PopMatters home | short takes home | archives
PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
06 July 2005
Puerto Muerto, "Crimson Beauty" CD Single (Fire) Rating: 7
Tim Kelley and Christa Meyer, the husband and wife duo who comprise Puerto Muerto, have firmly established themselves as fine purveyors of traditional American music mixed with everything from Kurt Weill to Spanish folk music. "Crimson Beauty", the second single from their latest album, See You in Hell, offers a melody that is a cross between "This Land is Your Land" and "You Are My Sunshine", and blends the pair's voices with Buddy Holly knee-slap percussion and electric guitar to nice effect. Naturally, "Crimson Beauty" is a sea-shanty, the kind of song that Puerto Muerto have done so often that critics have dubbed their music "pirate-rock". It's kind of unfair to dumb down their style to an asinine catch-phrase, however, as Johnny Cash is as much an influence here as the sea, and it's not like the St. Louis-based duo are some sort of maritime novelty act. It's refreshing to hear a band keep a traditional art-form alive and kicking, and I don't think it's really supposed to be hip -- just good. The traditional "Walking Boss" is also included here, as is the bonus acoustic version of Puerto Muerto live staple "Jean LaFitte". Overall, this is a good taster if you're new to Puerto Muerto's music. For those of us who are already fans, it doesn't offer anything that isn't on See You in Hell, other than a rather redundant version of "Jean LaFittte", which isn't drastically different than the original version on 2002's Your Bloated Corpse Has Washed Ashore. For a little extra money, you can have the full See You in Hell album, which I highly recommend.
The Beautiful Girls, Learn Yourself (San Dumo) Rating: 6
Originally released in their native Australia two years ago, this roots rock trio's second album (first in the States) will make a nice soundtrack to any lazy summer night. A confluence of influences, Learn Yourself is a little pre-war blues, a little bit of Sublime's reggae-tinged melodies; Ben Harper, Jack Johnson both come to mind. "Black Bird", in particular, is quite wonderful, and Mason Jennings makes a guest appearance on "Freedom (Part 2)", making it another standout. Learn Yourself is not pushing boundaries or breaking new ground, and it may be a little stillborn in places, but it's still inviting like a tall glass of lemonade melting in the summer sun.
Jessica Jones, Every Barren Branch (Stop and Rewind) Rating: 8
Jessica Jones has her own label and has made a very credible, home demo-ish recording. Fans of Cat Power and especially Julie Doiron would love this record as 12 songs are churned out in less than 30 minutes. Basically from the folksy acoustic strumming on "These Are My Hands", Jones gives the listener one strong and impressive tune after another. "What We'll Admit" is slightly slower and lighter with Jones giving a very precious, stunning performance. Ditto for "Off and On" with the distant but important backing vocals fleshing things out! The sparseness of the album is what draws you into nuggets such as the folksy lullaby "The Bird", the gorgeous "Alabama" the sweet indie rock flair of "Too Long" and the Celtic feel behind the circular melody of "The Gulf". Nary a bad tune to be found, this record is proof that a good songwriter is a good songwriter! Please stop and rewind this album again and again.... I'll shut up now, I'm gushing...
Apogee Unconscious Ruckus (Kanpai) Rating: 4
The problem with Apogee, AKA Jay Skinner, is that he just doesn't seem to know what he wants to be when he grows up. The music on Unconscious Ruckus betrays a rootlessness that could stem from Skinner's background as a soundtrack musician, or just a general lack of focus -- but either way the album adds up to less than the sum of its parts. There are bits and pieces of more prominent acts tossed seemingly at random throughout the course of the disc, from Nine Inch Nails (on the brooding "Creeper"), to the Postal Service ("I'm Yours") to Squarepusher and µ-ziq ("KDDR MOV. 3"). As you may expect from someone who cut his teeth on soundtrack work (for movies like The Mothman Prophecies and The Rules of Attraction), everything is impeccably recorded and tastefully mixed. But the whole thing slides in one ear and out the other, barely registering before it passes. Promising, but only just.
.: posted by Editor 5:54 AM