Urinals - What is Real and What is Not (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


What is Real and What is Not (2004)

Warning Label

I don't ask for much from musicians, I only ask for interesting ideas and inspired performances, not a lot to ask from anyone who takes their work seriously. I want to hear music that makes me react, I want to hear music that makes me excited, I want to hear music that has focus, and I love listening to music that just fits the moment oh so perfectly. Music can make me rock out, it can make me geek out, in fact I insist and expect it to, as I'm sure most of you out there do as well. And, as I'm sure most of you know all too well, most musicians don't inspire any reaction whatsoever above a yawn, no rockin' and no geekin', ain't that a bust. But there are those records that do and when they come around they'll suck you in without remorse and make your head bob whether you like it or not.

"What is Real and What is Not" the latest offering from Los Angeles veterans Urinals is a unique record that flows from theme to theme and song to song effortlessly creating a very good forty minutes of music that pulls the listener in after the first chorus of the opening song "Teach Me to Crawl" and lets up after the CD stops spinning. Roderick Barker (guitar, background vocals), John Talley-Jones (bass, lead vocals), and Kevin Barrett (drums) are three musicians with big imaginations and a knack for spacious, clever arrangements. This record is not earth shattering but it's not designed to be, it is simply the vision of three musicians who are capable of clearly and passionately performing that vision.

One would be hard-pressed to classify a record like "What is Real and What is Not" for it is more brain than brawn, the subject matter covers all kinds of characters and situations that are often both dramatic and silly, and for a band that has influenced Sonic Youth, among other late 80's, early 90's indie rockers, it is a fairly tame recording compared to the work of their peers. This album is its own world, its own sound. At times the music is up tempo and goofy such as "I Make Love to Every Woman on the Freeway" and "Typical Tzar", melancholic and mysterious such as "In Praise of the Fucked-Up Girl" and "Let a Little Dark Into Your Heart", and Urinals even dabble in some progressive rockin' on "Teach Me to Crawl". Talley-Jones sings with a playful whine that at times brings to mind John Linnel and David Byrne as his melodies and lyrics flow with ease and honesty while his bass playing thumps and drives the fifteen songs on this album. Barker's acrobatic guitar rhythms and Barrett's tasteful drumming fill out the rest of Urinals, each instrument in support of the other creating a deep sound for the trio. With most songs clocking in at less than two minutes, these songs are what they are, no need for an unnecessary extra minute of repeated choruses or an extended bridge, they say what is to be said and move onto a new conversation. But regardless of the potpourri of music on "What is Real and What is Not", every song is beautifully arranged, filling each tune with some very pretty moments showcasing that these three musicians know how to tell their stories and tell them well.

I hope that Urinals hesitate when deciding over any kind of hiatus from music in the future, for it has been shy of ten years since their last LP "Negative Capability…Check it Out", and I'd prefer not to wait another ten more. "What is Real and What is Not" is one of those records that is simply a pleasure to get lost in, bravo.