Digital Sex, an Omaha band, has released a debut album of pleasant new electronic music, European leaning with deliberately controlled vocals over layers of repeating rhythms.
The best song on the record, "Sex In the Spring", features some nice sliding instrumental work below a well-written, well-delivered song about an unsteady relationship. Generally, Steve Sheehan's vocals are excellent, managing to be quite expressive despite the confined nature of the band's style.
In fact, all the tunes on the record that include vocals are good, particularly "Whisper Words" and "Roses On Wednesday." Unfortunately, the instrumentals on the album go nowhere fast, reminding me of the 70s records designed to provide an "environment" sound.
The record has been picked up by a French label for distribution on a compact disc and the band will need to add some music. I hope it all has lyrics.
(rating: 3 1/2 stars)
This is really the only new new-wave country music that I've heard, and it's not really that. They almost are since they use guitar in a way that's analogous to the way pedal steel is used in country. They almost are in that their songs have beginnings, middles and ends. They almost are in their bluegrassy grid-matrix tendency. They have Spanish tinges, rolled r's and cowboy percussion tendencies too. But aside from that I guess they are Post-Ambient. (That's even the name of their production company!) I guess you could say they are Country and Ambient. Like halfway between Eno and Poco. And sometimes they're Just Plain Ambient, pass the bong. "In Her Smile" is a really good song. And this is certainly an excellent group, better in every way than almost every group on a major record label. Indeed, I suspect that these guys would be famous fast if they changed the name of their band to Analog Love. Trust me, guys, Digital Sex is too scary, although it's a magnificent concept. This is probably the best album with seagull sounds on it since Neil Diamond's Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Despite the apparent mellowness of their music, one might wonder if these guys were not into, perhaps, flytying or rocketmaking. Or if they harbored peculiar grudges, like against Kierkegaard or Spinoza. Or if they dipped their beef jerky in dill mayonnaise. Sometimes it's protogorgeous, but somehow, for reasons not immediately apparent, it's not really my bag. I certainly wouldn't flip if I caught my fourteen-year-old listening to it. It's nice. If you like nice.
Digital Sex has a pleasant, lyrical, evocative sound with ringing guitars a la U2 and vocal harmonies that suggest the Byrds. Basically a 3 piece band, D.S. is flexible in their arrangements, allowing individual members to work alone on the more ambient instrumental cuts, some of which are quite beautiful. "Within These Walls" recalls Eno and Harold Budd, sounds that could be forever in the background. The music lilts along with a gentle yet memorable rhythm. A quiet thoughtful hybrid of 60s idealism with an 80s edge, John Tingle's guitar work is fluid, incorporating sound styles inventively without losing his identify. Dereck Higgins is a versatile musician, playing bass, keyboards, drums and guitar, his instrumental "Steps Toward Freedom" takes us through a Morrocan desert suddenly blooming in deep water. The opening cut "Whisper Words" is the strongest on the record. The vocals and guitar shadow each other playfully. The music makes you want to invent stories of far away places.
This is as fine a debut LP as I could ask for. Although I could hear echoes of the Byrds, the Tornadoes, Split Eriz, and the Psychedelic Furs, the way those influences are collated and recombined is fresh and interesting. 'Oceans of Space' is a beautiful flowing blanket' of harmony in the grandest space music tradition (but why only three minutes?) A lot of this LP has a guitar and drum dominated sound which gives a sort of 60s feel to the tunes, but the highly skilled use of ambient electronic sounds are right in step with the better known works of that genre.
Hark. What sound through yonder speaker breaks? It is a most beautiful music... and "Essence" is its name. Ok, ok. So I'm waxing poetic again. So sue me. Somehow, when listening to this release it's hard not to get carried away ... at least a little bit. Digital Sex have taken the ordinary guitar, bass, drums, keyboards type setup and moved them into the range of the extraordinary. "Essence" is a delicate, sensitive release, full of aerie, lightly psychedelic overtones and gently moving undercurrents to set your body swaying in a most delightful manner.
"Digital"? Definitely a misnomer for these very analog Nebraskans. The sounds here are mostly natural, w/ simple structure and a kind of sweet feel about them. The haunting vocals of Steve Sheehan float in & out on minimal background instrumentation w/ no one musician dominating. I'm not sure if this is a sad or an upbeat lp - it 5eems to offer both qualities. Very subdued, yet catchy.
These Omaha, Nebraskans recall San Francisco rock before LSD: chiming guitars, tasteful percussion, simple piano parts--vaguely jazzy. The production is straightforward; there is little reverb or echo. The nicely sung lyrics are of lovers' whispers, of roses, of Spring. "Oceans of Space" is a pastoral piece reminiscent of Eno in his quieter moments. Overall, ESSENCE speaks of innocence. The music is pretty, but not, as the name of the production company implies, post-ambient. There is little here to lift the music above its state of mere pleasantry.
The midwest often produces dance rock less stratified that the New York variety. Without aping Eurorock, DS put out a nice, clean Depeche Mode kind of music. My preference, the ambient "Oceans of Space."
