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A Day in Black & White, My Heroes Have Always Killed Cowboys (Level-Plane)
As you might guess from the slightly aggressive album title, this trio from Washington DC are afraid of a bit of counter-culture propaganda. Neither are they afraid of being seen as intellectual; with a lengthy Jean Baudrillard quotation on art, industry and signs on the inlay. Incomprehensible as the latter might be, their half hour of "rock explosion" is immediate and almost frighteningly powerful, a fusion of Mogwai, Mountain Men Anonymous and GY!BE-style post-rock with raw, yelled vocals of social rage and despair that close the circle with DC stalwarts Fugazi. Whether such shouty "singing" is your bag or not (I'd have to say not), they make an absolutely spectacular amount of rivetingly pure noise for three people, the drumming especially coming off like a punker Slipknot and making Secret Machines sound like lame ducks. With closing instrumental "The Illusion Of The End" showing that they can do the melodic build as well as the maelstrom bloody, here are a band who should be a tour must-catch. Music for frightening those empty horses with, and no mistake.
The Lolas, Something You Oughta Know (Jam Recordings)
Tim Boykin has been thrilling power pop audiences since the mid-'90s, when he and Bryan Price joined forces as the Shame Idols and released I Got Time and Rocket Cat on Frontier Records. It wasn't until Boykin started his own band that his musical vision really began to come to fruition. Blend the best bits of late '70s power pop (think the Records; in fact, think the Records really, really hard) and early '70s glam, and you've got the Lolas. Something You Oughta Know is the band's third studio release (though they're big enough in Spain to warrant a best-of compilation), and it makes for a trifecta of thoroughly enjoyable albums. Lovely ladies thoroughly permeate the lyrics and song titles, from "Dana the Chromium Girl", "Little Deedra" (a particularly glammy stomper), and "They're Coming For You Barbara" to "Weird Daughter", "Jungle Girl", and "Tim's Mom", but one comes to expect that from power pop artists. "Light Up Every Doorway" is a Jeff Lynne-influenced ballad that's a definite highlight of the disc. With each successive album, the Lolas continue to prove that they're one of the strongest, most consistently enjoyable bands on the scene.
Various Artists, In House We Trust 4 (Yoshitoshi)
Yoshitoshi is identified with the absolute best in house music by dint of the fact that the label is owned by Deep Dish, one of the premiere names in deep house. However, this edition of the In House We Trust series is not perhaps as successful as anyone familiar with the label's output would wish. The first disc, mixed by Alex Neri of Planet Funk, is a rather predictable prog-house set piece. The second disc, mixed by Omid 16B, while still a tad on the proggy side, does manage to inject a variety of additional flavors into the mix -- from a smattering of electro to a much deeper vein of acid house. It actually ends with an interesting old school vibe, featuring tracks and remixes by the Mysterious People, Danny Howells and Cajmere. The last track, 16B's "Moog Apella", is the album's finest moment. If you could buy the discs separately I'd recommend the second, but as the first disc is profoundly uninteresting, the set on the whole manages to come out at about average.
Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts, Wake Up! (To What's Happening) (Palmetto)
Over the past few years, Matt Wilson's been establishing himself as a jazz drummer worth watching even as he's taken on the role of bandleader. On the new album from Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts, Wake Up! (To What's Happening), he lives up to expectations, but he also shares the limelight. This recording gives prominence to trumpeter Terell Stafford, who often plays in a throwback style. The ensemble positions itself between mainstream tradition and more abstract styles. Without venturing into free jazz or avant-garde territory, the quartet never dwells for too long in traditional sounds. Wilson himself often plays around the beat, steady enough to follow, but adventurous enough to stand out when he chooses. "Cuban Carnival Song" provides the most notable moments as Wilson uses his entire kit for a series of funky rhythms and entertaining solos. Wake Up! (To What's Happening) relies more on that sort of pleasure than on complicated abstractions, and it makes for an enjoyable listen.
