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Friday, May 1, 2009

Gwen Mars - Magnosheen~ Driving a Million*

Name: Gwen Mars
Album(s): Magnosheen~, Driving a Million*
Year(s): 1995~, 2001*
Style: Alternative, Grunge-Metal,~ Indie-Rock*
Similar Bands: Smashing Pumpkins~, Nirvana~, Poster Children~, Tripping Daisy~, Mudhoney~, Filter~*, Psychedelic Furs.,~* Oasis*
"One-Word" Review: Popless-metal-noise~ Pop-Alternative-Noise*
Based Out Of: LA, CA
Label: Hollywood Records~, See Thru Broadcasting*
Magnosheen - Official Cover
Magnosheen - My Cover & Tape
Driving A Million - Cover, Back, CD
Magnosheen (1995)
  1. Control 1:47
  2. Heal Me 3:33
  3. Cosmic Dick 3:23
  4. Fisherking 4:21
  5. Hollow 2:48
  6. Shrink 3:36
  7. Magnosheen 2:47
  8. Stick B 3:20
  9. Ruined 3:03
  10. Dragster 3:11
  11. Stuck to the Sun 2:50
  12. Play Dead 5:14
  13. Rover 3:06
  14. Next to Drown 2:57
  15. Ticket to Mars 1:39
Driving A Million (2001)
  1. Neon Tom 4:37
  2. She Hung The Moon 4:35
  3. Radio Gun 3:36
  4. Venus 3:17
  5. Come Here 3:48
  6. Hurry Up 4:18
  7. Train Song 2:39
  8. Electro 4:06
  9. Strawberry Ice 2:57
  10. Lisa Candy 3:54
  11. The Race 4:48
Album Rating (1-10): ~6.0

Members, Other Bands:
Mike Thrasher - Guitar, Vox~*
John Boutin - Drums~*
Matt Westfield - Bass~*
Bill Cooper - Engineer, Mixing~*
Richard Podolor - Producer, Mixing~*
Daniel Boom - Assistant*
Bob Demaa - Assistant*
John Fryer - Producer, Engineer, Mixer*
Stephen Marcussen - Mastering*
Nancy Nowacek - Design*
Bennet Salvay - String Arrangement*
Marina Zurkow - Art Direction*

Unknown-ness: I’ve actually heard of them. Twice. But never really knew what they sounded like. Back in 1995, I picked up their first album as a demo/promo copy on tape, probably because I heard of them, or saw a review of the album in CMJ or something, and saw the tape for a buck or so. But I don’t remember listening to the album at all. Then in 2001, I was just getting into the Starlight Mints, and Gwen Mars’ “Driving A Million” is on the same See-Thru label, so I picked it up for a dollar, knowing the label. But again, I did not know who they were, even though at that point I had their first album on tape. I never saw the cover of the first album, but I liked the geometry and pastel color scheme of the super sonic train on their second album’s cover. It seemed quirky, and calculated; like what I was enjoying about the Starlight Mints. But now I know better; that they are alternative “grungers” as my mom might perhaps say.

Album Review: ~“Control” starts with a driving drum beat, fuzz guitars and a vocoder vocal performance that is one part Tripping Daisy and one part Smashing Pumpkins. The melody haphazardly glides along the coincidental background music. Lots of distortion and fuzz bridge the song gap, as “Heal Me” begins next. It is very much like S.P’s Cherub Rock (“Who wants that honey”) when it gets to the chorus. It also reminds me of Mudhoney’s song “Touch Me I’m Sick” for some indefinable reason; which is weird, because the next song sounds more like a Nirvana version of “Touch Me I’m Sick” with the song “Cosmic Dick.” It has calm singing and more emotional growl-scream singing for the chorus. This is that perfect combination of dark metal and catchy hooks that defines Alternative-grunge. The chorus is fast, like a speed-punk song. “Fisherking” comes next with a thick guitar and bass parallel, that sounds like it could break into “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at any time. Then the metallic lead guitars spin out of control and the vocals bring us down to a Smashing Pumpkins style. The singer likes to use short rhyming phrases to repeat over and over again (“It’s a bitch. Getting’ rich”). “Hollow” all of the songs have the same production, eerie guitars buzzing out of control, heavy bass lines, and vocals sung like they are through a metal trash can. There is a watery, vibrating vocal breakdown that is peaceful and ruptures open, back into the heavy music without much delay. There is a lot of anger it sounds like here at the song’s end. “Shrink” has a more post-post-punk, Smiths/Cure/Psych Furs gothic guitar introduction, which is carried through out the song. The chorus is almost very catchy, but it lacks the final note to make it so. The vocals often return to the non-singing grinding distorted screeching. “Magnosheen” starts with a very dark bass intro. It struggles to get going, dragging its musical feet as it lumbers along. The song lacks interesting musical characteristics, but it is just brooding and stammering to get somewhere, but it never gets going. The theme never changes. The chorus is a slight relief for headbanging and moshing (ahh, those were the days) but over all, it feels like a half completed song.