The quiet assumption and elegaic vision of DIGITAL SEX's Essence LP is lustrous, a mid-western watercolour of understatement, taste and refinement. Principly a floating processional of guitar, keyboards and sometimes drums, vocals casual driftwood of emotion and observance, the harmony of this effort and the care and devotion of its participants are obvious...
This compact disc is the first French release for the Omaha band Digital Sex and its first 12 tracks are previously released tunes by the band. The CD here increases the clarity of the sound, which helps nearly all the tunes.
The last nine tunes are new material which is really sharp and is the best recorded work the band has done. There's a stronger edge to the songs.
The best of new tunes is "Sun In My Eyes" which rocks hard behind Kevin Kennedy's outstanding drumming. As with their other material the tracks here flow from one to another as if they are intended to be considered as a whole rather than as separate compositions and all are strong. (rating: 4/5)
"Records That in Two Decades Nobody Will Do News Specials Called '20 Year Ago Today' About"
First up is Digital Sex, only because these Omaha folks were actually nice enough (or maybe they have a rich uncle) to send a CD of their stuff. Have to admit this was a pleasant surprise. First of all, with a name like Digital Sex, and with the band citing the likes of Eno, the Cure and Durutti Coltimn as mentors, I fully expected this to be completely pretentious drivel. And, while some of it comes awfully close, the 19-cut disc yields a bunch of decent Anglo-inspired pop ("Whisper Words") among the barfo sonic experiments and danceable syntho-crud. The CD was released in France. but a pared-down vinyl version (minus about half the cuts) is available via the band from Steve Sheehan.
Talk about cultures colliding! Here's an Omaha band (Digital Sex) steeped in the moody rock of post-punk England (Cure, Joy Division et al.) arriving on CD from a one-man French operation known for its support of artistic subversives (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV). The music (DS' previously released LP and side projects plus seven new tracks) isn't Joy Division, but it has a sweet melancholy, and bracing dynamics (and a disconcerting volume increase when the new songs arrive). An illustrated booklet contains a wonderfully fractured translation of Jean-Pierre Turmel's philosophical essay, and on top of that it's a numbered edition of 5,000. Act now!
This CD-only release (a compilation of various LPs, EPs, singles, plus new material) does in fact contain both of the ingredients mentioned in its title. This is a soothing mixture of new wavy, techno-avant pop vocal tunes interspersed with lush, ambient instrumentals drawing from influences as diverse as New Order, the Cure, Philip Glass, Eno, and the Left Banke. They hit a high mark on "Second Wind," a baroque pop-rocker that brilliantly recalls the latter. Other songs, like the cool, haunting "Sun In My Eyes" with its brooding vocals and propulsive beat, and the folky-techno "In Her Smile," work nearly as well, weaving glistening electric guitar textures into the arrangements. The six instrumentals work well in this extended format, relaxing the ears between the more lively vocal tracks. "Essence" is immediately reminiscent of Harold Budd's recent collaborations with the Cocteau Twins (The Moon and the Melodies); light, ethereal, chimeral. The compact disc is a perfect format for this type of sumptuous yet precise music. A generally good job was done mastering this disc, though the newer material (tracks 13-19) were mastered at higher levels and thus play a bit louder than the preceeding tracks. (merit: 3 stars, sound: 3 stars)
This is kind of strange: a French compact disc-only release by a band from Omaha, Nebraska. Basically, Essence and Charm is a chronological collection of the recorded history of Digital Sex, containing 19 tracks: two from their first single, one from (recently departed) lead vocalist Steve Sheehan's solo EP, their entire Essence LP, and seven tracks available only on the disc.
Possibly the most Interesting factor is that Omaha is the last place you'd expect this music to come from. While many comparisons can be made (most notably the Durutti Column, Eno, Joy Division/New Order), they are not completely derivative of anybody or any one style. They're just as likely to follow up an ambient-like, entrancing instrumental with a techno-guitar-driven pop song. All of this results in a CD worth owning if you're into this type of stuff, and if you can find it.
Digital Sex is not an easy group to categorize. A quintet of electric guitarists and keyboardists, the group credits David Bowie, Brian Eno, the Cure, the Left Banke, Philip Glass, and Joy Division, among others, as influences. Digital Sex's sound might best be described as a conglomeration of these artists, sometimes sounding like the repetitious ambience of Eno or Glass, sometimes like the danceable pop/rock of a Bowie hit.
Essence & Charm begins, in fact, with two very danceable songs, "Dervish Dance" and "How Many More Times." While musically these cuts are fairly simple and straightforward, their hard bass lines and driving guitars make for some irresistable rhythms.
While Essence & Charm is Digital Sex's first CD, it's not their first recording. In addition to "Dervish Dance" and "How Many More Times" being previously released as singles, tracks 4 through 12 of this 19-song disc come from the LP Essence.
The remainder of the disc is made up of catchy pop tunes, many with a distinctively British sound to them. Steve Sheehan's appealing lead vocal adds much to the recording.
Despite the group's name and the titles of many of the songs (such as "Sex in the Spring" and "I Can't Wait"), the lyrics are generally more introspective than arousing. The biggest problems with this recording are Digital Sex's attempts at more contemplative music. The instrumentals "Within These Walls" and "Essence" are missing direction, while "Without Hesitation" lacks any obvious moti- vation and is further bogged down by recorded burps and laughter.
