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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
21 October 2005
Feathers, Absolute Noon (Hometapes) Rating: 6
There is something eminently appealing about such a finely-crafted, intricately-detailed piece of work. Feathers is Eddie Alonso, Matt Crum and Eric Rasco, three Miami multi-instrumentalists who obviously possess no fear of rigidly-defined generic boundaries. Everything on Absolute Noon is exquisitely drawn, with each sound lovingly crafted and placed at a perfect balance to every other element, so much that the seeming incongruity of putting drum machines next to lush string arrangements and fat horns never really distracts from the beautiful melodies on display. "Coral Fingers' could have been a Stereolab B-side. "The Rise" (co-written with Wilco producer Mike Jorgensen) plays like the kind of spry, winsome pop instrumental that used to be popular in certain indie pop circles before Belle & Sebastian plugged in their guitars. This five-song EP is the first in a set of three EPs chosen to debut the group's sound -- Symchromy is set to be released any day while the third, as-yet-untitled disc is still being recorded. Fans of well-wrought instrumental pop will never forgive themselves if they don't get in on the ground floor.
Agents of the Sun, Monarchs of a Fallen Society (Dcide) Rating: 7
Mixed by 311 drummer Chad Sexton, Monarchs of a Fallen Society, the sophomore effort from Agents of the Sun, is a hard-rocking, melodic, and sometimes scream-o affair that works. The lead-off "Wounds" finds singer Ray Dobson wandering into such territory -- something he does every now and again on this disc, but he pulls it off with a surprisingly tuneful style. Thankfully, he doesn't use the scream-o effect on every song, keeping it from feeling gimmicky when employed. "Camouflage" is an engaging song of betrayal that shows off the Baltimore quintet's ability to both write interesting songs and execute them effectively. What starts as almost soft eventually builds over the course of its four-plus minutes and morphs into a controlled-anger venting of frustration. This is a well-done, cohesive disc with strong tracks from top to bottom.
Verplanken, The Missing Tracks (Marine-Line T Discovery) Rating: 3
I will say this: it's a lot easier to write my review of Verplanken's The Missing Tracks with its first track, "Voyage" playing in the background. "Voyage" is a pleasant, glacially moving set piece of sparkling ambience that works perfectly as background music when heavily engaged in a task. "Voyage" is just a great piece of music for somebody who isn't particularly interested into listening to music at that point. If the rest of the Missing Tracks were on a similar wavelength, the album would be a pleasant piece of table-music, one that Brian Eno certainly would approve. However, the four other tracks on this mini-album, starting with the irritating piano/guitar back-and-forth of "On the Edge", are annoying, repetitive instrumentals that are too disruptive to recede into the background, and not compelling enough to listen to intensely. Sure, we all love Ligeti's buzzing insectoid music from the "Jupiter" sequence in 2001, but do we really need some watered down, new age-y reinterpretation of it ("Island")? There's nothing wrong with pleasant ambient music, and there's nothing wrong with brain-twisting noise, but trying to combine both into one packet and make it successful requires a lot more talent and luck than Verplanken seems to have.
King Elementary, Kudzu (Sweet Tea Recordings) Rating: 4
This quartet is rooted up to their necks in Midwestern rock complete with the singing/screaming of its lead singer Morgan Jones and the tight rhythm section. Unfortunately on "For the Birds" the group sag during the chorus after a great opening verse. Later on they redeem themselves on the frantic "Spur of the Moment". The band also has a garage rock sound on "Thief of Hearts" that is a mix of Matthew Sweet fronting The Strokes. The big problem with the record is the songs are good, but don't really make a lasting impression on you. "Rebecca" has potential but resembles Burning Brides on sedatives. One standout is the mid-tempo, organic "Sand And Romance" that saunters along for several great moments. But "Satisfactory" is at best, well, satisfactory. The murkier songs resonate far better, particularly the muddy groove of "We Defy Gravity" and the Beck-ish "Kisses from the Storm".
