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Dosh, Pure Trash (Anticon)
Martin Dosh is perhaps best known as the drummer and keyboardist for Minneapolis based indie rockers Fog, but what he does best a bit below the radar is his solo work as one of electronica's most amazing one-man band. Using homemade instruments duct-taped together from an old drum-kit, a Rhodes keyboard, and some leftover electrical wiring, Dosh creates unique ambient works to rival Aphex Twin and U.N.K.L.E. using his endlessly crowd-please McGuyver-technics. Dosh's use of cut-up organic sounds and real-time techniques eschews electronica's laptop obsessed tendencies in favor of humanistic forms that embrace swelling synths and church organ tones as well as the everyday white noise of urban industry and children's toys. On his latest release, Pure Trash, Dosh takes his inspiration from the birth of his first child, imbuing the tracks with particularly poignant ambience, including the voices of mother and child in the mix of drum loops and synthetic beats. An overall coherent, thoughtful and well-crafted album that successful captures the abstract beauty of ordinary and everyday randomness.
Pitty Sing, Demons, You Are the Stars in Cars 'Til I Die EP (Or Music)
For you obsessive Longwave fans and folks who just can't get enough of The Stills, Pitty Sing has a record to sell you. For the rest of us, there's not much to see here. Demons, You Are the Stars in Cars 'Til I Die is more calculated than the quadratic formula and it's not even as interesting. Not even close, really. This EP serves as a showcase for a single song, that being "Radio", which starts and ends this foray into been-there, done-that U2-inspired rock. From singer Paul Holmes' effects-enchanced cooing over atmospheric keyboards that starts the song off, to the wall of Coldplay-esque guitars that comes in after an extended intro, every clichi is nailed here. There's even an awful, eye-roll inspiring chorus of "We'll fuck on the radio" (changed to "We'll touch on the radio" in the clean version that closes the disc). To make matters worse, UK transplant Holmes has no discernable accent at all, except on the word "fuck", which he turns into "fook". Really. All that said, "Radio" is a catchy song and it will get stuck in your head after hearing it only a few times. But you can say the same thing about that New Radicals song from seven or eight years ago, and it didn't mean that was any good, either.
Agathodaimon, Serpent's Embrace (Nuclear Blast)
Three years after their last album, Chapter III, German black metal veterans Agathodaimon have returned a highly confident band, as they show they're more than capable of following the examples set by the two biggest black metal bands on the planet, Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth, employing classy, ornate melodies that do battle with dark, dense guitar riffs. This blend of the cacophonous and the beautiful is what makes black metal so fascinating, and on Serpent's Embrace, the quintet show they're no slouches, blending the otherworldly vocal screech of guitarist Akaias with the more palatable, "clean" singing of guitarist Sathonys and the lilting keyboard strains of Felix Walzer, a formula best exemplified by "Light Reborn", "The Darkness Inside", and the stirring album closer "Feelings". When the band wavers from the formula, the results are more middling, but a song like "Cellos For the Insatiable" possesses a memorable enough chorus to make up for the lack of musical flash. Most startling is the stark, and dare I say, beautiful, keyboard-driven ballad "Solitude", featuring the lead vocals of Opalessence singer Ruth Kneppel, as Agathodaimon show they're capable of the commercial appeal of European stars Nightwish. Still, brutality is the band's forte, something driven home on the superb "Limbs of a Stare", an expertly executed exercise in prototypal black metal. While not boasting the bombastic, orchestral strains that their peers use to great effect, Agathodaimon show remarkable versatility, and the variety they bring to Serpent's Embrace not only is a very refreshing respite from cookie-cutter black metal, but also is a perfect example of just how fun this subgenre can be, especially in the hands of a band as daring and creative as this.
Yowie, Cryptooology (Skin Graft)
Yowie is an experimental band from St. Louis whose experiment is a rather basic one: mix Captain Beefheart with a little no wave, throw in some math rock and grindcore as a catalyst, and wait for the concoction to bubble over. There are seven songs on Cryptooology, but the album really sounds more like one 30-minute instrumental rampage broken up into seven pieces. If the band doesn't quite do anything that U.S. Maple or John Zorn's Naked City haven't done years ago, they make up for it with a sense of musical humor that manages to make this something of a twisted party album. I don't think it's possible to dance to the stop-start, schizophrenic tempos of the closing "Talula", but Yowie plays with such exuberance that the band tempts the listener into at least making an attempt. Where most of their influences almost delighted in inaccessibility, Yowie manage to craft chaotic din in a way that could draw in fans of, say, post-hardcore music or dance-punk. Surely, Yowie deserve at least a little commendation for that.
