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The Witnesses, Tunnel Vision (Howler)
It is getting to the point where any rock and roll coming out of New York is labeled as part of the "garage rock revival" and then sold to a limited group of increasingly disillusioned hipsters who eventually sell them for a few bucks a pop to the local used CD place so that they could afford to buy the week's supply of Ramen. Hopefully this will not happen to the Witnesses, who incorporate so many influences that they could not be classified as anything other than simple, modifier-less rock and roll. Tunnel Vision is an invigorating debut that maintains the energy and vitality of a live performance, while benefitting from the clean sound of a studio production. The Witnesses' ability to mix in glam rock, even a bit of glam metal, into their sound, allows them to buck the trend of simplification in rock and roll. Every track on Tunnel Vision features multiple guitar parts, an overworked rhythm section, and moody organ fills that creates an intoxicated wall of sound that would make the White Stripes or the Black Keys blush. In the midst of all this noise, what really stands out is the almost X-like dynamic between hoarse lead singer Oakley Munson and organist Bonnie Bloomfield on songs like "Contact High" and "Panic Attack". I'm not sure if the Witnesses are doing anything particularly new and exciting, but, when they hit their always rousing choruses, I'm not sure if I mind.
The Great Redneck Hope, Behold the Fuck Thunder (Thinker Thought)
You know, if you're going to name your new album Behold the Fuck Thunder, you had damn well record some of the greatest, most kick-ass rock 'n' roll we've heard in years, because otherwise, you're just wasting one of the coolest album titles ever. Sadly, Boulder, Colorado's The Great Redneck Hope can't quite live up to the fabulous title. With a name like The Great Redneck Hope, you'd expect them to sound like Nashville Pussy or Clutch, but instead, we get a frantic, noisy, blindingly fast mess of a hardcore CD. Yet another one of those nine-minute records that takes longer to read the liner notes, song titles, and lyrics than to listen to the entire record, it has the band clearly worshipping at the feet of The Locust, Daughters, and The Dillinger Escape Plan, but instead of containing the often brilliantly demented arrangements that The Locust excel at, or the jaw-dropping drumming you hear in Daughters, you're left with a middling effort that just goes through the motions (churning chords here, five second lead fill there, lots of indecipherable vocals and fast drumming, etc.), one that is impossible to hold the listener's interest all the way through. Sure, these guys score some points with song titles like "Are you there, God? Please help me stop masturbating" and "Let's fall in love over AIM so we can fuck when we meet at Cornerstone", but it would be a good idea if they stopped trying to think of clever titles and started composing some original sounding hardcore instead.
Jack Irons, Attention Dimension (Breaching Whale)
Someday Jack Irons will pen a story about his remarkable life in and out of the music business. For now, however, Irons's friends and fans must be content to immerse themselves in his first solo recording. Consisting of eleven imaginative tracks, the disc showcases Irons's sophisticated tastes. Spanning a wide scope of musicality, ranging from jazz to Eastern, the album is largely instrumental, although Alain Johannes and Eddie Vedder chime in with some interesting vocal efforts. Also assisting Irons in his project are current Chili Pepper Flea and Pearl Jam alumni Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, as well as Primus's Les Claypool. While such guests give the album some noteworthy star appeal, the eclectic tracks will not necessarily appeal to mainstream listeners. That said, the ultimate importance of Attention Dimension does not come by way of marketability. Rather, it serves as a thought provoking glance into Irons's heart and head, places where artistry and spirit have battled countless demons and prevailed. Sounds like the perfect soundtrack for that future book.
The Flesh, Sweet Defeat (Gern Blandsten)
Can we please put a nail in the coffin of dance punk? Popularized by the likes of !!!, the Rapture, and Hot Hot Heat, countless bands have followed in their footsteps, fusing minimal guitar riffage with keyboard blurps, bleeps and swirls. The trickle-down effect has created a legion of lesser bands, combining dissonant guitars with tepid electronics. The Flesh, hailing from Brooklyn, New York (where else?), are yet another self-proclaimed "death disco" punk band. Well-coifed, well-dressed and striking all the appropriate poses, the Flesh are here to jump on the dance punk craze as it's veering off the tracks. Their second EP, Sweet Defeat, is four songs of uninteresting, boring and ultimately stale dance punk. Right from the get-go we are greeted with thin guitars, sexed-up vocals and live hip-hop beats. Unfortunately, the music is so calculated and so predictable that any erotic or hip-shaking energy is immediately tamed. The final straw appears on the unnecessary and downright uninspired remix of "Cuts". The Flesh, with Sweet Defeat, have perhaps themselves realized that they are a few years and a few ideas too late.
