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Bastro, Sing the Troubled Beast/ Diablo Guapo (Drag City/Caroline) Rating: 6
The birth of post-rock occurred during a rather complicated succession of bands, one that can best be described in the familiar language of the King James Bible: Lo, first there was Squirrel Bait, and Squirrel Bait begat Bastro which begat Gastr del Sol and Tortoise, and, lo, also did Squirrel Bait begat Slint who begat everybody. Somewhere along the path that lead him to the surreal yet peaceful experimentation of Gastr del Sol, David Grubbs took the hardcore sound he and Brian McMahon had more or least mastered with Squirrel Bait and made it just a little colder, a little tighter, and a little more boundary-defying. Although future Tortoise founder John McEntire plays drums for the band, Bastro is still firmly entrenched in the world of hardcore, as this collection of their two full-length albums proves. Certainly Tortoise fans would be relatively disappointed with how loud and definitively Rock these songs are, but this is far from a standard hardcore collection. Bastro sometimes approaches the dense sounds of Big Black, other times the experimental freedom of Sonic Youth, and, on its most anthemic moments, it seems to mirror the Pixies at their most abrasive. Sing the Troubled Beast / Diablo Guapo is a snapshot of the period when the hardcore scene, like the original punk scene before it, began to evolve into something stranger and more intellectual. Standard thrashers devolve into precise, King Crimson-style riffing, while anguished vocals are replaced by spooky deadpan narration. This is the sound of restless potential energy, which, in some respects, is more fascinating than the band members' more fully formed projects. There are no hidden gems in this album, despite the uniform consistency of material, but this reissue provides a revealing look at the moment when hardcore was fading away but the concept of "indie rock" was still to come. [Amazon]
The Black Spoons, My Dear Radium (Particle Music) Rating: 6
Brooklyn's Black Spoons have all their ducks lined up on My Dear Radium, and they commence popping said duckies cold from the get go. Songs like "Marie Curie" and "The Pleasure of Sin Without Sin" are hook-filled and full of kinetic energy. Lead singer/guitarist Tom Sean sounds impassioned, rather than disinterested on "Password" when he declares "I pledge my time and space to you," selling the drama before slipping down to a croon. All three Spoons are well-educated fellows, but the evident smarts coexist well with the rock, for the most part. Self-consciousness creeps in to the delicate "Aristotle", making it ring a little hollow. But this is a young trio that will only grow tighter and more comfortable in its skin in the future. My Dear Radium is a fine start. [Amazon]
Randy Kaplan, Perfect Gentleman (Yellow Thing Records and Books) Rating: 6
Randy Kaplan sounds like a fun guy to have at parties, entertaining guests with his humorous tales of life, love, and interesting characters. He takes a simple approach to psychological, esthetic, social, historical and political problems by turning them into stories. Part cabaret, part folk, part lo-fi inventiveness, Kaplan strums his guitar and provides beat samples from cheap toy organs to accent his narratives about lost girlfriends, bad behavior, the state of the world, useless desires, and such. Kaplan ventures into the surreal, as he discusses Edith Wharton's love for Alexander Hamilton or a woman who won't get off her cell phone, even when she's on the toilet. He pines for Bernadette Peters although he knows he has problems maintaining a relationship with women older than himself, wonders if the Biblical Eve was a hermaphrodite and pines for the Garden of Eden. If Kaplan's topics seem scattered, they are all united through the narrator's consciousness. He's having a good time letting his imagination run wild and invites you to join him. He may not be profound, but he is fun. [CD Baby]
Adie Grey, ...How to Find a Rainbow (Hey Baby! Music) Rating: 6
Adie Grey is a collage of country, folk, pop and roots, but her voice is front and centre on the lovely, mid-tempo, radio-friendly "Like A Couple Of Kids In Love" and later on during "I Know He Loves Me" and the 10,000 Maniacs-ish "The Sound Of My Own Voice". Having performed with Pam Tillis and Jo-El Sonnier among others, Grey is consistently different with a blues-jazz approach on the honky-tonk "An Old Man's Darlin'". "Volver, Volver" is a Spanish stretch though with average results at best. Ditto for "Mr. Armstrong Was Right" which seems to walk down the road of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World". Faring better is the folksy-meets-mountain format of "The Ballad Of Black Charlie" with its mandolin touches. Diversity is the theme here, but the country-leaning tunes tend to be her best, especially "Forget About You". [Amazon]
Plane, Hello More (Self-Released) Rating: 7
For about 12 minutes, Plane's Hello More promises the sort of invention and attention to detail that prompts knee-jerk reactions of NEXT BIG THING, but unfortunately can't sustain the momentum that those opening minutes set forth. Plane is the project of one Edgars Legzdins, joined on this release by guitarist Ed Anderson, and the music is a combination of synth-inflected lo-fi indie rock and really, really obvious drum machines. For all the melodic songwriting and pop aspirations, it's those drum machines that define Plane's sound, giving it an icy detachment that's altogether odd when juxtaposed with the organic, flawed, inherently human sound of the guitars and vocals. After a quick, atmospheric intro, "Western Avenue" takes its place as a fantastic, multi-layered slow burn, and "Heart and Soul" contains the best set of xylophone-sounding synth lines since "Hey Ya". Everything after "Heart and Soul" is less developed and less lovely, juxtaposing undercooked downtrodden Brit-rock with sonic experiments ranging from answering machine messages to ventures into Animal Collective-esque space-folk. The unclassifiable nature of the album as a whole is refreshing, and you certainly can't beat the price of a free download -- still, the strength of those first twelve minutes can't help but diminish any achievement the rest of the album might achieve.
