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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
21 February 2005
Styrofoam, Nothing's Lost, (Morr Music) Rating: 5
Wow, is Arne Van Petegem well-connected or what? The collaboration list for this anodynely-named album reads like an orgy taking place in the imagination of a fey indie electropop obsessive: Markus Acher, of Lali Puna and The Notwist (whom Styrofoam has performed with) plays guitar on a couple of tracks; Lali Puna's singer Valerie Trebeljahr provides a chorus; DCFC / Postal Service student idol Ben Gibbard sings, plays and co-composes; and indie-hop instrumentalist par excellence Alias messes around with some MPCs and even raps once. There's also a Foreign Exchange-style, internet-only collaboration with Andrew Kenny, of the slightly more obscure American Analogue Set. The rest of the tracks here are the (re-assembled) result of some extended jam sessions in the Club Ancienne Belgique, which explains both their homogenous, free-flowing feel, and perhaps the lack of any truly stand-out material. It's all rather lush, albeit with enough glitches and whirs to content the electronic music geek, just lacking that essential spark to make it really live, to make it affecting. The obvious exclusion to this is Gibbard's voice, which probably makes even Fiddy feel like doing a Linus, but sadly he only sings on one track. Quite what's happened to the musician responsible for the sparse, stunning emotional intricacy of Styrofoam's debut I'm What's There To Show That Something's Missing -- which could spar with Radiohead and Hymie's Basement -- is uncertain. What remains pleases, but not as much as it disappoints.
Grimble Grumble, Leaves Leader (Pehr) Rating: 6
What constitutes space in space rock? I don't doubt its existence; if there's even a remote trace of the universe's infinite sprawl in a band's music, or at least one minute of sustained feedback, "space rock" will follow them like a comet's tail 'til there's life on Titan. Chicago's Grimble Grumble seems to have attracted that description at every turn, so I recline on my couch and look heavenward whilst listening to Leaves Leader and think back to my planetarium days. What I hear sounds more to me like My Bloody Valentine and those hordes of British bands that were supposedly gazing at their shoes all the bloody time. Up or down, gang, where am I supposed to look? Perhaps Grimble Grumble's music begs so many comparisons and questions because the songs themselves are built to sweep away the frivolities of conscious concerns, and instead plumb your dreams and imagination. The opening, untitled half-minute of crickets/rain sticks is the palate cleanser before the chiming "Rail Road" washes in like an iridescent tide. Bassist Christine Garcia's breathy vocals are half sunk in the mix, the words indecipherable, ambling through the haze. Most of these songs tip the five or six minute mark, but always pull back before overstaying their welcome. The solid rhythm section completed by drummer Mike Bulington cements direction and purpose for the twin guitars of Saleem Dhamee and Josh Hudson on tracks like "Wish Song" and "Third Song", direction that is usually lacking in a genre known for noodling.
Aleuchatistas, The Same and the Other (Noreaster Failed Industries) Rating: 5
Imagine the out-there sound of U.S. Maple coupled with the technical virtuosity of Don Caballero and you might begin to get an idea of where Aleuchatistas are coming from. The group's press sheet highlights the extreme reactions the band has gotten from the press, from derision to praise and I have to admit I fall somewhere in between. There is no denying the instrumental prowess of this trio, however, despite their abilities The Same And The Other is confoundingly forgettable. While I was listening to the album, it was certainly hard to ignore. Guitarist Shane Perlowin and bassist Derek Poteat play like men having seizures, with jazz style runs and avant free form riffing, while drummer Sean Dail flails madly, keeping time. It certainly is an interesting listen, but when the CD was done, I had no desire to listen to it again. The Same And The Other is simply exhausting. Aleuchastistas, amid their high energy playing, never hit a groove or even offer intriguing dynamics to shake things up. The Same And The Other is a dry album, which for all the ambition, lacks the layers and texture needed to make this a recommended listen.
Nicole C. Mullen, Everyday People (Word Entertainment) Rating: 5
Good things happen when secular hip hoppers declaim the Christ on the radio, in music videos or in their award acceptance speeches, but the road is rockier for the Christian contemporary artist. Ridicule, disdain or -- worse yet -- complete disregard from music consumers of great and little faith abound. For the sake of their livelihoods as well as their proselytizing aims, many Christian songwriter and artists such as the talented Nicole C. Mullen gave their music an extreme makeover. The Nashville-based minister's fourth release Everyday People, with its well intentioned but off-the-mark cover of Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People", as well as production from Flyte Time and India Arie, sports a shinier, happier sound. "Dancin' in the Rain's" lush harps, trippy beats, and Take Six-reminiscent a capella orchestration complement the uplifting lyrics while the stunning "Without You" sounds like a love song -- and neither explicitly evokes the holy trinity. Mullen is a dead-ringer for actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, spouse of the man who scored the popular Veggie Tales cartoon series, and a former back-up singer for the quintessential contemporary Christian crossover artist Amy Grant, in addition to having written Jaci Velasquez' Christian chart topper "On My Knees". Mullen knows a lot about the music and entertainment industries, much of which she has applied to this strong offering.
