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Pete Rock, Soul Survivor 2 (Rapster/Studio !K7)
Pete Rock is like the East Coast's Dr. Dre. Sure, he's nowhere near as huge as Dre, but his tight, organic compositions supplied the club banger template for nearly a decade, and pretty much defined the '90s New York sound. Soul Survivor 2, Pete Rock's follow up to '99's Soul Survivor (he also released Petestrumentals in 2001), is, as usual, a record chalk full of single-ready chart busters that picks up exactly where DJ Premier (of Gangstarr) and the first Soul Survivor disc left off. Mid-tempo rhythms, catchy, jazzed-out melodies, and funk-driven grooves are overlaid with rhymes from a host of MCs -- from Pharoah Monch to Dead Prez and Slum Village. While it's solid, it hardly diverges from the blueprint Rock's been pushing for years. "Warzone", an industrial-sounding cut with Dead Prez, and "Love Thing" with C.L. Smooth are the record's only real departures. But what else could you ask for? The guy used to be a radio DJ, for Chrissakes! And while he might be a one trick pony, his sound has held up for the better part of almost two decades.
Bobby Rush, Live at Ground Zero (Deep Rush Visuals)
Bobby Rush is an electric performer and his CD/DVD collection Live at Ground Zero offers ample evidence. The 13 songs captured here -- recorded live at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Miss. -- are funky examples of an urban blues that borrows from the Chicago sound of Chess records and the Memphis soul of the Stax-Volt musicians. The lead guitar on "Evil", a tightly controlled solo by Stephen Johnson, and the song's shuffling rhythm section (Bruce Howard on drums and Terry Richardson on bass) underscore Rush's gravelly vocal, a fairly typical blues lament about mistrust and deceit. As a lyricist, Rush is rather pedestrian (he wrote all 13 songs), crafting the kind of songs that have become cliché among blues and soul performers -- except when he employs some downright bawdy puns and sexual come-ons, which allow his music to morph into broad humor, lending it a tongue-in-cheek quality that makes it seem more than it is. Ultimately, the disc depends on Rush's delivery, a mix of sly innuendo and up-front bravura that pushes his rather thin lyrics to their limits. Without his nods and winks, the dirty jokes that make up this live disc would probably fall pretty flat.
Get Fucked, Get Fucked (Level Plane)
With a name like Get Fucked, you certainly aren't looking to make friends. Featuring members of metal masterminds LickGoldenSky as well as members of Turmoil and Neil Perry, Get Fucked could really care less about what you think about them. With nine tracks, running at 17 minutes, Get Fucked offers up a nasty dose of hardcore thrash that, while not particularly groundbreaking, stays in the memory due to the sheer ferocity of the delivery. Opening track (and the best song on the album), "Inside the 8lb. Dorm Fire", immediately grabs the listener with its guitar-heavy production and wins you over with the stunning third act, which finds the tune turning on a dime into an unbelievable breakdown section. The rest of album doesn't quite live up to the promise of the opening track, but the curious production, which finds the vocals battling for attention under the thick layer of guitars, as well the downright ugliness of the recording, will keep fans of Discordance Axis, the Locust, and Daughters rapt with attention.
Josh Todd, You Made Me (Todd Entertainment)
Josh Todd was Buckcherry's front man. Remember them? Well, if you do, he's back with a youthful bunch that basically pick up where he previously left off. "Mind Infection" resembles Chris Robinson fronting your standard barroom punk rock group, with the obligatory short screams from Todd. Big, meaty and not that bouncy, the record has a lot of hard rock riffs pouring out of it, but it's not the bore that is nu metal. The hook-riddled "Broken" tries to sound scary, yet it's as scary musically as Tommy Lee's Method Of Mayhem. Todd knows what makes rock radio drool and it seems he's hunting them down on sing-along arena rockers like "The Walls" and the required "woes is me" yelps on the "emo"core "Flowers & Cages". Josh Todd doesn't play it that safe, but it's extremely difficult to get him out of a radio-friendly rut. The color-by-numbers "Shine" has a lot in common with Collective Soul's grandiose guitars. Todd touches all the sources with the testosterone driven "Burn" and also "Blast", a tune straight from the back pocket of Nickelback's Chad Kroeger. Possibly the album's watershed moment is "Circles", possessing the guitar brawn but a lot of Train-ish melody going in its favor. "Slave" sounds like an earlier track. It's not a terribly bad record if beer-swigging, radio-friendly perfected rock is your idea of a good time.
Evening Lights, Landscapes (Shelflife)
Fans of dreamy, indie jangle-pop will love the new CD-EP from San Francisco's Evening Lights. Featuring former members of such indie-pop luminaries as the Autocollants and In a Day, the band's five-track debut recalls the Sundays in the way lead singer Laura Watling's vocals effortlessly intertwine with traditional pop-rock structures. There's nothing innovative about tracks like "Telephones and Traffic Lights", but the insistent melody and interesting use of a xylophone make for an intriguing listen. "Phaedra" is soft, simplistic and hazy, while "In A Day" offers a more traditional sound, and the title track showcases Watling's heavenly vocals once more. A full album may have been too repetitive and derivative, but the EP format and one or two gems means Landscapes just about retains interest.
