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The Russian Futurists, Let's Get Ready to Crumble (Upper Class)
At the heart of much DIY ethos and mantra often lie bedrocks of sincerity and love. It's simple really; caring about something so much that the thought of outside intrusion seems impossible. Fittingly then, the first line sung in this newest release from 25 year old Peterborough native Matthew Hart is, "I do pop cause that's where my heart is". Recorded in his bedroom on a portable eight-track recording system, Let's Get Ready to Crumble continues where Hart's previous disc, The Method of Modern Love, left off. And, like any attempt at a perfect pop record, you're unsure whether to dance, laugh, or cry, and most likely would enjoy doing all three with this playing. With the leadoff title track forging the way in giddy fashion, Hart manages this fine line beautifully in songs like "It's Actually Going to Happen" and "Your Life on Magnetic Tape". Using almost-cheap Casio sounds and echoic Stephen Merritt/Wayne Coyne-like vocals to squeeze every inch of childhood winter memories into sound, you'd be hard pressed this year to find a CD this cohesive, and this much fun. Hell, even the cover art is cool.
Electrelane, On Parade (Beggar's Banquet/Too Pure)
I'm always skeptical of records by bands that announce, "We're not the same band you remember!" I remember Electrelane's 2001 debut Rock It to the Moon, for the most part, as a moody but exciting all-girl farfisa-driven journey through spookhouse cocktail music, superfuzz rave-ups, and twangy freakbeat atmospherica. One listen and I was hooked at just how untidily cohesive yet engaging it was. What's immediately apparent on "On Parade", the title song on Electrelane's new three-track EP, is that they have taken the dreaded new musical direction. Sadly, this direction is towards Anonymousville. While Verity Susman's vocals are more up-front (and her percussive vocal accents are certainly nice touches) in this song, the rest of the band just plugs and chugs behind her. I'm not sure if this EP is a bump in the normally-distinctive Steve Albini's track record of production credits, but there's nothing distinctive going on here. Even the bass-driven instrumental "Teach the Sailor to Pray" is an easy snoozer. This is all a shame, because it's only on the song they didn't write -- a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" -- where the band gleams recklessly like they do on their debut. If these three songs are representative of the "new" Electrelane -- or, worse, a more "mature" Electrelane -- then I'd like the old one back. Please.
Anthony C. Bleach
The Dave Rave Group, Everyday Magic (Bullseye)
The Dave Rave Group were formerly the Dave Rave Conspiracy (but had to change their name when they became the first Western band signed by Russia's Melodiya label; seems the word "conspiracy" made them nervous). Trading in fairly accessible post-punk poppiness, the band made one very strong album, 1989's Valentino's Pirates, that many consider the equal of anything ever produced in the intelligent guitar pop genre. A reissue of that album, and a companion reunion tour, have brought about Everyday Magic, the band's first batch of new material in 14 years. It would certainly be unfair to expect the band's new effort to equal the impact of Valentino's Pirates, but their chops are still reasonably strong. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, or push their sound past its natural limits, the Dave Rave Group settle in and just enjoy themselves. That means they opt for a little more bar-brand bluesiness than before, but it also means that several tracks just spin their wheels. On the bright side, the title track is a pure blissed-out guitar squall, "Jennifer Cries" is a moody piece full of tense piano and strings, "Maryann" could slip onto a Frank Black album, and "Help Me Please" is propelled by a tricked-out Chuck Berry riff. All of the traditional guitar pop touchstones are here, delivered in able-bodied -- sometimes even inspired -- style. There aren't any revelations waiting, though, and you might feel like you've heard all of this already sometime during the last 14 years.
Various Artists, Vision: Live From the Vision Festival (Thirsty Ear)
Vision is a nine-track collection of live performances from the 2002 version of the Vision Festival, a New York City-based celebration of avant garde jazz. The quality of the recordings will make any fan of edgy jazz (or innovative music, period) wish he or she was there, or at least that a longer collection would be released. The CD showcases a handful of the hottest improvisers of the last 30 years, including a few who take instruments that aren't closely associated with jazz and light them on fire (like Billy Bang on violin and Karen Borca on bassoon). There are some truly magic moments here, like the extended bass-and-piano interplay at the end of Dave Burrell's "Existence", or the funky gospel strut of the Fred Anderson Quartet's "Spirits Came In". Also including a DVD of performances and photos (which wasn't lucky enough to view), Vision is a red-hot collection that jazz and non-jazz fans alike will be taken with, assuming their ears are open to experimentation and a certain amount of recklessness.
Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter, Reckless Burning (Burn Burn Burn)
Does the world really need another Cowboy Junkies? Or a southern gothic informed Mazzy Star? No and No. Yet we seem to get a few of these each year, and, for the most part, the results are mixed, bordering on the disappointing. Such is the case with Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter. There are a couple of key things that do separate Sykes and Co. from the rest of the wannabe pack. First, Sykes's voice is truly haunting. Second, guitarist Phil Wandscher (ex-Whiskeytown) hung out with everybody's favorite alt-country whipping boy, Ryan Adams, for several years. Problem is, there are also a couple of things that ultimately keep this Seattle band from reaching that Cat Power/Cowboy Junkies mix they seem to be shooting for. First, Sykes, for all her considerable vocal gifts, is a bit of a one-trick pony on record. There's not much variety here, which makes for an easily distracted listen. Second, Wandscher gets way too much credit for his work on Strangers Almanac, and Reckless Burning is the evidence. While Almanac conjured up the feeling of a lost soul in a beautiful place, Burning is as musically predictable as records come. There's nothing risky about the arrangements or Wandscher's playing. There's nothing reckless about the record at all, and that's too bad. On the bright side, Phil, I hear Ryan's latest album really sucks, too.
