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Gameface, Four to Go (Doghouse)
Gameface's latest album, Four to Go, came out on Dogface records -- home to surprise-hits the All-American Rejects, and one of the many reputable indies from which Gameface has released their various full lengths, EPs, and 7" Singles. On their sixth full album since forming in 1990, Gameface still sound undeniably solid. They consistently produce hook-driven rock with punky beats and heartfelt vocals. Singer Jeff Caudill has a tendency to sound like a young Rob Thomas. He should work on this because he's got a passionate and emotive voice, one that should sound like his own. Drummer Steve Sanderson comes from an older generation of punk-style drumming. He stands out as an exceptionally skilled musician with rhythms that take a prominent position at the front of each song. Rather than just providing a beat around which the band rallies, Stevenson often leads with his aggressive but intricate playing. Four to Go does not break new ground. It runs too long toward the middle of the record with a few tracks passing the five-minute mark; however, Gameface's latest addition to the post-hardcore scene will be much appreciated by the fans they've earned since the beginning of their career 13 years ago.
Calibretto, Dead by Dawn (Standard Recording Company)
Swiftly re-monikering themselves Calibretto after they switched from Tooth and Nail Records to their present label, Standard Recording Company, the band formerly known as Calibretto 13 drops their first seven tracks as Calibretto for critic, fan, and novel peruser alike in the form of Dead by Dawn. Lyrically, the album is mused by Halloween and camp B-Movies, but perhaps more directly inspired by Joseph Whiteford's cynical, yet brazen view of society, the "scene", and his relationship with God. With talk of eating babies, husbands killing wives, and an all-around dark aesthetic, Whiteford and Calibretto have intentionally set themselves apart from their previous CBA ilk. Musically, the album strays, yet continues on the same path as previous Calibretto efforts. Dead by Dawn mixes early Violent Femmes acoustic guitar-driven pop with an overly quivering and snot-nosed Whiteford inflecting his vocals not unlike Connor Oberst's. Most of the previous Calibretto pop-punk feel has been replaced with an indie sensibility taking various forms of dark instrumentation (organs, chimes) and a heightened sensitivity to oddity.
Singapore Sling, The Curse of Singapore Sling (Stinky)
Apparently fixated on the Jesus and Mary Chain, this reverb-saturated Icelandic band faithfully replicates their pre-drum machine, post-feedback sound, while borrowing liberally from Love and Rockets, Spacemen 3, and other like-minded British derivatives of the Velvet Underground: their restrained tempos, infrequent changes, and spare percussion all show an admirable patience, a firm faith in their chosen formula. Singer Henrik Bjornsson's deadpan deliveries of the band's clumsy and endearing attempts to sound badass ("I want to eat you like you're sugarcane / Stir me up and you fry my brain, yeah", he intones on the opener, "Overdriver") are often a lot of fun, and their precise deployment of recycled, retooled rockabilly riffs is suitably menacing, but there's no excuse for their limp cover of the Standells' "Dirty Water". Though the familiarity of their influences makes the album immediately accessible, Singapore Sling never transcends those influences; while The Curse of … is diverting and even intermittently satisfying, the band never does anything striking enough to convince us we should be listening to this album in favor of any of its predecessors.
The Volta Sound, Fast Light with Radio Signal (Elephant Stone)
Another EP from another shoegazing band. The first two tracks here ("Henri Chinaski" and "Ano Domination") work pretty well, but it's nothing that you haven't heard before. The guitars drone, the voices sound like they're strung out on some kind of illicit substance, and the sound swells and retreats as expected. But Spiritualized is still the king of the hill when it comes to this stuff. The last three tracks on Fast Light are completely worthless, with "Zen Is Everywhere" being an utterly boring acoustic number that feels out of place. The Volta Sound have a long way to go before they create anything even halfway interesting. Stick to the classics; this one belongs in the bargain bin.
