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Mutant Radio, Cash N Burn (Copy Cats Media) Rating: 5
Mutant Radio is one of the few bands that remember that rap-metal predates Limp Bizkit, one of the bands that know that Run-DMC and Rick Rubin combined to produce the first and best rap-metal tracks way back when. Mutant Radio's successful blend of rock, hip-hop, funk, and about a half-dozen other influences does not come close to untouchable anthems like "Rockbox" or "King of Rock" but it is a better example of musical hybrids than "Nookie" or that Jay-Z/Linkin Park fiasco. It helps that Mutant Radio frontman Cleaven R. Creech is adept at both rapping and singing (he sings a little bit like Anthony Kiedis, in fact). It also helps that the band understands that its part of the arrangement rather than always the main focus, and it slips in and out of the mix, never overwhelming the rap portions of the songs. What works against Mutant Radio is that while the band keeps a perfect balance between its rap influences and its rock influences, it doesn't seem to do anything particularly memorable. It's like a mediocre rock band and a mediocre rap outfit joined together in order to try to spur their creativity. There are no low lights on Cash N Burn, but there is nothing like a highlight excepting perhaps the straight-up Chilli Peppers homage "Three Feet from Gold". Still, it's just notable that there's finally a rap-metal album out there that won't embarrass anybody over the age of 25.
Various Artists, Warped Tour 2005 Compilation (Side One Dummy) Rating: 6
Punk fans might constantly complain about the over-commercialization of the Vans Warped Tour and the growing number of emo and screamo bands who appear on the bill, but time and again, the annual traveling punk day-camp always gives the kids incredible value for their bucks. This year's companion CD continues along the same line; for a dirt-cheap price, you get two discs jam-packed with 50 different bands, and aside from token appearances by The Offspring, MXPX, Flogging Molly, and Pennywise, the collection focuses on the lesser-known bands (after all, My Chemical Romance doesn't exactly need any more publicity). With any compilation like this one, it's often hit or miss, but the good tends to outweigh the crappy here. Atreyu's music might be more metal than the band might want to admit, but "Bleeding Mascara" is a fine example of their blend of screamo rough/clean vocals and old fashioned European metal. Veterans Millencolin deliver on the workmanlike "Ray", and Fallout Boy contribute a slice of their inoffensive kiddie punk, while Canadian buzz band Bedouin Soundclash artfully combine reggae and Afro-pop on the lively, summery "Gyasi Went Home". Youth Group's moody "Skeleton Jar" offers a respite from the emo sound-alikes, while Go Betty Go and Tsunami Bomb give the compilation with some badly-needed female input (seriously, we need more ladies on this tour). A Wilhelm Scream win the prize for best song title, with their "Me vs. Morrissey in the Pretentious Contest (The Ladder Match)", but sadly, the song itself, an empty NOFX retread, lacks any wit whatsoever. Gogol Bordello's gypsy-meets-punk "Start Wearing Purple" will either crack listeners up or completely clear the room, while Gym Class Heroes cap off the set in fun fashion with their tongue-in-cheek, band name-dropping "Taxi Driver". There's something for everyone here, and whether you want a good souvenir of this year's tour, or an introduction to the current punk/emo/whatever scene, this collection does the job nicely.
The January Taxi, Keep Quiet, They Might Hear Us (Vacant Cage) Rating: 7
This Arizona trio has been around 10 years, but they still can't seem to get any huge breaks. This album's re-release might break that string though as it's smart, well crafted punk rock in the vein of Green Day or a maturing Sum 41, especially during "The Ashtray Parade" and the melodic, deliberate "Star Light the Sun" and the pretty "Where It Was". Guitarists Joshua Taylor and Brandon B weave nice riffs around each other throughout with an airtight rhythm section fuelling each track. After a bland "The Hello's", the group redeem themselves with the dreamy, epic-feeling "Jome" perfect for Sunday afternoon strolls in the autumn. One huge advantage with this album is that the band never goes over-the-top, just rely on their instincts to carefully take the songs home. "This Impossible Dream" is another high moments. Refreshingly charming!
fivesixsixfive, America's Idle (self-released) Rating: 3
America's Idle is an album that defies easy categorization. Normally, this would be a good thing, but in the case of this album, the closest genre-bending approximation I can come up with to the style of music they play is "muzaktronica". fivesixsixfive creates electronic music for hot, lazy summer days, often incorporating live drums, saxophones, and guitars. The mix of instruments is potentially volatile; unfortunately, the execution is like easy-listening jazz with a vaguely hip-hop backbeat, custom-made for the giant supermarket down the street. A few of the tracks have vocals. They don't say much of anything, and they're generally sung in a pitch-challenged everyman tone. In fact, the only track that progresses with any sort of urgency is the military-snare flavored "Battlefield of a Moment", whose slowly-picked guitars bring on feelings of aborted epic-rock power balladry, not to mention that they back the only droned vocals on the entire album that work. Huzzah! Unfortunately, the 35-ish minutes that surround those six simply reek of "What's the point?" America's Idle has such an evocative, challenging pun of a title -- you'd think they could have backed it up with some substance. Coming soon to a Piggly Wiggly near you.
The Mormons, Statement of No Statement (Nickel and Dime) Rating: 5
Co-founding a boutique reissue label in 1994 called Infinite Zero, Henry Rollins and Rick Rubin set about re-releasing most of the classic Devo discography. If the very essence of every icon in that endeavor could be packaged up and put on sale at a suburban shopping center, it would offer an illustrative example of what to expect from Statement of No Statement. While they can't quite completely distance themselves from their pop punk peers, The Mormons still manage to invoke a number of reputable influences from Mothersburg to Rollins Band and even Misson of Burma. It's still not the most substantial serving of punk rock, but amidst its brethren it proves heavily fortified; essentially this is the mall-punk version of a vitamin injected candy bar. One could definitely do worse for what they are, but The Mormons should never supplant their eminently superior predecessors.