and the Life & Art Staff

The Shins
Chutes Too Narrow

Ah, yes…been listening to the Beatles-esque and celestial “Saint Simon” on the Shins’ second LP, Chutes too Narrow, and, with its delicate acoustics of clean guitars (sans much distortion), subtle chimes and eerie violins, it has gently washed all blunders away – the domineering college administrators condemning the new journalism, the hoochies on campus and frat boys stealing Sven’s bike (for the second time), and my superfluous math class.

Yes…but these jaunty lads on indie-rock label Sub Pop are from none other than Albuquerque, New Mexico, and make me wanna journey over there to go on an elysian peyote trip in the desert for endless days, the big cities fading away. Chutes too Narrow is an astral head-trip with a Beach Boys sensibility that ranges from the harder, rock-felt electricity on “Turn a Square” to the more canorous, harmonica-tuned “Pink Bullets,” where singer James Mercer croons, “The years have seem short, but the days go slowly by / Two loose kites falling from the sky.” And no, this isn’t merely a soft bouquet of lilies and roses – the Shins are the purveyors of honest guitar/keyboard indie pop without the poseur attitude and surreptitious musicianship. It’s all given here to you directly.

Now, you may hate on Mercer’s lovelorn lyrics on “Gone for Good” (“I find a fatal flaw in the logic of love and go out of my head” accompanied by a pining slide guitar), but then you hear “So Says I” – high-pitched, rambunctious strings played judiciously enough to strike a balance between angst and fortitude. That helps melt away some of our daily worries, although, since we can’t dodge them all completely, we keep fighting back: “We still can’t just behave ourselves / Even if to save our own lives / We are a brutal kind.”

-Omar Sommereyns

All Got Our Runnins (online only)

So I end up chattin’ to Andy talking about his fuckin’ grief with the knob you gave me for twos, says the Streets. Yep, this is “genius” shit. Perhaps the most flamboyantly overstated way of becoming something that Americans will never be able to: be white and speak unintelligibly without being from the Bible Belt – another notch, Ben! I’m skinny like a woman/ need to get some poo-nan frew the door.

But Mike Skinner, the English “MC” behind this follow-up EP to 2002’s overhyped Original Pirate Material, has my back, gotta do what I need ta, we all got our runnnins now. Note that you have to have to go to Vice Records’ website to download this album and therefore need not be from the streets to even hear this shit.

Oh yeah, Skinner’s got hot lines like: Girl brings two plates of full English ‘erbal/ plenty of scrambled eggs and plenty of fried to-mah-to. If you own a lot of neon gear and spend time jet-setting between the Village and London’s Piccadilly Circus, you’ll find something on here to give you a perma-boner for at least the transatlantic party plane. I really wish I owned more expensive shoes and pants to show them off so I could do the cabbage patch all night.

Is this guy rapping here? I really don’t know. Skinny – oops, I mean Skinner – is not singing though, and there’re more than enough douche bags on back-up (ghetto trickster Dizzee Rascal offers some muddled rhymes) to give the bmchk-bmchk-bmchk so this album never stops thumping sufficient fruitiness. But since he shouts out Paul Oakenfold and not C-Murder (free C-Murder!), it’s understandable. I’m a fake, I don’t live the streets/ but there’s only so many hours in a day and I use ’em to make beats. Clear enough? Nope, but opaque is the hotness, so don’t wipe the steam off your glasses and wear ’em to your classes, mmm hmm.

-Sven Barth

Leave Luck To Heaven

“House” is a word heard as much as “Whatever” in this town. As the house capitol of the world, Miami attracts such million-dollar E-fairies as Oakenfold and Paul van Dyk, as well as the bi-annual highway robbery known as March’s Ultra. It is no wonder that the word is still synonymous with mobs of idiots waving glow sticks to music that breaks its own back trying to be excessively grand.

There is a small grouping of producers, however, trying to reclaim the 4/4 beat by re-introducing subtlety and grace into a genre so overrun by mediocrity and lackadaisically. Whereas trance has its Paul and Paul, minimal house has two Matthews: Matthew Herbert and Matthew Dear. The latter, signed to Ann Arbor’s reputable Ghostly International, is no slouch. He’s recorded under the monikers False and Jabberjaw and released projects as both overseas this very year.

With careful micromanagement and keen attention to detail, Dear re-injects some much-needed intellect into the dance music scene. The crisp beats and catchy melodies exerted on Leave Luck to Heaven are a welcome relief from the “funky, tribal beats” and atmospheric synths so popular in the house genre right now. Downplaying Michigan roots, Dear taps a German-esque approach to songwriting, engineering every click and pop until they exactly suit his intentions. Not to say this record is without its silly moments: splashes of female vocal come in occasionally, reminiscent of compatriots Data 80 and a handful of melodies are too playful for the beat precision they accompany.

When measured against the dross being played on Miami’s new dance channel, this disc excels without second-thought hesitation, a constant reminder that Miami has such little sense of music history that its citizens prefer Dirty Vegas to Stravinsky. Yet, Dear’s latest does little to stand out amongst artists who are doing the same thing, and do it better. Though a figurehead in the minimal house scene, this disc is nothing to get too worked up about, but if you are new to Ghostly and avant techno, it does little wrong.

– James Hush

WELLWATER CONSPIRACY (A side project of Matt Cameron from Pearl Jam)

Now and then, we all reminisce of the early nineties when the Seattle alt-rock explosion flooded the airwaves of mainstream radio and MTV. Matt Cameron was idolized by many in that era for his drumming with Soundgarden and continues to carry the torch in his current gig with Pearl Jam. Unfortunately, the self-titled debut from Cameron’s new band, Wellwater Conspiracy, is a jumbled collection of amateur-sounding electronic beats, keyboard psychedelia and cheesy heavy-metal guitar distortion that will leave questions echoing in your headphones.

The lead-off track, “Wimple Witch,” is an energized rocker hinting at sixties nostalgia with a little taste of eighties post-punk frenzy thrown in the mix. To WWC’s credit, they give the song just enough Seattle grunginess to separate themselves from current groups who are attempting to make a career out of stealing Gang of Four and Television riffs. Cameron proves right from the get-go that he is capable of handling vocal duties and belts out line after line with admirable confidence (I have a soft spot for drummers who can sing).

While promising cuts like “Dragonwyck” and “Sea Miner” offer a welcoming blend of space guitar and smooth keyboards resembling Radiohead’s The Bends, the drum machine monotony of “Rebirth” and “Dresden Overture” pinpoint a pathetic attempt at industrial electronica that would make Steve Albini puke. A rendition of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” even leaves a lot to be desired with an obnoxious electronic interlude stuck in the middle that lacks direction and holds no relevance to the 1960’s revolutionary anthem.

Wellwater Conspiracy search frantically for the LSD-induced sonic brilliance that bands like the Flaming Lips have perfected in recent years, but they constantly come up empty-handed and fail to take you on that magical “trip”. Should Cameron and co. rewind to the ripped jeans and flannel shirt days? No, sir. Grunge is a thing of the past. And I guess acid ain’t for everybody either. Oh well.

-Noah Penn