Sumner, A World of Horses (self-released)
This album has taught me not to pick CDs because of vague and unintended associations with American Civil War history. Paul Sumner is a singer/songwriter from the UK with a fair batch of songs, but nothing spectacular or in any way like the "Citizen Kane set to music!" description over at CDBaby. Sumner's voice, while admirably daring to break into falsetto now and again, doesn't always make it. The lyrics are mostly bang-your-head-on-the-table rhymes like "Is it gonna rain?/ Will she come again?/ Messing with my brain" ("Sorrow"). Mine too. "Gone" is a decent stab at Oasis-ish pop, and "Maybe It's You" is a pretty if uncompelling ballad. The band supports the songs as best they can, attacking each number from a different angle. Unfortunately that also makes for some silly guitar and synth effects. Ultimately I'm convinced by the effort, not the results.
Mic Harrison, Pallbearer's Shoes (Valley Entertainment)
Mic Harrison's career opportunities have proven him to be a reliable go-to guy in a band's time of crisis. In 1996, he filled the shoes of co-frontman in the V-Roys upon another's departure. In 2002, after being immortalized in their song "I Guess It's American", Superdrag asked Harrison to join as a second guitarist; he would appear on the band's hit-and-miss swan song Last Call for Vitriol. With Superdrag now on an indefinite hiatus, Harrison has wasted no time in issuing the second solo record of his career, the burdensomely titled Pallbearer's Shoes. Perhaps Harrison has always been unfairly relegated to the role of pallbearer, helping to carry out two consecutive band break-ups. Yet despite its talented supporting cast (all of Superdrag and Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices), Pallbearer's Shoes is something of a disappointment. Harrison's power pop is bloodless, his lyrics clichéd, his intensity dulled. Even when he sets his sights on full-throttle ("Hole in My Heart", "Shake Your Faith"), Harrison's attack is one of hesitation; at best, it recalls some of the weaker moments from Superdrag's last call. Pallbearer's Shoes is the sound of a man in need of a break. That man's esteemed pedigree argues that he can do much better.
War Against Sleep, Messages (Fire)
Would that War Against Sleep was a brash young upstart of a band, newly emerging from the dank and smoky clubs of Bristol. Then we could dismiss the diverse and oft-irritating quirks of Messages as being the product of impetuous youth. But this intriguing and highly eccentric first LP by Duncan Fleming, with ample help from members of the Bristol music community, is the product of a decade's experience in the scene, so this nuttiness is woven deep into the fabric of the album. It's not as bad as all that may sound. Messages is severely lo-fi piano-filled lounge music that lurches from jazzy meditations to perverse ramblings and back, sometimes within one song. Replace the romance and melancholy in the voice of Tindersticks frontman Stuart Staples with some seediness and paranoia and you've got a workable facsimile of Fleming's voice. His low-octave croon helps him play a decent lounge singer at times, but as with all else on this album Fleming takes it over the top with flourishes and cracks that are more theatrical than tasteful and artistic. And he sings some wacky shit to boot: on the otherwise enjoyable "Evil Aliens", Fleming rocks the lines "Are they evil? / But of course / I watched them mutilate / this horse"; and the lexically awkward "Get right down up on your knees / It's me you gotta love to please" on "Stay Tonight". But with a highlight like the album closer "Babylon Falls", all smoky grooves and fuzzed out vocal swoons, one could almost anticipate Fleming's follow-up, even if it takes another ten years to materialize.
Clorox Girls, Clorox Girls (SmartGuy)
Clorox Girls is a three piece Portland band. The guys in the band create tight punk gems along the lines of early garage rock. This is indicative of "The One" and the toe-tapping head-bobbing rock of "Walks The Streets" with some great guitar work and nice sugary harmonies. The frantic tunes flow easily into each other making for a quick and enjoyable record. "Not My Hometown" recalls The Damned or a rabid, rapid-fire The Clash. The only tune that seems to be lighter or not quite as impressive is "The Press" that relies more on the drumming to get it through. Each song is filled with constant boogie beats a la The Ramones. Whether it's "Vietnam" or "Time For Losing", the songs rarely go over a minute or two but are each quite sweet. "Don't Take Your Life" isn't that strong though and sounds like a rather routine affair. They atone for it with a stellar snarling punk rocker called "Emergency". The gem might be the tamer "Stuck In A Hole" that is quite radio-friendly. It's nothing fancy but it works!
Fous de la Mer, Stars and Fishes (Neurodisc)
Just as their name translates to "crazy about the sea," Fous de la Mer's Stars and Fishes is a love song to the great blue beyond. Crashing sea sounds to remind us of their apparent oceanic affinity link each track on this lounge, dub and soul compilation. Outside of its backdrop usefulness in a beachside luncheonette, though, Stars and Fishes doesn't have much to offer in the way of fresh and exciting sounds. A consistent chilled evenin'-time vibe follows Stars and Fishes in and out of each track while the album producers J.C. Vandermynsbrugge and Marko Bussian pile on loads of synths and exotic percussion around the recurring tide between songs. Bussian, a Viennese sound engineer and a member of the house artists duo The Glissando Bros., joins Vandermynsbrugge on this outing to provide both loungey and house instrumental pieces as well as to score the vocal counterparts. It's a little imbalanced, though, with the sultry vocalists lineup (Sol Galaretta, Clair Dietrich among them) upping the ante here and making good on their raised bets.
