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The Witnesses, Hard Up (Howler) Rating: 7
Listening to New York sleazesters the Witnesses is a similar experience to a bout of heavy drinking. At the time, it's a lot of fun, being overwhelmed with sights and sounds your brain can't really process properly, relishing in the feeling that you're doing something counter-productive and socially irresponsible. After the whole experience is through, you're left with only vague memories and a creeping sense of embarrassment and reproach. To the Witnesses' credit, they have incorporated the hangover experience into their stopgap EP Hard Up. Opening with a series of trashcan rock numbers, the band intoxicates the listeners with its gutter punk meets glam-metal sound, not to mention the thrilling interplay between frontman Oakley Munson and serious wailer Bonnie Bloomgarden (the band's hidden weapon). However, after the messy fun comes the crashing comedown, "Trouble", successfully transplanted from their debut Tunnel Vision. As in a hangover, every little sound on "Trouble" seems to be amplified, from the twangy guitar strums to the kitchen-sink percussion, and Bloomgarden admonishes the listener, after the woozy escapism of the rest of Hard Up, that they "can't keep running from (their) troubles". If the first part of the album brands the band as a guilty pleasure, "Trouble" shows their emotional core, recalling the wasted sing-a-long ballads from Exile on Main Street. The Witnesses' ability to conjure up both sides of the party atmosphere, the joy and the hidden despair, makes them a bit deeper than they seem on their un-bathed surfaces. [Amazon]
The Rogers Sisters, Emotion Control (Too Pure) Rating: 7
A seven-inch vinyl single, this is the Rogers Sisters' debut US release on the British-based Too Pure label that released the trio's 2004 mini-album Three Fingers in Europe earlier this year. There will be a new album early in 2006 and, on this evidence, it will be well worth looking out for. I was first introduced to the Rogers Sisters two or three years ago by a Texan chica from a band called Kino-Eye (Hi Rebecca!) who had exceptional taste in early '80s post-punk feminist pop. Clearly, the Rogers Sisters have similar listening habits. It's not hard to detect the legacy of the Au Pairs, Girls At Our Best, Kleenex and Delta 5 (to name but the most obvious suspects) in their sound, especially if you throw in the B52s for good measure, and yet the Rogers Sisters have managed to grow these obvious influences into something a little more than an '80s chick tribute band. "Emotion Control" plays Jennifer Rogers' likeable pop singing off against Miyuki Furtado's more intense and rhythmically declamatory style to good effect, while the more interesting b-side "The Conversation" plays like the bastard offspring of the Delta 5' "Mind Your Own Business" and the B52's Wild Planet album while Miyuki comes over like Fred Schneider with a political agenda. I look forward to the new album.
Fingers Cut Megamachine, Pipe Dreams (Thick) Rating: 6
Devon Williams is Fingers Cut Megamachine. Apart from having the most ridiculous band name this side of the '70s funk movement (I have the undeniable urge to add "Experience" to the end of it and "The" to the beginning), FCM's recent EP features six solid songs of acoustic guitar Americana with lyrics referencing tambourines, sunny days, and this refrain: "Will you open up your arms for our love". It's a little cheesy, but it sounds earnest. The songs rarely venture past guitar and vocals, sometimes adding a simple drum part or quiet backing vocals. Nothing is invigorating to the form, but it's very pleasant and dreamy. Wilco and a number of other roots bands started with a similar formula, so can we expect Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in a few years? Maybe not, but this will do for a rainy day. [Amazon]
The Exit, Home For an Island (Wind-Up) Rating: 6
The Exit sound like they're from the past, but there's enough smarts that resonate today to make it just get above the bar. The percussion driven "Don't Push" is adequate yet lacks any punch during the chorus. The same can be said for the lackadaisical, reggae-tinted "Back To The Rebels" that comes off like a hardcore Maroon 5 song if such a thing exists. There are some fine moments including the winding and weaving guitars dominating "Home For an Island" and the arty rock of "Pressure Cooker" that could be mistaken for Futureheads or Gang of Four or those Franz fellows. Meanwhile "The Sun Will Rise in Queens" is an eclectic tune that shifts from a late '60s guitar romp to a reggae-pop feeling throughout. The record's pleasant surprise is an acoustic jaunt entitled "Soldier" that could have come from the Verve on their last legs or Richard Ashcroft's solo work. As it goes along, a couple of songs come off as filler, particularly the moody, mid-tempo effort titled "Darlin" and "Already Gone". If you are tired of The Police, this album at times should be a refreshing bit of pop. That is until you need to hear Synchronicity again. [Amazon]
