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  Listen Up! 5/28/03 Listen Up!

Wednesday, May 28

The Thorns, “The Thorns,” Aware Records. Either you’ve been awaiting the result of this collaboration between Matthew Sweet, Shawn Mullins, and Pete Droge, or you won’t care no matter what it sounds like. And, sadly, I’ve been awaiting it, and I still don’t care. Scariano calls them a post-modern Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but they don’t have the inventiveness that implies. Yes, this record sounds pretty, and yes, some of the songs are melodically rich enough to live up to the prettiness. But, CSN were never this simple, nor this saccharine. Any one of these guys could have offered up some Stephen Stills-level bite (let alone a hint of Neil Young tearing the formula apart), but they chose to sublimate their individual personalities completely. The Thorns cover the Jayhawks classic “Blue,” and they don’t begin to capture the gorgeous complexity of the original; that should have been a no-brainer for guys with this level of talent.

Phantom Tollbooth, “Beard of Lightning,” Off Records. Go figure. One of the worst bands of the 80s, long and justifiably forgotten, reissues the crap record from fifteen years ago with new vocals provided by Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices fame. We’re supposed to care about this because . . . I really can’t begin to figure it out. This new version sounds exactly the same as the old version, because the vocals are irrelevant. The guitars, bass, and drums think they’re doing some sort of free jazz version of rock, but, while they do manage to individually achieve something, putting them together creates a harmonic and rhythmic sludge. Hindsight tells me these guys were more influential than I would ever have given them credit back in the day, but that influence has been in the anti-pop field of math rock, at its least memorable end.

--Steve Pick

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