MyTwilightPilot, 555 EP (Feel)
Saying that MyTwilightPilot write songs is kind of like saying that Homer wrote a poem. 555, the Houston band's debut EP, is over half an hour long, but contains a mere four tracks. Perhaps these units are better described as musical landscapes. Bass is used to render a broad, steady canvas; the guitar dots color and cymbal-heavy drumming adds understated splashes. The vocals, languid and moderate, provide a focal point for the contemplative ear. Like an abstract painting, melody and meaning take their time emerging. Volumes rise dough-slowly then dematerialize. Songs become less about their units than the sum of their parts. In a world of high speed and piecemeal, MyTwilightPilot offer something unhurried and holistic, an approach to songwriting that is almost meditative in its effects.
Unagi, Unagi (442/Kimosciotic)
Musical collage artist Unagi combines the soundscape aesthetics of film scorekeepers like Ennio Morricone and Craig Armstrong, Public Enemy's Bomb Squad, trip-hop's Massive Attack, and Wu-Tang architect RZA with the cinematic vision of a filmmaker created from the DNA of Melvin Van Peebles and Gordon Parks. Unagi is what would happen if the sketchy interludes from a Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul were performed battle of the bands style by the Brand New Heavies and the Roots along with special guests including trumpeter Roy Hargrove, M-Base saxophonist Steve Coleman, b-girl bassist Me'Shell NdegéOcello, and acid jazz guitarist Ronny Jordan down at the old Stax Recording Studios in Memphis. Only one of the 17 tracks clocks in at over three minutes, but the disc succinctly captures an evocative series of ever-changing moods waiting to be committed to film. As trippy as this soundtrack is, when the hell is writer Darius James (Negrophobia) going to finish the screenplay so that Spike can shoot this joint?
Miranda Sound, Engaged in Labor (Standard Recording Company)
Miranda Sound is from Columbus, Ohio -- the city in which I live. I have never seen them live, and I hate to say it, but I have never heard of them, either. Upon listening to their new album, Engaged in Labor, I have to say that they're quite good. Possessing a tense, serious, guitar-based tone, Miranda Sound is a band with some real potential. Although many of their songs never really take off melodically the way that they should, there is some real heart and soul at work here. If you're a fan of Bad Religion or Live before they turned into a joke, you might find something worthwhile here. Miranda Sound is a band worth watching. They have the energy and passion of early U2, and the complexity of the best indie experimentalists.
Tokyo Rose, Reinventing a Lost Art, (SideCho)
Just what the world needs -- another pop/punk/rock quartet with catchy hooks and a propensity for the melodramatic. Interested? Then check out New Jersey's Tokyo Rose and their debut full-length, Reinventing a Lost Art. Filled to overflowing with energetic drumming, punky riffs and vocal harmonies blatantly reminiscent of New Found Glory, you'll find lyrics like this: "The truth can't hide behind your eyes" and "Stop dreamin'/ Start bein'". Still interested? Formed in 2001, it's too early to tell whether Tokyo Rose will rise above or at least stand out amongst the legions of other Jersey pop/punk bands that have come before them. Reinventing a Lost Art doesn't reinvent anything. The art of the pop song is alive and well. All this band needs is time to develop their own formula, one that distinguishes them from the legions of other bands doing just what Tokyo Rose does. Back to the garage, boys.
Various Artists, Emo is Awesome/Emo is Evil (Deep Elm)
The title Emo is Awesome/Emo is Evil couldn't be more perfect for such a confounding musical subgenre. For every good emo band like Jimmy Eat World and the Appleseed Cast, you get annoying acts like Dashboard Confessional or Rainer Maria that come in and ruin things. The fact is, unless you're a devoted emo fan, you are probably able to withstand only a few of these overwrought, maudlin songs at a time. With this album, Deep Elm Records, host of a huge stable of such bands, has put a "greatest hits" compilation of their own, and frankly, 72 minutes of emo is asking a lot from the listener. There is some really good stuff here, such as the aforementioned Appleseed Cast, who, despite recording for Tiger Style Records these days, chip in with a couple songs from their earlier days, including the oh-so-emo title "Forever Longing the Golden Sunsets". Other notable bands like the roaring Desert City Soundtrack ("What to Do in Case of Fire"), Slowride ("Computer"), and Sweden's Last Days of April ("Aspirins and Alcohol") contribute quality material, but as the CD goes on, the formula each band follows, be it Fugazi-style punk or more mellow fare, starts to wear thin. If you love emo, you'll love this album. If you merely tolerate emo, approach with caution.
Debashish Bhattacharya and Bob Brozman, Mahima (Riverboat)
Slide guitarist/ Hawaiian music scholar Brozman joins Indian guitarist Bhattacharya (and his tablas-playing brother and, on a few tracks, his vocalist sister) for this collection of elaborate compositions indebted to a vast range of international musical idioms: traditional raga, Hawaiian slack-key guitar, Latin-tinged jazz fusions, California surf guitar duels, and film scores (in both Hollywood and Bollywood styles). In the interweaving of styles the album bears traces of the dense, complicated history of interpenetrating cultures effected by the series of world migrations -- colonialist, imperialist, or otherwise, and thus becomes a kind of document, offering a palpable, concrete, spontaneously revelatory version of that complex, often nebulous history. The reciprocal assimilation at the level of music that this album documents (and foments) suggests the way sociocultural practice can succeed in uniting groups where political practices often fail. But that all makes the music sound much more academic than it really is: no theory is required to enjoy the guitar playing here, which is by turns furiously dexterous and exquisitely expressive.