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Land Speed Record

Break-neck reviews of the latest releases


US Maple

Acre Thrills
These guys, man, tell you what. They’re like the Gerard Manley Hopkins of post-what-have-you guitar music. It’s a fractured process; as on past releases, band members sometimes appear be of up to four differing opinions as to what—or if—they’re supposed to be playing at any given time, which probably explains why mentions of the band in print are often followed by references to Captain Beefheart. The pieces are all scattered in a forensically relative manner, though—like clues left by a killer who sort of wants to get caught—and if you can piece it all together backwards, the music definitely rewards you with an understanding you’ve never had before. The listener gets almost oppressively inside something, just as the reader does in Hopkins’s poems. It’s kinda creepy, is what it is. And you’ve never heard a wheezy crooner quite like US Maple’s Al Johnson, that’s for sure. (Drag City Records, PO Box 476867, Chicago, IL 60647)


Treat Me To Some Life
I really admire the vertically integrated nature of this band—one guy writes most/all of the songs, another guy does all the recording, a third runs the band’s own Tappersize label, and the fourth designs vintage-looking posters for their shows in the Philadelphia area. Musically, though, they’re all committed to J. Laughlin’s pop wanderlust—lightly skipping pop at one turn in the road, marching band drum cadences and noisy but tuneful sheets of pure guitar screed at the next. The journey continues—there’s nothing here to compete with the mind-blowing “Z-Frame,”1996’s Last 10ft of the Suicide Mile, but then the Lord only sprinkled His earthly kingdom with so many fist-sized diamonds. So far as we know. So far. (File 13 Records, Box 2302, Philadelphia, PA 19103)

Don Caballero

American Don
Is it still permissible to talk about “math rock”? Try multiplying some negative fractions in your head while chewing gum and break dancing and you can appreciate the House of Mirrors internal logic of Don Caballero, three (formerly four) musicians who are definitely privy to some Knowledge That No One Else Might Ever Have. It’s an agreeable perplexity for the listener; the aggressive attack of past albums has diminished somewhat, but the new Don Caballero have a fine stretch of looser and no less complicated workouts to run through. Remarkably uplifting. Some languages just sort of sound happy, even if you don’t speak a word. This one’s got about 20 cases and no word for “the.” (Touch and Go, PO Box 25520, Chicago, IL 60625)


A couple of weeks ago I fell asleep on the couch about a quarter of the way through a CD (it was either Standards or the new Don Caballero) and dreamed that the cat (real) was jealous of the all the attention the new baby (not real) was getting, and had conspired to hide the baby somewhere and dress herself up in a bonnet and frilly Victorian baby outfit. You know how it is with catnaps and five-disc changers. Whichever disc it was, Tortoise have totally gotten it together on Standards, a rich and varied terrain of electronic hum and analog jazz cool, melody and suggestive texture, some really soulful grooves, and odd effects galore. Sophisticated new jazz hybrid, sure to chart in the top ten of Collegiate Sex Albums for 2001, everyone’s a winner here. (Thrill Jockey, PO Box 08038, Chicago, IL 60608)

Ashley Stove

All Summer Long
Swell mid-tempo pop with some bang-on rock hooks from North Carolina’s Ashley Stove. Top-shelf songwriting always seems to be job No. 1 for bands-on Merge—hardly surprising for a label founded by Laura Balance and Mac MacCaughan of Superchunk—and there’s something refreshingly forthright about the Ashley Stove, who share not only Superchunk’s knack for power-pop vocals, but also their infectious enthusiasm in the delivery. “Three Days Since We Spoke” is but one jangling highlight on All Summer Long. Be sure to see the Ashley Stove when they play here later this month! (Merge, PO Box 1235, Chapel Hill, NC 27514)

Lightning Bolt

Ride the Skies
One of my roommates swears this album is the future of music, and I reckon that’s so, if only because it won’t be properly understood for at least another 20 years. Bass and drums only (though not to be confused with the sissy bass ’n’ drums stuff you hear on “Smart Drink Night” at the espresso/oxygen bar) that cover some serious salt flat in the desert speed trials; bass and drums in the GodheadSilo style, though technically light years beyond anything those guys ever did. Maniacal. Loud as hell. Getting…weaker. Unable to…keep describing…symptoms… (Load, PO Box 35, Providence, RI 02901)

High Llamas

Buzzle Bee
This album came with some glowing press that originally appeared in High Times, of all places, but it probably wouldn’t have if the band had been called something besides the High Llamas. Nonetheless, parts of Buzzle Bee have a pretty right-on ’70s British Stoner Pad vibe to them; in fact, I’m pleased to tell you the album was even produced by one Fulton Dingley! A veddy British sound, with marimbas, vibes, 12-string guitar and very prominent tambourine. Keep waiting for Donovan to show up. Recommended. (Drag City Records, PO Box 476867, Chicago, IL 60647)

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