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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
29 September 2005
The Muggs, The Muggs (Times Beach) Rating: 8
The Muggs' debut album is a great one. If a band can find that signature classic rock sound of the late '60s and '70s without coming off as too self-serving, then they are on the right track. "Need Ya Baby" resembles Bon Scott trying to pull off Hendrix with Angus Young drawing on everything he has. Big and brawny without being too ballsy, the tune is a great opener. Guitarist Danny Methric and bassist Tony DeNardo is basically one person in this very polished trio. This brand of Southern fried rock the bands like The Black Crowes perfected is heard on the crunchy, meaty "Gonna Need My Help" that The Muggs nail! How a band comes off like a classic rock trio with one album is beyond me, but this is what you have here. The chugging "Rollin' B-Side Blues" is another gem that they weave their way through. And "Monster", driven by the powerful, Moon-like drum effort, shines from start to finish. They just can't do anything wrong. Mississippi Delta by way of Michigan that isn't Jack White? Check out the intro to the classic rock-boogie feel of "Should've Learned My Lesson". More boogie? "White Boy Blues" is a fantastic rave-up. "Said and Done" opens a bit like Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" before delivering more blues rock manna. "If You Please" reverts to British blues rock a la The Yardbyrds. An album that makes you think what the band's fifth album will be like!
Paul Kanter/Jefferson Starship, Blows Against the Empire (Epic/Legacy) Rating: 5
It's reputation laying somewhere in-between "lost classic" and "self-indulgent mess", Blows Against the Empire, the first recording credited to Jefferson Starship is something of an odd duck in the Jeffersonian catalogue. After Jefferson Airplane's meltdown, Paul Kanter recruited seemingly everyone then living in San Francisco to help him out with an ambitious science fiction epic, using the name Jefferson Starship in a (successful) attempt to transform what was a band name into a franchise. Reflecting the shift from the utopian ideals of the '60s to the cynicism of the '70s, the album is not about peace on Earth, but rather a
complete abandonment of it, with all the hippies and the "crazies" hijacking a spaceship and leaving in hopes of finding a better world elsewhere. The music, accordingly, strikes a strange balance between pastoral ballads and free-form space rock, with epic songs sandwiched between short connecting passages. Blows Against the Empire, despite being a concept album, is anything but cohesive as it scatters moments of melodic perfection in the middle of interminable jams and convoluted story-songs. In essence, it
reflects the chaotic nature of the San Francisco scene at that time, undergoing its slow decline: unfocused and meandering. There are, however, some fine moments, particularly Grace Slick's gorgeous vocal contributions (the short and haunting "Sunrise" may be her finest moment as a singer) and the David Crosby/Paul Kanter stunner "Have You Seen the Stars Tonight", which suggest that this initial run of the Jefferson Starship brand had the potential to be a much more interesting band than the AOR-juggernaut that it became.
Opiate for the Masses, The Spore (Warcon) Rating: 6
I don't know if I've ever seen song titles on a rock album as self-aware as these. "Introduction", "The End", "Intermission", and "Interlude #2" all appear on Opiate for the Masses' debut full-length, The Spore -- "Introduction" and "The End" are even proper songs! Opiate for the Masses sounds like a band who got the inspiration for their band name from Tool at least as much as they did Karl Marx. They borrow heavily from Tool, in fact, with a bass-heavy hard rock sound and vocals that croon at least as well as they scream. Such comparisons are inevitable (as well as those with Static-X and other things "nu"), but aren't necessarily bad things. Sure, there's all of the requisite screaming and angst and whatnot, but as the album progresses, development is heard via the softening of some elements of the band's sound. Rather than turning the music into a limp approximation of metal, those slow bits expand the aural spectrum of the music they inhabit, emphasizing the power of the loud bits while betraying a healthy pop sensibility. It's this softening that allows the drum 'n bass-tinged "The End" to be an utterly explosive finish, and puts Opiate for the Masses ahead of much of the slowly dwindling nu-crowd. In other words, don't be surprised if these guys blow up with their next album and "OftM is teh hOTneSS" becomes a mantra of teen message boards everywhere.