The Gunshy, Souls (Latest Flame) Rating: 8
The latest album from The Gunshy stays on the same course that the previous album did: deadly, darker tunes that see the bottle or glass not half full but shattered on the barroom floor. "I Am Not Who I Used to Be" has singer/jack-of-all-trades Matt Arbogast singing the title in a way that makes Tom Waits sound cheerful. If you're listening to it, you expect the skies to grow dark and perhaps a dense fog to settle in. But Arbogast brings it to a hymnal-like conclusion with fabulous results. Fans of Buck 65 and The National would also be wise to seek this album out, especially with "Last Songs" that brings to mind The National's "Mr. November" with a touch of horns. The Gunshy revisit this somewhat later on with the rowdy yet swaying "Stop Singing". "My Nicotine, My Whiskey" is a simpler folk tune that flows along nicely in a singer-songwriter format while "Call Me Home" is a militaristic romp that sounds a bit like The Pogues circa If I Should Fall From Grace With God. The Gunshy aren't shy about giving you a different outlook judging by the slower, train-rolling "Remember These Chords in the Morning" with a mournful dirge cello underneath the mix. After a punchy title track, Arbogast ends it all with "Let There Be No Mounrful Tears", a tune that sounds like Arbogast's last will and testament.
MP3: "Last Songs" - from Souls
The Negatones, The Negatones (www.negatones.com) Rating: 5
So who exactly are the Negatones? A few spins of eponymous debut LP (though they have a few EPs to their credit) brings listeners no real insight. Are they a frantic garage band (as "And So My Troubles Began" would suggest), or Beck-lite kitchen-sink bohemians ("The Confrontation Happened"), or Blaxploitation enthusiasts ("The Godfather") or Newgrass pranksters ("Banjo Etudes")? For sure, their genre hopping would play well live at a house party, but on disc it's all so much "jack of all trades, master of none" disorientation. Should the Negatones tighten their focus, here's hoping they build around their best incarnation: the slinky merchants of cool personae they adopt on "The Escalator Song". The tune, with funky vibraphones and out-there lyrics like "Off and on the generator / Dealing with the azimuth / And key attenuators / Beeping like a satellite", stands out on the disc. There's plenty of solid musicianship to go around on The Negatones, but it needs to be paired with focus.
Roma 79, The Great Dying (Ascetic) Rating: 4
According to my close friend Google, Roma 79 was a 1976 movie made by the celebrated Italian film director and football star Marco Zamboni that briefly featured Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls. Dressed entirely in white, Smalls plays a trained assassin who is gunned down by the film’s protagonist before the opening credits. True or false, this is absolutely the most interesting thing about The Great Dying and the California trio named (presumably) for the movie. That's not to say Roma 79 aren't proficient in their blending of many of yesterday and today's alt-rock clichés, it's just to say, so what? As his band mates once advised Smalls, Roma 79 are simply "missing something in terms of thrust" in the "power zone". Someone fetch this band some musical zucchini. Or maybe a courgette. [Amazon]
Roommate, Songs the Animals Taught Us (Roommate) Rating: 6
Kent Lambert is visual. He's very visual in fact looking at the number of videos that have appeared in various film festivals globally. But he's branching out into music with some assistance from a fine list of new musicians. However, the songs, despite sounding like Neil Young in his electronic, robotic phase, take a while to enjoy, especially the rather cold and aloof "Tuesday". However, Lambert has an adventurous streak on the synthesizer samples-meets-mountain music of "Fairgrounds". Think of the Soggy Mountain Boys inspired by the theme to Star Trek and you get the gist of the tune. But "Hot Commods" is a fine track that is melodic with a strange, surprising poppy twist. Fans of Baby Dayliner would also enjoy "Typhoon" and its minimal approach. For the most part though, after the first six songs, the album becomes monotonous and a tad dreary, especially the darker and rather morbid "Dinner With Ivan". The lone exception is "Fresh Boys" that resembles a '50s era high school prom ditty.
