PopMatters home | short takes home | archivesPopMatters Music Short Takes
Dimestore Haloes, The Ghosts of Saturday Night (Pelado) Rating: 8
If you're serious about garage/punk/glam, then you've probably got a CD book or computer folder full of albums exactly like The Ghosts of Saturday Night, the fourth and final album from Boston's most beautiful of beautiful losers, the Dimestore Haloes -- but you need to get your hands on a copy, anyways. Recorded four years ago, but only seeing the light of day now (I don't know the specifics, but the band broke up after recording, a move that kept the album in limbo), Ghosts positions the Haloes as somewhere between being the kid brothers to the Replacements or the big brothers to the sorely-missed Exploding Hearts (R.I.P.) -- street-smart drunk fuckups who live by the seat of their pants and who have memorized and internalized every Johnny Thunders riff. And like the Hearts and 'Mats, the Haloes come across as honest and with heart to spare. Lead singer/guitarist/driving force Chaz Williams bleeds out lines like "I don't know what city of bottles I'm living in tonight/ ...I'm on borrowed cash and time" ("City of Bottles") and believes in the redemptive power of music: "I'm depending on the radio to save me" goes the chorus to "Fastest Way Down". And if you're not in the mood to get bitter, drunk and lonely with the lyrics, then just rock out with the tunes and marvel at the band's taste: a little Stiv Bators here ("Frustration"), a little Clash there ("Fastest Way Down" borrows from "Jail Guitar Doors"), and then there's "Hot Pink Stereo", which sounds like the Star Spangles, an NYC outfit succeeding on the scene where the Haloes, by dint of alcohol intake, infighting and instability, were doomed to fail. Sonic similarities to the legends aside, The Ghosts of Saturday Night shows that the Haloes stayed true to their own vision, never compromising on their music in the face of near-constant turmoil, even though such unrest ultimately destroyed the band. They will be missed, but they leave behind a damn fine swan song.
Kelly Pardekooper, Haymarket Heart (Leisure Time) Rating: 6
Kelly Pardekooper's opening tune "Not to Iowa" has a dark, moody tone to it that is somewhere between Tarbox Ramblers, The Mavericks and Handsome Family. The singer nails the niche format to a tee on the first song with a bit of bolero mixed with accordion. He opts for a rowdier roots rock on the gorgeous "Tell Me (You're the One)" that starts slowly before picking up steam while "Draw the Line" follows a similar framework -- a old-time, dusty country-tinged that features Amy Finders providing sweet Margo Timmins-esque harmonies. When he goes down in tempo, he is better, especially during the honky-tonkin' "Just Shoot Me". However, the Isaak-like effort on "Wild Love" is a twist, but not really a great one. Nor is the softer, polished vibes on "Too Late" although this one is somewhat easier on the ears. Fans of Milton Mapes (relatively unknown but oh my word underrated band) would enjoy "Drinking Alone Again" that is rough and surly around the edges. The sleeper could be the catchy and to-the-point ditty "21st Century Trailer Park" that is a toe-tapper, as is the Blue Rodeo-ish "Down". The highlight is the closing "Take Me 2 My Home" which a pure Americana tune that builds and builds.
The Phantom Limbs, Random Hymns (Gold Standard Laboratories) Rating: 3
"Your music makes sense to no one but yourself." So goes the closing line of the thoroughly half-assed attempt at Plunderphonics style cutting and looping on "Jackalope Rising", from the Phantom Limbs art-rock disaster Random Hymns. But no truer line could be spoken about the band's sound. Their music -- such as it is -- is a freakshow of percussive synths, tinny drums, trashed and reverbed guitars, snotty vocals and smutty lyrics that are neither clever, insightful or memorable. It's hard to know what to make of lyrics about "showers of semen" or "dress[ing] each other [in] toilet paper", especially when propped up against such a dull musical backdrop. However, when coupled with a reportedly intense live show, I have no doubt that in a concert setting the Phantom Limbs cook up something truly bizarre, but when captured to disc and stripped of their visual performance, the songs simply cannot stand up on their own. Gazing at the CD booklet picture of the singer on the floor, headfirst inside of a garbage can, singing into a microphone I know I'm missing an essential ingredient to enjoying the Phantom Limbs recipe. But without it, this soufflé deflates into a flat, lifeless, mess.
Dogme 95, Arcadian Hymns (Mission Label) Rating: 3
This one-man project of Nick Wright is all over the place musically, veering from the hand-clap, let's all join hands feeling of "Summon My Baptist Ways" to the New Order-ish-meets-Depeche Mode or Joy Electric electro-pop of "Kingdom/Garden" and "House/School". Wright has some guest appearance by Ryan Fitzgerald of the Polyphonic Spree, but primarily this is his eclectic musical journey judging by the light and summer sounding "Calm and Tame" that brings Beck's Mutations to mind. The electronic tone is on most of the record, especially "Notes to Traveler" which is basically two, er, three songs in one. Other efforts have a certain Arcade Fire to them but don't pack nearly the same oomph exemplified by "Ocean Floor". Too draggy and too erratic too often, the record bogs down during one coma-inducing track that includes an a cappella snippet of Soul II Soul's "Back II Life". Basically a bedroom recording that, with some exceptions, should have remained as such.
