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Napalm Death, Leaders Not Followers Part 2 (Century Media) Rating: 8
You wouldn't normally expect a Napalm Death album to be so warm and pleasant, but that's exactly the case with Leaders Not Followers Part 2. The second in an ongoing series of cover albums, the grindcore legends tear through 19 of their favorite songs from the 1980s metal/hardcore underground, including phenomenal renditions of tracks by such legends as Hellhammer ("Messiah"), Sepultura ("Troops of Doom"), Discharge ("War's No Fairytale"), Die Kreuzen (I'm Tired"), The Dayglo Abortions (Bedtime Story"), Kreator (Riot of Violence"), and Agnostic Front ("Blind Justice"). Especially fun are the more obscure songs, like Cryptic Slaughter's "Lowlife", Anti Cimex's "Victims of a Bomb Raid", the old school metal of Wehrmacht's goofy "Night of Pain", and the early death metal of Insanity's "Fire Death Fate". Best of all, though, are the extensive liner notes by amiable vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway, which serve as a laid back, friendly primer for fans. This album not only serves as a great introduction for many to the great '80s underground scene, but also as proof that Napalm Death still sounds as great as they ever have, and show no signs of stopping. An absolute pleasure.
Kitty Kat Dirt Nap, I Am a Robot, I Am Talking Like a Robot, I Am a Robot (Wonkavision Magazine)
Adam Eckhoff takes command of the band, but with female vocalist, Robyn Montella, the angst-ridden punk finds pop equilibrium on "(If I had a Purse I would Carry) Breath Mints (In It Too)". This is The Strokes, if The Strokes went punk. Don't label it straight pop or punk -- it fluctuates wildly between both. Eckhoff's raw screams clash nicely as he and Ernie Pester's brash guitar playing take turns driving off the edge of something clever. Kitty Kat Dirt Nap consistently deliver solid hooks sharp enough to lure in the masses. These guys and gal chugs away like Green Day, and Montella's synth work brins the already tight melodies to a place pop punk need to visit more often. "(Getting Caught Enjoying) Phil Collins" captures everything Good Charlotte tries to do without the silly makeup (handclaps included) and "Theme" proves the band can plays hard enough to get die-hard punks off.
The Metrolites, In Spy Fi (Go Go Golem) Rating: 5
At the very least, the Metrolites have officially given the world the coolest song title of the new millenium: "Gunfight at the Zombie Mineshaft". In fact, that very title gives a good impression of the types of music that this eclectic ensemble plays. On In Spy-Fi, the Metrolites take a variety of styles of music most often associated with the B movies of the '50s and '60s (everything from cocktail jazz to tiki music to faux-rockabilly), and toss them into erratic, genre shifting songs. The talented band deftly jumps from style to style, sometimes within the same song, as if they were the Space Age Bachelor Pad equivalent of John Zorn's Naked City project. The instrumentals are exciting, but, for the most part, they fail to stand up on their own as compositions. In Spy-Fi is an album that begs to be the soundtrack of something, whether to a movie or to a night on the town, but does not quite succeed on its own merits. The songs with vocals also work against the rest of the album, making the Metrolites seem more like a joke band that they actually are, evoking They Might Be Giants, Oingo Boingo, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers all at once. However, when the band coheres, as they do on their interpretation of Bacharach and David's immortal theme song to "The Blob" and on the creeping instrumental "The Abominable Dr. Vibes", the results are astounding. Movie producers of the world, get this band some soundtrack work, pronto!
Robotnicka, Spectre En Vue... (Bloodlink/Irrk/Maloka)
In the opening of his recent review of Radio 4's Stealing of a Nation, PopMatters music scribe Michael Beaumont wrote: "Dance-punk has always been a genre high on potential but short on talent." I couldn't agree more. Brought to you by no less than three separate record labels on two sides of the ocean, Robotnicka are yet another synth-propelled band looking to get the hipsters burning up the dance floor. Unfortunately, their stale song writing, uninventive hooks and dull delivery had me bored from the first note. Nothing in the 13 songs presented here is memorable or particularly intriguing, and it's hard to tell if their political stance is ironic or not. There are plenty of bands out there doing this right (Bloc Party and Out Hud come immediately to mind), and there is little to recommend in this underground release that will encourage readers to hit the bins of their local indie record store to seek this out.