Intense, The Bohemian Pimp Project (Defend Music) Rating: 7
This solo debut from the ex leader of hip hop group Schoolz of Thought finds the Philly-based MC getting off to a rather slow start. Though Intense (not to be confused with the Good Looking drum'n'bass group) talks lot about being a "Bohemian Pimp", you still don't get a good idea of what the hell that is, other than a rapper who likes to smoke pot. But as The Bohemian Pimp Project proceeds, it gains momentum, depth, and strength. Intense's flow is a less authoritative version of Eminem's rapid-fire delivery, but the faster he raps, the better he sounds. The real strength here is the eclectic production, which employs jump blues, disco, and psychedelia without all the "Hey, look at me!" flash that sometimes dogs similarly-minded acts. Intense sounds at home both belting braggadocio like "Like Fire" and getting pensive and atmospheric on "The Truth About Me...". The real gems, though, are his short, sharp swipes at seedy nightlife culture ("Club Drama") and the pharmaceutical industry ("Drugs!!!"). In all, this is one of the year's most enjoyable hip hop surprises. [Amazon]
My American Heart The Meaning in Makeup (WARCON) Rating: 4
With an average age of just 17 years old My American Heart can be forgiven for displaying every clichéd chord and lyric that haunts the current pop/punk underground. When you're young you're an imitator; as you grow up you find a path or sound that you can make yours. My American Heart is an excellent imitator right now. From the pleading vocal delivery to the fat drop D chords, My American Heart is a perfect soundtrack to the extreme lifestyle that WARCON Entertainment is trying to market. The CD comes packaged with a free bonus DVD that includes audio tracks, music videos, video game demos, movie trailers, and extreme lifestyle clips. The band's earnest screamo style is just another tool into the minds and pocketbooks of America's disaffected (or so they're told) youth. The fairly mundane and highly derivative sound of My American Heart is clearly just another tool in the continuing co-opt of a sound that is already completely oversaturated. The boys in My American Heart have chops and talent, with a little luck and a few years seasoning they might discover a sound that sets them apart from the two thousand other bands currently trying to make the exact same noise that they are. [Amazon]
Goon Moon I Got a Brand New Egg Layin' Machine (Suicide Squeeze) Rating: 3
Say you're Twiggy Ramirez, and say you have some time off from hanging out with Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor. What do you do? Well, it appears that you hook up with Zach Hill from Hella and Chris Goss from Masters of Reality and write an album. The resulting 10 tracks defy all expectations of what you might think a project with members of the aforementioned bands would sound like. Neither glammy nor fraught with head twisting time signatures, Goon Moon is instead an open-ended freakshow of extremely brief experimental passages. Largely instrumental, the disc veers from idea to idea without hesitation and unfortunately without exploration. With most of the tracks coming in well under four minutes and a couple under one minute, the whole "album" (or mini-album as Suicide Squeeze is marketing it) is done in about 25 minutes. Except for the final two tracks "No Umbrella" and "Apartment 31", that take on a Queens of the Stone Age like vibe, I Got a Brand New Egg Layin' Machine are a bunch of throwaway, demo-like tracks that severely disappoint. Even diehard fans would be advised to stay away. [Amazon]
Lies, Hate (Sick Music) Rating: 5
Brantford, Ontario band Lies is a quartet out to prove they can produce music that is sick, sick being heavy, new-nu metal that is also rather good for these newcomers. "This World" has a haunting, eerie underlying spoken vocal as lead singer Travis Bain sings about another day filled with bull manure. However, the bottom falls out of "Secret" which is about as menacing as a corked Nerf football. Bain has had a painful history and almost died in his youth. And sometimes it makes for good song fodder. However, when the band keeps it simple by jacking up the amps, as they do on "You Could Be Mine" (not an Axl and company cover), it's better than anticipated despite they recant their drug ingestion histories. It gets stale though roughly halfway through, with the quasi shrieks and wails of "Bleed" paired off with some rudimentary indie rock arrangements. The urgency and intensity captured during "The One" is great, but a bit too late.
