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Year Future, The Hidden Hand (Gold Standard Laboratories)
Featuring ex-members of a multitude of west coast-based art punks including the VSS, Angel, and Dead And Gone, Year Future have formed from their ashes, offering up a new blast of gothed out noise on their second EP in just under a year, The Hidden Hand. Year Future's sound falls somewhere between the dirge of label mates Kill Me Tomorrow and the noisy abandon of early Sonic Youth. The three tracks presented here, however, lack any kind personality or memorable performances. The energy is intact, and it doesn't let up for the nine-minute running time, but the songwriting feels somewhat tired and strained. Lyrically, the band rallies against prescription drug dependency, ignorance, and war, but state their case in an amateur fashion. In the title track, vocalist Sonny Kay screams: "Banks engineered two world wars, is it time for another one?" "Police Yourself" is similarly simple minded, with the lyrics such as: "Just what those pigs want us to be, preoccupied, with what we eat, and churches, births, taxes and work and compete compete compete". In times as politically charged as these, protest music certainly needs to be more than calling the authorities pigs and blaming the war simply on banks. Year Future have an intriguing sound, and seeing how it's fleshed out with their forthcoming release will be interesting, but hopefully they'll move away from the simplistic politics displayed here.
Drowningman, Learn to Let Go (Law of Inertia)
Drowningman is on the forefront of the progressive metal scene, a band loud and angry enough to appeal to the hardcore faithful yet adventurous enough to appeal far beyond the typical metal audience. Learn to Let Go is a collection of demos, 7" releases, and unreleased tracks designed to tide over fans before the reunited line-up releases their next full length. The collection is a little softer than their normal fair, with tracks like "Kiss the Canvas" and "Dial 9" having enough hints of melody to qualify as modern rock (except in a good way). Lead singer Simon Brody can switch from scream-core anger into grungy angst within the span of seconds, and the rest of the band can change tempos and volumes so effectively that they revitalize the artistic worth of the quiet-loud dichotomy that got played to death during the '90s. Although the band is as tight as they are on their normal releases, there is nary a rough edge to some of these so-called demos, the material simply is not as strong as on their main releases. There is plenty of fury, but not enough catharsis. There are plenty of great riffs, but they are stranded in meandering song structures. This is definitely a fan's only affair, but it showcases the band's double guitar attack so well that it could definitely lure non-metalheads into the Drowningman fold.
The Sirens, The Sirens (Get Hip)
In the tradition of Motor City mainstays The Detroit Cobras, The Sirens are strictly a garage covers band, and nothing more, but their gimmick is, they deliver it all from a female perspective. Flamboyantly dressed in garish costumes (ranging from leather outfits to Evel Knievel style jumpsuits) and platform heels, these five ladies possess the attitude of the Cycle Sluts From Hell, the fuzzed-out sound of The New York Dolls, the backing vocal harmonies of the Shangri-La's, the decadence of The Carrie Nations, and the fashion sense of Pinky Tuscadero, and their eponymous debut album, co-produced by Michael Ivins of the Flaming Lips, is good, no-frills fun. Singer Muffy Kroha sounds like a raspy, authoritative amazon (not unlike The Runaways' Cherie Currie), and the band, led by lead guitarist Melodylicious (formerly of The Gore Gore Girls) tears into an enjoyable, half-hour selection of glam and soul classics, as well as a healthy dose of obscurities by artists like Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Hollywood Brats, The Luv'd Ones, The Equals, and Ike Turner. Highlights include killer, superheavy renditions of Gary Glitter's "I Didn't Know I Loved You (Till I Saw You Rock and Roll)", Rory Erickson's raucous "Don't Slander Me", and Slade's classic "Gudbuy T'Jane". Best of all, though, is their version of Suzi Quatro's "Glycerine Queen", which is played with such vigor, that you'd think the song was written especially for them.
Ten Words for Snow, Spit on Electrics (Boyarm)
Although Detroit is probably too wrapped up in the Pistons' stunning victory over the crybaby Lakers to notice much of anything else, a portion of the town's remaining attention should go to a band hailing from their suburbs, Ten Words for Snow, who has just released its debut EP, Spit on Electrics. Not only do they have one of the better names this critic has come across in some time, they have a smart, tight sound that hearkens back to those glorious late-'70s/early-'80s days of new wave and post-punk before grunge distortion turned all of pop-rock into sludge. TWFS's guitars may not be perfectly clean, but they're a lot closer than most, and when combined with tidy compositions and performances, it makes for a nice treat. Nothing especially new here, and the vocals are weak, but any Motown resident looking to find some pleasant distraction from the misery that comes with living in Detroit should receive a solid respite from Ten Words for Snow.