Colleen Coadic, You Feel This Good (12 Records) Rating: 5
On the one hand, you could listen to Colleen Coadic and summarily dismiss her as a second-rate Ani DiFranco protégé -- and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong. But there's enough evidence on You Feel This Good, the Alaskan singer-songwriter's fifth LP, to distinguish her as a more-than-competent record-maker of her own right. The album includes 12 agile power pop songs tinged with Middle Eastern influences. Produced by keyboardist/bassist Sean Cobb, the sound is sonically clean and places the emphasis where it should -- Coadic's potent voice, which recalls Alanis Morissette and, when she reaches the upper octaves, Laura Nyro (though Coadic's songs aren't anywhere as complex as Nyro's). Coadic is an observant lyricist, and generally avoids succumbing to superficial "girl power" sentiments (notable exception being "Shut off the World", where she asserts that "I matter, I am beautiful"). The otherwise wonderful "There's a Hole" is prefaced by a message her grandmother leaves on her answering machine asking that Colleen not call her again. The propulsive song is memorable enough for its lyrical depth and beautifully-arranged vocals that she doesn't need to rely on such gimmicks to drive the point home. Coadic begins running out of ideas toward the end, relying more on vocal acrobatics than distinctive hooks, but by that point, her undeniable talent will already have won you over. [Amazon]
Hedaya, This Is Where I Keep It (Clever Bedsit) Rating: 1
I was hoping this disc's namesake had something to do with the actor Dan Hedaya, but I knew deep down it wouldn't. I was right. No, I didn't think it would be Dan, just was hoping it might be quirky like him. Oh well. Instead what we have here is some guy named Simon Kean moping about his bedroom and trying to act all gloomy, tossing in semi-industrial sound effects over his boring music. Slow guitars, slow singing, slow everything is what's going on here along with some annoying rattle-trap percussion. Oh, but life is bad, and made even worse by listening to this completely disposable disc. Any CD that contains a track called "Token Fuck Off Song" is to be avoided at sight. Any CD that also includes a song called "A Split Mind" that begins with the line "I heard a noise today oh boy" should be taken out back and put out of its misery. Simon Kean may be sincerely miserable, but I think it's all a pose. Hedaya is one miserable listen all around, however.
Knacker, Picture Show (Landed) Rating: 4
The first song on Picture Show, "That's That", is a hell of a tune. It sounds as if Knacker might be gearing up to be another Mooney Suzuki, but unfortunately that's not the case. They do like the bang-bang drum patterns and power chords, though. But unlike The Mooney Suzuki, these guys are too polished for their own good, favoring an overall Beatlesque sound, which is fine and all, but ultimately causes the disc to sound like so many others in the same camp. At times these guys also sound a bit like the old band The Odds, but overall this is just play-it-safe pop that sounds good decent while you're cleaning the house, but won't get you too excited otherwise. A real shame, as these guys definitely have some promise. If they'd just dirty up a bit and kill some of the production, they may just have what it takes to make a mark.
Lola Dutronic, The World of Lola Dutronic (Bongo Beat) Rating: 3
The idea of an album devoted to recreating the classic sounds of sixties European pop through the prism of modern electronic music is perhaps not a bad one, but it needs a far superior execution than is presented here. Just listen to the trip-hop treatment that "To Sir With Love" receives: what should be a languid and stirring ballad becomes a slog, with lazy, cursory beats and uninspired vocals. Studio maestro Richard Citreon and vocalist Frankie Hart seem quite simply have bitten off more than they can chew, mistaking the intense languor of artists like Lulu and Brigitte Bardot (represented by a cover of "La Fin de L'Ete") with sleepiness. The most egregious example of this enervating trend is their treatment of Katrina and the Waves' effervescent "Walking on Sunshine", which merely sounds tired. [Amazon]
Your Team Ring, In Service of the Villain, (Perhaps Transparent Recordings) Rating: 5
This is the kind of album you can easily imagine having emerged during the late '60s: you have pastoral acoustic folk overlaid with shambolic acid rock and trippy, allusion-heavy lyrics, all melted together to form a psychedelic stew. Whether or not you like this album will probably depend on how much you love the old Nuggets collections, and how much tolerance you have for the Coral's trippy folk pastiche. The occasional bits of modern technology which intrude create an interesting, slightly disassociated effect: the hip-hop beat on "Heaven is Bending" brings to mind nothing so much as a particularly inspired mash-up record. This is a decent evocation of one of the particularly odd eras in pop history, sure to appeal to anyone who thinks that Pink Floyd jumped the shark when Syd Barret went crazy. [Amazon]
The Child Who Was a Keyhole, In the Faxed Atmosphere (Eden's Watchtower)
In the Faxed Atmosphere seems like a rather interesting effort. Apparently, judging from the packaging, designer hipster plush toys get together to play ironic hipster music in some imaginary psychedelic music-verse where inanimate objects comes alive. The Pavement-lite flourishes with Flaming Lips lyrics of magical realism correspond with beautiful album art that looks like it came out from the pages of Tokion. The album starts off strongly with "Through the Middle of a Tree" and "Micha in the Faxed Atmosphere", a New Order meet alt-country track and southern rock meets twee meet soul oddity respectively. However, the interest wanes as the ladled-on kookiness gets a tad repetitive, suffering from a lack of sheer focus and coherence as the album wears on. Sporadic good ideas throughout the album hold some promise for future releases, provided there is an injection of tight production in the proceedings. Having said that, get this now if you badly need to fulfil!l your fantasies of Mumbleboy jamming with the Kubrick clan and Gloomy Bear in a rock band molded from plastic.