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The Village Orchestra, Et in Arcadia Ego (Highpoint Lowlife) Rating: 8
Ruaridh Law is The Village Orchesta, fortunately not the village idiot. The Scottish electro whiz, part of the Marcia Blaine School For Girls, begins this record with the uplifting, ethereal touches of "COSHH" that sounds almost too sweet or high for the Vienna Boys Choir to reach. Hypnotic but not to the point of being eerie or tension filled, The Village Orchestra excel at gentle but meticulous Enigma-ish songs that are polished but organically pretty. "Jacob/Bad Hand At Cards v2" meanwhile is a bouncier, techno-tinged series of blips and bleeps that sounds like Moby channeling The Edge's guitar. Unlike most albums of this genre, The Village Orchestra does not get bogged down in the electronics at the cost of screwing up a song, except possibly for "Dawn". "Bryan's Tricky 'Do You Like the Drummer?' Question" however is excellent, resorting to the heavens while keeping a nifty, off-kilter backbeat. And if you listen closely, you can almost hear The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now" being the inspiration for the catchy Caribbean-ish "All The Little Lights Going Out" which is by far the highlight pour moi. A close second is the follow-up "Love Theme From 'Two Man Rumble'" that has that same organic/aquatic groove. The somber but extremely rich Sigur Ros-esque "Sunken" seems suited for some tragic, slow motion conclusion to a film or documentary. The Village Orchestra is a jewel in the rough, but what a jewel it is!
Golden Birds, Carrier (Paranoid) Rating: 6
Carrier opens like a stomping beast, but with an overactive brain and a voice of ache -- Golden Birds (formerly known as Carrier, back when this music was recorded) sound like the alt-rock funksters of the late '80s have morphed into some more literate, sensitive version. It's tricky music to get your head around, with the singer throwing out riddles rapid-fire, the drums kicking things forward, and then mulitple singing voices suddenly getting light and heavenly. Before you know it, the music's turned into dreamy folk-pop, but with snappy drums still. There's a surrealist streak to it all, and a softness, yet also a funk edge that keeps reappearing. It's a creative adventure, music with forward motion that lyrically occasionally reads like a travelogue, of the U.S., of an imaginary land, or of the brain of a slightly troubled artist. Then again, this is the group that last summer did an equally hard-to-fathom tour where they preformed at all 50 U.S. state capitols in a span of 50 straight days.
Alice Despard, Vessel (Wampus) Rating: 5
Many of the tracks on Alice Despard's new Vessel run well over four minutes. The problem here is that the singer's laconic style risks outstaying its welcome after about two. Despard's desperate wailing can captivate -- she's the kind of performer with cracked, hard heart to her voice that delivers perfectly her aches and pains. "When the River Bends", for instance, is a neat realization of Despard's sadness and spirit. But five minutes on, sentiment repeated, and the allure tends to dissipate. Not that there's anything really wrong with epic songs, it's just that Despard doesn't have an especially brilliant voice or the desire to thrill musically that it all ends up sounding like an overlong whine. Still, there's enough here to amuse and haunt. If only it all was as engrossing (and concise) as album closer, "Hold Me Up".
Tiny Amps, Trill & Swagger (Redder) Rating: 6
Quirky yet catchy, Tiny Amps steals the listener's heart with an earnest indie rock track entitled "Dance on a Crowded Floor" that plods along with no padding to be found. Never ripping the top of the track, Tiny Amps are content with the guitar groove that brings to mind a basement version of U2 or Snow Patrol, the guitars still perfect but very restrained. Then there is the ragged raspy delivery on "Backbone" that is a subdued Westerbergian-meets-Psychedelic Furs nugget. "Salt in the Sand" relies on the tight rhythm arrangement to carry the rather depressingly narrative. Fans of Pavement would also lap this album up immediately as lead singer Jeff O'Neill sounds like he's singing it to the bartender after last call during "Amway" and especially "Tabletalk". O'Neill isn't winning any points for style, but he manages to make the most of a rather ordinary voice with music that is quite appeasing on ditties like "Flowers of the Friendly Ghost" and the slow building, '90s sounding "Dinner". The monotone delivery is a bit much on "Zombie" however.
