Tracy Shedd
Louder Than You Can Hear
Devil in the Woods

Back in the late ’60s, a NASA scientist predicted the imminent end of popular music, citing as “proof” the finite number of melodies that the octave had to offer. Sadly, the end has yet to arrive. But similar problems still face music writers, however, including the catastrophic shortage of synonyms for “nice,” and all the damning-with-faint-praise that word implies.

Tracy Shedd’s Louder Than You Can Hear is a textbook example of a “nice” indie record. Your square old Aunt Gertrude probably wouldn’t like it, but it certainly wouldn’t vex her too badly, either, if she happened to get forced into listening to it while you were giving her a ride to her bingo game. It’s so marvelously timid, so free of sharp edges, so pleasantly innocuous in its by-the-numbers shoegazing that the only people it’s likely to offend are those offended by an excess of politeness. Louder Than You Can Hear sounds like what it is: a slightly underripe record made by a folk-rocker who recently recruited a full-time band that politely declines to assert itself; a studied approach to sounding like Mazzy Star; and selective listenings to My Bloody Valentine. This might have been state-of-the-art in the early ’90s, but now it sounds like an anemic copy of something that used to sound vital. Again, there’s nothing really wrong with Louder Than You Can Hear—it’s just too nice. Watsonville Patio fans take note. (Andy Smetanka)

Tracy Shedd performs Saturday, Sept. 25, at The Other Side.

Drag City

Out of the so-called ashes of Royal Trux rises one half of the magnetic duo: Jennifer Herrema without Neil Hagerty. The pair split the Trux ticket four years ago because, as Hagerty mentioned during an interview in these very pages, certain of Herrema’s bad habits had come to light again.

Hagerty has since pulled off some amazing solo releases and now, late in the game, Herrema seems to be trying to recapture what she once had by “reforming” with two other musicians as RTX. It’s just not the Royal Trux, as the accompanying press packet would have you believe.

Transmaniacon finds Herrema doing what she does best: turning studio trickery into weird-ass psychedelic blowouts. Sad the same can’t be said for the actual music. There are some choice tunes, like “Heavy Gator” and “PB & J,” but lacking is that certain gritty soul, now replaced by metal riffs and an ’80s flair that could actually make this a commercial contender. It’s a mess without a message, complete with songs written by Royal Trux fans. Sad. (Bryan Ramirez)

Tara Jane ONeil
You Sound, Reflect

Tara Jane ONeil has a voice that could have spent itself on sweet folksy nothings—a little bit Harriet from the Sundays, a little bit Sandy Denny with hints of Natalie Merchant—it’s a little slip of a thing that would only have to curl up around a few comfort-food lyrics to woo the coffeehouse crowd big-time.

Fortunately, there’s far more to Tara Jane ONeil than the warm affirmations and precious turns of phrase you get with so much estro-folk these days. You Sound, Reflect is closer to Low and at times even to Arvo Pärt than Catie Curtis or Ani DiFranco, and about as far from the feel-good strumming of Friends-approved, Felicity-friendly folk-rock as you can imagine.

While today’s folk doyennes were still alphabetizing their Janis Ian records, ONeil was guesting on Sebadoh and Come records and playing full time with her Louisville band, Rodan. So you know she plays well with others—Rodan’s only full-length release, Rusty, was in many ways the math-rock manifesto that Slint’s Spiderland got all the credit for.

But You Sound, Reflect sounds like a deep-studio project; ONeil does most of the instruments and vocals herself, double-tracking them to spine-tingling close-harmony effect, but judiciously placing them low enough in the mix, where they really rub edges with the somber organ and brushed snare drum. It’s stripped down, spare and minimal—just what the doctor ordered after so much bouncy folk chatter about angels and dreaming in Romance languages. (Andy Smetanka)

Tara Jane ONeil performs Saturday, Sept. 25, at Area 5.

The Fiery Furnaces
Blueberry Boat
Rough Trade

Battlin’ brother/sister team Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, aka The Fiery Furnaces, knocked us on our asses with their debut, Gallowsbird’s Bark. Their sophomore release, Blueberry Boat, is even more of an epic. Lengthy songs-inside-songs lend it a rock opera feel in the fashion of Van Dyke Parks, Lou Reed, Mothers of Invention or Brian Wilson. Novel-sized lyric sheets guide the cautious wayfarer through a magic forest of analog synth, along a path that once in a while winds its way back to the coherency of an actual band, then veers off to a vaudeville show.

Blueberry Boat overloads the listener with almost too much to comprehend. Yet the spell of adventure never lets up, and the charm bubbles over in songs like “My Dog Was Lost But Now He’s Found” and “Mason City.” It’s a huge leap conceptually for the band and a struggle at times to keep up. Kind of like taking college courses in the 4th grade, but adventurous listeners will enjoy the homework. (Bryan Ramirez)

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