The Music Tapes 

Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes

While the Music Tapes are associated with the Elephant 6 extended family of bands (Apples In Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, etc.), their latest Music Tapes for Clouds and Tomatoes shows little common ground with them (except perhaps for good-humored, funhouse-mirror reflections of decades-ago music).

Julian Koster founded the Music Tapes, and while his former combo Chocolate USA shared some of the Apples' and Neutral's 1960s influences (psychedelic pop), this lot embraces a different aesthetic entirely. Without any nostalgic or retro affect, Koster sets his aim on early 20th-century pop and rural music. Jug bands, ragtime, Tin Pan Alley, early jazz, hymns, boogie woogie, and Stephen Foster (okay, he's even earlier) — these make up Koster's palette for his surreal song-craft. Much of Clouds and Tornadoes is infused with a somewhat idyllic tone, evoking an America where massive and manic urbanization has yet to occur. The instrumentation, too, brings to mind contemporary masters of Americana Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and Van Dyke Parks: musical saw (an eerie, haunting tone similar to a pedal steel guitar), accordion, piano, banjo, horns, percussion, and a slightly ragged-sounding choir. (No guitars at all.)

Unfortunately, Clouds has a serious downside, namely Koster's singing. His key-free yowling makes those Violent Femmes fellows sound like the Three Tenors. Clouds and Tornadoes gets high marks as one of the most unique and interesting discs I've heard all year, but the vocals therein exemplify the concept of "acquired taste." (Merge)

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