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the birdtree – orchards & caravans
2002 Jewelled Antler 14 tracks 39 minutes
Here are some notes from the sleeve: "sounds & collages by glenn donaldson / instruments: bouzouki, guitars, tenor banjo, drums, tambourine, bells, wurlitzer funmaker, casio sk-1, toy accordion, yamaha portatone, harmonium, cumbus oud, pink fuzz, cassettes / recorded mostly at true cross in san francisco on 2 & 4-track cassette & tascam 388 8-track."  Now how could you not want to hear that? Featuring some of the most intriguing art of Jewelled Antler’s always visually distinctive releases. This was recently re-released on CD (all of JA’s releases are on CDr) by Last Visible Dog & may be the crown jewel in either label’s catalog so far. Mysterious, melancholy, psych-tinged drone folk for those who like dwelling in the space where song becomes sound & sound becomes song.

the Black-Eyed Snakes – Rise Up!
2003 Chairkickers’ Music Union 12 tracks 40 minutes
The ‘Snakes are first & foremost a live experience & their new album does a lot better job of capturing the psychotic energy of their live show than the first one did. Add a 45 second long cover of Red Sheet by Swans & how can you go wrong?

Elephant Micah – Elephant Micah, Your Dreams are Feeding Back
2003 BlueSanct 18 tracks 65minutes
Let’s just get it out of the way: that title fucking rules. You know it, I know it, & we’ve agreed upon it. All right. More introspective experimental folk material from BlueSanct, reflective & pensive just like we’ve come to expect. BlueSanct consistently delivers the goods in this territory & you know if you like other things on the label you’ll dig this too. My only complaint is that at 65 minutes & 18 tracks the album could have benefited from a heavier h& in the song selection process. Fans of Songs: Ohia who wish Jason Molina would actually sing will be ecstatic over this.

Marc Gartman – City of Glass
2000 Redwood 13 tracks 46 minutes
By now you all know Marc Gartman from his work with Low, Pale Horse & Rider, & Rivulets, right? This is your chance to see why those folks turned on to him in the first place & keep him in constant demand. Literate songs based on guitar & piano & embellished with steel guitar that could all be hits on country radio if country radio still had soul. I guess when people use terms like “a songwriter’s songwriter” or “a player’s player”; they’re talking about a rare talent like Marc Gartman.

Seth Knappen – Leaving Sound
2003 Future Appletree 9 tracks 46 minutes
Seth is back with a solo album of his own, & who would’ve guessed, it’s brilliant. Seth led Darling as one of the best 90s indie rock bands who were surprisingly / unsurprisingly never embraced by the indie rock crowd. Darling were never hip. They were too Midwestern, too unashamedly real. Flawed, but not in the wink-wink way. Too avant for the hip kids & too young for the avant geriatrics. So here comes Seth again, doing what he’s always done, but on his own terms now. If you heard Darling’s sadly under-distributed last record the Floating World, you could see this coming. Seth plays everything on this album, save for a percussion part on one song played by Alan Sparhawk., who recorded all but two of the tracks at Sacred Heart in Duluth, where Low’s “Trust” & Rivulets’ “Debridement” were made. Unlike those albums though, the songs here aren’t swamped in the natural reverb of the space; it’s a more direct sound. The songs center around loss & remembrance & Seth sings them more openly than you may be prepared to listen to. What really makes the album special though is the instrumentation. With his ear for arrangements & ability to play basically anything Seth could just as / more easily move to L.A. & work as a session musician. The fact that he doesn’t is a testament to singular vision, and lucky for us.

sin ropas – trickboxes on the pony line
2003 Sad Robot 8 tracks 39 minutes
All the kids over at Chairkickers’ are in love with this record which is strange because it doesn’t sound like anything any of them are doing or have done in the past. Maybe it’s something they wish they were doing, or maybe it’s just a case in the tradition of QRD of a small group of people recognizing a great record when they hear it & trying to spread the word. In any case it’s hard to argue with a short & sharp record that sounds like the West but was recorded in Germany. If you care about Red Red Meat or Califone you should know this is an offshoot/extension of those bands.