[a]pendics.shuffle, Helicopter Hearts (Orac) Rating: 7
Forget desiccated Teutonic kicks and chin-stroking dub mechanics -- over the past year, Seattle-based Orac Records has been quietly releasing minimal techno records that actually induce dancing. Kenneth Gibson, aka [a]pendics.shuffle, has been a big part of this, infusing the requisite clipped sounds and micro-samples with graceful, sinuous funk. Helicopter Hearts is his first full-length, and it's more a collection of dancefloor singles than a proper album. Still, it's as enjoyable for the head as it is for the feet. "Cemento" has seductive female vocal stabs, "Saw Saw Soup" has an irresistible bassline, and "Baneful Lather" manages to be both dreamy and perky. The highlight here is "Garbanzo Love", which begins as a schaffel track, but switches fluidly to a bouncy, quirky 4/4 groove, with a brief detour back to schaffel. The changeups will keep listeners on their toes, a rare feat for a genre often afraid to go below the belt.
Jay Sad, High (Film House Recordings) Rating: 7
Toronto musician Jay Sad has nothing to cry over with this album -- it's short, smart and haunting all at once. Whether it's the melancholic and somber "Intro" instrumental that paves the way for acoustic nuggets like the fuzzed-out, hushed "In the Basement", the latter a cross between the Jesus and Mary Chain and Singapore Sling. It has a great flow and builds perfectly. It's bare bones at its best, especially with the almost hymnal "Lisa" that has Sad singing as if that lump in his throat about to form. Meanwhile, "June" is a purely electro-pop tune that brings Eno to mind. Sad's sullen voice fits alongside the late Elliott Smith judging by the Good Will Hunting flavor on "My Mensa Friend" and the aptly autumnal "October". The only drawback might be how some of these songs leave you a tad unfulfilled. Nonetheless, it's a very good album that won't make you happy-go-lucky. "Bass" is quite creepy also, but in a very good creepy sort of way.
Dredg, Catch Without Arms (Interscope) Rating: 5
It seems on every Dredg album, there are moments that leave you wondering why this Los Gatos, California band isn't one of the biggest rock bands in America, but then comes a stretch of several songs that meander lazily, and you're left thinking, okay, that's why. This band is a rare breed in modern rock, one always bursting with ideas, progressive tendencies, and gorgeous melodies, but with three albums under their belts, Dredg are continuing to struggle putting together that important breakthrough album. While 2002's El Cielo was at times a spellbinding concept album that blended the heavy strains of Tool and the Deftones with the intense harmonics of At the Drive-In, Catch Without Arms sets its sights on the middle of the mainstream rock road, attempting more of a combination of Incubus and U2. With the help of former Queensryche member Chris DeGarmo, the album does hit the right note from time to time, especially on "Bug Eyes", "Catch Without Arms", and the especially lovely "Spitshine", but too often the CD is bogged down by moments of flaky tedium, as songs like "Jamais Vu", "Zebraskin", and "The Tanbark is Hot Lava" bring the momentum to a dead halt. Unlike the decent El Cielo, it's an album without an identity, as Dredg try on different sounds (most blatantly, the Edge style chords on "Matroshka (The Ornament)"), only to find very few of the experiments stick. You want to like these guys, as they're capable of delivering moments of true power, but more and more, they're starting to resemble chronic underachievers instead.
Secret Lives of the Freemasons, This Was Built to Make You Dance (Astro Magnetics) Rating: 5
What's the difference between melodic post-hardcore and emo? Not much, really, with some sliding scale of propensity for metal power chords and shouted, growling vocals being the most distinctive elements. For North Carolina band Secret Lives of the Freemasons, the difference is negligible, though this may work in their favor by making them an easy bridge between both fan-bases. At times there are combined elements of both scenes that offer an interesting contrast, but mostly it's just the throat-shredding "evil voice" vocals that you notice. Songs like "To the Barricades" and "Less Tude, More Dude" could be anyone's emo compilation fodder, but the title track manages to work as a central anthem, displaying a distinct range, and songs like "And Then a Hurricane" will give the hardcore retreads something to think about. But even the band's semi-straightedge anti-sex themes seem a bit clichéd in terms of genre boundaries. There's a lot of skill, but not anything particularly new to hear here, and this disc will probably only be of serious interest if post-hardcore is already your thing.