Days for Days
CMJ New Music Report:
L.A. New Times:
Phoenix New Times:
Bucketfull of Brains
Bucketfull of Brains:
The Chicago Reader
The Chicago Reader:
Intricate pop and super-intelligent arrangements from prolific, brainy Americans.
There's a group of would-be icons in America who've manoeuvered post-Beatles power pop into a Phil Spector meets Brian Wilson production that straddles almost all styles of music. Scott Miller has graduated from this school of advanced pop writing with enough hooklines, clever instrumental breaks and memorable melodies to justify his band's cult success. Miller's last Loud Family opus, Interbabe Concern, was a startling breakthrough, like a collection of old faves that ring with familiar storylines. In Days for Days the plot unfolds further, amplified by the addition of analogue keyboard player Alison Faith Levy, who adds warmth and another layer of hummable harmonies. The result is a seamless collection of breath-held tunes, a symphonic rush of joy that's quirky and immensely contagious, like XTC cuddling up with Jellyfish. (Four stars)
Featuring alternate bursts of sublime power pop and chopped-up, backward noise madness, Days For Days comes across as something of a concept album. In reality, though, the concept is nothing deeper than an exercise in perfect, phasey songwriting that continues the lineage of the Zombies, Big Star and dB's. Days For Days is more uniform and less colorful than 1996's explosive, Eastern-tinged Interbabe Concern. Scott Miller hasn't lost the ease with which he piles Alex Chilton melodies on top of one another; in fact, it seems that he's finding it a little bit easy and retreating within himself on the likes of "Cortex the Killer" and "Mozart Sonatas." He's a little too busy experimenting with his own multitracked nasal lyricism to turn these into the songs that make the Loud Family superstars. But, then again, this band has been slapping everyone's favorite tunes into confined spaces for so long that it has to be discovered by the world at large some day soon. Days For Days could be the Loud Family's Sgt. Pepper--not their best album, but the one that captures the public's imagination.
The Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune
As a classically stylish pop wiz working in a field rife with near-sighted, trend-chasing dimwits, songwriter Scott Miller has found his gifts to be long under-recognized, although his songs for both Game Theory and now the Loud Family constitute one of rock's more alluring treasure troves. Predictably, the Loud Family's great new LP, Days for Days, once again showcases Miller's flair for knee-buckling Beatles/Big Star hooks and cryptically erudite lyrics. Always a great live show.
CMJ New Music Report
CMJ New Music Report
Beginning with his days in Game Theory, Loud Family's Scott Miller has written smart, catchy pop songs with an experimental edge. Days for Days, Loud Family's fourth album since its 1992 debut, continues Miller's musical tradition by taking his experimentalism one step further, inserting short, titleless sound collages between each proper pop song. Within the melodic parameters of the more conventional songs, Miller and Family construct arching melodies like master craftsmen, making each cut both sonically interesting and memorable. Lyrical ideas often come from all directions, referencing everything from Boris Yeltsin to talk radio with an effortless delivery that keeps the music light on its feet. A welcome return for all Loud Family fans.
L.A. New Times
L.A. New Times
The title alone of "Cortex The Killer," the first full-fledged song on Days for Days, is as good a way as any to divine intents and obsessions of Loud Family leader Scott Miller--classic-rock reference plus bit of Nabokovian-word golf (see Pale Fire) equals pithy description of a mind turned against itself. As it happens, the title never gets sung, and the song itself bears little resemblance to Neil Young's post-colonial epic: The band throbs under one of Miller's classically clotted melodies (internal rhyme: "felt pens/Yeltsin"), while new keyboardist Alison Faith Levy takes the phrase "instrumental breakdown" literally, with a shattered piano solo ŕ la Mike Garson on Bowie's Aladdin Sane. And that's pretty much par for this particular 18-hole course (nine full-dress compositions and nine brief between-song palate-cleansers).
Miller's been trying to reconcile mind and body on record since Game Theory, his previous band, opened 1983's Real Nighttime with a odd instrumental snippet that was semi-explained in the album's Joycean liner notes: "First, the Patient Wakes with a sense of separation of churn and statement." Since then, he's moved from Game Theory's deeply encoded Lolita Nation to the Loud Family's less control-freakish (and less effective) Tape of Only Linda to the home-recorded divorce proceedings of '96's Interbabe Concern, all tied together by his keening, acquired-taste voice and heavily-collaged lyric sensibility. The seemingly strict alternation of song and experiment on Days for Days is perhaps meant to bridge Miller's competing tendencies, but as with any good duality (see Reese's Peanut Butter Cups), there's a bit of yin in the yang, and vice versa: A few of the entr'actes are as catchy as what they're sandwiched between, and several are radically scrambled versions of the song immediately previous, sometimes with extra lyrics. Similarly, with Miller's penchant for odd mixing tricks and rhythmic hairpins (ably abetted here by new/old drummer Gil Ray, a key player during Game Theory's most productive years), the Loud Family's sense of what exactly makes a pop song is as envelope-pushing as anybody's.