Essence & Charm's sound is generally well-balanced and reasonably clean for an analog recording. With the release of this fascinating first disc, Digital Sex is a group to watch for. (performance: 7/10, sound: 7/10)
The year's best releases:
1. "The Beauty of It All," Cellephane Ceiling (Main Vein) -- ...
2. "Essence & Charm," Digital Sex (compact disc on the French Sordide Sentimental label) -- A smash in Europe (and well-liked in Omaha, too, for that matter), Digital Sex has nothing to do with perversion and lots to do with progressive, post-punk mood rock. The newer material of the 19 songs definitely is the most effervescent.
My entertainment notebook runneth over, so let's empty it:
Pittsburgh is the pits - at least when you compare the Steel City's original music scene to that of the Big 0[maha].
"A lot of people think Pittsburgh is this big city with a lot going on, but our music scene has died down the last couple of years," said Randy LeMasters, a Pittsburgh-based record producer who was responsible for the recent Digital Sex release, "Essence and Rarities: 1992-87."
0nly four or five bands are worth their salt in Pittsburgh, LeMasters said after a recent visit to Omaha to check out a Digital Sex show at the Capitol Bar. "I see that local bands play every night in Omaha, and it must be an exciting time to be living in your area. I know that because of the music I brought home with me."
LeMasters, whose label is Randy's Alternative Music, purchased local recording efforts by bands such as Lavender Couch and the now-defunct Acorns as well as the "Linoma" and the "Lite" and "Dark" Capitol Bar compilations.
Of Digital Sex, LeMasters said: "My professional life is going to concerts, and I've seen a thousand shows. Digital Sex is a Top 10 all-time show. The people who have not checked out the band are doing themselves a disservice. (Band members) know how to bring songs to life on stage."
After much fanfare, it's finally out. Interestingly, many won't care because, despite the hype, they still haven't heard this perennial Omaha band who simply refuses to die. This collection will either be Digital Sex's rebirth or their epitaph. It all depends on them, because no one's going to start playing this on the radio unless the band supports it with a tour. We'll see.
At any rate, this collection is essential for any long-time Digital Sex fan - their entire Essence album from 1982, along with a number of unreleased demos and tracks from various collections (this is the fifth incarnation of the track "Whisper Words," for example). The unheard stuff is the best, including "Theory of Games" (a crowd favorite at live shows), the brooding, powerful "Done My Time," and the bouncy, fun "The Days Go." It all sounds better than ever, thanks it) a top-drawer remastering.
Yeah, but what does it sound like? The band calls their music ambient pop, which, I guess, means easy going melodic new-wave-esque stuff, ala early Connells or Psychedelic Furs, However, though written 10 years ago, the music sounds remarkably fresh. And the package is beautiful, including for the first time all song lyrics. For old fans, it's a trip down memory lane; for those just discovering the band, it's a good chance to pick up a definitive collection. Now, if only these guys would produce some new stuff.
The future finally has caught up with Digital Sex.
The Omaha band's recently released compilation disc, "Essence & Rarities: 1982-1987," blends the '80s and the '90s for a sound as unusual in local musical circles today as when it first was recorded during the band's original incarnation.
Most Omaha-based bands have tended toward such recognizable styles as heavy metal, blues or altenative rock.
But in the early to mid 1980s, Digital Sex emerged with a music that had a surreal, New Age feel. The group's vocalist, Stephen Sheehan. called the style "ambient pop," meaning the music strives to create an encompassing environment.
The band's music does encompass, but it also incorporates elements from other groups. A driving drum beat here and there recalls Joy Division, although less dark. Sometimes the sound suggests the New Age atmos- phere of Windom Hill Records' artists.
The compilation results from Pittsburgh disc jockey Randy LeMasters' hearing some old Digital Sex recordings and playing them on his radio show.
LeMasters eventually left radio and started a record store called Randy's Alternative Music. He contacted members of the band and decided to remaster and release some of its old tunes on his own label.
The resulting 19-song disc includes previously released songs as well as several pieces the band had recorded but never released.
The band itself is another story. Digital Sex formed in 1982 with Sheehan, guitarist John Tingle, bassist Derrick Higgins, and drummer Greg Tsichlis. Over the years, the membership changed and the group occasionally went dormant. The band broke up, seemingly for good, in 1987.
The members decided to reunite officially this year. Tne group now consists of Sheehan, Tingle, Higgins, Dan Crowell and John Miller.
The first song on the compilation "Quiet Longing," gives a preview of things to come, with harmonic guitar lines weaving around each other over a mellow beat. The minimalist lyrics deliver more mood than message.
"The Days Go." a previously unreleased song, displays a harder edge with complex beats and melodies. The song tells of time passing unremarked and punctuates the point with a nice guitar solo.
On "Red Girl," a particularly interesting tune, the band hangs word pictures on an open, swinging guitar framework. Sheehan delivers such lines as "Speaking to you would melt my throat, so I stare instead" in a subdued yet emotive style.
