Uncle Toe's Portasound - "Covered"
(Best Kept Secret, LIE 048, Cassette)
From Aural Innovations #22 (January 2003)
Perusing the Uncle Toe's Portasound web site I get the impression that they are New York City based, though I can't be sure. They've also got quite a number of releases available, of which Covered is my introduction. The band is led by husband and wife team Lito and Nerissa Vales, with Lito providing most of the music and Nerissa creating much of the atmosphere with her haunting ethereal vocals.
The choice of songs is an interesting one and, to their credit, the Portasound for the most part give the songs their own interpretation which, in my opinion, is what any artist should do if they're going to bother doing a cover. Covered is an appropriate title as this is a set of cover tunes drawing on bands that couldn't be more dispersed on the stylistic map. There are a number of songs here I don't know, including a few of the original artists, but what I can tell you is that Uncle Toe's Portasound excel at both dreamy pop-psych songs and acidic garagey psychedelic tunes with rumbling guitar freakout bits.
The set opens with the one song most likely to scare potential listeners away... REO Speedwagon's "Keep On Loving You" is turned upside down as Nerissa's vocals add a delicate touch to this dreamy version with a continual pulsating drone and swirly UFO electronics. The Portasound clearly love haunting 60's pop-psych stylings as evidenced on their airy treatments of The Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale", The Jazz Butcher's "Big Saturday", The Primitives' "Thru The Flowers", and I just drifted away with their rendition of Depeche Mode's "But Not Tonight".
On the rougher edged side is the pounding and shimmering acid garage version of Joy Division's "Shadowplay". Radiohead's "Creep" is given an acid garage pop-rock injection. Still garagey but on the lighter side is Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walkin". One of my favorites is the Portasound's interpretation of Flock Of Seagulls "Wishing", which opens like the Sex Pistols are on the way. I was just waiting for someone to start screaming, "I am an Anti-Christ!!!" A rousing, screeching, feedback laden version of the 80's most blatant electro-pop silliness. And the closing song is a beautifully psychedelic trip-out cover of the Beatles' classic "Taxman". There's even more tunes by such bands as Stone Roses, House Of Love, Magnetic Fields, Marty Willson-Piper, and Lightning Seeds. And I love the stripped down cover of The Who's "Kids Are Alright" with just strumming guitar and Nerissa's vocals, being a simple but effective tribute to a band who excelled at the basics of rock n roll.
I wouldn't normally consider a set of cover songs to be the best way to be introduced to a band, yet Uncle Toe's Portasound bring a lo-fi charm and attitude to the songs they've chosen. I'd love to hear some original material from these folks.
You can visit the Uncle Toe's Portasound web site at: http://www.uncletoe.net.
For more information you can visit the Best Kept Secret web site at: http://www.indiepages.com/bestkeptsecret.
Contact via snail mail c/o Alessandro Crestani; via Biron di Sotto; 101-36100 Vicenza; Italy.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz