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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
06 January 2006
The Ozark Mountrain Daredevils, Don't Look Down (New Era) Rating: 8
Available for the first time on U.S. soil as a domestic-issue CD, Don't Look Down might not be the Ozark Mountain Daredevils's strongest album with which to make the argument that they are the great long-lost American country rock band of the 1970s, but the pieces are there: "Giving It All to the Wind" is an astonishing ballad with remarkable psychedelic elements; "True Believer" boasts brilliant harmonies that warrant canonization alone. The closing number, "Stinghead", is a hillbilly number whose precision shows exactly the Daredevils's talent -- that they could make a 40-minute country-rock record and then close with a raucous, straight-up bluegrass instrumental doesn't feel out of place in the slightest. The band finds a mind-blowing midpoint between the angles of '70s rock: laden in its melodies are bits and pieces we remember as the Allman Brothers Band, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Eagles, and Jackson Browne. The playing is prime and Glyn Johns's production is perfect. Underneath the guise of then-current trends in rock, country and folk music is a series of enlightened glances at '70s culture that somehow has fallen by the wayside. This is just one installment in a reissue series bringing the Ozark Mountain Daredevils back to life.
Pattern Is Movement, Stowaway (NFI) Rating: 5
There is something to be said for groove. On their follow-up to The (Im)Possibility of Longing, Pattern Is Movement offer another batch of artfully skewed pop that puts them somewhere between Deerhoof and Liars. To be sure, the band has a lot going for them. Guitarist and vocalist Andrew Thiboldeaux is blessed with a voice that is crystal clear and endlessly expressive. Drummer Chris Ward holds the disc together with playing that is both solid and understated. The group's arrangements at face value, are highly inventive and engrossingly complex. The problem with Stowaway is that true to the band's name, it follows a pattern but never deviates from it. The disc is song after song of off-kilter riffing and stilted tempos that while interesting, never offers a moment or section that gives way to a hook laden rhythm. The band could do well to at least occasionally let their hair down and step out of their highly cultivated songs if just to simply rock out. Stowaway will offer fans of cerebral rock much to digest never amounts to more than the sum of its parts.
The Tom Collins, Daylight Tonight (Terminus) Rating: 8
This Southern-tinted band is chock full of rock riffs that while not groundbreaking are delivered so frickin' good that "Back of Your Mind" grabs you by the throat. By the time the chorus kicks in, you know damn well what you're in for -- a fine alt.country/roots rock record that brings to mind Grandpaboy with a spit polish. "Devil on the Streets" is a slower, beefy ramble that is something the Black Crowes are kicking themselves for not doing. The same could be said on "Hot and Cold" and the juicy, soulful "In the Morning". Toning it down with a nice instrumental intro into "Why Don't You Leave", the trio then maintains this Zeppelin flavor on the rollicking, heavy "That Town You Love". Tip-toeing between rock and alt.country on the earthy "Start of the Summer" that evolves into a rather spacey, psychedelic country ditty. The lone tune where The Tom Collins isn't really chomping at the bit is the somewhat ordinary "I Can't Sleep" that is eclipsed by the lovable, lazy and ragged "We All Said You Would". Mighty fine!
Silver Sunshine, A Small Pocket of Pure Spirit (Empyrean) Rating: 6
A Small Pocket of Pure Spirit is the appropriately trippy title of Silver Sunshine's latest EP. The group runs though slightly better than average psychedelic pop music, creating a tableau of space-age noises and reverb-heavy, far-off (and far-out, dude) vocals. Relying on standard sounds pioneered by the Beatles and indulged in more recently by two "super" bands (Supergrass and Super Furry Animals), Silver Sunshine hit almost all the right notes. The glaring exception is the overwrought instrumental that closes the EP. But for the first four songs, the band manage to transport you to Mars or Pluto or some other space location that promotes music putting you light-years away.
