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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
04 May 2005
Edan, Beauty and the Beat (Lewis Recordings) Rating: 5
Edan is a Boston MC/producer renowned for his obsession with the distorted beats and rhymestyles of pre-digital hip-hop; as showcased on his debut Primitive Plus. On this follow-up, he attempts to wed this attitude and MCing to beats composed of psychedelic rock loops, and though the result certainly stands apart from the crowd whilst remaining an organic continuity beyond the reach of your contemporary singles-compilation-masquerading-as-hip-hop-album, the music rarely seems more than an interesting, carefully produced gimmick. As a lyricist Edan is more than competent at "wielding pens like hallucinogens", but on record his voice fails to arrest and the end result if often more akin to a disgruntled art professor trapped in a soundtrack to Ginsberg's Howl than a critical beatdown. This is only played up by the riveting return of an underground legend on "Torture Chamber", to wit: "My name is Percee P/ Every verse from me/ Is murder in the first degree/ Disperse or flee." More importantly, for all his verbal dexterity and righteous respect for the forefathers of both rap ("Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme", a New York roll call) and rock ("Rock and Roll", rife with riffs on group names), Edan only comes close to discussing his own feelings once, on "Smile", and as psychedelic means "soul revealing" the failure of subdued rock backing to gel with braggadocio and random word association should come as no real surprise. Edan's dedication to the past is commendable; unfortunately he'll have to do a better job of embodying its attractions than this if he wishes to avoid being left stranded there by a wider audience.
Shout Out Louds, Very Loud EP (Captiol/Bud Fox) Rating: 9
This Swedish band first caught my attention as an opening act recently for The Futureheads. But they will catch everyone's attention with this pleasing, infectious and fantastic 13 minutes of blissful sound. Coming off as if they were fed bands like The Waterboys and Sons & Daughters, the opening title track is a roots-meets-rock barnburner that continues to soar throughout. The accent is a bit thick in some parts, but it only adds to the luster of the band. "You see I always screw it up someway/ But this is why this love can stay," lead singer Adam says before the tune's Celtic-tinged homestretch kicks in. "But Then Again No" is lighter and somewhat softer, recalling an early lullaby by The Cure. The dual harmonies and music box-like keyboards make it very appealing and dreamy. From there it goes into a vast and majestic rock arrangement that continually expands. The last of the trio is the electro-acoustic "Wish I Was Dead Pt. 2" which again starts slow but keeps the momentum throughout. This is a teaser of their upcoming debut set for May and they will also be at Coachella. Seek this album before Spin includes them in one of their annual 15 "2005 Bands to Watch" issues.
Meghan Hayes, Go and Give the Guard a Break (Cranky Heartburn) Rating: 5
There's exceptional intelligence burrowed beneath singer-songwriter Meghan Hayes's commonplace (and sometimes pedestrian) pop. On her sophomore release Go and Give the Guard a Break, Hayes offers the occasional glimpse of a songwriter capable of sharp introspection and character examination. "I'm Not Leaving", "Desert", and "Three O'Clock" all manage to conquer their pale, inoffensive settings with vivid wordplay, metaphor, and melody -- resting somewhere between the literacy of Aimee Mann and the mass market sheen of Sarah McLachlan. But the entire record is quickly overcome by its squeaky clean, sterile production; while it's not supposed to obscure Hayes's songs (which are the real focal point here), it doesn't do much in the way of complementing them. When Hayes makes a break for more adventurous terrain (as in the rocking "Voice Like Mine"), the results smack of unfamiliarity. It would be interesting to see what kinds of pictures Hayes would paint with a darker palette.
Piers Whyte, Piers Whyte (Ache) Rating: 5
Piers Whyte has this traditional musical side to him, but he buries it in the drone, wash, click, blip, and squonch of his electronic majority. He knows when to release that standard musicality on his self-titled album, though, letting it out for striking moments like the end of "Winter '03", when the buzzy mechanics smoothly coalesces into a moving chord. But Whyte's not here to move you emotionally or physically; instead, he offers up a challenge to the mind and ears. He rejects dissonance in favor of unusual assemblages of the normal avant sounds. Whether click or static, Whyte's concoctions are more listenable and accessible than those of many of his peers. At the same time, he breaks little ground. It's a craftsman's album, and whiles it's interesting, it's not fully developed. It does offer a partially open door to a style that's too often obscurantist in nature, welcoming you in with just enough clarity to make a point of the clutter.
