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Mice Parade + Roots of Madness + Bobby Conn

The Stop Smiling Tuesday Reviews

From the top down: Adam Pierce of Mice Parade, The Girl In The Chair, & Live Classics Vol

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Mice Parade: Bem-Vinda Vontade

Mice Parade: Bem-Vinda Vontade
(Bubble Core)

Roots of Madness: The Girl In The Chair
(Destijl)

Bobby Conn: Live Classics, Vol. 1
(Thrill Jockey)

*****

Mice Parade: Bem-Vinda Vontade
(Bubble Core)

Reviewed by Josh Tyson

The music on Bem-Vinda Vontade feels like a grand harmonic smelting of the exotic intangibles of rote, daily minutiae. Perhaps this is because I?ve cleaned the house several times, prepared various meals and taken a few naps while listening to it. It?s apartment rock.

This is one of those great albums that you put on when you?re all by yourself. Or when you?re hanging out with somebody, doing something that doesn?t necessitate much conversation. It?s not good background music for parties; it would only get lost in a rowdy room. It?s the kind of music that you?d rather not be bothered while listening to.

This is a stretch, but perhaps part of the reason why Bem-Vinda Vontade is such captivating alone music, is that Mice Parade started as a solo venture for Adam Pierce, who?s drummed for loads of bands, including HiM and mum (he also runs Bubble Core records). Mice Parade has evolved into a full touring band, but its roots are in hanging out by yourself and cutting the fat.

?Warm Hand in Farmland,? the opening track, is the type of understated melodic fare that needs careful attention. A casual listen would likely rear a description of, ?hmmm, pretty?; but when you?re scrubbing dirty dishes to it, it?s more than pretty ? it?s damn enchanting. Jazzy, mellow break-beats reminiscent of Broken Social Scene, muffled by Pierce?s soothing voice, itself reminiscent of Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters.

Although no two songs sound completely alike, they have a tendency to ooze together. This creates a weird form of hypnosis, during which time disappears as household chores are swiftly completed; when the music suddenly stops, you?re not quite sure where the time went, so you listen again.

Pierce has help on this album from various members of bands he?s drummed with, most notably, mum-mate Kristin Anna Valtysdottir. Her vocals provide the perfect punctuation to the swirling, dreamlike quality of the musicianship. As tranquil as most of the music is, it?s immensely intricate. On nearly every track, there?s some thing humming, fluttering or groaning in the background.

The only monkey wrench in the apartment-sojourn machinery hits early. The third song, ?Passing and Galloping,? starts with a continuation of the previous track?s textural mellow ending, then, a little over a minute in, a beefy guitar riff submerges and a strong sense of rollicking pervades. The first time I heard it, I set the mop against the wall and contemplated skateboarding somewhere, before song four drew me back into a state of domestic hypnosis.

This is a highly evolved piece of work. If you?ve got an apartment that needs cleaning, or are going to be hanging out alone with big headphones, seek it out.

*****

Roots of Madness: The Girl In The Chair (Destijl)

Reviewed by Sam Sweet

?We were the hairiest of Leigh High School's intellectual maelstrom. We were the first of the North Santa Clara 'Musique-concrete' set.?

--from the original liner notes to Girl In The Chair

There are collage-sound, kitchen sink-concr?te albums that sound as mysterious and appealing as The Girl In The Chair, but you can bet none of the groups that made them were from San Jose, and none of them had the sense of silliness and fun so valued by Roots of Madness.

Formed in 1970 by Bay Area home-taping legend Don Campau, his best friend Geoff Alexander, and their brothers, Roots of Madness was as much about teenage Partch and Stockhausen enthusiasts making each other laugh as it was any serious attempt at avant-garde music. As Campau explained in a 1991 interview, ?at the time no one else was doing this weird shit in their living room. We would make 'albums' on open reel and occasionally play a live gig at a freeway overpass or laundromat.?

The sounds that compose The Girl In The Chair include fragments of transistor radio frequencies, frantic piano tinkling, music boxes, spoken word recitation, tape-recorded messages, Ayleresque horn flares, and sonic booms of all shapes and degrees. Each side of The Girl In The Chair is left to a long, slinky stoned slide guitar piece; one acoustic, one electric.

Beyond the survey of aural swag, what really sets the record apart is the Roots' send-up of 1960s Bay Area counterculture, and the extent to which Campau and his buddies so clearly reveled in the joke. The Roots skewer the coffeehouse scene with two faux-beat poetry readings (in which anuses and excrement always figure prominently), and a droopy folkie parody called ?We Had A Love (But It Died)? (complete with simulated encouraging audience applause). As the liner notes assert: ?If you like Glenn Yarborough, you'll delight in this tragic number.? That Campau and company were goofing on the After the Gold Rush/ Judy Collins scene as it was happening around them is admirable enough; the fact that they put it on record is priceless.

