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THE SWEET CLEMENTINES—THOUGH IT WERE THE KISS OF DEATH(independent)

Beyond the standard debate over what the internet has done to the music industry, it’s also forced the album as an art form onto the fringe; consumers are snatching up single tracks on iTunes and rejecting the rest, and the less-adventurous artists out there are finding themselves shying away from making grand gestures. Fortunately, we have bands like the Sweet Clementines to keep the faith.

To call though it were the kiss of death ambitious would be underselling it. The album is split into three segments, each announced on the tracklist as a “side,” and each presumably connected in some way. In all, it’s 24 songs in length, including a hidden track that doesn’t present itself until the CD is played. That finale, “((The Risk it Took to Blossom))” is reminiscent of latter day Teenage Fanclub, sunshine bright and bristling with harmonies. It’s the perfect end to a release which sees a skilled and enthusiastic band try on a number of musical hats with a great deal of success.

“God is With Us” is a gentle number that comes off as a pastoral version of the otherwise urban folk of Simon and Garfunkel; “Universe of Phoenix” is another low-key stunner, sort of like Badly Drawn Boy—if the “boy” in question was actually a woman.

It’s inevitable that an album with such grand scope would stumble every now and then, and though it were the kiss of death is not immune to sometimes feeling the weight of its ambitions. “Mr. Reality” is edgy to the point of distraction, its nervously enthusiastic flair saved by soaring harmonies. It’s a minor quibble, enough so that it’s still preferable to listen to the album as a whole rather than picking and choosing as you go along.

The Sweet Clementines are a six-piece band with assorted co-conspirators in the studio, with all songs either written by John Burdick or Chris Tanis. —Crispin Kott

www.thesweetclementines.com



BATTLE AVE.—WAR PAINT(independent)

Post-rock means many things to many different people. To Battle Ave., it apparently comes with a healthy dose of emotional resonance, removing the over-complicated separation between brain and heart often found in the genre. In that regard, they most closely resemble Canadian outfits, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, if not in the sound exactly, then in the spirit. If Battle Ave.’s 8-song debut album is any indication, spirit is in abundance in all they do.

It begins, naturally, at the beginning, with the epic 7 ½ minute “**” with howling guitars and insistent drums. The sound spills over into “Oh Other, You Brother,” with crushing tidal waves of music followed by passages of bare vocals. It’s at once disarming and brilliant.

Surprisingly, the band’s all-or-nothing dynamic is sustainable over eight tracks, never feeling like a houseguest who doesn’t know he/she should have split already. It’s frankly exhausting listening to War Paint, an album that wears its emotion on its sleeve. Without even realizing it, listeners might find they’ve let themselves become caught up in the maelstrom on tracks like “Complications w/Traveling,” only noticing their heartbeat has become elevated when a quiet moment rolls in.

“Puke Lust” is quite possibly the worst title for a song released in recent memory, but it’s a forgivable offense when the album is this good. If celebrated British band Yuck is really at the forefront of a return to an era when thick, artful guitar music was bridging the gap between college rock and alternative rock in the ‘90s, Battle Ave. should have a bright future ahead. —Crispin Kott

www.battleave.net



TUBA SKINNY—GARBAGE MAN(independent)

If Woody Allen ever runs out of scratchy old records to use in his films, he might well turn to Tuba Skinny to provide a new take on traditional jazz and blues. While their sound is nearly a century old, their new album Garbage Man feels inexplicably fresh.

When the swing revival hit 15 years ago, it was pretty easy to spot the charlatans, opportunists for whom gathering a few horn players and putting on zoot suits was considered a quick path to success. Without the inspiration of Louis Prima songs used in television commercials to inspire such cashing in, it’s more likely than not that the people performing this music are the genuine article.

Such is the case with Tuba Skinny, a six-piece outfit which includes guitar, tuba, trombone, cornet and washboard. It also has in Erika Lewis one of the genre’s finest vocalists, able to capture the sounds of a bygone era with a powerful blues delivery.

Indeed, it’s difficult sometimes to listen to Garbage Man and not imagine the scratches and pops of old vinyl. “Mother’s Son-in-Law” and “Some of These Days” are deceptively up-tempo as New Orleans jazz often is, with a lively beat and strutting strum that masks the forlorn qualities in the lyrics. “Weary Eyed Blues,” with vocals by guitarist Kiowa Wells, is much easier to peg as the sort of number perfectly suited to wallowing in, having had one’s heart broken.

Tuba Skinny may have stepped out of a time machine, but they’re certainly welcome here in the present. They remind us unequivocally that good music doesn’t ever really die, especially when there are thoughtful stewards to keep it very much alive. —Crispin Kott

www.tubaskinny.tk



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