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Trevor Dunn's Trio Convulsant, Sister Phantom Owl Fish (Ipecac)
Just seeing the Ipecac label on the back of Trevor Dunn's new album is enough of an indication that this isn't exactly one of those jazz records an upscale couple puts on for background music at dinner parties. While Dunn has a strong background in Jazz, it's been in other, much more experimental bands where the bassist has been able to showcase his prowess, such as Mr. Bungle and the fabulously demented Fantomas (Dunn's performance on the Delirium Cordia is just plain brilliant). Quickly recorded in three days this past February, Sister Phantom Owl Fish is the second album by Trevor Dunn's Trio Convulsant, and the 11 instrumental tracks, featuring Dunn on acoustic bass, guitarist Mary Halvorson, and drummer Ches Smith, veer wildly from smooth, warm jazz tones, to crashing, cacophonous blasts of distorted hardcore noise, to wonderful, idiosyncratic arrangements that bring to mind Primus and Frank Zappa, to all-out improvisation. Loose, but tight is the best description for this album, as Halvorson's incredibly dexterous, varied guitar tones weave around Dunn's smooth, steady basslines, while Smith holds everything together, punctuating songs with snare fills that will make you dizzy. While the album's noisier moments are fascinating, it's during the cover of Andre Previn's "I'm Sick" and the absolutely gorgeous rendition of Duke Ellington's "The Single Petal of the Rose" where you wish the highly talented trio would tackle an entire album's worth of jazz covers. In the meantime, though, this unsettling, yet lovely little gem will do just fine.
The Bon Mots, Le Main Drag (Mellifluid)
The Bon Mots certainly live up to their name on their debut album Le Main Drag. Mixing witty lyrics and sly nods to the likes of Elvis Costello and Pavement, their musical chemistry crosses the borders of '90s indie and '80s pop with a smarty-pants attitude that reflects the brass-buttons bluster of a well-schooled frog (by the by, a bon mots is a pun in French). Simple, bouncy tunes are fueled by sophisticated musical orchestrations with expansive harmonies, generous percussive fills and guitar strumming galore. Melodies vacillate between catchy and vaguely patronizing, however, and the lyrics suffer from the band's egg-head opacity. The group is at their best when they are serving up sweet shimmery pop, and at their worst the other half of the time when a bleak seriousness creeps in and the vocalist's heart seems to drop perilously close to his sleeve transforming him instantly into a corny crooner. There is unfulfilled promise, but one might do well to wait for a follow-up.
Blueprint, Chamber Music (Weightless Recordings)
Blueprint's made his mark as half of Soul Position (along with stellar producer RJD2), and his new, mostly-instrumental album gives him a chance to step out on his own. Chamber Music takes a while to get going, with about two minutes of pointless introduction. Once the beats take over, though, it's worth the wait as Blueprint starts in with an Indian-inflected groove. His production style's reminiscent of RJD2's, but with less emphasis on the rock and dance sound and more on the hip-hop side. The first half of Chamber Music has a great flow, but Blueprint kills it with a track composed of stand-up material about sex and an essentially pornographic breathing track over a weak beat. It's neither sexy nor funny, and it kills the album's rhythm. The disc never recovers, and we're left with a disappointing CD that merely hints at the skill we've heard from Blueprint in the past.
Buckfast, Buckfast (self-released)
"I'm waiting for the summer to show up in my mind." Dude. Have I become too jaded for chuggy power chords, emotive vocals, and lead singers with names like Riddler? Or is it these particular chords, these particular vocals, and this particular, well, I guess the only lead singer out there named Riddler? "Corporit" is serviceable, radio-friendly west-coast rock, but at five minutes, it's two minutes too long and five minutes too repetitive. "Satellite" invokes the ghost of Bono (sniff, wink, sniff) and Bends-era Radiohead (who also invoked Bono) but for what? Because we haven't heard it all before? Because damn it, we have. Maybe I should be thankful that it's not another Alice In Chains knockoff because there's a lot more of them on the radio. But I can't be thankful for a band exerting so much energy, skill, and time on something that sounds simply passable.