Frankly, though, Miller's dueling tendencies of churn and statement aren't welded together here quite as unerringly as on Interbabe--his self-production can leave his guitar sounding under-nourished, and some songs are merely solid rather than inspired (though repeated listening helps here, as with all Loud Family records). Among the standouts: "Mozart Sonatas," which accompanies thumbnail critiques of Marcel Duchamp and Amadeus himself, with self-parodically, goofy new-wave trappings and jarring textural shifts. Best of all is "Crypto-Sicko," which moves from a soaring (and coherent and melodic) verse full of Miller's long-standing self-doubt ("I'm not sure I've done more than call the kids to see the fights") to a mock-anthemic three-chord chorus: "False alarms, crypto-sicko, babes in arms." It's hard to tell whether the song is about pornography (there's a line about a V-chip) or something more personal, but, as with many an unreliable narrator with more brains than sense (again, see Pale Fire), Miller's most effective moments come when his emotions are as unbalanced as his craft is sure.
Like Thelonious Monk or Antonio Gaudí, lead Loud Scott Miller labors over his intricate creations with little regard for the teeming masses, conjuring time and tempo changes, keyboard textures taut in their lushness (courtesy newcomer Alison Faith Levy) and exploding-thesaurus verbiage that might appear, on first listen anyway, to match his spring-water pop melodies like a clown nose on a pedigree poodle.
Stay with the man. His ultimate objective remains the expansion of pop music's canvas, but a real rock 'n' roll heart beats proudly south of his Hofstadter brain. His 1996 album Interbabe Concern sounded cramped, fuzzy and sometimes explosive in its epic scrutiny of post-relationship vitriol; Days for Days is no less elaborate but quite a bit more fun, alternating "real songs" with non-abrasive sound collages that come off like beach volleyball played on a console instead of sand. Levy's sultry voice and Miller's unlikely one wrap around each other with an intimate antagonism that recalls Black Francis and Kim Deal, and on "Deee-Pression" and "Sister Sleep," at least, you'll be singing along (I told you about the spring-water pop melodies). Miller takes the world apart to put it back together better; a few knocks from banging your head on his brave new world are a small price to pay for the visions within.
Scott Miller's fourth Loud Family album (following seven releases with Game Theory) proves once and for all that he's quite aware that he's a genius. Game Theory's records often felt self-deprecatingly tentative. Conversely, the last Loud Family album, 1996's Interbabe Concern, sometimes felt almost too insular and remote, like Miller had given up and was simply playing to his rabidly devoted cult.
On the other hand, Days For Days sounds unprecedentedly confident and self-assured. Miller's trademark sound collages and noise bursts are here removed from the songs themselves into nine untitled segments ranging from seven to eighty seconds in length which distort and restate ideas from the nine songs they separate, giving the album an oddly formalistic feel. But this is no Tortoise/Gastr del Sol post-rock showoffishness; Scott Miller is and always has been an unabashed fan of pure pop, and never has that been more in evidence.
The songs still take wholly unexpected left turns (dig the way the disjunctive verses of "Crypto-Sicko" coalesce into an instantly singable I-IV-V chorus Noel Gallagher would sell his brother for) as they leap from the tightly-wound gallop of "Cortex the Killer" through the New Wavey "Mozart Sonatas," the snarling "Deee-Pression" and the lovely "Way Too Helpful." The band--bassist Kenny Kessel, drummer Gil Ray and new keyboardist Alison Faith Levy--is supple enough to navigate these twists easily; never before has one of Miller's many lineups sounded so much like a band instead of a group of backing musicians.
Along with this assured music, Miller's lyrics (unfortunately not printed, though they're available on the band's excellent website, www.loudfamily.com) are among his best, combining his characteristic obsessive pop culture/high art references (ever seen Marcel Duchamp and the Pink Floyd/Wizard of Oz correlation namechecked on the same album?) with a newfound directness: previous songs have sounded really cool, but sometimes dissolved under close scrutiny. Even when the meanings are elusive, there's a definite sense that the songs here are in fact about something.
It's dangerous to use a phrase like "album of the year" for a May release, but even in what's shaping up to be an excellent year for pop, Days For Days stands out. This is endlessly fascinating music.
Phoenix New Times
Phoenix New Times
Modern rock is well-stocked with Best Kept Secrets, but even for this field there's something oddly elusive about The Loud Family. The band's new CD Days for Days is probably vocalist-writer-guitarist-producer Scott Miller's most accessible music since 1986's Big Shot Chronicles, the album by Miller's earlier Bay Area band Game Theory that should have made him as big a favorite with the masses as with critics.
Despite clear evidence of soaking in the Beatles and Big Star, Miller is no mere pop revivalist. His work fortunately avoids the three-minute glucose-tolerance level of many power-pop bands, with whom the Louds share at least some affinity. (Maybe that explains Game Theory's otherwise unaccountable absence from Rhino's Poptopia trilogy.) But if the music is tuneful, it's also challenging. Seemingly without commercial calculation, Miller sounds committed to fearlessly walking a tightrope between hook-laden romantic angst-pop and brief but funny-painful excursions into Stockhausen territory.
