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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Isobel Campbell
Milkwhite Sheets

Rating: 6.5/10 ?

January 8, 2007
For Isobel Campbell, 2006 was a year spent going through the past ... darkly, and, at least with Milkwhite Sheets, a little too seriously. Her unexpected collaboration with grunge expatriate Mark Lanegan yielded a well-deserved Mercury Prize nod for Ballad Of The Broken Seas, an old-time grab bag of hazy, sunset-hued country and delicately woven folk music. It poured out heartfelt, plaintive ballads and ripped it up at the honky tonk, but deep inside, at the bottom, it held black menace and mystery. Hearing Ballad Of The Broken Seas was like finding a diamond-encrusted Scottish broach in a thrift store jewelry case marked 25 cents; further exploration in the form of repeated listens revealed a back room of other hidden riches.

Burning with a brooding intensity, it was A Streetcar Named Desire come to life in song, with Lanegan and his grave, gravel-packed voice playing Stanley - only with more heart and wisdom - while the angelic Campbell infused Stella with more of a sense of self worth and independence. Scenes of infidelity, lovers being torn apart by war and wounds inflicted - unintentionally and intentionally - by violence and turbulent emotions were delivered with understated passion, humanity and a warm, sometimes boisterous, touch of humor. With Ballad Of The Broken Seas, which brought Campbell and Lanegan endless comparisons to Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, Campbell was finally able to break out of the shadow cast over her by her former band, Belle & Sebastian.

As promised, Campbell brought forth not one, but two albums in 2006. The second, Milkwhite Sheets, did not engage in the stylistic diversity of Ballad Of The Broken Seas, nor did it exude the easy-going charm of its predecessor. Going it alone this time, Campbell pays humble and reverent tribute to the ancient folk music of the British Isles while trying her hand at today's more sinister avant-folk experiments, mixing in a handful of misty originals among the traditional songs Campbell covers for Milkwhite Sheets. The atmosphere is heavy and shrouded in fog, with the white glow of Campbell's voice breaking through the gloaming of mostly acoustic instrumentation. Paul Giovanni's "Willow's Songs" is reimagined by Campbell as a bleak, black forest of banjo, shimmering gong and clumsy, marionette-like percussive motions that sit somewhat uncomfortably with Campbell's acoustic guitar figures. Preceding "Willow's Song" is Campbell's spare treatment of the traditional number, "O Love Is Teasin,'" and it's a stark, ham-handed introduction that seems to warn of the church-like proceedings to follow.

By themselves, neither song is horribly off - though the construction leaves a little to be desired - but at the end of the day, when the totality of Milkwhite Sheets is considered, they fall into the miasma of overly studious immersion and uncertainty the songs are buried under. A brief bit of fun is the nostalgic "Pop Goes The Weasel" melody of Campbell's "Cachel Wood," with acoustic guitar, harmonica and beautifully soft vocal harmonies merging together into something child-like and haunting. "Begger, Wiseman Or Thief" follows with a simple, sparse acoustic melody and Campbell's gently yearning voice, but this is one instance where Campbell could do to flesh things out. That siren melody, for all its beguiling pull, has trouble standing on its own two feet, unlike the traditional "Loving Hannah," which features an intimate, lovely acapella performance by Campbell, or the soaring instrumental "James." The sweeping strings of "James" are stunning, and when paired with the soft horse pedal of the hand-drumming and the touching, widescreen acoustic textures that gird the track - proving again that Campbell can summon beautiful arrangements from yesteryear with a witchcraft few, besides maybe Joanna Newsome, are studying.

A Renaissance festival of folk melodies - some that come clean and wonderfully adorned, others made inarticulate by cumbersome instrumental armor - Milkwhite Sheets is guided by the feminine divine and pagan impulses, though it's less estrogen heavy than Lilith Faire. There's tender beauty in acoustic balladry like "Hori Horo" and lyrical elegance in the instrumental title track - marked by Campbell's moving cello playing - but all of it is offset by the oppressive, awkward nature of tracks like "Reynardine" and "Are You Going To Leave Me?" Wrap yourself in Milkwhite Sheets on a rainy, gloomy day and let Campbell guide you through the history of female folk Goddesses Shirley Collins, Anne Briggs and Jean Ritchie. When the sun comes out, you'll want to put Milkwhite Sheets away for a long time. It leaves you with an inexplicable chill and a sense that Campbell overplayed her hand.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad



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