"Done My Time," about a dving relationship, features cool keyboard work and a ghostly lament by Higgins reminiscent of Vitamin Z's "Burning Flame."
"Theory of Games" is a cynical bit about the games men and women play with each other. "Whisper Words," one of the most listenable songs on the albunl features a great '80s upbeat spirit and nice vocal harmonies.
As a whole, the album is a listenable chapter of Omaha's pop music history.
One other Sex note: Bass player Dereck Higgins is eager to see and hear some of his work from a recent trip to Japan. Higgins spent seven weeks writing theme music for two shows seeking airtime on Satellite Communication for Learning (SCOLA), a non-profit organization that broadcasts foreign news from 32 countries. SCOLA was started on the Creighton University campus 13 years ago by the Rev. Lee Lubbers. The organization now is based in McClelland, Iowa, just outside of Council Buffs.
"I wrote 28 songs, and I know two of them are planned for an original Japanese show that gets views about Japan from foreigners and and Japanese; it's like a documentary," Higgins said. The other show is an educational program for the fifth- and sixth-graders.
Higgins, whose music is "symphonic, folksy, electro-techno, experimental sound sciptures," was hired by SCOLA-Japan producers Kunio and Joji Kajihara, brothers and former Creighton University students. The programs (Higgins also acts as co-host for some segments of the documentary) are expected to air early next year.
Digital Sex, one of Omaha's most popular live bands, is back with a new release sure to please music lovers everwhere For those who may not be familiar with their music, it is a magical blend of rock and pop that, brings out Joy Division sounds without the heavy dose of depression. Dubbed "ambient pop" by singer Stephen Sheehan, you will not find music of this sort anywhere else.
Essence and Rarities:1982 - 1987 brings back the band's first album Essence and adds 10 unreleased tracks, hence the rarities. Digital Sex fans will be enthralled with the newly remastered sound of the Essence portion of the CD. Although this CD does not contain the comprehensive liner notes of their Essence and Charm, the new CD has a much fuller sound. "Whisper Words," "In Her Smile," and "Roses on Wednesday," three favorites of Digital Sex fans, are finally done justice.
Of the previously unreleased tracks, "The Days Go," "Red Girl," and "Look for Outstretched Arms" really capture the listener. The rest of the tracks are also excellent, and give Sex addicts an interesting feel of how the band developed. But they work as a good sequel to a movie. Even without knowledge of the background of the band, the music is still very enjoyable.
For the price, there is an awful lot of music here, over 70 minutes worth, making this a must have for your music collection. Digital Sex is currently working on a new album, but give this one a listen first; even 10 years after the songs were originally recorded, the music seems contemporary, and this CD will give you a good background for what is looking to be a knockout follow up CD early next year.
(This review is excerpted from one of the Reunion Notices)
Digital Sex, the free-spirited band that was a rock force in Omaha in the 1980s, has returned to the music scene after ego and personal problems led to the band's breakup seven years ago.
Thursday night, an older and wiser Digital Sex put its problem in the past and was well-received by about 60 people at the Jones Street Brewery. It was the first in a series of summerlong engagements aimed at recapturing the magic of days gone by.
"We played as a band without having the ego or the head trips," lead vocalist Stephen Sheehan said after the show. "I have never laughed so much or had so much fun with this band. We got downright silly at one point."
At the Jones Street, Sheehan was joined by bass player Dereck Higgins, drummer Dan Crowell, guitarist John Tingle and newly added second guitarist John Miller in reacquainting the public with the Digital Sex sound. The group's trademark lilting melodies and trancelike grooves were punctuated by roaring guitar rifts and Sheehan's playful vocalizations.
"I think we played well and hard," Sheehan said. There was no hot-dogging or show-boating. And the energy we had came off the stage. It was good to be back."
A female rock band, Lavender Couch, opened the show. The two bands will return to the Jones Street this week for another Thursday night performance.
Omaha-based band, The World, was formed by merging local bands, Digital Sex and Mousetrap. Singer and songwriter Steven [sic] Sheehan is the mind behind this concoction.
So far, Sheehan has three albums to his credit. Innocence at Will is an 11-song compact disk spanning the years 1984-1990, including some of Sheehan's solo work, songs from Digital Sex, and some music by The World. Eyes of the Wilderness, is latest release, includes solo material and more songs by The World. Both are available at Homer's Music and Gifts along with an older album by Digital Sex.
Sheehan sent me some press releases and asked if I could attend a show by The World at The Howard Street Tavern. The releases described the music as "rock with a European edge."
Being an adventurous sort, I attended the show without hearing any of Sheehan's work.
Let me try to describe this experience piece by piece.
Sheehan told me to get to the show early to witness an exciting introduction by guitarist John Tingle and keyboard player Maureen Evans-Hansen. This was a much more interesting than exciting experience.
Tingle sat down win an acoustic guitar and played beautifully melodic compositions that, unfortunately, went unnoticed. Other than being a bit monotonous, his display was lovely.
When Tingle left the stage to Evans-Hansen, the atmosphere changed dramatically.