Darren Hayman, Table for One (Track and Field) Rating: 6
Darren Hayman's been dabbling in bluegrass and playing lots of synthesizers in the four years since his band Hefner's last album. For his first full-length album under his own name he's mostly back to playing pop/rock songs with his guitar. There's some country banjo and other cross-genre touches here and there, but the music is mostly in the vein of Hefner. But that's not a bad thing, considering that band's legacy. With Hefner, Hayman was a keen human observer, writing piercing, astute examinations of the sexual and social maneuverings of humans, not to mention heartbreak and neuroses and eccentricities. Table for One strongly continues that tradition. There's songs occupied by conversations between lovers, songs about people's inner-most wishes, and a song about how impossible it is to really know what someone else is like. The album title reflects his time spent alone in cafes, and several songs come off like the detailed observations of someone watching the people around him and imagining what they're like. His tone, as always, is wryly humorous as well as heartfelt. He's watching us, analyzing us, laughing at us, but not standing apart from us in a high-and-mighty way. It's catchy music that feels grounded in real life.
Henning Pauly, Credit Where Credit Is Due (Prog Rock) Rating: 3
Henning Pauly and former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach had a spat of sorts with Bach alleging Pauly cheated him out of songwriting credits on his previous album. Pauly has now one-upped Bach however with a new album that used the battle between them as his inspiration. Pauly tears into the record with a brooding guitar riff on "Your Mother Is a Trucker" that wouldn't be out of place between Metallica or Sabbath, but lead singer Juan Roos vocals bring to mind those of J.D. Fortune, he of "Oh boy! I'm in INXS now!" fame. Throw in a rapid banjo plucker and this ditty is indeed a trucking good one. Then there is another hard rocker "Cure the Breach" that is a cross between Disturbed and Orgy. But "Three" sounds like it's been exhumed from some hair band vault. The longer the album goes, the more you want to put on Coverdale/Page, with the riff on, ahem, "Scheisslautundhartwiedreck" sounding like "Feeling Hot". However, there are some redeeming moments, especially on the cheeky "I Don't Wanna Be a Rock Star". Other cunning items about the album include track six entitled "Six" and track seven entitled "Seven". Ingenious! "Have you moved on to Skid Row?" Roos sings again with banjo and electric guitar battling for space. Bizarre? Yes. But with titles like "Copyright Conspiracy", ridiculous is perhaps more fitting.
Steep Canyon Rangers, One Dime at a Time (Rebel) Rating: 7
Like the best bluegrass records, One Dime at a Time is a group effort in the most perfect sense -- the banjo, bass, fiddle, and vocal harmonies (led by Mike Guggino) all pop, all at once. At times, everything here is so raw and perfect that it sounds like a live recording. The requisite happy-go-lucky tracks abound, but far from one-note, the Rangers experiment, too, with devilish writing on "The Ghost of Norma Jean" (a similar dark theme arises on an excellent cover of Robbie Robertson's "Evangeline") and sorrowful freedom chasing on "Slow Burn". The title song with its hook -- "Two dollars in the jukebox / A dime at a time / Sing the same old songs about love gone wrong / 'Til closing time" -- exemplifies the Rangers' ethos and work ethic: it's all about the music, and down to our last dollar, we'll spend it making and listening to our own kind of blues.
The Maybelines, A La Carte (Best Friends) Rating: 6
The Maybelines give you 16 minutes of rock and roll. At least that's the intention. Yet as much as you are rooting for them to dazzle you with various pop masterpieces, the restrained, basic indie pop is too basic and restrained for keyboard-centric numbers like "The Only One" as singer Julie Dorough makes Juliana Hatfield sound like Janis Joplin as even her louder moments are still terribly self-conscious. It improves with "Dream Vacation" and the infectious, slow building "Autumn, September". Just as fun and summer-sounding is the breezy "Come On" that recalls Weezer on Ritalin. The highlight is a radio-friendly, catchy pop picture captured during "Our Hearts Keep Time" that resembles The Minders.