Sci-Fi Lovestory, From the Planet's Surface (Lovestory) Rating: 6
Despite the futuristic implications of the band's name, Sci-Fi Lovestory's music is a pretty straightforward form of guitar-fueled power pop. With an acknowledged debt to Superdrag, strong hints of Fountains of Wayne without the quirky wit, and the Replacements without the sharp edges, the songs have a familiar feel without necessarily leaving a deep impression. All the same, there's a strong sense of melody in these tracks, led by Bennett Hirschorn's casual but assured vocals and the occasional Wilson-esque harmony. Hirschorn proves himself to be an able songwriter, and tracks like "Fog", "Home", "Spill", and "Telemetry" are all catchy highlights, showing a promise for future output, but none grabs you just so. It will take a little more emphasis on solid and memorable hooks to stand out in a very self-similar genre, but Sci-Fi Lovestory is one to watch out for in the future.
.: posted by Editor 7:37 AM
28 September 2005
ěkapi, Where's the Beef? (Inflatabl Labl) Rating: 5
Welcome to more fun from the world of found sound! ěkapi (real name: Filippo Paolini) is obviously very fond of his sampler and his computer, and he's put together no less than 23 tracks (in under 50 minutes) of playful sampled oddness. The CD's called Where's the Beef?, and its stylized album art features a cartoon hand sticking out of a bowl of soup. The music largely matches the aesthetic of the title and art, using whatever sounds ěkapi has found to put together something that sounds like a cross between big band and soundtrack music on an occasionally skipping record player. The result is something that actually sounds like music rather than performance art pastiche, a rarity in the genre. Unfortunately, it has a rather short attention span, alternating throughout the album between tracks over three minutes and tracks that hover closer to one minute, and barely bothering to develop a single idea even over the longer tracks. The "intro" features the 20th Century Fox theme as played by a polka band, there's an ornery sheep, and even a couple of legit attempts at bona fide atmosphere ("La fuga di Sandokan", for one). And really, how can you resist a song with a title like "Diuretic Jazz"? It sounds exactly the way you'd think it might, naturally. Mostly, Where's the Beef? is a fun but inconsequential goof on orchestral maneuvers. If found sound is your thing, though, you'll totally dig it.
Hush Collector, Flowby (Candy Cone) Rating: 5
This four-song EP is a rather good offering of world weary Americana thanks to the great pipes of singer and multi-instrumentalists Poppy Gonzalez and Katie Mummery on the light, evocative title track that recalls the Cowboy Junkies mixed with Dido. There's a arty yet roots-filled mix on the ensuing "Mountain Song" with the hushed, sultry and sensual harmonies leading the way. The problem with short EPs is that generally they don't show enough of a band to make you greatly enthused. "If You Don't Matter" is almost too slow and jazzy for its own good. But the best is saved for last on the catchy "I Go Blind" that recalls The Waifs or Be Good Tanyas.
Pants Pants Pants, Pop Songs to Make Us Famous (self-released) Rating: 5
While the Internet has had a profound impact on how music is distributed through the culture, it's harder to say that Internet culture has so deeply affected music. Yeah, we all know the phrase "dot com", but then Internet is populated with its own symbol sets, tropes, in-jokes, and posturing, and it's difficult to make these things translate as songs without them becoming as painfully blunt as Britney Spears's "Email My Heart". But Pants Pants Pants, a rural Virginia band of self-made miscreants, manages to make Net nerd music that sounds appropriate. It's a dash of sysop humor, a pinch of hip-hop influence, a slab of irony, and a half-rack of electronic dance music. While tracks like "Born in the BBS" and "Hovercraft Traffic Music" make mostly-serious attempts to be straightforward, bits like "Sensible Gangsta" (a G-rap about a stock-investing, market-watching playa) and "Fear Factor" (about the show... and spiders) are pop culture send-ups. Possibly the one moment that achieves a solid balance between the two is "Zupakraut", a dance/rap track that revels in krautrock while rapping in fluent German. Like all Internet memes and fads, Pants Pants Pants are more novelty than depth, but plenty of great bands have made a sense of humor and stylistic schlock their stock in trade. With homemade albums and videos, Pants Pants Pants makes a stab at being the B-52s of the wifi set, and while they're a ways off from perfecting it, they're certainly worth a click-through.