Evans-Hansen's keyboard solo would make a great soundtrack for a grade-B horror movie. This pounding, dark run of sequenced evil had me looking over my shoulder for large axe-wielders wearing hockey masks.
After these extreme musical tastes among band members, I didn't know what to expect when the band took the stage together.
Let me set the scene first.
Above the stage hung inflatable globes (Get it? Globes? The World?). There was also a TV screen with computer-generated topless women rolling around in slow-motion. The reasoning behind this I'll never know (not that I want to). I'm not complaining or anything, I'm just a little perplexed.
Finally, the music was very good.
The keyboard player mellowed-out quite a bit and the guitar displayed tons of effects reminiscent of Yes or King Crimson.
Sheehan's voice is smooth (kinda Neil Diamondish) and pleasant.
Drummer Scott Miller is precise, and he isn't overbearing like most bar-band drummers.
Bassist Craig Crawfod is fantasic! What are you doing in Omaha, Craig? His ability and talent are definitely the highlight of the band.
If you hear The World playing anywhere nearby, go and give them a listen.
Stephen Sheehan's music has been referred to as "out of fashion." I believe it's always been ahead of it's time.
For the unitiated, Stephen began his career with local music visionaries Digital Sex, whose lp "Essence" was released on cd by the prestigious Sordide Sentimental label. "Eyes", Sheehan's solo follow up, was originally released in 1990 on New Rose. The new remastered version [released by Randy in 1997] dramatically improves on the sound quality of the original release, is beautifully repackaged, and most significantly, adds 25 spectacular extra minutes of music to the cd--including the now obligatory "hidden" track .
With a European feel, this cd has an aesthetic that has been sorely missed since the days of the early/mid 80's Factory and 4AD Records releases. There is a heart, soul, and passion to the music that is rarely heard anymore. "Thanks For Living" ranks not only as one of Sheehan's best ever cuts, but also as one of the finest compositions of the era. "Reluctant Rage", especially the "hidden" version, perfectly marries the best of Sheehan's work into one song--the vocal, lyric, and melody are soothing, yet sonic bliss. "Love Or Lust" and "News At 5ive" are scary and beautiful at the same time while the cover of Can's "On The Beautiful Side Of A Romance" blows away EVERYTHING on their remix cd "Sacrilege."
John Tingle's guitar work on these recordings are among the finest of his career--his headsplitting fretwork on "Neon Frontier" and lovely playing on "What's Gotten Into Me?" are just two highlights on a cd full of triumphs. Music of this kind and quality is just what's missing on "modern rock" radio today.
When Digital Sex all too briefly reformed in 1994 local writers said that their "ahead of its time" music had finally become contemporary. Now that almost everyone has caught UP it's time for the public at large to catch ON to the music of Stephen Sheehan. Let's hope some new music will spring forth from the fountain of his creativity and take its place next to these classic recordings.
It's taken a couple of weeks, but I finally got to the record Paul Kriegler from KRCK sent, and the fact it took this long to check out really pisses me off. You'll understand as soon as you check out Stephen Sheehan's Eyes of the Wilderness. Steve may be from Omaha but the only way to get the LP is from New Rose Records in France!
This isn't the first time, and won't be the last, that an American artist gained an overseas deal before one on home turf. In fact, my buddies Dramarama had New Rose product out while virtually no one in label land knew who they were.
If you're near Nebraska, you may remember Steve as a part of Digital Sex who also had a French release on the Sordide Sentimental label. Eyes of the Wilderness is an album with plenty of atmosphere, and to these ears bears a more European feel with traces of early Echo, Joy Division, Teardrop and Faith era Cure. Try "Astray", "Thoughts of You" and "Love Or Lust" right away, and if you're stuck on an overnight mind melt don't miss "Controversy Clears the Air".
For more info, contact Post-Ambient Motion, 5402 Camden Ave., Omaha, NE 68104, or call (402) 455-9575. Great stuff!
This is the second time now that Nebraskan Sheehan has had to go overseas to get a record contract. His first effort was a handful of releases by the techno art band Digital Sex. That band took cues from evervone from Eno to the Cure to the Left Banke.
This solo project (Sheehan's joined on half the tracks by his new band, the World) is at once less eclectic and more focused, also more subdued. There's an inner tension going on underneath the keyboard washes and processed guitars as Sheehan emoties in a clear, controlled tenor swooping in and out of the instrumental mix with poetic passages.
"Reluctant Rage" evokes the Cure with its swirling melodies and shows Sheehan to be a fine lyricist ("Window appearing in the hairline sky/ To misty secrets into mordant cries/ Herein lies reluctant rage/ Clippings scattered through the cage"). "Thanks for the Living" is a more straightforward pop song borrowing the Left Banke's quasi-baroque keyboard sound; remember "Walk Away Renee" and "Pretty Ballerina" from the '60s? Sheehan dips into a mystical "new age pop" mode for "Thoughts of You" as he floats a vague melody around celestial guitars and keyboards in a 4AD/Cocteau Twins arrangement. "Odd Postures" is a tougher edged tune that recalls Stan Ridgeway/Wall of Voodoo with its dark cast and chaotic keyboard/guitar passages.