Charmparticles, Sit Down for Staying (Childstar)
Having a style that brings to mind a lightweight Manic Street Preachers circa This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, Charmparticles are big on big, sweeping and majestic arrangements, especially on the grandiose "Sixty-Four". Here lead singer and guitarist Adam Wayne trades off licks with Sarah FitzGerald while delivering angelic harmonies. It continues on the stronger "Stand Up for Leaving" with the guitars driving the tune along before a dreamy and fluid chorus comes in. The group knows what they do best and thus they do it often as "A/O" begins with a heavy instrumental portion before shifting gears into a tamer and sweet nugget with Pamela Rooney on lead vocals. It's this tune that is definitely the watermark as the ethereal delivery soars to near U2 anthem-like heights in tandem with the guitars. The second half of this near half-hour tryst is just as lovely as "Gas Gauge" has some Starsailor-ish qualities embedded within. The lone straightforward alt.rocker is a promising "Solvent" that jangles along prior to an ear-candy guitar propelled bridge a la Primal Scream. A hushed "Phone and Finder" recalls Yo La Tengo before tension slowly builds. Overall a fine EP!
Phil Angotti, Juliette Foster Soundtrack (Jam)
Although labeled an "original soundtrack", the latest album by the Idea's Phil Angotti is instead a tribute to the classic pop-rock soundtracks of the '70s (think The Graduate or Harold & Maude). Thankfully not a concept album, there is no tacked-on storyline to follow, Juliette Foster Soundtrack instead aims to create a coherent Sunday afternoon mood that could conceivably serve as a soundtrack to a melancholy, offbeat indie film (which is left to the listener's imagination). The "soundtrack" tag also allows Angotti to avoid the expectations of "proper" albums, allowing him to mix fully fleshed songs like "No Way to Be" and "Trying to Find Out About Something" with charming song fragments and pleasant instrumentals. This casual format perfectly suits Angotti's low-key appeal. Angotti does not produce any heart stopping classics on this new disc, he is a little too subtle for his own good, but his gorgeous tenor and forceful strumming recall Emitt Rhodes during his most melancholy moods or Nick Drake in his happiest ones.
Burrito Deluxe, The Whole Enchilada (Luna Chica)
Sometimes the best music arrives when you're least expecting it. I opened my mail the other day to find a curious disc -- unsolicited from Luna Chica Records -- by a band called Burrito Deluxe. The 13-track The Whole Enchilada is a potent brew of country and rock, well-crafted and honest, by turns bouncy, burning and sweet. That the collection should offer such a tasty listen (yes, that was an intended pun) should not be a surprise -- Burrito Deluxe brings together some of country and rock's greatest musicians. The five-man band features Garth Hudson of The Band on organ, country singer Carlton Moody, who also plays lead guitar, pedal-steel player Sneaky Pete Kleinow and the muscular rhythm section of Jeff "Stick" Davis on bass and Rick Lonow on drums. Kleinow -- late of The Flying Burrito Brothers (the band takes its name from the Burritos' second album) and seemingly hundreds of sessions with everyone from the Eagles to Jackson Browne -- offers a star turn on the instrumental "Sister," while Hudson's atmospheric playing undergirds the entire disc. And Moody'' vocals are thick with smoke and as easy as an old pair of work boots. Comfortable and powerful and surprising -- that's Burrito Deluxe.
Tussle, Don't Stop (Trouble Man Unlimited)
Tussle's "Don't Stop" is a decent dance groove propelled by -- what else -- a monotonous bass line, some real percussion and drums, and trippy quasi-surf guitar lines. The b-side is "Windmill" which continues the organic bass and drums workout with touches of the ghostly guitar once again. It would all be much groovier if it didn't get so damn old by the time the first minute of each tune clocks in. Also included on the EO are superfluous remixes of both of these songs, the "Soft Pink Truth Disco Hijack" of "Windmill" that adds more of a techno buzz to the mix with some sawtooth synths, and the "Stuart Argabright Remix" of "Don't Stop", which manages to make the title track a little more trance-like, which really wasn't very necessary. Then there's also a version of "Eye Contact", simply subtitled "Version." Bongos and hand claps abound. Tussle's big problem is that they don't have many ideas, and instead squash what little they do know into variations of the same theme and call them different "songs." Whatever. There are better dance tracks out there to be heard, and no one really needs to waste their ears on anything contained in this release.
