PopMatters home | short takes home | archives
PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
04 August 2005
Spottiswoode and His Enemies, Building a Road (High Wire Music) Rating: 5
Spottiswoode has many enemies. It sounds like he has a lot of musician friends, too. The musical influences are as numerous as the instruments used here. There's rock, blues, gospel, jazz, folk, religious imagery, guitars, surf guitars, drums, accordions, trumpets, saxophones, mandolins, and organs bubbling into a delicious and nutritious stew. Influences range from Tom Waits to Bob Dylan and Exile on Main Street-era Rolling Stones. The CD lists 11 tracks "plus" tracks 12-17. If the album had ended on track 11, a perfect closer, it could have earned at least two more points on the rating. The "plus" tracks weigh the album down past 70 minutes and don't provide enough variety to warrant their existence. Stop the CD after the "I'm Back Up" and you're in for one hell of a ride.
Barcode, Showdown (Nuclear Blast) Rating: 7
I don't know why, but hearing a Danish hardcore singer howl, "What up! We're back, motherfuckers!" at the beginning of an album makes me smile. Not because it's such a lame cliché, but most likely because Barcode sell it, and have fun doing so. They're committed to making nothing more than no-frills, visceral hardcore, following the leads of Agnostic Front and Hatebreed, and do they ever deliver on their fifth full-length album. The forceful riffs by guitarists Dr. J and Panter alternate between the great New York hardcore/thrash scene of the '80s, evoking memories of Cro-Mags, Biohazard, Anthrax, and even Stormtroopers of Death, and touches of the European flair of The Haunted. Unlike the one trick pony antics of Hatebreed, Barcode exude true charisma, as songs like "Showdown", "For What it's Worth", "Bad Standing" and the exuberant tribute to booze "Drinkslinger" are deceptively catchy, the fun shout-along choruses offset by plenty of lively riffs. The band hits a high note on the inspired, not to mention hilarious bitch-fest "Make My Day", during which vocalist Butch complains about anything and everything ("Hairball Nickelback -- epic cry-baby/Steve Martin -- where's the fun gone lately?"). Capped off by a rowdy cover of Accept's classic 1980 tune "I'm a Rebel", Showdown is good enough to make you temporarily forget that it's all been done before. In fact, it's impossible to hate.
Saul Zonana, 42 Days (20/20) Rating: 4
One of the gifts and curses of ever-evolving technology is its application to musical production. Where once, you could tell what kind of budget and profile an artist had by what his or her album sounded like, all it takes anymore is a digital recorder and ProTools to put together something that sounds like it could have come from a major recording studio. Saul Zonana's fourth album 42 Days is a wonder of modern production, hiding mostly average songs in a wash of computer noises, stereo panning, and beat and note-perfect session playing. Some of the production (not to mention the more interesting guitar bits) can be credited to the great Adrian Belew of King Crimson fame, but most of it is actually done by Zonana himself. The result is an album that sounds a bit like Jakob Dylan fronting Vertical Horizon, with a brief bit where he sounds like Phil Collins ("Chasing It") and an odd sociopolitical rant that sounds like the adult-contemporary cousin of Moxy Fruvous' "Video Bargainville" ("Hey Now"). A lucky break could easily land any of these songs in heavy rotation as the edgy, hip tune on 102.x Lite Hits (All your lite favorites, all the time), where it would blend right in. It's harmless, but oddly lifeless--perhaps Zonana should emphasize the performance over the production on the next go.
The German Art Students, Name-Droppers (Autobahn Music) Rating: 6
The interesting thing is that nobody has taken this name before to my recollection. Nonetheless, this group from that German hotbed that is Madison, Wisconsin delivers up catchy, lo-fi instrumentals complete with triangle during "Horses, Hedgerows And Helmets". The trio of guitarists Kirk Wall, Annelies and bassist Andy Larson then seamlessly move into the hand-clapping rock pop of "Bjorn Borg", a tune even he would enjoy as it twists and turns into a psychedelic-tinted closing. The band do live up to the album title with another up-tempo alt. rock ditty dubbed "Dick Clark (Ballad of the German Art Students)" which centers around Clark listening to the band's demo tape with a quirky funny faux phone message in the middle. The band are a cross of Violent Femmes, They Might Be Giants and The Dead Milkmen it appears on strong songs like "On the Spot", the quirky, sugary "Speed Of Sound" and the softer "Triumph of the Human Spirit".
Lisa O'Kane, Peace of Mind (Raisin'Kane) Rating: 3
There's a welcome grain of grit in Lisa O'Kane's voice as she makes her way through Fred Rose's country standard "Foggy River", but with such a mild arrangement, the song could really use a whole beach. There is absolutely nothing technically wrong with any aspect of Peace Of Mind, but that's the rub: too much peace of mind renders this pop-country album quite dull. Where on "Long Gone", where O'Kane sings "Tires down the blacktop / Tears down my face / Hope down to nothin' / Love laid to waste," is there any real sense of hopelessness or loss? Nowhere. I find no "peace" here because of the essential conflict brought out in every song: the music's desire to emotionally move the listener versus the lifeless intimations of mood it projects.
.: posted by Editor 6:50 AM