Last week in this column some nitwit referred to Sam Schauer's solo project Modernstate as "downtempo pop." That nitwit was me, and I apologize if anyone bought Modernstate's debut, Highwater Moonboot, expecting to hear something like Dave Matthews.
The mistake is understandable, though. On the first few listens, Schauer's pop sensibilities are pronounced. His melancholic recitations over flower-picked guitar parts dominate much of the album. But Schauer, formerly of the Dutch Flat, employs a looping device as the foundation for his guitar-driven songs, using it as a rail as he explores winding melodic passages with a series of layered electronic and guitar parts.
While Schauer's experimentation does tread some simply joyful ground, songs like the 11 minute-31 second slow burner "Rat the Automatic" can be irritatingly exhausting. The strongest parts of Schauer's work are his lyrical observations. On "Magnetic North" Schauer steps away from his looper and laments in a grainy voice the time he discovered "that magnetic north and true north were not the same," and then, as he does with his instrumentation, Schauer stretches it, expounding on that small moment. It's the closest he gets to downtempo pop, and it's nowhere close. (Mark Baumgarten)
"Everyone I Know Is Getting Famous," second out of the box on Lion Fever's five-song Lustre EP, sounds like an indictment--poisonous, bitter and steeped in obscure, lovingly tended anger.
This erstwhile Portland trio, which apparently scattered just in time for its debut release, isn't particularly clear about what it rages against. But its palette of exquisitely dark blues and deep, winey blood-passion decadence shames the pallid, play-acted emotions of most of its brethren in stripped-bare indie rock. Lustre is all too brief, but it's a fierce little beast. The medium's the message. The rest--you figure it out.
Singer-guitarist Jennifer Pearl's throaty opera-growl slithers through Lion Fever's four sinewy originals and erupts in the EP's centerpiece cover of Gun Club's maniacal "For the Love of Ivy." She sings like she's evicting demons from her skull. WW contributor Dave Clifford's bass alternately rumbles and waltzes, a black ladder that Pearl's guitar crashes around on. Kevin Garrison's drums have the same intensity you find on Steve Albini's old recordings of the Pixies.
Every element is heavy as hell, yet only once--in the opening seconds of "Watch Out for Spiders"--does Lion Fever sound clunky rather than dangerously lithe. It's a shame the band seems to have broken up. Then again, that's show business. Always leave 'em wanting more. (Zach Dundas)