No-Fi Soul Rebellion, Lambs to the Slaughter (Wantage) Rating: 5
The goal of Mark Heimer's No-Fi Soul Rebellion project is to prove that rock and roll can be made with the use of pre-recorded tracks. Although interesting, this is not exactly a novel concept, Timbuk3, like No-Fi Soul Rebellion a husband-and-wife band, experimented with an all boom box rhythm section two decades ago. No-Fi Soul Rebellion (which is neither soulful or rebellious, although quite no-fi) takes the concept to the extreme, by having nearly all of the music pre-recorded on a MP3 player. The results should be more compelling than Lambs to the Slaughter, however, as the songs never match the inventiveness of the concept. Even though the music doesn't sound as gimmicky as one would think, and Heimer's vocals recall the faux-funk of Beck's underrated Midnite Vultures, but the songs never really catch fire. "Beautiful & Hard" is a great combination of lusty dance-rock and pedal-to-the-metal rock and roll fury, but nothing else quite clicks on this EP. No-Fi Soul Rebellion has an interesting enough sound to be worthy of future notice, but the band is going to have to get more notable material to prove itself more than an interesting concept.
Pro Forma, Pro Forma (Tsk! Tsk!) Rating: 6
Pro Forma's self-titled EP is like one of those beautiful dreams that cause you to lament the reality into which you awaken. It is the story of a Glasgow trio with the power to fuse German industrial techno and post-punk into highly dynamic and accessible tracks of scintillating synth tones and insatiable hooks. In a tragic act of hubris, the group loses the keyboard, vocals, drums, and synth programming skills of their very own Paul Thompson to hip up-and-comers Franz Ferdinand in 2002, leaving original members Simon and Victoria Henderson to eek out a living posting MP3s on their website. This short collection of material from their original lineup may be called germinal if not seminal, a glimpse of what might have become a truly great neo-post-punk band to rival the likes of the Futureheads, but one that is now frozen in a time when they were clearly lost in nostalgia for the noise of Madchester. The tracks are highly derivative, rarely taking any brilliant creative leaps beyond the electronic chatter and monotonous chants characteristic of Joy Division or Einsturzende Neubauten, but their keen grasp of the essence of their influences suggests evidence of unrealized potential, and makes for a solid artistic statement.
The Murdocks, Surrenderender (Surprise Truck Entertainment) Rating: 7
The Murdocks have a lot to offer on this album, albeit being a lo-fi kind of offering. With lead singer Franklin Morris, songs such as "Saddest Star" take a while to get into. But once you find the groove over his screaming and wailing warble, the tune takes hold in a safe but infectious manner. Definitely dominating is "Horsegore" with more wailing and a short, punishing garage rock sound as Morris implores the person in the tune to shut up! "Dance The Vomit Shakes" is a mid-tempo nugget that is priceless power pop while "Moody Mirror" is a rave-up in the vein of a punchy version of The Strokes. Fans of Tommy Stinson might also enjoy the sullen "Get Your Guns". The tend to lose some oomph the longer the album goes, especially with the pedestrian-like rock of "Da Da" despite the blood-curdling repetition of the title in the conclusion. "My Secret Purpose" is the clunker on the album, a downbeat and rather slow tune that tries to right itself with guitars later on. "Death of a French Whore" atones for this with its Casablancas-esque delivery and strong vibe.
Juan Maclean, I Robot/Less Than Human (DFA) Rating: 7
Juan Maclean made a name for himself with a series of brilliant singles over the past few years, highlighted by the ace "Give Me Every Little Thing". His talent was not lost on the great DFA label, who included three of his songs on 2004's fantastic DFA Compilation #2, and have just released two of those tracks on a special 10" vinyl EP. "I Robot" starts off as a well-done homage to Kraftwerk's "Autobahn", its persistent electro beats, snappy primary synth melody, and undulating bassline offset by some effective doses of acid-laced synths. In contrast to the jittery, unsettling claustrophobia of "I Robot", "Less Than Human" is much more upbeat, an enjoyable blend of vintage electro and stuttering, Aphex Twin-style beats. Juan Maclean's debut full-length album is due out this coming summer, and if the music is as solid as these two tracks are (they're not appearing on the album, apparently), then electro fans have plenty to get excited about.