.: posted by Editor 6:33 AM
19 October 2005
The Evil Queens, First It Boils, Then It Spills (Addison) Rating: 6
The Evil Queens reach a sort of rock and roll equilibrium on First It Boils, Then It Spills, combining equal parts pure fury and pop sensibility. This is a band that trakes the often bloated genre of heavy metal and treats it with a punk-like succinctness. The ten tracks of the album proper, combined with two each from the two previous Evil Queens efforts (this album is in effect an introduction to this relatively unknown act) add up into an album that is simply rock music, not requiring any sort of suffix or prefix to describe it. There are bits of '90s grunge and stoner metal floating around in the Evil Queens songs (and I swear I hear traces of Mission of Burma and Pere Ubu on some of the more brittle tracks), but there's no reason to shoehorn the group, they simply present the listener with a series of well-crafted, well-performed, and refreshingly raw rock songs. True, this makes it difficult to really get too worked up about the Evil Queens, they aren't trying to radically change the shape of music.
They're just here to start the party, but that's a little refreshing. The deepest flaw on First It Boils, Then It Spills might be the anemic production which really dulls the band's fantastic angular riffing. It kind of makes me wish I could see them live to hear how the songs really sound, I would kill to hear how the arena-ready "New Keys" or the punk rock "Grand Prix" play to the audience with its defiant choruses.
Blacklisted We're Unstoppable (Deathwish) Rating: 5
Repackaged and freshly delivered, Philadelphia's Blacklisted compile their early demo recordings and the tracks from now out of print album Our Youth Is Wasted. Blacklisted don't bring anything new to the table, and offer up a furiously brief dose of old-school punk and hardcore dissonance. All the requisite ingredients are here from the galloping chord progressions, thunderous breakdowns and glass eating vocals. The problem is that as well played as this is, it's ultimately fairly boring. The band's adherence to style that frankly, has been played into the ground, is still admirable but it comes at a loss of any genuine surprises. From the first song right to the last, the listener will know exactly where this recording is going and how it will end. The band's only strength is its brevity, and with ten songs that whip by in seventeen minutes, that power can't be denied.
French Teen Idol, French Teen Idol (Nishi) Rating: 5
French Teen Idol (a.k.a. Roman artist Andrea Di Carlo) puts quiet piano figures, electronica sequences, and movie dialog samples in a blender set for "prog-rock aesthetics purée" and the result is an eight song self-titled netlabel release. All the tracks in this collection seem designed to disturb. Sometimes this desire to unnerve is blatant, like the way Di Carlo lays Edward Norton's "Fuck You" monologue from Spike Lee's 25th Hour over the soft soundscape of "(Un)Told Prejudices". But usually the unsettling results are more the product of something less specific. On "Shouting Can Have Different Meanings", the seven-minute opener, the listener is pushed and pulled from the beautiful piano opening into an anxiety inducing vocal sample. The world Di Carlo creates is a place filled with immaculate building façades that hide a boarded-up reality. The dark alleys of the French Teen Idol landscape would be just as dangerous whether traveled by light of day or dark of night.
Small Towns Burn a Little Slower, Mortality As Home Entertainment (Triple Crown) Rating: 4
This band, featuring an appearance from Justin Pierre from Motion City Soundtrack, delivers nicely polished, slightly pre-packaged, power pop-meets-emo punk on "Forget The Fashion" and the punchy ear candy that is "Answers" that is perfect Warped Tour material. Lead singer Danny Wolf fights for dominance over the guitar duo of Joel Trowbridge and Tommy Rehbein throughout the record for a decent sonic concoction. They often play it safe, especially with tunes like "Last Blast Off" and the Jimmy Eat World-ish "It's a Death Curse". The problem though is by the sixth song, these tunes, while good, tend to blend into one another too easily. Nonetheless, it's hard not to enjoy the beefy "Millstones and Milestones" and "Wait For Me, Abby Bernstein". This record falls alongside albums by Taking Back Sunday. So closely alongside they could be put in the wrong jewel case. But how can you not like a band who names a ditty "1970 Topps Burt Blyeven Rookie Card"?
