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Music CD Recommendations

Spotlight on: Invisible Shield by Various Artists who record for K Records
Alternate Recommendation: Hellbent by Danny Frye and the Devildolls

Cover image/photo of the Invisible Shield compilation Various Artists on the K Records roster, Invisible Shield

I can just hear it now. "When is this loser going to review something that's not put out by K Records? Why doesn't he review somebody I've freaking heard of?" Well, I gotta tell you, when I find something I like, I try to find more of it. And when I find something I like, I want to share it with others. And, most importantly, this is my website, and I can write about what I want. So there!

And, unlike other record labels that carry such a varied array of artists with no links between them, if you like one thing on K, you're likely to enjoy something else on K. The most probable reason for that is that many of their musicians appear on other musicians' albums. This does not lead to music that all sounds the same, but to CDs that have a consistent thread. As Calvin Johnson states in the liner notes:

The phenomena which we refer to as the Invisible Shield: a bunch of folks who follow their own artistic vision but who feed off the artistic energy of their compatriots. Although this kind of collaboration and mutual inspiration has been true at K since its origins, the current regime has just left the kettle on high and turned the intimacy factor up to 11.
As I mentioned in my review of the Microphones' The Glow, Pt. 2, Mirah had added her lovely voice to the proceedings. What I found out later was that four or five other K artists whose names I hadn't known until then had also added their creative input. This is an example of the kind of thing Calvin is talking about above.

This linking is not mentioned specifically for each song, so we do not know which artists helped out on which songs, but this is immaterial when you look at the quality of music contained in this very inexpensive album. (I paid $6 at the K site, Amazon has it for $6.98, and I saw it somewhere else for $4.98.)

Invisible Shield starts with Dub Narcotic Sound System, named after the local recording studio. "Sabley Goodness" (from DNSS's Handclappin' EP) is a good song, but the vocals of Heather Dunn (in her debut with the band) are the best part of it. Next, however is Little Wings' "Next Time" (from Light Green Leaves), which stunned me in combination of simplicity and complexity. (I know it doesn't make sense, just go with it.) The overdubbed harmonic voice of Kyle Field, along with his playing, makes the lyrics even more fun. In fact one of my favorite lyrics of Invisible Shield is in "Next Time":

Last time, they spread me thin like the gravel
This time, they struck me twice like the gavel
Order in the court! What court? is the question.
Give no retort, keep everybody guessing.
Seems a little innocuous there on the screen, but when you hear it, you'll understand what I mean. This is the song on this collection that is continually burrowing its way into my brain. C.O.C.O.'s "Out of Time" (from The C.O.C.O Sound) is a pop song that is all the more amazing for being composed of only bass, drums, and vocals. If this were played on the radio, it would be a huge hit. The simplicity of the rhythm just calls out for dancing.

Strangely, "Bruise Blood" by [[[[VVRSSNN]]]] (it's pronounced "version") follows immediately after "Out of Time." I say strangely because [[[[VVRSSNN]]]] is almost the antithesis of C.O.C.O. Adam Forkner uses his computer for everything except the vocals, which are his own. It took me awhile to like "Bruise Blood" because, like Wilco's album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it's a little overwhelming to begin with. But once you get past the layering and discover the underlying melody, it's much easier to fathom.

Unfortunately, despite several listens, I have not yet begun to like "The Democracy of Small Things" by The Blow (Khaela Maricich). This track opens her Bonus Album EP. I've heard her voice on Microphones albums--and I really like The Concussive Caress--but here she's distorted beyond my liking and the backing dissonant rhythm just sounds like a radio station isn't coming in clearly. Luckily, I can just skip it and move on to the All Girl Summer Fun Band and "Dear Mr and Mrs. Troublemaker" (from 2) It begins with a typewriter and the sweet voice of the lead vocalist saying:

"Dear Ma'am and Sir..."
"To Whom it May Concern..."
...Oh, I know...
"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Troublemaker..."
Then, after three drum beats and an "I want to marry your son," it starts rocking. I love the typewriter motif, which continues into the chorus. This is the perfect beach song, combining the best elements of the Go-Gos (as sung by Jane Wiedlin) and the Clash. And, at two minutes, it's far too short to be satisfying, so you instantly want more.

The mood is...not 'broken', but...mellowed by Yume Bitsu (including Adam Forkner of [[[[VVRSSNN]]]]) and "part 8." The band decided on their Golden Vessyl of Sound album that each song would not have a title, but simply exist on its own terms. Pretentious, but I love it. This instrumental is good, too, and who knows what preconceptions I would have placed on it if it had had something so pedestrian as a title? (I'm only half joking, folks.)