.: posted by Editor 7:40 AM
04 January 2006
Electric President, Electric President (Morr Music) Rating: 8
Electric President has nothing overtly political or electronic about them. The duo of Ben Cooper and Alex Kane are both in their early 20s, but given the depth of the songs, they could be mistaken for being far older with jewels like the sway-inducing "Good Morning, Hyprocrate" that crawls along just under pop radio's radar. The fragility and softness in their voices is comparable to Michael Penn or Grapes of Wrath before it evolves into a quasi Snow Patrol moment. The group is able to place various blips and bleeps sparingly around lovely little airy melodies during "Insomnia" and the grittier guitar sounds emanating out of the delightful "Ten Thousand Lines", which brings Luna to mind. Dreamy at times, Electric President nails track such as "Grand Machine No. 12" better than lullaby-like, melancholic moments during the acoustic-based "Hum". Perhaps the finest moment comes with the epic or anthem like opening to the soaring "Some Crap About the Future" which is a tad fuzzed out but nestles into a fine New Order-like groove. Another sleeper pick is the Eels-like "Metal Fingers" or moody "We Were Never Build to Last". Electric Parade is guilty of very good taste.
Let Go, Let Go (Militia Group) Rating: 6
The best thing about Let Go is that some of their ultra-earnest alt-rock (don't you dare use that word that rhymes with "Nemo") has a very '80s hard rock/hair metal vibe to it. Maybe it's Jamie Woolford's agreeable voice, which isn't afraid of reaching for the upper registers. Maybe it's the goofy synthesizer effects that show up from time to time, or the BIG, LOUD mix. Maybe it's that any band that writes a paragraph-long, song-specific instruction on how to adjust your balance controls "[a]t exactly 2:33 into the song" and concludes it with, "...no, we were NOT 'stoned' when we thought of this" begs for Spinal Tap comparisons. Actually, Queensryche and Mr. Mister are better touchstones, but don't let that scare you away. There's plenty of ultra-earnest, hands-in-the-air, melodic rock to be had. And Beatles pastiche "No Drugs, No Alcohol", complete with separate Lennon/McCartney sections, is nearly worth it alone.
Fivespeed, Bella (Equal Vision) Rating: 2
In case you haven't heard Hoobastank's "The Reason" enough on the radio, and in the event that you still need more sensitive guy jock rock, Fivespeed's four-song EP will fill the void. Faceless, over emoted, and just enough left of center to be considered genuine, it's hard to see how Fivespeed will make their mark in an already over saturated market. There is nothing unique on their debut EP to suggest that Fivespeed aren't more of the same tired genre. Most surprising of all is that Bella found release on the usually progressive independent label Equal Vision. Whatever their reasons for signing Fivespeed, I can't see any fans of the typical avant-hardcore the label produces giving this release the time of day. The only reason I can picture ever hearing Fivespeed again in the foreseeable future, is if some third rate comic book movie needs a song for the closing credits.
New England Roses, Face Time with Son (Doggpony) Rating: 6
Trying to find time for a band is hard enough with three people, but when those three are all in other bands, it only adds to the foreseeable problems. New England Roses features one member of Le Tigre (JD Samson), one member of Barr and another from The Bachelor (the band, not the reality show). Three years in the making, the record is an acquired taste as "These Days" is a terse, monotonous intro that is spoken word more than singing. The deliberate hip-hop-lite "All for the Night" fares far better. The songs often seem like snippets of unfinished ideas, often sounding unfinished even if quite focused. "Dancing Nancies", which uses a sample of Dave Matthews Band obviously, has some somber moments to it as if it's the homage to CoCoRosie. Lo fi doesn't even begin to describe some of the approaches used on some songs, especially "Blood Blood Blood" that could have been passed on by The Velvet Underground while "Kids in the City" is a quirky Devo-ish jaunt. Perhaps the highlight is "Candy" which has a great yet disjointed melody to it that resembles Feist during a sound check. Another saving grace is the electro-rock cover of George Michael's "Faith".
