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Freezepop, Maxi Ultra-Fresh (The Archenemy Record Company/Darla) Rating: 3
I'm trying to think of a worse forum for Freezepop's goofy yet slick and glamorous take on programmed synth-pop than this sixty minute monstrosity somehow labeled as an EP (for some perspective, it would have been a double album in the vinyl era). The first three tracks are absolute brilliant slices of future-retro fun, highlighted by the ironically named Liz Enthusiasm's perfectly frigid vocal contributions ("Tonight" is perhaps, the ideal expression of detached sensuality). Unfortunately, these songs are also straight from the band's previous album Fancy Ultra-Fresh. The rest of Maxi Ultra-Fresh takes the standard stopgap EP approach in creating product where it doesn't necessarily, you know, exist. There's a non-essential leftover, "Smoke Machine", which is about as interesting as a standard b-side. Next, the band presents a dull live medley, a fairly pointless inclusion considering that Freezepop's brand of pre-programmed music does not exactly lend itself to illuminating live performances. All of this leads to the bulk of the album, a collection of long and uninspired re-mixes that take all that is oddball and awkward in the band's songs, and flatten them into standardized remixes, effectively destroying everything that makes Freezepop a worthwhile pop act. All in all, with the best tracks all appearing on their previous album and the live track and the remixes fairly worthless, it doesn't make sense for the average Freezepop fan to spend their money on Maxi Ultra-Fresh just for the sake for one new mediocre song.
Fear Factory, Transgression (Calvin) Rating: 3
How the mighty have fallen. Granted, Fear Factory have changed little since1995's Demanufacture, one of the most influential albums of the nu-metal era, but a decade later, the band sounds tired, with not a lick of originally, nor charisma to speak of. While the ironically tepid "540,000° Fahrenheit" does benefit from Burton C. Bell's vocal melodies and the spacious production, an embarrassingly bad piece of third-generation nu-metal like "Contagion" comes along to ruin things. When the band does manage to show some life, as during "Spinal Compression", all they can manage are a few bars of uninspired death metal riffs and blastbeats before sinking back into their torpor. Some might consider their note-for-note cover of U2's "I Will Follow" to be a bold move, but to these ears, it smacks of an aging band completely devoid of any ideas. If that wasn't enough, things go from bad to worse on the abysmal, flaccid cover of Killing Joke's great "Millenium". One of 2005's most pointless albums.
Chris Murphy, Noir (Kufala) Rating: 8
The violin can be an intriguing instrument when used properly, and Chris Murphy has managed to squeeze every last drop of tension, eeriness, funk, classical and mountain style in this near hour of adventure. From the haunting film score style the opens "Tango", Murphy eases himself into the dance without shortchanging himself or the listener. The lone problem might be how long he stays with it prior to the murky "Desert Star" which stalls the album briefly. Murphy relies on some funky or catchy melodies to showcase his chops, including a lovely little stroll during "Café Noir" that sounds like a cross between Mark O'Connor and Nigel Kennedy. Less endearing is the somewhat lazy, swinging "Filbert's Rag" that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But the sparse, engaging "Coffee And Candles" with Murphy's playing at the fore is brilliant as is the somewhat bluesy toe-tapping "Bessie Smith". The musician's knack for veering from genre to genre without it being over his head is remarkable, particularly on the hip-rattling "Eddie's Mambo" that picks up in intensity. Another favorite near the end is "Moonlight Waltz", but overall Murphy seems to be content by being a highly competent musical gypsy.
Rich McCulley, Far From My Angel (Rich McCulley Music) Rating: 6
Rich McCulley's third album is a refined bit of work that is bursting at the seams with roots rock and alt. country traits. Whether it is the safe but pleasing "First Word" that sounds like Cracker front man Dave Lowery paying homage to a Steve Earle track, McCulley is onto something good. The grittier "Hope You're Happy" as well as "I Am Free" has a cocky McCulley resembling a confident Elvis Costello from top to bottom. He takes things down to a slow Dylan-like roll on "Forget Me" that strolls along without any hiccups. However "This Ain't a Song" comes off like a bad Bryan Adams offering even with the handclaps and a better than average bridge. McCulley seems to try out a new style with each song, but a great deal of them passes with flying colors, particularly the down-tempo "Waterfall" that brings to mind Petty circa Wildflowers and the ensuing, galloping pop title track that evolves into a rowdier rocker. When he tries too hard the result is a disappointing "Stumbling to Start" and an ordinary "It's on Me". But he atones for it with a lovely little ditty entitled "8 Years Ago Today" with its simple jugband-like swagger.