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On Friday, February 20, the group Space Carpet will be releasing their self titled album at Beaner’s Central. Space Carpet is another branch off what I like to refer to as the “Beaner’s Crew.” A number of bands have come out of the scene at Beaner’s Central: The Brushstrokes, Three Song Sunday, and it’s fair to say that anything from Jason Wussow, Beaner’s owner, and Dave Mehling projects fall into this community of musicians. It could be said that the importance of a venue lies somewhat on what stems from just being a venue and what happens among the people who frequent it and play shows there. If there was ever a Beaner’s influenced album, this one definitely qualifies. For starters, it was recorded at the Beaner’s basement studio with Dan Dresser, so yeah, let’s move on.
Space Carpet originally started as an indie-folk project between Rory Isakson and Jen West. Both contribute heavily with vocals and instrumentally with Isakson on guitar and with West on the not too common instrument of the ukulele. With the addition of other members, including Tyler Dubla on drums, Steve Isakson on guitar and a rotation of some pretty talented bassists with George Ellsworth and Ethan Thompson on these tracks, instrumentally, the album is solid. The sound is still captured from the original duo, but it gets kicked up a notch. It has an experimental take on rock, folk, blues and songwriting with the occasional flare of a psychedelic feel.
The album begins with the track, “Bleed,” which is a somewhat intense and not so happy track, “I will not take part in the way you make me bleed, strayed from my misguided misery,” goes part of the chorus. Isakson takes the lead vocals on the track while West shadows him, especially in the chorus. This adds a great touch to this song and other tracks on the album as their vocal work together is perhaps the highlight of the group. While there are some emotionally unsettled songs on the album, it’s not like we’re talking about Bright Eyes (kind of whiny) or Nine Inch Nails (pretty anguished) kind of unsettled, I’d call it more restrained than that, although the point is being made.
The next track on the album, “Blue Sky’s,” (yes, I’m aware that it’s “sky’s,” I’m intrigued on why that is) this is probably one my favorite tracks and it’s mostly due to the contrast between what Isakson and West are singing about as they take on their own respective vocal parts. “Ellie, you look so innocent underneath my gun. Why did you ever leave me? Now I live for no one,” sings Isakson in a verse. West again shadows in certain parts but takes on main vocals for a chorus, which I think is terrific. “Sun and the sky I’m feeling fine, grass in my toes, and through my nose, I smell the flowers,” sings West. The bass lines also pretty great, especially on the chorus, which isn’t really surprising considering the bassists they brought in. Everything works on this song except for the guitar solo towards the ends which is an acoustic or classical guitar. It’s pretty dry and sits above the mix in a way where it kind of detracts from an otherwise awesome song. There’s an airy feel to this song and I felt the solo could have been blended in to fit a little better.
Moving along to the track, “Waterhole,” I again hit some snags with a good song. The song is a contemporary spin on Americana and blues with some rock influences. Everything on the song from it’s arrangement to the distorted slide guitar is innovative and a good take on an older style of music. I just wasn’t wild about West’s vocals being so separate from Isakson’s. Isakson is right there and dry (little to no effects) and West is off in the back and it sounds like she was recorded with a room mic and has a good amount of reverb/echo going on. The two clash a little in how removed they are. The song is still good, but it doesn’t sit as well as it could have. Overall, the album is a bit raw, there are two ways to look at it…it adds to the unique endeavor they’ve created, or maybe there should have been more thought put into the recording and production. This is my only real criticism of the album.
This album is leaning towards rock and the track, “Plastic Axle,” is great example of that. While there are certainly rock aspects, there are a number of unexpected touches that make things more interesting such as a xylophone (glockenspiel?) break down in the middle of the song. The song, “Nothing,” has a keyboard part in it that is out of the ordinary and contrasts well with the percussive strums of the acoustic guitar.
The final track, “Play the Fool,” is perhaps the most out there track on the album. It is reminiscent of a psychedelic song from the late 60s. It brings in a (sampled?) sitar like track that underlies throughout. It reminds me a little of the song, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” by the Beatles, but isn’t quite as full on psychedelic as that, and of course this track has it’s own things going on. The track really sets itself apart from the rest of the album.
I’ve seen Space Carpet play a number of times but it has never really struck me that the band has it’s darker moments to such an extent until I listened to this album. No, it’s not all doom and gloom and their stage performance is no doubt still a lot of fun. I like how this album is hard to pin down and label as something because while it has its own feel, it stays dynamic from track to track. It’s not like “this is a singer/songwriter folk album” or “this is a good example of a rock album.” No, it goes places and stays fresh. Above all, Isakson and West’s vocals together drive it home on each track. Those who have followed other groups that have come out of Beaner’s should be especially interested in giving this album a listen because it is worth checking out.
Their CD release show on Friday will also feature Timothy Martin & The New Norm and Markus J. Dandy and the Complete Lack There Of.
Other things of note include the album’s cover art done by Lydia Kumatsu. There is an intertwined tangle of vines wrapped around someone’s head. It falls into the feel of this album, which is not particularly happy yet plays off on other aspects that makes it rise over seeming like it’s actually trying to be a depress fest.