Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise

MAY 29, 2000: 

the exies the exies (Ultimatum Music)

With so much information available over the Internet at the click of a mouse, why do we still need music reviewers? You can find out almost everything you need to know about your favorite recording artists on the World Wide Web, from their latest press release to current tour dates.

But the one thing these "official" sites fail to tell you is whether the music is any good or not. Most importantly, crotchety dinosaurs like your humble reviewer still function to inform the reader of new talent you may not have heard about or existing music that got passed by in the shuffle. So it is my solemn duty to tell you about the self-titled debut compact disc from the Los Angeles-based quartet, the exies (the band prefers to be referred to in lowercase letters, à la e.e. cummings).

According to the press materials sent along with the advance CD, the exies call their particular brand of music "noise-pop," and that's actually a pretty fair description of almost all the songs on the exies. I've got to admit the exies isn't the most memorable band name I've ever heard, and they don't really reflect the name's origins in their music (the exies is a shortened version of Existentialists, for those who never studied philosophy or missed out on those great '50s and '60s beatnik movies).

The highlight of the record for me is the ballad "1970," where period name-checking and lovely harmonies abound. The other 10 songs are a mixed bag, ranging from pop-psych ("Rocket Balloon" and "Ego Tryptophane") to feedback-laden laments ("Big Head," "Western Dream," and "All the Pretty Ones"). And although attempts are made in the press material to connect the exies to other classic bands, there's no way you can honestly compare them to the Kinks, Badfinger, and the Who (wishful thinking), and only marginally to Cheap Trick.

Another point to ponder: Why is it that almost every alternative rock record made in the wake of Nirvana has to feature an incessant buzzing in the background, which sounds like someone left an electric blender on in the studio when they were recording?

So, even though the exies have one foot firmly in the 1970s, their sound is firmly rooted in the modern alternative scene (e.g., Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, and even Smashing Pumpkins, but without the whining).

Since I'm something of a power-pop snob, I'd like the exies better if they used a lot less power and a little more pop for their next outing. To my ears, the attempted merging of "noise" and "pop" just doesn't mesh like it should. Perhaps a healthy dose of good ol' "idiot boogie" (i.e., rock-and-roll) may even the playing field some.

Regardless of my personal reservations, the exies are off to a strong start, and you can do a lot worse things with your hard-earned money than buying their CD. And that's a struggle between the individual and an apparently irrational universe that's worthy of the name the exies! -- David D. Duncan

John Hartford Live From Mountain Stage (Blue Plate Music)

This live CD is only the second release from the Live From Mountain Stage series devoted to a single artist (the other one was given over to the genius of Bill Monroe). That should tell you something right away about the stature of the performer.

John Hartford is one of those rare American artists who has an almost visceral sense of history as a living tradition and who can breathe life into the dustiest stuff from the archives. Embodying the best traits of the American psyche with his satirical humor, thirst for exploration, and love of the land, he delights in cunning wordplay and gets as excited as a kid at Christmas by an ancient bluegrass lick that he can work into a new tune.

A unique vocalist and songwriter -- most famous for his understated, wistful lovesongs -- he mines our rich tradition of fiddle and banjo tunes and transforms them into the most contemporary of pop songs. His capacity for rich satire finds full expression here, as in the lyrics to "More Big Bull Fiddle Fun," which command the listener to pray at "the altar of pinto beans" in "the Inebriated Church of the Latter Day Drunk," among other amusing blasphemies.

Along with fellow riverboat pilot and writer Mark Twain, Hartford has the river in his veins, and this informs his work on every level. Hartford also shares with the late Townes Van Zandt a talent for writing songs that seem to belong to another time, like the whimsical "Gum Tree Canoe," which transports the listener to the tavern under the hill at Natchez circa 1800, or his lovely adaptation of the Civil War ballad "Lorena." This collection shows his prowess and experimentation with both fiddle and banjo on some new tunes as well as some old favorites, including his hit, "Gentle on My Mind" (with some mind-bending banjo licks), and covers of old country classics, like "My Tears Don't Show."

After decades of such exploration, John Hartford's work is still as fresh and exciting as when he first began, and Live From Mountain Stage is the perfect forum for his playful spirit. -- Lisa Lumb

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