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Cameron McGill, Street Ballads & Murderesques (Post-Important) Rating: 7
This is a record by someone who's listened to Springsteen's Nebraska. A lot. While not such a bad influence to wear on one's sleeve, the ghostly sparsity of that record is of a caliber that has never been accurately replicated, at least to the acute level of Springsteen's masterpiece. Cameron McGill gives it a go, though, and a noble one at that. McGill's voice warbles through swarms of piano, guitar, and harmonica on Street Ballads & Murderesques. The substance of these songs is rooted in story, and McGill has clearly worked hard to achieve that depth and these songs are marathons. Only two songs clock in under five minutes and this seeming-substance is not false: McGill's songs are born, raised, and die in their given time, finding the love and pain, the happiness and horror, the profundities of life hidden in words, phrases, and musical tones. Fans of Ryan Adams's Heartbreaker who want a little less indulgent songwriting will especially be able to get into McGill's stuff; he's an earnest singer/songwriter with the potential to challenge the best of them. The problem is getting noticed (he's starting to) and sticking with it (he has been). Don't be fooled by the fact that you might not have heard his name, though: Cameron McGill is legit.
Tristan Prettyman, Twentythree (Virgin) Rating: 5
Tristan Prettyman is more or less the female version of Jason Mraz, except she's cute and used to be a professional surfer. Her songs grace the middle of the road pop soundscape that your parents enjoy and your girlfriend occasionally listens to when she's purposefully trying to piss you off. In case Prettyman's role in the pop canon were in doubt, she has a duet with Mraz on the disc (I hear they're dating). Prettyman is consistent and throaty, but that consistently borders on boredom instead of innovation. Confessional coffee shop pop songs have a place in society, but that place should be limited to coffee shops. Those of you who'd enjoy getting into Prettyman's music already know exactly what you'd be getting into. Have fun getting in to it all over again.
Aberdeen City, The Freezing Atlantic (Dovecote) Rating: 5
Somehow Aberdeen City has arrived at an aesthetic sounding almost exactly like The Jim Yoshi Pile-Up covering Interpol. While that isn't necessarily a bad combination, it's not all that essential either. With a few strong songs and impressive production held back by a limited range of inspiration, their debut proves better than average but just barely. A sense of appropriated darkness pervades and although some awkward attempts to deviate from that feeling sound strained other songs boast catchy choruses and adeptly effected guitar textures. Ultimately though the band lacks any idiosyncrasy that distinguishes them from other likeminded artists pilfering the same set of influences. A little Joy Division, a smidgeon of shoegaze, an ample application of Echo and the Bunnymen and what emerges is something pleasantly enjoyable enough but not very notable.
Brian McDade, Love Bayou (OTN Production) Rating: 7
Brian McDade is new to the music business, but the former construction worker from England brings his life experiences and alt.country-meets-soul roots pop to each and every number on this debut. Dubbing his niche as "Scotiana", McDade could pass for a countrified David Gray on "Houselights" or a strolling Delbert McClinton during the slow bluesy swing of "Two Hoots". Musically, McDade is as adventurous as any restless twentysomething with a backpack and road map, rarely going back to the same formula but mining new ground for some nuggets, particularly the swaying, laidback, humming Blue Rodeo feel of "Paris". The simple groove or vibe on each of these songs makes McDade ease into each song nicely during "Repossed" and the traditional country toe tapper "Promises". The mellow mood that seems to be the thread to this record brings to mind J.J. Cale as McDade is in no real hurry to do anything extraordinary to grab your attention. A great example of this is "Santa Anna Winds" but "Missing Miss Someone" is a tad weak. But "The Night You Lit Up the Blues" more than atones for it as does "People in Grass Houses". Listening to this, McDade should've given up his day job long ago.
Xbxrx, Sixth in Sixes (Polyvinyl) Rating: 7
Xbxrx is going to be big, at least as far as balls-to-the-wall math-core bands get big. I know this because much of their debut album is a solid, straight-up math-core album, all tempo changes and humongous guitar noises and willfully amelodic basslines and screechy, screamy vocals. As such, it is good. What Sixth in Sixes has that most albums of this nature don't, however, is the ability to reveal new layers upon repeat listening. The ten seconds or so of Halloween synths that bridge the first two vocal sections of "Fabricated Progression" are fantastic, and "Hope Until We Can't" sounds a bit like Kurt Cobain on spin cycle. Still, nothing can compete with "Beat Rolls On", one of only two songs (of 18) to break the two-minute mark, which allows a bit of Devo influence in its uncharacteristic rigidity -- that is, until it explodes into a crushing minute of guitar noise, Faith No More synth work and harmonica. Sixth in Sixes is that rare ball of fire that offers a touch of respite from the constant heat in the form of variety. And really, any album in this genre that can inspire an excited second listen deserves a good, close look.
Elliott Brood, Ambassador (Six Shooter) Rating: 7
Nothing fancy about Elliott Brood, folks. The trio of Mark Sasso, Casey LaForet and Stephen Pitkin pluck and stomp the hell out of traditional "mountain" instruments like guitar, banjo and anything else to create a fantastic album, beginning to end. Even if you hated the album, the artwork and presentation is excellent, consisting of a train ticket on the inner fold. Easing themselves into the opener "Twill", the band sounds like a long lost Appalachian rocker performed by the great uncle of Neil Young. "President (35)" is an infectious romp that has you toe-tapping if not testing the floor beams with a hard, repetitive thud. The same can be said for "Second Son" and also "Wolfgang". Some might argue this is rather repetitive, and they could be right. But when it's done this good, dang it, you can't do anything but love it. Perhaps the odd song out is the Celtic-tinged, whispery "Jackson", that sounds eerily like Rod Stewart. That and The Wall-like feel to "Johnny Rooke". The cheery mood picks up with the galloping "The Bridge". Fans of Ramsay Midwood rejoice, you've found another like-minded ensemble.
Moistboyz, IV (Sanctuary) Rating: 5
Those who will love Moistboyz' IV already know who they are; so zealous is their devotion to the brown sound that they would probably offer up a blood sacrifice to the Boognish if ordered. If you have no idea what that means, it's likely that Moistboyz (Mickey Melchiondo of Ween and Guy Heller of False Front) is patently not for you. The Boyz' so-ironic-it's-not-ironic brand of metal is in full effect, but there's a definite push to politicize their message as evidenced by "I Don't Give a Fuck Where the Eagle Flies" and "Uncle Sam and Me". Later on, it's back to normal: "White Trash", "Fuck You", and "Everybody's Fucked Her" give an accurate taste of their overboard comic tastelessness. The Boognish may be satisfied by the hellish riffs and rampant, often uncreative profanity, but you've got to be willing to stomach assaults of every kind to really connect with this one.
Morning Star, The Opposite is True (Microbe/Disco-Ordination) Rating: 4
Morning Star are a British collective helmed by Jesse Vernon. Vernon's eclectic choice of songs and arrangements is akin to Tom Waits, as if he's creating a new batch of timeless folk tunes. Even with the variety, the songs are often timid and boring. Look no further than the first two tracks. Both struggle to be memorable. "Sunbeam", however, strikes a good balance between wacky and catchy, and "Great Day" is an exuberant joy that sounds like it's from a Disney musical. But "Going Home", the closer, is an embarrassing country ditty. The most consistent problem is flimsy production that leaves mediocre songs flailing in the wind and good songs never rising to the level of greatness. And that's the "opposite" of expert music making.