It's hard to fathom how the city of Omaha, mid-west USA, spawned the likes of Steve, but we're all glad they did. (New Rose/Post-Ambient Motion, 5402 Camden Ave., Omaha, NE 68104)
Starting off with a whisper from the past, Eyes of the Wilderness is a side-step from the norm. Stephen Sheehan has always had an eye on the future and assembling musicians for the task is one of his stronger suits. Eyes of the Wilderness provides an eclectic and inspiring history of Sheehan, his work, and the bands that have accompanied him throughout his musical endeavors. Tracks on the CD include reissues from Sheehan's last band projects, The World and Missionary Position, as well as newer cuts that lend a gentle hand in understanding Sheehan and his relentless progression and drive for new places. Eyes of the Wilderness is the newest acting vehicle for national and international consumption of material that never got the exposure it deserved. Two tracks by Missionary Position include well-knowns Bart Wolfe on guitar, Tom Ware on effects, drums and piano, with Jerry Smith on bass and keyboards. The addition is an intriguing slice of contrasting sound and space.
With the amount of keyboard work on Eyes of the Wilderness, this project leans toward a synth/pop/new age experiment in the same school as Ultravox or Steve Hillage. Sheehan's work with Digital Sex opened the Euro-corridor where he has enjoyed success in many markets. There is definitely an ongoing and consistent connection to his love for this genre of music. From the early days of Post Ambient Motion, Sheehan has been the guy in Omaha, and America, that has taken us away from our cries for Lynyrd Skynyrd and closer to our emotive need to feel the atmosphere that music creates. His music flows through his ideals, shining all the while. Lyrically, Eyes of the Wilderness is a walk into a "Neon Frontier" co-written with John Tingle and on to adventures of "Odd Postures" with help from Maureen Evans-Hansen. Sheehan keeps things interesting from start to finish, musically and mentally.
Eurorock from an unlikely place, namely Omaha, Nebraska. This album is an import from the French New Rose label, and it fits just fine, with a squeaky-clean sound, lots of rhythm, and a few somewhat noisy/ambient tracks. At times, as with "Love or Lust," Sheehan embodies an almost mechanistic approach to music, selecting elements from the factory and machine as his building blocks. Other tracks are simply danceable.
Rhythmically melodic music that's part ambient, part accessible. It has a real nice atmosphere to it - it's very pleasant and engaging yet at the same time it's danceable and (lightly) dub oriented.
Well, Stephen Sheehan seems to be the U.S. answer to England's 4 AD record label, or even Factory on occasions, in this record. To be perfectly beastly to the man : what do you get when Brendan Perry from DEAD CAN DANCE and Liz Fraser from the COCTEAU TWINS meet up in a coctail bar and get hopelessly sloshed and end up having a one night stand.... Yes, illegitimate love-children, and poor Stephen Sheehan could easily be one of the offspring. But on a more serious note, this record is a kind of testamony to the fact that Stephen Sheehan is a hybrid species, a 3rd or 4th generation, descended from their illustrious great-grand parents, Factory and 4 AD.
Track 1: It's hop aboard the New Order bandwagon!!!
Track 2,3 and 4: Display the seductive charms of the Cocteaus, except that the Cocteaus are weirder, zanier, more unconventional and totally original, whereas Sheehan's compositions tend to be more melodic.
Tracks 1 and 2 : Stockhholm Monsters, perhaps? Plus Brendan Perry.
Track 3: ..............yet more Cocteaus.................
Track 4/5: Sheehan might have had a long and serious intercession with Ian Curtis, during the course of a late-night seance all the terrifying but marvelous qualities of Joy Division are displayed on these two tracks : the emptiness, the vast void, the inherent dangers of living in a state of too much depression and isolation. These two numbers are my personal favourites from the album.
In conclusion, I shall have a lot of pleasure from playing this record and, maybe, sharing a few chuckles with the listening audience (some of whom, doubtless, will have very similar sentiments). This is a record for people who 'already know what they like', and there are still enough nostalgic punters out there who will shift units of this record, sales-wise but it's still not the real McKoy. In any case, he died, many years ago.
We first wrote about this multi-talented Nebraskan a few months back with a review of his latest album Eyes of the Wilderness. Strange as it may seem all of Stephen's work as a solo artist and with his previous band Digital Sex has been unavailable in this country, although New Rose Records in France have released them. That has all changed with the formation of a new venture by the people at Emigre. They have been publishing a wonderful quarterly magazine of startling graphic design and this is one of three releases that mark their entry into music.
Innocence At Will is a compilation of Stephen's work, featuring three tracks from the aformentioncd Eyes of the Wilderness --- "Odd Features", "Love Or Lust" (a great song!) and "Thoughts Of You". The title track dates back to 1984 and is also one of the highlights of the set. Long out of print it is a stark electronic recording that will remind you of early Ultravox, New Order before dance or post-Be Bop Bill Nelson to name a few. Digital Sex is represented by half a dozen tunes with the near poppy "Whisper Words" and "I Can't Wait" highly recommended, and "Second Wind" the personal favorite. The previously unreleased bonus "Mother's Leatherflesh" starts with a Gabriel-esque wail and is also a stand out.
