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Black Strobe, Chemical Sweet Girl EP (Output)
The best new electro music, layering detached vocal over a bass-heavy throb, is reverent to its forebears without completely going over the edge into pure rehash. Black Strobe is the Parisian duo DJ Ivan Smagghe and producer Arnaud Rebotini, and they bring a new vitality to this dance-centric form with their own dark, sinister overtones. This EP, collecting songs both recent and only recently remixed, shows Black Strobe's knack for adding a cold stare to the grinning face of dance culture, coining their own appropriate description in the process, "dark disco". On the title track, the progressive build of programmed beats takes off with pop effervescence like a revamped Depeche Mode cut. "Me and Madonna" is an f'ing brilliant sicko musing, working in New Order-esque guitar strums amid the rounded beats. "Innerstrings (No Shuffle Mix)" does a straight vocal take of Ian Curtis, while "Abwehr Disco" uses suspense and a fuzzy beat-box feel. Keep your ears open for more of these Frenchmen.
Gary Young's Hospital, The Grey Album (Omnibus)
I'm beginning to see a pattern: an influential early member of a seminal rock band exits the group (often under stressful circumstances) and releases a series of eccentric solo albums full of private musings. Certainly founding Pavement drummer Gary Young's solo career could be seen as roughly parallel to such visionaries as Syd Barrett and Alexander "Skip" Spence, except that his albums don't quite have the spark of genius that make albums like The Madcap Laughs and Oar remarkable despite their insular nature. Although he is now teamed with guitarist Terry Blank in a band called Gary Young's Hospital, The Grey Album finds Young still struggling to find even a cult audience. The Grey Album is as bleak as the album title suggests, and only "Fred Named Friend" and "Refrigerator Light" (both songs revisited from the previous Young effort) feature the amusing whimsy of Gary Young's delightful debut single "Plant Man". The rest of the album is dedicated to morose and uninspired noodlings like the aptly named "The Long Song". However, Pavement-like workouts like "Antagonist Aside" show that Gary Young has not lost his unique, and much missed, approach to the drum kit. Hopefully next time he will have some material that could do it justice.
The Soviettes, The Soviettes LPII (Adeline)
The Soviette's sophomore album gives them the opportunity to not only prove that they're a great sounding band with truly dynamic music, but that they are just hardcore enough to be true blue punks and smart enough to know what that means, an opportunity that, like their listeners, they seize by the balls. In the great punk tradition, these Minneapolis natives deliver raw and raucous tunes with firey hooks and barbed wit on a platform of DIY ingenuity and grassroots politics. Their unique coed lineup adds breadth and maturity to the ailing punk genre, finally reclaiming the rapid-fire beats, full-throttle guitars, bleeding throat harmonies, and distorted ambiance of Ramones-derived rock from their pre-teeny-post-emo-light-weight comrades with lots of heart and zero posturing. Every track is as loud, bare, brazen, and succinct as the next. These punk sirens are making the personal political again, and they're proving to be unstoppable.
Wylie & The Wild West, Hooves of the Horses (Dualtone/Western Jubilee)
The tradition of cowboy poetry and music may seem bizarre to anyone who doesn't make their home on the range. Fiercely earnest and direct, albums like Wylie & The Wild West's Hooves of the Horses might read as kitsch to many people. After years of wading in a pop culture of irony and cynicism, it's hard to hear lyrics like "The horses of memory thundering through / With flashing white fetlocks all wet with dew" without a chuckle. But that's a city slicker's problem, not Wylie's. There's no doubt that he's for real, offering up solid originals ("Leather Lover", "Manolito"), adaptations of old and new cowboy poems ("Equus Caballus", "The Hooves of the Horses"), and even a cover of Buddy Holly's "Everyday". Included are notes on each song, family photos of life on the homestead, and a straight-and-true preface where Wylie hopes "it will be said that I was fair and kind to God's greatest beast".
Summer at Shatter Creek, Sink or Swim (Redder)
Craig Gurwich (who is Summer at Shatter Creek) explains that the five tracks on his new Sink or Swim EP are "stripped down versions from the full length out fall 2004". Gurwich performs each of these tracks alone on a piano, sometimes singing his own backing vocals. This disc's been produced solidly -- even the small instrumentation fills up the sound. Gurwich's playing stays pretty light, with room for the notes to breathe. His lead singing actually stays simpler than his back-up lines, but he possesses a well-developed delivery. These songs vary little from each other, but over the course of a five-track EP, that's not a problem. Sink or Swim provides great hope from the album to come, but, instead of sounding like a set of demos or alternate versions, it stands alone as a quality collection in its own right.