Ex-centric Sound System, West Nile Funk (EXS)
Having played bass for the great and the good (amongst them Lou Reed and Me'Shell Ndegocello), Yossi Fine supplies the massive low end for this collective's second record; a project bringing together modern production, live grooves and sampled Ghanaian songs in their entirety, in order to emulate the seismic impact and festival vibes of the Trinidad Carnival trucks whilst retaining a strong African feel. This blending of the old and new works especially well on "The Original Ragga", which matches the astoundingly contemporary-sounding call-and-response of a Hutu wedding song to powerful dancehall stabs; all the kinetic joy and simplicity without the violent homophobia or sexual crudity! If you're looking for music that channels the emotional vibrancy of "that original jungle beat" whilst physically vibrating your dancing frame, look no further. Massive.
Morning 40 Federation, Morning 40 Federation (M80 Music)
Morning 40 Federation sounds like little else that's out there. A big, brassy blues band that sounds like a vicious update of Dr. John with a hardened punk edge, the band's self-titled disc climbs out on the ledge and refuses to get down, crafting music that gets right in the listener's face and dares it to back away. The disc swings from blues into nearly experimental noise -- "Gotta Nickle" certainly contains blues elements, but they are undercut by a pained-scream vocal style that would not sound out of place coming from Nirvana. "Headlamp" is a rave-up with a nasty saxophone line running throughout, a distorted bit of early '60s-style rock that just keeps pushing ahead. Morning 40 Federation is worth a listen, but make sure you fasten your seatbelts and prepare yourself for what will be a bumpy ride.
Barbez, Barbez (Important)
Barbez is an acquired taste, don't let anybody tell you otherwise. This group ties various cultures and genres into an album that is part rock, part "what the #$@~!" From the initial "Sacrifice Poles", it's as if you went to a Jewish wedding with Evanescence conforming to the special occasion. There is some tension, but it is so bloody mellow that at times it's hypnotic and annoying all at once. The happy stroll of "The Defiant Bicycle" is a departure but works better for some strange reason. Lead singer Ksenia Vidyakina is the centerpiece often, yet the quirky instruments and Waits-ish arrangements makes it an enjoyable ride. This is exemplified on "Tango Ballade" that is part Parisian, part Ute Lemper German cabaret and part David Bryne with terrific, loony results. The humor in the album is its greatest asset, particularly on "Pirate Jenny" which builds and builds while a maid or housewife tells her tragic story as a black freighter "shoots guns from the bow". Barbez keeps you intrigued though with another stellar tango-esque flavored "See the Insect". Another pleasing ditty is the rambling swaying folk of "The Relationship Between Man and Bird". The music box-esque "The Ultimate Disaster" turns on its head and sounds like folk nu-metal. Overall Barbez has created a truly bizarre album that never grows tired or stale.
Christiansen, Stylish Nihilists (Revelation)
As emo and hardcore continue to infiltrate the safe and docile pop markets, more and more musical acts begin competing for the proverbial spotlight. And, despite the fact that Christiansen have been active in the now overrun scene for many years and through many releases, Stylish Nihilists sounds like a tepid, halfhearted, stereotypical survey of emocore terrain. With this album Christiansen seem to be vying for a larger, more commercial audience. This is their most pop-inflected affair to date, replete with stadium rock guitars and big, anthemic choruses. Unfortunately, Christiansen also have also sacrificed the ability to write a quality rock song, as many of the 11 tracks on Stylish Nihilists seem unrealized and lacking in both emotion and scope.