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Bright Sides

By Erik Hage

Hector on Stilts

Same Height Relation (Fun Machine)

Pittsfield, Mass.-based Hector on Stilts churn out impossibly bright, unnervingly melodic music. The opening track, “Taxi,” just might be the most polished three minutes of guitar pop ever to grace our region. (As a breed, we music critics are prone to momentary enthusiasms and hyperbole, but this is a statement that I’ve sat on for a good half-year—and will stand behind a year from now.) Same Height Relation is shot through with bolts of melodic sunshine; cousins Jeb and Clayton Colwell simply seem to release the string of their helium-infused popcraft and let it sail into the sunny upper reaches. One has to wonder if there’s even a market for this kind of music anymore: music that hails craft over catharsis; that finds strength in levity; that seems to nod a little bit toward everyone from XTC to Colin Hay to the Beach Boys. Here, harmonies swell and guitar accents spiral; “Winterland” is a tune continuously arriving, glassy guitars and lifting harmonies thrusting it beautifully and breathlessly upwards. As keenly intelligent as it is brightly melodic, Hector on Stilts’ Same Height Relation reeks of perfectionism and popsmithery.

Friends of Dean Martinez

Live at Club 2 (Aero)

Originally released four years ago in Germany, where this live set was recorded (at Munich’s now-defunct Club Zwei), this CD by Friends of Dean Martinez has been expanded with an additional disc, recorded last year at a club in Berlin. In a bassless trio, Michael Semple’s guitar often acts as a rhythmic anchor in tandem with drummer Dave Lachance, while the band’s founder and steel guitarist, Bill Elm, flies over, around and through it all like a flock of airborne bird-machines emitting fireworks. At other times, Elm’s atmospherics provide a ground-hugging early morning fog through which Semple’s clearly delineated lines stroll with the certainty of a paper boy on his predawn route.

FODM have not strayed too far from where they began in the mid-’90s, as an instrumental ensemble started by Giant Sand alums Joey Burns and John Convertino. Those two departed after the second album, with Elm now the band’s mainstay. Pared down to a trio and in a live setting, they conjure a gently raucous and unpredictable element that has added bolder dramatics to their recipe.

–David Greenberger

Bif Naked

Superbeautifulmonster (Bodog Music)

Holyfuckingshit. This is terrible stuff. What gives? Taking her shot at American markets with cheap pop-rock that evokes images of the famished, tattooed Canadian writhing in lingerie on a mattress in some abandoned warehouse through a softened lens, Bif Naked has made an album that comes off like the remnants of Dallas Austin’s cutting-room floor after a painful sake binge. And speaking of Austin, there is unmistakable Gwen Stefani idolatry going on here, but supposedly Naked writes her own songs—a heartbreaking and misguided anomaly if there ever was one. Tattoos and pouty, Teri Weigel-style posing does not a good rocker make. Besides, the only other Biff I know is the great and wise Peter “Biff” Byford of Saxon fame and he’s almost better looking. Want a true iron maiden? Try Karyn Crisis. Try Candace Kucsulain. Texas Terri Bomb, Roxy Saint, heck, even Juliette Lewis has more spark than this poor lass, even after three full-length releases!

Unconvincing, clichéd, and devoid of any real monster hooks, this syrupy sugar sham needs something more to elicit even a faint wisp of consideration. Even her most formula-driven anthems fail to give off any real spark. Case in point: I can listen to the entire CD while reading De Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics. Not that I understand a word of it, but my point is that I can actually read it without distraction. Bad music must distract; if not it has no purpose. And as if it couldn’t get any worse, Naked tackles Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters,” as if the song hadn’t been covered in perpetuity by no less than, oh, 46 bands in a blatant (and poorly advised) attempt at airplay. I guess. Now, had she attempted “Trapped Under Ice,” well, that would be different. But no. Instead, thinly veiled references to female orgasms (“Yeah, You”) and flimsy grrrl power anthems like “I Want” abound with little new insight to these age-old curiosities.

—Bill Ketzer


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