Friday, November 11, 2005

pretty shitface

Musical Family Tree is a labor of love. Its a wonderful little website that documents and spreads the love of the Hoosier State's musical heritage. Countless mp3s from over a hundred bands from the 80s, 90s and more recent from Bloomington and Indianapolis are all available for free download. Each of these songs is linked from their site so please take some time to visit them and check out some other bands (and if you donated a few bucks that would be awesome, too).

This weekend sees the inaugural 2-day 2-city Musical Family Tree Festival here in Indiana. While most of the historical relics presented didn't make much news outside of their homestate, here they were revered and adored. One of groups that I am most looking forward to hitting the stage once again is Uvula, of which Chris Kupersmith, Tina Barbieri and Wade Parish were the core. Prior to Uvula Chris and Tina were 2/3 of Fabric, a sorta precurssor that was loaded heavily with drum machines and electronic noise. Fabric was a fringe favorite of the Bloomington scene -- actually, despised by most due to their often chaotic shows (aka, disfucntional equipment) and artistic vision no one could wrap that tiny minds around. Though by the time of their last performance, which was actually after the birth of Uvula, everyone was sucking from their teet. (Fabric's sole album Woolly Mammoth came out in '97 on Scrimshaw and only then did people feel like they should pay 'em more attention. Too bad they'd already broken up. This review from then shares the same sentiment.)

Yet once Uvula was their full concern, it always seemed to be on the verge of breakup. An upstart label called Down Right Records (which was co-ran by a guy who once wrote in the college rag that Chris' vocals sounded like a cat being drowned) issued their official album About What You'd Expect in October 2001 and then prompty shut down before the album had a chance to get out into the world. A total crime. An early version of the album, with a few extra songs, called Smarm is also on the MFT site.

All 15 songs on About What You'd Expect are gorgeous in their male/female harmonies and that you can find something that doesn't sound quite right and which makes it damn-right pop genuis. You'll see what I mean. Recorded by Vess Ruthenberg (The Pieces, United States Three), it also featured a nice swath of local all-star/legends like John Terrill (Dancing Cigarettes , The Walking Ruins, Tea Cup), and Lon Paul Ellrich (Winechuggers, Marmoset, Sardina). James Grillo too -- what happened to that guy? The album title is kinda a joke -- it took these folks 18 months to record this monster. Which could be why Chris is credited with "guilty" along with his vocal/guitar duties. Tina takes "sorry."

They didn't get nearly the consideration they deserved, with only a couple of reviews still existing online. Like this one over at the wonderful and soon to be departed Splendid. A snippet:

When records with this much wit and effortless, hyperactive sparkle emerge from the piles of easily written-about and easily categorized discs that accumulate in music mag offices across the country, critics foam at the mouth and then whimper helplessly at how great it all sounds with comparison-laden glaze, much like the last three paragraphs you've read. So, in summary: Uvula play acoustic guitars, write great songs, and About What You'd Expect is full of them. Anything else I might say pales in comparison.

In order to truly beat the point to death about how much we like Uvula's only official album, we now present to you a track-by-track dual review from your pals at JFAD.

01 - Uvula - Aloha

h: a great opening track cuz its a standard Uvula song. stripped down, wonderfully harmonized, perfectly askew

e: Chris' lyrics eschew the silver lining for more of a rotten outlook that initself holds the silver lining. Without a doubt one of the best Hoosier lyricists, knocking down folks like Jake Smith and Jason Molina with simple ease. I often never know what he is talking about but it feels right: "Your elbow vacation is on the arm of your chair / and you don't even care / you don't care about your hair / and the cost of a phony flower means aloha / aloha."

02 - Uvula - Kicking Heel

h: clap along now. these are the kinds of people you hope show up at your party with their guitars. and where on earth do they find so many melodies? and what better place for the first chorus than the last 30 seconds of a 3 minute song?

e: Love the opening, "Sucker punch for lunch / felt much better." Chris strikes back and wraps it up in this proto-T-Rex stomp. "Scott was my friend until I screwed him / pulled the rug from under him / he was drunk seething."

03 - Uvula - Turbulent

h: damn they sound kinda pissed off. I really need a lyric sheet after all these years. alternating between a bile crust and sugary sweet insides. and I love the lines that welcome the listener to scream along...

e: Yeah, Tina and Chris either sound like they are cuddling up together or getting ready to drag it out in the street. Pissed for sure. "You had me when I was healthy / you watched me / You got me filthy." Hell yeah! I used to dream that all of these songs were true-life tales, but whenever I'd ask Chris, he either lie to my face or be like, "you thought the song was about that? Nope." Swarm version is a tad bit grittier.

04 - Uvula - King of the Echo People

h: Tina has the lead vocal here and she sings right in your ear. this could very well be the theme song of MFT: "you are important, and under-rated / I will remember you when you're gone."

e: When I wrote a cover story on the band for the Bloomington Indepedent, those lyrics were used as the the last line. Somehow, the song seemed to cast a spell on them. While there is some frantic folk chopping in the Uvula catalog, this is most twang they go toward.