The Last Broadcast, Matthew (Selah)
The Last Broadcast's latest EP begins with a melancholic little music box approach before the guitars kick in and it's off to the "emo" races. With a winding melody, the band's delightful harmonies on the opening "Matthew" sounds like a cross between Neil Young and Coldplay's Chris Martin. Dedicated to a friend who is suffering from ALS (Lou Gerhig's Disease), the tone over its six minutes is even more powerful when that is taken into account. "Survive" has a somber mood that is slower and takes a while to get going. The high point comes during "Monarchs", which brings to mind an early and urgent version of The Cure circa "Boys Don't Cry" or "10:15 Saturday Night". Concluding with the ever-changing "High Beams", The Last Broadcast continues to offer up mid-tempo melancholic pop rock ditties that are difficult not to appreciate.
The Casket Lottery, Smoke and Mirrors (Second Nature)
After leaving heavy metal outfit Coalesce in the late 1990s, bassist Stacy Hilt regrouped and formed the melodic emo group the Casket Lottery. Since 1999, the group has released a staggering number of discs, including two full lengths and several split disc and compilation appearances. Their latest EP, Smoke and Mirrors, may very well be the their last (the band is being coy on this point). The release of this disc in May earlier this year was followed by a brief tour, which again, may be their last. With four tracks of slick, polished emo, the Casket Lottery won't disappoint their fans, but will have little appeal to those outside their established fan base. Melodic verses lead predictably into triumphant choruses with the consistency of a Swiss watch. It's only on the last song, which also serves as the title track, that the band truly flexes a bit more muscle. Held together by some magnificent, intricate guitar work by Nathan Ellis, the song is promise of something other than the usual verse/chorus crunch of the preceding numbers. Unfortunately, the band isn't quite sure what to do with Ellis' handiwork, moving the song back into safer, familiar territory. Smoke and Mirrors is anything but. A clear, precise emo EP, it is a fitting finale to one of the genre's longest running bands.
Log, Log Almighty (Anyway/Old 3c)
Log creates decent lo-fi rock with some oddly ethereal touches permeating the mix. The opening track here, "Hollywood Years" is a rather lush bit of pop with its electric pianos and backing vocals by Shirley Tobias. However, it's Log's lead singer Paul Nini that keep the band from being better. He's singing the words all right, but at the same time he sounds like he's about to fall asleep. Imagine a cross between Lou Reed and Scott McCaughey, and you'll get the idea. Still, it's pleasant stuff overall despite its shortcomings, and song like "Sad Cigarette" and "Gloom Away!" keep things elevated. Log's a bit strange, but that's undoubtedly the best thing about them.
This Radiant Boy, Shakedown at the Russian Disco (Extracurricular)
Philly indie rockers This Radiant Boy used 2003 to expand from a four- to a six-piece, adding both a full-time keyboardist and a female vocalist to split time with singer/songwriter Mike Guggino. The five songs on Shakedown at the Russian Disco reflect these additions as well as a broadening of influence from '90s indie rock to '60s pop and '70s garage. The guitar wallop of "We Can Pretend" has a welcome smokiness, while the keys add a welcome amount of twee head-bopping to both "I Miss Ol' Miss" and "Beware the Scabs." With their influences in place, it's time that This Radiant Boy forges a worthy identity of their own. It's easier said than done, but in the meantime, they've got enough pleasant energy to get by on.
Janiva Magness, Bury Him at the Crossroads (Northern Blues)
For those of you who get the urge, when hearing the latest mainstream-approved, carefully restrained Norah Jones/Dido single, to yell "Give it some salacious welly, lil' miss"; well, Janiva Magness is probably more up your street. A touring vet who's been going for almost 20 years and still puts on 150 gigs a year, has already put out 5 albums, sung with R.L. Burnside, and here sings vintage Motown and Sam Cooke alongside compositions by her accomplished backing band, Magness has the maturity to be subtle when she's quiet, without becoming brash when things get fiery. Jazzily elegant whilst retaining that soulfully raw touch, her voice gives these intimate blues a well worn authenticity. She sings like she knows what it means to mean it. 'Nuff said.