Hayes Carll, Little Rock (Highway 87 Music) Rating: 6
Hayes Carll's latest album is filled to the gills with songs that he has no business singing -- they're too world-weary and too strong for someone his age. The slow but catchy "Wish I Hadn't Stayed So Long" brings to mind Steve Earle and John Hiatt to mind with a harder, more pronounced Southern drawl. Just as potent are the tender, ballad-based numbers such as "Take Me Away" (featuring Allison Moorer) and "Long Way Home that resembles Kevin Welch or Kieran O'Kane. The rap of "Down The Road Tonight" however is an acquired taste as is the quirky, ambling "Good Friends". He nails the stellar mid-tempo toe-tapper "Hey Baby Where You Been" however that could be on Earle's El Corazon album while the haunting "Rivertown" falls in line with a twangy Dolorean. Carll's knack for crafting great songs is in abundance with this record, especially on the delightful groove found on the alt-country blueprint "Leave Here Standing".
.: posted by Editor 7:46 AM
27 September 2005
The Great Distance, The Great Distance (Swine Maid) Rating: 8
With a slight electronic underbelly placed below a naked acoustic format, the opening "How to Live" is a tender but very contemporary tune that evokes images of Jeff Tweedy or Ryan Adams trying out songs with a sampler or loop machine nearby. It's a very lovely effort that draws you in immediately. It's this ambient texture that gives a different angle to each effort as the tandem of Article Dan and Definitive Alex make some great magic together, especially on the heart-tugging, melancholic "Computer Moon" as the lyrics ingeniously question the song's lyrics. "Easy River" consists of a relaxing groove that glides sickeningly smooth while the singer sounds eerily like Embrace's front man on the improvisational, jazzy-tinged "Heartfelt Peace". Seamless in terms of consistency and quality, it's the type of album where different tunes jump out at you with different listens, especially the adorable "Savings to Dollars" and ensuing harmonies drenching "Kinda Guy". The lone oddities could be "Tom Waits for No Man" which has that bizarre, quirky style Mr. Waits is known for while "Wallowing in Your Footsteps" feels like a cross between Radiohead and Sigur Ros.
Paramore, All We Know is Falling (Fueled by Ramen)
Fueled by Ramen is pushing full speed ahead with its release of Paramore, All We Know is Falling. A refreshing blend of pleading guitars and melodic lyrics brings one back to the heydays of emo, complete with screaming and crying over broken hearts. But it's not your regular, whiney emo, plastered everywhere on the scene these days. The songs are beautifully executed and laced with the crooning, harmonic vocals of Hayley Williams. The Franklin, Tennessee five-piece provides an energy not always available in the haunts of screamo rock. This is truly an album in the greatest fashion -- diverse, varied songs, yet linked with consistent guitars and harmonies throughout. The simple rock songs focus on defiant heartache, with highlights from the get go including the first track "All We Know" as well as "Emergency", "Let this Go", and ending with the bleeding hate chorus, "My Heart". Fueled by Ramen's alumni include Jimmy Eat World as well as Yellowcard. This band is on the verge with a fall tour.
The Deadly, The Wolves are Here Again (Pluto) Rating: 3
Tempting as it might be to type 200 words in single-syllable sentence cro-magnon speak (y'know, to prove a point), that the thought even crossed my mind should be enough to explain how I feel about The Deadly's new disc, called The Wolves are Here Again. It's loud, for sure. It's only half an hour long, so that's good. Some of the songs have a vaguely catchy, almost poppy structure to them. And there's lots of screaming. Sometimes, the screaming of vocalist Rich Lippold relents a bit in favor of a slightly quieter (but no less pushy) speak-sing, but that's as varied as it gets. All the screaming gets more than a little tedious after a while, as the sound of it is ultimately numbing -- never a good thing for a band that's trying to make as much of an impact as these guys are. I must admit a fondness for "Planetarium", given that a) it does some interesting things with its musical structure in its short running time, and b) planetariums are cool. Unfortunately, "Planetarium" is as close to a highlight as I can find on The Wolves are Here Again, and it's not even much of a highlight at that. The album is really effin' loud -- nothing more.
