlights “Blue Skies” and “Gray or Blue” showcase the complexity she is capable of, channeling both a touch of Missy Higgins and a bit of Alela Diane.

Highly recommended.

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“Blue Skies” from Autumn Fallin’ (2007)

Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Better Than Ezra

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“Good.” With that single syllable song, Better Than Ezra firmly established themselves as one of the premier alt-rock bands alongside such illustrious contemporaries as Blind Melon, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Dishwalla, Gin Blossoms, and Collective Soul. Debut Deluxe was a surprise hit and spawed at least two other successful singles.

From there, Better Than Ezra crafted an equally grand sophomore record. The release of Friction, Baby saw newfound fans across the globe embracing one of the most reliably crowd-pleasing songs in Better Than Ezra’s catalogue: “Desperately Wanting”. However, despite the success, no new ground was broken because the band opted to utilize the exact same mold they’d used for their debut.

The debate between releasing a roster of straight rock records and experimenting with a style a bit deeper than the average alternative album has torn apart lesser acts. Granted, it is a crucial decision that can make or break a band.

Do you cater to the greatest common denominator and give the people what they theoretically want – another piece of the same rock record? Or do you alter your present style to something less mainstream yet still have the album solidly land within the field of pop music?

Better Than Ezra’s conceptualization of third album How Does Your Garden Grow set about to regenerate the dormant creativity long-time fans knew they were capable of. It begins with quirky opener “Je Ne M’en Souviens Pas”, which essentially establishes this will not be BTE Rock Record #3.

The record really kicks off with “One More Murder”, which adroitly highlights the senselessness of random killings. “At the Stars” recalls late nights that seemed as if they could last forever. “Under You” unfolds beautifully as a love paean, while adjacent track “Live Again” suggests a more complex relationship replete with worries and woes.

“Beautiful Mistake” is nudged near the end of the album when many bands are tacking on filler songs and half-hearted tracks. Concerning a father who has abandoned his family, the track was immediately seized upon by fans who understood the pain of loss. For years it could be found next to Everclear’s “Father of Mine” on oft-pressed melancholy mix discs.

Though Better Than Ezra has released two albums since Garden, with some notable high points, they have yet to reach the creative heights they scaled so seemingly effortlessly in 1998.

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 “Good” from Deluxe (1993)

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 “Desperately Wanting” from Friction, Baby (1996)

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 “Beautiful Mistake” from How Does Your Garden Grow? (1998)

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“A Lifetime” from Closer (2001)

Enigma

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1994. It was, perhaps, impossible to view VH1 at any given moment during that year and miss the memorable clip for Enigma’s “Return to Innocence”. Opening with the peaceful death of an elderly man beneath a tree, the video unfolds in reverse exposition (a la Coldplay’s “The Scientist”) to weave the tale of that man’s life all the way back to birth – the literal return to innocence.

Inspired by recent revisitations to the work of E.S. Posthumus and simultaneously reminded of the mid-nineties by dusting off my copy of In the House of Stone and Light, I felt compelled to remain in flashback mode and review the early works of prominent electronica musicians Enigma.

Fronted primarily by the gifted Michael Cretu and an insanely awesome bamboo flute, Enigma burst onto the electronica/new age scene in the early nineties with impressive bravado. For a few precious years, they accomplished the improbable and made new age sound rather swell.

Then, as fate would have it, Yanni had his Acropolis deal in ’94 and Enya released an album a year later. New age sunk back into its former state of what could be described as “cotton candy” music. Though it should be noted Enya did win a Grammy for her record, but a new age Grammy is pretty much a Gimme Grammy. Enya has racked up a win for nearly every album released. At last count, she is up to at least four or five.

You see, it’s not exactly a hotly contested genre.

But I digress.

With the release of MCMXC a.D. in 1990, Enigma catapulted themselves to stardom with a brilliant cohesion of Gregorian chants, sweet synth beats, and the aforementioned insanely awesome bamboo flute. Their work would be drafted into dozens of films, trailers, and television ads and have the distinction of featuring on my fifth grade mix tape.

Their early albums, perhaps inevitably, sound a bit prosaic at present. It is probably difficult for first-time listeners to recognize that in 1990 the sound of Enigma was both edgy and stylistically nouveau.

Fourteen years after release, there is still something innately special about “Return to Innocence” – indeed, the whole of Cross of Changes is an impressive piece of work. Never, before or since, did Cretu and crew combine their stock of worldly chants and electronica beats with such pitch perfect effect.

That’s why it will always remain a mainstay in my collection, and that’s why it should remain in yours as well.

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“Mea Culpa” from MCMXC a.D. (1990)

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“Return to Innocence” from The Cross of Changes (1993)

Published in: on March 5, 2008 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pacific!

