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Duplex!, Ablum (Mint) Rating: 7
As child starlets get younger and younger (the irritating JoJo, for instance), singing songs 30-year-old men wrote for them, a record written and performed by two 11- and 12-year-old girls can sound enormously refreshing by comparison. Finally, kids singing songs about being kids. Okay, so Saorise Soley and Sierra Terhoch perform alongside a bunch of adult musicians, namely Vancouver folk institution Veda Hille, P:ano's Justin Kellam, and Beekeepers members Matt Caruso and Annie Wilkinson, but the cutely titled Ablum never lets adult points of view cloud its childlike view of the world. This is music for the six year-old hipster: Hille's "Nucat" is loaded with punk rock energy (aided by chants of, "Oi! Oi!"), "Bethlehem" is a wickedly smart social satire that builds to a rambunctious sing-along, and "Yr Mama" slyly injects a nod to the Ramones. Caruso contributes songs both educational ("DNA") and innocently scatological ("Pooing and Peeing"), but it's the girls who steal the show with songs like the hilarious "Lament of the House Rabbit" ("Little pellets in, little pellets out/Little pellets are what my life is about"), "Multiplication Treehouse", and the borderline brilliant "Salad", a funky little ode to the misery of having to eat one's vegetables ("Iceberg, romaine/It causes me pain"). Tossing his own two cents is three year-old Matt Caruso, who repeatedly answers the phrase, "You're the best little boy in the world," with a heartily defiant, "I'm not!" An enormously fun, whip-smart kids' album, recorded by people who all live under the same duplex roof in Vancouver (hence the name), it's the product of the kind of healthy, creative home environment that not enough kids live in. This CD is an absolute joy. [Amazon]
DJ Premier and Mr. Thing, The Kings of Hip Hop (BBE/Rapster) Rating: 4
As promising as a set of hip-hop classics mixed by one of the music's most acclaimed DJs and one of his heirs apparent sounds in theory, this two-disc package largely fails to deliver. DJ Premier -- sonic force behind Gang Starr and a platinum iPod's worth of rap singles -- sticks to the roots of hip-hop for his disc; while it's instructive to hear some of his breakbeat-free sources of inspiration (like Nina Simone's "Don't Explain"), there's little to push the collection of tracks beyond the ordinary. Likewise, British scratch wizard Mr. Thing compiles a set that can barely focus on its predilection for East Coast artists, obscure cuts like De La Soul's "She Fe MCs" notwithstanding. There's no questioning either DJ's skills -- both discs are impeccably mixed -- but it seems somewhat pointless unless you don't see the irony in looking to fill a dance floor on the cheap. [Amazon]
Watchers, Dunes Phase (Gern Blandsten) Rating: 4
Dance punk. Post-punk. Future funk. Call it what you will, but a handful of bands are out there looking for a way to shake your hips and get you moving on the dance floor. Chicago's Watchers are yet another one, but if you're going to throw this disc on at a party, make sure you have a few more albums handy to keep it going. The most surprising thing about Dunes Phase is how incredibly short it is. The seven songs come in and out in at around 16 minutes, creating a jarring listen. Just as the listener settles into a groove or hook, the song ends and Watchers throw out another shard of groove-inducing music. Watchers could definitely use some tips from colleagues Out Hud, whose infectious, shape-shifting compositions allow ample time to get down, and lots of room for musical exploration. Watchers definitely have a gift for creating slick riffs, but they suffer from a terribly short attention span. Curbing their output and expanding their clipped dance pieces into more organically grown compositions would practically make them unstoppable, but for now, Watchers are merely filler for your next mix. [Amazon]
The Gnomes, I (self-released) Rating: 5
Warm and the ramshackle vibes run through the Gnomes' songs. They've obviously spent some time listening to how Pavement builds majestic rock tracks out of seemingly-incoherent amateurism: the Gnomes know how to play but they also know how to make everything sound like its falling apart at the seams. The basic garage rock of "In Dreams I Walk With Peg's Caprice" sounds like Loaded-era Velvet Underground while the slightly disposable likeability of "I'm Not Sleeping" and "Lists of Things" can't help but bring to mind Guided By Voices' wilfullly scattered focus. Tracks like "Dance!" and "Wait", which combine bright, country-influenced guitars against loose, slightly affected songwriting, show off their familiarity with touchstones such as early R.E.M. and the Meat Puppets. There's nothing on I that manages to rise above the group's obvious influences, but there is a great deal of likeable rock that could very well blossom into something more distinctive on future releases.
John Ashfield, Distance to Empty (PopPop) Rating: 8
I have a sweet tooth for what many call "bubble gum" pop. There, I've said it. It's so simple, so rudimentary yet rarely done so well that it makes you gravitate to those do can do it very well. John Ashfield, who is better known as the lead singer of The Bobbleheads, has crafted a collection of very summery, shimmering tunes that will put a smile on your face beginning with "The Watermelon Song" and the cheerful, sway-inducing, Joe Jackson-ish vibe of "Go Slow" that makes you envision you're five years old and playing the large piano that is the top of your sofa. By the time "Lenz" hits the speakers Ashfield has you hooked with his XTC-meets-Go-Betweens rock on "Come Along," the precious "OK" and the gorgeously downplayed "The Best Part" which is, perhaps, the best part of the record. But "The Way I See You" and "Oh" are ideal also. So freakin' much to choose from here! Ashfield rarely misses the mark although "Only Dreaming" and the crooner attempt on "Sleep Tight" won't appeal to all.