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EC’s ‘Starlight Road’ sends off the summer with style

With summer slowly winding down, I’m keeping an eye on the mullen.

I’m told that mullen height is an indication of what kind of a winter we’ll have, at least what we should expect as far as a snow load. Last year, the stuff was looking like wild corn but its not showing that kind of ambition this year and appears to be no taller than my 6-year old son. If the mullen’s ability to predict a winter is indeed true, that’s good news for my back.

Trying not to look too far ahead and attempting to savor what remains of our brief Pagosa area summer, I’m holding to the selections that have taken up residence in my CD player this summer, the disks that have been played so loud that all my neighbors throughout the Fourmile valley can tell you what I’ve been listening to.

At the top of my list is a little gem by a local talent, Elmo Chesterhazy (EC), a delightful collection of twisted tunes that Chesterhazy calls “electropsycoustic” music.

Now, I’ll admit that when EC handed me the disk earlier this summer, I was a little hesitant to mention it here much less take the time to listen. After all, in my experience, most local bands (here or anywhere), while possessing enough heart and determination to fill the Horn of Africa, usually lack the talent or originality to make it past the first round of “America’s Got Talent.” My music library has a dark and dusty corner where various studio efforts by local bands have been relegated. Think “The Island of Lost Toys.”

Local bands tend towards a mindless pursuit of sounding like another band. Hence, my Island of Lost Toys is inhabited by disks that sound like Siouxsie and the Banshees or Phish or U2 or Burning Spear (and when I say “sound like,” I mean if the original band members had been cut off from oxygen to near fatal results and had their fingers broken). The Island is, unfortunately, largely inhabited by no-talent derivative dreck.

EC not only misses a one-way trip to the Island of Lost Toys, his freshman effort “Starlight Road” has been given heavy rotation at my house.

First of all, there is nothing derivative about the disk, he is wholly original and really doesn’t sound like anyone. Secondly, the music doesn’t hold to any single genre so the entire disk maintains a constant fresh attack, there is nothing static about the music. Every cut is a pleasant surprise as it picks up from the previous one.

Although several online reviews have compared “Starlight Road” to Pink Floyd or the Moody Blues (good gawd), I don’t find EC so atavistic and would look to more recent bands such as Grizzly Bear, Nuetral Milk Hotel or Badly Drawn Boy if comparisons are to be made. And, as I mentioned earlier, EC refuses to hold to a particular stylistic form, keeping things interesting.

The meandering first cut (apparently the most popular due to the number of downloads logged on EC’s MySpace page) sets the pace for the rest of the disk, an aural trip (not the drug kind) or journey, broken up only by a Bob Dylan-esque rap. Yes, I can understand the comparison to Pink Floyd as EC’s vocal phrasing is very similar to Roger Waters, but the song (and the cuts that follow) are really EC’s and not anyone else’s.

Avoiding a monochromatic groove, EC takes various styles hostage and reworks them with a wry sense of humor before letting them go. “Eat Around the Poison” takes a strip-club bump and grind (ala Tom Waits) and creates a nightmare of biblical proportions, while “Not Far From You” is worthy of heavy rotation on XMU. Of all the cuts, only “Spaceship” is the one that really evokes the sound of another band, mirroring the gypsy-punk and growling vocals of Gogol Bordello.

The title cut (my personal favorite on the album) defies any comparison to another artist, EC’s lyrics laying the irony on thick with self-confidence, “I feel like somethin’ is missing, is that a window where there used to be a door? And there’s nobody listening, funny how I never noticed it before.”

Hopefully, many more will be listening in the near future. EC deserves a larger audience.

“It’s catchetatious,” EC begins the album, “Even the web they weave, even the way we deceive ourselves,” warns the listener — and the reviewer — to put preconceptions aside and enjoy the trip. Excellent advice for us all.

EC’s music can be found for purchase or download at www.myspace.com/elmochesterhazy but you can also purchase his songs on CD Baby or iTunes. Hopefully, if you’re not wired, you can pick up a copy at Howlin’ Wolf (bug Mark if you can’t).

Really, the local boy gets my honors for best album so far this summer, but I have a few more recommendations to fill your hot summer night as you down a couple of cold brews. The Horrors latest release “Primary Colours,” while not quite achieving greatness with the inclusion of some obvious filler, nevertheless has some truly great cuts that make it well worth slapping onto your turntable this summer. There’s a lot of Joy Division and Sisters of Mercy darkness here but the album is not a throwback to goth glory days — the best cuts (like “Scarlet Fields” and “I Only Think of You”) are as thrilling as anything currently circulating on the indie scene. The sublime “Sea Within a Sea,” eight minutes of raucous guitar and intoxicating synth is well worth the price of admission and, by far, my favorite single of the year.

Finally, if you haven’t picked Sonic Youth’s “The Eternal,” you’re missing out on one of the best albums of the year. Never mind the comparisons to “Daydream Nation,” SY’s latest stands alone in their considerable and impressive oeuvre. Pick this up, The Horrors, and EC’s “Starlight Road” and send off the summer with style.

jim@pagosasun.com