Ringo Deathstarr, Built by Snow, Jana Hunter, and Brazos
Reviewed by Audra Schroeder, Fri., Oct. 19, 2007
Ringo Deathstarr's superb debut EP (SVC Records) is instant gratification for early-Nineties noise pop. Right from the gummy guitar of opener "Swirly" – its gorgeous, looped midsection could be a lost track from MBV's Loveless – the local fourpiece wears its influences smartly. Guitarist/singer Elliott Frazier's voice flows low and come-hither, adding to the narcotic fuzz of "Down on You" and "Starrsha," and at five songs, the EP leaves you wanting more. Continuing in the alternative nation, Built by Snow makes no bones about the whole nerd-rock thing. The cover of the Austin quartet's debut, Noise, reads, "Rock music for smart kids, weird kids, rocket scientists, and NASA engineers," and songs like "Drag Away" long for the black-rimmed bands of the early Nineties, anchored by buzzy synth. The vocals get a little too whoa-oh-oh-y, but there's promise in the hooks. Jana Hunter, now of Baltimore, has been quite prolific this year. Her Carrion EP (Gnomonsong) collects demos and outtakes from this year's There's No Home LP, recorded in Houston. Elegiac opener "Paint a Babe" crystallizes Hunter's voice, which seems to be maturing, and stretches through the six songs in waves of more folky melody and harmony, though a couple of the tracks feel picked bone-dry. Similarly naturalistic, singer-songwriter Martin Crane's debut as Brazos, A City Just as Tall (Autobus), is an exciting revelation. Backed by Nathaniel Stein (Tacks, the Boy Disaster), Paul Price, and Esteban Cruz (the Early Tapes), the former Tonewheel Collective multi-instrumentalist strings together five songs of moody blues. "Comatose" is a delightful example, as is the seductive slink of "Mrs. Virginia," and it's the expert balance of piano folk with dark pop that ultimately allows the tail end of "Satellite" to rip the EP open.