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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
04 November 2005
Bullet Train to Vegas We Put Scissors Where Our Mouths Are (Nitro) Rating: 6
To be honest, I initially had it in for these guys. Naming your band after one of the best Drive Like Jehu songs takes a big set of brass ones. It will inevitably open your band up to comparison to the legends of avant-punk and you will also inevitably found to be undeserving of the moniker. So let's just get this out of the way -- Bullet Train to Vegas neither sound nor will ever be close to as awesome as Drive Like Jehu. Once I reconciled myself to that fact and listened to the group's debut with fresh ears, I was surprisingly pleased. Granted, the band is doing nothing new, but what they do it well. If you like angular guitars, glass-eating vocals and songs that are out of your hair in about three minutes you'll be a happy camper. Though there are a seemingly endless amount of bands doing this thing, the Alex Newport produced disc finds strength in its brevity. A half hour long and that's it. That's just long enough to get your hardcore screamo fix and get on with your day while keeping the "these guys are not Drive Like Jehu" thoughts at bay.
Various Artists, Autonomous Addicts (The Designed Disorder) Rating: 7
Normally, this kind of compilation is dead on arrival. Instrumental electronic music? Coldly geometric artwork? Glitchy sounds so current that they're automatically dated? These are ingredients for instant bargain bin status, yet Autonomous Addicts, the inaugural release for Los Angeles label The Designed Disorder, transcends its limitations. The label does a fine job of A&R, stocking the compilation with both marquee names and rising studio boffins. Nearly every track is full of the crushed, stretched, and otherwise mutilated audio so popular with plug-in jocks today. But there's surprising variety here. Noted sound designers Twerk turn in a Richard Jamesian beat workout with icy, wispy melodies. Anon's "String Theory" sounds like a 23rd century Kronos Quartet, replete with drum machine kicks and large chamber reverb. Tipper contributes his signature tweaky breaks and mammoth low end, while Richard Devine's "Per-Cer" wreathes emotive pure tones around unruly shuffling beats. The compilation's best moment is its most difficult; Hologram's "Earthsong" begins almost unlistenably, with hyperspeed beats and synths triggering heart palpitations before succumbing to celestial ambience. Don't let the tech-y facade here fool you -- there's soul in these machines.
Self-Evident, Epistemology (DoublePlusGood) Rating: 4
Heavy metal this, but so heavy -- in one sense of that word -- that it is really informative to read that "Lyrically introspective songs like 'Neither Quarrel nor Agreement' and 'The Disguise' question the direction life has taken." Fortunately my hearing was examined not so long ago, though not on account of any suspicion of deafness, and I needn't worry about deafness in being unable to make out the words on these or any other songs which Conrad Mach obviously shouted in the studio. Perhaps something went wrong between October 2004 and March 2005, in the processing? There's no problem hearing the guitars and bass and drums, which keep up a driving thrash in a 10-track set the blurb claims is all of a piece. Well, contrary to the blurb, each track has a fairly individual beginning. There seems to be some variety in the individual performances, with little vamping passages of Compared with the distortion and overload with which the title track begins, "(you must be an) architect?" starts quietly before there's more emotionally stirring and very competent playing. The sound reminds me of an experience when only one channel of my old stereo was functioning, and I put on a record some idiot had engineered for maximum separation between the tracks. The same balance comes out of both channels from this, and while I suppose something might have been made of the words printed in the liner, well, they ought to be audible to the point of intelligibility. At least if any claim's to be made as to their significance. The little snatches which get out through chinks in the wall of guitar-playing seem distinguished by good diction. So it's the instrumental work that renders them inaudible. The singing is thus a distraction when hearing the guitar-bass interactions, have some intended meaning beyond that of the words? Frankly the text isn't up to much, but does Mr. Mach manage to rescue it? I cannot tell. Long ago, the late Gerard Hoffnung satirised the avant-garde composer's marking Pensando (which means: don't play these notes, merely think them in the course of playing the other parts of the score not so marked!). Perhaps the words could have been thought here (or maybe just felt) without distracting effect on the music. It is intense, passionate, committed, but also sounds like stuff which by being played too loudly has been known to damage the ears of people moving to the surging and driving rhythms. The publicity blurb did intimate an imminent tour.
