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Earatik Statik, Feelin' Earatik (Gravel Records) Rating: 5
Banging straight out of Chitown, this rather wackly named trio of MCs have the dedication and the skills to attract underground producers known (Molemen, The Opus, Rude One), unknown (Brother EL, Bathgate and the emerging Chester Copperpot) and legendary (stand up, Diamond D). Half the album plays host to guests of a similar variety of calibre, with Akrobatik, Pacewon, Edo G and even Kool Keith supplying all the credibility you could wish for whilst lesser known MCs round things off without embarassment. If you've heard the brooding, stark majesty of single "Evil is Timeless" and its grim lyrics delivered with style and determination that satisfy both the intellect and the street, then you've got a good idea of where this LP is at. For all the ill edge of their delivery, though, the trio seem to have voluntarily eclipsed themselves -- I've got no idea what their individual names are and the disc suffers from the ensuing lack of charisma and, well, fun (this is when inviting the rampantly random entertainer who is Kool Keith seems like a bad idea). So for all the well-observed stories covering a harsh reality and complex rhyme structures unleashing punchlines like razors, we're left with some intimidating but faceless assassins and an album that, through unceasing seriousness, ends up gloomy. Ironically, you end up feelin' the producers more than the group -- the Molemen still wreck and The Opus may yet go far. If ES themselves fail to, it won't be for want of the ability to lynch mainstream MCs, just an unwillingness to ease off and smile occasionally, which they almost manage on "Keep Rockin'". [Amazon]
Uber Cool Kung Fu, 3 (Omega Point) Rating: 3
Form an acronym using the first letters of Uber Cool Kung Fu's name, and you get UCKF. Really, there's little else you need to know about the mentality that this four-piece out of Minneapolis brings to its craft. Words like "electropunk" and "industrial" get bandied about in descriptions of the band, but a listen through their new album 3 finds them having about as much in common with those genres as, say, recent Good Charlotte singles do. UCKF writes angry songs about girls, the price of fame, and more girls. There are typically plenty of angst-filled vocals, guitars, and techno-ish synth noises to go around. Promising moments like the fast and furious "Feel Nothing" and the peppy Information Society stomp of "Tonite" are brought down by a mess of poor production and hackneyed songwriting -- the sneer of "Hollywood Kills" would really benefit from an instrumental explosion in the chorus rather than the simple punch-in-the-head repetition of the title, and closing track "Down" is the worst kind of power-ballad, strings and all, with cloned Trent Reznor vocals getting all sensitive on our asses. This is the kind of disc that makes its listeners wistful for the glory days of Stabbing Westward; any album that accomplishes that dubious feat is doing something seriously wrong.
Nightbreed, Immortality Through Ashes (Tragic End) Rating: 3
If you're in a hardcore band, and want to make a name for yourself, you had better make sure you have an original enough sound for people to remember you by. Otherwise, in a genre as limiting as this one, it'll be in one ear and out the other for anyone who hears it. Cleveland trio Nightbreed do not instantly strike you as an instantly memorable band, and their debut EP Immortality Through Ashes has all the production values of a crudely-made demo, but, strange as it may seem, there's some potential here, as the band teeters between traditional hardcore and the muddy sludge sound of Eyehategod, early Mastodon, and underrated Canadian act Shallow North Dakota. Guitarist Ray Terry hollers valiantly, his voice lacking the power such a band needs, but as songs like "Winterkill" and "Poisoned Tongue" attest, there's the slightest hint that the band could evolve into something good. With a good producer, and a more capable lead vocalist, Nightbreed could capitalize on the growing popularity of hardcore, but until then, Immortality Through Ashes is too forgettable to warrant purchasing.
Graham Cousens, Living Room Sessions (Spade Kitty) Rating: 7
Graham Cousens will have performed his first live gig with his new band by the time you read this. His album is part folk but primarily the sweet, summer sounds of Matthew Sweet and Velvet Crush minus the shimmering chorus and plugged in instruments. Songs like "Julia" and the slightly rowdier "Holly Roller" amble along quite nicely with Cousens nailing each track to perfection. Fans of The Moore Brothers or Simon and Garfunkel will love his voice with its sweet richness. Cousens has a knack for crafting timeless melodies around simple arrangements, particularly with the roots-y "When I Was Around" and the gorgeous "Comfort Me". Recorded at his home, Cousens has records of Harrison and Dylan in his collection shown on the inner sleeve. The album is one engaging song after another, which makes for an easy listen, especially during the lovely Yorke-ish "So Long" and the straightforward "Lucky Stars". The softness of his voice is the selling point on the crowning jewel "Help Me Help Myself" and the Petty circa Wildflowers "Anymore". This album is proof that ProTools doesn't make smart, finely-crafted pop! [Amazon]
Various Artists, Psycho Ward (Split 7) Rating: 4
Psychobilly's a perfect theory for a genre -- take the basic style of rockabilly but punk it up. Psycho Ward collects tracks from 25 underground bands (three of which have "mad" in their name). While the number of artists should suggest a diversity of sound, the acts have a fairly consistent aesthetic, causing the compilation to waver between cohesive and repetitive. Most of the tracks lean far toward the punk/metal influence than anything Charlie Feathers would have dreamt of, but the standout performance -- by Blazing Haley -- reveals Stray Cats parentage. A thread of nihilism and rock 'n' roll self-destructiveness runs through the disc, with a vast majority of the songs being about death, hell, or darkness. Pile up your hair, grab your boots, and get drinking. [Amazon]