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Casual Drama
Casual Drama
Self-released

A confident debut for this local three-piece: guitarist/vocalist Max Allyn, bassist/vocalist Ryan Crowe, and drummer Checkers Barker II—all members of musical families, they explain in their press release, for whom playing rock’n’roll is “the most natural thing we could be doing.”

They call it “indie soul,” an upbeat blend of pop-punk and power-prog with lots of chugga-chugga riffing, emotive whoa-oa-oa vocals and a few stonking big hooks. Like on “Nightmare,” where Allyn and Crowe bawl “You don’t need me to walk you through your life!” over a mountain-sized chunk of juddering power-chordage. Other songs mix up the band’s more Blaze-friendly indie rock with irregular time signatures and daredevil prog structures to nicely balanced effect: “Devotion” is one such track, a loud-soft-loud ballad with some pretty nifty King Crimsonesque parts percolating under each verse.

Criticisms? The popping bass wanders a little too close to musty thrash-funk territory at times, and a few of the songs seem to go on longer than needed. Not the instrumental excursions, either—actually it’s the poppier stuff that could have used trimming in spots. The Blaze-friendly stuff, in other words. But Casual Drama is hardly the only Missoula band to suffer from this affliction. And after just one release, they’re already one of the more interesting cases. (Andy Smetanka)

Ani DiFranco
Educated Guess
Righteous Babe Records

It is a common supposition among some acquaintances of mine that if a new album by Ani DiFranco makes you cry on first listen, it’s a good Ani DiFranco album. I can’t say I’m one of DiFranco’s most avid listeners, but listening to her latest release I discovered a poet/musician who has successfully set herself apart with her simple musical style. All the playing, singing, recording, and mixing on Educated Guess was done by DiFranco herself—even more proof of her abundant talent.

From the first spoken-word track, “Grand Canyon,” DiFranco establishes the lyrical intimacy evident throughout the rest of the album. Her lyrics are raw and poignant, describing an emotional maelstrom of love and its loss, never more obviously than in “Bodily”: “You broke me bodily/the heart ain’t the half of it/And I’ll never learn to laugh at it/In my good natured way/In fact I’m laughing less in general/But I learned a lot at my own funeral/And I know you’d be the death of me/So I guess that’s the price I pay.” (Diego Bejarano)

The Fiery Furnaces
Gallowsbird’s Bark
Rough Trade

Quiz: When was the last time you were taken in by a two-piece band comprised of nominal brother and sister? If you answered White Stripes…well, I don’t know what you win if you answered White Stripes. But here’s another band you might like to know about. Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger at least claim to be brother and sister and tell some pretty harrowing accounts of their childhood together.

But sibling rivalry sounds pretty good on Gallowsbird’s Bark, an adventurous clamor from this New York-by-way-of-Chicago duet. They play an odd amalgam of styles—a little Strokes-y street hustle, a little No Wave, a little psychedelic Roxy Music with careening saloon piano—and never alight in one place for long.

Matthew is the instrumental polymath, Eleanor the main vocalist. Her style is interesting in itself but not so much so within itself; all but a few of the 14 tracks on the album suffer from a certain vocal sameness on account of her declaratory, falling-intonation talk-singing style. It’s a strong, clear voice—she just needs to push it every now and again. Other than that, there are a lot of intriguing knots, snarls and frayed edges for the listener to unravel on Gallowsbird’s Bark, as many to do with the lyrics as with the mixed-up music itself. (Andy Smetanka)

Preston School of Industry
Monsoon
Matador Records

Indie rock fans will remember the band Pavement as one of the genre’s most influential groups. Fans will no doubt also remember the split between Scott Kannberg (aka “Spiral Stairs”) and bandleader Steve Malkmus that ended that band’s glory days as one of indie music’s last best saviors. But while Pavement has passed into the annals of history, guitarist Scott Kannberg continues to put out records as leader of Preston School of Industry.

With PSOI’s second album, Monsoon, the band follows the musical cues that made Pavement famous, with only a smattering of Pavement’s inbred grandiosity. Kannberg evokes the same fragmented, off-key vocals and clanky guitars, but he lacks a sense of authenticity. At times the songs—especially “Her Estuary Twang” and “Get Your Crayons Out!”—escalate into a kind of disordered nonsense. Only “Caught in the Rain” and more vividly “Line it Up” manage to produce anything worth remembering.

While it’s unfair to continue comparing Pavement with the band members’ current projects, it is also unavoidable. Preston School of Industry, although an adequate production, doesn’t reach the musical heights Pavement fans have been trained to expect. (Diego Bejarano)

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