Landing Gear, Break-up Songs for Relationships That Never Happened (Catlick)
With the holidays right around the corner have you given any thought to what you’re going to use to melt the heart of that indie-rock scrooge? You know, the one who already has the entirety of Pearl Jam’s Rearview Mirror from the original releases and would be happy to burn you a copy of the recent mp3 bootleg of Arcade Fire’s Cambridge, Massachusetts show at T.T. The Bears? I think I may be able to bail you out on this one, thus saving you some serious head scratching. When in doubt give the gift of guilty pleasures. If any band lands squarely in the realm of guilty pleasure it’s Landing Gear. Landing Gear plays smart shimmery pop songs, full of fat hooks, sing-a-long choruses and harmonies that will melt the heart of even the most jaded music aficionado. They may not admit it to you, but this is the album that they’re going to listen to on Christmas Day, when they’re driving to the only open store to get another 12 pack of Busch and Camel Lights in a box. And you know what? They’re going to sing-a-long at the top of their lungs to the pop brilliance of “Surprise, Surprise,” “Columbus, Ohio,” and “E.T.A.” Maybe that hipster you’re trying so hard to please will even take you aside just before the New Year arrives and in a drunken moment of honesty confess how much he loves Break-up Songs for Relationships That Never Happened. He’ll admit that the songs are soaring bits of gleeful guitar driven pop that, granted, may not save the world but just might make it a safer place for well-written songs. But don’t tell him the song “Atmosphere” was featured in an episode of the WB’s “Roswell.” That’ll be our little secret.
Endochine, Day Two (Fresh Tracks)
Endochine is the latest group of 20-something white boys attempting to turn their residual teenage angst into epic, emotive rock to be marketed to swooning teenage girls. Case in point, their press release advertises their supposedly phenomenal live show, their sense of soaring melody, and their "$20 Million 'Back To School' television campaign for Arizona Jeans". Indeed, this head on collision of integrity and commercialism would be more tolerable if the CD was any good. But it isn't. Basically, these guys sound like Muse, back in the day when all Muse did was cop the best parts of The Bends and pack them full of self-absorbed misery. So what we get is lead vocalist Casey McPherson imitating Muse's Matthew Bellamy imitating Thom Yorke, both lyrically and vocally. The rest of his band follows suit, alternating between overly intense rockers (à la Radiohead's "Just") and syrupy, piano-driven ballads (à la pretty much anything by Coldplay). There are occasional moments of potential (the heartfelt waltz "Always Tomorrow" is mildly moving), but mostly the band's over-the-top climaxes and self-conscious melancholy are tired and uninspired. And for such a young band, this isn't a good sign.
Dealership, Action/Adventure (Turn)
A lazy critic will probably describe Bay Area noise pop veterans Dealership as 'Mates of State dipped in honey', and I am a slacker. In other words, what we have here are dual male/female harmonies, proficient in the diabetic devices of twee, yet not shying away from the textural effects of distortion. Dealership won me over by their audacity of covering a bubble-gum pop version of "Anarchy in the UK". As "I am antichrist/I am anarchist" is sung by cooing vocals and accompanied by chirpy Casio synths, it is to the band's credit I did not keel over and die in laughter or shock, but instead bob my head to the song's infectiousness and marveling at the irony of it all. You see, even though the rest of the album maintains the same level of pop tunefulness, Dealership's greatest achievement is a political one. By covering the perennial punk song, they have become anti-antiestablishment. These poppy punks stick up their middle finger (hypothetically, of course) into the face of hegemonic rebellion and existentialist angst, countering them with all things sweet and everything nice. Overall, a pop culture text instrumental in chronicling the evolution of what punk means.
Terry Eason, Bees Will Bumble (Jam!)
Terry Eason is quick and to the sonic punch on this record. Although it takes just a couple of seconds to be lured into the Echo and The Bunnymen-like "Agony Of The Thrill", the song itself is quite tight and sugar-coated. With a breezy, summer-driving chorus that veers into more of psychedelic mold, Eason goes with it and lets it go into a riff that brings to mind Jeff Beck mid-'70s work. "Entangled" though, well, gets entangled in a softer alt. tone that initially misses hit the mark although XTC or Michael Penn would nail it. The early Britpop is terrific though during "Certain Limitations" that bounces along. One great moment comes on the rootsy Jayhawks-like "Hurricane Hill" as the pedal steel weaves in and out of the tune. This continues later on during the pleasing ear candy gusto called "Picture You And Me". Just as lovely though is the Gin Blossoms pop of "The Cat And The Centipede". The album ends with two short and snappy rave-ups, including a 90-second Replacements-esque "Windswept Agony".
David Jacobs-Strain, Ocean Or a Teardrop (Northern Blues)
There's a brilliant moment on the title track here, when at the end of the testifying second chorus (it's about the endless cost of armed conflict), everything suddenly fades out to make way for a great Irish fiddle solo. And then a djembe comes in. Afro-celtic deep south blues, how about it? Whilst the rest of the album isn't as adventurous as this (there's a respectable Blind Willie Johnson cover), the no-rehearsals-allowed policy of the recording session pays off big time, as the loose, live feel of the playing improves on the occasionally staid songwriting; special mention going to Jacob's omni-guitar skills and the gritty, lurching power of Joe Filisko's harmonica solos. The main man's voice is deep and matured well beyond his years (at 21, the whippersnapper is still a full-time student at Stanford), although he lacks the raw fire he'd need in his belly to come anywhere close to the R.L. Burnside comparisons of his PR copy. It's all a bit tastefully respectful, oblique protests about war and drugs (weed, he's no Eric Clapton) aside. Given his frankly ludicrous potential, though, definitely one to keep an eye on for the day the floodgates open.