Vaux, There Must Be Some Way to Stop Them (Volcom)
After igniting the stage on the Warped Tour the past couple of years, I can only envision Vaux being outcasts amongst their pop-punk riddled peers. Because the differences in this Denver, Colorado outfit from the average Warped band are abundant: they thrash under a punk-metal guise, their band consists of three fucking guitarists and, well, Vaux actually have passion in their musical onslaught of hardcore riff grinding, keyboard interludes and manic screams. "Set It to Blow" immediately enters with guitars winding around and whip lashing your speakers as vocalist Quentin Smith spits, "This is the anthem of the year / And I'm fucking gold". You are gold, dude, and so is your band. Here's to hoping they hitch onto the Warped Tour next year just so they can obliterate the pseudo-punk disposition that rots in most of the tour's bands.
Go Kart Go, Flying (House Cat)
So they are still out there. Just when you thought the '90s grunge rock copy cats had all gone the way of Candlebox, along comes another. Say hello to San Francisco rockers Go Kart Go. Ever wonder what Kurt Cobain would sound like if he was sort of a blockhead, frat-boy type hanging out with the indie rock kids so he could wear the pants and slip mickeys in the girls' drinks? Yeah, I didn't think so. But that's Go Kart Go singer Eric Anderson for you in a nut shell. Bland lyrics that border on the whiney, with gems like, "I'm ready to bust these lights out / I'm ready to kill the silence / I'm ready to swallow pills / Would you go that far yourself". It's actually too bad, because the rest of the band rocks pretty hard and, with a little vision, could evolve into something resembling interesting. But as long as inane songs like "Public Display of Rejection", a stalker's ode to KALX radio personality Kitty, keep popping up on their records, their career will be over as fast as you can say Silverchair.
Alberto Pinton, Clear Now (Moserobie)
Unheralded but absolutely riveting session of free-form, improvisatory jazz made by a name new to me. I have little time for the freer end of jazz these days, but this is magnificent -- daring, fresh and highly engaging. Pinton plays baritone sax, clarinets, and flute, and the other main soloist is trumpeter Kyle Gregory. Both put many better known performers to shame. The music is intricate and demanding but never just "difficult". Even the more atonal efforts like "Marching Man" have an elegance and wit to them. Slow numbers such as "Canzone Per Max" are delicate and atmospheric, and there is a loose but logical flow to all the pieces. Baritone and trumpet work well together and produce some delightful textures, while the trumpet solos in particular are incisive and cleverly thought out. Everything feels right, as if this is a genuine labour of love rather than simply some cerebral exercise. Try "Paint by Heart" or "Variation on a Ballad Theme" and then tell me free jazz is just chaos and noise. Sublime stuff.
Various Artists, Blueprints 3 (Slip'n'Slide Blue)
What a nice surprise. The Blueprints series has been impressive but a bit too dour and determinedly broken-beatish for my taste. This set (mixed by the estimable Aloha Pussycats) has real coherence and more of a deep, jazzy house vibe to it. And it works. Whether it's the tasty brass on (pause for breath) Jori Hulkonnen's jazz acid mix of Olli Ahvenalahti's "Countenance", which is almost free-jazzhouse in places, or the charming vocals on Gaspard's "Good Enough", the journey through the more ambitious (and mostly European) end of dancefloor discernment is a constant delight. The beats vary, which adds interest, but do not jar, which keeps things flowing. The artists involved are the cream of the crop. Fish Go Deep, Atjazz, Swag, Nu Spirit Helsinki, Lisa Shaw, and John Beltran are the most familiar and give a good indication of the aesthetic being pursued here. NSH's "Trying" and Q-Burns/Lisa Shaw's "This Time" have instant appeal; others (like "Countenance" or Fish Go Deep's "Dollface") are growers. The closing, exclusive, "Sunrise" from Worldless (Phil Asher?) is both "old school" anthemic and tech-house futuristic, and rounds off as satisfying an hour or so of contemporary dance as you will find anywhere. More please.