Smog – Accumulation: None
2002 Drag City 12 songs 42 minutes
If you’ve held off getting into Smog for some reason, you don’t want this comp of rarities. It’s the way particular songs seem unremarkable at first but creep insidiously into your subconscious, leaving you humming them & wanting to hear them over & over again. Smog writes songs to make you ache about obsession, detachment & being a cold-hearted bastard with no regrets but plenty of bittersweet memories. If you’re already a fan of Smog, this is probably like gold to you & you already have it.

timesbold – s/t
2003 BlueSanct 11 tracks 46 minutes
You know how all the kids on the Blisscent list eat up anything that sounds “just like!” Slowdive, MBV, Ride, etc..? If there was a list like that for Palace fans they would love this record. The singer even sounds eerily like a young Will Oldham. Still, just try & get past that first song (giniwin). It’s some kind of anthem. If you’ve ever wondered what Palace would have sounded like if they came out on BlueSanct (i.e. basically the same, with added atmospherics & occasional minimal strings), here’s your answer.

Turn Pale – Kill the Lights
2003 What Else 11 tracks 46 minutes
Turn Pale are here & all you need to know is if you ever liked the Birthday Party, Warsaw / Joy Division, Bauhaus or Gang of Four you will dig this record. If you liked all of those bands, you will fucking love this record. Don’t be surprised when you see these guys in Spin & all the Interpol fans are claiming they knew about them all along. Another in the tradition of QRD bands that you should kill to see live. OK, don’t really kill any anyone, what are you, a fucking psycho? Just make a point to catch them live.

Justin Vollmar – Every Place is Home
2003 BlueSanct 10 tracks 37 minutes
They say the folks in France are all swooning over Justin Vollmar’s debut record, & it’s easy to see why: calm & spare acoustic folk songs played on with softly sung storytelling lyrics over beds of random unsettling & familiar background noises, just like they like it. Just like you’ll like it too.

V/A – windswept trees & houses
2002 Jewelled Antler 15 tracks 58 minutes
Probably by now you have heard of the Jewelled Antler label & collective from San Francisco. Maybe it was the feature in Wire or Perfect Sound Forever, or maybe you came in through psych-rock heavy-hitters Thuja or maybe you’re just getting started. This is probably your best introduction right here. It’s ostensibly a label sampler, though many of these tracks & even bands were not released on the label prior to this comp. The highlight for me is the Family of Apostolic’s “Taking Me Home”, a simple recording of a little girl singing the title over & over un-self-consciously just like little kids do, backed by lo-fi droning keys. It is eerie & beautiful & haunting. Also of note are the Billy Crosby’s cover of Current 93’s “the Signs of Emptiness” featuring guest cat vocals, the Skygreen Leopards “I Fell Asleep in the Sun Bleached Grass” & a recording of the Jon Frum Movement; a group of Pacific islanders who worship the US Navy.  Most tracks are cassette recordings & were recorded “in the field” (sometimes literally), lending the whole comp a welcoming cohesiveness.

V/A – heat & birds
2002 Jewelled Antler 17 tracks 70 minutes
The second compilation of Jewelled Antler-&-related artists. These folks go through project names like it’s going out of style, which can be frustrating for the newcomer but like the first comp you can listen to this as an album & it works just as well. It’s all the same two or three people anyway, with occasional guests joining in to form different permutations of the Jewelled Antler family. This volume does feature some new projects, three of which were recorded in Finland, & some less song-oriented field recordings of birds, frogs, doves & a Krishna devotional singer. All the collective hallmarks are present: battery-operated recording devices & keyboards, wind, stringed & percussive instruments of popular & often obscure nature, occasional hushed voices & frequent drones all coming together to create meditative songs & organic soundscapes. Maybe not as essential as an introduction as “windswept trees & houses” but if the general label aesthetic hits you like it does me you’ll want this one too.