Impious, Hellucinate (Metal Blade) Rating: 7
More indebted to the classic death metal sounds of '90s innovators At the Gates than the more melodic elements of classic Scandinavian metal (personified by the great In Flames), Sweden's Impious actually manage to show more creativity than At the Gates offshoot The Haunted. Although they remain relatively unknown, the band has been honing their sound for a decade now, and their fifth album, Hellucinate, their first for Metal Blade Records after toiling in obscurity for years, is the mark of a highly confident, finely-tuned outfit, matching the old-school ferocity of present day heroes Arch Enemy. Guitarists Valle Adzic and Robin Sorqvist lead the charge, with Adzic acting as the band's primary songwriter, and Sorqvist taking the lead guitar helm, shredding blinding solos. Vocalist Marten Akesson does an adequate job on the album with his lower-register howl, but it's when he whips out piercing screams, as on "Infernique", where he displays a versatility that rivals the great Rob Halford. "Show Me Your God" is a chugging, midtempo beast that rivals German greats Kreator, while the double-time "Needles Nervosa" is perfectly executed thrash. Best of the lot, and an indication that even better things are yet to come from this band, is the dark epic "Suicide Park", a brooding, orchestral, surprisingly restrained depiction of the Jonestown massacre of 1978. One of 2004's more underrated metal releases, Hellucinate deserves a listen from any discerning metal fan.
The Cocker Spaniels, Withstand the Whatnot (Artbreak Recordings) Rating: 7
I've had the pleasure of knowing many cocker spaniels in my day, each distinct in their personalities yet united by their complete unwillingness to behave in any way remotely like any other dog. In this respect, Sean Padilla has chosen the perfect moniker for his prolific musical adventures. Withstand the Whatnot is the first official CD release after a string of self-released Cocker Spaniels cassettes and CD-Rs. It features 21 songs, over a hour's worth of spastic energy that includes the miniature suite "Your Things Are In The Yard", and scene-stealing opener "The Only Black Guy at the Indie-Rock Show", which is Padilla self-identified. Padilla plays nearly everything on the record, but you'd hardly know it wasn't recorded by a live band. Recommended for depressed GBV fans, anxious Swearing At Motorists truck drivers, and anyone who can relate to the questions, "Did your pizza not come on time? / ...Well, if so, then why'd you stiff?"
The Curtains, Vehicles of Travel (Frenetic)
San Francisco's The Curtains have made a curious little record with Vehicles of Travel. The album contains 23 songs, which seems a bit overwhelming, but none of them is longer than two and a half minutes. In fact, only four reach the two-minute mark, as most of them come and go within 90 seconds. These aren't so much songs as mini-musical explorations, from guitarist Chris Cohen, keyboardist Greg Saunier (both members of Deerhoof) and drummer Andrew Maxwell (of Open City). Most songs feature some sort of noodly guitar riff from Cohen, which is then mimicked by Saunier, with Maxwell infusing some odd time signature. There is hardly anything resembling a verse, and certainly nothing resembling a chorus. It certainly keeps things from ever getting monotonous, and the trio takes what should be difficult listening and manages to make it both inviting and soothing. There aren't too many singularly memorable moments, but the album floats along quite enjoyably.
Hell's House Band, Dozen Lies (Hard Soul) Rating: 3
A collaboration led by journeyman Mark Curry that featured El Hefe (NOFX), Kenny Lyon (The Lemonheads), and Shawn Mitchell (the Fried Brothers), Hell's House Band got together in 1999 and laid down some tracks only to see the tapes go missing until recently. Now released as Dozen Lies, the album proves that not every miraculous rediscovery of lost music is cause for hallelujahs. Sounding heavily influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers both for his Anthony Kiedis delivery and intermingling of black and white music -- he even raps once, and mercifully just once - Curry is pleasant enough and would probably provide you with a good time should you see him at your local bar on a Friday night. There isn't much reason to play his album, though. Lyrically and musically, it covers drearily familiar ground, rocking vaguely and detailing interpersonal dramas like most such albums do. Points for trying, but not for much else.
