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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
12 October 2004
I Am X, Kiss + Swallow (Recall)
Head Sneaker Pimp Chris Corner has started this side band in order to produce the "Post Modern Sleaze" that the Pimps always promised but were a little too slick to deliver. The raw Kiss + Swallow , which mixes in a little electro-trash with Corner's traditional trip-hop palette, manages to capture a bewitching mix of decadence and exhaustion, but rarely reaches beyond the status of effective atmosphere. The canned beats and queasy rushes of sound recall Corner's previous production work on the debut album by Robots in Disguise, but provide exactly opposite results. Although Robots in Disguise made for a rather disappointing listen, certain hooks and moments would linger long after the album was finished. Kiss + Swallow is, by contrast, a much better album, featuring coherent songs and compelling beats, but without the (mostly failed) risks that Corner and Robots in Disguise took on Robots in Disguise , this album amounts to little more than a suitable soundtrack for reading Vice Magazine . Tellingly, the album's finest track, the eerie mechanical lust ode "You Stick It in Me", a collaboration with RiD vocalist Sue Denim, combines the fearlessness of RiD with Corner's proven skill in creating a full-fledged avant-pop song. If he can recapture this mix of honed craft and risk taking on a full length album, I Am X has the potential to meet or surpass his main band.
Rachael Sage, Ballads & Burlesque (Mpress)
Ani DiFranco has blessed the world with many gifts: her independent business savvy, political outspokenness, innovative guitar parts, and earnestly playful, emotional songs. It is no surprise that legions of talented women have been inspired by all of her trademarks. Rachael Sage seems no exception; the songs on Ballads & Burlesque, while nowhere near as baldly imitative as many coffeehouse strummers, nevertheless bears the unmistakable stamp of Buffalo's favorite daughter. Most notably in the sassy, spoken-wordish vocal inflections, Sage treads the same avenues of attitude and empowerment in songs like "One True Thing" and "Ferris Wheel". Still, there's no denying she has a powerful grasp of the nuts and bolts of songwriting. The songs are not designed for idle listening. While some people may wish to discern influences other than Tori or Ani, fans of this particular niche of folk-pop should be happy to pore over every passionate phrase and lilting piano figure.
Kissing Tigers, Pleasure of Resistance (Slowdance)
Kissing Tigers has one big strike against them in my book: they are another in a long line of groups whose male singer sounds decidedly female. I admit that this is a purely arbitrary prejudice on my part, but what can I say. Besides their androgynous singer, they seem to have a keen grasp on the whole '80s revival territory. If that sounds more ambivalent than I wanted it to, well, I suppose that's a function of our current '80s revival groups saturation. They've got chops, though, even if I really don't see the New Order comparisons so much as maybe the Pixies. Don't get me wrong, their very vanilla songwriting is nowhere in the Pixies league, but this kind of muscularly loose-limbed power-pop songwriting brings to mind nothing so much as Doolittle's arch misanthropy, along with more than a healthy dollop of the Jesus and Mary Chain's aggression. The electro elements aren't really as prominent as the press kit would have you believe, and what you've got left is another vaguely promising debut LP from another vaguely promising. My ambivalence speaks volumes.
Nancy Wilson, R.S.V.P., Rare Songs, Very Personal (Telarc)
At this point, Nancy Wilson (the 1960s lounge singer, not the Heart guitarist) is best remembered for the essential jazz collection she recorded with Cannonball Adderley rather than her light adult-pop crossover hits or her NBC variety show. Through the decades, the alluring sultriness of her voice has remained undiminished -- it may have even gained nuance -- though she’s squandered it recently on banal balladry for smooth-jazz fans. This collection, thankfully, is not smooth -- no noodling, no robotic drumming, no chilly keyboards. The production is free of that digitally pristine sharpness robs jazz of its warmth, allowing for a more finely calibrated balance of professionalism and emotionality. Outside of a few up tempo big-band numbers ("Day-in, Day-out," "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart") there’s a valedictory sadness to these songs with many about being old or saying goodbye. The duets suffer because Wilson tends to outclass her partners, but when she sings solo, especially when accompanied by the equally legendary George Shearing on "Blame it on My Youth," its extremely poignant.