Honeybrowne, Something to Believe In (Compadre) Rating: 8
Texas band Honeybrowne like their country roots sound, but they like it without the gloss, spit and Pro Tools polish that is the norm these days. Led by singer Fran Andrews, Honeybrowne are somewhere in the mold of a cross between Slobberbone, BoDeans and Steve Earle on the roots pop of the title track. This is more country than alt. country however with a tender "March of Life" that never breaks the surface. It's three gems in a row that is highlighted by the mid-tempo swagger of "I'm Here" that could have fallen off Earle's Exit O or Guitar Town. Even when they step out of their comfort zone for a Southern rocker like "8 Roses" they come up smelling like roses. A mistake could have been "Never Forget You" but Honeybrowne perform this precious little nugget with a great deal of care. One possible filler is the light, galloping of "My Turn to Hear You Cry" but just ekes itself over the bar as does the waltz-y "This Time". "New Friends" is another sleeper pick, recalling the best days of The Connells. [Amazon]
Veronica Lipgloss and the Evil Eyes, The Witch's Dagger (Gold Standard Labs) Rating: 3
The Witch's Dagger sounds like a bad nightmare. Something about "Mars", for instance, can move you from the comfort of your living room/bed/car/back porch swing and make you feel surrounded by dolls without heads. It's all just so unsettling. Much as I could have done without the orgy photos and bad bestiality drawing inside the CD sleeve, Rhani Remedes has a nicely spooky vocal that doesn't appear to want anything more than to freak you out. It does, and well. There's not a whole lot here that rises above the "fuck the fascists" cry of so many of these sex-obsessed, punk-rot bands, but that doesn't mean it doesn't go down weirdly well on a rainy Sunday. Just don't listen too closely. And don't watch the accompanying video -- the masquerade-sex-party-dressed freaky guys eat the normal people at the end. There's an original sentiment. [Amazon]
Maquiladora, A House All on Fire (Darla) Rating: 3
The third full-length LP by San Diego's Maquiladora finds the band further refining its aesthetic, which is a progressive take on the "high lonesome" sound that owes as much to Neil Young as it does to the group's occasional collaborators Acid Mothers Temple and former labelmates My Morning Jacket. But where the band previously spiced up its mellow approach with concessions to more pop-oriented song structures, A House All on Fire offers little reprieve from the gloomy abyss it steps into from the very first track. Aside from the noisy guitar feedback that introduces the penultimate "White Sands", the record isn't much more than a long, dreary sedative -- a quality further complicated by the uneasy harmonies put forth by the group's three vocalists. A few instrumental jam interludes present momentary snatches of interest, but overall A House All on Fire suffers from a case of way too much high and not enough lonesome. [Amazon]
The Bosch, Buy One Get One (How's Annie Music) Rating: 5
A New York-based garage rock group. How original. Nonetheless The Bosch manage to eke out just enough oomph and party rock to make the nine-track affair an amusing and delightful antidote to those waiting for the next Mooney Suzuki or Hives release. "Come on Phillie" starts off quite slow but grows on the listener. "The Movie Director" meanwhile has a cheesy organ and retro '60s boogie flavor pouring out of it as the lyrics are uttered in a Violent Femmes minimal fashion. After a so-so "Metronome", The Bosch shines on "Matching Girlfriend" which resembles The Strokes being introduced to remedial ska. However, they hit rock bottom with "Teenage Symphony", a crappy downbeat track along the lines of Blink 182's "I Miss You". But they forget this miscue with the lo-fi rowdy rocking rave-up "Zombie Killer" that suited for trashing your nearly finished basement. A blazing instrumental "Napoleon Invades Russia" should be the closer, but on the whole 'tis not bad. [Amazon]
Sander Kleinenberg, This Is Everybody! on Tour CD 1 (Ultra) Rating: 7
Sander Kleinenberg's contribution to the This Is Everybody! on Tour double CD (split with Lee Burridge) has the potential be one of those mixes that defines a winter: it thrills, surges, and bangs with clinical proficiency. Kleinenberg has said that in selecting songs he looks for "forward, fresh, not too commercial, dancefloor-friendly bombs", and with only a few exceptions, that's what he's serving up here. His song selection is impeccable, building up from the mellow, almost apologetic plonks and blips of Pony's "Our House", through Mylo's micro-moving masterpiece "Muscle Car", to real banging electro-house tunes "Yeah Yeah" (Bodyrox), and "Atto D'Amore (Dub)" (Serge Santiago). The one small misstep is the disposable hit "Mr. Roboto"; after a second or a third spin the cute lyrics turn annoying. On the rest of the record, Kleinenberg has selected quality tracks that form a cohesive, club-quality set reminiscent of the experience of seeing the DJ live: his progressive aesthetic and knack for solid beats a dancefloor winner.
