» 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!
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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
The Channel
Tales From The Two Hill Heart/Sibylline Machine
C-Side Records

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

August 31, 2006
Deserving of plaques and extra peyote breaks, employees of the desert psych-pop song factory The Channel went above and beyond the lo-fi collective's usual production quotas on the 23-track double album, Tales From The Two Hill Heart/Sibylline Machine. Earning employee of the year awards for exceeding management's goals on the band's first dual-disc foray are company songwriters Colby Pennington and Jamie Reaves, the former a midnight cowboy lost in the desert looking for Brian Wilson and the latter an Elephant 6 acolyte running on Elf Power and electro-pop batteries. Four out of five customers should agree that The Channel has done the impossible; they've rolled out a big SUV of a record that gets incredible mileage.

Using the business model Outkast adopted for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, the two split songwriting duties straight down the middle on this, the group's third release, with Pennington responsible for the dreamy harmonies and hallucinogenic country tones of Tales From The Two Hill Heart and the enigmatic Reaves supervising the streamlined pop surrealism of Sibylline Machine. And while nobody's ever going to confuse the subdued pop craftsmanship of Pennington and Reaves for the hip-hop flamboyance of Big Boi and Andre 3000, truth be told The Channel outdoes Outkast by fashioning a more focused, complete effort that exudes melodic subtlety and timeless charm.

Outkast took the oft-maligned format and treated it like an overnight bag, rushing to stuff it with a lot of wildly original ideas and colorful, fancy-pants productions, not bothering to pack it in a neat and orderly fashion. Rarely did they coalesce into anything resembling compelling songs - "Hey Ya" and "The Way You Move" being the glaring exceptions. By comparison, Pennington and Reaves pay attention to form and structure, staying true to classic pop archetypes like Neil Young, the Beach Boys, the Zombies, The Kinks and Neutral Milk Hotel, and making it all flow more freely than one would expect. Granted, it's not the most groundbreaking approach in the world, but it would be pure folly to ignore The Channel's soft-focus, easy-going instrumentation and bright, engaging hooks just because of an "it's been done before" hang-up. Might as well shun The Shins too if that's your beef.

For his part, Pennington lets his affection for Gram Parsons' country-flavored psychedelia and lazy, drifting melodies be known on tracks like "The Deserter" and the warped closer "Whirly Bird." Wraiths of organ and pedal steel in "The Deserter" carry lyrics comparing a soldier's going AWOL with a lover's abandonment issues through a pop haze, revealing Pennington's lyrical concerns regarding the vagaries of fate and human behavior - subjects which crop up a lot in his writings.

Under the creamy pop frosting of "Wages Of Death" lie weighty existential issues and Pennington's sworn allegiance to the working class, expressed in the line, "They were right about my collar too/It'll always be blue." Riding a swift current of acoustic guitar, electric keyboards and racing piano, the wistful "Wages Of Death" is one of the standouts among Pennington's body of work, as is the beautiful Beach Boys-esque sigh that precedes it called "Up On The Hill" and the twinkling gem "Aching" that appears later. Waltzing on acid is the loopy, 13th Floor Elevators-like "Fired #3," while the banjo-inflected "The Man I Don't Remember" recalls George Harrison's finest solo efforts. A songwriter for almost all seasons - but especially late summer and early fall - Pennington's heart goes out to the almost defeated, marginalized losers barely holding on. His tribute to them is blissful pop, the kind that empathizes with you more than it tries to cheer you up. That's where Reaves comes in.

Weirder, with a sunnier, more fuzzed-out tonality and driving instrumentation, Sibylline Machine is a 10-song bottle of happy pills that includes the swinging "Bedsides/Ohio" and the delightfully off-beat "Rapture, My Captain." Reaves' quirks, directly descended from Jeff Mangum and Minus Five pop prankster Scott McCaughey, come out of the closet in the light-hearted whimsy of "The King Of Spain" and "Sneaks And Skates," and the Casio-toned playhouse "Disco For Daisies." But it's the breezy, slightly sad "Under The Carpet" that tops them all. Immersed in serene organ melancholy, dry post-rock guitar chords and understated John McEntire-inspired beats, it's the best song The Sea And Cake never wrote.

Wading through this 23-song collection is easier than it might seem from the surface, despite the muck of Pennington's droopy "Olden Days" and the sluggish title track of Sibylline Machine, penned by Reaves. Aside from that, it's hard to find substantial fault with anything here. The vocal arrangements are gorgeously woven together, as if Wilson himself were running the show, and based on them alone, this release is worth owning. And with light-fingered chops, Heather McCallister, Tom Marshall, Chris Gregory, Andy McCallister and Pennington's brother Brent provide a wonderful, impressionistic backdrop for the staging of Reaves and Colby Pennington's well-honed melodic impulses. Even without rabbit-ear antennas, this Channel comes in clear as a bell.

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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