Appendix Out, Chris Cornell, and Blinker the Star 

Appendix Out Daylight Saving (Drag City)

Unbeknownst to some, Drag City releases some of the most beautiful, important music available. And while Appendix Out fit neatly into the label’s camp, especially alongside Smog and Silver Jews, the Scottish quintet are not what you would call a “slo-core” band. Appendix Out are a pop band, albeit a very wispy, slow pop band.

Employing the standard guitar/bass/drums format as a foundation, guitarist, vocalist and chief songwriter Ali Roberts contorts his simple pop melodies by using ample secondary instrumentation in the form of flutes, violins, keyboards and acoustic and slide guitars. Each instrument’s role is clearly defined: Take these often joyful sounding pop songs and gently twist them into harrowing odes to neglected, mildewing emotions and that foreboding sense of sadness that is happiness turned inside out. Kate Wright’s hauntingly executed and fantastically luminescent harmonies only serve to further the effect. But it’s Roberts’ own voice—that slight warble teetering precariously close to off-key—that carries the songs.

Appendix Out’s first release, The Rye Bears a Poison, has oft been compared to Will Oldham’s Palace work (Oldham released their first single on his Palace Records label in 1996). But the songs on The Rye were far more distinctive than any on the Palace releases. To be sure, Roberts’ lazy, contemplative singing on that record has it’s similarities to Oldham’s, but is a lot less hushed.

On Daylight Saving, Appendix Out seem even less understated. While much of the music is acoustic guitar-based, Roberts’ vocals are more to the fore. And he sings with such innocence and lack of pretension that it’s difficult to get the full gist of the creepy tales he weaves without perusing the lyric sheet. Daylight Saving is poignant, beautiful and full of delicious mystery. You shouldn’t save it for a rainy day, but that’s when it’s likely to sound most perfect.

Chris Cornell Euphoria Morning (A&M)

At first, I wondered if it was just me. But after two solid weeks of listening to Chris Cornell’s solo debut, I came to the realization that the once proud, confident leader of Seattle’s Soundgarden had not only softened, he’d become a mere shadow of who he—and his former band—once was. Granted, the single “Can’t Change Me” is as solid an effort as most latter-day Soundgarden, but Euphoria Morning as a whole is anything but euphoric. In fact, the album falls flat when one might assume that part of the reason Soundgarden called it quits was that Cornell felt fenced in by the almighty trend.

It is possible, of course, that such a harsh perspective is simply the product of having been conditioned to a definitive sound behind one of the most powerful voices of ’90s rock, but Euphoria Morning is clearly more a result of a token recording contract squandered than it is a breakout debut by an artist who, along with a fantastic cast, had much to do with the survival of insurgent rock. And that’s just sad.

Of the 12 tracks (the industry limit as far as royalty payments are concerned) that comprise Cornell’s freshman solo effort, only the “single” is worthy of compliment. The performances are solid elsewhere on the record, but the innovative songwriting just isn’t present.

Rather than representing the Soundgarden record that never was, Euphoria Morning is a masturbatory effort that lingers somewhere between an unrealized creative dream and the almost effortless exercise—heavy on imagination—that for Cornell’s former band was the standard. Don’t expect any surprises here, just the humdrum antics of another grunge casualty.

Blinker the Star August Everywhere (Dreamworks)

If Urge Overkill had managed to acquire some depth in the years following the release of Jesus Urge Superstar and Americruiser, they might have wound up sounding as much like late-model Elvis Costello as the trio known as Blinker the Star. But alas, it wasn’t in the cards. UO faded from memory as fast as Saturation sold 100,000 copies, and the world has proven that we’re none the worse without another rock band gone mediocre.

While Blinker the Star have managed to birth a hit or two on their Dreamworks debut, most of August Everywhere is largely forgettable save for the occasional killer hook (“I Am a Fraction”) and well-crafted melody (“Below the Sliding Doors”). It’s not that the ideas aren’t worthy; it’s just that their realization isn’t quite, well, fully realized. The exception is “There’s Nowhere You Can Hide,” a song that brings together the best of ’80s power ballads with pure, heartfelt stadium rock and an unmistakable (if over-produced) indie feel. In contrast, the folky “Right Kind of Girl” fails to inspire despite a powerful chorus that borrows vocally from Built to Spill.

It’s not too late for Blinker the Star to blossom, but one wonders if their debut will warrant a sophomore effort on a major player like Dreamworks. Listen first, then decide.

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