Last Conservative, On to the Next One (Good Charamel)
Buffalo's Last Conservative has a darker, heavier and inviting hook on the title track that isn't too crunchy or slick. On the label of Goo Goo Doll guitarist Robby Takac, the band's sound falls in line with Canada's Wide Mouth Mason, The Calling or Australia's Powderfinger to a lesser extent. Think Zeppelin's brooding moments on Physical Graffiti and you get the gist of it. But the slick and pre-packaged roots-tinged pop on "Can't Get Away From You" recalls Deep Blue Something's "Breakfast At Tiffany's". It's fluffy to a fault. And "Over My Head" doesn't fare much better, mired in a radio-friendly rut that is unoriginal and uninviting. The meaty and fun-faring Tommy Stinson-esque pop of "Anything But Goodbye" is a gem though. When the band hits on something good, they can ride with it instantly, particularly with the gear-shifting and toe tapping "Hope And Pray" and the rather urgent neo New Wave touches of "Car Alarm". A bic-lighting ballad called "Come Down" is half decent and grows on you. The band's softer melodic pop gets better on the almost Keane-ish "Hey Hey". Perhaps the most appropriate titled tune is "Irish" which is a grandiose swaying, arm-over-shoulder glass raiser. It'll grow on you, which isn't a bad thing.
Dr. John, N'Awlinz: Dis, Dat or D'udda (Blue Note)
Dr. John is such a tremendous showman that it seems his musicianship is often taken for granted, mixed in there with his "party" persona. But for N'Awlinz: Dis, Dat, or D'Dudda the former Mac Rebennack kicks into high gear on this stellar music tour/history of his 1940 birthplace. A high-spirited, groove-laden collection of original numbers and well-known classics, the CD features a top-notch cast of fellow Crescent City musicians (Cyril Neville, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Earl Palmer) and "out-of-towners" like B.B. King, Mavis Staples and Willie Nelson. Produced by Stewart Levine -- who's worked with everyone from Jamie Cullum to Sly & the Family Stone -- N'Awlinz features everything from bayou-based morality tales ("The Monkey") to sparkling instrumentals, like the John-penned let's-tour-the-neighborhood opener, "Quatre Parishe," which showcases his spidery, elegant piano playing. A long album -- there are 18 songs -- the record is surprisingly solid, mixing everything from gospel to ragtime with true flair. And it'll get you in the mood for Mardi Gras with its songs about voodoo queens ("Marie Laveau") and Cajun mysteries.
[Bilby], Life in the Slow Lane (Ramjet)
This Australian's second album is definitely one that takes no time to get into. With a Cowboy Junkies minimalism, the band is able to perform songs like "Collingwood" with a lovely and time-worn country/Americana flavor with a slightly darker dirge hue supporting it. "DJ says turn it down/Rock and roll is losing ground," the line goes with a softer pedal steel accentuating it. "Anna" resembles fellow countrymen The Waifs in a downer or depressed period. It's quite angelic however with a mandolin picking the tune up throughout while lines are heard backwards sparingly. The band shines on the strolling sway of "Clocks" as the bass line and harmonica are given its due here. The light pop vocals are the key to the album, especially with some nature sounds added to the delightful and soothing melody behind "Molokai". The one anthem-like U2 moment comes during a gorgeous "Seize My Day" that is led by a fine yet simplistic guitar riff. A couple of the latter songs are more like snippets or interludes, including "Capybarad" and "Wheels". But it's a small price to endure for the Blake Babies-ish dreamy lullaby called "Saltfree", the sultry alt. rock of "Red Wedge" and the closing "Hangnail".
AeroVox, Rewind 2004-1 (Glister-Pulse)
There's something indefinably interesting about these guys. I can't quite put my finger on it, but they have something that makes me want to hear more. Perhaps it's their singer: Jeff Darien has a muscular baritone that reminds me partly of a more personable Peter Murphy and partly of that weird guy from the Crash Test Dummies. Baritones are rare in pop music, and it's even more rare to hear them fronting hungry young rock outfits. They have some weird songs, such as "Beat You Up", which features a recurring chorus of "I'm gonna beat you up" . . . but as any fan of Modest Mouse or Ben Folds Five can assure you, weird is hardly bad. Regardless of whether or not their lyrics are odd, they've got a knack for easy hooks and facile arrangements. "Home" could be your new favorite song, if you ever hear it. These guys definitely deserve wider exposure than this indie-distributed EP belies.
