Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

DECEMBER 22, 1997: 

Treadmill Trackstar Only This (Atlantic/Breaking Records)

Only This, the debut from the Columbia, South Carolina-quartet Treadmill Trackstar, was recorded here in Memphis at Ardent Studios for Hootie and the Blowfish’s new label, Breaking Records. The CD is flawed but promising.

At their best, Treadmill Trackstar evoke a sound approaching the intricacy of Camper Van Beethoven, but at their worst they sound like every other fashionably scruffy post-adolescent band who grew up believing that Seattle is the center of the universe, and who’ve been touring instead of having a life for the last few years.

The album suffers from the usual maladies that befall ’90s rock bands. Lyrics and delivery are somewhat narcissistic and humorless. Then there’s the all-too-common curse of the jam that won’t die (too much Phish or Colonel Bruce in their formative years, perhaps?). And very good songs like “Rattles,” an upbeat slice of nasty pop, would be just right if some prudent person would snip off the last few minutes of extraneous tinkering. There’s the usual tendency to blow out the speakers on a few choruses as well. Fortunately, though, only a handful of tracks are spoiled by these excesses, and some great songs and musicianship rescue the CD.

Treadmill Trackstar

“Walking With Madeline” features a fugue-like interplay of cello, guitar, and bass. Cellist Katie Hamilton alternately curbs and cajoles Angelo Gianni’s expressive guitar work on this and other tracks, including the delicate acoustic cut, “Honor Medals.” That song is nicely offset by the swamp-rock undertone of “Leech Boys,” with its staccato machine-gun guitar. The menacing cello of “N.A.G.” blends well with its Alice In Chains angst-mired harmonies and lyrics, while the luminous “Saturate” contains faint echoes of Nick Drake’s classic, Bryter Layter.

Despite a few glitches, Only This is a sturdy beginning from a talented foursome, and some tighter production reins on their second outing may yield more consistent results. – Lisa Lumb

Robert Fripp Soundscapes – Live At Greenpark Station (Discipline Global Mobile)

I suppose this album’s primary function would best be described as “music to gaze at one’s navel by.” And I intend for that to be understood as a compliment – I sincerely believe that a widespread outbreak of intense navel-gazing would do all of us a world of good.

The enchanting music featured on this disc extends and expands the methods of “Frippertronics” created 25 years ago by Brian Eno and dutifully developed by Fripp as his chief vehicle for solo performance ever since. (Frippertronics involves the utilization of electronic equipment which allows the guitarist/synth-guitarist to first create repeated musical passages or “loops,” and then play along with those passages in real time.)

This type of music invites you to engage it on a very personal level. It’s unabashedly cerebral and contemplative. The looped aspects lend a certain minimalism to the proceedings, but these Soundscapes are not structured with the rigidity most often associated with music from such notable minamalists as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams, et al. Instead, there is a constant fluidity, the sound of stunningly beautiful fractals endlessly generating new stunningly beautiful fractals … spacious, yet finely detailed.

This album was recorded live (although there are no crowd sounds – the music we hear is that which was fed directly to a recorder at the moment of performance). Fripp and a couple of confederates set up his equipment on the platform of a defunct British railway station which had long ago been converted into a crafts market/grocery. Except for the placement of a few posters around the station announcing the event, the performance was not advertised. Basically, he just plugged in and forged ahead. This CD is a distillation of what turned out to be a three-hour performance.

Those not familiar with the power of the equipment used and the prowess of the performer employing the equipment will have a hard time believing that Greenpark Station represents the efforts of just one guy playing live. Swelling synth chords float past clanking tuned percussion samples and pre-sequenced flourishes, intermingling with trancy drones and ghostly whispers within an ever-shifting ether. (For lack of a better description, you dig?)

A few years ago Fripp launched Discipline Global Mobile, a small label enthusiastically dedicated to the presentation of music that might otherwise get lost in the commercial shuffle. Thoroughly disdainful of the monolithic music industry, he hopes to “operate in the marketplace while being free of the values of the marketplace.” Which values might those be? “The history of the music industry,” says Fripp, “is a history of exploitation and theft.”

Go get ’em, Bob. – Stephen Grimstead

(This CD is available by mail-order only. Send $15.50 to Possible Productions, P.O. Box 5282, Beverly Hills, CA 90209. Or call the order line: 213-937-3194.)

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