.: posted by Editor 7:49 AM
17 October 2005
Chaos Butterfly, threelivingthings (Pitch-a-Tent) Rating: 6
"If you think you heard that... then you were right," says Dina Emerson, one half of the duo Chaos Butterfly, on the opening track of debut studio album threelivingthings. And she's right, too -- Chaos Butterfly creeps into the ears with all manner of sound, Emerson teaming with Jonathan Segel (most famous for his work with Camper Van Beethoven) to create something creepy, intriguing, and oddly engaging. This is the kind of album that's easy to dismiss as boring, as there are no melodies or beats to latch on to and it's not completely filled with sound, but it sucks you in. It's an album whose sounds are so foreign as to keep its listeners intrigued, just wondering what they'll hear next. Fiddles, all kinds of percussion, guitars, electronics and wine glasses allow for an abstract wash of sound, occasionally giving way to the poetry of Emerson and Segel. It's in these vocals that Chaos Butterfly occasionally falters, killing the mostly impenetrable mood with jaunts into absurdist verse, but even that usually fits the Chaos Butterfly aesthetic. Anything goes on threelivingthings -- anything, that is, except the conventional.
The Beatings, If Not Now, Then When? (Midriff) Rating: 4
Outside in the alley behind the gymnasium, your mother's bottle of peach schnapps hits your lips and "Feel Good Ending" provides the soundtrack to your middling revels. Both you and the song only pretend to be badass. Three minutes later, that older chick you've been crushing on walks over and offers you a cigarette. Smoking makes you nauseous, but who gives a shit? With the syrupy "Stockholm Syndrome Relapse" running through your head, your middle class rebellion seems written in the dim stars overhead. It's all painfully unoriginal and the two of you head into the gym and stumble back and forth between boring conversations ("Pretty Faces") and lame attempts at looking cool ("All Dead Horses"). The social ennui is dizzying and suddenly you remember where you should be -- at home, alone, watching The X-Files. Your eyes dart around for an exit sign, and then you feel it coming. The poetry of this moment will elude you for years to come, but that image of Kelly shaking vomit off her t-shirt is with you forever. "If Not Now, Then When?" is an ugly conclusion and the most memorable song of the night. Everything prior lacks the guts or sophistication to make it worth living through high school again.
DJ Micro, Tech Mix 5 (System Recordings) Rating: 2
There's a particularly vapid variety of trance designed to be played and appreciated during the absolute peak hours of a club night -- it's hard, fast, and so indebted to formula that you could bake it in your oven. This is what DJ Micro provides here, hitting the ground running with the first track and continuing in an unrelenting fashion for the course of the entire mix. There's no room to catch a breath, as the energy -- or is that NRG? -- never flags. As you can imagine, however, the listener's interest has trouble keeping pace with such a relentless assault. Familiar faces such as Ferry Corsten and D:Fuse show their faces, the latter of which providing the disc's only real highlight, the moody J Hazen & DJ3 remix of "Everything With You". The Corsten track should have been all the hint I needed to stay away.
The Talk, The Sinners of Daughters (Morisen) Rating: 6
This trio has a lot of pep and jump in their music although "Any Other Saturday" takes its time to get going. Lead singer and guitarist Justin Williams is only as good as his tight and inventive rhythm section. Winding and at times dreary, the chorus is nonetheless fantastic but they extend the track a hair too long as if they've listened to one too many songs by The Mission or Psychedelic Furs. There's a distinct '80s Britpop hue on these tunes, whether it's the slow-building behind the power ballad nature of "Man Narratis" or the no-nonsense guitars all over the breezy, infectious "I Started Running" with its keyboard touches. The Talk can certainly also walks the walk on a stellar party pop offering entitled "With Guns in Our Hands". Then there's the emo-saturated power behind the punkish "These Swollen Eyes" to keep you interested. Yet here Williams comes across like '80s Canadian pop singer (and current Styx frontman) Gowan. The crowning achievement is "It Comes with the Territory" that could be a Killers b-side but "N.Y.L.A." has a Lennon-ish/Beatles-esque thread with some fun punk arrangements.
.: posted by Editor 8:15 AM