Ceiling Fan, Hot Streets (Imperial Fuzz)
No, it's not a remake of the same-named album by Chicago! No, no. It's much better than that. This is Ceiling Fan from Roanoke, Virginia. This is one of those excellent indie rock releases that gives one renewed faith in the music business. Vocalist/guitarist Ben Spraker has one of those voices custom made for radio, putting forth more than memorable performances on such groovy tracks as "Get Shallow" and "Burnt Sienna." Tight riffs and funky rhythms, fine vocal harmonies, and plenty of memorable hooks to grab your ears and rip 'em right off the first time you play this disc are just some of the joys found within Hot Streets. However, the biggest joy may in act be the cool as hell cover of Boz Scaggs' "Lido Shuffle" that shuts the whole damn thing down. The sleeper hit of 2004. Go out and buy this one now.
Jeremy, Lost and Found (Jam Recordings)
Jeremy Morris once again has issued more of his cavity-inducing psychedelic era pop to his cult following. With his near ethereal sound and style, tunes such as the almost Cure-ish "Near You" which makes Matthew Sweet sound like hard rock by comparison. Just as infectious is a Beatles approach to the summer sheen on "Be There For Me" and the title track. It's the '60s era where Jeremy makes his album shine though, especially on brief nuggets like "Here With Me" and "You Told Me" which recalls The Byrds, Roger McGuinn and Tom Petty. It's almost sickening at times how sweet the songs are. But it can't be unappreciated, despite with 27 songs that include a somber McCartney hue on the religious "Hey Judas". There are no truly outstanding moments here yet the consistency is excellent. Morris never lets the album or listeners down with a clunker, although "When The Ship Goes Down" takes a bit longer to get into. One departure is the harder and edgier "You Cry Wolf!" which takes Bo Diddley's rhythm and incorporates it into the breezy pop. A notable cover is the Pete Townshend penned "Circles". "Get It Right" is nothing more than a souped up song by The La's although the message of peace weighs it down somewhat. The second half is just as sweet, especially "Mr. Religion", the busy "If We Try", the dreamy "Dreaming About You" and the delightful "Silver Song".
Year Future, Year Future (GSL)
With ex-members from prolific San Diego screamo-founding bands such as The VSS, Dead and Gone, the Fucking Angels, and Angel Hair, Year Future is a relative supergroup of punk-induced chaos. Taking cues from raucous post-hardcore bands like the Jesus Lizard and Drive Like Jehu, as well as gloomy punk outfits such as the Bauhaus and the Dead Kennedys, Year Future pack a copious amount of energy and dynamism into the four songs of their debut EP. In a punk scene rife with clichés and stereotypes, the four musicians who comprise Year Future are a breath of fresh air, and these songs survive on their own without gimmickry or studio trickery
D.W. Holiday, Technical Difficulties, Under the Influence... (Three Ring)
A whole bunch of pills decorate the cover art for this release. After listening to the CD, I can see why. The music here floats by and generally creeps along at a slow motion pace. At times it wants to veer into Spiritualized territory, while others I had flashes of Ween passing before my mind's eye (undoubtedly due to the vocals). There are some pretty things going on here, as in the atmospherics of "Winter," but other tracks like "Cowpoke" rather dilute the overall intended effect of this group. At any rate, "The Saddest Day" instantly reminds one of the choral segments of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother Suite. I can't tell if I really love this album, or find it a mere novelty, but no matter. I'm certainly keeping it around as its memorable moments are certainly worth tuning into more than once. Perhaps a dose of those pills on the cover while listening would bring it all into focus.
Shelly Blake, 1995-2005 Volume One (Ringing Boots)
Shelly Blake has never met a lo-fi demo or home recording that he hasn't liked. Now, after hundreds of songs recorded the last 10 years, he has decided to take these and compile them in a series of albums, with this one being the first. And it's certainly something that you will not feel indifferent about. "I Just Want to Touch Yr Face" is a slow and melodic folk tune with electric guitar, with Blake sounding like he's singing from the shower with the curtain closed over. The voice wavers often but the earnestness in the lyrics is apparent, sort of like a cross between Tiny Tim and Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner. "The Losing of Captive Ideology" fares worse with more of a warble and rather bland acoustic arrangement. But "Samson's Response to a Mutated Heroine" is comparable to Hawksley Workman, making it a better effort. More upbeat or hopeful is "The King of Timing" and its muddled sincerity. "I am the king of the worst timing in the world," Blake sings in a moment of reflection. The Velvets morose tone can be discerned on the sleeper pick "The Girl Who Couldn't Leave Her House". Blake, known to live a hermitic existence, seems to be saying more about him here. Another favorite is the "Fate Is of the Heart". If you like Daniel Johnston, you'll love this.