Then we're right back into the pop motif with an electronic drumbeat and the angelic voice of Mirah with one of her lesser songs, "Recommendation." Personally, I would have preferred "Cold Cold Water" but then maybe I should get my own record company. And, in its way, it is representative of her oeuvre. After Mirah's "little girl" voice come the fine bass tones of K records founder Calvin Johnson (remember Crash Test Dummies' "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm"?--that's the kind of voice I'm talking about) singing with Beat Happening on "Angel Gone" (from Music to Climb the Apple Tree By). Historically speaking, it's the first work that BH has released in almost ten years. Not a classic, but quite enjoyable and representative of their work. While he doesn't have a great voice, he works with it and it's very evocative.

Old Time Relijun follows with "Kettle." Those not familiar with the screeching of Arrington de Dionysio (think Yoko Ono) will be in for quite a shock. And this isn't one of their best songs, either (it's off Varieties of Religious Experience, but they recorded a better version for Lost Light), so it's an instant skip. Those who remain for the full minute and a half are rewarded by Tender Trap's "Oh, Katrina" (from Film Molecules) Tender Trap blends Belinda Carlisle and R.E.M. into a pop confection that is addictive. I can't wait to hear more by this band. "Get the Hell Out of the Way of the Volcano" is a Microphones live track exclusive to Invisible Shield; it's not even available on the Live in Japan album. Any Microphones is worth a listen, but newer fans may be confused by the simplicity of this song consisting just of Phil Elvrum and his guitar. Just goes to show that true musicians can entertain with any level of instrumentation.

"Wings of Light" is, by far, my least favorite cut on the album, being a Mazzy Star-ish piece that is short on melody, but long on mood. And "long" is the operative word as this Landing work (from Passages Through) comes in at just over nine minutes. A bit on the tedious side, but probably good music to fall asleep by.

Dennis Driscoll and his plucky guitar play next. "Sarah Jane, part II" (where's "part I"?) is pleasant enough folk, but nothing spectacular. However, Jason Anderson/Wolf Colonel's "The Most Delicious Part" (from Something Everything) does deserve that description. Opening like the Cure at their best, his baritone flows through my ears and takes root. This is another example of "the shorter, the better," as it ends abruptly, leaving me disappointed that there's not more--the opposite reaction as I had to the Landing song. (Also check out Anderson's more intimate-sounding CD, New England.)

"Love Will Come Back Again" from Calvin Johnson's solo album What Was Me album is a good ender--and his third appearance on this compilation! It is mellow but upbeat and Johnson's voice again takes center stage over the simple chord progression. A bonus is that, if your CD player automatically starts over at the beginning, the song blends smoothly into the first track.

There so much marvelous music on Invisible Shield--especially for the price--that I can easily forgive the fact that it is, at its core, simply a cheap marketing ploy. Especially since it's one that I can easily fall for. If you'll excuse me, I've got to go and start saving my money for my new Little Wings, C.O.C.O., All Girl Summer Fun Band, Wolf Colonel, and Tender Trap albums. Enjoy.

Alternate Recommendation: Danny Frye and the Devildolls, Hellbent

Again, shopping at CD Baby has unearthed yet another undiscovered gem. Danny Frye and the Devildolls could be described as "the Stray Cats meet Billy Idol" and it wouldn't be far off. Rockabilly roots are clearly nearby when Frye and the D-dolls take up their instruments and he starts belting out bar songs that could have been written fifty years ago, but with a punk feel. Frye calls it "punkabilly."

Songs about women and partying are pretty much universal. "Sleepin' Off"--with its refrain of "I spend the daytime sleepin' off everything I tend to do to myself"--will surely ring a familiar chord and be humming in many a hungover head. Frye's Billy Idolness really comes out in "Pretty Face" where his voice sounds just like the spike-haired blonde.

And Frye shows us his "love me tender" side on "Heartless" where he all but channels Elvis (or maybe just Val Kilmer from Top Secret). There's a real 1950s doo-wop vibe complete with "woo" backup singers. It's back to the hard stuff with "I Don't Care About You" and then another slow dance at the prom to the beginning of "Darlin'" which then turns into a wild free-for-all.

Other highlights are "Dyin' Inside You," "Blue Eyed Angel," and final cut "Sugar Coated" (complete with obligatory stopping-record effect). There is a bonus track on Hellbent that closes the CD on a downer note instead of the uptempo mood of "Sugar Coated." But it ends the album solidly by letting us listen to Frye leave the studio and shut the door behind him.

It's unfortunate that I didn't get this CD before now. After I received it, I found out that Danny Frye had died from complications of diabetes just a few days before it arrived. Thus has another potential legend left our midst. But he has left behind a terrific album that carries on his personal vision of fun, fun, fun.


Melodic high energy punkabilly rock & roll like you've never heard before.. If you like bands like The Supersuckers & Rocket From The Crypt, and The Reverend Horton Heat you'll definately fall head over heels for Danny Frye & the D-Dolls ..

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