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  Hot Streets  
  Ceiling Fan  
  Imperial Fuzz  
Release Date:
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Athens' band Ceiling Fan have been around for more than a few years. There was a time when they seemed to be the house band for the Caledonia Lounge and, as such, I've seen them in concert more times than I can remember. Recently, however, they haven't been playing out as much, and I more or less wondered what had happened. And then, out of the blue, I heard they had finally released an album, called Hot Streets, on Imperial Fuzz records.

When I started listening to Hot Streets, I was very pleased. Most of the live favorites I remember have finally been recorded for posterity. And, as a chunk of semi-crunchy, slightly geeky rock music, this album has almost everything I could want. Guitarist Ben Spraker specializes in jangly, rhythmic guitar riffs, which in and of themselves are an Athens' band hallmark. In contrast, Jess Robbins continually holds down the melody via his prominent bass lines, which sing and bounce all over the place. Finally, Dave Gerow doesn't engage in the theatrics one might expect from a true "rock" drummer; however, his rather straight-forward drumming is still a focal-point of the music. In short, the balance which Ceiling Fan displays is relatively rare in the recorded medium, and this strong background allows the listener to pay attention other parts of the songs.

Previously, I called Ceiling Fan's music slightly geeky. This element really emerges when you look at the songs' lyrics and their delivery. Primary vocalist Spraker has a slightly ironic tone that recalls John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants or perhaps the young Elvis Costello. Furthermore, the clever wordplay found on songs like I'm Boring or Ncyclpd Brwn gives them, at times, the feel of over-educated liberal arts graduates who have fun by making others laugh knowledgably. Even the album's pseudo-country tune, Dog with Flea, comes across a conscious attempt to play on certain conventions. Nevertheless, these elements don't come across as ironic or mocking. Instead, everything seems genuine and unaffected, as if this homage to New Wave music and classic 1970s rock construction is a natural function of the Ceiling Fan's individual personalities.

Still, the best songs on the album are the sing along, bouncy pop songs like Get Shallow, Burnt Sienna, and Como Te Llamas. For instance, Get Shallow contains all of the musical qualities mentioned previously. Furthermore, on this particular track, the backing vocals of Robbins and Gerow act as a lower counterpoint to Spraker's soaring lead. However, what really makes Get Shallow stand out is the New Wave-ish bridge combined with the compelling chorus of "How did you get so shallow?" Likewise, Burnt Sienna begins with a jangly guitar riff that recalls the work of Rick Springfield. Like Get Shallow, Burnt Sienna has a catchy chorus that is enhanced by a doubled vocal line. But, in this case, the bass line of Jess Robbins comes to the forefront about half way through the song, and stays the central focus until the conclusion. Finally, my favorite song is Como Te Llamas. On this song, Gerow's drumming finally takes center stage, with its prominent snare and cymbal combination. Likewise, immediately after the chorus, both the guitar and bass come together to provide a simple but memorable bridge that mimics the drum pattern. And, again, the catchy chorus of "What was your name again? I forgot already…" is more or less guaranteed to have people singing along with the band by the second listen.

In fact, I only have two minor complaints about Hot Streets. First, the various over-dubbed sound effects (particularly on the guitars) become a bit distracting at times. Although I suspect that these are an intentional homage to Ceiling Fan's influences, the suddenness and relative loudness of the touches threaten to overwhelm the music. But this need for songs to live and die by itself is my own personal preference, and by no means reflects on the band. Second, as a self-contained album, Hot Streets does at times veer somewhat erratically from musical genre to musical genre. While I've chosen to focus on the extremely strong pop songs, other styles are certainly represented on the album. For instance, Rock Discipline Part II could be a lost Iggy and the Stooges track, while, as I've mentioned previously, Dog with Fleas is a dead on impression of a classic country tune. Although I don't find the disparate types of songs distracting, someone who is looking for a unified vision might find the variety disconcerting.

Nevertheless, Hot Streets captures the live essence of Ceiling Fan, even down to the two covers (by Joe Jackson and Boz Skaggs, respectively). And while it isn't musically ground-breaking by any means, it is a great album to listen to and simply enjoy, especially on a spring afternoon. Finally, the best compliment I can pay to Ceiling Fan is that listening to this album makes me happy, and there certainly aren't many bands that can claim that effect.

Related Links:
  Ceiling Fan in concert, about a year before the release of this album.  

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