From a murmur to a meltdown - that's what you'll get when you listen to "File Under: Trial," from Reno, Nev., band Mister Vague, in its first CD for Slothtrop Music of Madison, Wisconsin. The group blends its varied influences -- Laurel Canyon folk rock, Midwest post-punk, aggressive dissonance, and modern minimalist pop - together for its follow-up to 2004 debut, "Square One."
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Mark Earnest first used Mister Vague as a show moniker in 2003. Wanting to jettison his career turnstile of hard rock bands, Earnest took songs he wrote since the mid-1990s and decided to find like-minded musicians to flesh 'em out.
Mister Vague became a full-time gig in mid-2003, with a recurring cast of characters. Mark's expressive vocal parts and idiosyncratic guitar playing are supported primarily by Neal Kramer, who adds bass and guitar for plenty of contrast and shading. The CD also features master texturalist Jay Kornahrens on guitar and "Trial" producer Julian Peach (member of nationally signed experimental metal band December) on keyboards. "Trial" also features drums by Dean Kramer, Neal's brother who has since left Reno for Washington state.
It was Kornahrens that recorded the band's debut EP, "Square One," which was released in July 2004 on Seattle label Unsmashable Records. "Square One" sold out its first pressing and helped the band get shows and radio airplay beyond Reno. It also led to some compilation tracks, including the forthcoming Slothtrop/ADA-distributed release "More Barn: A Tribute To Neil Young," which is a benefit for the Bridge School.
With this mandate for further weirdness, Earnest and Co. crafted "Trial" at Peach's burgeoning Clutchmove Studios in summer 2005. It's a record that reflects the band's first years together, from quieter reveries on optimism despite the odds ("It's Good," "Free and Clear") to noisier indictments of the fickle nature of the Biggest Little City ("86 Whores On Fourth Street," "21-Lie Salute"). It's a lot closer to the "big fat rock record" Earnest said he was trying for, but it still carries an warmer, acoustic-based feel on live favorites like "1000 Steps" and "Reunion Song."
With the CD's release in February 2006, more shows - in and out of Reno - and more songs - in and out of reality - surely will follow.
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