05 - Uvula - Pretty Shitface

h: classic. a gritty drum program and tambourine. late drunken bloomington summer nights. so weird with its bathroom lyrics.

e: This is song sums up the quintessential Bloomington experience. Wonderfully mangled in 4-track style, with odd hiss, bells, and ambience streaming below the song, with a few drums parts spliced together. I kinda dig the 'demo' version on Swarm more, as the rough edges seem to show more. The beauty of most Uvula songs is the multiple parts, whether in the chours/lyrics or just the total shift in music. A hot-ass tale about drinking, droppin acid and being out way too late.

06 - Uvula - D-E-M-O-N-S

h: ok for the longest time I never realised that they were spelling out DEMONS, I guess I dont know how to read. and I love the big guitars and bratty na-na-na. "neven been hurt by a man so evil / all his girlfriends are now lesbians." damn.

e: Tina takes no prisoners here.

07 - Uvula - My Car

h: a song about having a flat tire and not wanting to do anything about it. how very midwest. may as well be on blocks eh? love the big echo.

e: Used to think this was too silly, but then grew to think the song is more about Chris just not wanting to deal with the bullshit of life. "Is this just laziness? / Or some kind of premonition." Nice shakers!

08 - Uvula - Suspense

h: another Tina song. this one stomps along. a tune about not knowing what is going on with another. am I cooooold? certainly not.

e: They could have easily dipped all their songs in the battered three-dimensional view, but taking some as just simple guitar strum/gallop drum with minimal lead guitar overdub makes the album feel so much like a lovely pillow for a sleepy head.

09 - Uvula - Miseries of Neutrality

h: perhaps the most broken song. somehow it works. if you don't like this song wait til the ending for the big payoff. rock and roll's on fire! what possesses us to write these blogs?

e: Yeah, this is almost like a free verse jam on Chris' part. Wobbly as all get-out and brimmed with odes to Chris' faves (Mick Fleetwood, Lou Reed, J.Richmond) to which he asks the question: "I think all of the avenues are sunk / and rock n' roll is on fire / I am depressed/ What posses you to write those songs?" I also believe this song was the source for the MFT web site name.

10 - Uvula - Momcat

h: porch-swing cat song. a genre unto itself. everyone with a cat and an acoustic has one, admit it.

e: Gettin high in the Midwest sun and watchin the cats play like they do. Though that rotten lining does creep in: "What am I to you? / Just a subject of a sentence?"

11 - Uvula - Weekend Gone

h: weekends go by too quick. especially when your cutie is miles away and you only see each other then.

e: True that!

12 - Uvula - Vocal Style

h: I think this was a "single"? once you spend so much time with someone you start to pick up their little things. and you love every second of it.

e: Again, Chris really slays with the intricacies of relationships -- whether in sickness or in health. It is heart breaker, but I can't stop listening. "Yes we have problems / our heroes have got stuck." And there is the great mid point break: "But I love you and public TV / or the time we connected the dots and [insert guitar solo]."

13 - Uvula - Ostrich

h: I never understood why splendid used this song as the snippet. its a fine song but rather flat compared to the rest of the album. no hands, look ma!

e: Hate to say it, but if a track was to be left off, I wouldn't miss this one. Can't believe I said that, but the other songs outweigh it in heavy manner. "Eyeballs" from the Swarm session would be a fine replacement.

14- Uvula - Drunk and Naked

h: drunk and naked. once everyone sees you for what you really are. I imagine this as the first encore. everyone cries, everyone hugs. thank you, goodnight.

e: This really feels like 'end of album -- we made it!' type-song. And I bet that is how Uvula felt with this record -- it took them 18 months to record it! Everyone is tried and just know the world is gonna end -- bring it on! "Where were you on the night / of the collapse of the summer / how much did you buy / how much did you discover?"

15 - Uvula - Yawning Dog

h: but its not goodnight! its time to lift the spirits and get you to drunken dance again. when everything becomes too comfortable and calm and you realise that those imperfections are what make things perfect. the outro answering machine moodswing piece is a perfect representation of this sadly gone time and sadly gone band.

e: "Cause life is too peaceful here / and peacefulness is queer." Always seem to hit my long-distance drive destinations when this track comes on. Electronics bring back the Fabric vibe, which is always good in my book. Great vocal tag-team/combo by C & T. "Well it's a crippling feeling / cause life is too peaceful here / it is too close to sincere / and where is the blue horizon in a town without a sound? / sneakers to a pond / lasers on the lawn / well how in the world can we feel pain in utopia?" Why does it have to end? It doesn't! A few extra snippets of C & T on the answering machine and acoustic bit brings the disc to a close...


At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great review of one of my favorite albums! I am very happy it is starting to get some much needed exposure. Hopefully Uvula will continue playing and eventually record a follow up to this masterpiece. They were amazing at the MFT show on Saturday.

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Cohen said...

nice piece, guys. i was one of the three co-owners of Downright (although i don't recall ever describing Chris' vocals the way you mentioned). without going into details, there's no question we regret that "About What You'd Expect" did not reach a wider audience. just last week, i sent Chris our remaining stock of the discs in the hope that they will finally be widely available in bloomington and indianapolis for more people to enjoy.


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