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Thee Heavenly Music Association, Shaping the Invisible (Rehash) Rating: 9
This act utilizes the various modus operandi behind such acts as the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Radio to make some pleasing, sublime and strong pieces of music. Led by the vocals and guitar of Manchester native and former Fluffy member Helen Storer, you get the impression that this band was on the cusp of landing all the songs in Lost in Translation but the courier screwed up along the way. "Synesthesia" speaks of a perfect day while guitars, keyboards and drums create a lush wall of sound that never goes overboard. Each song, including "Suffer My Angel", tends to close as dreamy as it opened, but others are more succinct, especially "The Absolute Elsewhere" which has that trippy, psychedelic haze over it thanks to guitarist David Hillis and Storer. It does tend to sell itself short though with such a rushed ending. "Alain" is simply gorgeous with its slight Smashing Pumpkins-ish hue while "Angelic Disorder" is, well, angelic with its guitars and atmosphere. This continues with a grander scope on "Jiji Crycry" and the brawny "Say Something". Well, say something... brilliant. [Amazon]
New Sense, New Sense (Brilliante) Rating: 5
The story goes something like this: With sessions underway at Bionic Studios for new Camden material, their guitarist was nowhere to be found. Instead of twiddling their thumbs, William Seidel, Ryan Weber and producer Kristian Riley twiddled knobs instead, putting down eight tracks of laptop-poprock. Though the Postal Service comparison is obvious (and apt, as Give Up hit shelves six months before this album), New Sense keep up the rock end of the bargain and do it without the sugar sweet emoting of Ben Gibbard. The resulting EP is a strong taste of dark eyeliner electronica ("Outside Chance"), dance floor indie rock ("Going For Broke") and unabashed pop ("Caution Is Regret"). Though I'm really late in reviewing this disc, I'm excited to hear that New Sense are still kicking around and are slated for a full length this year. If it contains the same sort of delirious anthems that are present here, they could very well be the surprise story of 2005. [Amazon]
The Giraffes, The Giraffes (Razor and Tie) Rating: 6
Metal. Sigh. There it goes again, snarling, gritting its teeth, flexing its muscles. Chugga-chugga-chugga. Scaring parents since 1971! Almost since its inception, metal has been locked in a Sisyphean struggle to push the boulder of musical evolution over the hill. The consequence: hair metal, nü metal, sensitive metal, have all been fairly disastrous. Happily, Brooklyn's Giraffes aren't out to reinvent the wheel in a gimmicky way. They love the rock, and the rock loves them: the solos are not ironic, but they're not dumb either. Musicianship, smarts, and power are the hallmarks of songs like "Haunted Heaven", and "Sugarbomb". Metal fans will feel right at home, metal-haters will find themselves surprised.
The Mattoid, Eternifinity (Cleft)
The Mattoid. With a name like that you might expect a former WWF Intercontinental Champion, perhaps someone who had a longstanding feud with the Junkyard Dog in the early '80s. That's not quite it, although the intercontinental tag fits. The Nashville-based Helsinki native certainly has an, um, unique sound. I think this EP of his would make a fine soundtrack for Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum, one of the country's foremost outsider art locales. It's not that the music is even that bizarre -- "Crazy Muthas" is pretty straightforward synth-pop -- but when it's sung in fractured English by someone whose main vocal influences seem to Jonathan Richman and Cookie Monster, it still leaves you in a state where all you can do is stare at the CD player in a state of disbelief, even though you know there's nothing to see there. It would be easy to dismiss The Mattoid as a novelty act but there's something oddly alluring about him. The EP actually has some staying power. The compositions are kitschy but catchy, in an indie-lounge sort of way, and his lyrics are funny, but delivered with a sincerity that makes him hard to dismiss. And really, who can't get behind a song about a hunchback sea cucumber and a psychedelic toad? [Amazon]
Lea DeLaria, Double Standards (Telarc) Rating: 7
