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April 15, 2007
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Chavez, Bright Eyes lead this weeks music reviews

In the mid-90s scramble of alternative rock bands, plenty of indie gems got lost in the shuffle, but few shine so brightly as Chavez. Though completely independent in aesthetic, they could never really hang out in the nascent indie scene of the 90s because their guitars were too huge and they were too rock; conversely, they couldnt make radio because of their weird song structures and lo-fi arrangements. But the recent compilation Better Days will Haunt You collects everything Chavez has ever done, and it serves as a testament to a hidden but enduring legacy of kickass rock songs.Through their two full lengths, Gone Glimmering and Ride The Fader, Chavez showcased a uniform and complete sound, something like Guided By Voices on Frankenstein steroids trashing Slints backyard. Clay Tarver and Matt Sweeneys guitars usually pinioned the listener between monstrous, downtuned riffs and sqealing, atonal lines while bassist Scott Marshall stayed quiet until it was time to bring on the thunder. Drummer The James Lo is one of the best ever he manages to be complex and powerful without ever being a showoff. Over it all, Matt Sweeneys melodies, delivered in a nasally rasp, betrayed a sugar-sweet pop sensibility that smoothed over the sandpaper guitar textures.Break Up Your Band mixes humorous come-on lyrics (let all the drummers come and meet the champion) with a menacing rhythm, while Wakemans Air magically balances a gentle, sad verse, an uplifting chorus and one of the most evil black-cloud riffs ever created all in one song. Later material from Fader takes on a brighter sheen, but it never loses edge or complexity; Unreal Is Here stands as their lighter-waving anthem without sacrificing any essential Chavez-esque elements, and Top Pocket Man and The Guard Attacks serve as one of the strongest one-two punches to open any album.The compilation also contains their early singles and a few unreleased tracks, but the real bonus is the DVD that showcases their funny and unassuming personalities through two sketch-comedy-worthy music videos and a tour documentary. The tour doc, Men Making Music, Music Making Men, follows Chavez on the road with Guided By Voices and features commentary by Garry Marshall yes, that Garry Marshall of Happy Days and Pretty Woman. In their time, Chavez never really got their due, and they quickly saw their star eclipsed by other artists. But interest is on the rise and a spate of coastal shows signal a possible return from the men of Chavez. Until then, Better Days will Haunt You serves as a fitting last will and testament to one of the most underrated bands of the 90s. Ted Alvarez

Bright Eyes eighth album is named for a Florida town that attracts psychics the way Cancn draws college kids, and the first voice on the record is that of a clairvoyant speaking amid a swirl of orchestral fragments about getting rid of the old feelings, of the old ways of thinking.Her words set in motion a journey of purification that anchors this ambitious album (in stores Tuesday), sending singer-songwriter Conor Oberst, his two bandmates and guests, including M. Ward and Gillian Welch, on an American sojourn, in the shadow of holy war and under the scowl of a poisoned sky.In Four Winds, the Omaha collective sweeps like a spirit above the continent, trying to make peace with a legacy of genocide and injustice. Oberst still sees bodies decomposing tonight in an abandoned building, and he pictures the nation caving under the weight of a blighted history.That songs fiddle-led surge evokes another great musical expression of a sundered America, the Bands The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and much of Cassadagas music has the loose-limbed, communal spirit of Dylan and the Bands Basement Tapes. That roots sound frequently interacts with baroque pop orchestrations by Bright Eyes trumpeter-pianist Nate Walcott and subtle shadings from multi-instrumentalist and producer Mike Mogis.After the arty folk of Im Wide Awake, Its Morning and the electronic pop of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, its twin albums from 2005, this mix of rollicking soulfulness and textured experimentation is a natural and notable advance for Bright Eyes and adds a welcome urgency to Obersts vision.But its also a conservative consolidation, another refusal by this doggedly independent 27-year-old to make the grand, messianic, era-defining breakthrough that his partisans have been awaiting for most of this decadeMaybe that kind of consensus-forging album cant exist in a world of fragmented audiences and the isolated listening experience. Still, artists as diverse as the Arcade Fire, Wilco and Bloc Party do try. If you want a clue to Obersts reluctance, look to some of Cassadagas more confessional material, in which his priority is less on reaching out to his generation than on an intense search for order amid confusion, for footing in a world where the ground is always moving.Better find yourself a place to level out, he advises in If the Brakeman Turns My Way as he sorts through romantic interludes and painful aftermaths, panic attacks and detox walks, all played out against a queasy, apocalyptic backdrop.The music doesnt always live up to the demands of the journey, but Obersts trembling, vulnerable voice carries through to a rewarding conclusion. Ultimately, his embrace of the crackpot seers of Cassadaga becomes an act of defiance, an affirmation that in a world up for grabs, vortexes and crop circles make as good a road map as anything. Richard Cromelin, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service

