Paula Carino:
Aquacade
(125 Records)

Some time ago, an online music discussion list I'm on had a lengthy discussion about whether there's as much good music today as there was in the past. Among the many reasons I'm persuaded that answering "no" isn't viable is that there are something like 50,000 recordings released every year. No way can anyone hear all of them; therefore, no way can anyone say with assurance that one of those unheard recordings might not make as major an impression as any of the handful of well-exposed recordings.

For most people, this CD is presently one of those unheard recordings - and sure enough, the songs here are every bit as good as those popular favorites, and better than quite a few of them. Carino once led a band called Regular Einstein: if you get the impression from that band name and the name of the label she's trading under that she's a bit of a sarcastic wit, you'd be correct. Probably the only writer ever to rhyme "fossilized" with "colossal lies," Carino also addresses ocean-bound disasters, early morning city street scenes, and the joy of finding a rare and treasured recording in the discount bins. Of course, it's fully possible that these might be, as she wrote, "those metaphors that you kids today are so into."

As good as Carino's lyrics are (and they're excellent), most people don't buy CDs just to hear lyrics; otherwise, they'd just buy books on tape. Carino proves herself a skilled sculptor of melodies and sounds. "Paleoclimatology," source of the "fossilized" line, features an indelible chorus of "I need a hammer," which works not only in the meta-archaeological context of the song's lyrics but also suggests frustration, lack, and all those other well-worn engines that have driven pop songs for ages. "Fish" begins with a lazy, loping guitar lick that, for some reason, reminds me of Thin White Rope, and a country feel accented with a melancholy accordion. The ending of "Tip of the Iceberg" features a wave of chorused voices singing "only water," one set of which is run through some sort of effects box that makes the voices sound, well, sort of underwater, but not in an obvious "Octopus's Garden" way. And "Discovering Fire" manages to make its chunky, off-center riff sound both heavy and delicately graceful, by doubling the distorted electric with an acoustic.

Paula Carino's Aquacade proves once again that there's no necessary relation between quality of music and quantity of exposure. But the existence of albums as good as Carino's on small indie labels like 125 Records gives one hope that more people can hear one of the most promising musicians of 2001.

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--Jeff Norman--
August 16, 2001

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