This singer/comedienne, who some have described as a "professional lesbian", is revamping several recent signature rock and pop songs into a lounge, smooth jazz style, beginning with Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot". Playing it close to the vest, DeLaria doesn't steal the spotlight so much as share it with pianist Gil Goldstein and Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone. Scatting adds little however and seems to be more sizzle than substance. Less is more on the cover of Los Lobos' "Kiko and the Lavender Moon" and DeLaria nails the tune. The album contains some adventurous attempts though, particularly with a jazzed up version of Blondie's "Call Me" which takes away all the bounce and spark but still manages to work. And as if that wasn't ambition personified, let's try Neil Young's "Philadelphia". Not packing the same punch as the original, DeLaria carries the song with the same fragile, misty-eyed emotion complete with vibraphones and a glass harmonica. She does a great, funky rendition of Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing". A tender cover of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" is also rather jaw-dropping. DeLaria makes this album interesting, unique and memorable -- something quite rare for a covers project. Oh, did I forget to mention the Green Day cover.... [Amazon]
The Knife and Fork Band, Cold Cereal and Juice (Groove Disques) Rating: 7
If ever an EP were made for those Sunday mornings spent in reflection, it's the latest offering from the Knife and Fork Band, Cold Cereal and Juice. The KFB combine gospel-tinged southern folk with chamber pop orchestration, creating songs that beg you to stare out the window of the bookstore on a cloudy day while reading a stack of magazines. Singer Meg Murphy is equally adept at singing like the soccer mom leader of the church choir or a sultry jazz chanteuse, sometimes within the space of a single song. In the background, fiddles, violas, and cellos glide and warble, while jangly guitars chime and shimmer. Songs like "Diamonds" and "Sun, Moon, and Stars" sound like literate church hymns, while others, like "She Was Sad," are reminiscent of the coy, bookish character sketches of Belle and Sebastian. Grab a flashlight and your favorite book and hide out under the covers -- Cold Cereal and Juice makes the perfectly innocent sound slightly devious. [Amazon]
Marxy, Kyoshu Nostalgia (Beekeeper) Rating: 4
Kyoshu Nostalgia can be best described as an intriguing thesis paper compiled into an album format, with the subject matter being the deconstruction of the pastiche of J-pop or something along those lines. Being an assignment of one of those wacky cultural studies courses, Marxy also throws in some Super Mario Bros. 8-bit tunes and Pet Sounds-type arrangements as fashionable postmodern digressions. Academically, I give Kyoshu Nostalgia First Class Honors. Critically however, it is a rather weak effort. Solid though unmemorable reproductions of the music of Ayumi Hamazaki, the Beach Boys, and Nintendo pepper the proceedings, a random bedroom enthusiast's uninspired production. Let's keep the arts faculty in the university, shall we?
James LaBrie, Elements of Persuasion (InsideOut) Rating: 3
For a second there, James LaBrie catches us completely off-guard with "Crucify", the phenomenal opening track on his third solo album. The kind of classic power metal song that we aging headbangers loved two decades ago, the Dream Theater frontman and his band (led by ace lead guitarist Marco Sfogli) veer from thrash-inspired verses to soaring choruses, with LaBrie howling away impressively. It's a sensational track (better than most recent Dream Theater songs), but sadly, LaBrie's lofty ambition gets the best of him, as Elemants of Persuasion quickly loses its focus and spirals out of control. "Alone" is layered with so much electronic music, digital editing, and intrusive scratching, that it quickly becomes distracting, and eventually unbearable. Other tracks, such as "Alone", "In Too Deep", "Oblivious", and "Invisible" are dull, turgid exercises in the worst qualities of nu-metal, while "Lost" and "Smashed" are flitty, piano-driven pop rock, and nothing more. The album tries to redeem itself late in the game, on the ferocious "Pretender" and the more melodic "Drained", but nothing on the record comes close to matching that great opening cut. It's a shame, because LaBrie could have crafted something much, much better, something comparable to the work of his other band. Instead, we're left with this largely forgettable disc. For some first-rate power metal, seek out Hammerfall's Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken instead of this one. [Amazon]
Bassholes, Bassholes (Dead Canary)
Follow the line from country blues through early rock and roll to punk. The common hair-raising thread remains brash spirit, rebellion and swagger, from juke joints to Joy Division. Few tap directly into the spine of this spirit like Don Howland. The original blues-punk duo, Bassholes dates from 1992, (just before the Flat Duo Jets fired their bass player). Former Gibson Brother Howland, here with longtime drummer Lamont Thomas for their umpteenth record, some retold stories (Blind Willie McTell's "Broke Down Engine," The Who's "Heaven and Hell") and new fables. Howland tells stories in that sublime, casual way of the Mississippi bluesman, while throwing down his guitar as Odin might toss his hammer. On this self-titled collection, Howland reinvents it all over again, working in some pastoral moments, ("Daughter") amidst the bile and bleakness. Pay attention.