Robert R. Calder
Textbook, The Great Salt Creek (Playing Field) Rating: 6
Basically recorded off the floor, this album and side project of former Not Rebecca singer Dave Lysien picks up where Blink 182 left off for the first three minutes, minus the cornball teen jokes on "Better Late Than Never". Generally however, this is excellent Midwestern rock throughout, especially on the crunchy and lean Southern rocker "Railroad Ties". The fine roots-filled "Dear You, Dear" brings to mind the Jayhawks or Slobberbone with a rough-around-the-edges jangle. Three songs and three shifts in focus as "Take What You've Been Given" sounds like it had been created in some Midwestern small town garage. The same can be said for the meaty, roadhouse influenced "Find My Way Back Home", resembling an early BoDeans ditty. Other notable tunes is The Replacements circa Tim feeling pouring from "You Were Beautiful" and also "When It All Went Wrong". Fortunately, there is very little wrong with this record.
.: posted by Editor 7:47 AM
03 November 2005
Superlow, Going Out Heavy (Barebonz) Rating: 6
Boston's punk-flavored power trio Superlow is about as discreet as a wrecking ball. On its full-length debut Going Out Heavy, the band's not so much inspired as it is instigated, ripping through ten songs in a rash 33 minutes. Discussing the album at length is like analyzing a brass-knuckled punch in slow motion: a humming wall of amplifiers, brusque, unpretentious songs, and a rhythm section that intimidates like a flexed bicep define the band's raging, street-tough rock. Going Out Heavy is terse, tight, occasionally anonymous, and often electrifying hard rock. And even though it sports the tough guy image, Superlow is surprisingly in touch with more delicate sensitivities: "Have you ever seen a grown man cry?" goes the opening hook to "Wasted Life". Going Out Heavy can't actually show us, but if we trust its aural approximation, it must look like a detonation sounds.
Mack 10 feat. Nate Dogg, "Like This" (Capitol) Rating: 6
The presence of baritone gangsta crooner Nate Dogg is never a good sign -- it seems like whenever someone runs out of ideas for a hook, they just call Nate. The fact that he's essentially singing the same lines he was fifteen years ago doesn't help the appearance of unoriginality. Thankfully the beat is strong that you barely even notice he's there. Mack 10, like Kurupt and Nate Dogg himself, never really got over the collapse of West Coast gangsta as a commercial enterprise. He shows up every few years with an album but never seems to add up to more than Ice Cube's second banana. I don't know who MD Productions are, but this beat -- the sound of banging trash cans and clapping hands -- is strong enough to stand on its own without Nate Dogg's questionable chorus hook. Mack 10 is about as imaginative a rapper as he ever was -- continuing to seek reassurance as to the pugnaciousness of his hustling -- but this beat is hot. Spin the instrumental and watch the club explode.
Tiger! Tiger!, Collisions (Chicken Ranch) Rating: 5
Equal parts fury and fun, Tiger! Tiger! lures you in early with "Jealous Lovers," which opens the disc with very palpable synth pop before "Insensible Bore" takes over with driving guitars. Though most of the songs on Collisions are more reminiscent of Television's "Guiding Light" than the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog", there is still plenty of sexually charged punk to go around. There are also a few dalliances with the strange. "Consolation Prize" swaggers with boozy horns and "5 & 10" swings with Texas guitars. There is nothing wildly unique in Tiger! Tiger!; it's only rock music meant for doing rock and roll types of things.