.: posted by Editor 7:54 AM
03 January 2006
The Thunderlords, Noisy Music For Noisy Kids (Independent) Rating: 6
For those aging headbangers who convulsed with laughter while listening to the Stormtroopers of Death's "I Want Some Milk" nearly 20 years ago, there's finally some metal music suitable enough to play for their kids. The aptly titled Noisy Music For Noisy Kids is the perfect musical companion for children who find The Wiggles too tame, as The Thunderlords put an hilarious Viking metal spin on such children's classics as "Old Macdonald" ("Old Man Olaf") and "I'm a Little Teapot" (Little Teapot Big Old Viking"). Meanwhile, "I Like Dirt" sings the praises of, well, getting filthy, while "Ice Cream Headache" accurately describes a problem every kid goes through. Musically, the 12-minute album ranges from midtempo chuggers to more recognizable traditional melodies, albeit with a death metal twist ("WITH A MOO MOO HERE AND A MOO MOO THERE!!!"). The insane thrash metal of "Table Manners For Vikings" might intend to teach table manners to both youngsters and uncivilized Norsemen, but the indecipherable vocals will have parents laughing more than their kids. More ingenious, though, is "Eat Vegetables", which transforms Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills" into a gut-busting lesson on the nutritional qualities of Garbanzo beans and bok choy, guaranteed to have Mom, Dad, and little junior all giving the devil horn sign (the family that headbangs together stays together). It's not for every kid (boys will probably like this a lot more than girls), but it's got enough energy, laughs, and messages to keep both the young ones and the old metalheads entertained.
Hundred Hands, Her Accent Was Excellent (Graveface) Rating: 6
Hundred Hands is the side project of the Appleseed Cast founding member Aaron Pillar and this is easy to hear. Never without atmospherics, Hundred Hands applies much of the progressive noisemaking of the Appleseed Cast (often in a sedated form) to acoustic anthems. "Afflicted By Affection" is a good example of this: stripped down, the song is mediocre, but given the haunting sonic treatment treatment it is, the song is an outstanding take on the ballad form. However, Hundred Hands' dynamic is only partially operative, the noisemaking sometimes intruding more than accentuating, and though this is the record's only flaw, it's quite a large one. Her Accent... is insulated, warm and inviting in all its glitch pop glory. The sonics throughout are mercurial and, more importantly, are confident and solid. Despite the Appleseed Cast's reformed strength of late, let's hope Pillar has some time to iron this project out: it's got promise.
Caroline Where's My Love [CD-single] (Temporary Residence) Rating: 4
Caroline's debut release is also a story about the power of the internet. After turning down offers from major labels who wanted to turn her into the next pop starlet, Caroline searched high and low for someone to take on her original songs and stumbled onto Temporary Residence's MySpace page. Somehow, among the sea of home-recorded music that fills the label's inbox, Caroline stuck out and Temporary Residence signed her right away. Unfortunately, Where's My Love, isn't the diamond in the rough success story it wants to be. Falling somewhere between Joanna Newsom and Bjork, Caroline's twee, breathy voice simply isn't strong enough nor the shiny, twinkly beats memorable enough to launch her to indie fame. The title track and its b-side "Time Swells" (the single is filled out with an instrumental remix of "Where's My Love") are pleasant enough slices of preciously composed electronic pop, but are also instantly forgettable. Caroline's rangeless voice doesn't help matters, and her attempts to reach higher registrations painfully miss. To be sure, Caroline is easy on the ear, and easy to digest, but there is little here to differentiate her from the kind of faceless pop that fills up teen soap opera soundtracks. Unfortunately, even with a record label behind her, Caroline's voice is still one of many vying for attention in an already oversaturated market.
Blues Traveler, ¡Bastardos! (Vanguard) Rating: 4
Blues Traveler changes things up a bit on ¡Bastardos!, the group's eighth studio album since their 1990 debut. That's the good news. The unfortunate bad news is that the band's new sound, spearheaded by producer and former Wilco multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett, just doesn't work for them. Bennett has crafted a claustrophobic, busy sound for Blues Traveler that should work well within the traditionally jam-band style of the band, but simply ends up sounding cluttered. The album opens with "You Can't Stop Thinking About Me", and if John Popper's voice weren't instantly recognizable, one might think that Yes was playing on the stereo. Thick vocal harmonies, backward-masking effects, and a general feel of slow build disorients the listener until a typical Blues Traveler chorus brings the listener home as distorted guitars and organs take over the mix. And so it goes, as the album progresses -- "After What" ruins what starts as a fun, fast-paced tune with some sickly-sounding strings, "Money Back Guarantee" spends way too much time on a closing soul-vamp session, and "Leaning In" is tender and pretty, but suffers for Popper's insistence on overwrought vocal calisthenics. There are interesting jaunts into jazz and blues, and there's plenty of harmonica work who listen to Blues Traveler for that sort of thing, but listening to ¡Bastardos! is for the most part an exhausting chore, rather than a pleasure. A little bit of simplicity could have gone a long way.
.: posted by Editor 6:58 AM