If the album itself doesn't fulfill your satire quotient, the sleeve notes definitely will. Composed in the "Behind the Music" style of 1960s sleeve notes histories, and authored by ?L. Milan, Director, Doghouse Records,? they're chock full of ?our town sucks? jokes about San Jose [??formed in the suburban living room of a Del E. Webb Stucco home?dedicated to the memory of the San Jose Water Works project.?], digs at '60s-era blues revivalists [??Roots of Madness is probably part of the South Bay Delta Blues Conference, rather than the Ben Lomond Blues School as represented by Blind Joe McBlind?], and generally silly language [??nothing can threaten the obvious originality of this genteel, gibbous, genial, ganglia in genitalia.?]. Any misfits who made their small town their stages, and their garages their clubhouses will understand.

The Girl In The Chair is available in a limited press vinyl-only run from the Minneapolis-based Destijl label; anyone looking for fresh sonic victuals, a laugh at the hippies' expense, or both, should cop this gem on the double.

*****

Bobby Conn: Live Classics, Vol. 1 (Thrill Jockey)

Reviewed by Dustin Drase

How exactly does one categorize Bobby Conn & the Glass Gypsies? You could call them glam, in the sense that P-funk was glam. You could call them political, but not in the U2 sense. There is no denying the elements of disco, power pop, funk and of course, Bowie. But to pigeonhole the de facto force of Bobby Conn by comparison is an extreme injustice.

In short, Bobby Conn puts on the best live show you will ever see. In his 15-plus-year career, each incarnation of the Bobby Conn live act has been entirely different, ranging from just Bobby and a boom box, to full on bands comprised of various members of Chicago no wave bands. With each show comes a new wardrobe, most often culled from the many cheap stores that line Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. Invariably there is some assortment of matching spandex, faux fur, platform shoes, eyeliner, and of course lots of glitter.

The new CD by Conn & the Glass Gypsies, entitled Live Classics Vol.1 is a run-through of Conn's musical history. Each of the tracks is a live staple, especially the anthemic ?Never Get Ahead,? a crucial part of the repertoire since the late '90s. Rather than cull tracks from his numerous personal appearances, Conn chose to record Live Classics over a period of two days before a live studio audience. The result is amazingly cohesive, and captures the band in all its splendor. Clad in matching futuristic, silver suits designed by Chicagoan Hillary Olson, the band could easily pass as outcasts from a Jefferson Starship reunion concert. In the Glass Gypsies, who came together during the touring for Conn's The Golden Age, Conn finally found a band that could keep up with his intense vision. The members of the Glass Gypsies are an entertaining lot. Monica Bou Bou is without a doubt the coolest violin player in rock and roll. Her unflappable composure and kittenish good looks are a great compliment to Conn's ?ultimate showman? persona. Drummer Colby Stark, a former pizza delivery boy, provides danceable hard rock grooves the likes of which could fill stadiums. Pearly Sweets is a superb songwriter with razor sharp pop wit that is lights up the keys. Perhaps the most seemingly ill fit man in the group, lead guitarist Sledd looks like he'd be more at home playing speed metal than he would proto-glam. But his controlled shredding and funk metronomics have made him an essential part of the Bobby Conn rockathon.

The CD also include two videos: the first, ?We Come in Peace,? is a schmaltzy, colorific vision of Conn & the Gypsies traipsing the countryside, golfing, and saluting the sun gods. It's a truly blissful vision, and highly fitting of the cosmic funk that flows freely from the mind of Bobby Conn. The second video, ?Home Sweet Home,? shot by Usama Alshaibi is presumably an outtake from the recordings that took place for the album. The clip shows Conn and crew at play throughout the session. Alshaibi, who has worked with Conn on videos for the song ?Angels? and the forthcoming ?You've Come A Long Way Baby,? captures Conn trademarks such as his penchant entering the crowd and crooning directly to audience members. n a recent interview for Chicago's WTTW, Conn describes his actions as ?wanting to break down the barrier between the performer and the audience. I want to give out hugs and touch as many people as possible.? Conn has little patience for the shy and reluctant: ?They don't really know what it's like to be out on a Saturday night.?

Hearing this group play live is equivalent to seeing the Electric Light Orchestra at their prime. Every move, every emotive face gesture, every costume, every note played is the embodiment of Conn's vision to bring Rock and Roll Plutonium to the masses.

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