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Minmae, I'd be Scared, Were You Still Burning (Greyday Productions) Rating: 6
As the freak-folk (or alt-folk, or pseudo-folk, or whatever you want to call it) movement gains steam, there's little doubt that the very near future will bring artist upon artist trying to expand on the subgenre. Today's offering: The creatively titled I'd be Scared, Were You Still Burning, courtesy of Portland-based Minmae, which is basically a freak-folk album that allows other genres to influence it one at a time. "My Parts Will Not Rust" has a decidedly quiet country bent, "Experimental Pop Song" rocks out a little bit, and "Ecstatic Bourgeois Tendency" rides an ill-fated new-wave synth backing straight out the back end of the album. Minmae has shown a tendency toward variety for variety's sake in the past, and I'd be Scared, Were You Still Burning certainly bears a more palatable style for the masses than earlier experimental releases like Microcassette Quatrains. Even so, Minmae's refusal to be pinned down, even when working within the trappings of a single genre, is their greatest asset. While nothing on the album could be described as transcendent, there's certainly nothing wrong with "interesting" and "occasionally fascinating". This one's recommended for the mellow adventurer. [Amazon]
Casionauts, Bailemos Morimos Juntos (Omega Point) Rating: 2
Somewhere in Michigan it must still be 2001. Nothing else could account for The Casionauts and their stillborn arrival at a dancepunk revolution that's already died and gone on to stadiums. All blistering bluster, the band seems completely convinced they're the first four dudes around to attempt a half-assed, amped-up version of The Clash in the early '80's. While I can't fault their enthusiasm I can't quite fathom where it comes from unless there really is some spot near Lansing where time has indeed stood still. Yet even that total lack of any original impulse isn't the most wince-worthy aspect of this shabbily recorded demo posing as a legitimate EP. A pervasive sense of irony infects the whole mess from their name on down to the crappy keyboards that inspired it. Every cliché from prog metal and cheesy keys to disco beats and sci fi themes suggests a jeering jest as if band practice always begins with a "Wouldn't it be funny if..?" No boys, it wouldn't. Not at all.
Cut City, Cut City [EP] (Gold Standard Laboratories) Rating: 4
A surprisingly accessible offering from Omar Rodriguez's avant-core label, Cut City arrives fashionably late to the early '80s revival party with this self-titled EP. The Swedish trio runs the risk of entering a market already saturated with mechanized, stabbing spasm-rock; nonetheless, its rhythm section is ferociously elastic and singer Max Hansson's guitar ricochets glorious globules of retro reverb. "Statues" is tailor-made for armies of overexcited disco balls, while the bass-driven "The Postcard" suggests more clandestine tangos in the embrace of a club's shadowed corner. Hansson's voice isn't that far removed from the Killers' Brandon Flowers, in the sense that both affect an emotionally vacant, stuffynosed anonymity; unlike the Killers, Cut City doesn't sound hellbent for the Top 40 charts. One of the EP's strengths is that it's so short: cutting out after four songs, it escapes the destined monotony that a full-length would provide. With any luck, the band's upcoming LP (out later this year) won't run circles around this respectable, albeit familiar, formula. [Amazon]
The Morning Line, The Morning Line (Six Thumbs) Rating: 4
I was never good at math, and even worse at math rock. Suite-like song structures, indecipherable vocals, and decidedly scientific song titles: "Clever Electrician", "A-1 Rocket", "It's Chemistry Baby". I can barely balance my checkbook, guys! Still, I admire the shifts and starts in songs like "Country Judge", and I'd admire them even more if the record didn't sound like it was recorded in a tin can. To my ears, The Morning Line is not the kind of band that benefits from thin and lo-fi production values, much as I love them elsewhere. "Pico Central" features alternately squalling and cascading guitar effects, and is pretty well put together, but it ultimately suffers from poor sound quality. I never thought I'd say this in a review but someone throw some money at these guys already!
