Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Treasures in the cheap bin, featuring Lumatic

I've written before, in a journal on last.fm, about what fun it can be to look for new music by browsing through cheap used CDs and picking out some to buy. To quote from my previous post:
From time to time, I'll go to a store that sells music and browse their used section, then pick out an album (or a few) that I've never heard of but that looks interesting. There are hits and misses, of course. The misses don't hurt much when the CDs can cost as little as a dollar, and when I get a hit in this way there's just something really cool about it. Some of my tactics for increasing my success rate:

-Look for interesting album artwork.
-CDs packaged in digipaks instead of jewel cases seem more likely to fit my tastes (not that I ignore those in jewel cases).
-Look at the liner notes to get a sense of the lyrics and (more importantly) see what sort of instrumentation the music employs.

The best place, by far, that I know of for buying used CDs is an independent store in Columbus, Ohio called Play It Trade It. It's a store that is mainly focused on video games, but for some reason they have all sorts of random CDs there, and at really good prices.
Cara and I discovered Play It Trade It when she still lived in Columbus - it's right down the street from her old apartment - and we would often stop in there when I visited. Now that we are only in Columbus every couple of months or so, we still like to take the opportunity to revisit one of our old haunts. Thanksgiving weekend was a good opportunity, with the store having its usual Black Friday sale, including buy-one-get-one on all CDs. I picked out six albums, and it turned out to be a nice haul. A quick rundown of the albums, with prices:

TV on the Radio - Dear Science ($3.96) - This art rock group is the one really well known band on the list, and the only band I had any familiarity with, but I hadn't listened to them much at all, and thought this was a good chance to check out one of their albums. It's quite good.

Stars of Track and Field - Centuries Before Love and War ($1.99) - I knew nothing about this band except that their name is the title of a Belle and Sebastian song that I really like. It turns out that they are indeed named after the song in question, but their soaring, electronically-tinged rock sounds nothing like Belle and Sebastian, which came as something of a surprise. Still, I've found the album enjoyable.

Broken Spindles - Inside/Absent ($1.99) - I picked this up partly because it's on the Saddle Creek label. It's fairly minimalist electronica, and it seems pretty good, but with so much music on my plate it hasn't really inspired repeat listens.

Blake Miller - Together With Cats ($1.99) - I got this album because Miller is a local Cleveland artist on the Exit Stencil label. This album is pretty simple lo-fi indie folk, but there's a decent variety in sounds from song to song, and it's quite a charming listen.

Eulogies - Here Anonymous ($1.99) - This one definitely takes the silver medal for this trip to Play It Trade It. The infectious, catchy indie rock has a sound appropriate for the band's Southern California home, and might appeal to fans of Weezer. Strong melodies, a nice variety of guitar and synth tones, and some welcome female guest vocals on a few tracks help Eulogies avoid the risk of becoming generic. I've listened to this album a lot, but not as much as...

Lumatic - Swimming to the Hook ($1.99) - With the buy-one-get-one deal, that's six CDs for $7.94 plus tax. Quite a bargain, I'd say, especially with this hidden gem included.

Sometimes I'll come across a really good album and just wonder, how is it that this is so obscure? I'm well aware that most good musicians don't achieve real fame, but this is a fantastic album that seems to have been produced with a lot of effort and care, and the band Lumatic has just 67 listeners on last.fm. (To put that into perspective, my favorite band, Okkervil River, has over 500,000 listeners, and they're far from being the biggest band in the world). I searched the web for reviews of Swimming to the Hook and literally all I could find were two short customer reviews on cdbaby.com. It's almost criminal that this album (released in 2007) got so little attention. Hopefully I can do just a little bit to rectify that.

The title of the album, pulled from the lyrics of "Go Fish," is appropriate, as much of the music feels like it could be the soundtrack to dreamy underwater scenes. The songs here are richly textured, with a great variety of sounds that flow together organically. Katherine Miller's sultry, expressive voice is the clear star. Behind it is some nicely complex guitar and bass work, with synths, cello and accordion adding further layers to the lush dreamscapes. Lumatic's music can comfortably switch from laid-back to intense both within and between songs. It's often thrilling to experience. I can't really think of another album that I would consider similar to this one, although I do get something of a My Brightest Diamond vibe at times. I like Lumatic more, though, in part because they clearly like to rock out and know just when to do it.

They can also create music that I'd have to describe as pretty darn sexy, such as on "Abduction Fantasy," where Miller's vocals really shine. Shortly after, "Reassemble" provides a nice change of pace, with more of an acoustic feel. There are a number of really wonderful moments on this album, and one of my favorites comes partway through this track, when Miller's voice and the music drop out for a moment, and then a lonesome harmonica enters in a way that's somehow just perfect. The next, and second-to-last, track, "Chugalug," is a superb climax, with a great buildup to the heaviest guitar sounds on the album. The short "Serial Monogamist" is a fitting denouement.

On a number of occasions, I've wondered just how it was that some little-known album made its way to a store on North High Street in Columbus, Ohio. That's again the case here, although the NYC-based band does have Ohio roots, with Miller having studied at Oberlin Conservatory. Still, the overwhelming obscurity of this triumphant piece of work bewilders me.

Check out Lumatic here!

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