Music News

Amnesian In Athens

The members of the Athens, Georgia, band Love Tractor wish people would show more interest in their music than in the hometown company they keep.

Okay, so let's indulge them for a minute.
Let's pretend they're not from the famous underground musical town of Athens and that they aren't good friends with members of bands from that city like R.E.M. and the B-52s. We'll even forget that people from all those bands went to the University of Georgia's art school together, and that Love Tractor and R.E.M. began their careers at about the same time, somewhere around 1981. As difficult as it may be, let's also banish from our memories that R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry spent a short stint beating skins for Love Tractor.

But just when we've forgotten everything about Love Tractor's buddies, the band comes out with a new album, titled Themes From Venus, produced by none other than Mitch Easter. Try as we might, there's no denying that Easter spun the dials for the recording of R.E.M.'s landmark first LP, Murmur.

Considering Love Tractor has hired the man who helped shape R.E.M.'s sound, it might seem like the band's members have given up trying to dissociate themselves from their more famous buddies.

But keyboardist/guitarist Mark Cline swears in a recent telephone interview that Easter's R.E.M. work had nothing to do with him showing up on Themes From Venus. "We wanted him simply because he's real loose and easy to work with." Cline says Easter probably would have taken a sledgehammer to the mixing board if he had thought it would improve the sound.

A quick listen to Themes From Venus actually supports Cline's claim. The album is anything but a moody Murmur clone. Thanks undoubtedly to the production of Easter, who also plays guitar for Let's Active, Themes is chock full of postmodern, psychedelic, Southern pop melodies that come across as definitely danceable. The album contains a sound so thick that Cline claims the band even threw in the kitchen sink.

Easter must have done something right. Themes From Venus is Love Tractor's fifth and most celebrated chunk of vinyl. Cline brags that sales have been so good that the band's poor little independent DB Records label, working out of a back room in an Atlanta record store, just can't keep up with the orders.

A variety of instruments at once gives Themes spice, texture, and a sense of humor. Seagulls sing from Cline's synthesizer, lead vocalist Mike Richmond experiments with something called a frequency analyzer, and drummer Armistead Wellford even blows a bit of clarinet. Easter contributes what the credits describe as "satanic samples," and every member of the band dabbles at least a little in keyboards. Cline says stand-in saxophonist Tommy Daughtrey will cover the keys when the rest of the band is busy playing their regular instruments live.

Love Tractor's arty approach has nothing to do with its hometown, Cline says, adding that if the band "lived 60 miles south of Athens," its tunes would have remained identical. He further insists that Athens has no magical musical powers: "There's nothing in the water or anything."

Cline adds that out of all of Athens' up-and-coming bands, only a few--like Chickasaw Mudpuppies, Lotion, and the Groove Trolls--are truly "inspired." And he says Love Tractor often discourages other bands from moving to Athens. "We like to keep it safe for ourselves."

Love Tractor will perform at the Sun Club on Wednesday, June 21. Show time is 9 p.m.

Cline insists that Athens has no magical musical powers: "There's nothing in the water or anything."

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Louis Windbourne