“Stick B” starts side B with some annoying ringing guitar effects, and a bouncy deep bass line and a Filter-like vocal performance. The vocals in the chorus are almost catchy, but they are too simple to be memorable. Even with the 4-note Bowie-ish chorus end, it still fades too fast to be great. More heavy bass introduces “Ruined” with soaring Tool like guitars. The vocals, also like Tool, come in quiet and ominous. There are a few different sections in the song; again, like a sampler platter of alternative styles, I can hear everything Seattle was putting out at the time. There’s the metal chord progression of Nirvana and the building musical atmosphere of Alice In Chains. Dark, evil music starts of “Dragster” with metal fuzzy chords progress under the half-hearted, sometimes screeching vocals. “Stuck to the Sun” follows in line of dischordant eerie melodies played under distortion. This one follows the pace of a fast heart beat. But it is quiet never using the grinding metal guitars. Dark bass and ringing, looping and echoing bell-like guitars give way to soft vocals lacking their characteristic distortion in “Play Dead.” It is sort of a ballad in its quiet atmospheric ambience, rather than the in your face anger from the rest of the album. I think you might be able to do a waltz to this song: an evil, ghostly waltz. The repetition of the title is issued under a couple of different vocal styles. “Rover” starts with a very catchy bass and guitar part, but it take a turn down and sounds dark with one musical decision. The music gives the song great potential to be a solid catchy song, but the vocals don’t follow the melody until the chorus. Then they carry the song in the direction it needs to go. The instrumental at the 2 minute mark is draining, but it comes out with the catchy, somewhat sing-song chorus: “she’s everyone’s rover.” And the buzzing last chord just fades out. The energy is not lost, because the next song “Next to Drown” carries over with fast moving bass, guitars and drums. The chorus here reminds me of Nirvana’s Drain You: “Chew your meat for you / Pass it back and forth / In a passionate kiss / From my mouth to yours / I like you.” But it lacks the seriously catchy building and delivery of musical hooks that Nirvana offers nearly every time. Drums and space-like vocal distortion bring in the last song “Ticket to Mars.” As it is not really a song proper, more just experimentation with environmental sounds, back-skipping effects, and vocal samples. It is vaguely carnival in its looping nature, but it is kind of a downer way to end a downer album.

*Insect buzzing noise starts “Neon Tom.” Then the vocals begin with far less distortion and a more produced sound. It is almost catchy, progressing chords, and not dark at all, similar to Weezer a bit. The voice is still a little grinding, similar to Richard Butler (Psych Furs). There are many catchy sections to the song, and the fuzzy guitars don’t enter until half way through. It sounds like they mashed up a bunch of interesting song ideas into one song. And it ends on quite the hopeful, positive note. “She Hung The Moon” is an acoustic guitar near-ballad. The vocals are not distorted as the last album, so much as whispered though a mega-phone. Violins are used, as the song is orchestrated with a much more complicated arrangement than was imaginable on the first album. The song ends with a backwards sounding flute or recorder played. “Radio Gun” sounds completely inspired by brit-pop. Fuzzed noise returns again, but this time it’s accompanied by intelligent decisions to add catchy backing vocals and happy power chord changes, rather than gloomy deep changes. Watch out SFA, here comes GM’s song “Venus.” What started out as a loud rock song is slowed down with the vocals building to the chorus, which rocks out with the same energy of Cosmic Dick. But it is a grungeless version. I don’t love the aggressive rumble of his sand paper like voice, but musically, this is a great, catchy driving song. It is a great bridge gapping song to represent both albums. “Come Here” is more of a jangelly middle level rock song. Not a ballad and not a fast paced driving song; it is radio friendly, head nodding fodder. But I can hear how this song could easily be converted to a grunge first album song. It is neat to see the difference and appeal of a song just because of the popular production of the time.

“Hurry Up” is a noisy progressing song that would have fit well on the last album until they go all Semisonic and change up the instrumentation to acoustic guitars with the vocals. Then they blend the styles nicely and it sounds like a bad radio song. The light breakdown with harmonizing vocals seems very out of character, and kinda ruins their image. Lo-fi and loud characterize the beginning of “Train Song.” The band really takes it upon themselves to let the vocals stand up on their own, quieting the music around them. But this song carries good momentum and has a catchy vocal melody. The chugging drums in the background simulate a speeding train. “Electro” is a fast dancy song with sedated vocal through out the verse. The Chorus picks up the vocal energy. And different instruments are added, pick up, and carry the song through with little changes and a steady energy. “Strawberry Ice” is a little dark in its bass, but nothing like the last album. The jerky guitar work reminds me of Green Day, as do the nasally, whiny vocals. But it is more calculated and precise than the fun punk that Green Day perfected. But I think he’s saying “You’re all very nice” rather than the title “Strawberry Ice.” “Lisa Candy” has a nice quiet and slightly dark intro, but the guitars pick up in little spurts and make the song just another loud rock song. The song had potential but it was lost in over production especially of the chorus. There are some neat electronic ideas, but they are buried far under the noisy production, which might be good, because defiantly fit into the noisy rock category, and electronics might not fit them too well. “The Race” feels like it is going to be a long song. It is slow trudging, even with the drumming. It feels like a British rock anthemic ballad. The way he sings is again, similar to Psych Furs. This is a nice song, where it is different than the rest of the album; it still fits into their guidelines, with repetition and his Firewater style vocals. And it gives a nice upbeat ending to the album.

Stand Out Track: ~Cosmic Dick

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