Stephen Sheehan is arty but devoid of pretension and it's about time his innovative work is available here. Emigre will be doing mail order only on this disc, so if you need additional information call them at (415) 845-9021.
This limited-edition CD is essentially an anthology of Nebraskan art-pop wizard Stephen Sheehan's work with his late-great band Digital Sex and his recent solo output. Out of INNOCENCE AT WILL's eleven tracks, only two are rare or unavailable. But considering that Digital Sex's ESSENCE & CHARM is long out-of-print (a fabulous 19-track compilation that was released on a small French indie and was also a limited edition) and Sheehan's recent solo album EYES OF THE WILDERNESS (see Alternative Press #32) is import only, obtaining this disc may be the only way to hear his elegant brand of techno-ambient pop.
There's a decidedly "European twist" to Sheehan's stylings as he admits to the following influences: the Cure, Joy Division, Eno, and Blue Nile, as well as 4AD artists like Dead Can Dance. But it's not all gloom and doom or arty quirk-pop. Tracks like "I Can't Wait" (a moody, mid-tempo ballad that evokes the likes of 60's psych-pop groups the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the Left Bank) and "Whisper Words" (a tight, buoyant, harmony-laden pop gem) show a more accessible, more straightforward side to Sheehan.
One thing this new compilation has that previous releases lacked is brilliant, crystal clear sound. Every track has been remastered just for this disc. The two "new tracks" are solid if unessential: "Mother's Leatherface" (sound collage/experimental noise), "Innocence at Will" (pop minimalism. & la Lou Reed). The only real complaint I have is the length of the album. At just 46:00, considering Sheehan's inventory of material], for an anthology (and perhaps a premature one at that) this collection seems a bit short. But that observation bodes well for the overall quality within.
Maureen Evans-Hansen's first full-length solo release "Out of the Blue" has a definite 80's retro-electronic feel that runs through it. This release is both fun, and more importantly in areas where many an artist leave of, this release is creative. It is this creativity that allows Maureen Evans-Hansens' electronic works to be quite enjoyable and avoid the pitfalls of becoming to mechanical and sterile that much electronic music falls into.
During, "Out of the Blue", you can hear what sounds to be a faint Nine Inch Nails influence, with background sounds quite reminiscent of sounds you may find on "Broken". But as with all of her tracks it is based around a huge anthem like soundscape that creates a full theatrical epic sound. It's because of this uniquely epic sound that her music draws no direct comparison to anyone making music today, despite her many influences, such as Kraftwerk, shining through. To further set her work apart on the tracks "Sway" and "Lives We Leave Behind" utilizes Kristina Eller's haunting voice to add to the soundscape.
This release is probably not something that everyone in the modern world will have on their shelves by the end of the year, but it is a work that expresses an artists' unique style. And because of this it would be a good addition to any music fans' collection.
Out of the Blue is the debut album of Maureen Evans-Hansen. Her music is powerful, electronic, heavily influenced by old synth masters. But at the same time, it is also a point of confluence of diverse currents like pop, folk, psychedelia and even jazz. Yes, you will find multi-layered effects, outstanding sounds and beautiful, sophisticated melodies. However, the music, the rhythm, are clearly independent from the technology that was used to create them. There are a couple of masterpieces in the album: "Out of the Blue" and "Big Sur". All songs have been composed by Maureen except for "Sway", which was written by M. Evans-Hansen and Kristina Eller. Eller contributes vocals on two tracks and Tom Ware plays additional percussion in another piece.
"See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me"
It has to be the most unusual CD package yet. A cardboard box with a clear plastic cover (the kind greeting cards come in) holds a CD (encased in a jewel box), a stack of brown cardboard squares, and an authentic piece of rubble.
What's this all about? The package, titled Power in the House (available from Post-Ambient Motion, 5402 Camden, Omaha, NE 68104), is the result of a cooperative effort last summer by a group of Omaha artists and musicians. Initiated by composer Stephen Sheehan, the production was supported by the Collaborative Arts Project. The disc contains 18 original songs and instrumental works, with titles such as "Garden of Eels," "Another Month Or So/Should I Touch the Electric 3rd Rail," "The Death of Christopher Columbus," and "Sabbatical Music, Movements I & II. "
Each of the enclosed 26 cardboard squares is imprinted with an original visual artwork. The reddish-colored piece of rubble is a reminder of the recent and unfortunate demolition of the historic Jobber's Canyon warehouse district in downtown Omaha.
Based on the music alone, Power in the House is a worthwhile project, incorporating a wide variety of today's compositional styles and use of acoustic and electronic instruments. But some of the works-both musical and visual-go beyond what most of us are used to hearing and seeing, all of which makes this package a true adventure in sight, sound, and touch (thanks to that nifty little piece of rock).
'Power' Art the 'Bargain of the Decade'
The visual element of the "Power in the House" compilation is a package that includes 26 hand-printed serigraphs. The quality of the visual package matches that of the audio in creativity, integrity, and diversity of artistic vision. For $15, it is undoubtedly the art bargain of the decade.