Emily Grogan, io (One Way Productions) Rating: 6
While she's probably gotten the comparison before, she'll get it again here. Emily Grogan has a lot in common with a young Melissa Etheridge as she seems to pour her slightly raspy soul into the roots rocker "Begin Again" that shifts suddenly into a second gear before settling down into this slow/fast/slow tempo. She follows the same pattern later during the moody "Face Another Day". "Girl of Opportunity" has just as much punch thanks to her chops and pop smarts. "Dank" is a bit dreamy despite the title although Grogan shows a deeper, blues side to her range. The rock tunes such as "Uranium" tends to miss the mark but the swaying "State" atones for it. The album's sleeper pick is "Blind Drunk" that is a festive party-tune you'd enjoy while creating the hangover. Grogan also isn't afraid to seek out new genres on the urban rock feeling of "DMT" that sounds like 4 Non Blondes doing nu metal. Although some songs don't work, Grogan is definitely onto something. [Amazon]
Bucket Full of Teeth, IV (Level Plane) Rating: 7
When you're listening to something from a band called Bucket Full of Teeth, it's rather certain that you're expecting something brutal. And boy, is IV brutal. Think of a less radio-friendly Dillinger Escape Plan, and you're not too far off, as brutal screaming, monstrous guitars, and constant shifts mark the sound. Even so, it's clear that on this, its fourth and final release (the first three, I, II, and III were 7" EPs), Bucket Full of Teeth is in search of something more than simply the next solid ear-bleeding riff -- short transitional tracks like the eerie "Confessions" or the sublimely beautiful "The Path" put a lovely melodic sensibility on display, one that serves to enhance the harsh bits that they surround. The lyrics are actually rather empowering as well, going for a "live for the moment and keep moving forward" approach rather than the nihilist bent that many bands of this ilk tend toward, an attitude exemplified by quotes like "Don't stop / Momentum is fleeting / And motivation is yesterday's rumor", which opens the fantastic "Comfort Made Us Passive". IV's only major downfall is its short length -- 16 minutes are barely enough time to adjust one's brain to the myriad stylistic shifts on display. Of course, that's a good enough reason to push play again. [Amazon]
Cleavers, Television Mind (Allright!) Rating: 3
A band with the name "the Cleavers" can sound one of two ways: like a punk band carving up meat, or like Wally and the Beav's whitebread folks. Along those lines, a band naming their album Television Mind can be invoking one of two things: again, punk (think the Stooges' "TV Eye" or Black Flag's "TV Party"), or, well, Wally and the Beav's world. While I'm not crying bait and switch, I was hoping for the former on both counts, but Cleavers frontman Dick Eastman delivers the latter on Television Mind. This, of course, is no crime, but Eastman and his mates -- guitarist Bobby Diamond, bassist Steve Yates, keyboardist Mike Kroell, drummer Jim Kendall and saxophonist Jim Gailloreto, Chicagoans all -- turn in a batch of bland soft pop songs that only the TV Cleavers would dig. While a few tunes show a flicker of life -- the funky "Russian Roulette", the reggae-tinged "Jungle of Love" -- most of the album is bloodless, sub-Steely Dan jazz/pop rock. Perfectly competent, but that's about it. File under: Geezer pop
Origin, Echoes of Decimation (Relapse) Rating: 3
Yes, Kansas's Origin know how to play the kind of brutal death metal that makes listeners' heads spin, and the music is performed with blinding precision. Technically challenging guitar riffs are driven by insane blastbeat drumming, and you get the usual guttural vocals, spewing the usual lyrics about doom, despair, and violence. In fact, Origin astutely follow the pattern set by the likes of Cryptopsy and Vader, but the real problem with Echoes of the Decimation is that there's no personality, and the longer the album goes, the more of a caricature it begins to resemble. The twin riffs of Paul Ryan and Clint Appelhanz are devoid of originality, chord arrangements sounding arbitrary, and vocalist James Lee fails to redeem his unoriginal vocal style by proving he has little worthwhile to say. It's a shame, because all the ingredients are there for a quality death band ("Staring From the Abyss" does show promise), save for that one crucial intangible. Anyone looking for good new death metal should seek out recent releases by Nile, Hate Eternal, and Immolation instead. [Amazon]
The Bangkok Five, 10 the Hard Way EP (Aeronaut) Rating: 6
Duck! Here comes another band of pretty, flamboyant young men who really dig their big brothers' Bowie, Gang of Four, and Cars records, hard-selling their very own glamorous, romantic tragedy. And they're from not Vegas, not NY or Glasgow, but Hollywood! Oh, my. The difference, ironically, is that the quintet actually sound like they could hold their own with the school bully. Their high-revving guitars and occasional screaming suggest that their older brothers listened to the Replacements and the Cult, too. And it's pretty cool how they don't pretend that grunge never existed, or that Stone Temple Pilots never wrote any good songs. This five-track ep comes complete with elegantly wasted single, "Dead Lights", and power ballad/anthem, "Sunk". A major label full-length hits next year; here's hoping the big guys don't ruin 'em. [Amazon]
Dixie Dirt, Pieces of the World (self-released) Rating: 8
