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Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Let's say you're a fan of a band. For our purposes, let's call the band Pavement, an established indie rock band with a large-scale (for an indie band, that is) following. You have all of Pavement's albums, some EPs, and even some 7-inch vinyl. What more could you possibly want?

The answer: More! And more and more, record companies are willing to give it to you. Usually, this comes in the form of a few extra tracks, an outtake or two, or a DVD with a few videos and interview footage. With the re-release of Pavement's landmark 1994 release Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, you get a 62-page book of photos, newly-penned background writings from songwriter Stephen Malkmus (Charlotte reference: Malkmus lists a fake discography that includes a song on an ANTiSEEN tribute record), and some three dozen (!) bonus tracks, including alternate versions of many of the original's 12 songs and the entire Watery, Domestic EP. Even for an avowed Pavement fan (full disclosure: I'm an avowed Pavement fan), the entire thing begs the question of "how much is too much?"

A few years back, a publishing house published a book called O Lost, basically Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel plus about 250 pages originally deemed irrelevant to the story. For anyone other than Wolfe completists, the book is a curiosity at best, a chance to see the scaffolding behind the finished work. And so it is with Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. You get to see, say, how the tennis/war mini-epic "Stop Breathing" originally came into the world as "Stop Bleeding," before Malkmus came up with the "fired the first volley in the war of the courts" line and the tennis player's admonition for the crowd to hush. You get to hear a (fortunately) 86ed vocal line for the Dave Brubeck tribute "5-4=Unity." You even get "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence," a song created entirely of R.E.M. references.

If you loved the original, 12-song Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, rest assured you'll go nuts for the 48-track blowout edition. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but don't tell that to Stephen Malkmus.
Rating: 1/2
Track to Burn: "Gold Soundz"
-- Timothy C. Davis

Shark Quest
Gods & Devils

After a four-year break, North Carolina's Shark Quest has released a collection of songs that have been used on indie animator Bruce Bickford's soundtracks (it's okay...nobody else knows who he is except for the people who work with him). Masters of creating mood, Shark Quest are often and, quite frankly, oddly compared to soundtrack bigwig Ennio Morricone, whose seminal work on The Mission and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has created an incredibly lazy shorthand for what soundtracks can and should sound like. Then, from the world of rock & roll, the names Calexico and Friends of Dean Martinez are bandied about in desperate attempts to describe this Chapel Hill quintet's instrumental style. Yet it's difficult to pin down this lyric-less rock band and none of these comparisons quite ring true. Yes, there's a healthy dose of desert noir, but there is also plenty of Middle Eastern, Appalachian, Hawaiiana, Tin Pan Alley and jazz as well. Gods and Devils is more reminiscent of Pray For Rain's work on the Alex Cox Sid and Nancy and Straight To Hell soundtracks than anything else. The songs are urgent, haunting and captivating; it reveals much without saying a single word.
Track to Burn: "Katherine of Krakow"
-- Tara E. Flanagan

My Dreams Are Back and They Are Better Than Ever

Phil Spirito's rotating ensemble of alchemists was born from the ashes of his slo-core band Rex and members of Red Red Meat, and since its inception in 1999 they've rummaged with child-like glee through the toy box of musical instrumentation, finding imaginative uses for kitchen sinks and toilet flushes as well as balalaikas and banjos.

But on My Dreams... Spirito has scaled back instrumentally and crafted simple combinations that simultaneously make these compositions oRSo's least experimental and most revolutionary. Eschewing drums almost entirely, Spirito's tenor banjo and Griffin Rodriguez' double bass drive the proceedings. Instead of the usual six-stringed suspects, Julie Liu's viola and violin and Carlo Cennamo's alto sax provide the coloring. Throw in multiple time signatures and changes and the entire record has an airy, suspended-in-time quality that reminds us just how much innovation lies beyond the tried-and-true-but-tired guitar/bass/drums lineup.

Taken all together, the record suggests a chamber ensemble reared on a holistic blend of Tram, Eric Dolphy, Palace and the Kronos Quartet. Spirito, having looked into the possibilities of computer-generated noise and found sound on previous oRSo outings, has seemingly concluded that it wasn't the tools, but how they were used. (More good news: There's a full-length disc of outtakes available at
Track to Burn: "Oh Look Singing I Can Watch This"
-- John Schacht

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