Anne Heaton, I Know This (Q Division) Rating: 5
This EP is led by Heaton taking the political route, singing "for those afraid" on "You Can't Take Him Away". It's an adequate tune that at times is a bit too preachy despite the rather nice piano driven melody. "Underdog" is a favorite however, even if it is a radio edit, sounding a cross between Nelly Furtado and Natalie Merchant. After another strong song entitled "Your Heart" which brings to mind Fleetwood Mac to some extent, Heaton delivers three live songs starting with "Go to Rome", a roots-oriented pop tune with nice harmonies that Heaton never plays up. Just as fine is her approach on the gentle "I Know This". Unfortunately, the songs that serve as the bookends are perhaps the weakest of the half-dozen tracks as "Did You Ever Want?" has that faux sense of jazz.
.: posted by Editor 7:26 AM
01 November 2005
Cantankerous, Cantankerous EP (Tommy Boy) Rating: 6
Cantankerous! They're the latest masked rock 'n roll craze! Cantankerous! They're shocking! Cantankerous! Their logo features a crude drawing of a pseudo-satanic creature with breasts and a (giggle) penis! Cantankerous!...Actually, despite the decidedly non-shocking nature of their brand of shock rock, Cantankerous actually manages something that sounds a bit inventive, melding thickly accented dancehall-style vocals with industrial rock elements, a backdrop fairly akin to that of recent KMFDM. The lyrics concentrate on essentials like money, fucking, and Satan, often combining two or three of the aforementioned elements for Maximum Shock Value. In a pleasing twist, the lead singer (also called "Cantankerous", apparently) is female, lending a Karen O/Hanin Elias sort of riot grrl mystique to the vocals. "Make Money" is the most fun and danceable track on the band's self-titled EP, but the centerpiece is probably "Flesh Roast", a song that tries to update Patti Smith by adding cannibalistic tendencies and a bluegrass coda, not to mention plenty of lyrics that I wouldn't feel comfortable reprinting in an international publication. Honestly, it's not a bad guilty pleasure if you long for the heyday of industrial rock circa 1993 or so, but it all comes off a bit silly.
Sciflyer, The Age of Lovely, Intimate Things EP (Clairecords) Rating: 6
Named after a song on Swervedriver's first album, this California-based act wears its shoegazer influences on its sleeve. You've gotta love that they include "suggested bass and treble settings" in the liner notes, too. Sciflyer's particular variation on the whirling, effects-heavy theme is that the vocals are mixed so low as to hardly be audible -- really not much of a variation at all. More importantly, on "The Nation" and "The Same Thing Goes for Christmas", the band show that they also have an affinity for melodic, jangly 1980s indie-pop. "Never Come Down" is clearly their own attempt at Swervedriver's monolithic "Duress", all creeping minor chords and tension. Elsewhere, the guitars sparkle and fade, the rhythm section is active, and all's well for those who can't get enough dreampop in their record collections.
Attack Formation, Somebody As Anybody (Australian Cattle God) Rating: 6
What to make of Attack Formation? Well, "Station ID" is a quirky but eclectic intro that goes on a bit too long while "Pearl Snaps" sounds like a cross between The Strokes and The Raveonettes. And they hit the ground running at full garage-rock throttle. Attack Formation then let the drums led the way during "Russian (Glacier Song)", resembling the best of both Franz Ferdinand and Spoon worlds. "Oh isn't it nice?" the lyric goes, and yes, yes it is. Another pleaser has to be "I'm Buried Alive" that sounds like retro dance rock in the vein of Joy Division-meets-Gang Of Four. The soft and hard shifts on "Waiting For America" are stellar as the guitars break out of their shell and continue on during the slightly tamer "Release the Lions". Not to be outdone though is the hellacious, foot-stomping "High Noon" that at first glance could be mistaken for The Cure on high-speed dubbing.
