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May 08


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Michael James
To Raise an Army for Love
Radio Sky Music

According to his myspace page, Denver’s own Michael James dropped out of engineering school to become a musician. While for most that would mean a rapidly approaching career in the fast food or pizza-delivery business, James is on his third album now and it pretty much proves that he made the right move.

To Raise an Army for Love evokes a kind of Death Cab for Cutie-Ben Folds Five vibe, particularly on the intro track “Poetry and Mix Cassettes,” which makes excellent use of James full-bodied vocals and light guitar-licks (also probably helped that he had Grammy winning producer John Seymore from U2, Dave Mathews Band, etc.).

With help from Bobby Lynch (piano) and Rob Struck (bass), James has produced a far more adult and compelling form of love song than the average mid-20’s musician, particularly on tracks like the lush and magical “Don’t Know What I Saw in You”. He does stumble a little bit on “So Long”, which has a rather annoying keyboard track, but that’s a middling complaint at most.

Really, the worst thing here is that at just five songs the album ends right when you get into it, but you can get the first two CDs at a cheap price on www.cdbaby.com (a website that has happily taken the “industry” out of the “music industry”). —Brandon Whitehead (posted 05/30/08)

Thomas Henkelmann

There are times when (not only as a critic but as regular human being) a certain CD comes across the desk that actually defies any simple description whatsoever: it’s not exactly bad, not exactly good, it’s just, well, just, uh, what’s the word, um — you get the picture. That being said, this review will now attempt to do the impossible: to explain one such album, in the form of Thomas Henkelmann’s Greenwich.

First of all, Thomas Henkelmann is not a musician: he is a cook (apparently a very good one, but until restaurants start mailing food to the mighty eKC offices this space is staying a music review…).

The twelve “world music” tracks here are by twelve different groups, many of which are listed as “DJ” such-and-such, which means they didn’t write so much as sample other people’s work, and apparently Mr. Henkelmann didn’t even pick these songs, but rather they were picked for him by Felix Cutillo and Miles Carroll as a mix tape for Henkelmann’s self-named restaurant. Got that?

The music itself is that weird compilation of ethereal Arabic wails with a techno-beat background that comes on public radio at three in the morning, promising “relaxation and tranquility” (that means it puts you to sleep, the ultimate goal of all musicians) on, like, fifteen minute long tracks. Each song gives a credit to somebody like “Living Theater featuring Erica Jennings (Tracy Young remix),” which is already confusing halfway through all that (and still nobody knows who wrote the damn song!). In fact the inside of the liner notes is filled halfway up with type in like a .2 font size in an attempt to shoehorn all the credits in here, which looks more like a legal document than the standard shout-out to be frank.

It’s not that this is a bad CD, it’s just that, well…why? What’s the point of listening to euro-hip restaurant music if you don’t a least get something to eat (they should send them out with a cookie: cookies this critic understands!).—Brandon Whitehead (posted 05/23/08)

please, ambitious, please

Comparing the four-member Denver pop/indie band Fiancé to other contemporary music-makers would seem to be a little unfair. As this critic has clearly stated his opinion on most of the popular music scene (it sucks), you should think that few others would dare such astute criticism. But somehow these guys still manage to pull off a mighty fine Pop album (holy crap, who wrote that!?).

Their cover art is pretentious, that “Thirdster” photo of them (“Thirdster”: wishy-washy thirty-something guys who dress like they’re still twenty-year old hipsters. See also under “The Architects”. All Rights Pending 2008.) in the back of an old car is annoying, and the music…well, damn.

The music turns out to be both intoxicating and surprisingly mature, blending Ben Folds Five with the likes of And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead (which happens to be one of the best bands to come along in several years — their live show will quite simply blow your head off).

And guess what: they do it with just five songs! You can’t release an album with just five songs…can you? Well, if they should have waited for more, we’ll never know…but songs like the lead off “Super-soft Knife” and the beautiful and eerie “Quiet Things” should not have to wait for others.

The group (Patrick McGuire with piano and vocals, Michael James on guitar and vocals, Tyler Reschke on bass and Chris Sturniolo on the Skins) has some lyrics that at times become positively Ferlinghettian. Take this line from “Twenty-something”:

I am sweating bullets in the shade,
I’m drinking whisky on the morning of your wedding day,
I think I’m weightless now
so I’m gonna sing Hallelujah the ship is going down

At a time when most pop music is spun from a rather threadbare and worn plot, Fiancé has woven a fantastic tapestry of music: please, ambitious, please is simply one of the best pop albums this year that you won’t hear on Top-40 radio, bar none. Luckily for KC, they make their way to The Brick June 19 — call for times, no marriage required. —Brandon Whitehead (posted 05/02/08)

Brandon Whitehead can be contacted at kinginyellow@juno.com.

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