Neurosis, The Eye of Every Storm (Neurot)
Neurosis have spent almost 20 years perfecting their style of atmospheric, dense, and emotional heavy metal. While many trends have come and gone, Neurosis gained the respect of the metal community by sticking to their vision and always creating under their own terms. After the breakthrough album Through Silver in Blood, the band began working with infamous engineer Steve Albini. The Albini-helmed albums Times of Grace and A Sun That Never Sets showed a band shedding heavy metal riffage for more melodic and textured surroundings. For the band's eighth full length, they once again brought in Albini to man the boards. The Eye of Every Storm is a deliberate and calculated effort that continues to find the group moving further and further away from the bludgeoning metal of their earlier releases. Each song on this disc is a slow burner, building methodically to a climatic peak before coming down again. Lead track "Burn" builds to an outro that is reminiscent of older Neurosis material, complete with lead singer Steve Von Till's aching screaming. However, these moments are fewer and farther between as Von Till for the most part, returns to his natural singing voice, which he first displayed on A Sun That Never Sets. While some fans might worry that Neurosis has gone soft, they have nothing to fear. The tidal wave like crescendos are still present and Neurosis, who have made anguish an art form, continue to write with undeniable power and potency. Tracks like "Left to Wander", "A Season in the Sky", and "Bridges" are among their best and most progressive work to date. With The Eye of Every Storm, Neurosis proves that metal can both be intelligent and moving, and longtime fans will not be disappointed.
Pleasant Stitch, Capacitor (Tinderbox)
William "Carty" Fox, one of Pleasant Stitch's three founding members (along with Bob DeMaa and Will Pierce), died following a prolonged battle with cancer on January, 11 2004. Capacitor, the bands final release before Fox's death, finds Pleasant Stitch hewing closely to their stated aims of ignoring rigid genre delineation and creating music defined purely by the group's shared aesthetics. They find themselves travelling in the footsteps of other multi-generic groups such as My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus & Mary Chain, and Mazzy Star, without really demarcating a distinctive sound for their electronics-abetted songwriting. New member Sarah-Jane's vocals are an interesting element, however, that might stand them in good stead should they continue in the wake of Fox's untimely demise.
Kofy Brown, Love Warrior (Simba Music)
Kofy Brown has been putting out music since the release of "She's Butta" on cassette in '92, her last album being "Area 32", which came out three years ago. On this, her sixth, she serves up a warm brew of jazz-funk, organic rock and soul that remains carefully distant from the anodyne, rigid "nu" breed ruling the pop charts, having lost all connection to its rough, fluid roots along the way. Rootsy is a good word for Kofy's self-produced, multi-instrumentalist approach, although she's not afraid to bring in the odd breakbeat and give her tight, enjoyable band a break. No throat-grabbing hooks or lyricism here, but if you're a fan of Meshell Ndegeocello's last album, or the way Prince used to do it, then you could do much, much worse than dig up a copy of this and hear Kofy spell out the old message with considerable talent, gusto and conviction.
The Waking Eyes, Watch Your Money (Coalition)
The Waking Eyes are going to be huge. In Canada, at least. And they're going to be huge if it kills their record company, Warner Music Canada. The Winnipeg band's new single "Watch Your Money" is all over the place north of the border, hefty piles of the single clogging the shelves of every single record store (specially priced at a paltry 99 cents Canadian, which is barely four bits in US funds), and has instantly become the ubiquitous, unavoidable radio song of the summer, thanks to Warners' publicity juggernaut, garnering heavy airplay on both mainstream and campus radio. With just one song, The Waking Eyes are already perilously close to Tragically Hip-esque levels of overexposure. Those in Canada have no choice but to be inundated by this band's music, but should the rest of the world care? No, not really. The song is a fun, workmanlike bit of garage rock that fits comfortably between The Mooney Suzuki and The Datsuns, but this stuff has arrived four years too late for most of us to get very excited about, and besides, it's nothing that The Ponys, Tangiers, and The Hives can't do better. It's not a bad little single, and if Stateside success is a result, then good for them, but for Canadians, it's a shame that they have to be force-fed this kind of average rock 'n' roll while great young bands like controller.controller, Metric, and Arcade Fire receive no mainstream airplay whatsoever.
Honeybunch, Honeybunch EP (The Bus Stop Label)
Honeybunch were a Rhode Island trio who released this EP last year, but the style is timeless over the roughly 20-minute project. Beginning with "Throwaway" lead singer Jeffrey Underhill matches Lisa Underhill's fragile vocals note for note. With a voice that is incredibly sweet like Jeremy, the group takes a sugar-coated pop song and slows it down into a lovely, country-tinted ballad. They up the ante somewhat on the synth-flavored "Fear of Dating" with its sweeping and lush vocals that sound a bit like a vocoder. "Light Enough to Fly" is quite lounge-like and extremely dreamy. The pretty and delicate vocals and distant "ba ba bahs" only add to its luster. This nuance is expanded on during the highlight "Postcard From Everett Ruess" which could be something either Dido or Yo La Tengo could do equally well. Ending with "Our Secret Life", Honeybunch is a perfect moniker for such sweet tasting music.
