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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
22 June 2005
Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, Nostalgia / Pain (Constellation) Rating: 6
Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, backed by musicians including Sam Shalabi and Voivod's Michael Langevin, sings with one of the most emotionally bare voices, currently recording. On her new EP Nostalgia / Pain, she stays with one emotion: hurt. She delivers magnificently, sounding at times like a postponed suicide decision, but consistency of mood on this disc means you're not going to find the sunshine way out of despair. It's a cathartic crawl through the EP's title feelings. Musically, the slow goth/noir- folk proves effective, but not as arresting as on Vajagic's 2004 debut, Stand with the Stillness of This Day. The vocals penetrate, and occasionally scare, which means Vajagic's still in that form uniquely hers. Oh, and the packaging is gorgeous -- a memorable creation from a label full of artistic designs.
Carter Little, Dare to Be Small (Lobby Door Music) Rating: 4
If I remember correctly from seeing him live, Carter Little isn't small; he's a tall gangly chap that looks and sounds (ooh-wee-ooh) like Buddy Holly, but not just like. His tenor is fluttery and bookish, and he writes sensible, carefully assembled songs. Maybe too careful. I caught a solo show a short while back that was solid if a little green, but songs like "Kill My Darling" benefited from the stark guy-with-guitar atmosphere. Here, they're overshadowed by overly tasteful and safe arrangements that have a tendency of dulling some of Little's sharper moments, like the woozy "Long Way Down" and genteel "Beauty". Then there's "Delicate", an adult-contemporary radio ready character study that doesn't quite ring true. "She's quiet tonight / And her whiskey won't work / I ask her why / But she never shows where it hurts." I can tell why the whiskey doesn't work: the song itself is no stronger than milk, and the sensitive savior shtick would make even the national hot dog eating champion queasy.
Red Rooster, Dose (Wondermore) Rating: 7
The double album is a brave idea, resulting in twice the fun or twice the horror. But what if you try a double album of the same album done twice? Well, Red Rooster give this a go here. Starting with "Hold On Tight", the first disc is straightforward, well-proven alt. country thanks to Jay Erickson, who has that roots-ish, Americana feel throughout. "Sharp Dressed Man" is a jugband-meets-blues romp that gets its groove on immediately. "Mexico Revisited" falls off the face of the album despite the best of intentions but "Blame The Devil" tries to be too smooth with Erickson's deep timbre. A great tune is the slow-building "Drive" that brings to mind the Cash Brothers or The National to some extent as Erickson talks about listening to the Stones and later on the Strokes. "San Diego Skyline" is a great tune that is Erickson basically leading alone with voice and guitar. But nothing compares to the gorgeous "Dreams", a lithe fragile piano-driven ballad sung by Charlotte Kendrick. And the follow-up "Carry Me" is excellent. The second album of the same songs is, well, much of the same, with different variations but the same tone. A good album if rather repetitive.
.: posted by Editor 7:56 AM
20 June 2005
Soilwork, Stabbing the Drama (Nuclear Blast) Rating: 7
Soilwork's third album has been mercilessly derided by many metal fans, who have accused the Swedish band of "Americanizing" their sound to cater to the metalcore crowd, but in reality, Stabbing the Drama is nowhere near as awful as some might think. After breaking onto the metal scene in a huge, huge way in 2002 with their ultra-slick, Devin Townsend-produced Natural Born Chaos, their follow-up Figure Number Five, released a year later, was an uninspired effort. Thankfully, the new record has the band close to where they were three years ago, their credibility intact. True, their sound has been, erm, simplified on some tracks (very similar to what The Haunted did a year ago), the riffs churning, instead of the usual staccato brilliance we've come to expect from Scandinavia, but it still remains true to the band's signature sound. Sven Karlsson's keyboard work is downplayed considerably, and singer Bjorn "Speed" Strid puts in a very good vocal performance, displaying great range, going from a Meshuggah-style growl to soaring, melodic lines, best exemplified by the standout tracks "Weapon of Vanity" and "Stabbing the Drama". For those who thought they'd abandoned their metal roots permanently, the band shuts all doubters up with the spectacular thrash exercise "Blind Eye Halo". No, this is far from your cookie cutter metalcore. It's the sound of a band completely unafraid to evolve.
Wesafari, Alaska (Opamp) Rating: 6
Put two guys from Anti-Flag along with some other Seattle-based musicians and you have a rather, surprisingly eclectic soundscape album. Compared to Sigur Ros Radiohead (a stretch at best) in some cases, this album's opening track "Shooting Stars" could fall in line with Kid A, a slightly electro-tinged tune that swirls and winds. The title track is more of a sparse acoustic indie song which slowly builds. The band continually offers songs that are quite textured and almost cinematic, especially the hushed "Path Of Least Resistance". The big chink in the band's armor is being unaware of when to quit as this song goes over six minutes, becoming monotonous near the homestretch. The "mainstream" song has to be the pleasing mid-tempo piano-fuelled "Whale Boy". The longer the album goes, the more it grows on you thanks to relaxed, sweet harmonies leading "Forget The Dark" along to create a larger-than-life tune. The sleeper has to be the dark and murky "L'Enfante Sauvage" which again is a quirky little melodic nugget. It ends almost as meekly as it began with "Wintersong".
The Matches, E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals (Epitaph) Rating: 5
So much of what passes for pop-punk these days are nothing more than ballads with whiny, cute, well-dressed boys crying their hearts out. The Matches (who admittedly aren't rewriting punk music as we know it) are still a welcome reprieve from the Simple Plans and Good Charlottes of the world. Their debut is thankfully devoid of the self-serious loathing that seems to fill up alternative FM stations. Delightfully goofy and positively infectious, the Matches have no problem in just having a good time. E. Von Dahl Killed The Locals not only displays the band's bouncy brand of punk rock but also boasts a knack for some occasionally killer pop hooks. "Chain Me Free" is filled to the brim with the kinds of harmonies and smart songwriting that got Weezer out of the gate on their debut. The album isn't a homerun, with several tracks swimming in the same waters as Blink-182, but there is an intelligence and defiantly humorous attitude here that shows the Matches are still finding their potential.
.: posted by Editor 8:32 AM