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Shmat's Reviews
For more reviews, please visit Palebear which is where all future Shmat reviews will appear (as of March 2006).

All Night Radio
Spirit Stereo Frequency (CD)

I really dreaded writing this review; I don't like to bash unnecessarily. Have you ever received an album that by all accounts you seem destined to love and yet, defying all rational explanations, you just can't seem to get into it. It's a terrible feeling, you sort of start to question your own musical taste that you THOUGHT you knew. So it was with All Night Radio's debut Spirit Stereo Frequency.

Maybe my expectations were just over-inflated. The band, consisting of Dave Scher and Jimi Hey on all instruments, sports such an impressive indie pedigree that it's quite a shocker that I couldn't get into this album. Besides being founding members of psychadelic twangsters Beachwood Sparks they've also played in Strictly Ballroom, Tristeza, The Rapture, and Lilys. I saw Beachwood Sparks play live at the Troubadour in L.A. and they were completely amazing, one of the main reasons I started really liking experimental alt-country and pedal steel. And Tristeza remains one of my favorite instrumental based groups of all time, giving Tortoise and Calexico a run for their money. So something's fishy here. Let's investigate why I didn't like this disc.

The songs are heavily experimental in that Neutral Milk Hotel way, spacey like Grandaddy, with a huge 70s psychadelic tinge ala Byrds, Traffic, and Syd Barrett. Plenty of sound effects, glockenspiel, pedal steel. But there just didn't seem to be enough focus on actual songs at all; I understand a lot of bands of a similar feather are basically going for these mystical sound collages as opposed to pop songs. But I just couldn't get into the vibe without some sort of grounding. I tried changing the atmosphere. I listened to it in my stereo, in the car, on headphones, everywhere. Just couldn't get impressed.

The expansive opening track "Daylight Till Dawn" might have been OK but suffers from an overuse of reverb and echo in the vocals. I couldn't hear much of what they were singing except the somewhat cheesy line "I want to wake up in the morning". Nice ambiance though, rounded out by swimming strings and and pedal steel throughout. The next track, "We're On Our Wave" was at least somewhat intelligible and this was a pretty melodic song all around with phased electric guitar and pretty vocal harmonies. I didn't like the next track at all though, "Fall Down 7", which was goofy to the point of being oafish. Annoying vocals, sort of like a bad rendition of the Ween cover of "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" on that indie School House Rock! Rocks comp. To much stuff going on. At times the songs seem to be the aural equivalent of swimming upstream through mud. Too much reverb, flanging, phasing, and kaleidoscopic echo everywhere that makes it hard to hear things, let alone enjoy the songs. I guess in some respects that's accurate for 70s psychadelia and maybe that's as much an indicator as any why I had difficulty getting into it. Like the track "You'll Be On Your Own" which started off with this horribly self conscious compressed guitar solo that I absolutely hated and devolved steadily from there with more over-reverbed vocals and unnecessary space flight sounds. Like, there's a party in my ear but I don't want to be here.

I think I didn't really find any of the songs enjoyable until "Oh, When?" which contains a neat fast little drum machine beat and syncopation reminiscent of Yo La Tengo crossed with The Police. Again it's the vocals that turned me off, spacey and anachronistic as hell. By "Sad K." and "Winter Light" I was completely bored. Oh the songs aren't unpleasant in any sense, I could sort of leave it on in the background. The last track "All Night Radio" was actually one in which the echoes and reversed stuff finally seemed to work a little magic that fit in with the song. It was set up pretty well, nice melodies with tasteful and grand sound effects as if Jason Lytle came in to take a turn at the mixing console. With crickets chirping away in the background, there is an beautiful little chiming outro around 4 minutes into the track. So at least I wasn't left with an utter feeling of despair at the end of the album. But why couldn't the rest have been better?

Like I said, I gave this many spins so I'm not sure if there's any useful proverbs left in the tank here to spout. What this album meant to me was many repeated listens, very little musical reward. So, if you don't mind I'm going to give the radio a rest instead of leaving it on all night.

- review by BY (5.3.04)        

Sub Pop Records
2514 Fourth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98121

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