A horrible hack


Saddle Creek 50

Year Released: 2003
Format: CD
Label: Saddle Creek
Reviewed by Tom Sloan on Jun 13, 2007
The threads on the collective message board talking about music that is both ‘nice’ and ‘autumnal’ made me think of bands from this saddle creek compilation, so I thought a review would be quite apt. I believe the cd is to commemorate the fiftieth release on the label, and if music of the aforementioned ilk interests you, there is plenty of decent stuff on here to go and discover, providing you haven’t already. Each band contributes a couple of songs, one of which is unreleased, which is always nice.

The Faint – ok, ok, not quite keeping in with music of a ‘nice’ or ‘autumnal’ flavour, I’m sure you’ve heard of The Faint and their dance/punk/rock or whatever it is. To tell the truth, their just one of those bands I don’t get one iota. The first song, ‘Worked up so sexual’, taken form the recent record just sounds a bit eighties to my untrained ears. I quite like the vocals. But sorry – I don’t understand!

Now It’s Overhead – The first track here is typical of the sort of ‘Nebraskan’ sound that becomes more evident as this comp goes on. Breezy rhythms and atmosphere, and that quite heavily accented vocal style singing relatively simple but altogether quite pleasant melodies. Acoustic guitars. The odd sample creating the ambience of the cold of the place of these bands conception. Not, however, one of the strongest bands on the c.d. by a long shot.

Rilo Kiley – I was up early today driving to work, and it was one of those quite spectacularly blinding bright mornings with a cloudless sky, but biting cold. My favourite kind of morning. Anyway, for some reason this song (‘with arms outstretched’) was the perfect soundtrack. Again, simply written, breezy, brightly strummed major-key acoustic chords, and a sort of melancholy yet at the same time upbeat feel to it. The unreleased song they also have here is far less appealing to me, with its electric guitars and slightly more complicated song writing. I think I heard one of their songs on the radio the other day. Nice female vocals.

Cursive – They shouldn’t really fit in with the current Saddle Creek roster, yet somehow they do. This years ‘Ugly Organ’ will definitely be finding its way onto my end of year list, but the track here harks back to the previous full length ‘Domestica’ – also great. ‘The Martyr’ is one of the highlights from that record, and it certainly ups the tone on this release. I’m poo at describing Cursive’s music so I’m just going to lift Tim Kasher’s description from ‘Sink to the beat’: “…they’ve got a DC sound, Shudder To Think, Fugazi and Chapel Hill around the early 90’s”. The other song is more in the vein of the recent record, with it’s discordant ugly crunchy guitars giving way to Kasher’s ‘Doo-doo da doo-doo doo’s’ and angsty lyrics before melancholic and delicate cello-led parts, building to Kasher getting all angsty again, this time with the cruchy guitars going off all aroung him. Difficult to describe, difficult to get into, but brilliant when you do.

Son Ambulance – This band sound a lot like Bright Eyes minus that angst of Conor’s that tends to rear it’s ugly head every now and then. So that means similar acoustic arrangements to those of Oberst’s more melodic material, lots of unconventional ‘rock’ instruments, and sung with a slightly smoother voice. Nowhere near as good, but good all the same. I love Bright Eyes, and I would buy an album by these chaps.

Desaparecidos – I’ve never worked out how you’re supposed to pronounce this bands name: des – ap – pare – see – dos…now, that just sounds shite. It’s a good thing their so exceptional then, isn’t it? It was a simple idea really, in taking Oberst’s patented lyrics and song writing and putting a loud punk-rock band behind him, but I for one am glad he thought of it. Just put ‘Man and Wife, the latter’ on when you wake up in the morning and sing and shout along to get you going. Unreleased song ‘Popn’ off at the F’ also rocks it, and has a wicked sample of some old American radio announcer or something talking about atomic weapons, before scruffy guitars and keyboards start crashing around it. Oberst’s vocals sound quite buried on this track (the only lyrics I can make out are “are you listening, when the money talks?” that I really liked, and on the chorus “I wanna fight in the war!”), but the overall effect, as you’d expect, is a rousing one.

The Good Life – Now, come on Tim, you’re just showing off now! As if one brilliant band wasn’t enough for him, he went and did The Good Life. You get ‘I am an island’ from the ‘black out’ album here, with it’s bright electric guitars and melodies either side of weird and eerie melodies and noises and Kasher’s typically self-loathing style of singing and word-play. ‘Aftercrash’, on the other hand, is a largely ambient track with sampled noises and rhythms, which isn’t a patch on the previous song, but works well all the same.

Azure Ray – The track ‘Novemeber’ just breaks my heart. Beautiful, female vocals with an angelic whispery quality to them and absolutely perfect harmonies that make me melt inside. Just some lovely picked guitars and some gorgeous strings is all that’s needed instrumentally to make for a exquisite song. Sad lyrics also that I can see myself sitting inside and listening to reflecting on things whilst it rains down hard outside. ‘Beautiful things can come from the dark’ is also a pretty song, albeit not quite hitting the same spot as its predecessor.

Sorry About Dresden – A timely, upbeat number from this band, seasonally more rooted in late summer evenings rather than autumn mornings. The guitars on the verse are almost too light and chirpy, but a nice slidey and gusty chorus makes this one I don’t skip. I would say this band would come under the same bracket as someone like Athlete; so, bright summery music then.

Mayday – ‘Captain’ is a slow-paced, lolloping track with that modern vaguely-folkish air to it, embellished with strings in a similar way to many of the other bands here. Not bad. ‘Pond Love’ is also pleasant enough if slightly hillbilly-sounding. Sorry, that’s the best description I can come up with at this moment in time.

Bright Eyes – So, seemingly the ‘blue ribbon’ act for the label, with one of the best songs from ‘fevers and mirrors’, and an unreleased song…that incidentally, is wonderful. People who get hold of this will probably know ‘something vague’, but the latter is probably one of the best songs Oberst has written, - good enough for him to close with it at his recent London show. ‘One foot in front of the other’ has the most majestic and dreamy feel to it, with simple guitar and lots of blissful tones created with the range of instruments you’d expect from hearing songs from the latest record. And the lyrics are pure poetry. Amazing.

If you’re after kind of music described in the opening gambit and the rest of this review, check out some of these bands. Simple as that.

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