Twinkie, Twinkie (Avebury) Rating: 2
Terry Sawyer, in his recent awesome article the "Unbearable Lightness of List Making" on this site, compared 'noise' bands to postmodern art. Like our brethren in the arts, he said that we as music critics must take the sludge of random soulless noise and make meaning out of them. With that in mind, I take Twinkie to task. I can only interpret the self-titled debut's random screeches, downtuned gloom of guitars, and the lack of anything resembling a decent song as this -- a band recording themselves fooling around in the studios, in the hope that in the vein of postmodernism, we music critics have the hood put over our eyes into thinking that this effort is more significant than it really is. Nice try. Could have me had. Death to postmodern art.
Seymour Glass, Note to Self (456)
To think I saw the name of this non-descript, homogenized rock group and thought it was the new project of Mr. Seymour Glass, founder of the rogue underground noise zine Bananafish. Far removed from those squelching, pushing-the-envelope sounds, this NYC band's debut hovers in a vacuous studio production bubble. These radio-ready songs rely on wistfully sung vocals and tinny overdubs, thick as treacle. "Making it" is a hollow pursuit these days, even as an overblown pseudo nth generation pop-punk team. Note to Self: Seymour Glass could take up more noble pursuits, creating their own original sound.
Agnostic Front, Another Voice (Nuclear Blast) Rating: 6
"For some it's just a passing phase/But for us it's the only way," barks Roger Miret on "Still Here", the opening track on Agnostic Front's twelfth album, Another Voice. Man, he's not kidding. While other highly influential American hardcore bands from the early '80s have long since gone, from Black Flag to Minor Threat to Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, led by Miret and guitarist Vinnie Stigma, continue to churn out the tough-as-nails music, and like another noteworthy seminal band called Motorhead, Agnostic Front do it well, and demand your respect. Another Voice, their first album in nearly three years, is a satisfactory return to form, a taut, 28 minute metalcore assault, produced by Zeuss (who produced Shadows Fall's popular The War Within), and featuring a guest appearance from Hatebreed Jamey Jasta, who has made a career out of imitating Agnostic Front. Highlights include the aforementioned "Still Here", "Pride, Faith, Respect", the old school passion of "Dedication", the pure fun of "Hardcore! (The Definition)", and the searing title track. It's plenty of good, visceral, no-frills aggression, something this band will never cease being good at.
paulisdead, Let the Losers Slug It Out (Five Sister) Rating: 6
For having the name that they do, Vancouver's paulisdead has very little to do with the Beatles. Although perhaps that's understandable considering that paulisdead seems to consider McCartneyesque melodicism to be uninspiring. They take their cues more from post-punk gloominess, and if there are any Joy Division comparisons that weren't worn out on Interpol, they could be thrown at paulisdead, too. Employing a chugging rhythm section and an aversion to melodies or chord progressions that change too much, paulisdead's debut, Let the Losers Slug it Out, summons anxiety and dread without making them sound suffocating. And for a group putting out their first album, the band has a surprisingly mature and thoughtful sound. The problem is that that they don't have the songs to match. Nothing jumps off of Losers in either a good or bad way. They stick to their strengths and win a few battles, but if they want to win the war, they'll have to venture away from their comfort zone. Would you like the Cure if only they weren't whiny, ineffectual navelgazers? Your prayers have finally been answered.
