Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Sunday, April 2

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Under Goddess (Virginal, 2004) 4 of 5 stars

You have to hand it to the pop melody-makers. We've seen attractive, semi-talented young ladies appear in the guise of bubble-gum pop (Britney), bad-girl pop (Christina), punk-pop (Avril) and rock-pop (Ashlee.) The degree of actual musicality is always under question, but you'd think that one day the variations on the type of girl would eventually run out.

Not quite. You may have forgotten the sensitive hippie girl variety. Consider: if Britney was supposed to be a mini-Madonna, maybe Avril a mini Chrissie Hynde, then Spelt is the baby sister of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Ani DiFranco.

And so goes the debut album of the pop triad Spelt, Under Goddess. While its release may bring us one step closer to finally running out of incarnations of pop princesses, they still haven't gone the way of boy bands quite yet.

How, you ask, can a manufactured girl group possibly attempt to imitate an armpit-haired, Lilith-Faired group of Oberlin alumnae? Not very well, I might answer. But perhaps that doesn't really matter.

Not that they haven't pulled out all the stops. Spelt has included such folksy staples on their album as complicated harmonies, mandolins and acoustic guitar. And to tell the truth, sometimes it's quite decent, as long as you don't pay too much attention to the lyrics or think too hard about what you're actually listening to. The song "Her," for instance, is a pretty, even somewhat clever riff on the Charles Aznavour and Herbert Kretzmer song "She" (popularized by Elvis Costello in the film Notting Hill), and "Not Anymore," sure to be this year's slow-jam "I Will Survive."

The group is composed of Mindy Sherman, Julia Gold and Phaedra Jones (surely soon to be known only as "Phaedra," as the most attractive member of the group.) According to my press material, the three met at a poetry slam in a cafe, although it seems more like they met in line for "American Idol" tryouts. All three have good-enough voices, but don't be fooled. While on the album cover Mindy sits at a drum set, Julie grips a guitar and Phaedra touches a violin, the instruments have all been covered by much less attractive, anonymous members of the Spelt family. Meanwhile, while the ladies drape themselves in appropriate earth tones and hippie skirts, it's impossible not to notice their burgeoning breasts and curving hips. But they want to be known for their hearts and minds, dammit.

In some ways, the appearance of Spelt is extremely timely; many young girls' pop idols have become too skanky for their own taste, and the men who ogle after them are too embarrassed to purchase their albums. Spelt, while they're relatively unspoilt, are still chaste enough for their young audiences and their songs are innocuous enough for college boys to slip the music into their "Doing It" mixes without fear of being laughed at.

So it is a guilty pleasure, as the emotions and confessions of rape and sexual identity and heartbreak have been boiled down to be trilled out by a trio of nymphettes not even old enough to drink, let alone whisper out the hard truths that have come warbling out of Tori and Bjork's mouths. But then again, the original was just an image as well, and one that annoyed me, to boot. So I say, "who cares?" The music is enjoyable, the idea innocuous, and while they're no second coming of folk, I've got no beef with Spelt -- until, of course, the various band members start taking off their clothes, getting into fights in clubs and forging friendships with Paris Hilton. Which, at the rate the world is going, is scheduled to take place in about ten minutes, so enjoy Spelt while you can: as fresh and natural as a Twinkie in a convenience store.

11052004_tjfe.jpg -AH

The Jane Fonda Experience
Self-titled: Their Eponymous Debut (Selectric, 2004) 0 of 5 stars

To: The Editors-in-Chief of Rolling Stone and Spin Magazines
From: Brandon Heckman, GapersBlock music critic

It's official: the buzz propagated by the towering giants of rock crit has been percolating steadily for the last three months, and word on the street is that The Jane Fonda Experience will be the next big thing. The mags -- and the press kits distributed by TJFE's label, Selectric -- are excitedly touting the band's crossover appeal: finally we have the brat-punk record that disenfranchised sweaty teens and the ever-growing legion of indy-loving hipsters alike will adore.

So Gapers Block readers, what does this record sound like? Is the record beneath the garish rip-off of the Velvet Underground classic cover -- featuring Ms. Fonda circa Barbarella as the banana -- worth the hype?

Let me put it to you this way: after my first listen I desperately called my editor and begged him to let me review a different record -- anything but this. Sadly, I was dismissed.

Make no bones about it: This fucking record is ungodly horrible. From start to finish, it's an excruciating listen -- something akin to watching Battlefield Earth sober. Only ten times worse. Like any healthy hipster, I love finding media so terrible it's brilliantly funny. This record, snobbishly titled Self-titled: Their Eponymous Debut, doesn't come close to attaining that status - reaching out to us from the bitter shit heap of failed artistry. It's absolutely the worst thing I've heard in my life � and probably will remain so until my dying breath. If it were possible to assign it a five star rating in the negative (with a cautionary label that indicates that this listening experience could adversely impact your health), I would campaign passionately for that status.

TJFE showers us with lyrics laden with excrementally realized pop-culture references in what I can only guess is an attempt to earn cache with the fickle hipster set. All of this is driven by grating neu-punk riffs that mirror the work of Blink-182, Good Charlotte, and pre-Chuck Sum41 almost to the point of blatantly ripping them off.

But it's the works of vocalist Brad Miller that cinch the deal. With song titles like "Anakin: There's Hope for you Yet," "Laura Palmer's Death Rattle," and the shockingly abysmal "She's so Huxtable," we shudder at the prospect of our listening experience. I might argue that "She's so Huxtable" is the worst of these, with its mid-song rap ("Rudy, baby/You're such a fine lady/Let me work you over/With my tongue then maybe") and lyrical stereotyping that verges on racism. But "Buddy Holly" perpetrates the most unforgivable offense. The band blatantly rips off Weezer -- changing only a few notes a la Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby," speeding up the tempo and layering in tripe-ish new lyrics (yet keeping the chorus almost exactly the same). Not only is this a lawsuit in the making, but also they've ensured that there is a special place waiting for them in hell.

I beg of you: Don't buy this record. I've already burned (to cinders, not to disc) my copy in effigy.


About the Author(s)

The Critic is a regular series of "real reviews of fake things."
Claire Zulkey is an author and contributor to many fine publications; learn more at Brandon Heckman writes about all things Brandonian. Illustrations by Naz Hamid and Andrew Huff

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