Monday, September 17, 2012

Review - 100 Watt Smile - and reason flew

What a great album! This is probably the first unexpected find of my music reviewing career, when unsolicited albums started showing up at my door. I ended up reviewing almost anything this label sent me for years and then they switched to some form of jazz. This band led me to find out about Ed's Redeeming Qualities and I'm so sleep deprived right now I could play cards with a moose. Or put on some headphones and take this delicately detailed album for a spin!

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The pop sensibilities of Blondie, Fleetwood Mac and Cheap Trick, post-grunge rhythms with a dollop of Zeppelin, surreal and challenging lyrics, a dash of classical music, all mixed into a wild miasma of melodic energy, topped with breathy sugar-vocals. Vocalist/violinist Carrie Bradley brings her love of classical music and a masters degree in fiction writing into sharp focus with this guitar-based band, creating songs that shift elegantly from Breeders/Pixies-pop to intricate rock arrangements that only reveal their complexity with repeated listens. One of the many exciting aspects of this band is their use of the violin, making it an equal player with the guitars instead of the usual afterthought. This expressive instrument can turn from beautiful, legato melodies to a snarling banshee in a heartbeat, even rounding out the song "Face on Your Head" with an aggressive, feedback-laden solo as good as any guitar. Other classical influences include their mastery of dynamics, taking songs from soft to loud and back again with greater skill than I have previously found in rock music.

Each band member is a first rate musician, handling the unpredictable yet natural music with ease. While I have so far concentrated on the technical aspect of this band, their music is not cold, intellectual progressive rock made for other musicians to admire. The music is warm and inviting, the vocals tauntingly seductive. To say that the melodies have strong hooks is an understatement. For instance, I woke up this morning with one of their songs in my head, a song that I had listened to about eighteen hours before. These songs not only knock around the skull for a while but they take up residence and start picking out drapes!

"Birthmark", one of my early favorites, has a big rock groove and a powerful candy chorus with a symphonic theme that is tossed between the guitars and violin. Lyrics such as "Hard packed heads planted legs straight up/We grow in place like plastic vines/ Scalp your pass to the millennium/ For fifteen bucks and change" make the title track resound with the weariness of a resigned existence. The peppy "If You Won't Too" is backed by a Beatles beat and lines like "Run over me slowly/ For the moment I am breathing." Other songs discuss life, sex, death, and love with poetic insight, all backed by the same unparalleled music. Check them out for yourself at or for what is easily one of the freshest, most creative albums I've heard in years!

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, November 1999.

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