Mock Orange, Mind Is Not Brain (Silverthree Sound Recordings)
From the initial kick drum that sets this record in motion, you get a great hunch that Mock Orange generally has something special. Although the press kit talks about Fugazi and Dinosaur Jr., this group offers tighter pop jewels such as the plodding but infectious "Payroll" that is a mix of Modest Mouse and My Morning Jacket. "I Keep Saying So Long" features a down-trodden alt. country hue before veering into a swampy Southern fried rock groove. This neo-funky tone continues on the quirky but slightly Zeppelin-ish "Mind Is Not Brain". The band takes things down to a Smashing Pumpkins circa "Disarm" vibe with a rootsy, mandolin-driven arrangement. There are a few trying moments though, including on a mediocre "Old Man" that sounds like Neil Young covering Collective Soul. It's atoned for on the down-home alt.country flavor of "Hawks Can Go" that has a great, earthy melody. Just as rewarding is the fuzzed-out psychedelic colors heard on "Birds" or the sparse Crosby, Stills and Nash arrangement to "I Can't Seem To Think". It's an interesting and inspiring album by another unappreciated band.
The Campground Effect, The Flight Seat EP (Local Cannery)
Beneath the clear CD tray, the Campground Effect send listeners a clear message: "Rock Music Is Not Art." Great thesis, let's see if they back it up. Since a broad definition of art would be a cultural artifact that exists as a gift to the culture in question, and the Campground Effect is decidedly not art, what is art's opposite? Anti-art would be culture that demands something from its audience rather than giving. A commercial, for example, might tries to pass itself off as art, but ultimately, its sole purpose is to get you to buy products. Listening to the Campground Effect, I see that they may be right, at least about their own rock music. The lackluster riffs and affected vocals of "Sex Is for Television" (how risqué!) and "Sold Us a Marathon" are the same tired-ass Nirvana retreads you've heard since '94. So I'm to assume that the Campground Effect are willful in their desire not to offer something new to the world, just stuff that they know sells: angst, irony, tough coolness, cool toughness. Yawn. At least the band has the decency of truth in advertising, but I wish they wouldn't try to speak for everyone.
Creamy Velour, Angel's Guise (Klank)
It took this North Carolina group three aborted attempts to put out an album. Was it worth the effort and time? Hey, I'm not going to tell you not to pass up anything with a song as good as "Raise The Flag" on it. And you know what? That song is on this album. So are other great tunes such as "Sha La La," "Xenophobe," and the pleasant thump of "Last Bastion." Pleasingly fine indie pop with a dash of country twang thrown in here and there to make for a completely unique experience. So yeah, I'd definitely say the band's effort was worth it. After all, we should all be so lucky to dump three albums in succession and still have the green light to make another. Lesser bands could learn a lesson from this. Note to Linkin Park: stop wasting everyone's time.
John Wayne Shot Me, Let Sleeping Monsters Sleep EP (62 TV)
This group direct from Holland makes pretty pop. Sounding like it was lost somewhere back in the early '80s with its squiggly keyboards on the title track (think Korgis), John Wayne Shot Me makes for decent light entertainment. Of course, the cute factor on songs like "I'm a Little Dinosaur" seems more geared toward the kiddie crowd and might capture the attention of certain sects of early 20s college students. "Funeral Home" almost sounds like Dinosaur Jr. if J Mascis had ever decided to throw in a two dollar keyboard to his music. Actually, quite a bit of this stuff brings to mind Pianosaurus if slightly more annoying. The cheapo keyboards get pretty old fast, and by the time "There'll Be Joy, Joy, Joy" rolls around, you're happy that there was only seven songs.
Royalchord, Nights on the Town (Cavalier Music)
Royalchord are led by the duo of Tammy Haider and Eliza Hiscox, both of whom take this band down a dusty back alley that Margo Timmins and the Cowboy Junkies were down a decade or two ago. It doesn't make it any less precious however as the reserved nature of "Carpe Et Diem" is offset by some horns. The Aussie group sound as if they're still trekking through the desert on it. This murky quality is fleshed out more on the raunchy "City on My Mind" that has Spaghetti Western overtones. "Cure For a Broken Heart" is rather straightforward though, yet still works wearily. Two instrumentals though stifle any flow. "Through The Trees" picks up the album again with a pleasing yet formulaic Aussiecana mode. One memorable tune is the rambling folk/alt.country of "Hanging Around Here" that sounds like The Waifs hobo-ing through the out back. The over-the-top drama unfolding in "The Golden Handshake" is also rather interesting, accented by the horns. Gems include the lovely Lucinda-esque "Nights on the Town" as well as the melodramatic and touching "Softly, I Leave You". This band will be one to watch for in a couple of albums' time.