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August 2, 2002

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All-Time Quarterback

All-Time Quarterback

Barsuk Records

Ben Gibbard, best known as the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie, recorded the eleven songs on this album as a solo project during one of the group's slack periods back in 1999.This album is in fact a compilation of two EPs previously released on Elsinor Records: The Envelop Sessions, which Gibbard recorded live to a Walkman with just his acoustic guitar for accompaniment, and the ¡All-Time Quarterback! EP, which he recorded in a studio in Bellingham, Washington and released shortly after The Envelop Sessions. One can easily notice the absence of Christopher Walla's glossy production, one of the true pleasures of Death Cab for Cutie. Two things, however, keep this CD from being an exercise in self-indulgence. First, the songwriting is impeccable, and Gibbard's ability to toss out with complete ease the type of hooks that stay in your head for weeks loses nothing without a backing band. Second, Ben Gibbard is fortunate to have one of the best voices in independent music, allowing him to put his vocal melodies front and center and somehow become more commanding in the process. The result is a series of nearly perfect two-minute pop melodies, including the bizarre and disarming opener, "Plans Get Complex," which tells the story of a ring of adolescent burglars, and "Sock Hop," a nostalgic ode to teenage love that does not contain a single trace of irony. While his cover of the Magnetic Fields' "Why I Cry" doesn't do anything different from the original, it at least shows that Gibbard knows how to work with good source material. The CD is really a soft sell: it clocks in at just over 27 minutes, and it's more about having fun making music than it is about trying to make a statement with that music. Even those who are not already fans of Death Cab for Cutie can appreciate someone whose dedication to making good music allows him to do it without a publicist, without a major distribution deal, without up-front financing, and without his own bandmates. No one can hope to establish more indie cred than that.

--Tom Zimpleman

Tango

@Grant Park

July 24

After the Tango concert at Grant Park on Wednesday the 24th, I couldn't agree more with the host's remark, "This evening Chicago shares with you the best Tango artists of the world." Performing on the same stage, in Chicago, was Juan Jose Moalini, considered THE number one bandoneon player of the world and Susana Rinaldi, the most important female singer in the history of tango. Needless to say, the concert was absolutely spectacular. In a low, deep voice, with a few gestures here and there, Rinaldi brought the music pieces of Piazzolla and Ferrer to life. I was captured by her singing; I watched her attentively as my skin turned into goosebumps. The second she stopped singing the audience went into an uproar…Bravo! Bravo! Otra! I think we all felt transported to a little crowded bar in Argentina. The last piece of the concert was a Concierto para Bandoneon, also by Piazzolla. It really highlighted Mosalini's talent. Sitting next to the conductor, Federico Garcia Vigil (also a world famous Maestro), Mosalini smiled as he let his fingers go wild. You could see how much he enjoyed performing the parts of Piazzolla, his master and friend. In short, the Tango concert has been one of the greatest I've seen (and I have been to Argentina) and it was free, too!

Even if you don't like Tango music that much, you would have enjoyed the dancers, who were also fantastic!

--Veronica Guzman

Black Licorice

Convoy

Hybrid

Something is definitely happening to me. Five years ago, this disc wouldn't have lasted five minutes in my player. But now, it's getting a second and, perhaps maybe when I'm done, a third spin. Convoy hail from San Diego, CA and they play a distinctly uncool brand of rock n' roll—crunchy guitar with traces of country mixed with Beach Boys-styled harmonies. It looks like a mess in principle and it doesn't come out much more coherently in execution, but nonetheless, there's something oddly endearing about the way these boys convey their sloppiness. Because even when they're totally off the mark, they're really good at hiding their embarrassment—or maybe they're just too dumb to notice. Either way, there's no denying the insistence of songs like "Gone So Quick Tomorrow" and "Caught Up in You." They're both quality radio singles and, incidentally, word has it that Q101 recently added one of those songs to their rotation. If so, Convoy is officially the best thing on Q101, aside from the new garage bands.

These SoCal rockers do lose major hipster points for including a photograph of their record collection in the liner notes (never seen that before!) and for having the gall to prominently display the albums that Black Licorice owes its existence to (as if those weren't apparent enough by song two). But I'll be damned if Convoy don't overcome their manifold limitations to pull off a modestly winning album. Or maybe I'm just getting soft with age.

--Jon Garrett

There Are No New Clouds

Ides of Space

Better Looking

This is one of those discs that I liked okay at the start, primarily because it reminded me of my favorite bands. Ides of Space conjure up a pleasant fusion of Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine-informed guitar noise. But the more I listened, the more it sounded like a vacuous tribute. These ideas were stale as of ten years ago, and even more so today. While perhaps they can be partly excused due to the fact that they're Australian (late 80s American indie rock and early 90s shoegazing may just finally be making their way down under), I pity the poor fool in the States that picks this disc up based on the comparisons to the aforementioned greats.

What's really missing is the sense of adventure that Dinosaur Jr. or MBV brought to their respective genres. Whereas those groups accidentally birthed an entire movement thanks to their relentless creativity, Ides of Space sound like they're hemmed in by precedent—as if they're afraid of straying too far from the boundaries set by their forebears. Of course, the real tragedy will be if this album catches on with the long dormant fan bases of Mr. Mascis and Shields. Then we'll know things have really gotten desperate.

--JG