Always a dance band at its core, L.A.s Ozomatli has also woven political and cultural observations into its globe-spinning blend of Latin, rock, hip-hop, funk, Indian and Asian sounds with lyrics sung and rapped in English and Spanish.The 10-piece groups tirelessly percussive fourth studio album does reference New Orleans after Katrina in the resilient funky rap of Magnolia Soul and touches on the Iraq war with the beautifully sorrowful Spanish-language ballad Violeta. The dragon in the title track, however, is not any force of government or society but the travails of life that begin to preoccupy ones mind as adulthood creeps in and theory is replaced by experience.Thats not to say this collection is tame or apolitical, although it has a cosmopolitan polish that contrasts sharply with its storefront-level origins.Ozo makes its kitchen-sink musical fusion feel seamless in any given number, with mashed-up grooves rolled out over plush beds of scratching, cowbells, timbales, horns, accordion and more. Still, Dragon can be dizzying in its sheer variety. Its a mostly breathless 40 minutes, with Violeta the only break from the fast pace.As for the dragon, well, its no surprise that Ozos advice in such numbers as the rock-flecked anthem Cant Stop and the breezy pop-tinged After Party is to stay upbeat. The sentiment is in the sound: Be positive, no matter what life throws you. Natalie Nichols, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service

Kids grow up so fast these days, or at least they act that way. Maybe its the unrelenting competition from the Avrils and the Ashlees, but here is Hilary Duff, still shy of her 20th birthday, releasing her debut as an adult recording artist.Dignity (in stores Tuesday) may get the kind of oohs and aahs that friends and relatives bestow on their little girl that day when she shows up in a dress, heels and makeup. But as often happens at that time, Duff doesnt seem entirely comfortable and confident in her new image.In her teen-pop years, the singer-actress showed an unremarkable voice but conveyed an unaffected personality. Here she seems a little lost and overwhelmed by the percolating dance settings and body-blow rock arrangements. The inappropriately languid vocal on the album-opening Danger immediately signals this disconnect between singer and song.But as she tries out different approaches, Duff eventually finds some footing. Her dusky vocal on the down-tempo track No Work All Play is a convincing surprise, and she turns fast, tricky phrasing into a natural presence on the stalker putdown Dreamer.Duff also sounds vibrant on Never Stop and Between You and Me, two of the five tracks produced by Chico Bennett and Richard Vission. Duffs writing partnership with teen specialist Kara DioGuardi yields some grand hooks and fairly routine observations on romance, revenge, insecurity and identity, but its Bennett and Vissions big buoyant, ABBA-honoring mega-pop tracks that give Dignity a memorable kick. Richard Cromelin, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service

As half of the songwriting duo in the 90s band Failure, Ken Andrews wrote a small but compelling catalog of rock songs made from shards of stargazing melodies and dense, dark atmospherics. Since that bands demise, hes mostly occupied himself with high-profile production gigs for the likes of Beck and Chris Cornell, and one more aborted stab at rock stardom in Year of the Rabbit.Ken Andrews comes out from behind the boards again on Secrets of the Lost Satellite, the first album hes seen fit to attribute to his name alone. He released previous solo albums under the confusing moniker ON, but those sometimes came off like hodge-podge collections of studio experiments and leftovers. This album is the most cohesive representation of the Ken Andrews sound since Failure, but its also his most middle-of-the-road.Up Or Down and In Your Way are the most guitar-driven tracks, with In Your Way featuring essentially the same lineup as Year of the Rabbit. Both tracks are propulsive, catchy rock songs that serve as enjoyable examples of Andrews hook-writing ability without eclipsing any of his better songs from the past. Tim Dows uber-skilled drumming and Jeff Garbers clever leads nearly launch In Your Way into the pantheon of greater Ken Andrews songs, but ultimately falls just short.Secret Things and Tripped Up display Andrews latest habit of spicing up traditional rock songs with detailed electronic layers of atmosphere; the tricks are always nifty, but they tend to distract from the songs themselves. Write Your Story is Ken Andrews clearly shooting for adult-contemporary, Duncan-Sheik territory; I can just imagine my mom humming it in the car. But it does feature indelible pop hooks and sterling production, so well just have to see if ol K.A. gets played next to Sting in the coming months.23rd Boy, which features one of Andrews best skyward melodies on the labum, best exemplifies the albums Achilles Heel the lyrics. Failures lyrics always had shadowy, oblique imagery; that was clearly co-songwriter Greg Edwards thing, because lines like I said, world, why you gotta make me pay? and baby, take all your clothes off, girl lack a certain gravitas or subtlety. And by certain, I mean any.Still, Ken Andrews solo disc proves hes a master of hook and execution; if listeners can ignore the words, tune them out or replace them with their own, theyre in for a solid modern rock treat. Ted Alvarez Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or talvarez@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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The VailDaily Updated Apr 15, 2007 07:35PM Published Apr 15, 2007 07:35PM Copyright 2007 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.