Adam Marsland, You Don't Know Me (Karma Frog)
Adam Marsland fronted Cockeyed Ghost throughout the second half of the '90s, but, despite producing four solid studio albums (and a rarities collection), it was really his expedition across the United States as a solo performer that brought him the most media attention. Starting in San Diego on 5/11/01 and finishing in Marina del Rey on 6/1/02, Marsland spent 232 days on the road in his 1994 Toyota Tercel, resulting in a live album (titled to trumpet that accomplishment) and a fair amount of press for his trouble. Once home, Marsland put together a new band, a multigenerational one that counts among its members songwriter Evie Sands ("Angel of the Morning") and former Cockeyed Ghost drummer Kurt Medlin. Joining the group on scattered songs are some of Marsland's fellow members of the Los Angeles music scene, including Darian Sahanaja and Probyn Gregory (the Wondermints), Stew (the Negro Problem), and Robbie Rist (Wonderboy, the Andersons, and more others than you can shake a stick at). Marsland's taste in music is highly diverse, as anyone who's seen one of his live performances can testify, and You Don't Know Me bears that out, with the gently loping steel guitar on "A Moment of Clarity" to the piano punk of the title track. Appropriately, it's the latter that opens the album; addressing those who would lump Marsland into any sort of so-called "power pop scene". "Take back your straight jacket / Take back your skinny tie", he roars, "You may have got the Knack / But, baby, I'm not that guy / I'll tell you why". Eleven songs later, as he offers his "Thanks For Everything", the tale has been told and the evidence is incontrovertible; the only category Adam Marsland safely falls into is that of "writer and singer of songs". Categorizing him under any other niche is only safe for the duration of a single song.
Pixeltan, Get Up/Say What (DFA)
Pixeltan started out with a distorted roar a few years ago on some early releases on the Troubleman Limited label, all polyrhythmic groove numbers, with a Yoko-esque singer chanting tribal incantations over the escalating beats and erratic bursts of noise. Returning with this EP, the band has a different lineup, but retains the same modus operandi-the primitive throb of repeated phrases with swirling percussion and staccato guitar slivers. Without excelling at great diversity, this new release features the group's ethos, mildly focused dance floor-friendly chaos; the DFA guys remix of "Get Up/Say What" stands out in its clarity. "That's The Way I Like It" navigates the same territory, but lacks any breaks to push it over the edge it needs to surpass as full-on engaging beat music. Look for more from these inventive folks.
Goldenboy, Right Kind of Wrong (Fastmusic/Cold Front)
Is Goldenboy's "(Not) Going Home Alone" the date-rape anthem for passive-aggressive hipster phonies? You decide: "It's Friday night / After a drink, then I just might / Hook up with you / But then it's all too late / I'll treat you like my bait". Maybe my hypothesizing is a bit of a reach, but listening to Right Kind of Wrong a tortuous 33 minutes that causes your mind to desperately seek out something resembling significance. More like Wrong Kind of Wrong. There's more tired self-searching ("Guide to Modern Life") and friendship tests ("In a Year or Two") here than in a Hillary Duff movie. Goldenboy is a polished apex of vapid, insidious "punk"-pop, created by and for kids with spiky hair, studded leather bracelets, and outfits from the nearest Hot Topic. At this very moment, they're coiffing their faux-bedhead doos for the big TRL debut, once its audience grows up and forgets about Blink 182 and New Found Glory. By that time, they'll be in a retirement community for whining pseudo-rawkers, claiming to be the best thing that never was. The world will be spared another batch of melodic swill. Phew. (Final note: this Goldenboy hails from Norway and should not be confused with the other -- far superior -- Goldenboy from Los Angeles. I made the mistake so you don't have to.)
Amber Pacific, Fading Days (Hopeless)
Do we really need another band like this? I mean, I can see the marketing angle here. With only one band member over the age of 20, I'm sure the people down at Hopeless said "Here's a band high school kids can relate to. Amber Pacific could be their friends!" Unfortunately, the five-song debut from this earnest Federal Way, Washington based group is depressingly banal. From the tired emo posturing to the straight-from-the-diary lyrics, Amber Pacific struggle to rise to mediocre. This is mall punk at its most uninteresting. With bands like Modest Mouse positively blowing up, providing alternative radio with a refreshing blast of originality and personality, groups like Amber Pacific stand that much more pale in comparison. But much can be forgiven because of their age. At eighteen or 19, few musicians are blessed with truly unique vision, let alone the means to execute it. The members of Amber Pacific certainly have the chops, but it will take time and experience for this group to create something worth listening to.