The Pale, Gravity Gets Things Done (Sidecho)
At first blush, the Pale are the sonic equivalent of a pixie stick: Sweet, insubstantial, and, ultimately, a dime a dozen. They couch fleeting nods to British pop-rock and the Beach Boys in upbeat, sun-kissed emo of the most cloying sort to yield an ideal soundtrack for cuddling on grassy dunes with comely Friendster hook-ups and writing lengthy stream-of-conscious emails in lower-case type. Nevertheless, the Pale’s odes to chicks, while predictably unexceptional, are not nearly as puzzling as their Christian-tinged material. Of course, it isn’t so horribly unsubtle, and, clearly, Christian rockers are entitled to do their thing any way they see fit; I’m just off the belief that, if a band is compelled to chronicle teenybopper crushes with such inelegant lines as “you’re always up and you’re always down/but you make it so much fun”, then they’re probably better off not touching on God at all. Just as Mel Gibson, the slow-mo king who brought us a coarse, unconvincing big-screen Passion play fit for the multiplex and intellects unfettered by complexity, shouldn’t be entrusted to accurately or artfully depict such a powerful narrative capable of influencing the opinions of so many, then perhaps, on obviously a much smaller scale, faith-inspired emo bands might do well to realize that their breathless testimonials don’t necessarily enrich the spiritual dialogue to which they are devoted.
Andy Summers, Earth + Sky (Golden Wire/City Hall)
Sting isn't the only former Police-man to have made good on the promise of his early career. Ex-Police guitarist Andy Summers has had an impressive, albeit low-key career in the 20 years since the Police split up. After two albums exploring the boundaries of jazz as defined by Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, Summers hands us a stellar collection of atmospheric songs that show off not only his stellar playing, but also his innate musicality. A natural melodist, Summers made a name for himself in the Police with his complex, compelling guitar lines -- and he hasn't lost any of that flair. Whether playing on "noir"-ish number, like "I Chose You", or a haunting ballad such as "Roseville", Summers never fails to delight with his soulful playing and ear for a great melody. And you have to admire his versatility: from flamenco stylings to touches of reggae, Summers still has a great groove going.
Little Miss Messy, Boring Stories For Naughty Children (Dalloway)
A lot of bands try to separate themselves from the pack by trying to make all genres they like and folding it into one. It's kind of like an old suitcase and you're packing for a couple of week, you have everything but can't fit everything in. This album is a bit like it judging by the opening "Wrong", which doesn't sound like anything in particular, much to its own demise. "No More" is a tad grittier as lead singer Carlotta Valdez has a punkish sneer to his vocals as the rudimentary arrangement moves along. The slower material such as "Twinkie" soars nicely between a dreamy pop and an old school, love-handles holding slow dance. Few of the songs have much bite to them, especially the alt-rock, Sleater-Kinney tone to "Where Is My Mind?" Little Miss Messy has its moments on the roots jangle of "Sweet Stacy" which takes R.E.M.'s riff from "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" and puts it to good use. A ska and new wave "Former Occupant" is the sleeper, recalling No Doubt and Blondie in spots. Valdez is the star of the album on "Faking It", "Mayfly" and "Stop". The supporting cast are fearful of messing things up, opting for a simple and minimal format quite a bit. An average album which needs some touching up from start to finish.
Monster-0, Entertainment System (Omega Point)
Beware of albums bearing cover shots of Ninja Gaiden on the front and a Nintendo controller on the back. Given those images, one would think the sound of the band would be equitable to a video game. Monster-0 certainly doesn't land far from that idea. The "band" is a Daemon Hatfield, who's doing it all himself here. It's a bit too retro-'80s overall. Once the listener gets past the kitsch quality here, this album is nothing more than a second-rate novelty. The covers of "Love Is on the Way" and "The Politics of Dancing" are as weak as you might assume. Hatfield does manage to turn out one good song, though. "Jesus Christ (I'm Having a Good Time)" is as enjoyable as any of the one-hit wonders that Monster-0 is trying to emulate.
Run Run Run, Drizzle EP (TFT)
A nice, dark-sounding piece of work that has that perfect element of hooj to it. Singer/guitarist Xander Smith manages to coax out a little My Bloody Valentine from his instrument without paying over-the-top homage to Kevin Shields. The title track is a mini-masterpiece in itself, all gloomy melodies, swirling guitars, and hypnotic beats. "Song and Dance" threatens to tip the whole thing over in an ecstatic wash of despair, but snatches the show away from the precipice at just the right moment. High drama at its finest. Run Run Run have already been tapped by The Osbournes, so it would seem the big time has been clutched already. The five-song EP includes a bonus disc housing the video for the song "Skyscraper". An excellent release for those blue-gray days.
Tryst, Kids of Big Stars (MH)
Tryst are a nice little band making nice little songs and sounds. Tim Cohan and Ellen Highstone's voices blend perfectly and add an extra layer of dreaminess to the already floaty songs. There seems to be something a bit sinister going on underneath the grooves on songs like "Spin My Wheels", but the French horn and tasty guitars tell another tale. "Jayne Wright" and "Dirty Trick" should turn anyone into an instant fan if they aren't after the first two songs. Kids of Big Stars is a quiet masterpiece that borrows elements from '70s pop and blends them ecstatically with the best indie pop flavors around. A sneak attack in the best way imaginable, Tryst and Kids of Big Stars should go a long way in satisfying anyone with a taste for wonderful pop rock.