Various Artists, XXX: Music From Thinking XXX (Emperor Norton) Rating: 7
It's not every day you come across a soundtrack album for a film about the making of a book. Photographer Timothy Greenfield Saunders' modest idea to shoot casual portraits of 30 adult film stars became one of 2004's most talked about coffee table books, the explicit yet casual photos accompanied by essays by Gore Vidal, Salman Rushdie, and Lou Reed. The sessions were filmed for an HBO documentary, and subsequently, this cool little companion CD featuring music from the film, as well as other bonus cuts. The producers did a fine job assembling a compilation of songs ranging from the sensual, to the teasing, to explicit, making for a terrific latenight mix. Of course, Peaches' blunt "AA XXX" (the obvious inspiration for the title of the book, film, and album) leads the way, with tracks by other notable artists popping in, such as Felix Da Housecat's "Choochie Coo" (with Princess Superstar on vocals), Goldfrapp's ace 2003 single "Train", a brilliant new track by Ladytron (the sultry rocker "Sugar"), and for good measure, the great Velvet Underground song "Here She Comes". The rest of the album's relative obscurities hold up very well, especially Tiga's fun cover of Nelly's "Hot in Herre" (with Scissor Sister Jake Shears singing), and Futon's electro reworking of the Stooges classic "I Wanna Be Your Dog". Other tracks by HLM, Timebomb, Mylo, and Virgin Tears add their own distinctive styles, blending '80s electro, funk, and ambient music effectively. Aside from a mediocre hip hop track by porn star Heather Hunter, Thinking XXX is a superb mix, and thanks to the accompanying photos, a good introduction to Greenfield's work.
David Singer & The Sweet Science, The Stars Burn Out (Engine Studios) Rating: 5
On David Singer's third full-length, he ups the ante from his previous outing, Civil Wars, but still fails to deliver a memorable disc. Singer's blend of affable FM-pop, with quirky instrumentation and time signatures, is reminiscent of Jon Brion's work, but lacks the latter's whimsical air. Instead, Singer's disc, which starts off with the lovely, waltzing "Social Studies", feels labored by the time the disc spins out thirty-six minutes later. I had previously reviewed Civil Wars for another website, and my problem then was the crowded production which buried Singer's voice. That issue persists on this release. Singer is a gifted songwriter, but he needs to give his songs more space to breathe. Tracks like "Is There Anyone Out There" and "The Rules Of The Game" would have benefited from a less-is-more approach. Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Califone) does his best behind the boards, but little can be done to rein in the many different instruments vying for attention in the mix. The Stars Burn Out is another strong effort by Singer, but he's still hampered by his own ambition.
DJ Baby Anne, Mixtress (Zone/System) Rating: 5
Baby Anne has paid her dues, having spent the last decade slowly building a reputation as one of the leading lights in the Florida breaks scene and one of the rising stars in Stateside DJ culture. And there's no doubt that its a free country, but seriously, how many male DJs do you see dressing up like bondage models on the front of their CDs? Mixtress is an aggressively competent mix, an unexceptional but not unsatisfying tour of the modern breakbeat scene circa late 2004. But that cover merely serves as a reminder -- as if we needed one -- that the electronic dance music world is still unrepentently chauvanistic. I dearly love electronic music, but there's something vitally wrong with an industry where a talented young woman needs to dress like a cartoon dominatrix in order to be heard next to hordes of equally talented but resolutely unnatractive male cohorts.
Babyland, The Finger (Mattress) Rating: 2
Babyland are purveyors of "electronic junk punk". OK, well I can certainly agree on the electronic junk part of that. This stuff sounds like every cheesy keyboard invented in the '80s was thrown into a blender with a dollop of crummy beats and just a pinch of terrible vocals, set on "high" and then allowed to spew all over the room. I just can't get over how such a lame act can take itself so seriously. I don't care if they have been in the business for 15 years; such PR quips as "Electro-pop injected with mistakes and human distortion: The future, paranoia, disappointment, rage, regret, and black hope." sounds like this album is being marketed to the Hot Topic mall rats. And perhaps it is. Whatever the case may be, Babyland needn't bother anyone anymore with their sonic approximation of a migraine headache inducing quick nausea. On the back sleeve photo for The Finger, this duo looks completely dejected; they must have known before we did that the whole attempt was pointless. Shame on them for still releasing this mess, then.
.: posted by Editor 7:45 AM