Music » Music Features


Athens' Glands conjure indie-rock perfection.


The Glands
It's my heart that's in the right place but my head that's in the clouds," the Glands' Ross Shapiro sings on "Swim," thus summing up his band's peculiar charm. The Glands are a rare thing indeed: an Athens band that doesn't seem to be influenced by any other Athens band. They don't belong to the eclectic Elephant 6 collective, and their tight blend of pop and rock is miles removed from the loose jangle of early REM or the party-movin' workouts of the B-52s.

The band's eponymous sophomore album, released last year on Atlanta's Capricorn Records, is a glorious hodgepodge of styles, ranging from witty, intelligent pop to crunchy, guitar-driven rock to contemplative folk. It's a friendly record, one that sounds immediately familiar yet is strikingly original and resourceful in its execution.

One of the first things you notice on the album is its sense of spontaneity, a result, perhaps, of the band having no set approach to making the record. "Sometimes there is no real plan to how something is supposed to go," says Shapiro. "So we'll go into it with the plan to experiment until something good comes out of it." Such playfulness is evident throughout The Glands, from the yawning violin in the coda of "Swim" to the great tectonic bass shifts that move "Lovetown" to the seemingly lackadaisical construction of "I Can See My House from Here."

The album's diversity of sound comes not only from the band's loose approach to recording but also from its use of multiple studios and producers. In addition, the Glands are listed as co-producers on each track. "The different studios," Shapiro explains, "have different ambiences. Each producer works in a different way, and since our songs go all over the place, it's good to have no set habits. Plus, they're all kinda part of the band." The result is a surprisingly diverse collection that shifts moods often and easily, constructing hooky pop songs and murky soundscapes with equal success -- and never using the same trick twice.

Despite this eclectic quality, The Glands is a genuinely cohesive collection. Holding all the disparate elements together, Shapiro's voice -- utterly devoid of affectation -- exudes a laid-back charm. Sonically, it falls somewhere between Tom Petty's matter-of-fact Southern drawl and Bob Dylan's nasal whine, but it also suggests such newcomers as Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue and Doug Martsch of Built to Spill. But Shapiro's voice displays more resonance and distinctiveness than those comparisons suggest; he is no better or worse a singer than those above but very different, simultaneously disaffected and completely relaxed.

Genuinely intriguing and sharply crafted, his lyrics possess a conversational quality that matches his vocal style. There are flashes of insight on songs like "Straight Down" and "Favorite American," and "Soul Inspiration" bristles with an alarming ambiguity. However, he conveys more meaning in the sound of his voice than in the words he sings, so lyrics remain secondary to the album's overall sound.

The rest of the band -- Doug Stanley, Andy Baker, and Neil Golden -- display a funky versatility, genre-hopping from indie to pop to straight- ahead rock with a dexterous flair. The opener and would-be single, "Livin' Was Easy," shuffles into a drum-heavy breakdown inspired, it would seem, by Pavement's "Summer Babe." It laments having to leave behind the simple pleasures of life -- "Why did I go?/The livin' was easy/I had a room of my own/and the weather was warm."

"When I Laugh" thumps along with a relentless momentum and some endlessly catchy backup doo-doo-doo-doo-doos. "Swim," heralded by a short string intro, changes gear to upbeat pop, tricked out with a bubbly piano theme. Taken together, the first three tracks comprise a perfect opening: endearing, inviting, and unflaggingly upbeat. It's not until the fourth song, the beautiful, ponderous "Mayflower," that the momentum slows.

Through the course of 13 songs, the Glands also touch on classic rock with pieces like "Straight Down" and "Work It Out," which actually have guitar solos, as well as slower, moodier pieces like the evocative "Ground," which centers on a start-stop guitar theme and a spiraling organ solo.

But the album's literal and conceptual centerpiece, "I Can See My House from Here," is its own creation entirely. A steady-moving pop song at heart, it piles layer upon layer of percussion, guitar, vocals, and a variation of the piano line from the Four Seasons' "Oh What a Night." It has the spaced-out vibe of a remix, yet every sound feels vital and central.

For collectors, the vinyl edition of The Glands contains five extra tracks, which, on the whole, are fairly minor. Only "Something in the Air" is truly worth seeking out. Its propulsive tempo and crisp guitars match the mood of "Straight Down" and "Work It Out," while Shapiro's boyish la-la-las and casual lyrics complement "Livin' Was Easy" and "Swim."

Such a rare band has accomplished an even rarer feat: The Glands have created a small masterpiece of precise sound and easy intimacy, and Shapiro's richly textured voice, paired with the band's exacting work, reveals new depth and detail with every listen.

The Glands

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Tuesday, March 20th

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Music Notes


Rockabilly Revival

To the extent that longtime Memphians Jesse Lee and Jimmy Denson have been recognized, it's usually been in relation to Elvis Presley. The Denson brothers grew up with Elvis in the Lauderdale Courts housing project and their father ran the Poplar Street Mission, which helped the Presley family start their lives in Memphis. Jesse Lee Denson, roughly two years Elvis' senior, is said to have given Elvis some of his earliest guitar instruction and mentoring. But thanks to a new import release from London's Ace Records -- Long Gone Daddies: Original '50s Rockabilly & Rock 'n' Roll from the Modern Label -- listeners can check out how the Denson brothers fared as artists in their own right.

This collection of obscure first-generation rockabilly sides crams 32 singles and demos onto one disc, including Lee Denson's "High School Hop" and five cuts credited under the moniker "Jesse James" that were performed by Jesse Lee and co-written with brother Jimmy. These sides were cut in Los Angeles on the tail end of the rockabilly wave for a label called Kent. "High School Hop" is a typical genre exercise that, for all its energy, sounds pretty calculated. But the Jesse James cuts are a little bit rougher. The surprising "South's Gonna Rise Again," included here in its 1958 singles form and as a previously unreleased demo, is a nervy, proto-Bocephus, scary-white-boy roots anthem with group-vocal hallelujahs and lyrics like, "Down south of the Mason-Dixon, friends/Rebels are a'rockin' and rollin' in" and "Save your Confederate money, my friend." It may have just been a prideful rockabilly testament, but in 1958 I bet it sounded pretty sketchy. And then there's "Rock Daddy Rock," which begins with the lustful cry, "There's a lot of 13-, 14-, 15-year-old girls ."

The Denson brothers are still in town and are anxious for people to rediscover their music, which could be a problem. Last I heard, Shangri-La Records in Midtown was trying to get some of these English-import discs but wasn't having much luck. If you're interested, check with Shangri-La.

New Releases

Significant new records scheduled to hit the racks this week:

Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash -- Walk Alone (Ultimatum Music)

Eric Clapton -- Reptile (Reprise)

Daft Punk -- Discovery (Virgin)

Idlewild -- 100 Broken Windows (Capitol/Odeon)

Los Super Seven -- Canto (Columbia/Legacy)

Swag -- Catch-All (Yep Roc)

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