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Ear Might: Artistic risks pay off in this crop of local CDs



Now that the requisite 20 years has passed, the '90s are ripe for the artistic pillaging. Dagwood's brand of punk fits nicely into the '90s niche carved by NOFX, Lagwagon, Face to Face, and Me First & the Gimme Gimmes. If you calibrate your punk-o-meter to center on Green Day, then Dagwood would be a couple notches to the left — a little more aggro, a little more underground, a little more earnest, but not "scene" enough to alienate the average pop-punk fan. Paradise has the elements you'd expect: prematurely world-weary lyrics, huge buzzy guitars, a snare drum like a tin can being struck with hammers, blurted vocal melodies, and big sloppy harmonies. The surprising things here are the other instruments that sneak in, like the piano in "Closing Up," or the trombone on "Time Apart." The sum total is a super-catchy slab of youthful noise. Paradise is available as a free download on BandCamp.

The Files & Fires
For People Talk Lightly...


By far the state's best entry in the post-rock genre, the Files & Fires' latest release has been quietly simmering away, amassing a cultish following. It's good that their recent release is so strong, because they're hard to catch live. The group's rotating cast of musicians is a curse for their gig calendar but a cornucopia in the studio. At times they sound like a more chamber-poppy Radiohead (although it should be noted that For People Talk Lightly... is essentially an instrumental album). But in general, their sound is more comparable to the sweeping textures of Mono than, say, Explosions in the Sky, who tend to get a little obsessed with crescendos. Forgive them their handful of indie cliches: the boat on the cover; their cool-sounding but essentially meaningless band name (it's a snippet from Camus, taken far out of context); the glockenspiel-like tones wafting through "A Miracle Saved Us." The Files & Fires' quality shimmers forth in their excellent use of strings, and the way they cash in on risks — like the unexpected and awesome-sounding sleigh bells on "The Sea Was Left Behind."

Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet
Apparent Distance

(Firehouse 12)/New Haven/Brooklyn, N.Y.

Let's start at the finish. "Part IV: Layer" ends this long-form composition with a chilling funeral march — call it the burial of jazz. Like the Diggers, who announced "the Death of Hippie" in a 1967 parade, Bynum's sextet seems to be announcing a critical mass, a threshold being crossed. But while the Diggers' parade expressed cynicism at mass culture ("Hippie — Son of Media" read the side of the mock coffin), Apparent Distance seems to suggest a skepticism with certain notions of freedom. Whether your case study is abstract expressionist painting, an anonymous Internet chat room, or Wall Street, too much freedom, it seems, can be just as bad as not enough. Thus Bynum's sextet functions on a hybrid model that's emerging as the new paradigm for jazz. He not only "blurs the lines between composition and improvisation" (his own words, from the liner notes), but he uses structures that make room for chance. In this sense, Bynum's hand is on the wheel at all times, even when it looks like it isn't. Required listening for anyone curious about the current state — or the future — of jazz and improvised music.

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