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To Spirit Back the Mews 
Artist: Various Artists 
Label: Asthmatic Kitty Records (independent) 
Length:  79:49, 37 tracks 

"You remember that gum you liked," sung by Jason Brouwer, is the apt introductory line for this creative, if quirky collection.  This introductory jingle, proclaiming the glory of gum, was my first exposure to barber shop quartet/electronica fusion.  Speaking of gum, I don't remember ever liking it in any shape or form, just the prizes inside--like those Monkees trading cards and the bubble gum comic strips.  Then there was the gum we all shunned--the dreaded ABC gum.  That stood for Already Bin Chewed.  Much of the music on contemporary radio is like ABC gum.  But, sophisticated listeners are not like cows, responding to anything "ABC" with glee.  The response of such refined listeners to most top 40 tunes is more like "Bin there. Chewed that."  If you're one of the musical cognoscente in search of a fresh stick of gum, you'll find it in To Spirit Back the Mews.  On this rare collection, you will discover a welcome alternative to the egregious efflux of bubble gum pop that, heretofore, has defined the first decade of a new musical millennium.    

Admittedly, some may respond to this unorthodox compilation with the question, "What were they on when they recorded this?"  Recovering Deadheads, dreadlocked Rastafarian reggae enthusiasts, ecstatic rave wastrels, or those of us more formally educated on the effects of specific drugs, may fallaciously conclude that the drug of choice in this case either heroine, ecstasy, or LSD, or some hallucinogenic cocktail featuring a coagulation of all three.  But these artists are not Berkeley burn-outs or acid-intoxicated Deadheads.  They have taken the high road without the "aid" of any particular extraneous substance.   There's is the road to artistic ingenuity.   

The artistic approach reflected on this compilation shares a distinct verisimilitude with free association, the cathartic psychoanalytic technique introduced by Sigmund Freud in the early twentieth century.  During the course of free association, patients would be encouraged to utter whatever came to mind, regardless of how silly, embarrassing, or irrelevant it seemed.  In encouraging this steady stream of thought to emerge uncensored, Freud was able to achieve his goal of bringing unconscious material into consciousness, where it could be closely examined from a clinical perspective.    

Free association allows psychologists to gain access to realms of unconscious thought that would otherwise be off limits.  Furthermore, free association in the form of music can be an even more powerful variation of this method of treatment.  However, the raw, spontaneous, unconscious material that emerges from such a cathartic musical experience, while therapeutic for the performer, may not always be valued or appreciated as such by the listener.   

In the case of _To Spirit Back the Mews_ listeners (especially those intolerant of ambiguity) may find themselves lost in an inscrutable abyss of the unconscious minds of these artists.  They may long for an anchor to provide them with a sense of structure.  They may be so overwhelmed by the drifting nature of this compilation that they miss many rare moments in which artists are in rare form.  Like the young British tourist who appeared with me on the Cake music video for Short Skirt/Long Jacket (pardon the plug), they may "miss the rising action." 

Such a silver lining encompasses Half-handed Cloud, a band whose sounds are found in all the unusual places--a band whose music is a sandbox where the soul builds the most majestic castles.  Roman Bolks reaches for the same heights using unconventional instruments in unconventional ways.  His lyrics on "My Father Fits Like a Dirty Shirt," deftly showcase his consummate skills as a songwriter.  For reasons most obvious to those of my ilk, it also makes a great study piece, especially for Freudian-schooled shrinks.   

Steven's contribution fits more like a space suit than a dirty shirt.  His work is simply out of this world.  "On The First Full Moon," Sufjan Stevens surfs with Saturnian style on a blanket of stars and a distorted guitar "leading" to the planet Mars.  His Martian-styled vocal and instrument arrangements recall Klaatu, the fly-by-night, one-hit-wonder pop sensation that released the single, "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" in the mid-seventies.  After The Carpenters covered their wonderful one hit, they vanished from the planet faster than a flying saucer.  However, the comparison to Klaatu should be considered a distinct honor.  After all, it was rumored that Klaatu was actually The Beatles incognito. 

Speaking of the Beatles, allow me to introduce Jason Brouer's "Run Me Out of Town."  He would have made a great 5th Beatle.  "Run Me Out of Town" is the sunniest spot on the CD and a song I can really warm up to.  The folksy, rich acoustic guitar arpeggios serve as a pleasing backdrop to an intriguingly melodic, melancholic vocal arrangement. The lyrics burn with intensity, allowing the listener to intimately bask in writer's banishment: "No time to sleep, no time to fall/runnin' faster than before/out the bed and through the door/runnin' faster than before/they've run me out of town."  Suddenly (and somewhat sullenly) electronic chimes chime in.  They create a warm, gently inviting ambiance, every bit as pleasing as the voice of Daniel Sisco on some of his more recent releases, including "Handful of Dirt."    

Matthew Haseltine manages to create a decidedly deft classical and folk fusion that makes his guitar shine with scintillating, gently elevating glory on "Christian Boltansky Takes Down His Christmas Tree."  And who can forget the guitar sapient guitar skills of Christian Boltanski?  Royal City combines a slacker sound with dream-like, surrealistic images (some that you'd rather not conjure up), recalling Beck.  Though cleverly combined, many of these images are too subjective and abstruse for the average listener to appreciate.  And, although Liz Janes is one of the most innovative rising stars on this collection, she too occasionally falls into the same esoteric pit.   

There is plenty of room for praise on To Spirit Back the Mews.  However, part of the room is cluttered with gratuitous fillers and laden with lyrics and musical phrasing so singular and subjective in nature that they contribute to what Christian philosopher Paul Tillich once referred to as the "anxiety of meaninglessness."  While free association is often the mother of invention, she has her limits as a form of musical expression.  Most of the artists featured on To Spirit Back the Mews are backed by both spirit and muse.  They possess the spark and the raw, electric energy to create a lasting impression.  Plug their music into a ground wire, and the electricity will flow all the more efficiently. 

A shrink-rapped review by Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, 
a.k.a. Dr. B. L. T., The Song Shrinkin' Rock Doc 4/5/2002


 
 
 
 

 

   
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