PopMatters home | short takes home | archivesPopMatters Music Short Takes
Bearsuit, Cat Spectacular! (Microindie) Rating: 6
What we have here is a band that gets by on copious amounts of quirk. Bearsuit is a six-piece out of the UK that combines the lo-fi aesthetic of the indiest of independent rock with the anything-goes oddness of the outer fringes of J-pop, an influence illustrated in song titles like "Cookie Oh Jesus" and "Itsuko Got Married". The disc begins on a majestic note in a non-traditional 5/4 time signature, as washes of noise threaten to destroy some really pretty melodies from xylophones and some sort of unidentifiable wind instruments in the appropriately titled "Welcome Bearsuit Spacehotel". Other highlights include the dancepunk-turned-Atari anthem "Rodent Disco" and "Kiki Keep Me Company", which alternates passages plaintive alternating male/female vocals in a pop song played three times faster than originally intended with the math-rock inspired idea of playing measures of one, two, three, and then four beats. Got all that? Quick, frantic, and always in grave danger of falling apart, Cat Spectacular! is an oddly engrossing half-hour of power that somehow feels like it's at least twice that long.
Overkill, ReliXIV (Spitfire) Rating: 4
Part of the original New York thrash metal underground twenty years ago, Overkill, along with Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, M.O.D., Carnivore, and Biohazard, helped usher in a strong blue-collar quality to the then-burgeoning sound. In contrast to the ambition of Metallica and Megadeth, and Slayer's pure speed, the New York bands focused on huge, crunchy chords and chugging rhythms; this was metal for moshers, pure and simple. While only Anthrax managed commercial success, Overkill never matched their peers' album sales, but they remain undeterred, and now fourteen albums and 21 years later, they're still going strong. Led by vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and bassist D.D. Verni, the band has remained true to its metal roots all this time, and their newest, ReliXIV, is more of the same reliable, old-school thrash. It's not a bad thing, as this band does it as well as anyone, but it's not a great thing, either, as the recycled riffs do tend to get tiresome after half an hour. There are several tracks that will perk up listeners' ears, such as the ferocious "A Pound of Flesh", the grooving "Keeper", and the opening cut "Within Your Eyes", all highlighted by the distinctive growl of Ellsworth (who has always sounded like the legendary Udo Dirkschneider), but too many of the songs bleed into one another, making it a challenge for a casual listener to care. Although the fun sing-along tribute to metal's halcyon days in "Old School" props up the album's sagging second half, this remains a CD for fans only. New listeners would be better off seeking out 1987's Under the Influence and 1991's Horrorscope. [Amazon]
Mashlin, Pushing Through the Seasons (One Eleven) Rating: 6
This Orlando quartet has that melodic hue circling their songs, but too often a song like "The Shore" has the oft-repeated whine-tinted vocals that bands like Simple Plan have taken to the bank. "Arrive Like a Thief" is decent but really doesn't go anywhere, mired in an almost Mercury Rev kind of self-important bombast. The better moments come during the winding rock of "Autumn" but the piano-driven "66 Books of Cleansing" tries too hard to be too dreamy. It's a highlight but could be improved on but they strike paydirt with the Smashing Pumpkins-ish "Violet" which brings to mind "Disarm". Unfortunately this leads into one of the low points, a routine and directionless "Cold Kiss of a Liar" which tries to find something to base itself around but comes up empty handed. "Letter to a Mentor" wraps this album up. It has some good points, but generally it's not an album that will grow on you with repeated listens. [Amazon]
Audio Fiction, Songs in the Key of Orange Alert [EP] (self-released) Rating: 3
New York City's retro-leaning Audio Fiction cleverly named its debut EP after its city's terror alert system. The only song on Songs in the Key of Orange Alert to directly reference their hometown's beefed-up paranoia, however, is the lead-off "Tick Tock", which draws more attention for copping the riff from Pat Benetar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" than for delivering its desired anti-war sentiment. The competent, if rudimentary, band relies heavily on lead singer Mimi Ferraro to carry the weight of the EP; while she throws herself beyond the gangbuster vocal performances, her voice -- which resonates shrilly like Debbie Harry performing in a high school musical -- simply can't shoulder such a burden. When the band slows down its breezy guitar pop on a song like the introspective, bluesy "Impenetrable", it exposes itself as a group of players that are merely there to get an unexciting job done. Like a host of other NYC bands, Audio Fiction's version of the future involves a piercing gaze into the past; but unlike some of its better-known contemporaries, say Interpol or the Strokes, it's still searching for an incontestable way to deliver its sermon as gospel.
Toni Braxton, Un-break My Heart: The Remix Collection (LaFace/Legacy) Rating: 4
The club remix is an interesting phenomenon, with its ability to take the slowest, most cloying ballads and turn them into high-energy dance floor sweat-fests, sort of like Hillary Duff doing porn. Toni Braxton seems to be a perfect choice for the club mix, however. The sultry balladeer diva ("diva" having become a catch-all for any woman who's ever sung a ballad) seems to have regressed in age from the mature R&B and adult contemporary crooner who first emerged on "Love Shoulda Brought You Home" to the scantily clad vixen of recent years (see also Mariah Carey). What more logical place is there to go next than the even younger-skewing club scene?
The layperson might not realize that Braxton had several underground club hits in the '90s and the early 21st century. Then again, the layperson might not be the target audience for this album. Even the club kid fan base of Un-break My Heart, however, may not appreciate that the tracks included here aren't the full-length remixes. Plus, both the club kids and the more mainstream Braxton fans may want more than a mere seven songs spread over 10 tracks (three remixed two times each). Why not "Breathe Again", "Another Sad Love Song", or "Let It Flow"? Perhaps it's because this is a compilation of older, mostly previously released (granted, some as promos only) remixes rather than a case where the remixers were brought together to encapsulate Braxton's career.
The remixers themselves are top-notch, including three of the four winners of the now-defunct Remixer of the Year Grammy: Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, and Hex Hector. The pulsating dance beats are, of course, nonstop and unavoidably fun (though they're so typical of the genre that to some listeners, they will suffer from the "it all sounds alike" syndrome that afflicts genres like reggae and Flemish goat-herding chants). The club sound works best on tracks like Knuckles' "Un-break My Heart" and Joe Clausell's "Spanish Guitar", where the music doesn't overpower the vocals (as it does on Peter Rauhofer's "He Wasn't Man Enough") and the vocals aren't sped up to match the beat (as on Morales' "You're Makin' Me High"). Club fans should find this set adequate but unspectacular, while Braxton fans may not be prepared to find it at all.