Artist: Environmental Protection Agency
Album: Drinking Water. Know What’s In It For You
Released: Self-released, 2004

Is this a glass which I see before me, the portal towards my mouth? Come, let me drink thee.

I never realized the Environment Protection Agency was in the business of making music, but in the course of KJNB’s massive overhaul of our CD collection, I came across this one-of-a-kind release. When I saw it, I knew I had to listen to it!

The first two tracks start off the release in a fascinating deconstruction of our need for regularity. Both songs use the same lyrics and music, but different voice actors (you could even say the lyrics are more spoken word than sung). But while the female voice on Report Card(1) is pleased with the quality of her water, Report Card (2) is a different story. You can hear the woman’s voice strain as she tries to inject pleasantness at the thought that her water quality is great, but the very regularity of her life is wearing her down. I never realized the EPA would put out such a damning indictment of American Suburbia.

“Water Sayings” questions whether we can truly know anything about the world around us, even something so seemingly basic as our water supply. And “For Granted” admonishes us for taking anything for granted, instead advocating a radical skepticism of all received knowledge unless deductively proven. I would never have guessed the EPA would assault the philosophical groundings of science so harshly. It’s opened my eyes.

As for music, the cheerful organ line and jazzy bass seem to contradict the harsh insights of th ads themselves. But if we look at the music as providing an analogy of modern-day American culture much makes sense. The music is really trying to cover over the knowledge the EPA wants to hand over to you, but can’t quite – reflecting how American pop culture does its best to ignore or cover up unwanted images or events. But the EPA knows what’s up. They know that truth always destroys the walls placed around it.

All in all, the EPA has blown my mind with the artistic achievement inherent in this short album – less than 4 minutes all together! That’s shorter than many songs! If only more artists took their cues from the EPA, and combined brevity with true genius. But maybe that’s asking too much. You can download all the tracks here: http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps21800/www.epa.gov/safewater/psa.html

The EPA(Office of Ground Water & Drinking Water) was:
Cynthia Dougherty – Director
Gregory Carroll – Chief of Technical Support Center
James Taft – Chief of Targeting & Analysis Branch

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Star Rise

Concept: Canadian composer Michael Brook remixes the work of the Qawwali superstar.

Sound: Sometimes it’s too much techno, not enough Khan. They still use him as an excuse to drag their remixing out for several minutes at a time. Occasionally he’ll leak through with a total face-melter, and you forget about the suffering the preceding techno has inflicted upon you.

Lyrics: Punjabi. It’s probably totally awesome Sufi exultations that would blow my mind if I even guessed at their content.

Quick And Dirty: Really uneven, but I could be persuaded that the beats were a good idea if somebody cranked this in the middle of a dance party, and from there we go sublime. R.I.P., dude. (♦♦♦½)

Oh God WHYYYYYYYYY...

Concept: Why the hellll would you ever name your band this? Okay, now that that’s out of my system, it’s about being a regular joe with visions of grandeur.

Sound: Pop rock. Did I miss something? There are some very catchy riffs and vocal harmonies. I think that’s it.

Lyrics: With each track so mercifully short (1-3 minutes,) there’s no time to be irritated by the lyricism. A lot of it is actually pretty cute, from the understated adolescent anxiety to the way the frontman occasionally rushes to fit the line into the end of the chord progression after stalling dramatically for the last few bars (sometimes/I begin to think that we’d lost you/don’tyouknowthatyouusedtomakeme maaaaad). The second to last track is an exceptional so-bad-it’s-good masterpiece.

Quick And Dirty: Damn it, I like it. I have no idea how this happened. (♦♦♦½)

Awwww yeah, burst that stick!

Concept: Steve shows off the potential of the ‘Chapman Stick,’ better known as the freaking Warr guitar.

Sound: This really is an awesome instrument that needs more use. What you have is more or less a bass running straight into a guitar, with big ol’ pickups so that everything can be finger-tapped: the closest you get to an upright piano short of the keytar, and honestly this thing has a much more organic sound. It’s only two guys on the album, but it certainly doesn’t sound like it. Hahn can cover atmosphere, rhythm, and melody all at once, and while the new-age effects are a little outdated the instrument’s slap tone is just wonderful. The compositions are plenty entertaining in their own right. Hahn isn’t all about technical achievement. He’s picking up this instrument so that he can add more musical structure than conventional strings could allow. If this wasn’t enough, he plays a little trumpet simultaneously with his stickwork.

Lyrics: Eh.

Quick And Dirty: This is still a cool instrument, and here you get to bask in its glory without the distracting lyrical theatrics of Yes and King Crimson, or the impish metrical pranks of Behold…The Arctopus. The pieces themselves make for a full demonstration of its potential as the key to a one-man jam band. Burst that stick! (♦♦♦♦½)

Look what my camera can do! Dude, quit touching it, this cost $60.

Concept: The second to last album for the 90’s indie rockers.

Sound: The guitarists are pretty worthless, as are the vocalists, but the bassist and drummer have taken off the white gloves and are beating the ever-loving hooey out of this recording. As a band they sound like they’ve lost the ambition to be anything besides Talking Heads rip-offs. Scratch the majority of potential audiences.

Lyrics: Just bad. Blunt, tactless, and trite. They’re trying to be political, but they achieve the same threadbare points as any hackjob punk group using three times as many words.

Quick And Dirty: Should you play in the rhythm section of a local band, this might give you a fresh take on the same old same old. Otherwise, there’s just no point to this album. (♦♦♦)