Unexpectedly reforming 20 years after their 1983 breakup, Robin Lane and the Chartbusters pick up, literally, where they left off: most of 2003's Piece of Mind consists of new recordings of songs the Boston folk-rockers had written and demoed for their third Warner Brothers LP in 1982, before the company dropped them.
Not only does it sound like the intervening two decades had never happened, Piece of Mind actually sounds several degrees better than either Robin Lane and the Chartbusters or Imitation Life.
Freed of major label expectations and the suffocating slickness that plagued those earlier records, Piece of Mind sounds like Robin Lane and the Chartbusters were meant to sound; the jangly pop tunes are still there, but there's a rootsier feel on songs, like the country-ish "Little Bird." Lead guitarist Asa Brebner breaks out occasional rockabilly or R&B riffs, and the band's trademark three- and four-part harmonies, as well as Lane's own warm alto, sound as good as ever. Though no one song is as memorable as the group's classic first single, "When Things Go Wrong," this is their most consistently solid effort by far, and, surprisingly enough, the best Robin Lane and the Chartbusters album yet.
In 2001, Ekkehard Ehlers released a compositional cycle of abstract tributes to artistic personalities. Released as a string of five EPs and singles on Staubgold and Bottrop-Boy throughout 2001 and early 2002, they were later culled and issued by Staubgold as Ekkehard Ehlers Plays in May of that year. The album comprises ten tracks, two per artist. Ehlers' music never references the works of its namesakes.
Instead it draws inspiration from a certain state that the music of Cornelius Cardew, Albert Ayler, and Robert Johnson, the films of John Cassavetes, and the writings of Hubert Fichte create in Ehlers' mind. Although each set has its own character, associating it with the corresponding artist simply doesn't work -- and to add to the intentional confusion, the order in which the EPs' titles are listed on the front cover and the actual track list given in the booklet differ. Ehlers' music draws on German experimental ambient and minimal techno, but also post-rock melancholy and drone-based improvisation. The best pieces are the two "Ekkehard Ehlers Plays Albert Ayler" tracks, featuring slow cello notes (almost drones) by Anka Hirsch. They sound like funeral marches. The two "Ekkehard Ehlers Plays Hubert Fichte" tracks, with delicate guitar work by Joseph Suchy, also captivate. On the other hand, the dancefloor-friendly beat in the concluding "Ekkehard Ehlers Plays Robert Johnson" brings things to an awkward end.
This album generates its own universe of cultural references but, beyond its conceptual side, it draws the listener into a highly introspective sound world, slow-changing and mesmerizing. It eschews the clichés of clicks + cuts, microsound, or any other trend rooted in experimental electronica at the time, making it definitely one of the strongest, most personal artistic statements of 2002. Highly recommended.