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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
08 August 2005
The Album Leaf, Seal Beach EP (Better Looking) Rating: 5
Seal Beach bears little resemblance to the Spain-only EP of the same name that was released in 2003. One of the original five tracks has been cut, and replaced by the exclusive "For Jonathan", while the other four have been remastered, with new, moody violin a welcome addition. Five live tracks round things out. Album Leaf specializes in the kind of pitter-pattering, borderline new-age instrumentals that make you wonder whether your speakers are blown. That's not to say it's not pleasant, because it is: perfect hangover music that's saved from banality by Jimmy LaValle's delicate arrangements and expressive keyboard playing. The live tracks are the best; the addition of backing musicians, especially a drummer, makes for more dynamics. All in all, a nice Album Leaf primer.
Specimen 37, The Endless Looping Game (Chronic Pink) Rating: 5
There's a good chance that the following sentence, despite not containing any specifics whatsoever regarding the album itself, will largely shape one's impression of it: Specimen 37's The Endless Looping Game is prog. Spacey keyboards, long, meandering passages that mean very little in the grand scheme, and wholly ordinary vocals that speak toward the futility of everyday life via surreal imagery and made-up words like "gogzies" define the album. Sometimes it works, as on the title track that starts as lite rock and finishes like Primus. Sometimes it doesn't work, as on the incredibly drawn-out eight minutes that make up "Thursday Morning Jogger", punctuated by a few seconds right in the middle where the only sound we hear is, that's right, someone jogging. And sometimes, it just rocks out, as on the surprisingly compact "Helix", and "Monday", parts of which could have come straight off of a Soundgarden album for all we know. At eleven songs and almost 70 minutes, it's these rocking bits that keep the album from turning into one big space-age bore; still, it's a little too willfully odd in a tedious sort of way for most people to tolerate. And for Pete's sake, they've got to ditch that flange effect.
The Partridge Family, Come on Get Happy! The Very Best of the Partridge Family (Arista) Rating: 8
Most of us smile ruefully and chuckle condescendingly when we hear The Partridge Family. They're a joke, right? They were not a real family and not a real band. In fact, as a musical act, "they" were primarily Wes Farrell, a producer and talent-hound who masterminded their tightly controlled studio sound. He discovered that David Cassidy, chosen for the TV show because of his teen idol looks, could actually sing a little. Farrell surrounded him with solid L.A. session players and provided him with highly melodic, upbeat pop songs written by major talents such as Neil Sedaka, Gerry Goffin, Tony Romeo, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. This is fun, well-crafted AM pop with lots of catchy hooks and terrific harmony vocals. Come on Get Happy! includes four previously unreleased tracks, but who cares. What we want, and what we get, are six or seven wonderful pieces of ear candy (several of which were #1 hits) like "I Think I Love You", "I'll Meet You Halfway", and "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted". I can't tell you this is great, indispensable music. But I can tell you that it sounds terrific on a car stereo with the windows down and the summer wind blowing your hair. (Memo to Coldplay: Come On, Get Happy!)
Left Alone, Lonely Starts & Broken Hearts (Hellcat) Rating: 7
This Epitaph band fits the label's mold to a tee -- havoc-wreaking punk tunes that are tight, polished and filled with youthful vigor. Lead singer Elvis and his cohorts nails the opening title track that resembles Social Distortion on high speed dubbing (remember high speed dubbing?). Nothing is wasted here, especially during the strong and brawny "Broke My Heart" that features some excellent work by drummer Ramrod. The track is under two minutes, making it feel like you expect some "Oi! Oi!" a la Dropkick Murphys but never get it. Left Alone can give you some Rancid-ish ska also on the quirky hopping "Another Feeling". But it is primarily the rapid-fire punk of "Monday Morning" that makes it shine in the vein of The Living End. Another nugget is the hellacious but well honed "My Whole Life", "Wasted Time" and "My 62" that kicks the album into another gear, the latter mainly thanks to bassist Rick. Unfortunately "Dead Red Roses" sounds dead on arrival and too clichéd.
Paint It Black, Paradise, (Jade Tree) Rating: 5
If this is what paradise sounds like, send me straight to hell. A punk outfit that stays true to their forbearers, Paint It Black whip up 14 songs in the key of protest, all under a minute and 50 seconds long and all of them perfectly suitable for only diehard punk rock fans. There's a song about the government "election day", soldiers "atheists in foxholes", even one on drugs "pharmacist", yada yada yada. And while they're notions are noble, generally espousing anarchy and mass revolution as a solution to the current social inequalities, each song, despite the blistering pace, blends mindlessly into the next. Abrasive by choice, the vocals are not particularly stirring and screaming for the sake of screaming gets repetitive real quick. That said, North America is in the throes of an ADD-epidemic, a fact that should render my complaints about the length of songs void. With a total running time of only 21 minutes, making it through the whole CD should be a snap but after two or three songs, you've heard it all.
.: posted by Editor 8:28 AM