Thursday, January 05, 2006

Well-Oiled CD Track-by-Track

Well-Oiled is the name of a compilation CD that came out at the end of 2005 featuring a bunch of independent Prince Edward Island bands. It's pretty easily the best $10 I spent all holiday season. Here's a decent backgrounder on how the CD was made in the Guardian: Link.

Since I'm pretty uselessly stuck in bed with a bad cold this morning I might as well listen through it again and write whatever crap comes to my head as each song plays.

The first little 30 second intro thing is idiotic. If I import this into my iTunes I'm skipping this track.

Officer Girl - "A Physician A Day"

This is one of their best, and it sounds like it's better-recorded than their first few four-tracked songs which is what I've heard of their stuff so far. They're definitely the class of the album's indie-rock superstar aspirants. I don't know if the extended interlude in the middle is the and thus longer song is the best choice for a compilation, if I'm not in the mood it sort of drags, but the song has a great hook and otherwise is excellent.

OK, I liked, I paused the CD so I could finish up that last paragraph. Back we go.

ROBOTS - "Open City"

The vocals in this song are nice and clear, not overcrowded by the instrumental tracks. The words aren't anything out of the ordinary but not having to strain to listen to figure that out is an advantage. This is an indie-rock tune with some electronic effects in the bridges and fairly straightforward but quick and fairly dense drumming. I've never seen this band live before, but I'd definitely check them out after hearing this song. The keyboard sort of takes the place of the bass in the parts where the instrumentation takes centre stage, where the bass becomes an accentuator to the drums, and the keyboard takes over the foundation melody in the background. The main guitar bit is catchy and the 10 second refrain of it at the end is a bit long in coming and then the song ends just when you're remembering it.

Pat Deighan and the Orb Weavers - "Whiskey Stars"

I've always liked this band for the great guitar playing and the theatrics of the drummer, but they tend to play so often around town that you inadvertently hear them enough to start to find them a little repetitive. But on the recording they've got a great sound that doesn't get fully shown off in their live performances. The vocals are clear and steady, instead of sounding weak. There are a lot of nice little guitar lines in the background, and all the parts are very nicely balanced. Also the lyrics are among the more clever of the songs on the album.

Johnny King - "This Fire"

I've never seen this guy play live before, so this is my very first exposure to his sound. The song starts off with a guitar solo that could be from any blues jam, but it transitions nicely into a pleasant walking melody. Actually that's a good description for the lyrics as well. More guitar-driven rock but with a couple of places where the drums do assert themselves.

Fugato - "Green Eyes"

One of my favourite live bands around town, ever since they played through an old 8-track player for an amp in what used to be a chicken coop and still put on a sweet show I've always been impressed with the way they can keep a crowd going. They're the standard bearers of the dancy-funky-rock contingent on the album, with a slow paced beat, irregular bass and repeat-pedal-heavy guitar chords accenting the bass rather than taking the centre until the choruses.

I think they're better as a live band, the recording is a bit thin on the ground for variations in melody. Great to move around to but a bit flat when you're sitting in your chair with headphones.

The Mystery System - "Western Sky"

These guys are even further into the dancy-rock spectrum. A keyboard's lower notes provide the base for the song with the bass accompanying. The guitar has a clean sound while the keyboards sound distorted, an interesting reversal of what you usually hear. Drumming almost takes a back seat as it's confined to seemingly one track in the centre of the stereo spectrum, outflanked by the keyboard and guitars. I really like this song. It's got a Slowcoaster feel but smoother rather than the stoccatto stuttery guitar sound they have.

Lenore - "The Epic"

I swear this starts out sounding just like an Officer Girl song. There's a girl doing background vocals but she's almost turned down too low, to the same level of the crowd shouting backing bit that they're using. I've mentioned before that the guitar tone they have is sweet as hell, with distinctive sound differences between the two guitars, and smart use of tone. The bass has a percussive sound that I never noticed in their live shows, but that might just be a result of the sound systems.

The song itself has a bit of a scattered feel to it, like it needs to be coiled a little more tightly around a core riff or two. Expectations are really high for this band, partly because they took so damn long to put on their first show, but I think there's a bit of a case similar to J.K. Rowling's later books where the editors were afraid to tell her to cut stuff out.

