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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
14 February 2006
The Black Angels, The Black Angels (Light in the Attic) Rating: 8
Tending to the darker shades of psychedelic rock, the Black Angels produce a sinister sound that resonates rather than simulates. Not that this grimey, snake charming drone rock is a wildly innovative concept. But that ends up being just another reason why this is such a surprising and entrancing disc. The music is as sincere as molten lava, so notions of derivation don't figure prominently in the consumption. Like the Warriors fighting through the night to get to Coney Island, you don't question the logic because it's just so fucking cool. It's also encouraging that Jennifer Raines, Nate Ryan, Christian Bland, Stepanie Bailey and Alex Maas seem to revel in the traditions of their fore bearers. Consider two of the song titles of this introductory four song EP, "The First Vietnamese War" and "Winter '68". They even make sure to include some of their more immediate predecessors in their liner notes, thanking Anton Newcombe and The Brian Jonestown Massacre "for starting the revolution". But unlike some other black clad BJM offspring, the Angels' assault comes off refreshingly effortless.
Les Angles Morts, What's Real? (Blue Skies Turn Black) Rating: 5
Les Angles Morts make instrumental punk for prog rockers. Or prog for punk rockers, it's hard to tell which. Whichever it is, Les Angles Morts' debut album What's Real? combines lots of time signature changes, guitar soloing (both Eddie Van Halen-style and Thurston Moore-style), electronic noodling, and instrumental crashes and burns, all of it adding up to an explosive half-hour of fireworks and headaches. The Les Angles Morts approach is best utilized on tracks like opener "What's Real Summer" and "A Very Fraid", the former of which is confused, unpredictable space rock featuring an all out war of guitars versus synths, while the latter is happy-slappy surf-rock for people who have never surfed in their lives. Predictably, however, the band takes their free spirit too far when they close their album with dreck like "Struggling to Survive", which doesn't climax or progress so much as it pointlessly shifts. That two of Les Angles Morts' members split off of the then-gaining-in-momentum Arcade Fire to seek out more experimental musical avenues is admirable -- despite these good intentions, however, What's Real? is the sound of a band that still needs to learn that adventure without purpose is merely aimless wandering.
Stratovarius, Stratovarius (Sanctuary) Rating: 4
Veterans of the melodic, bombastic sounds of progressive power metal, Finland's Stratovarius have been plying their trade for nearly two decades now, but on this, their 12th album, truly sounds like their best days are behind them. More Sonata Arctica than Dream Theater, lead guitarist/main songwriter Timo Tolkki has always had a knack for focusing more on effective vocal melodies instead of meandering prog metal epics, and there is no shortage of hooks on the new record. Unfortunately, however, it all seems a touch forced, as he and the rest of the band resort to tired power metal clichés such as cornball titles ("Fight!!!", "The Land of Ice and Snow"), straight-faced spoken word interludes spewing self-help nonsense, and pop-oriented songs so generally silly it's nearly unbearable ("Maniac Dance"). Singer Timo Kotipelto possesses a voice as operatic as former Helloween howler Michael Kiske and Europe singer Joey Tempest, and Tolkki's guitarwork is as nimble as ever, but as with every power metal act who begins to lose steam, it's all a little too close to Spinal Tap territory for our comfort.
Illogic, Write to Death Vol. 2: The Missing Pieces (Dove Ink Recording) Rating: 4
Illogic's second Write to Death release, The Missing Pieces finds the emcee in a promising yet awkward place. The album's tracks are all decent, but scream for something more to bring them above this plateau that so many hip-hop artists spend their careers languishing on. The production is gritty, almost reminiscent of Vaudville Villain, but not impressive. The beats are fairly standard, and don't leap out at the listener like they would need to in order to be effective. The problem with using a shrill, rough production style is that if its not done really well it can sound sloppy, which The Missing Pieces does at points. The lyrics follow a similar trend. Illogic makes a commendable effort to tackle a number of topics with his rhymes, but he doesn't yet have the lyrical capacity to do it effectively. The combination of these two factors leaves the album feeling weak even with the air of promise that surrounds it. Illogic has the potential to rise to the next level, but could also very easily remain where he is. Time will tell which path he takes.
.: posted by Editor 6:18 AM