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Disco. I’m not entirely certain why that was the first genre that struck me upon listening to Reveries by Pacific!, but it seems to fit rather well. Reveries is unquestionably retro in spirit, and there is a certain charm in revisiting a long lost friend from the past – but the term disco is still too tainted with seventies absurdity to take it seriously again.

 And yet, I’m bereft of a more decorous summarization.

Reveries just recently hit the streets and a few tracks are already burning up my playlist. Specifically, I simply cannot get enough of “Sunset Blvd”. At first listen, it sounds like a track from a lost seventies soundcheck. Each successive listen reveals a firm root in the present, while still ringing with all the best intonations of that bygone era. 

Call it disco, retro, old-soul, whatever. Suffice it to say Pacific! is in fine form.  Pick up the single below, stream a few more tracks at their myspace, then buy the album here

If “Sunset Blvd” doesn’t immediately sell you, I’m willing to bet one listen to “Love Isn’t Always On Time” will!

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“Sunset Blvd” from Reveries (2008)

Published in: on March 4, 2008 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Martin Page

 

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Genesis. An admiration for that particular progressive rock band is perhaps one of the few commonalities Martin Page and I share. Though, now that I consider it, Page harbors a partiality to the pre-Collins Genesis records and I definitely fall into the post-Gabriel realm of fandom. Apparently the distinction between the two is still fiercely debated, with many fans still referring to Collins as the “new guy.”

 

But I digress.

 

Aside from a mutal partiality to Genesis, I have an absolute adoration for In the House of Stone and Light, the first and (so far) last album from Page. Released in 1994, the album gained significant buoyance from the success of its album-titled track and subsequent single “Keeper of the Flame.”

 

The video clip for “In the House of Stone and Light” was played endlessly on VH1 (back when they actually rotated music videos) during the summer of ’94 and could still be seen deep into 1995 (usually adjacent to the outstanding Annie Lennox clip for “No More I Love Yous”). The track also spun heavily on radio and featured on adult contemporary playlists for years afterward.

 

Despite a default categorization as a “one hit wonder”, I find the record an endless source of indulgence I return to at least once a year. This is partly because of the polished, superlative songwriting and partly because of the exceedingly intricate care given to the instrumentation.

 

Prior to recording his debut album, Page had written songs for acts as diverse as Go West, Tom Jones, Earth Wind & Fire, Heart, and Starship. This experience in the music business, combined with Page’s involvement in seminal eighties techno band Q-Feel, allowed him to slate such venerable session musicians as Robbie Robertson (of The Band, on guitar) and Phil Collins (of Genesis, on drums) who lent their considerable talents to the harmony of Page’s magnum opus.

 

Spaced throughout In the House of Stone and Light are the ubiquitous love songs (“Light in Your Heart”, “I Was Made For You”), yet a variety of disparate topics are addressed on the album, including: domestic violence (“In My Room”), World War II internment camps (“The Door”), and a general condemnation of modern wars and societal ills (“Shape the Invisible”).

 

Curiously, the single version of the marriage ballad “Keeper of the Flame” was coupled with the b-side “Broken Stairway” – which could very well have been written about a divorce. Though this may strike some as a contradictory move to some, I found it a perfect accompaniment to the chugging percussion and amiable tone of the a-side.

 

“Broken Stairway” is a heartachingly beautiful piano ballad clocking in at a scant two minutes forty-nine seconds. In that brief period of time, what unfolds is perhaps one of the saddest songs I’ve had the pleasure of discovering.

 

For those who share my affinity for In the House of Stone and Light and lament the sophomore album that never came, there is light on the horizon. According to Page, second album In the Temple of the Muse is slated for “imminent” release sometime in early 2008. A recent track, “Healing Waters”, which Page recorded for the 2007 Abrazos breast cancer benefit album, can be streamed here.

 

While the tone is certainly reminiscent of his debut album and the track overall is warmingly strong, it’s rather evident his vocals lack the robust power they once held. At present, it is unclear if “Healing Waters” will feature on the upcoming record because a track listing is still unavailable.

 

Page has long had a penchant for quoting historical figures in his works (his myspace blog is adorned with them). In homage to this practice, I’ll leave you with the selection he inserted into the liner notes of In the House of Stone and Light:

 

 

“Defenceless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

of Eros and of dust

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame”

          W.H. Auden from “September 1, 1939”

 

 

 

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“In the House of Stone and Light” from In the House of Stone and Light (1994)

 

“Broken Stairway” from In the House of Stone and Light (1994)

 

 

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“Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop)” from Q-Feel (1983)

 

Published in: on March 3, 2008 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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