A Figment Of Your Imagination: Reviews Of Recent Releases By Local Bands, Pt. 113
Bill Fox - Transit Byzantium - Scat Records - 18 songs - LP, CD
I've heard that this has been coming out for many years now– it's been on my list of "upcoming releases to possibly review" since around the time I started this column. "Transit Byzantium" is Bill Fox's second solo LP (following up "Shelter From The Smoke"), originally released on CD only in 1998. I've had that CD for a while, so I was familiar with the music here, but this is a new remaster and a nice new package and of course I wanted it on LP because I'm an annoying snob, so here we go. Bill Fox is basically a folk singer– these songs are mostly acoustic and most of them feature just him on vocals and guitar (and sometimes some kind of bass or percussion– on one song he plays piano too); however, that doesn't do his songs justice. I've described the music of Bill Fox with this complex analogy: it's like "Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds Sing The Everly Brothers" except it's "The Beatles Sing Bob Dylan." It's sort of like an inverse folk rock: instead of Bob Dylan style songs but with Beatles style arrangement, it's Beatles style songs with Bob Dylan style arrangements. There are the obvious folk elements (particularly prominent on "From A Dark Night," "Quartermaster's Wintertime," and "Dixie Darling," for a few examples), but with very melodic tunes that are far more pop ("I'll Give It Away" (featuring Tom Fallon and Tommy Fox) and "My Baby Crying" being the most overtly Beatles-influenced, I'd say). Of course, there's also nice harmonies, interesting guitar interplay, and simply beautiful songs that are a hallmark of all of Bill's best work. One weird digression is the brief and especially lo-fi "Sycamore," which must've either been recorded when Bill was a teenager or sped up, because his voice is very high on this one. Anyway, the man knows how to write very, very good songs and there are a lot of them on this record. Honestly, there are too many highlights to point them all out, but some particular favorites are the aforementioned "I'll Give It Away," "Thinking Of You," "Bonded To You," and all three tracks that make up the final side ("Portland Town," "For Anyone That You Love," and "When I Blow"). Very nearly as good or maybe even just as good as "Shelter" (which, by the way, is also back in print and you also definitely need) and definitely worth checking out. I'm very happy this is back in print. 4.5/5
Leaking - Inborn / Suture - self-released - 2 songs - cassette, digital
This is the second release from Leaking, the trio of Depew, MacCluskie, and Taylor. I know the first two more from punk and punk-adjacent bands and don't know the last one at all, but together they make long form instrumental experimental music. When I picked up this tape from Depew himself, he used the magic words to get me to dislike something before I've even heard it: "Grateful Dead." That one's gonna get me a lot of hate mail, I'm sure. That said, I tried to go in with a pretty open mind because I have a lot of respect for Noah (that's Depew) and David (that's MacCluskie) as musicians. The first side is "Inborn," which starts with some melancholy and vaguely psychedelic guitar and violin, joined by some light percussion. This all builds up to an intense swell, then goes right back down to almost nothing before coming back to an ominous mood again. Eventually, the drumming picks up to a bit of a frenzy and brings the song to an atmospheric mess…then comes down again. This cycle repeats itself several times– the loud parts are noisy enough that it becomes an interesting kind of mash, with the violin droning while the guitar continues to meander morosely and the drums basically blow up the proceedings. The other section of note of this piece is a part where everything abruptly stops, only to be brought back in by the drums…and then stops again. This also repeats and is pretty menacing, not only because of what the group is playing but because of the unexpectedness of every stop. It leaves you on edge a bit not knowing when or if it'll suddenly halt again. It's interesting how what's mostly a change in drumming accounts for such a change in mood in the song. The final section carries a similar foreboding vibe, with an acoustic guitar creeping into the mix. My problem with this type of music is usually an attention span one, and Leaking aren't quite exempt from that here, but they did pull off an interesting array of moods and changes in the song's over-20-minute runtime. "Suture," on the other side and other hand, did have a very different feel from its companion track here, so I give them points for that, but did not cohere for me nearly as well. It was just as long but felt much more aimless. There were interesting parts (I liked the violin and drum call and response, for example), but overall could not hold my attention as well as "Inborn" did. But hey, that's still not bad considering that I frankly don't really have an interest in this kind of thing. I lack the knowledge of the context that would be helpful in rating this definitively, but given that I found parts of it pretty interesting, I'd think that people who tend more towards this kind of experimental music (or, gulp, the Dead) will enjoy it.
Are you a local-ish band? Do you have a record out? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or send it directly to the Observer: PO Box 770203, Lakewood, OH 44107.