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The Chris Stamey Experience
A Question Of Temperature
Yep Roc Records

Former dB founder Chris Stamey has built a reputation as one of Southern jangle pop's founding fathers. His early work with Mitch Easter (who mixed this record) helped define the genre. Over the years, he has toured with Alex Chilton and Bob Mould (among others) and produced records by Whiskeytown, Yo La Tengo and Squirrel Nut Zippers. Let's just say that if your band came out of North Caroline, chances are pretty good that Stamey had something to do with it. Here, Stamey teams up with the members of Yo La Tengo for a record that was basically recorded in a weekend. It's a collection of pop tunes that give a heavy nod to the late Sixties, both sonically and in the political lyrics. Another interesting facet of this record is that the first half contains cover tunes, while originals round out the set.

After the explosive noise burst of the introductory "Conspiracy Theory", Stamey and the Tengos bust into a version of The Yardbirds' "Shapes Of Things". The ghost of the late Sixties is resurrected in tone and in political comment. Following this number, we get a cover of Television's classic "Venus". On this track the Yo La Tengo influence pours out the speakers, taking an already alluring tune and kicking the shimmer quality up a notch. This tune, and the cover of Tift Merritt's "Plainest Thing", were done in one take, but you'd never know it by the sheer quality. Politics comes to a head again with covers of "Politician" and the charged "Compared To What". This Vietnam-era tune holds as much weight today as it did back in the time it was written, with its stab at the President "getting the war he wanted". It even includes a guitar solo worthy of firing up a joint and sitting in the black-light room. Stamey's playing is spot on, and the Tengos also prove their versatility on these tracks. These songs in and of themselves would have made a great EP, but…

Stamey and the gang take it a step further in the second half of the record. "The Summer Sun" (also done in one take) is a, do I dare say, summery blast of mid-Sixties jangle pop. Think if the Beach Boys were from Myrtle Beach instead of California. Stamey plays all the instruments in the instrumental "Come On" which picks up right where "Summer Sun" leaves off. It's two-and a half minutes of sugar coated fun. "Sleepless Nights" (and the reprise "Sleepless Nights Again") are the only places where things really slow down to the mellow vein. Musically, these dreamy pieces conjure images of chilling out on a springtime evening with the girl you dig by your side. The crowning achievement on the record is the ten and a half minute "McCauley Street". It starts as a timeless folk-inspired ditty (another nod to the Sixties), but before you know it you are caught in a swirly whirlwind straight off of a Yo La Tengo record. Ira Kaplan's trademark thick swirling guitar melds with Stamey's noise to create a beautiful cacophony that sucks you in and won't let you go. And to ease you down from the trip, it resolves back into that folk inspired refrain. "Desperate Man" invokes a bit of the swamp rock groove that evolved from the Sixties, and just to change things up at the end, Stamey brings in bluegrass purveyors Chatham County Line for some pickin' and whistlin' on the closing "Dr. Stangelove's Assistant". Think skiffle music with banjos and mandolin over Stamey's fuzzy guitar noise. It'll leave you with a smile.

While Stamey tips the hat mighty heavily towards the Sixties, he uses it as a starting point to expand his pop prowess, and doesn't use it as a platform to merely re-tread the past. It is easy to see how the Southern pop mentality merged with the blast from the past urgency to create a unique pop gem that keeps its eyes on the future while keeping its feet firmly rooted in rock and roll tradition.

-tom topkoff

Track Listing:
1. Conspiracy Theory
2. Shapes Of Things
3. Venus
4. Politician
5. Plainest Thing
6. Compared To What
7. The Summer Sun
8. Come On
9. Sleepless Nights
10. McCauley Street (Let's Go Downtown)
11. Desperate Man
12. Sleepless Nights Again
13. Dr. Strangelove's Assistant
14. V.O.T.E. PSA

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