Redman, "Rush the Security" [single] (Def Jam) Rating: 5
Redman has a way of moving his verses around a mid-tempo beat that makes it seem like he's both standing still and moving at a frenetic pace -- somehow giving the impression that he is both trying real hard and not at all. His singles tend to be less revolutionary statements than consistent updates from a stable performer. There's nothing here that's gonna rewrite the rules, but there's enough in the way of pleasant, boastful craftsmanship to keep the hedz happy. Extra Credit: play this track for any drum & bass fan and have them guess the producer: if they can tell that this tepid track-by-numbers was crafted by jungle maestro Adam F, they get a cookie.
.: posted by Editor 5:58 AM
31 October 2005
Khanate, Capture & Release (Hydra Head) Rating: 7
Khanate (pronounced "con-ate") is so slow, it might make one mad at first. This New York band makes Black Sabbath look like speed metal. Imagine three minutes of a Godflesh song dilated over 43 minutes; the two tracks here ("Capture" and "Release") have bowel-churning low end and much space between notes. However, the space isn't empty. A thick sense of menace hovers over this album; one can practically feel the hum of throbbing amps and the wobbling of bass strings. The occasional howling, shrieking vocal only adds to the grimness. But the album is oddly addictive. With a pedigree that includes Old, Scorn, Sunn O))), and Blind Idiot God, this band knows what it's doing. Over time, guitar tones slowly advance and recede in distortion, but with just enough pace to keep one hooked. An entire album of "that sinking feeling" has never been so enjoyable -- just be sure not to have sharp objects around.
Frank Martiniq, Little Fluffy Crowds (Boxer Recordings) Rating: 6
Well, I guess it's been long enough since the early days of modern electronic dance music that an ironic title like Little Fluffy crowds actually seems less like a piss-take than an homage. Certainly, Frank Martiniq's music has little to do, on the face of it, with the Orb's classic ambient dub -- tracks like "2" could easily fit on a Kompakt records sampler (but then again, the Orb did contribute a remix for Kompakt's 100 set). Nods to the past aside, there's quite a bit to like about Martiniq's modest approach to modern house: there aren't a lot of bells and whistles, just some deep beats and minimalist melodies very lightly sprinkled over the top, with just enough elaboration added to keep things interesting. "4" plays with the kind of bass you might expect on a Mad Professor record, all the while laying on some very canny layers of acid. "5" goes even deeper into Pole territory, featuring a rising cacophony of clicks and scrpaes that build into a surprisingly optimistic sound. There are even hints of Felix-esque electro punk on "8". A satisfying example of the "new" sound of house music, based on a minimal template that would make Plastikman proud but not afraid to open up with moments of lyrical beauty.
The New Rags, Take Jennie to Brooklyn (Silent Stereo) Rating: 5
This six-song EP seems to take the best of The Black Keys, Death From Above 1979 and the White Stripes -- maximizing the best of two musicians (Tom Merrigan and Andrew Pierce) but without much in the way of guitar. Piano and drums is what makes this interesting judging by the groove-riddled "Your Room" that soars on the chorus into a great vibe that hits you in the gut. The only problem might be it stops when it could just get off the ground. "Surf Seven Seas" is a quickie garage pop tune of sorts. When they are light and poppy, as they are during "Hate to Leave You", there's a lot left to be desired. "It's Over" brings the EP back to life and sounds like Peanuts' Schroeder coming down from a brief acid trip. Closing with "Love of My Life", the New Rags are new and, yes, a tad ragged. But in a good way.
Gena Rowlands Band, Le Merde et Les Etoiles (Lujo) Rating: 4
This album really didn't have a fighting chance after the first refrain of "Garafalo, C'est Moi." (I'll spare you). Regardless of any intended irony or satire, it fell flat in both its melody and intent. The guitar is mildly intriguing and remains so through out the album. The melodic tone and jazz undertones fall lightly on the ear. In fact, most of the instruments on the album do. Beautifully produced at Washington, DC's Inner Ear studio, songwriter Bob Massey's subtle instrumentation is brought to life and inhabits the songs. Still it doesn't make up for the unforgivable absurdity of songs like "Kong Meets His Maker (A Parable About Dating)".
.: posted by Editor 7:45 AM