Cecil Taylor & Italian Instabile Orchestra, The Owner of the River Bank (Enja) Rating: 4
The Owner of the River Bank is a Cecil Taylor composition-though hardly a composition at all in the traditional sense-that was performed twice by Taylor and the Italian Instabile Orchestra to celebrate that group's 10th anniversary at the Talos Festival in Ruva di Puglia in 2000. Marcello Lorrai's excellent liner notes discuss Taylor's methods in detail. Taylor doesn't work from a normal score, but rather from one that includes drawings, shapes, and words. He then encouraged the musicians of the Instabile, one of the world's greatest groups working in improvisational orchestra music, to infuse the piece with their own ideas and personalities. He accepted suggestions or sounds that were true to the tenor of the piece he had conceived even if they were very different from what he may have heard in his head. In short, this hour long, seven-part suite is a product not only of Taylor's compositional conception, but also of the members of the Instabile and the time and place in which it was rehearsed and performed. Standing in front of such a massive piece of music, conceived as sheer sound, is daunting, just as it is standing before an enormous abstract painting. There is ebb and flow, but the tension that results from Taylor's piano work and the contributions of the Orchestra isn't all that interesting, nor does it ever really resolve. Furthermore, Taylor's piano is almost never the central focus of the piece. That is as he wished, because the piece is conceived as an orchestral piece rather than one for piano with orchestra, so the piano was clearly meant to be just another voice. But when Taylor does burst forth with some amazingly lyrical playing on the brief fourth movement, it really lifts this otherwise scattershot performance to a new level. Unfortunately, such moments are too rare, and ultimately the collaboration between Taylor and Instabile is an interesting, but ultimately failed experiment.
Linda Ronstadt, Hummin' to Myself (Verve)
Linda Ronstadt is the adult contemporary equivalent to David Bowie, seemingly changing her tune literally with each album -- from rock in her early years to country to Mexico to country to jazz and now another album of pop standards. And while it won't be everyone's cup of tea, Ronstadt does a generally good job on "Tell Him I Said Hello", resembling the likes of Krall, Jones (as in Norah) or any other smooth, sultry lounge-ish singer. The swinging "Never Will I Marry", a cover of Frank Loesser's song, is slow but jazzes itself up with a bobbing, bouncing flair. It could also have been something out of The Pink Panther soundtrack. But at times Ronstadt seems to sleepwalk through these tracks, especially "Cry Me a River" and the rather ordinary title track. Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" is a creepy kind of tune that Rondstadt delivers perfectly. Roy Hargrove makes an appearance on "I Fall in Love Too Easily", perhaps the album's biggest highlight. It's a hit and miss affair though as the slow "Day Dream" lulls one into a deep sleep. The standards album has become a right of passage for most "career" artists, but Ronstadt does just enough to make it worthwhile.
Heart Full of Dirt, American Road (self released) Rating: 2
When I first dropped Heart Full of Dirt's American Road into the CD player, I couldn't tell if I was meant to laugh or not. Here was a band enamored of the harder edges of what is now called classic rock, that was writing songs that would not have been out of place on a Molly Hatchet album or spewing out of some spent eight-track machine in a 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner. American Road is not a nostalgia disc. It appears to be a serious attempt by some rock-and-rollers from the Pacific Northwest to conjure up the ghosts of some deservedly long-forgotten bands and update their sound. The results, predictably, are not so good. It opens strongly enough, with a pair of dueling rock guitars, but quickly descends into bad cliché and unimaginative noise that offend on so many levels. But perhaps I have this all wrong. Perhaps, Heart Full of Dirt is modeled on Jack Black's mock hard-rock duo Tenacious D. Perhaps, I was supposed to laugh. Somehow, I don't think so.
Small Change Romeos, Long Way From Tomorrow (Milk Jug)
The Small Change Romeos try their luck on an easy-going '70s-styled funk pop that is quite apparent on "Breaking Through". But it's a slight aberration. The summer breeze on one's patio is the perfect setting for such songs although it's an acquired taste to be sure. Think of someone like Jason Mraz only less polished and with no concept of when to finish a song. Jamming out the first track for more than five minutes is needless. The folksy "Disguise" is more laid back and down tempo for better results. But "Not My World" returns to the malaise of the original - too safe and too clichéd. The unevenness of the album is reflected in the first four songs alone as the dreamy, ballad-ish "Mercury Skies" atones for the previous miscue, resembling an acoustic Matchbox Twenty. "Stone Against Stone (One Of Those Days)" picks up the pace but is a cross between Steely Dan and Chris Isaak. The rootsy vibe continues on "New England Girl" which recalls an early Train or Blues Traveler. Perhaps the highlight comes with "Runaway" but on the whole this album seems to be all over the place stylistically. Sometimes that's not necessarily a good thing.