Big Buildings, Hang Together for All Time (Stars/No Stars)
Chicago's Big Buildings have generated a fair amount of attention for their eclectic, blood 'n' guts pub rock and lo-fi approach to recording. On their debut album, Hang Together for All Time, such scruffiness serves as a mixed blessing. At their best, on rockers like "pdr" and "Words Can Paint a Picture", the band bring the blue-collar power and honesty of the best work of the Stones, the Clash, and the Replacements. Mellower numbers "Quiet Landmine" and the acoustic instrumental "Big Dave" are effective as well. Unfortunately, almost all of the remainder of Hang Together for All Time's 18 tracks sound merely like the chaotic rehearsals of a band that aren't too great at playing their instruments -- or singing. Sometimes even scruffiness needs a bit of refinement.
Flipron, Fancy Blues and Rustique Novelties (Tiny Dog)
The quirky and bizarre song titles lend themselves to Les Claypool, and for Brit popsters Flipron, they give just as much quirk on the songs. Whether it's the '60s cheesy organ that accents "Raindrops Keep Falling On The Dead", lead singer Jesse Budd and his gang aren't afraid to push or even rip open the envelope. The Parisian hue on "Rusty Casino's Casino Rustique" has a lot of Tom Waits on it with its slow minstrel style. It's as if Jarvis Cocker has joined the circus! "They said it's nothing personal they just don't like your face so piss off!" Budd sings. The lounge-y "Big Baboon" doesn't hit the mark though while the country honky tonk instrumental "Skeletons On Holiday" is more soothing. Blurring all the genres and lines between them, Flipron shines on the slower and gentler "Curtains" that recalls the Beautiful South hungover. Just as fun is the odd tango-meets-Franz Ferdinand pop of "Hungamunga". After a mediocre offering, the band redeem themselves on the dirge-like "The Vicious Car & Love Poem". Oddly normal after a couple of listens.
Lawrence Welk & Various Artists, Upstairs at Larry's: Lawrence Welk Uncorked (Vanguard)
Depending on your temperament, this album will represent either a pleasant surprise or a dreadful inevitability. Well, in an age when everyone and their mother seems to deserve a remix project, this one is actually pretty damn cool. Admittedly, it takes itself about as seriously as you could expect considering the effusively silly nature of Lawrence Welk's deathless contributions to American music -- but that's only a bad thing if you don't like your dance music with a side order of fun. The usual suspects -- Rithma, Kaskade, Q-Burns Abstract Message -- all acquit themselves admirably, and most of the lesser-known remixers do a good job as well. Of special note is Monkey Bars' rework of the immortal "Baby Elephant Walk" into a funky Fatboy Slim-esque house workout, as well as the Magic Elephant Orchestra's sexy, psychedelic "Let It Be Me". All things considered, this is a surprisingly wonderful album.
The So And So's, Give Me Drama (Supertiny)
First off, someone tell this band that you don't pluralize things with an apostrophe (even band names). Secondly, don't expect too much else from this group as I have a feeling they blew their wad on Give Me Drama. And it is all very dramatic. Lead singer Meaghan Toohey goes through all the typical female lead singer motions with her sort of sultry, not quite rocking delivery, while the rest of the group never manages to rock out much either. In the So And So's case, it's all a pose. Things never get any better than opening track "Better" here. You truly want this band to scale some heights when listening to Give Me Drama, yet they never do. Everything's held back, be it on the jangly "Tin Man", or the obvious "Runaway Girl". Toohey has promise but she ultimately needs to ditch the rest of the band and make something worth listening to. Otherwise, all of these kids can call it a day.
Matt Suggs, Amigo Row (Merge)
Recorded in only four days, and mixed in just as few, Amigo Row is off-the-cuff in all the right ways (the band really sounds like their ideas are jumping right out of their heads and onto the tape) but too contrived in all the wrong ones (the vocal affectations, the Dylan rhymes that only Dylan can make sound fresh). A product of what my friend calls Merge's "adult-contemporary side", Matt Suggs comes off here, as much as anything, like a young Elton John, which isn't all that bad considering that when Elton John was younger, he made some really pretty good music. The album is a mid-tempo kick while playing, no easy feat to be sure, even if it doesn't really leave you with much to chew on. Still, Suggs is better than all the better-known talents that you might call him a lo-fi version of (Pete Yorn keeps jumping into my head) and I get the sense that if you asked him, he'd probably tell you the same thing. Maybe that's a part of the problem, but if pushed I'd say that it's more that he feels the need to prove it.