Books on Tape, Throw Down Your Laptops (Deathbomb Arc)
As a clever, smirky title, Throw Down Your Laptops is great stuff; as a manifesto for electronic music, though, it leaves a lot to be desired. Music made with machines is music made with machines, after all, so why turn up your nose at the most sophisticated tools available for getting the job done? Nonetheless, Todd Drootin, a.k.a. Todd Books, the mad knob twiddler behind Books on Tape, has indeed eschewed digital technology in the creation of this album, using all-analog keyboards, samplers and sequencers, plus the occasional guest guitarists, drummers, bassists and vocalists, to perform his tracks live in the studio. The results are mixed at best. Books' obsessively low-fi ditties sound both rawer and more mechanical than most electronic music, as if a bunch of robots got together and tried to make a punk rock record. Occasionally, this results in some cool cut-and-paste exercises that recall everything from Art of Noise ("Smart on TV") to Squarepusher ("Hey Typical"). More often, however, the tracks here are as soulless as the album’s high-concept title would suggest; an attempt to rough up the intellectual pretenses of IDM and glitchcore that winds up being even more hyper-intellectual than the genres it seeks to subvert. The standout track is the wittily titled "Offend Your Fan Base", which playfully undercuts its own hypnotically ambient synth drones with restlessly mutating beats and trippy vocal loops, plus a great live vocal from Stefanie Drootin (Todd's wife?). This song, which probably really will offend fans of Books’ usual experimental bombast, reminds you of what the rest of the album ultimately lacks: a sense of fun.
Pathaan, World Peace (Stoned Asia Music)
With the timely World Peace, Pathaan of Stoned Asia Music has produced a real labour of love and set a standard for Asian-influenced dance compilations that will be hard to match. Efforts will be made though, there is a well-spring of talent in this area, and with the support of Stoned Asia and like-minded projects, they are demanding to be heard. However, if you are new to this growing sector of dance, this is the place to start. Abhijit Pohankar, MIDIval Punditz, Kaya Project, the Spy from Cairo, Lumo, the Dum Dum Project featuring MC Chori Salaa, Ikarus, or Chiller Twist may not exactly be household names, but the sounds they are conjuring up presage the possibility of a genuine multiculturalism within popular music (as opposed to its spurious counterpart that predominates in the body politic).Furthermore, most of it is exciting and original, managing to be diverse and complex while remaining percussive and instantly grabbing. The fusing of forms can produce ersatz and self-conscious tripe but each track here has real conviction. From the spiritual calm of Pohankar's "Piya Bavan" to the cinematic sweep of Jean-Claude Maurice's "My Maya", everything works, powerfully and with much grace and dignity. A joy.
Andy Logan, Last Dance on the Wild Frontier (Koan)
Former Little America guitarist Andy Logan's first solo release, Last Dance on the Wild Frontier is an impressive effort. Rootsy, impassioned and atmospheric Americana in equal measure, it's the very antithesis of most music emerging from Nashville at the moment. Logan's whisky-soaked voice is just as captivating as his compositions, with the musically bouncy -- yet lyrically biting -- "Money 1, Soul 0" particularly effective along with "Puttin' It On", a gritty, dirty opening track which recalls Steve Earle. The brilliant "These Old Friends" is a sparse, stripped-down acoustic tune and "I See Change" is a traditional-style country lament. Elsewhere, the album twists and turns between instrumentals, acoustic ballads, and pop-flavoured songs. The mini-song "Congratulations" blends effortlessly with the more familiar pop melodies and arrangements of the superb "Let It Roll (Let It Ride)" and the cowboy-themed "Shadow on My Trail". It all works wonderfully well, even more so when you consider it is a completely independent effort made on Logan's own terms. Last Dance on the Wild Frontier is a thoroughly enjoyable listen from start to finish.