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Black Leotard Front, Casual Friday (DFA) Rating: 8
A collaboration between Christian Holstad, Delia Gonzalez, Gavin Russom, and DFA co-conspirator/LCD Soundsystem mad genius James Murphy, Black Leotard Front embodies everything that makes the great DFA label so enjoyable: it's ostentatiously arty, it has a wicked sense of humor, it's catchy as all get-out, and it's incredibly danceable. The epic, 15-minute track "Casual Friday" was among the highlights of 2004's great DFA Compilation #2, and has reappeared as a US-only, 10-inch single. Starting off as a decidedly Euro-tinged disco piece, featuring an enigmatic narrator carrying on like Serge Gainsbourg, the song erupts into a fun funk piece, as a refrain of hilarious, poorly pronounced French kicks in ("Bonjour, bonjour, comment allez-vous?"). It goes on to take listeners for a wacky ride that ranges from amped-up eroticism, to a creepy, ambient breakdown that seems to contain samples from Ministry's "Just One Fix", before settling into a comfy groove for close to 10 minutes, the bass line unwavering throughout. Featuring an instrumental version of the song on the B-side, this single is further proof of how the DFA is one of the most vital indie labels today, and will have you singing to yourself in bad French for the rest of the day. Bawn-joor, bawn-joor. Come on tallay voo.
Danny McGuinness, Room 809 (Heatshield) Rating: 6
It's an album with a story attached! Evidently, Mr. Danny McGuinness brought a bunch of tunes to the Bel Age hotel for an impromptu recording session with guitarist Kent Van Der Kolk, and voila! Magic. One or two takes apiece, and an album was finished, the entire thing recorded in room 809 (naturally). The resulting album, creatively called Room 809, turns out to be a pleasant enough dose of acoustic singer-songwriter chutzpah, with a guy whose voice sounds like a slightly Springsteenized Art Alexakis. The spontaneity of the session is well-captured here, as the majority of the disc really, honestly sounds like two guys making music for the love of making music. Of course, it also means that McGuinness sings a few bum notes, and the dueling guitars of McGuinness and the usually brilliant Van Der Kolk aren't always in sync -- even so, it doesn't matter, given that what we're hearing is practically a live show. McGuinness is mostly the world-weary, wise artist who's seen it all and wants to tell about it ("Good Rain", "Whiskey"), though he occasionally and effortlessly falls into the hopeless romantic role, both longing ("Waiting for You") and spurned ("Justified Loser"). If you like your guitars acoustic and your voices baritone, Room 809 is the place to be.
Glimmer Kids, Glimmer Kids (self-released) Rating: 5
Not to be confused with the Glimmer Twins (aka Mick 'n Keef), we've got Los Angeles duo the Glimmer Kids. Multi-instrumentalist Simon and singer Jimm Glimm call their synthesis of '60s garage, '70s glam and '80s New Wave "Sci-fi arena pop", but for the sake of clarity, let's call it neo-glam. On their self-titled debut, they fall somewhere between the arena rock of Stone Temple Pilots and robot rock of the already-forgotten L.A. scenesters Ima Robot, and fortunately for them, they lean a little more towards the former. Every track is filled with big, shiny hooks courtesy of Simon and Jimm's lyrics on tunes like "Plastic Doll" and "Buy It" detailing vacuous L.A. life are a great fit with the slickly produced tunes. And they get all interstellar on a spacey cover of the Cars' "Just What I Needed", Ric Ocasek and co being a touchstone for the band's hint of New Wave. One gripe, though: the love songs sound like the kiss-off songs. It doesn't work to have the same revved-up, glammy framework house both sneering lyrics like "I can't buy you / So I despise you" (from "Plastic Doll") and tender ones like "Take me to your secret place / Cuz I don't want to be alone anymore" ("Two Fools"). That minor rant aside, the Kids are alright.
The Idaho Falls, Concrete Prairie (self-released) Rating: 6
L.A.'s The Idaho Falls plays some fine laid back SoCal country on this their second full-length. The songs hop along, sounding sunny even when they're about "hundreds of horses" dying. There's a winking theatricality on songs like "Summer Camp Lament", voices breaking with slightly affected twang, but not so much as to detract or distract. The Idaho Falls write gorgeous, well-arranged country-pop songs. Heather Goldberg and Raymond Richards share vocals on most songs, including the shimmering "California Day" and pissed off "Lipstick Eagle". These tracks weave with brief instrumentals that further the good-times vibes. The band employs a host of different textures, including the vihuela, a guitar-shaped instrument tuned like a six-course lute. The title track is a standout, bookending a beautiful hazy middle section with a jaunty square-dance piece.
Dave Weiner, Shove the Sun Aside (Favored Nations) Rating: 6
This guitarist has worked in Steve Vai's band, but now is the time for Dave Weiner to branch out into a format that, on the initial first notes, sounds like he trying to come back to life by breathing new life into "Andonova", the intro of which brings to mind Pink Floyd circa The Division Bell. Weiner wastes little time saving time, going seamlessly into a rather harder, gritter, metal-lite "Long Run" that could be Metallica symphonic style. Fans of Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop would find some redeeming value in the tune also. He changes gears mid-stream into a jazz, light, interlude-like vein with some above average licks. Weiner has some good moments, but too often they're they type you've heard 20 if not 15 years ago, particularly on "Monument Shine". One also hears touches of an organic, ambient-tinted Creed on the lighter "The Ghost of Denmark St." The best tune of the lot has to be "Tourmaline" which is part Page, part Knopfler and genuinely melodic and almost wistful throughout. The title tune though is an exercise in back-patting, adding little to the proceedings. [Amazon]