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The best kept secret in music


"Amplifier Magazine"

Michael Cerveris—known for his star theatrical roles in Tomy, Titanic, Hedwig and the Angry Inch as well as Bob Mould’s guitarist and front man for U.K. indie rock ensemble Retriever—makes his solo debut. Dog Eared features a commendable cast including Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss, Ken Stringfellow (Posies, R.E.M.), Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Laura Cantrell, Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), Jeremy Chatzky (They Might Be Giants), Kevin March (Guided By Voices), Anders Parker (Varnaline, Space Needle), Lara Gray (Luna, Ben Lee), Joe McGinty (Psychedelic Furs), and David Arnold (Bjork). For this melancholy song-cycle detailing the sorrowful circumstances of a failed romance, Cerveris turns pathos into pop redemption. Cerveris takes simple songs and transforms them into mini-operas with thick arrangements, inventive counterpoint and sharp vocal harmonies. “Can’t Feel My Soul,” a dark, minor key diatribe, slices through the author’s desperation with taught melodies and blunt multi-layered guitars. “Crosshill” exudes cheerful three-part harmonies to temper its loneliness and alienation. The sleepy, autumnal dirge of “Two Seconds” finds Cerveris staring at his tortured self from the bottom of a shot glass.
--Tom Semioli
- issue 42 may-june 2004

"Magnet Magazine"

New Yorker Michael Cerveris assumed the roles of Tommy on Broadway and Hedwig in the U.K. He’s toured with Pete Townshend and Bob Mould. He’s a working actor who’s guested on CSI and was a regular cast member on Fame. For all I know, he delivers meals to shut-ins, too, and restarts stalled engines by French-kissing the battery terminals. But none of this would matter were his solo debut a dud, which it isn’t. Dog Eared is a likeable collection of Anglophile balladry and fuzzbox raunch, recalling Big Star and Guided By Voices in equal measure. Cerveris displays a talent for fractured acoustic tales of love lost and seesawing electric tales of, well, love lost. Be advised this is an indie-rock breakup album from knit cap to boot-tops, but as breakup records go, it’s damned swell. Swinging from gentle story-songs (the lovely “Disconnect,” featuring Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley and Posie Ken Stringfellow) to punchy fuck-you kiss-offs (the hilarious “SPCA,” written and performed with Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker), Dog Eared spins like the disjointed bipolar days just after a messy breakup—I’m up, I’m down, I’m drunk, I’m free—without sounding mawkish. Call it sloppy art for sloppy hearts. [Low Heat, www.lowheat.com]
—Eric Waggoner
- review may 2004

"Splendid E-zine"

To call Dog Eared low-key is an understatement. It drifts by dreamily, mostly gentle picked guitar and wispy, whispery vocals. That's kind of a surprise, as Michael Cerveris, who has fronted Retriever and played guitar with Bob Mould, is best known for his work in Broadway musicals. He played Tommy in the 1990s revival of the Who's rock opera and Hedwig (s/he of the angry inch) in London, New York and Los Angeles. There's very little here, though, to remind you of the empty bombast of most rock-oriented musicals; Dog Eared is as unassuming and personal as a scribbled note.
Cerveris wrote all but two of the songs on the disc, and he plays and sings on every one, but this is not a one-man effort by any means. One of the really interesting things about Dog Eared is its guest-list. The disc's two rock songs are backed by two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney. Laura Cantrell sings harmonies on the Volebeats cover "Two Seconds". Ken Stringfellow of the Posies and REM plays on almost every track. Other contributors include Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Norman Blake (Teenage Fan Club), Anders Parker (Varnaline) and string arranger David Arnold (Bjök, the last few James Bond films).

As a result, the tracks are quite distinct from one another in ways that reflect the contributions of specific people. "SPCA" vibrates with Corin Tucker's high warble, twined in and around Cerveris's gentler tones and Janet Weiss's frantic backbeat. Its jittery, unsettled guitars build up pressure under the tight two-part harmonies, suggesting the cold-coffee jumpiness of the morning after a break-up. Lines like "the first time we met / thought I was your pet / call the SPCA / cause I'd rather be stray" are as angry as this disc gets. They suggest the stretched-tight smile, the hollow peppiness, the insistence that "everything's fine" when in fact, it's not. The other fast song, the title track, was recorded with the same crew -- Cerveris, Tucker, Weiss and Stringfellow. Like "SPCA", it blends a frenzied instrumental intensity with sweet, pop-leaning vocals. Cerveris emerges here at his Matthew Sweet-est, supported by a wordless haze of female singing. A barking dog at the end, doubtless the one from the cover, brings the whole thing down to earth.

Most of the album, however, is much sparer, pitting Cerveris's evocative tenor against a bare and shifting landscape of sound. "Snowbound", for instance, starts slowly, guitar chords and snare landing heavily on the twos and fours and white-blind space between the notes. Cerveris creeps in through the crevices -- he sounds quite a lot like Michael Penn here -- with lyrics that are lucidly conversational, yet stripped down to their essence. He sings, "a broken clock can still be right / a couple of times a day / I wish we could say the same / we haven't been right in a while / and it feels like years / since our heart was", and the backing of accordion, drums and distant bass feels exactly right.

