Music News

Sue Garner and Rick Brown

Still is an unlikely choice to keep the woofers cranking and the party raging. It's not particularly therapeutic for those who self-medicate with a few drinks and a gut-wrenching record. Nor will it help spread a political ideology. The work of Sue Garner and Rick Brown, Still is hard to classify, and indie-rock patrons outside of Manhattan might wonder just where these multi-instrumentalists and vocalists came from; Garner's To Run More Smoothly, a playfully layered postmodern solo debut, is the only recording that might afford an initial point of reference. The married couple's collective credentials, however, link them to some notable no-wave, art-rock and feel-good pop bands. Garner, who mostly handles guitar and bass here, was a member of the band Vietnam and lent her soft Southern voice to female trio the Shams (whose liberated, saucy Quilt is pure magic). Brown, the primary percussionist and a synthesizer wiz, is a member of Les Batteries and was once a member of Curlew with George Cartwright, Fred Frith, Tom Cora and company. Among their many other projects, Garner and Brown were both in Fish & Roses and Run On.

All of this experience benefits Still, but it doesn't completely explain it. After two throat-clearing bits of colorful filler, the disc begins in earnest with "Asphalt Road," where a gripping bass line, a clever guitar riff and nitro-burning steel guitar work (from Douglas McCombs of Tortoise) are supremely handled. The speedy percussion is that double yellow line running down the center of the sound, and Garner and Brown's dual voices are like wind through the hair. The cavernous effects, unidentified glitches and Garner's soulful vocal warmth star in "Let Us Out." With Doug Weiselman's saxophone brightening it up, "Absorbed" might work as a raver's reveille. But like "Damp Spirit," it's uneventful. The vocal treatment and minimalist presentation on John Lennon's "It's So Hard" come across as a seductive, futuristic Alan Lomax field recording. Though it packs more of the tempo and energy of vintage Gang of Four than DNA, "Bomb Squad" underscores the duo's no-wave roots. Even better, Brown sings coolly "Walks by and blows a fuse/Walks by and blows a few kisses." On "Swimmingly," it all comes together: desert-mirage guitar, plodding drums, a dripping Dali-esque bass clarinet (perhaps), spidery bass and Garner's vocals so intimate they could be passing the other way through one's ears. "Short and Semi-Sweet" and "Molly My" continue with creative vibes, and "Fussy Fuss" ends it with a tricky throwaway that morphs into a right and honorable new wave guitar anthem. If anything, Still proves that categories are for butterfly collectors, not music lovers.

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Thomas Peake