Dixie Dirt isn't at all like the Dixie Chicks nor do they offer up dirty, sleazy Southern Rock jewels. Instead the band is very similar to a jazz-inspired Knife in the Water if fronted by Alanis Morissette judging only by the slow, dirge-like pace of the minimal, barren "So Good So Bad" which is very, very good. The horns add a definite color as well that one might not expect. The title track opens with an almost U2 guitar but never reach that anthem-ish height. Here they lead you in and have you trapped with a finely built alt. country/alternative rock gem of a number. It's rare to be hooked into a record two songs in, but I dare you not to be with this one. Think of Dixie Dirt as listening to Wilco and thinking they can one-up Tweedy and friends and this album is that. This is what they almost do on the gorgeous "Badlights" that recalls Kathleen Edwards. Edwards also comes to mind on "15th Street". Some songs are slower tunes that open with long instrumentals like "Driving" but it's easy on the ears especially given the arrangements such as the galloping "Sleep Part I" with its slight Middle Eastern, psychedelic flair. Ditto for The Cure-like "Sleep Part II". After an average "Dance Song", Dixie Dirt offer up "Dance Song" which is anything but -- another slow but terribly precious tune with harmonica and guitars and repetitive harmonies fading out. [Amazon]
Stoneage Hearts, Guilty As Sin (Alive) Rating: 7
OK, so it's true that this Australian power trio doesn't do anything that hasn't already been done by roughly one million other psych/garage bands over the past 30 years, but damned if they don't sound great doing it. On their debut, Guilty As Sin, the Stoneage Hearts -- led by longtime Stems frontman Dom Mariani -- deliver 10 originals and one cover (Creation's "Biff Bang Pow") that you'll swear were all cut some time during the LBJ administration. Opener "Eye of a Lie" is a trippy, Farfisa-drenched slice of psychedelia; "Fussy Garbos" flirts with surf rock; and "Rock 'n' Roll Boys & Rock 'n' Roll Girls" is a perfect slice of joyous Australian power pop. For those in need of a point of reference, the Hearts traverse the same territory the also-criminally underrated Boston garagesters the Lyres once trod 20 years ago. Cynics might call an album with no new ideas "derivative", but Mariani's been on the scene for 20 years and has earned the right to pay tribute to the sound he grew up listening to. Lightweight, sure, but the best garage music always is. [Amazon]
Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra with Arturo O' Farrill, Una Noche Inolvidable (Palmetto) Rating: 8
"An Unforgettable Night" is the English title of this live performance for Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. Twenty musicians, including bandleader and pianist O'Farrill and guest vocalists Herman Olivera and Claudia Acuna, contribute to the powerful genre of Latin big band music. These 12 songs, lasting almost exactly an hour, are in the tradition of Latin dance orchestras that were popular in Cuba and New York City into the '60s. The emphasis on brass and Latin percussion gives the music a driving rhythm and excitement. The presentation is a bit academic in this setting, but the groove is still here with solid arrangements. Listeners will find many variations in the beat, the tone, and the lyrics (if you understand a bit of Spanish). Prominent hand drums, from both the African and Latin traditions, give the music a unique feel, and show why this type of big band music created many unforgettable nights for the people who listened and danced to it. [Amazon]
The Visible Men, Love:30 (Leisure King) Rating: 6
Remember the swing craze of the '90s? Remember the Cherry Poppin' Daddies from the swing craze? Two of the Daddies (Dustin Lanker and Dan Schmid) have formed a new band, The Visible Men, a largely piano-driven three piece featuring excellent musicians who slow it down too often. The song "Three" (you + me + the baby) does for that number what Three Dog Night did for the number one. "Stage Fright" has a killer piano riff that recurs throughout. "In Formation" shifts through four different movements in its first minute and a half. Songs are almost always strong, but the pacing of the album nearly kills it in the second half. "Like a Loony Bird" is a brief change of pace with its prominent bass and accordion. Other than that, one down tempo number after another made me long for something to dance to. C'mon, daddio!
Emanuel Soundtrack to a Headrush (Vagrant) Rating: 3
"Listen up motherf**kers, this is the new unheard of, unspoken, so if you're down, then get down, and if not then get the fuck out!". With that salvo kicking off the group's debut full-lenth, Emanuel promises something different and thrilling for us hardcore punk listeners tired of the same old "hard" emo shit. Unfortunately, for all the posturing, Soundtrack to a Headrush is another pedestrian slog through blasé hardcore riffs coupled with poppy sing-a-long choruses. Thankfully, the band relieves listeners of the requisite ballad, but give us every other cliché in the book. Warmed over and unchallenging, Emanuel are an easy target for critics, but it's just not worth it anymore. This disc isn't even bad it's just so unbelievably boring. It's hard to write yet another review for yet another uninspired punk band that sounds like the dozens of others out there -- I've simply run out of adjectives. I'm sure Emanuel has a small legion of fans who are eating this shit up, but they're not reading this review. For everyone else, by the second sentence of this review, I'm sure you've made up your mind about checking out this disc. For any other reviewer who has listened to this disc, trust me, I feel your pain. [Amazon]
Daryl Waits, The Rustler (Paradeco) Rating: 6
This record features Daryl Waits performing dreamy, ambient indie tunes that rarely eclipse a very minimal, lo fi tone, particularly the lead number "Afamishiado". With help from Adam King on drums, Waits experiments using a distorted wall of sound for the conclusion, resembling a cross between the Velvet Undergrounds and Primal Scream. The fact it's 19 songs at less than 35 minutes means Waits doesn't mince words or music, with "First Time" and "Punk'd" perfect Lou Reed turf as he splits each song speaking and singing the lyrics. Fans of the B52s, The Aislers Set and Talking Heads would also lap up ditties such as "Freem", "Neu\" and the catchy "Hulk Hands" that sounds like Waits has mastered the art of the home demo recording. Some efforts don't measure up, especially the messy "Pillow" that tries to weave around a rudimentary melody. But Waits excels on other short but sweet ditties like "Optimum" and the lovely and somewhat rollicking "Parding, Parding". "Plump" is a bit of needless fat though as Waits sings en Francais. That's French for, er, in French.