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Marathon, Marathon (Reignition) Rating: 7
Marathon is a group featuring former members of None More Black, De La Hoya and Spark Lights The Friction, and they have the radio-friendly Jimmy Eat World "emo" and Green Day-ish power pop/punk format down pat on "Painting By Numbers". It's an impressive, winding sort of number that slows near its final phase. However, they have plenty of tempo-changing hooks to keep you interested, including "I Don't Have a Dancing Problem" which is quite infectious. The test of any good album though is if they can maintain this high level of quality. "Some Lovely Parting Gifts" is on the mark and the bass line commencing "Don't Ask If This Is About You" is also rock solid. The intensity Marathon brings into each selection makes you believe that they are in this album for its entirety, sort of like, well, a marathon. "Gouge 'Em Out, They're Useless Anyway" is also quite fine that brings to mind a polished version of The Exies. As the band cites in the song "Where We Hide", they will these songs "tasty with sweet melodies" which they do in spades. Check out "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" which is probably the high point. "Jolly Roger" is the only cookie-cutter punk song, but generally Marathon sound like they want to be around for the long haul.
Kelli Hanson, Lullaby for an Astronaut (Bigger Than The Barn) Rating: 2
How many times, sweet Jesus? How many times? If I had a dollar for every girl-woman who saw herself as the missing link between PJ Harvey and Kate Bush, I'd have a new pair of shoes, and a decent haircut every other month, that's for sure. Lullaby For An Astronaut is musical pinball without the speed, the fun or the opportunity to grind your groin against something hard. Kelli Hanson's second solo album tries just about every trick in the game to convince you it's special, hurtling around the playfield without regard for the rules of the game. Here a blue's wail drop target, there a space-folk gate, everywhere an eclectic multiball of nonsense and pretension. Yes, Polly Jean Harvey is ever so slightly eccentric, but she's also sexy and soulful as hell. And yes, Kate Bush is completely bonkers barmy and musically all over the place, but she's also one of the most intriguing and compelling songwriters we've ever had. Newsflash for Ms Hanson: if there was ever a need for a link between Bush and Harvey, and there isn't, the vacancy would've been filled by Tori Amos long ago. And to be blunt: Amos sucks, and you're nowhere near her class. Game over. No replay. Please.
North Atlantic Explorers, Skylines (Anniedale) Rating: 5
Skylines is an album obsessed with distances, typified by the observation on the second track, "Blue Moon on the Rise": "Five miles in the rain is longer / Than 10 miles in the sunshine." At first I wondered which path the band would prefer, but now I'm certain they'd take the whole 15 regardless of the weather. North Atlantic Explorers are a band with patience. Glenn D'Cruze's massive ensemble takes over two minutes to set-up the epic opener "When My Ship Comes In". The mission, it seems, is to realize Gram Parsons' idea of "cosmic American music" literally". D'Cruze's voice warbles on the "Sweetheart" like a cowboy in a saloon eight miles high. The band wades through each piece with extreme deliberation, adding a fascinating array of tones and colors to songs that mightn't have carried such weight on their own. But the road is long, and Skylines shows a band committed to it.
Various Artists, Kittridge Records Presents: Homemade Hits Vol. 2 (Kittridge) Rating: 4
Music recorded at home, without commercial considerations, is often driven by a sense of creative freedom; if you're doing it for yourself, who do you need to please? Kittridge Records' Homemade Hits Vol. 2 celebrates that motivation for making music. These are recordings which were created at home, solely for the love of it. The feeling of the compilation is thus loose and inclusive. Indie-label rock and pop music is the focus, but styles and approaches vary -- melody and fuzz are one common denominator. Another is that the musicians truly love what they do, and would likely be doing it even if nobody else cared. There's a handful of bands who have name recognition, at least to those of us paying close attention to this sort of music -- groups like Boyracer, Sleepy Township, Rocketship. But there's also plenty of names that even the most knowledgable indie-rock nerd isn't likely to know. The compilation is filled with energy and variety, yet as a listening experience, it's somewhat of a mixed-bag. Take 27 disparate bands, and you're going to find songs you love and songs you hate. Part of the joy here, though, is being exposed to a really dizzying trip through music recorded in disparate locations, much of it at least interesting and some of it fun, powerful, and exciting. Highlights include a previously unreleased song by Busytoby (the defunct, lovely pop band that became the more rocking the Like Young), an explosive fuzz-blast/pop song from the Poison Control Center, and a catchy tune from Sweden's the State of Samuel.
Code Pie, This Habit (Flagless) Rating: 6
With Code Pie, former music critic (and PopMatters contributor) Salvatore Ciolfi finds himself on the other side of the business, but he and his five bandmates are up to the challenge. The arrangements split the focus between guitar and trumpet with cello adding atmosphere. While the band writes fine lyrics, they pay more attention to the musical side of songwriting, creating songs that build and shift, establish moods and release tension. That makes them sound like inheritors of their fellow Montreal artists at Constellations, but they've dropped the post in favor of the rock (and, on "Cement Truck", the jazz). Full of inventiveness and skill, the only thing the band lacked in creating this album was a recording budget. The production has a lo-fi edge to it that doesn't really match the songs. Let's hope they sell enough records to pay for a studio next time.
