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The Real McKenzies, Oot & Aboot (Honest Don's)
A toast to rowdy Scottish punk! Drink up, jump around, and try not to flash your ass when your kilt flies up around your chin. Crank up the stereo and make merry to the Real McKenzies' second album, Oot & Aboot. Hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, the McKenzies' new album is a celebration of their Scottish heritage as well as their major influences, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. With bagpipes honking in the background and vocalist Paul McKenzie's own set of powerful pipes belting over them, these guys provide a heaping dose of drunken, punky, politically-tinged, melodic fun. Band member names like Dirty Kurt, Brad Attitude, and Mark "the Bone" Boland only add to the raucous good time. Cheers.
Give Up the Ghost, We're Down Til We're Underground (Equal Vision)
After punching a bruise into the American hardcore scene with 2001's Background Music, Give Up The Ghost fell into a bout of legal red tape and, after years of lawsuits, this five-piece erupt once again with a new moniker as well as a new album. Without severing the ties to their traditional hardcore sound, Give Up The Ghost now push themselves into new musical terrain with an expanded lyric sheet as well as effects pedals to bring divergent color and tones to the anguished music. Unfortunately, it's merely a lackluster effort. Sure, screamer Wes Eisold's heartbreak sounds angry and irate, but Underground simply doesn't possess enough diversity to distinguish itself from Give Up The Ghost's own discography, let alone hardcore's 20 year history.
Canned Heat, Friends in the Can (Fuel 2000)
Coming out of the mid-'60s, Canned Heat was established by blues historians Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson and Bob Hite and soon hailed as the Kings of the Boogie in those hippie ballrooms of yesteryear. Canned Heat has been pumping out their hot mix of boogie and blues for a very long time, persevering through all the misfortunes that being alive in the world can bring. Founding member Blind Owl went down for the count as the band was gaining ascendancy. A major trembler destroyed leader Hite's entire rare blues record collection, and then Hite himself died of a heart attack. What's a band to do but keep on keeping on. That's why "Bad Trouble" seems especially apropos here, with slidemaster Roy Rogers pouring a ladle of grease on the fire while Dallas Hodge growls and stutters out his lyrics. Their famous hippie anthem "Let's Work Together" is visited twice, one version features Harvey Mandel on guitar. The rest of this disc doesn't really congeal, even with people like John Lee Hooker sitting in.
Trana, Weird World (Lake Samm)
An unintentionally hilarious album of big rockin' assault. Apparently no one told these guys that no one likes Live or 311 any more. One listen to "Hello" and its over reaching melodies should have you in stitches in no time. And the way lead singer Steven Schmidt pronounces the word "hello" is worth a few good laughs again. This is the kind of goofy self-important wank rock that died out years ago, yet some bands still feel the need to punish everyone with over and over. I expect their career will last approximately five more weeks when hopefully even the band members themselves will realize what a futile attempt it was to release this lame album.
Sevenout, Back from Reality (Orbital Recordings)
Sevenout is one of the latest acts to attempt to add value to the British-invasion pop movement. In this instance, value is measured by a band's ability to be more than just a good cover band. Sevenout's debut album, Back from Reality, contains some unique ideas, so there's value upfront. The music comes with all the drive and catchiness of the 60s, but it finds itself lacking in a couple of areas. While Sevenout is not a cover band, because all their songs are originals, the influences behind those songs are over-represented. There are too many early Beatles references that keep popping up that seem to restrict some of the originality. The balance between instruments (overpowering) and vocals (under projected) is completely off. While this can partially be fixed in the studio, one gets a niggling feeling that maybe the vocals just aren't strong enough to lead. The CD has definite appeal for those really into the sound of Brit-pop, but doesn't give much for anyone.
Dengue Fever, Dengue Fever (Mimicry Recordings)
Six-piece band from California. Big deal. Saxophonist from Beck's touring band. Interesting. Cambodian pop star who has performed for the king and queen of her country. Now you've got my attention. Brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman came up with the idea for their band, Dengue Fever, in 2001 after extensive exposure to '60s-era Cambodian rock music. They went looking for a singer in Little Phnom Penh in Long Beach, California, and found Chhom Nimol in a local club. Hailing from a family of entertainers, Nimol joined Dengue Fever and has been performing with them since. Their self-titled debut hit stores this summer and features Nimol's hauntingly pure vocals over 12 tracks of '60s-inspired, psychedelic surf-rock. Add to this already unique concoction Nimol's traditional Cambodian dress and dancing, and presto! California pop... oddness. Definitely worth checking out.
