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Healthy White Baby, Healthy White Baby (Broadmoor) Rating: 7
There's two paths to take when writing a break-up album: get weepy and introspective, or plug in the amps and rock out. Fortunately, for those of us who want to kick a little ass while mending a broken heart, there's the eponymous debut from Healthy White Baby. Two-thirds of the band -- singer/guitarist Danny Black and bassist Laurie Stirratt (plus drummer Ryan Juravic, who has probably loved and lost too) -- were once in bands with their exes (the Blacks and Blue Mountain, respectively), and judging from the tunes on Healthy White Baby the trio knows a thing or two about imploding bands and relationships. With song titles like "It's Over", "Hard to Please", "I Was Trying" and lyrics like "Love's a disaster / I know it's after my soul" it's easy to see what's weighing on Black and Stirratt's souls. But rather than wallow in what once was, the band takes these bleak notions and molds them into bloozy, garage roots rock. Given Black and Stirratt's alt-country leanings from their days with their earlier outfits, it's a pleasant surprise to find them firmly stuck in the garage with HWB. It's not hard to imagine, say, Paul Westerberg (especially in his Grandpaboy guise), treading the same territory with equally heartbreaking and footstomping results. And the album ends strong with three upbeat songs -- "Want It", a cover of Bill Monroe's "With Body and Soul" and "Home"; call them the lights and the end of the break-up tunnel.
KTU, Eight-Armed Monkey (Thirsty Ear) Rating: 7
This is an instrumental collaboration between Pat Mastelatto and Trey Gunn (King Crimson) and Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen (Kluster). It's all very po-mo to the max: accordion and voice and samples from the funny Finns, guitar and percussion from the serious Americans, stretched out over five lengthy songs. Sometimes they rock in a funky electronic way ("Optikus"), sometimes they meander ambiently ("Keho"). This is the kind of adorable post-rock stuff that a lot of the kids were doing last decade, but it's done pretty well overall and Kluster sounds like a pretty good duo.
Ryan Lee Crosby b/w The Instances, Split Cassette (Sort Of) Rating: 5
Split Cassette samples Sort Of Records' two main artists. The first five tracks are from Ryan Lee Crosby and the last six tracks are from label owner Raymond Morin's band, The Instances. And the music itself is what makes this pairing work. Crosby's contributions are almost washed out in a hushed, acoustic delivery, making the words all the more chilling on the domestic abuse tale of "Big Mistake". "Maybe somebody out there's gonna call the cops / Figure I'm beating her, and they can force me to stop / But they'd only catch me at the table drinking coffee / Perfectly stable and sitting there perfectly still." It looks horrific written out, but the song is soft and almost touching. Capturing the confusion and pain of something even darker with his near-whisper vocals, "Some Serious Help" closes Crosby's "side" of the album with a self-absorbing tale of suicide. Consisting of Morin's guitar and vocals, Seth Mehl on erhu (Chinese violin), and Emily Davis on flute, The Instances sound is well-matched with Crosby's work. "Characters" owes much to British folk in its arrangements while "Metal in My Mouth" has a fuzzy and appropriately metallic feel, but the same hushed qualities of Crosby's work are present under The Instances' sometimes noisier plot points. But while Crosby's stories were gritty and unsettling, their sentiment feels genuine. The Instances' lyrical content, on the other hand, feels a bit milquetoast by virtue of their vagueness. In all, the complete package is well put-together and a worthwhile listen.
A Day in Black & White, Notes (Level Plane) Rating: 4
The only thing I hate worse than walking and getting hit by slushy snow from a speeding car is a band intent on being all arty with an intro that makes you want to yawn or bang your head off a cupboard door. A Day In Black And White succeed in being more arse-y than arty on the cleverly coined "Tinnitus" which should be dubbed "Tedious". "New Energy" sounds tired with a post punk pop that fizzles immediately, sounding like a tired Jimmy Eat World-meets-Mooney Suzuki. They turn the page for the better with the lo fi "A Literal Title" rooted in alt. rock foundations that veers into a quasi Yo La Tengo experimental rave up. "Lame Duck" furthers that idea and improves on it somewhat. The band never really does anything to make you take notice or do a double take despite better than average tracks like "Long-Distance Song Effects". Other times they seem to be, as the Brits say, "taking the piss" on tracks like "Nothing With Nothing" and "A Good Turn". The unevenness of the record is perhaps its biggest drawback with the strength of "Ronald's Right" wasted alongside "All Plots".