Maybe it's the Decembral thinning of the desert air, or maybe I just can't handle my Mickey's Big Mouth the way I used to . . . but whatever it is, these three EPs are going a long way toward buoying my spirits through the cold winter weeks, and so I'm recommending them to those among you who suffer from seasonal depression around this time each year.
Get away from me with that straitjacket. I'm trying to tell you that Dressy Bessy is a Denver-based band whose The California EP is a hilarious send-up of all that fun-fun-fun, sock-hop hamburger-stand foolishness that is, at least along one trajectory, the excruciating legacy of California pop. Tammy Ealom's voice careens and bubbles all through the disc on songs like "California," "Hangout Wonderful" and "In the Morning," the guitars jangle and arpeggio on every track, and the sheer unrestrained joy on this disc -- no ballads, no downshifting, just five straight sunshiny ditties -- sends a boot up the ass of the winter doldrums, in a really friendly way.
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Occasionally, the exuberance threatens to overshadow the simple conceit of the record, and every now and then Ealom's voice is way off pitch, but even these moments come off like a consciously hyperactive parroting of bright West Coast girl-band pop, and in the end I don't even care whether it's meant as a straight-up homage or a clever evisceration, either of which The California EP might actually be. Whenever I hear Dressy Bessy's surf's-up cuts, I think about Denver buried under 16 feet of snowdrifts, and the weirdness of it all hits me, and I laugh until my sides hurt. Sum of comment: Great record.
Crunchier than Dressy Bessy is Philadelphia-by-way-of-Boston musician Kurt Heasley, whose studio project Lilys recently dropped Selected, a five-song disc of unreleased or much-bootlegged material. The opener, "The Any Several Sundays," is a gritty but melodic number borne aloft on '60s Brit-pop electric runs (think the first incarnation of the Animals), while "Peerless," a noise-guitar workout, manages to wrap scratchy guitar work in a decidedly cohesive melody. A new version of the Heasley-penned "Touch the Water," first recorded by Apples in Stereo in 1996, submerges the vocals beneath a guitar-drum-and-backing-vocal onslaught that renders it nearly incomprehensible; but somehow the whole comes together, so that by the time you get to the chorus, "He's not a kid anymore," it seems to be all you need to know (but also check the totally unexpected atonal guitar solo, à la "I Heard Her Call My Name," near the song's end). Fuzztone guitar and high-end drums abound on this release, which is upbeat for all the right reasons, in all the right places.
And apart from having the best band name in the clutch, Austin's Silver Scooter and its goodbye EP might have the most consistent sound of these three recordings. "I want to live in another town," Scott Garred sings on the disc's title track; "I'm not original/Or even typical." Well, true on both counts. Silver Scooter's sound comes off like a kinder, gentler Vaselines, layering Garred's innocent voice with worldly lyrics, echoing guitars and a rhythm section as firm as it is understated. Running only four songs, it's short even for an EP, but each song is a tight little gem. Silver Scooter has been labeled "dork rock" for its earnest sad-sack material across two full-length albums, and goodbye EP certainly does nothing to dispel that characterization. But if nothing else, this very brief peek at its third album (The Blue Law, slated for February release) shows that the band's got more than a mopey worldview to draw from; Silver Scooter's only getting more musically competent, which means it's getting more musical, period.
Three short, sharp releases by three good bands. Maybe these aren't the end times after all.