Bad Acid Trip, Lynch the Weirdo (Serjikal Strike)
What do you get when you mix "Weird Al" Yankovic with cheesy hard rock? That's right, you get this - Bad Acid Trip. As bad as the band name implies, this album should be quickly heading for cutout bins everywhere if it hasn't already. Look guys, the nu metal thing is over. Dumb songs like "Fascist Fuckwad," "Beware of the Little People with Terrible Visions," and "Plate of Shrimp" make up the bulk of this excruciatingly mind-numbing album. And look, opening the first song with the sound of a woman having an orgasm is so 1994. Sorry, but the technophiles beat you to that cliché ages ago. These guys are as pointless as Dog Fashion Disco - a band they sadly seem to be ripping off of in the lame ideas department. Don't lynch the weirdo; lynch your judgement if you actually throw down money for this waste of plastic.
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.
The Business Machines, Almost Automatic (Act Your Age)
From the epicenter of Everything Good in Modern Music (Houston, Texas), The Business Machines blast forth with Almost Automatic. Produced by Steve Albini, the band is another example of why everything in Houston basically rocks without equal. Not even the hotshot producers can temper or dilute the raw energy that springs forth from the locale, and that's definitely a good thing. The Business Machines rock it up on 10 tracks here, with highlights including "Rock n Roll," "Lazy Bones," and the scintillating "Secret Admirer." Houston bands are never about prefab flash, but all about rocking the state's collective asses. This fine band continues that tradition. Straight-forward rock with just the right amount of ball busting thrown in. It's more than good enough for me, and it should be perfect for you.
Pacific UV, Pacific UV (Warm)
Slow, drifting, and drone-inducing, Pacific UV mine the same familiar territory as Malory, Mahogany, and Yume Bistu. But despite the amount of commonality found, Pacific UV still shine on their self-titled full-length. Slowdive is the most notable influence here, as their dreamy haze litters the soundscapes found on Pacific UV, but the quintet also channel Low's emotionally resonant slowcore and Spiritualized's sense of blissful symphonic beauty. The eight songs that comprise this album each glimmer and gleam in their own way, as each is elegantly written and gorgeously portrayed.
The Good Looks, Let the Needle Drop (Victim)
I sure hope people take the time to read the capsule reviews on this site, because while there plenty of chaff in this section - I know, because I've reviewed it - there's just as much musical wheat to be found here. This time around, it's in the form of Austin, TX, quartet, the Good Looks, whose debut, Let the Needle Drop is good, old-fashioned, no-frills garage rock 'n' roll. Tracks like "Big Now", "Dear Mr. Charlie" and the dance-tastic "Dancity" all pulse and crackle with boundless energy (though maybe that's just the handclaps in the background) while guitarists Matt Drenik and Christian Glakas lob riffs at each other as if they were grenades. A disco beat informs "Disco Rob" (duh), courtesy the rhythm section of drummer Rob Jasinski and bassist William Vanden Dries, while the band makes like hungry street punks on "Slam the Queen". "Sounds Like 1969" delivers on that promise, alternately Stones-y and Stooges-y, and could double as the album's title and mantra. The Good Looks are no rock saviors, but damn can they bring the goods. File under "wheat".
Various Artists, This is Circumstantial Evidence (Three One G)
Featuring West Coast hardcore founders (Swing Kids, Jenny Piccolo) as well as more recent, dance-inflected bands (Moving Units, Get Hustle), This is Circumstantial Evidence spans the last decade of independent punk music and provides an accurate survey of the scene. Each of the nine bands present on this DVD contribute two to five songs, with each of the videos exhibiting a markedly lo-fi presentation, with poor film quality and vertigo-inducing camera handling. However, despite the sub-par presentation, the band performances are rife with energy and excitement. The Blood Brothers, The Locust, Orthrelm, and Swing Kids turn in the most enticing live sets, but each of the nine bands on this DVD are alluring and appealing in their own unique way.
.: posted by Editor 7:41 AM