» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » 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.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » 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!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

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
Paul Brill
New Pagan Love Song
Scarlet Shame

Rating: 7.5/10 ?

October 1, 2004
"So, this is what they call progress, eh?" That's the sort of response you'd expect from music purists who've just finished listening to New Pagan Love Song. To them, Paul Brill's brand of avant-garde Americana might seem like a violation of natural law. And a lot of them aren't shy about getting up on the soapbox to preach about how the infringement of electronic elements is threatening the sanctity of traditional folk and country music. No doubt, Brill has gotten an earful from them. But, like so many of his contemporaries, the New York singer-songwriter just puts his fingers in his ears and goes, 'La, la, la ... I can't hear you, I can't hear you." Or maybe he's more mature than I am, and instead just quietly goes about his business. One artist who's been bucking tradition for a while now is Joe Henry, whose album, Fuse, provided the blueprints for how Brill treats country and folk with loops and electronica to establish mood. Of course, Henry would have gotten nowhere without the songwriting talent to back up it up. Brill's got that part down pat. "Weekday Bender", with its glowing electric keyboards and sun-splashed horns, is a gleeful California pop ode to playing hooky from work and getting wasted on pills, among other assorted mind-altering chemicals.

In fact, if you put that song up close to your ear, you can practically hear the Pacific Ocean - as well as echoes of Folk Implosion's glorious electro-pop cocktail, One Part Lullaby. "The Troubled Life Of Herschel Grimes" is something different: a klezmer-style carnival ride complete with the cotton pop candy of Michael Penn. Brill is adept at weaving varied instrumentation together to create a sound that's got one foot in Appalachia and another in the East Village. The heaving strings and lovely piano waltz of "Lay Down Your Weary Head" and "Everything I Believe In" provide evidence of a more sophisticated approach to songwriting from Brill. It's tempting to label New Pagan Love Song as an "experimental" record. In some respects, it is, but just so we understand each other, the kind of experiments Brill undertakes here are a lot like those that take place in your average, everyday high school chemistry lab. Brill seems like he's following along with the workbook on alt-country/electronica fusion on New Pagan Love Song, and that's fine. It's just that when I think "experimental," I think high-concept; that's not what's going on here. "Indian Summer" may be a fevered dream of a song, with its whispered vocals and rolling percussion, and on "Desert Song", Brill creates expansive, darkening skies of sound colored by a dying sun looking down on desolate, sun-baked ground.

Still, as pretty as they are, you get the feeling you've heard them somewhere before, and though Brill paints beautiful soundscapes, there's a directionless quality there too that cries out for something to take the melody somewhere the listener has never been. What's more, songs like "Powerlines" and "Daylight Scars" sound sort of empty, as if Brill was afraid of scaring people off by disturbing the atmosphere with storms of sonic weather eruptions. "Trindade" would make you think that Brill isn't afraid of anything. The first song off New Pagan Love Song, it doesn't pull any punches in recounting an episode of domestic violence and how the people involved try to move past it in the uneasy aftermath. Brill couches lines like "I broke my hand against the side of your face" in quiet, unassuming piano-based music, much like how Jeff Tweedy plays a kind of shell game with his most disturbing lyrics, hiding them underneath earthy pop melodies that seem harmless. Brill isn't that skilled yet - as evidenced by the overly earnest and sentimental melody of "Trindade" - but he's getting there. Though it's Paul Brill's name on the marquee - and rightfully so, since he wrote all the songs and plays a lot of the instruments - percussionist Joe Bonadio should get credit for salvaging the middle part of New Pagan Love Song. His light touch with samples and electronic beats give interesting texture to songs in the middle of the album that threaten to become too familiar and dull. The pots-and-pans percussion in "Comeback Kid" offers up Bonadio's best work and when he marries it to a glint of bent steel guitar, it gives a sense of what Brill and Bonadio are capable of. New Pagan Love Song is likeable as it is, though, and really it's more than that. It lies somewhere between Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Penn's March, and that's not exactly your basic rock and a hard place. It's more like being between a pillow and a stiff mattress.

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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