Manual, Azure Vista (Darla) Rating: 6
There are as many particular qualities to sunrise as there are to music. It can be vast and sprawling, or it can be slow and demure. Context -- the environment, the weather, geography -- is certainly a key to how sunrise manifests itself on the horizon on any given morning in any give location. And like musical genres, sunrise in different locations and under different conditions evokes specific emotional responses. Sunrise on a beach on a mostly clear day is a unique and often transcendent experience. If you have the time to stand and look and appreciate the vastness of the ocean lit up in rolling golds and ambers, the clouds turned into fluffy blood oranges, and the sky's eruption of cool blues with a brilliant, overpowering light, then you will take in one of nature's purest spectacles. It dwarfs the senses, overwhelming them with sheer scope and extraordinary beauty.
The Holy Shroud, Ghost Repeaters (Level Plane) Rating: 4
Formed out of the ashes of the overlooked Canadian math rock band North of America, the Holy Shroud also use the post-punk D.C. scene as a launching pad for their sound. Unlike North Of America, whose compositions often stretched out into avant, serpentine forms, the Holy Shroud have cut the fat, delivering a leaner, more sharply focused vision. In trimming the excess however, the Holy Shroud fail to reinvent their influences, and Ghost Repeaters is indeed just that -- a replica. With its constantly shouted vocals, odd time signatures and stop / start guitar progressions, the comparisons to Fugazi and Drive Like Jehu are obvious and correct. However, the album fails to move beyond these touchstones, and by the midway point it runs out of steam. The disc is also hampered by muddy production values that obscure the interlocking guitar riffs into a nearly indecipherable mess. With their first album under their belts, and the acknowledgement of their influences out of the way, the Holy Shroud now have a chance to grow, expand and mature their sound. For the rest of us, Yank Crime and Steady Diet of Nothing will suffice in the meantime.
.: posted by Editor 5:54 AM
26 September 2005
Made Out of Babies, Trophy (Neurot) Rating: 6
For a while there in the early '90s, women were starting to dominate indie rock. Liz Phair hadn't yet sold out, and The Breeders were the coolest thing since the Pixies, but it was the more aggressive, angry bands who made everyone wake up, as artists like Seven Year Bitch, Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, Babes in Toyland, L7, and of course, Hole, led the charge, delivering stupendous variations on punk rock, laced with brilliantly vitriolic subject matter. Today, things are different: Courtney's burned out, Liz Phair sold her soul long ago, and there's a tragic lack of female voices on both the Warped tour and Ozzfest. New York's Made Out of Babies, however, want to bring us back to the glory days of more than a decade ago. Led by a wicked vocalist named Julie Christmas, the band channel the best '90s noise rock bands, from The Jesus Lizard to Unsane, churning and grinding away, creating an unsettling backdrop for Christmas's powerful screams, which greatly resemble those of former Babe in Toyland Kat Bjelland. It's nothing we haven't all heard before, as the band comes close to mimicking Kittie's nu-metal, and the CD does run a bit too long at a mere 38 minutes, but Made Out of Babies keep it together admirably, especially on such fiery tracks as "El Morgan", "Herculoid", "Ure Fire", and "Gut Shoveler". If this album came out in 1993, it would have been drooled over by critics and indie fans. Today, while it sounds solid, it struggles to shed the "retro" tag.