Tan Sleeve, American Blood (Cheft) Rating: 7
Tan Sleeve has that roots rock lineage all through their sound, particularly on the weaving, polished Crazy Horse-ish title track. However, they have a great sense of humor with song titles like "When Lindsay Buckingham Shaved His Beard", a tender but smart pop ballad that sounds like it came from the age of Fleetwood Mac's heyday. However, following this tone makes "Baby Took A Good Man Down" and later on "Every Time He Breaks Your Heart" too syrupy or Bread-like. Yet when they go for short, choppy tunes like "The Girls Like The Hits", they are very good indeed. Ditto for the funny acoustic pop and glowing duets on "Mr. Combover" and the XTC circa Apple Venus "Walk Me Through It". Steve Barry and Lane Steinberg create beautiful pop tunes whether it's the up-tempo party romp of "Partly Girld, Portly Boy" that brings Tom Petty doing his own incarnation of "Satisfaction" while "I'll Know It's Spring" reeks of the Rembrandts. Toss in a breezy island attempt on "Time Poor" and the dance-driven "Condoleezza Will Lead Us" with its tint of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" and you have a quirky but good album.
Stereotypes, 3 (Wishing Tree) Rating: 5
On their third album, straightforwardedly titled 3, the San Diego, CA, quartet the Stereotypes prove they love power pop and noisy garage in equal measure... it's just the reconciling of those two sounds where they run into trouble. Opener "Emily" is a bright slice of piano-bounce power pop; track two, "My New Friend", is scuffed-up garage, and the rest of the album hopscotches between the two genres. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this set-up, the effect is disorienting. What else to call the sensation of going from the subdued alt-countryesque vibe of "Til We Meet Again" to the fuzzed-out sex groove of "Need Some Action"? And ultimately, the Stereotypes are more convincing when they're in friendly power popper mode; when they get sleazy, as on "Kill, Keys, Money and Jewelry" they sound like sub-Louis XIV poseurs. Drop the schizophrenic approach, fellas, and remember: Nice guys don't always finish last.
Kiss Me Deadly, Amoureux Cosmiques (Alien8) Rating: 4
While The Unicorns' avant-pop almost made them at home amidst the various Merzbow and Massonna releases previously put out by Alien8 Recordings, Kiss Me Deadly is another affair entirely with no other prefix but "trendy" or "scene" to precede their outright and unabashed "pop". 80's influences abound here just as they do on almost any given rock radio station these days. Still, credit must be given for being a little less overt about it than most. U2 is the most obvious inspiration, with Adam Poulin aping The Edge's over-processed guitar and really bringing the Bono when he takes the mic. The star of the show though is lead singer Emily Frazier whose breathy vocals induce quick comparisons to The Sugarcubes. Altogether, it's not all that original but not quite exactly the same as what everyone else is doing either. Their challenge will be to continue differentiating themselves on into the future. Being from Montreal simply just won't cut it anymore. And I have a sneaking suspicion this is almost exactly what the next Yeah Yeah Yeahs record will sound like.
Amy Lennard, EP (Magnatune) Rating: 6
I'm struggling to put my finger on just who Amy Lennard reminds me of, but it might be a down-and-dirty Natalie Merchant circa In My Tribe, so let's pretend it is. It can be our secret. Anyway, Lennard is the proverbial simple girl who grew up on Long Island, graduated, spent 10 years in California, and moved back to her east coast roots to rock her down-and-dirty 10,000 Maniacs groove thang. This five-track EP is her debut release and it suggests she has not travelled in vain. Striking songs like "El Paso" and "I Wish It Were Mine" showcase her road-wearied yet brightly tuneful vocals and clever songwriting to their best advantage, while "Please Don't" tips its hat to the moment perennial Buzzcocks tribute band the Soup Dragons famously announced "there's always been a dance element to our music". Lennard is scheduled to release her debut album early in 2006. On this evidence, it could be worth waiting for.
Various Artists, The Dukes of Hazzard (Legacy) Rating: 4
I was seven or eight and every Friday night Bo and Luke would outsmart Roscoe and Boss Hogg. My they seemed ingenious at the time - the General Lee speeding past the dumpy cop cars. Now, like everything else, the television show has been redone to the big screen make a quick buck. And this album tries to cash in somewhat. But you'd have to be insane to buy this. The theme "Good Ol' Boys" is bastardized thanks to the Hazzard County Boys that includes the voice of Boss Hogg (Sorrell Booke). "The General Lee", thankfully performed by the late Johnny Cash, brings some credibility to this offering with a train-chugging track the signer was renowned for. The lyrics are quite thin but heck it's Johnny Cash. "Laughin' All The Way To The Bank" has Booke talking over the song when not laughing like an amicable ape. Tom Wopat (that would be Luke Duke) then covers The Band's "Cripple Creek" in what has to be the way classic tunes are whored in Branson, Missouri. Not to be one-downed, John Schneider (that would be Bo Duke) then sings "In The Driver's Seat" although this is mildly better than Wopat. After James Best (Roscoe) and Catherine Bach (Daisy Duke) sing, you just feel like you need to scream for listening to such music. Doug Kershaw adds two songs but the only saving grace is "Mama's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson and then the finale theme done properly by Jennings. Too few highlights, too much crap!