Tag Archives: Built To Spill

Under The Radar: Welsh Rabbit

Welsh Rabbit was another band I stumbled across on those late-night “sounds like” tangents that I have been addicted to for most of my life. Back in 1991 all I was able to get my hands on was West 11th Love Letters. I wrote it up for Cosmik Debris but lost track of them soon afterwards and figured they might have been yet another band who high-fived the brass ring but didn’t grab hold.

As you can see from this CD Baby comment page, I wasn’t the only person being pleasantly surprised. It also appears like I have a fellow Tangent Monkey in the commenter who cites following a recommendation based upon his purchase of The Rosenbergs. You’ll note references to Weezer, Elvis Costello and The Beatles, although I think the Soft Boys and Big Star references more accurately pick up the dissonance they employ.

But we all agree that they’re a band worth checking out. Here are my original thoughts on that first EP…

I must admit when I heard the first few notes of “Where You Are,” I would have bet the farm that the singer would launch into “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” but it was merely a tip of the cap to the Fabs (as is the closing vocal harmony). West 11th Love Letter is a low-frills EP collection of some basic tracks laid down in vocalist/guitarist Nick Levine‘s basement. The sound is good, but more impressive is the charm of the songs; they’re amazingly strong for a first recorded document.

Somehow “Do You Want To Dance” juggles the indie cred of early REM with the hypnotic guitar work of The Edge in his prime. “My Summer Girl” and “Tonight” both have great hooks and show that the band can handle midtempo as well as power pop. Bassist Kyle Chilla, drummer Ian Campbell and keyboard player Rolf Nordhausen form a tight quarter with Levine. Overall the lead vocals are pretty good, although the harmonies are stronger; the guitars go for the jangle over the flash. For the first five tracks, anyway.

Nothing prepared me for the closing song, though. “Rollin'” is a ten-minute track that doesn’t waste a second. Somehow the pop path veers off into Neil Young meets Radiohead territory, and it works. Haunting, pulsating guitar work drives the song as the melody gains steam and the vocals build into a crescendo, tagging a minor chord to reset the mood. I know that most of their songs are now a little shorter and sharper, but this is one that I hope they keep playing at full length – it’s a stirringly emotional piece of music that few bands outside of Built To Spill can pull off well.

Looks like they are now a trio (Nick, Kyle and drummer Jordan Selman) and finally have a full-length album out called Don Quixote vs. Sancho Panza. I’ll have to grab that along with the other EP I missed, Forward Motion.

Welsh Rabbit on MySpace

Welsh Rabbit website

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Under The Radar: The Donkeys

There are just too many records to sift through.

As a result, I sometimes miss a follow-up to an album that I really liked, even though I spend a while keeping my eyes peeled for their next one. But many times there is no next one, or the stars don’t align and I miss out on it when it drops. In a perfect world I will run across it again eventually thanks to my habitual late-night web browsing, but those gaps are getting longer and longer as time goes on.

So that’s my long-winded way of telling you that The Donkeys released Living On The Other Side in 2008, and I only realized that today. So while I’m off to get that one, let me pimp you on their self-titled effort from 2006, because there’s a chance that you might not have heard either one. And I can vouch that at least one of them is a real gem.

Here’s my 2006 review from Pop Culture Press…

I almost don’t know where to start in describing the collective sound. A pinch of Wilco, a dash of Beachwood Sparks, a whisper of the first Rod Stewart album but only if played in Gram Parsons’ living room on a Sunday morning. The Donkeys, as unassuming as their moniker, quietly serve up a gumbo of bottleneck country blues, sun-drenched folk and pensive basement soul that is solidly entertaining and occasionally mesmerizing.

Four musicians from San Diego who blend perfectly; percussion that never overplays, solid bass that yangs the drummer’s yin, guitar lines that fuzz, shine and shimmer, and what can only be described as impeccable choices from the keyboard player. Beyond the sounds, unusual, challenging and dark lyrics hover, adding an ever deeper dimension.

The oddball waltz of “Paisley Patterns” might be too off-putting for some (especially with the droning lyric of “All my friends are dead” haunting the melody) but just about everything else here is pure ear-worm material. “Try To Get By” is a two-minute arm-wresting match between Bob Dylan and Neil Young. “Black Cat” is The Band reincarnated as Built To Spill. “No Need For Oxygen” is six minutes of aural beauty juxtaposed with somber lyrics, but it could have gone on six more without a complaint.

This album could be the soundtrack of your Saturday night depression, your Sunday morning sunrise coffee, or your silent road trip home after “that” weekend…your dwindling cigarette pack on the passenger seat and your life in the balance. It sounds like a cop-out when you describe a record as sounding “organic”, but when ninety percent of what comes out of your speakers is too easily categorized, records that percolate their own energy deserve a bright floodlight. Go find this wonderful record and immerse yourself. 

The Donkeys on MySpace

Donkey Buzz

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