Smothered in Hugs - "Young Flare"

This is by far the catchiest song on the album. The keyboard and guitar bits reinforce each other very nicely, one reminds you of the other. I'm warming to this band more lately, getting to hear them play in places with better sound systems so you can hear the singing and the bass better. The keyboard sound is one you hear all over the place in rock these days, that sort of blue-coloured electric piano sound that a lot of people seem to be using. The guitar chords don't change that often, letting the bass and keyboard do most of the up and down work. I don't really like the keyboard sustain at the end, but I do like the little melody part just after it.

The Danks - "Automocar"

There's a breaking glass sound at the beginning of this that I kind of enjoyed. The singing style really strongly reminds me of some non-specific other band or bands. Very generally familiar sound, but with the keyboards being a little more springy than you usually hear. This is another band I haven't seen live yet but would like to now that I've heard one of their songs.

Two Hours Traffic - "Purple Eyes/Yellow Lights"

Two Hours Traffic have the advantage of having worked with Joel Plaskett producing their album. It sticks out as a song that would be totally ready for prime time. From the intro guitar bit that's just the right length to the way the other instruments come in in succession, you can tell that this was made with an ear for the audience. I haven't heard their album yet, and the shows I've seen them at were strictly bare-bones affairs, but this song and the one they have a video for on Much Music are as good as they can be, I think. And it's nice to take a break from the keyboards on this particular CD.

The Bush Doctors - "The Danger Lurking"

I've never heard of this band before. They're after the rock-funk sound, but that's one of those things that's easy to get mostly right but hard to make it sound natural. The singing is a bit messy, sounds like it's trying to keep up with the song during the choruses. This is one of the weaker songs on the album, but I still haven't found myself skipping over it yet.

Double Ought Buckshot - "Drive Away"

Back to the guitar / bar rock. (This isn't a slam by any means, just to say that they haven't succumbed to the temptation to throw some keyboards in there and they keep the guitar playing as the most prominent part of the sound.) The singing has a bit of a gruff edge that sounds a little forced, but it fits the gritty rock sound they're going for in the song. The guitar playing is very tight and you can tell they've been playing together almost forever.

Out From Under - "Either Way"

Here's another band that plays live 2 or 3 times a week every week it seems. The closest thing to country on the album, I get to raise an eyebrow or two whenever I use the "c word" to describe them, but it's true and the upbeat sound is why they're great. There's a part in the middle where the harmonica gives away really smoothly to a pretty sweet guitar solo, while a clean guitar plays rhythm. They're better than most bands at letting instrumentalists play over top of each oher and not step on each other's sacks. This is a more mellow song than the general tone of their shows, but there's nothing wrong with that. It's actually a good transition to the last song.

Mars Hill - "Sleep Walker"

Not sure what to call their style of music other than spoken word over top of mellow pop keyboards and bass. The vocalist has a bit of a monotone, rather laconic delivery. The sound of the instruments is better than most of the other bands on this CD. Crisper, fuller keyboards and bass and clearer drums. You can hear the drum being hit by the player instead of pounded on.

It's a good song to end the album with, since it slows everything down. Maybe that's why they were slotted in as the last act after the dance DJs on Saturday night at the Shoreline festival. I wonder what kind of sound they'd adapt if the entire band was shot full of caffeine before working on a new song.


So overall the album is a great representation of what's going on in Charlottetown recently. Bands that are experienced show their polish, newer bands bounce around the walls a little more, but it makes for a good mix. I picked it up for $10 at the last Officer Girl show and you can get it at Back Alley and CD Plus here in town, if you're out to make a new music acquisition it's definitely a great choice, both as a primer for which local shows you may want to come check out and as a sit down and listen for the sake of it album.
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By al - 8:11 AM |

Comments:
I'm a bit surprised that CD Plus is carrying this - I'll have to get into Back Alley next week and pick it up (tho the cover art isn't nearly as cool as the last one of these).

A friend sent me 4 tracks off the comp, and 3 of them are really great (not a huge fan of officer girl).
 
I'm a huge Smothered in Hugs fan, only problem is that I live in Toronto. I've known the Crane brothers since childhood and last summer when I was down I was completely blown away. I google them on pretty regular basis to try and keep track of their progress. It would mean a great deal to me if you could possibly e-mail "Young Flare" or anything else that you might have by the band.

Cheers,
paul.jobin@gmail.com
 
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