The Old Soul, The Old Soul (Hand of God) Rating: 3
Just about two hours north of Buffalo there's a city we Canadians pronounce Toe-ron-toe. It's the home of indie scensters Broken Social Scene, DFA 1979, the Stars, K-Os, Apostles of Hustle, and Metric. Aside from Montreal, it's what the Canadian indie hubbub is about. The Old Soul, a group that hails from TO, include members of the old vanguard -- the scene before the scene. Their sound is expansive and full of energy, but The Old Soul are just that, old. Their sound would not have caught your ear then as it fails to do now. It lacks a certain something, a certain "je ne sais quoi". That said the repentant organs and Beach Boy choir chants make "American Whore" a worthwhile listen. But then the next song, despite an obvious, almost unnecessary sense of irony, is about the joy of vegetables as if this were a record parents might get their kids to listen to. Overall, the music is alright, but nothing to gush obsessively about.
Eleven Minutes Away, Arson Followed Me Home (Deep Elm) Rating: 5
This Canadian band falls in line with fellow Canuck bands Billy Talent and Alexisonfire, especially the later as the melody is equated with the scream and squeals of lead singer Chris Veska on "Atrophy Acetylane". Teeming with "emo" and harder rock riffs, tracks such as "I'm a Doctor, Not a Doorstep" and the effective lead single "P.S. I Hate You" seem to work relatively well. The thicker, meatier slabs of guitar are oddly placed in the rather safe and radio-friendly "Danger Inc.". The lamest of the lot has to be the bland "Purpose Is Distraction" which brings to mind a timid At The Drive-In while "Shall I Be Happily" is a mediocre ballad-cum-high-octane ditty that is forced. The homestretch of the album begins with the strong "Enjoy the Disaster" that sounds like New Found Glory or Jimmy Eat World minus the Ritalin. Ditto for the hellacious but fun "This Is Only an Emergency". But the softer tracks such as "Alias: Grace" dampen some of the previous efforts, losing the momentum they've gained. It's a good but not outstanding debut. [Amazon]
Holiday & The Adventure Pop Collective, Become (Devious Planet) Rating: 7
This "pop collective" are entrenched deep in the vein of people like Jason Mraz and Blues Traveler although as the opening song "Feel" moves into territory Golden Smog or The Jayhawks are made for. Gorgeous melodies and a lot of soul are the order of the day thanks to the duo of Derric Oliver and Louis Caverly. More quirky and jazzy is the patio pop of "40 Years" but the full-steam ahead roots pop makes "Am I Wrong" one of the most infectious yet low key tunes you'll hear this year. Milder is the melodic and delicious "Become" with the vocals soft and lovable. The highlight has to be the winding rocker "Annie Anymore". "Stop Right There" is another nugget as they sound like a cross between Stereophonics and Gin Blossoms but the ever-changing "Out on a Limb" is just as interesting. "The Knot" is rather hokey. "Texas" and the absolutely gorgeous "Her Daze" is anything but. On the whole this is definitely a pop-oriented adventure with a lot of surprisingly good twists and turns. Fans of The Connells take note. [Amazon]
Milton and the Devils Party, What Is All This Sweet Work Worth (self-released) Rating: 5
What do you get when you cross a couple of literary references and a power pop band formed by two English professors? Power Pop. And Philadelphia's Milton and the Devils Party, despite some literary pretensions, are the embodiment of power pop -- big choruses and myriad guitar hooks. Musically, neither of which are terribly original. Yes, some of the lyrics do come from a more literate place then your run-of-the-mill college pop band; "To Jane" was adopted from a Shelley poem, as was the album's title, but to herald it as intellectual would be to do intellects and pop music a disservice. What Is All This Sweet Work Worth is also chock full of the banal lyrics expected from a pop album. "Perfect Breasts" and "End of the Affair", are as trivial as the titles might imply. [Amazon]
Frank Sinatra: The Man and the Myth (White Star Video) Rating: 3
Frank Sinatra's impact on American popular culture has been immense. Not only did he revolutionize what it meant to be a singer and a celebrity, but he also helped redefine ethnicity in America. Rather than masking his Italian background, he flaunted it, making America conform to his Hoboken grittiness, instead of the other way around. Any biographical documentary attempting to encompass such a life would surely fall short of the bill, but Frank Sinatra: The Man and the Myth, however, falls particularly short. There are no interviews with Sinatra, Sinatra's family, or anyone who had any professional relationship with him at all. Cursory attention is given to his biographical details, as well as to his Hollywood acting career. Amazingly, however, there is almost no discussion of his illustrious recording career - no "My Way," no "New York, New York," no Songs for Swingin' Lovers. I cannot see how this release would appeal to even the most die-hard Sinatra fan. Unless you've never heard of Frank Sinatra, then there is very little chance you'll enjoy this DVD. [Amazon]