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Chris Brokaw / Viva las Vegas - s/t

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Artist: Chris Brokaw / Viva las Vegas

Album: s/t

Label: Kimchee

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

Short albums are good. The shorter the better. Years of television and video games have worn my attention span down to a nub, and I know that I’m not the only one for whom this is the case. I cringed when cds broke free of their original 74-minute capacity, and I cringed again when I found that musicians were actually trying to make albums that were longer than 74 minutes. Rappers have been the biggest culprits. And Metallica too. Nobody can record 74 great minutes. Mogwai’s Rock Action was a sensible 34 minutes, and even though I didn’t much care for it, I think back on it fondly, knowing that I was able to listen to it all the way through in one sitting. I like EPs. Four good songs out of five is better than six great songs out of twelve. None of this is completely true, but all of it is a little true. Thus I am biased towards liking this new Chris Brokaw/Viva las Vegas split EP. It is short. It has four songs. Two of them are excellent and two are not so excellent. When I finish listening to it, I have the satisfaction of having heard two songs that I enjoyed (one by Brokaw, and one by Viva la Vegas), and I only had to sit through two that I didn’t enjoy.

Chris Brokaw has done a lot of things and played/plays in a lot of bands. His two contributions were recorded almost entirely solo, save for background company-keeping by bandmates Thalia Zedek and Bubba Kadane. The first song, “Bricks,” is an off-kilter but fantastically straightforward rock song. Brokaw’s conversational lyrics (“Steven turned to me and he said ‘fuck!’”) are a fine match for his own crispy guitar playing. His long, somewhat arpeggiated guitar lines never stray very far from the foundational melody but remain consistent. The song’s acoustic-to-electric-to-cymbal-smashing-and-quiet-again format seems conventional enough, but actually has outlasted its period of un-hipness and is surprisingly refreshing. Brokaw’s slightly raspy vocals are a good fit for his instrumentation, and even his brief “lai dai dai” bridge flows smoothly back into the initial relative hush. His next song, “La Playa” is not nearly as dynamic, but rather sounds like Brokaw just messing around with a fairly simple and uninteresting guitar line (with a tambourine, for effect).

The next two (and last two) songs are by the Spanish band Viva las Vegas. Their first offering, “El rio llamado Orbigo,” would not sound out of place on Fridge’s recent masterpiece, Happiness. It builds slowly and easily as punctuated drums delicately cut through the tension built by the guitar’s lead-lines, feedback, and harmonics. “Una vez mas” comes dangerously close to discrediting Viva las Vegas entirely, as it imitates Calexico a bit too closely, and not just because they’re speaking Spanish (although that certainly doesn’t help). Viva las Vegas’ combination of echoey vibes, brush-stroked drums, and synth harmonica is such a Calexico trademark that even if the song didn’t sound like a Tex-Mex ballad (which it does, kinda), it would probably still sound like Calexico (For more information on this phenomenon, check out the latest album by Migala).

So here we are, not 17 minutes later, and look at all of the things that we have learned and experienced. There were so many highs (two), so many lows (two), and in infinite number of in betweens. For a very reasonable $7.99, I’m sold.

By Sam Hunt

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