Bugs Eat Books, Ghosts of Leaves (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
"Destiny manifested itself to me/in the form of a dead art/when I was nineteen/or so I thought." As an opening salvo this could well have been penned by Built To Spill's frontman, I reckon. With a similar shambolic affection this Gainesville, Florida quartet (since uprooted and replanted in Athens, Georgia) wander through 12 lofi songs of comforting introspection that all manage to evoke the warm glow of an evening spent around a camp fire with friends; chatting, drinking and eventually dozing off in your sleeping bag to their wistful accompaniment. Like Marsch their singing voices aren't the world's best, but especially on the softer numbers their caring earnestness, offset by gently jangling guitars, do all that needs to be done. Neither the melodies nor the lyrics may be terribly memorable, but you'll forget about that for as long as they're playing.
Cyril Lance, Live from the Outskirts (Dog Talk Music)
Cyril Lance recorded this over three nights in three different cities, but the crisp Delta blues rock is still there over these six lengthy and interesting originals and covers. Opening with the shortest tune, "I Want the Real Thing", Lance sounds like an old bluesman backed by a contemporary blues-meets-jam fueled group. "I Went Down" is slower and far better over its duration, recalling Hendrix or Clapton's Cream heyday. With an organ behind him, lead singer Chris Carroll gives a great performance. It ventures into a jazz arrangement before returning full circle into the head-bobbing blues. After a melancholic and tender approach to "Remembering Jon", Lance and company raise some hell with "Blues Ain't Nothing" as Johnny Neel tickles the ivories for a rampant, swinging intro. Resembling Dr. John if tutored by the late Ray Charles, Neel sets the tone while Lance acts more of a strong sideman. The highlight comes during "Same Thing" as the sultry, slinky nature comes to the fore.
The Magnificents, The Magnificents (KFM)
These guys rock pretty damn hard. Despite the fact that they have prominent electronic elements, they are nowhere near as frosty as that would imply. They've got the gonzo energy of the Hives, if the Hives decided to eat Add N to (X) for supper. I suppose I should mention that they sound a little bit like Joy Division -- but everyone sounds a little like Joy Division these days, so that is hardly anything new. They really shine on tracks like "Blueprint" and "The Apollo Creed", when they let their drummer loose and shed the cool. Basically, these guys sound like Devo if Devo had been real punks and not just art punks, and that is definitely a good thing.
California Guitar Trio, Whitewater (Inside Out Music)
Bert Lams, Hideyo Moriya and Paul Richards are at it again with this reflective and melodic instrumental album. Beginning with "The Marsh", the trio veers from slower Mark Knopfler-like pacing into something far faster and far better for it. One often leads while the other two act as rhythm guitars, resulting in a lovely acoustic barrage that sways to and fro. Fans of Jeff Beck or Adrian Legg should find "Atlantis" very soothing, as the simple strumming is offset by some frantic, meticulous picking. The synergy between the trio is quite spectacular, feeding off each other during the rich "Skyline". Only on "Mee-Woo" does the group sound stale, despite producer Tony Levin adding harmony on guitar. This staleness is an anomaly, however, as "Cantharis" builds a lovely tension that bursts into, well, another round of tension. The summer breeze flowing through "Cosmo Calypso" goes all spacey, though, and is rather average. The title track's quasi-Parisian feeling is perhaps the album's sleeper pick, a real jewel. "Led Foot" recalls Jimmy Page's pre-epic instrumentals in certain respects, a rambling bit of fine blues and folk. A swampy "Red Iguana" shows the band's diversity that even includes a brief James Brown-ish howl. Ending with "Ghost Riders on the Storm", the galloping Spaghetti Western tune morphs into the Doors' "Riders of the Storm".