|Put Together by Chocolate and Ray Ketchem|
|Released on October 4, 1994|
|no chart information|
|Find it at GEMM|
[high resolution scan]
L o-fi alternative rock recorded in basements, attics, apartments, exactly. Smoke Machine is alleged to be the more cohesive of Chocolate USA’s two albums, a frightening prospect since what’s on here is sloppy, unfocused, fitfully inspired and mostly stoned madness. A concept seems to be at work, but you’d need to be really high and in the room with the guys to understand the meaning behind the metaphors of cows and smoke machines. The music is in a constant state of collapse, delivered in a sheepish voice that makes David Lowery sound like Elvis freaking Presley amid a sea of adolescent images (bookbags, cherry bombs, Legos). I can appreciate that some people would want to champion music so unrepentantly childish, especially when so much smartass talent seems behind it, but if you’re going to build a trophy shelf to Chocolate USA then you’ll need to add a whole new wing to your world for lo-fi bands who tried harder like Shirk Circus, Chainsaw Kittens and Motocaster. The CD adds a couple of tracks from the band’s Chocolate Monthly Tapes for fans, recorded in sub lo-fi circumstances. That the first of these is arguably better than anything on the proper disc presents the main problem: good ideas are a dime a dozen, and the dozen that the band settled on for Smoke Machine feel more like the first twelve than the best twelve. Fellow Bar/None labelmates TMBG could get away with childish whimsy because they actually had the confidence to polish their best ideas and put them forward to the masses. Julian Koster and Chocolate USA prefer to hide behind noise and cryptic jokes, classic underachievers afraid of success. In its defense, my frustration with Smoke Machine stems from the fact that some of these songs (“The Boy Who Stuck His Head...,” “Ugly Girl”) could have been really good. A failure by design is still a failure, and one can only hope that Koster’s future projects (Neutral Milk Hotel, The Music Tapes) don’t suffer from the same milkweed myopia.
ERIC, LIZA WAKEMAN, JULIAN KOSTER, BILL -- melody makers, bass, concertina, accordion, jaymar, chord organ, violin, viola, drums, piano and sang
Keith Block -- drums (4,8)
Alan Edwards -- guitar (8), banjo (11)
Mark and the Mastodon -- banjo
Pete -- sang
Vivian N6 -- cello
Paul Wells -- bass (4), string arrangements
Jess Rogers -- cartoon drawings
return to CHOCOLATE USA discography
|REGION||RELEASE DATE||LABEL||MEDIA||ID NUMBER||FEATURES|
|US||October 4, 1994||Bar/None||CD||AHAON-048-2|
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