Incubus, A Crow Left of the Murder (Epic)
It could have been the naiveté of my youth, but Incubus used to be a pretty awesome band. Right up through 2001 with the release of Morning View, that band created what sounded to my ears like innovative, passionate, and beautiful modern rock. Brandon Boyd's voice spiraled up with graceful emotion. Mike Einziger coaxed the most delicately exotic notes from his guitar one minute and the crunchiest, catchiest hooks the next. And that 'fro -- loved it.S.C.I.E.N.C.E., Make Yourself and Morning View rocked millions of fans' worlds. A Crow Left of the Murder, released in February from Epic Records doesn't hold a candle to the band's previous work. The immensely popular single, "Megalomaniac", the title track, "Zee Deveel", "Sick Sad Little World" and "Smile Lines" all work well as solid Incubus songs. Boyd proves his vocal range, and Einziger comes through with his signature caustic riffs, but on "Southern Girl", "Made for TV Movie, and "Here in My Room" the band slips into modern rock mediocrity. Boyd's voice takes on a whiny tone, and Einziger just sounds repressed and stuck in distressingly boring hooks. In the world of Modern Rock Radio, Incubus is the real article. The band has been together for years, toured relentlessly, and never strayed too far from the public eye. Let's just hope the five band members can get their act together enough to once again produce sounds on a par with "Stellar", "Pardon Me", "The Warmth", "Wish You Were Here" and "Aqueous Transmission". Let's hope the muse isn't gone for good.
King Radio, Are You The Sick Passenger? (Spirit House)
When Joe Pernice and Frank Padellaro sat side by side in the Scud Mountain Boys, playing their modern interpretation of country music, no-one suspected that Pernice would go on to write a book based around Meat Is Murder and produce melancholy pop music equally inspired by Burt Bacharach and early '80s British indie pop (the Smiths, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen). With all Pernice's critical success, somehow, it's escaped a lot of folks that his former bandmate, Padellaro, has been traversing a similar path with King Radio. After the diverse debut, 1998's Mr. K Is Dead, Go Home, the band put out the power-poppy Mission Orange EP on Not Lame Records in 2002. In 2003, Padellaro and company completed Are You The Sick Passenger?, but, temporarily between labels, they made it informally available in a brown-bag edition for anxious fans. The disc now gets a formal release courtesy of Spirit House Records. Eschewing the power in favor of soft-pop stylings, King Radio have brought in Mitch Easter to mix the album; with string arrangements by bandmember David Trenholm, this is definitely the strongest item in the band's catalog to date. Padellaro's vocals are smooth throughout, particularly on a completely straight cover of "Am I The Same Girl?" Songs like "You Are The One" and "Famous Umbrellas" are the bachelor pad soundtrack, equal parts McCartney, Wilson, Webb, and Williams, hip without coming across as insincere or schmaltzy. Watch out, Joe; Frank's on your tail and, creatively speaking, he's gaining fast.
40 Below Summer, The Mourning After (Razor and Tie)
Feeling the need to break something, scream at an ever-increasing decibel level, or simply wring every negative emotion out of your miserable body? Well then, you've got the perfect soundtrack to your day's activities. 40 Below Summer, yet another installment in the post-hardcore scene, has just released the cleverly titled The Mourning After on Razor and Tie Records. The band has provided you with the perfect outlet for your pent-up aggression in the single, "Self Medicate", as well as in "Taxicab Confession" and "Better Life". After you've purged, maybe you'll want to lie down and rest and think about how wretched your life has been since your girlfriend left you. "Breathless" and "Monday Song" will both cover this need. Feel better? No? This could be because you are immune to 40 Below Summer's charms or it could be that violence begets violence, and screaming until your throat is raw doesn't actually do a bit of good.
The Spooky Kids, Lunch Boxes & Choklit Cows (Empire/Universal)
Yes, these are the rare tracks by former Marilyn Manson alum Scott Putesky's (Daisy Berkowitz) group The Spooky Kids. It's nothing as plastic and silly as Manson's work, but then again it's nothing anyone needs to rush out and buy, either. Perhaps the biggest "shock" is that it isn't shocking, but instead just a mundane little group of songs sent out to make a small amount of cash. Actually, so many of these tracks sound like cheap demos that the album should have been issued at a cheap price. Anyway, who can take tripe like "Meat for a Queen" and "Insect Pins" seriously? OK, you're probably not really supposed to, but it's too difficult to get worked up about anything here that spending any long-term time on the disc is pointless. This stuff should have been kept in a dusty shoebox.