The Singing Adams, Problems (The Track and Field Organization) Rating: 7
Oh, how I love some albums that come months in advance. Song titles can change as can running orders. But when an album comes with no song titles at all, well it is an adventure. So, here goes, described only as track numbers. The side project of Steven Adams opens with a tune possibly titled "You Can't Stay in This House Anymore" that could have fallen off Suede's Sci-Fi Lullabies as an acoustic guitar strums along to Adams dour delivery. Fans of James Yorkston and also Alasdair Roberts would enjoy the second track ("Keep My Distance"?) as it's a folksy, cozy little gem that sounds like it's been recording at a kitchen party while "Don't You Feel For Me" (track three yes, but is that the title?) is a lovely little Celtic-flavored gem. But it's not all so formulaic as the gorgeous fourth track nails a fuzzed out sound in the vein of Jesus and Mary Chain and the Velvets. After another folksy, mountain-esque ramble, the seventh song is more of a mournful dirge with a line talking about defecating where you eat as a guitar slowly enters the fray. The dichotomy in some songs might be a disaster waiting to happen, but Adams is more than capable of fusing the best of both worlds. Other highlights are "I Don't Believe in Love Anymore" (track eight) and the ensuing ninth ditty.
Johann Johannsson, Dis (The Worker's Institute) Rating: 6
Johannsson typically composes music that can lazily be described as "cinematic". With Dis, based on music from an actual film, he shifts from atmospheric (and often minimalist) scoring to more of a poppy soundtrack. Of course, "pop" in Johannsson's range isn't anything you're likely to see with music videos. In this case, it's an electronic construction that takes as much from contemporary instrumental rock as from traditional classical composition. "Efripides og Nedripides" starts out with a mellow, space-y groove, but shifts abruptly into a guitar-led stretch of rock. The burst lasts briefly, and Johannson drops from it into a clean chord progression that he repeats less frequently than you anticipate. We even get some female vocals on the title track that (even if they'd be in your first language) function as much as an instrument as a content-provider. Johannson takes an unlikely direction on this release, but proves he has the skills to score. [Amazon]
Glow Stars, Raised on Pong (Levitation) Rating: 2
Raised on Pong, the debut album from Glow Stars, blazes a trail of mediocrity so dull, it's hard to summon the will for a second listen. The home-brewed concoction of Thomas Bedlam, Glow Stars try a little bit of everything, from new wave to power-pop by way of indie-rock and emo -- all blended and molded into a lo-fi package. The record's uninspiring analog production desperately wants to be an aesthetic crutch for the poor songwriting, but from the first note, this star fades quickly -- although in all fairness, its glimmer was faint from the start. Such well-tested patterns as pseudo-Cure-tinged guitar and bass riffs are merged with huffy, somber synthesizer wails, culminating in tracks like "On a Rainy Day", a piece characteristic of the band's insatiable appetite to ape a myriad of alternative musical genres. This craving fails at every level and is the band's chief shortcoming, nearly matched by lyrics, which are yawn-inducing undergrad-level poetry workshop fluff. Thankfully, Raised on Pong is the kind of musical blip easily ignored, something it deserves.
Whiskey Daredevils, Greatest Hits (Drink and Drive) Rating: 6
The Whiskey Daredevils are rockabilly-meets-country pure and simple, with songs that revolve around girls and cars, such as "AMC Hornet". Lead singer Bob Lanphier and crew are to the point with hordes of boogie-based rock riffs that bring to mind Stray Cats or Mike Ness (mentioned on "Ironic Trucker Hat") and his solo work. "Jesus Walks Beside Me" is a slower paced honky-tonk type of tune, while the quirky "Let's Lynch the Landlord" recalls the Blasters. The first of many highlights has to be the catchy and meaty rocker "Mickey's Bigmouth", and the toe-tapper hoedown of "Ida Jane", but "Don't Go" is a mediocre tune that is padding at best. The disc closes fantastically with a rousing "Greasy Box", which channels Bo Diddley. Finally, a greatest hits package that lives up to its billing.