Dead Hearts, Dead Hearts (State of Mind) Rating: 4
The hardcore car crash that is Buffalo-based Dead Hearts is on display with their self-titled EP, collecting their complete recordings up to this point in a single package. Opening with the 40 second beat-down of "In Our Hands, Once Again" from their self-titled 7" EP, the band immediately lays all of their cards on the table: this is no-frills hardcore-meets-rock-n-roll. This song, along with the two that follow it benefit from decent enough production values and even a guitar solo thrown in for good measure. The remaining tracks reproduce the band's The Words You Betray demo in its entirety. Suffering from considerably lower-fi production, these five songs clock in at just over 10 minutes total and offer little variation on the same theme. Small doses seem to be the rule of thumb here, and when the product is scream-o hardcore, that is probably for the best.
The Clutters, T & C (Chicken Ranch) Rating: 6
When a farfisa is thrown into any song, you instantly should get a flashback into a garage-meets-psychedelic rock era. And The Clutters do nothing to change this idea as the boogie "Crack Your Heart" sounds like a cross between George Thorogood and The Mooney Suzuki. Lead singer Doug Lehmann resembles a tame Jon Spencer but the feel has the old-school Bo Diddley-like vibe throughout. There are some faster romps here, including the sneering "Clash City Girl" and the hip-shaker "You'll Never Be Famous" that brings the B-52's "Rock Lobster" to mind. Perhaps the highlight comes too early in the bombastic "Rock & Roll" but "Polaroid" and the Them-ish "Calling Her Name" are close seconds. It's high-octane rock that is short and very sweet at times in a chaotic, ragged manner as "Oh!" and "Leave It Behind" tends to be. And "When Worlds Divide" is hi-hat nirvana.
Triestearcana, IV (Osiris) Rating: 2
It's pretty obvious that Zeppelin's an influence here. Unfortunately, Triestearcana have the nerve to turn a Zeppelin influence into fourth-rate grunge. What we have here is a band that puts their sense of originality on display by naming their fourth album IV. The often out of tune vocals are highly treated to sound as much like Robert Plant in an empty cafeteria as possible, and the instruments are an utter mess. This may be a result of Triestearcana's primary two members having to take on multiple instruments, but guys, surely you have some friends who can play these instruments? The only redeeming quality of the album is the passable (and sometimes even quite good!) guitar work of Tony Colaizzi, whose solos indiscriminately recall the mid-'70s and mid-'90s while providing much-appreciated respite from Shervin Mostashfi's reedy vocal lines. Songs range from vaguely unimaginative ("The Silver City") to downright confusing ("The High Priestess"), with a lot of indiscriminate whatnot in between. I'm having images of a shitty bar that serves shitty beer with a shitty band playing (shittily) in the background. Some may find such an image endearing, but even they will be screaming in agony after 15 songs of this stuff. Run far, far away.
Idiot Pilot, Strange We Should Meet Here (Warner/Reprise)
Idiot Pilot want you to listen to this sonic painting, guiding you through "Losing Ground" that brings to mind Brian Wilson and Neil Young singing around a campfire with Tom Hanks and his volleyball pal, Wilson. Lush and atmospheric with a hint of eeriness, the band wallows too long in this format for the song to work. Think of all those Deftones' tracks with the buildup minus the payoff and you get this mildly interesting song. "A Day in The Life of a Poolshark" fares slightly better with a series of Alexisonfire-like yelps over the picturesque arrangement. Trying to balance these areas is a bad idea if you have "Open Register" as a precursor of what's to come. The danceable and bouncy "Les Lumieres" is something M83 or Air might be doing, but here Idiot Pilot is without direction. It's as if, yes, an idiot is piloting this album. Tracks like "The Violent Tango" ebb and flow between hard and soft moments without much lyrical substance despite some nice musicianship at times. "Spark Plug" is indeed the album's spark plug as everything seems to meld into a great tune. "Strange We Should Meet Here" is also special as the high airy notes complement the electro feeling. Not quite as high as Thom Yorke, but the pipes are very clear and engaging. The rap rock of "Militance Prom" makes one think of Linkin Park, but they are able to persevere. The last few are too melancholic, particularly "A Light at the End of the Tunnel" which should've been the closer.
.: posted by Editor 7:07 AM