Arms of Kismet, Eponymous (Wampus Multimedia) Rating: 6
The fiction writer turned singer-songwriter is a rather interesting phenomenon. With successful cases like Leonard Cohen or John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, their literary chops bring storytelling and a sense of cultured class to otherwise typical confessional fare. Mark Doyon, Arms of Kismet's frontman, is also a card-carrying member of that club. Although not quite in their league, his deviation arrangement-wise into mellow lap-rock instead of typical four-chord guitar fingerpicking is a refreshing one. Pleasant melodies in the way of noise pop, quirky arrangements and a general lack of pretension makes Eponymous a solid effort through and through. However, I would like more of Doyon's ability to spin a yarn to be more tangible in the proceedings. As it stands, Arms of Kismet's debut makes good chill-out music, though sadly, nothing more.
These Enzymes, Henry (Doghouse) Rating: 4
I don't particularly like the All-American Rejects or Taking Back Sunday, but when I heard that These Enzymes were made up of members of both, I was excited. I hoped that These Enzymes would exercise the secret metal demons hiding inside the members of these two unbelievably average bands. The weird artwork, that features an illustration of an army of rabid rabbits, kept my hopes alive as did the RIYL listing on the band's one sheet that included Converge and the Dillinger Escape Plan. How could I have been so naive? The five song Henry EP merely cops moves from the former bands, but offers none of the innovation or even energy. Yes, you will find competent riffing and blood curdling screams aplenty, but These Enyzmes offer little more to make this worth listening to. Henry is like visiting the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas. It looks the same, it might even feel the same, but something doesn't feel quite right. If These Enzymes affirm anything, it's that the members of the All-American Rejects and Taking Back Sunday can play two different genres with staggeringly dull competency.
Casey Abrams, Like a Mirror (Wampus Multimedia) Rating: 7
Singer-songwriter Casey Abrams's latest album is titled Like a Mirror, and as the title suggests, the songs reflect what's behind Abrams -- in this case, an impeccable knowledge of American music idioms. His influences run the gamut of Americana, from dust bowl folk to dirty southern blues to 1970s folk-rock; heck, he even throws in some ragtime because...well, why not if you're that good? Though based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts (is there a more un-bluesy place?), Abrams should be given honorary Southern citizenship. In "We Don't Care How You Do It Up North," he declares "We don't care how you do it out west / I find that way of life a little hard to digest / You can keep your protein shakes / Your tofu and your earthquakes". Skynyrd couldn't have said it better. However, the album's best -- and most eerie -- moment, comes in album-opener Twelve-Bar Blues, when Abrams beautifully picks the guitar and, in a wholesome voice reminiscent of James Taylor, sings: "Lock the guns up tonight / Tell the sheriff to wait by the phone / Tonight the blood will flow like wine / If I find her on the streets alone". Take that, William Faulkner.
Bourbon Princess, Dark of Days (Accurate/High and Dry) Rating: 5
Although the band didn't name itself after the liquor, I'm going to take some listener's license and say it works better that way. Rarely is a band so aptly named as Bourbon Princess -- it entirely embodies their sound. All boozy swagger of baritone sax and low end bass grumbling, the music echoes of late-night drink swilling and pounding hangovers. It actually sounds like rising smoke from an ash tray and low hanging florescent lights over pool tables and though the band hails from Boston, the music is the sound of desolate bars on long midnight highways. You get the picture. Bass player, singer, songwriter Monique Ortiz lets her bass lines carry the melody of the songs while saxophones dance behind her. There is a distinct blues and jazz influence, but much darker and hook friendly than music typically associated with the genre. For all of its swagger Dark of Days isn't without fault. Too much low end leaves some of the melodies flat, despite the flowing saxophone, causing some monotony through the middle of the album. However, Dark of Days definitely finds Ortiz continuing to broaden her sound and add depth to her songwriting.
The Main Drag, Simmer in Your Hotseat (Endless Recordings) Rating: 7
The Main Drag is the brainchild of singer-guitarist Adam Arrigo and violinist Matt Levitt. And while Sloan never used a violin, this band seems to be greatly influenced by pop bands that are similar with richer, more textured and orchestral groups for epic-ish tunes like "North Shore, Music Therapist" and the pretty "Admit One". "Broken Circles" is rock-oriented with some emo flourishes and fleeting catchy moments. The sugar-coated "Tunnel Lights" sounds as if it came directly from the Odds songbook. There are tamer moments though, with the sweet harmonies driving the Simon and Garfunkel-like "Tax Season" with its acoustic base. The highlight would be the pristine and glimmering "Withhold" that shifts from lush to mainstream pop and back again effortlessly. The only average song is the lazy acoustic summer style behind the aptly titled "Disappointed". Fortunately "I'll Drink to That" is a fine closer that brings to mind Michael Penn or the late Elliott Smith.
.: posted by Editor 6:39 PM