Miller's fans shake heads in wonder that The Loud Family's barely dented the charts. His more fanatical devotees feel he's recorded the equivalent of a couple of Abbey Roads and a This Year's Model or two without getting much of the acclaim he's due. Loud fans who play spot-the-influence are prone to cite Yeats, Kubrick or software arcana as often as the Byrds or Elvis Costello.
All of which tends to scare normal people away, expecting the Difficult Listening Hour. While Miller & Co. offer some difficult minutes, they combine the noise fests with often delicate melodies that oddly enough don't sound out of place. Game Theory was doing crunchy tuneful goodness long before Nirvana, the Pumpkins or Radiohead made it cool.
As part of Miller's apparent millennium-spanning plan to alternate near-symphonic mindbenders like 1987's Lolita Nation and last year's Interbabe Concern with discs that are more or less bunches of songs, Days for Days is relatively straightforward, for this outfit at least. It features keyboard highlights with a nod toward Ben Folds Five, bite-size instrumental interludes, and wise-guy song titles like "Cortex the Killer" and "Why We Don't Live in Mauritania." The catchy, riff-heavy "Deee-Pression" certainly sounds like the single we'll be lucky to hear on the air, though for me the highlight is the surrealistically wistful "Good, There Are No Lions in the Street." Once again, the listener is left with the impression that Miller could write hits if he only dumbed it down, and admiration at his refusal to do so.
Bucketfull of Brains
Bucketfull of Brains
The new Loud Family album is upon us and the usual rules apply. Fourth album, fourth line-up, with only bassist Kenny Kessel retained from Interbabe Concern. Alison Faith Levy enters on keyboards and former Game Theory drummer Gil Ray returns to the fold. All of this is irrelevant of course, because as with Game Theory, the Loud Family is Scott Miller. Nine new songs interspersed with nine nameless short sound collages, Days For Days is less frenetic than the last album, smoother, but still as clever and complex both musically and lyrically as anything Miller does. If you're already a follower, then you have no need to know anything other than this album exists. If you don't know his work then pick up any from his back catalogue, play it enough to get hooked, then you'll find you need everything else. Miller is a special talent, intellectual, innovative, and passionate about what he does, and Days For Days has nothing on it to dissuade me from his genius. He has a unique niche in the scheme of things, and if you haven't yet discovered him then do so at your earliest convenience or be branded for the sick little monkey you must surely be!
Loud Family leader Scott Miller is a lot like the true believers who kept speaking Esperanto--the beatnik attempt to create a one-world language--long after the cause was lost. It's been more than a decade since Miller (ex-Game Theory) began lacing tunes with a singular vernacular made up of a maddeningly contagious mix of power-pop verbs and computer-geek nouns, and he's still jabbering along, as detached and delightfully dizzy as ever.
Since Miller is a bit of a pastiche artist, it's not all that hard to isolate moments that can be traced to his inspirations (Alex Chilton, Don Kirshner, Morton Subotnick). But when he gets his sonic Osterizer going at full tilt, as on baroque-pop mini-symphonies such as "Why We Don't Live in Mauritania," there's no doubt as to who's at the controls.
The thing about Miller's songs is that no matter how silly the lyrical conceit, they make it virtually impossible to resist a shameless sing-along. For that, you can blame both the finespun, sugary melodies and the peculiar allure of Miller's helium-stoked voice (which recalls a '50s doowopper finding his feet in the space age).
And even though Days for Days ups the obscurist quotient by scattering nine instrumental tracks throughout the album, it holds together with gigabytes more spirit than any other computer-themed concept album you might care to name, OK?
The Chicago Reader
The Chicago Reader
In the late 80s Scott Miller's band Game Theory threatened to surface in the mainstream with its dreamy Big Star-inspired pop, but personnel instability and Miller's penchant for throwing songs out of whack with blasts of noise kept it underground. Game Theory made its last album in 1988, and Miller didn't show up again until 1993, leading the Loud Family, which despite different players and new songs sounds an awful lot like its predecessor. Over the course of the four albums since, Miller has settled into a creative groove, applying his high-pitched nasal whine to some of the catchiest pure-pop melodies since the 70s. The group's new album, Days for Days (Alias), doesn't alter the formula, even bringing former Game Theory drummer Gil Ray back into the fold to propel tunes like the monstrously hooky "Cortex the Killer," the grinding "Deee-Pression," and the gentle, pretty "Way Too Helpful." At this point Miller's lyrics are a bundle of clever self-referentiality--what else to make of a song called "Why We Don't Live in Mauritania"?--and I could've done without the untitled instrumental bits that separate the songs. But I'm more than willing to cut this band some slack, because if it doesn't keep churning out these twisted pop gems, nobody else will.