Sylvain Chateau, Un Autre Décembre (130701/Fat Cat)
This CD consists of piano-based instrumentals by a guy who claims to know nothing about playing the piano - and, dammit, he's a man of his word! There are pretty melodies on several tracks, but they are inconsequential and go nowhere. These songs kinda poke a hole in label-mates Sigur Ros, who spend a lot of money and time just to do the same thing. On other tracks, like the five numbers under the title "Granulation," it's just ambient sound, which is always a lot more boring than it sounds, which is still pretty boring. Too long, at 24 minutes.
Tarantula Hawk, Tarantula Hawk (Neurot)
Comprised of analog keyboards, synthesizers, and samplers, along with the dark and dense tones of fuzz bass, Tarantula Hawk merge the aural worlds of ambient, prog rock, and space-rock into a sinister and haunting blend of sound. Tarantula Hawk occasionally meanders into heavier metal territory, but the collective always return to their epic prog hypnosis. This self-titled album, comprised of five untitled tracks, prescribes its sound in the relatively short time span of three to seven minutes -– for the first four songs, at least. The fifth and final opus pushes past the half hour point as Tarantula Hawk's spaced-out synths shift from crescendo to building crescendo before a thick drone of feedback overrides the album and settles it into a close. This inaccessible space-prog outfit is indeed ambitious, but it will take multiple times for the listener to decipher why they should even care.
Mark Wills, Permanently (Mercury)
I like schlock maybe more than the next guy, but this is ridiculous. Every song here is a ballad. Worse still, they're all the slow-tempo kind designed to tug at your heartstrings. Only a few moments like the surprisingly untwangy guitar solos on "Because I Love You" and "Forget About Love" point toward earlier Wills work, when he seemed the avatar who would find the highly commercial synthesis between platinum country schlock and platinum stadium rock schlock. And, since every song is a ballad, whether about romance or abandoned children or romance or raising a family or romance, the full line from "Forget About Love" goes: "Nothing makes you forget about love like love". Still, a line like that might work on me if I were a middle-aged housewife as desperately bored (and secretly horny) as Shel Silverstein's Lucy Jordan. But I'm not.
Ghost Orchids, The King is Dead (PrinceHouse)
The Ghost Orchids are a San Francisco quartet that's part of our latest retrobsession with things dark, sweaty, and new wave. Sounding more than faintly like the Faint and fishily like Fischerspooner, but definitely more immature than Adult., they ostensibly want to teach us some important ideas on their debut record that bands of their ilk constantly rehash. To wit: everything is sexy, especially technology ("A Hole in the Speaker" is a great title for a naughty song about audio gloryholes); technology is also very dangerous (for example, you could get "Synthesizer Bruises", a song which also warns us about "headphone blackout" and "drum machine disaster"); and the dancefloor is a place to coldly celebrate polymorphous perversity, with the "Fierce Child" or "The Sensual Woman" of your choice. Listening to this record makes me want to scream, "Haven't we heard these lessons already with this musical accompaniment? Can't we all just move along?" Having said that, though, the band does do some interesting things with their sound, especially in the echo department. "The King Is Dub" works spectral tones through the bones of the title track, and the aforementioned "Hole" joins the sound of crackly vinyl with an insistent drum machine and synthesizer line. And "Nothing Can Hurt You (A Sharper Version)" could be an acid track if you squint your ears a little. It's moments like these where they show more promise than this largely pedestrian album does.
Anthony C. Bleach
The Close, It's a Secret to Everybody (Moodswing)
With It's a Secret to Everybody, the Close has produced a record that will let critics play endlessly with the album title, hoping to be the cleverest to discover this unknown band from Alabama. The Close deserves the attention -- and reviews devoid of cheap puns on "secret" or "close" -- because of its strong songwriting and urgent playing. The band, which occasionally sounds like a self-medicated Sonic Youth (even down to the split male and female vocals), creates and releases tension through varied dynamics and tempos. On "Paper Trail" the tension builds until we get a slight release, then it increases again. The transitions between the segments of the song are inventive, but natural, allowing for change without hurting the flow of "Paper Trail". While the best example, this song is also representative of the Close's songwriting style (no individual members are credited). The Close's knack for pacing also shows up in the record's sequencing. It's a Secret to Everybody moves from one song to the next artfully, building its frustrated mood while giving us breathing space just as we need it. When you've got an album with good songs in the proper order, there's no reason to hit "stop".