All Ports in Frequent Seas Album reviews.
Release Date: 1996 Web homepage
Record label: Teenage USA
Off the Starboard Bow
by: mark feldman
Smallmouth, recording on the Teenage USA label in Toronto (obvious question here, don't ask, I don't know either), have three big things going for them. One, they've got a name only two letters away from Smashmouth, who they sound nothing like. Two, they've got a cool album cover. Three, they've got great song titles - who wouldn't be curious to hear what "Place of Satisfying Eating," "Grapes of Math" and "I Always See People Leaving" sound like?
Oh yes, the music. it's not bad, if you like this sort of thing. The sound is very '"lo-fi," as in the tactful term often used for bands who can't keep their guitars in tune and write lyrics so indecipherable they make Michael Stipe seem like Ernest Hemmingway. But in spite of how easy it is to be skeptical about this genre of indie-rock, it can also be fascinating to hear a few regular guys just messing around with their instruments and having fun. Some of the greatest albums of all time came from homespun jam sessions such as this one, and although this doesn't quite qualify in that category, this CD can be very enjoyable for those who like the avant-garde noodlings of Pavement, Guided By Voices, and the like. "Good Morning Your Highness" is like nothing we've ever heard, a hypnotic tape loop with chirping birds and well-placed interruptions. "Red Sparkle Rogers" is the closest thing Smallmouth gets to tuneful and shows that they can be a tightly-knit band if they want to. The middle section of the album, in which it is difficult to determine exactly where one "song" starts and the previous one ends, is sort of a Guided By Voices meets King Crimson jam that takes the listener on a journey through several different musical themes, gradually evolving from a hushed acoustic start to a screaming middle, back to a whisper; progressive lo-fi!
Smallmouth is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for anyone who likes to sing along to their music. But if you don't mind guitars out of tune and want to impress your friends by knowing more obscure bands than they do, you could do a whole lot worse.
REM continues to pump out quality work. They have been doing it for almost two decades now, and even with the loss of a beloved member, they continue to amaze me. Up is definitely one of the highlight albums of the year. Most critics agree with me on this, although as far as I can tell, the CD is not doing too well in stores. Help out these hometown boys from Athens, GA. They deserve it, and besides, you will pick up an excellent piece of artistry along the way.