The best song here, though, is the seven-minute "Golden", a stately duel between saturated sound and barely-there vulnerability; it almost feels like a walk through a long hallway where sunlit patches alternate between intervals of darkness. It opens with a slow swirl of reverb, a Slowdive-y noise that's nearly blinding, all bright light with dust motes drifting through the haze. Then the song progresses, and it's as if you've walked past the window into a cooler, darker space. Here, occasional guitar notes ping off the blue-dark walls, leaving an opening for Cerveris's thoughtful, far-away vocals. He's wistful here, singing about times "When you were golden / and I loved you like music." So you step carefully through this very private, unlit portion of the corridor until, like magic, you emerge into another of those blinding, sun-soaked moments of overwhelming musical light and heat. Both halves of the equation are gorgeous, seamlessly integrated yet utterly separate.

There are a couple of throwaway songs here ("Eleven", "Monkey Tennis"), and one or two of the softer ones nearly blow away in the draft ("Crosshill", "Disconnect"), yet overall, Dog Eared is consistently strong. Let's hope that Cerveris's stage work isn't all-consuming, and that we'll be hearing more of his subtle, slow-burning songs in the future.

-- Jennifer Kelly
- review march 9 2004

"Time Out New York Magazine"

For years, Michael Cerveris has led a double life. Best known for his acting, he received a Tony nomination in the mid-90s for his performance as Pete Townshend's favorite deaf, dumb and blind boy in The Who's Tommy; he also took over the lead role from John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig & the Angry Inch, and this month he's on Broadway again as John Wilkes Booth in Stephen Sondheim's Assassins. Meanwhile, Cerveris has pursued a parallel career as a musician, leading rock band Retriever and playing guitar with indie legend Bob Mould. Now with Dog Eared, he's making his solo debut.

Cerveris coralled a bunch of friends to help record the album, including members of Sleater-Kinney, the Posies, Sonic Youth and Teenage Fanclub. You can hear influences of all those bands, as well as Mould, whose idiosyncratic vocal inflections Cerveris does a fine job of mimicking on the title track. But with its emphasis on acoustic guitars, uncertain melodies and hushed, tremulous singing, Dog Eared most recalls the work of the late Elliott Smith.

The subject matter is Smith territory too. For this is the very model of the modern Breakup Record, full of anger, pain and mordant lyrics like "Call the SPCA 'cause I'd rather be spayed" ("SPCA") and "Being free means it ain't worth much ("Another Time"). Over 12 tracks, though the misery gets tiring and while the music's solid, Cerveris never really establishes his own personality. Still there are moments - like the grandiose climax, "Golden" - that show that his obvious dramatic flair can work both onstage and on CD.
--Mac Randall - review April 1-8

"Rocktober Magazine"

cerveris “dog eared” (Low Heat POB 2035 Old Chelsea Station NYC 10113) This is an album of oddly lovely fragile music that is brought home with an ambient song about monkeys playing tennis (one of my favorite tracks of the year).

Flamin’ Waymon Timbsdayle (King of Reviewland)

- review issue #38 spring 2004


Hinterlands (the EPs) to be relased October 17, 2006
debut CD/LP: Dog Eared
both on Low Heat Records, distributed by Redeye USA.
3 songs (crosshill, dog eared, disconnect) heard on MTV's Real World San Diego and Road Rules/Real World Challenge:The Gauntlet


Feeling a bit camera shy


Elliott Smith stirred with Guided By Voices, a dash of Low, a dollop of Big Star...oh and a twist of My Bloody Valentine

Cerveris takes simple songs and transforms them into mini-operas with thick arrangements, inventive counterpoint and sharp vocal harmonies… turns pathos into pop redemption. (AMPLIFIER)

Nothing is quite as compelling on record as the restless fluctuations of the fractured heart, as singer/songwriter Michael Cerveris proves on his ferocious and fragile solo debut album dog eared. From the roiling anthem “SPCA” (Cerveris’ cheeky, power-pop collaboration co-written and sung with Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker) to the melancholy, but muscular musings of “Can’t Feel My Soul” and “Snowbound,” dog eared is Cerveris’ lush declaration of liberation not only from lousy love affairs, but from his parallel life as a critically-acclaimed, Tony Award winning actor -- an extraordinary, but convoluted path for a rock musician. Cerveris -- former frontman of British band Retriever (Hinterlands) and the U.S. group Lame, as well as touring guitarist/vocalist on Bob Mould’s 1998 US/UK “Dog and Pony Show” sojourn -- originated the title role in the Broadway hit Tommy and in the late 90s, he starred in the smash cult hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch on London's West End, in New York Off Broadway, and in Los Angeles.

dog eared is a unique, confessional “family” project for Cerveris, encompassing the skills of his diverse network of musician compadres and friends: co-producer/engineer Adam Lasus (Madder Rose, Clem Snide, Helium), Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss, Ken Stringfellow (Posies, REM), Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Laura Cantrell, Norman Blake (Teenage Fan Club), Jeremy Chatzky (They Might Be Giants), Kevin March (Guided by Voices, Dambuilders), Anders Parker (Varnaline, Space Needle), Lara Gray (Luna, Ben Lee), Joe McGinty (Psychedelic Furs), strings arranger David Arnold (Bjork) and Alex Lutes (Nightnurse, Retriever) for recording sessions that took place sporadically over the course of six months in locales ranging from Brooklyn’s Red Hook waterfront to Portland, Oregon to Glasgow, Scotland. The album was mixed by Adam Lasus, Cerveris and Nick Brine (Oasis, Stone Roses) at the famed Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, Wales and mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound NYC. --© Kara Manning 2003