Space Mtn, A Drawing of a Memory of a Photograph of You (Aeronaut) Rating: 6
Space Mtn's Dina Waxman has a voice that crawls into your head and squeaks around, messing shit up, and refusing to leave. Even when her songs begin to lag and her twisted vocal becomes a static whine (track "Undermining", for instance), she's still captivates. A weird world of experience as bassist for the Lemonheads and script-chick on Fight Club (1999) and Nadja (1994) only adds to the woman's intrigue. She can bore and thrill simultaneously, showing off her immense potential while keeping it all to herself. Drawing of ... reveals little about her beyond the obvious -- she's emotionally fragile on the one hand, strong and adventurous on the other. For instance, "And So" is probably the best thing musically, yet bouncy and cool as it is, it suffers from some of that vocal lagging. And then there's the quick, jumpy "Oh", good vocally, but not so compelling lyrically ("Please oh please will you love me, / Please oh please get away"). This is not a bad record by any means, but its better stuff is fleeting. Something tells me Waxman and friends might just rock live, though.
Boulevard, Vice and Daring (Boulevard Rock) Rating: 6
A six-song EP is never a true test of what a band has to offer, but if Boulevard's self-produced release is a measuring stick, they could be onto something. "So Electric" is tight and hook-filled guitar pop thanks to the work of guitarists/singers Benji Barton and Robert Caruthers. Equally pleasing is the Franz-ish "Marie" that is propelled along by a nice melody and nicer hi-hat from drummer Donovan Babb. It's a near perfect melding of The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand, which is very pleasing indeed. They also seem to draw from the likes of Simple Minds, particularly on the mid-tempo retro-pop feeling pouring out of "Dreams of Home" that also resembles early Suede. But they are able to make each song stand out without the slightest hint of filler, including a delicious little romp entitled "Disarray". While "Possibly the Last" leaves a bit to be desired with its faux sense of Britpop, the group end it on another good note with the spacey, prog-like "Hand In Hand".
...Nous Non Plus, ...Nous Non Plus (Aeronaut) Rating: 6
After French band Les Sans Culottes had a series of legal problems, many of its members decided to free themselves by creating a new band under a new name: ...Nous Non Plus. It's a pop outfit at heart with slight hints at Parisian café music on "L'Amant", a swirling number with some rich, layered arrangements while "Lawnmower Boy" is a straightforward power pop number. Singer Celine Dijon (no, not that Celine Dijon!) and Jean-Luc Richard give sugary harmonies during this toe-tapper and with punchy, New Pornographers panache for "File Atomique". Looking for a bit of retro/electro rock? Try "One Night in Paris" on for size, it should do the trick. Fans of Pulp would enjoy "Tant Pis Pour Toi" as well with its disco-y, dance beat. A little too dreamy or flowery is the hippie feeling one gets from "Monokini". Concluding the record is a fragile, airy track entitled "La Ballade De Tourette" which seems to tenderly float into some medieval fairytale landscape.