The packaging design for the music (which comes in either compact disc or chrome cassettes format) is elegant yet earthy. Steve Raglin served as design consultant and project graphic artist. A handmade paper overlay by Sandria Whye graces the front of the box, and a preserved piece of brick, duly noted as a piece of the partially-destroyed Jobber's Canyon, a historic section of downtown Omaha, is displayed as if a precious artifact.
The hand-screened artwork was selected from submissions by 50 local artists and writers, who were given an opportunity to hear Power in the House after the initial selection process and respond in whatever way they chose.
The artwork was collected in the same spirit of compilation as the music, said project co-director Robert Greenberg. He said he wanted "to give artists an opportunity to show what's important to them and representative of their work." The work was selected for diversity of style as well as suitability for the silkscreen media.
The serigraph prints are hot pink, blue, silver and black on brown chipboard. I enjoyed the handmade feel of the prints, the thick and thin layers of colors attesting to the process. Seventeen people volunteered over 11 days to screen 1,000 promotional posters, said Kathleen Zuchniak, who coordinated the volunteer effort.
For many of the artists, the final product will be a surprise. Their first submission was their original drawing, photograph, or collage. After its acceptance, they were asked to separate the work for color, a commercial art process which allows each color of the print to be laid down in a separate screening process. Zuchniak, who took on the role of art director for this part of the project, said, "People were creative when it came to separating color." Some of the artists had little background in this regard, so they devised their own processes for it.
After this, the four colors were selected by Paul Koch of Screen Graphics and Zuchniak. Peggy Reinecke, an artist whose work was used, explained that after seeing her work transformed from a brown tone drawing to the bright colors of the print, "it was like having a child grow up and have a mind ofits own."
Zuchniak then had the task of arranging the 26-plus design elements into the poster format. "It was a wonderful and fun test of abilities to see what I could do," she said.
But people who buy the compilation will find individual prints included in the package, which may be enjoyed alone or by grouping them alongside similar styles and concepts, as I did when reviewing the artwork.
The images range from striking to subtle, from abstract to photo-realistic, with a lot-of variety in between. There is something here for everybody who enjoys looking at things from a slightly different perspective.
My favorite abstract image was a face which seemed to emerge from a colored, textured background amidst a black field. The print by Paul Koch was developed directly on the screen, unlike all the other prints. Understanding the process and knowing which colors were being used helped guarantee the success of this one.
A hard-edged abstract by David Pagel was taken from an X-ray of a broken clavical. (An instance of too much power in someone's house?) A drawing by Larry Kavich has a bony quality as well. Unfortunately, the title of a scribbly drawing by Joe Piper was not included. According to a phone conversation with the artist, it is a "Power cake that is jumping around the square."
Other images of power found in houses are a mother and child by Peggy Reinecke and a male figure of the Michaelangelo variety, caressing lightning bolts, by Mike Markoff.
A crouching monkey-like figure in a drawing by Jackie Sterba peers out of its self-made enclosure. Helpless and desperate figures also people the images of Nancy Hawekotte and Ed Green, reflecting the feeling I got from some of the music.
A wonderful visual interpretation of the concept "persuasion of the masses" was conceived by Jami Spittler, while a cartoon drawing by Colleen Cassady, perhaps about lack of direction, shows three cars in the middle of nowhere heading off to find desert treasures of cow skull, old tire and rope.
Pressing the button is another repeated theme. If you lift the sheet of handmade paper that rests atop the pile of prints, you find a hand pushing a button (perhaps it's a doorbell), echoing our desire to enter into this experience. The button being pushed in Luke Cole's bomber map is definitely The Big One.
Also included is one medieval-looking sky map by Harry Dingman [of For Against] and six written pieces, by Coreen Dwyer, Bob Eisenberg, Robert Greenberg, Sydney Herman, Carol Maureen Light, and Douglas Marr, which need little written about them, except to say that they are nicely illuminated with bits of color as well.
Available on CD and cassette only, containing the work of 18 musicians spread over 74 digitally-mastered minutes, this is a brilliant collection of eclectic musics designed to both provoke and soothe the listener as he or she investigates the 25 hand-screened 5" X 5 1/2" serigraphs. And the art is an essential component, as the whole package comes from the Collaborative Arts Project; indeed, one can discern subtle politicizing in the overall presentation as the art-cards depict variously, the joys of motherhood, sexual abasement, societal chaos, cultural manipulation, etc. (Some are printed poems instead of graphics.) Or nonsubtle: a chunk of brick from a demolished historical section in Omaha, thanks to the razing mania of the ConAgra corp., is included in the package.
Musically, the collection represents local Plains area musicians performing in a host of styles ranging from neoclassical to quasi-New Age to folkrock to blues to electro-but emphasis on organic flow and pleasing melodies. And a success at that, for the CD is absolutely listenable from start to finish, absorbing enough to consume in an active mode yet perfectly unobtrusive if the mood so dictates. Each track fascinates in its own subtle manner, but I particularly like the contributions from For Against, Schrodinger's Cats, Bell Hotel and Lizardman.