PopMatters home | short takes home | archivesPopMatters Music Short Takes
Timber (The New Gentleman's Shuffle), Timber (The New Gentleman's Shuffle) (Ships at Night) Rating: 8
"Bloodhound", the first track on the self-titled debut of Montreal's Timber (The New Gentleman's Shuffle) could very well prompt one to follow the band's trail as faithfully as its namesake breed. The song demonstrates everything the band does so well: Fahey-inspired finger-picking, warm harmonies sung in odd intervals, and arrangements that tow the line expertly between busy and sparse. "How's your life been changed? / Did you find the piece of mind that you were never never never never never gonna get with me?" the band sings in a major seventh, autumn radiating in every note, sedate yet engaged. You know an album's good when it inspires images you're not even sure exist in its songs. Here and for me it's a never-ending stretch of power lines rolling alongside country roads, red-winged blackbirds alert on the wires. "Reckoning" has that quality, harnessed to the rhythm of Warren Spicer's rolling guitar figure. "To the Country" is a near-perfect synthesis of folk and country with progressive ambitions-another achingly beautiful representation of Timber's highly auspicious beginnings.
The Je Ne Sais Quoi, Secret Language (Coalition) Rating: 5
The Je Ne Sais Quoi play punkmusik -- that's Swedish for punk music. That kind of tidy translation typifies the kind of snappy song these four young caterwaulers excel at on this, their debut EP. Secret Language is a seriously direct and bare-boned punk assault. The guitars are jagged and rusty, and the drummer's kit probably consists of cardboard boxes and scrap metal. Embellished by droning keys and coarse baselines, it's all danceable fare that could serve equally well for end-of-the-night meltdowns. The CD, which implores you to "play us loud on your cheap stereo", clocks in at less than 20 minutes and doesn't offer much in the way of variety. However, it's really more of a showcase for what Jimmy O, CMG, Miss J and J Bang have in store for their full-length, We Make Beginnings. Once again, more proof that Sweden's universal childcare system is really a front for a punk rock camp for toddlers. You people sicken me -- with your low infant mortality rate, extensive social welfare, and plethora of killer punk bands. Vidrig. Absolut vidrig kraft. [Amazon]
Vinyl, Vinyl LP (btb ehf.) Rating: 5
The new sound of Reykjavik sounds like the old rock and comes from a little place called Iceland. The opening track "Miss Iceland" hauls out an indecent proposal from the devil's henchmen, masquerading like Jane's Addiction (on "Just Because") without frontman Perry Farrell. Throughout the disc, the group relies heavily on synthesizers, to the point where every songs blend into each other. Taracks like "Find My Face a Place" are so by the book that they do nothing to impel the group into the stream of popular consciousness. But again, as it is with so many bands, the vocals are the devastating blow to Vinyl's dream of ascending from the legions of mediocre bands to superstar rockers. Try as you may, the gravely voiced, sexed-up lyrics can't compensate for the fact that the best thing about these boys is that they are half-decent when it comes sounding like other groups (INXS, Jet, and U2).
Apes, Baba's Mountain (Birdman) Rating: 3
When you're a rock band who makes a point of staying away from the conventional sounds of the six-string guitar, you sure as hell had better keep things interesting enough to not make yourself sound too much like a gimmicky, one-trick pony. Washington, D.C.'s Apes caught the attention of indie rock fans with their fun 2003 concept album Oddeyesee, a lovably insane blend of progressive rock, stoner rock, and indie pop. Focusing on the low-end sounds of bass and organ, the band ably kept their minimal style sounding fresh. Two years later, though, nothing much has changed, and consequently, the music sounds tired by comparison. Baba's Mountain tries to recapture the energy and fun of the previous record, but all too often, the music rings hollow, the band coming off as sounding weird for the sake of being weird. It's all an empty exercise, there are no memorable hooks at all on the record, as listeners are left hearing repetitive organ melodies and drab vocal melodies, the band doing their hippy-dippy best to channel Vanilla Fudge on a painfully long 50-minute album. Only on "The Minds of Mortis" and "Who's Left Alive" does the music get slightly more interesting, as keyboardist Amanda Kleinman's singing offers an all-too-brief respite from Paul Weil's mad rants, but it hardly comes close to redeeming a very, very monotonous album. [Amazon]
Curtis Stigers, I Think It's Going to Rain Today (Concord) Rating: 6
At a time when Michael Buble is being heard on every radio station from Toronto to Nepal, it's somewhat refreshing to hear a guy like Curtis Stigers still out there exploring his craft. This latest batch of tracks is all over the map, from the funky jazz croon of Willie Dixon's "My Babe" thanks to organist Larry Goldings, to the standard jazz revamping of "That's All Right", it all meshes together. And the cover of the latter is 10 times better than anything found on Paul Anka's latest. "Crazy" has a dour, somber mournful-like tone to it that is definitely a nice twist as trumpeter John Sneider lays down some great horns in the bridge. And perhaps the gem of the lot is how he reworks Sting's "I Can't Stand Losing You" better than the composer himself would given his penchant for jazz renditions now of Police tunes. Stigers manages to excel on "Lullaby on the Hudson" and the tender Tom Waits tune "In Between Love" by giving enough of his shining supporting cast room to perform, leaving a lot of empty air in the song that naturally draws you in. He almost sounds a bit like Springsteen's current work (minus the jazz) in his delivery of the moody, melancholic title track penned by Randy Newman. A few come off as very schmaltzy and somewhat corny, especially the well-worn and "please put to bed" "Side By Side". [Amazon]