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Recordings

Friday, July 11, 2003

Records are rated on a scale of one (poor) to four (excellent) stars

MIRACLE OF 86

"Every Famous Last Word" (Lakeshore)

The way these Mets fans choogle through the bayou for the first 50 seconds of "G-Song," the opening track here, I was thinking CCR revivalists with a possible stash of old Velvet Underground records tucked away behind their "Willie and the Poor Boys." Then, the guy starts singing, and it's more like something Spoon would do if that Britt Daniel guy got all hopped up on trucker speed or coffee -- clever lyrics even. Finally, two verses in, the whole thing opens up with big guitars and backing vocals and I'm thinking, "Man, these guys are really onto something here."

And I still think that.

On the title track, a flat-out American rocker from the post-Replacements school, they hang the album's most insistent hook on the line, "For every famous last word, there are a million last words that no one's ever heard." If he had saved that for his last, it would clearly be among the famous last words.

I've seen people use the dreaded "emo" word to talk about these guys. And I can see that on a cut like "Dance! Dance, Revolution" (aside from which, the singer's screams are clearly as impassioned as your textbook emo star while the catch in his voice on the quieter songs is all sensitive vulnerability). But they're mining a deeper tradition or two than emo here, even trying their hand at country balladry on a few of the standouts ("Call Off The Cops" and "Sleep All Damn Day").

Fans of classic left-of-center pop with clever lyrics (sometimes dangerously clever), loud guitars and melodies that go down easy should find plenty here to keep them from feeling dissatisfied. And that makes Miracle of 86 just one more reason to get to Wilkinsburg on time for the Sorry About Dresden show tomorrow night at the Mr. Roboto Project. They open at 7.

-- Ed Masley

GRANDADDY

'Sumday' (V2)

Jason Lytle, slacker dude in trucker hat, proved himself to be one of rock's endearing eccentrics on "The Sophtware Slump," a record that ventured off into space-pop territory ala the Flaming Lips.

Three years later, his Modesto, Calif., band Grandaddy comes back out of the woods with "Sumday," a likable though somewhat toned-down version of the last one.

Molding its sound away from the rock industry in Lytle's home studio, Grandaddy assembles an easy-going, lo-fi blend of Cars guitars, warm acoustics, buzzing synthesizers and simple country-rock melodies, suggesting an affection for Neil Young and New Wave.

Lyrically, Lytle seems only slightly more comfortable than Thom Yorke with the modern world. The opening and most effusive track, "Now It's On," finds Lytle trying to break out of his isolation, busting the lock off the front door and singing with all the hope he can muster, "I've got no reason to be/weathered and withering/like in the season of the old me."

But on this record so focused on transformation Lytle can't keep some of those fears at bay. On the beautifully soaring "Lost on Yer Merry Way," Lytle sings "trouble with people like me/tie them down/and they vanish instantly/let this one fly," but by the end of the song he stops and makes a simple plea of "All that I'm askin' tonight/is that I make it back home alive/no explosions, no crashes, no fights/I wanna get back home..."

One of the more intriguing songs, "The Group Who Couldn't Say," is about a crew of high-powered office workers who take a field trip to discover "the perfection of an outdoor day." One of them calculates the height and weight of trees for insurance purposes, another is overcome by an insect: "Becky wondered why/she'd never noticed dragonflies/her drag and click had never yielded anything as perfect." It's unclear if the office is ever going to be the same again and it's clear that Lytle, removed from it all, is relieved to not be a part of it.

Grandaddy floats along from slacker-funny ("Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake") to heartbreaking ("Saddest Vacant Lot in All the World") to contemplative ("The Final Push to the Sum") without breaking its stride. "Sumday" lacks some of the explosiveness of "The Sophtware Slump," and it may be a bit too midtempo, too much of an easy listen for some indie-rock fans, but Lytle's world is too intriguing a place not to visit.

-- Scott Mervis

MOGWAI

'Happy Songs For Happy People' (Matador)

Few bands have done more with dynamics lately than the post-rock pride of Glasgow has done in the first 80 seconds of the track that sets the tone for "Happy Songs For Happy People," "Hunted By A Freak." After 10 seconds of silence (give or take some gentle whooshing sounds), a guitar eases in with a spacey Pink Floyd-esque arpeggio, followed by a narcoleptic drumbeat and a vocal part that sounds like someone singing underwater as the song takes on some serious intensity -- and density -- without abandoning the spaced-out headphone-music atmosphere it shares with both the climax of "Space Oddity" and "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space."

Even on more earthbound tracks -- the haunting, string-driven "Moses? I Amn't" and the Smog-with-orchestration "Golden Porsche," for instance -- the ironically titled "Happy Songs" is a majestic blend of atmosphere and emotion that doesn't rely on you actually understanding a word of what the effects-laden vocals are saying (that is, when they bother with vocals at all), from "Killing All The Flies," the album's emotional highlight, to the fuzzed-out finish of "Stop Coming To My House."

-- Ed Masley

BOYD TINSLEY

'True Reflections' (Arista)

Boyd Tinsley, the violinist for Dave Matthews Band, is more than a violinist in this collection of songs. He is a rocker, he is a singer, he is everything. And he belts out 11 different songs for everybody.

They range from subtle and rock-fueled ("It's Alright") to melodious ("Show Me") to nostalgic ("So Glad"), and captivating and romantic ("Listen") to sentimental ("Cause It's Time").

Additionally, he also has the harmonized ballad like "Long Time to Wait"; in it he shows his classical and violin-playing skills. "Perfect World" is what Tinsley feels about the world: "It's not a perfect world/I don't wanna lie/Sometimes it makes me laugh/Sometimes it makes me cry."

His other songs are touching, too: "Run" is all about running away from the way of love, while "What A Time For Love" presents the romantic side. And "True Reflections" is indeed about true reflections of a distraught lovelife. Verdict: It is a must-have for the lovers of classical violin, and pop and rock music alike.

-- Surendra Phuyal

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