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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
24 March 2006
Blue Scholars, The Long March EP (self-released) Rating: 8
Sure, grunge, coffee, and the Space Needle are nice. Yeah, Hendrix was a god. But of all the things Seattle has given us, Blue Scholars deserve the most praise in 2006. This emcee-deejay duo breathes new life into underground hip-hop with The Long March EP, a nine-song review of all that is good with the genre and an indisputable case for its continued infusion into the mainstream. The album's aesthetic is universally pleasing -- play this at a party and impress the hell out of your friends -- but also smart and deep enough to reward through headphone listens number 10, 15, 20, and beyond. Grounded in the jazz-rap movement of the early '90s and hip-hop's classic two-man dynamic, Blue Scholars are set firmly in their context just as they bust the hell out of it. Tracks about hating work as a telemarketer ("Proletariet Blues") and being the first in a family to graduate from college ("Commencement Day") are lightened by Geologic's eloquently laidback rhymes and Sabzi's creative beats, samples, and scratches. "I heard a few heads / Say that hip-hop is dead / No it's not, it's just malnourished and underfed", raps Geologic in "Southside Revival". If that's the case, then this record is a week of steak dinners. Bon appétit, hip-hop.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Spider, The Way to Bitter Lake (self-released) Rating: 7
Sometimes you just need a good cry. Jane Herships goes under the name of Spider, to give us a modern-day update of '60s feather-vocalist Margo Guryan. "Don't Be Afraid, I've Just Come to Say Goodbye" offers lots of acoustic guitar, and very hushed flutes and horns to give the song a warm playing-in-your-backyard feel. The brilliantly titled "I Don't Know if She Had Any Teeth Because She Never Smiled" moves as slow as molasses, but still builds to a tear-drenched catharsis -- the perfect song for rainy day window-watching. The last half of the album begins to thematically lap itself, though the use of electric guitar for the minute-long "End Song" and meticulous picking of "The Bitter One" more than make up for it. Spider's just builds its web now -- you'll get caught in it sooner or later.
"The Ballad of Clementine Jones": [MP3]
"The Bitter One": [MP3]
"Midnight on the Nile": [MP3]
Voodoo Blue, Smile 'n Nod (DCide) Rating: 6
Voodoo Blue is a band in the modern mold of MTV-punk, residing somewhere in between Blink 182 and Simple Plan, melding the former's slightly harder-edged instrumental style with the latter's marginally whinier vocal style and coming up with something that could well be blaring in shopping malls across the country any day now. The lyrical themes are one merciful step up from Simple Plan's high school angst, instead focusing on a sort of coming of age that's appropriate given the early-twenties ages of the trio. "Good 4 No 1" is a decent ode to looking for one's place in the world (albeit one with a really awful title), "Drown" a harder-edged song about the difficulty of change, and "Too Old to Cry" is a breakup song as told by someone who's trying desperately to get past the high school melodramatics that come with such a topic. Fortunately, amidst all of the soul searching, Voodoo Blue still allows for a little bit of silliness ("#4 is My Favorite Song" is a particularly goofy 20-second heavy-metal piss-take), and their exuberance is infectious -- you probably won't admit to liking the band, but you'll sing along anyway.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Three on the Tree, Dust in the Water (TOTT06) Rating: 7
Looking like they're mining for gold on the inner sleeves, Three on the Water offers a steady alt-country/roots sound. Listening to songs like "Blue Pacific", the group takes a slow, Southern drive through the likes of the Jayhawks and other similarly minded bands but in their own deliberate way. Meanwhile "Subway Tremors" features Jon Osing on lead vocals with some help by pedal steel guitarist Ken Champion, ambling along a bit like a laidback but toe-tapping Blue Rodeo or Son Volt. The shifty, swinging-meets-rockabilly "Jail House" is a rather bouncy ditty that sounds like it came from Sun Records. However, they seem to hit paydirt and their groove with the tender, light and world-weary "Ghost" that would fit perfectly on a Tarbox Ramblers or Cash Brothers album. Ditto for the mid-tempo "Fixture" that could be misconstrued as a cover of a Counting Crows track. Unfortunately they try to put a rock slant on "Flatbed Mary" with mixed results at best. However, Three on the Tree keep things simple and thus grand with "Paid to Play", a strong alt.country-by-numbers tune while the dirge-like "Black Eye in the Morning" is nailed perfectly as is the swampy "Two Glass Eyes".
.: posted by Editor 7:31 AM