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Me Talk Pretty, Ana (self-released) Rating: 7
Imagine Tool without the oppressive gloom fronted by Bjork without the grating shrillness; now you have a close approximation of Me Talk Pretty. Sound like something different? It is, and in this case, different is good ... Very good. Sprouting from the incestuous New York underground scene, the band offers up an attractive EP of somberness anchored by Julia's powerfully melodic vocals. With Leon Lyazidi on guitar, Chris Foster on bass and James Kluz behind the kit, the seven tracks are awash in heavy rhythms and sharp fretwork. But the EP avoids traveling the well-trodden route of gratuitous darkness and doom. Instead, the compositions resemble miniature operatic productions, resonating with a wide spectrum of emotions. Song segments alternate from bludgeoning to dream-like, yet all flow seamlessly together. One moment, Julia lulls listeners into a false sense of security with her breathless semi-whisper, then without pause, jars them awake again by holding notes that could break glass. Ana is a fascinating exploration into sophisticated song craft, and is as enjoyable for its keen musicality as it is for its deviation from the standard pop/rock template. Tough to accurately categorize, but brimming with individuality and artistic potential, Me Talk Pretty dares to be different, with exceptional results.
Tommy and the Terrors, Unleash the Fury (TKO) Rating: 5
Tommy and the Terrors share more than a producer (Matt Kelly) with the Dropkick Murphys; they also proudly represent Irish Boston, with cartoonish cover art featuring a fightin' Irishman atop a mighty MBTA train and a requisite Guinness reference. Musically, they're a bit less adventurous, though with 15 songs in 26 minutes, they unleash their punk fury with welcomed brevity. Opener "Chum" couldn't recall 1977 any more if it came with a Billy Beer scratch'n'sniff card, with ringing, Clash-like guitars and gruff, raspy vocals in the vein of Stiff Little Fingers. Subsequent tunes like "Under Surveillance" and "Breakdown, Breakdown" continue in this trajectory, and they offer their fair share of fist-pumping moments. There's nothing wrong with celebrating a tradition, but Tommy and the Terrors suffer from a lyrical boneheadedness that blunts the album's punch. The need for simplistic chants of "here we, here we go" or "all together, we are one" shouted in group unison has surely been filled by three decades of punk, and I'm pretty sure the same can be said of songs about getting high and eating pizza until someone pukes ("Avoid the Noi!d" nonetheless serving as the album's most clever wordplay). When the band turns its attention to more topical concerns the effect isn't much better; "Are these still songs of rebellion," asks "Worms," "if corporations sell them?" "I Barcode," meanwhile, wonders, "Are we Americans or are Americants?" Punk groups from the Sex Pistols to the Dillinger Four have probed social politics with much more depth and insight, and in comparison Tommy and Terrors merely provide overly general sentiments about community, the importance of partying, and the way corporations, you know, suck. Still, Unleash the Fury makes for passable background or driving music, and it can't be said to overstay its welcome.
Mastica, "Uomini" b/w "Scemo Chi Spara" [7-inch single] (Crusher)
Maybe Italy is the new Scandinavia, or at least that's the suggestion of this new 7" from Mastica, who reach back to the '70s for some psych and hard rock influences. The group uses Deep Purple as a referent, but lacks the technical virtuosity of that group (or, more generously, avoids the prog indulgences). Whether the band knows how to show off or not, they at least know to skip the lengthy noodling that could undo psychedelic jams in the eyes of anyone who was seeing straight. A-side "Uomini" has some drive, but singer Matteo Bizotto occasionally lets his proto-metal vocals stray a bit to far into tremulant outer space. "Scemo Chi Spara" foregoes Blue Cheer and any other colorful bands for the Yardbirds. Approaching the maximum line on the arrangement, the song still makes space for a fantastic bassline that shows an Entwistle influence. Decent enough tracks, but notice the number of allusions in this paragraph. Put the top down and scream along (in italiano), but don't expect anything more.
David Berkeley, Live from Fez (self-released) Rating: 6
Live albums are normally reserved for established acts too soon into their careers for a greatest hits compilation or for groups who excel so strongly in improvisation that a live sound merely captures their best attributes. David Berkeley is much too fresh for a greatest hits record, and his songs are not tailored for improvisation. Instead the subdued singer/songwriter gently rocks us over the course of 75 minutes. The songs are accomplished, as are the musicians and Berkeley's voice. A bonus DVD, capturing the performance of four of the songs, is a nice inclusion. But the need for this to be a live album escapes me. Is it so we can hear the bloated banter, including Berkeley's explanations of a failed attempt at French onion soup? It's a shame because the songs are very good, especially the solo take on the gorgeous "Fire Sign". It just makes me wish I had been introduced to the songs over a much shorter period of time and without the needless interludes.