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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
17 March 2006
The Mother Hips, Red Tandy EP (Camera) Rating: 7
It seems like California's meeting of rock and soul has made a come back of late. Bands like The Orange Peels, Court & Spark, and Beechwood Sparks to name a few have been channeling the harmonic meeting of voice and electric guitar that the Beach Boys, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash, made so ubiquitous. The Mother Hips have always worn their classic rock influences on their sleeves, which may explain why they've been more readily embraced by baby boomers than the end of the alphabet generations. On the Red Tandy EP the band doesn't stray far from the formula laid out on 2001's Green Hills of Earth and 1996's Shootout. The band has an uncanny knack for harmony and the ability to find a groove and lock it down. Sounding like an excellent Crazy Horse copycat tempered by the more meandering jam rock of The Grateful Dead the Red Tandy EP leaves little doubt that The Mother Hips, despite a four-year hiatus, are still very much able to channel the sound of another era through tight vocal harmonies and close knit arrangements. The EP is only four songs with the lead number "Red Tandy" repeating at the end in alternate take form. It's just a small reminder of what The Mother Hips do so well, but upon hearing the first chords of "Red Tandy" slide effortlessly into the band's four part harmonies it's easy to remember why the band has such a devoted following.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Oosterdok, Twilights of the Weary Soul (Brown House) Rating: 5
The synths that introduce "Elysium" flutter in like a moth finding a particularly bright light, and a journey through beautiful darkness begins. Oosterdok is the duo of Jay Line, who handles the synths and songwriting, and Becky Naylor, who provides the vocals, and Twilights of the Weary Soul is their second EP, released only seven months after their first. In those seven short months, however, Line has learned to add depth to his songs, giving them an emotional gravity that makes them fascinating, even in their relative simplicity. Naylor's classically trained, admittedly pitch-accurate vocals are less successful, as she enunciates her words as if she's still singing arias (though without the overpowering vibrato that might imply), leading to a sort of disconnect with the music around her. It's the Martin Gore / Enya collaboration that never happened, and it's honestly a little bit uncomfortable. The exception would be the saucy "I Am Not a Nice Girl", a profanity-laced bit of sultry menace that actually allows Naylor to loosen up a bit and get into one of her characters. If she could do that more often, allowing herself a bit of personality to go with her lovely tone, Oosterdok could well be a force to watch in the coming years.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Jukebox Zeros, Four On the Floor (Steel Cage) Rating: 6
To these ears, garage bands succeed when they remember to temper the thrash with tuneful melodies. Philadelphia's Jukebox Zeros (love the name, guys) rock out plenty on their full-length debut Four On the Floor, but they never let their love of squalling guitars overtake and drown out their catchy songs. The Zeros effortlessly channel '70s-era punky-power poppers like Iggy Pop ("Blue screen burn my TV eye," yowls frontman Peter Santa Maria on "Ch. 48") and Stiv Bators (opener "Flophouse" echoes Bators' snarl, and the band does right by a cover of the Dead Boys' "High Tension Wire"), but they've got their own fun identity. "Film Noir Love", appropriately dark and stormy as it sounds, seems to have been created so the band can have a laugh over the double entendre "private dick". And "Don't Tell Me (More Than I Wanna Know)", aided by a B3 organ which really should appear more on the album, celebrates avoiding dreaded TMI (Too Much Information). And when they're not being silly, the Zeros have attitude and guitar solos to burn: "Why doncha just go away?" snaps Santa Maria on "Fun Suck"; elsewhere, he kicks at the dirt on "Cigarettes and Sorrow". Like their heroes the Dead Boys, the Jukebox Zeros are young, loud and snotty and they've got the chops and sense of humor to back it up.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Meredith Bragg and The Terminals, The Departures EP (The Kora) Rating: 4
Not sure the world needs another sensitive boy pop singer but here he is just the same. The carefully groomed angst begins with titles like "Talk Me Down" and "Empty Beds". Sonically it's the Cure's Disintegration given an acoustic chamber music makeover. The slow builds and sudden swells fit Bragg's yearning pipes, which are a somber yet still overwrought cousin to Tyson Ritter (All-American Rejects). The hushed combination of Wurlitzer, subtle percussion, vibes and cello compliment Bragg's simple guitar but the band rarely catches fire. Instead they opt to be a more indie answer to O.A.R. or a moodier Jack Johnson. The lyrics are mainly greeting card pap like "Slow down/We can make this right/We still have some time". When Bragg laments "What will I do for Christmas?/What will I do?" it comes off as whining instead of some existential cry. Like a great many young artists working this soft vein (Jason Collett, James Blunt) the feeling is right but there's not much beyond a nice mood to savor.
"Empty Beds ": [MP3]
"Talk Me Down ": [MP3]
.: posted by Editor 8:24 AM
16 March 2006
Das Kapital, Denying the West (Johann's Face) Rating: 7
At first glance, Das Kapital seems to be hoping for another American Idiot with this punk concept album (and why not-as of November 2004 there was room for 62 million of them). But Denying the West reveals itself as an altogether more engaging album, tracing the life of a young Mormon in the 1930s as he abandons his home to carouse the mean streets of Europe and challenge the beliefs instilled in him. Like some character in a Sartre novel, he winds up swinging from a government-sponsored noose. With a name like that, Das Kapital invites expectations of crusty agitpunk in the vein of Discharge or the Crass, but the band instead sounds like punk vets aging gracefully (this is the band's first album, but the members have been in the scene for years), more along the lines of the Damned on Strawberry's more straightforward moments. Song after song delivers brawny melody and surprisingly compelling narrative, and Charlie Moore's nimble fingers traverse the bass fretboard with as much wanderlust as our protagonist. Instead of standout songs separated by doses of filler, Denying the West offers an entirely consistent, cohesive album, well deserving of more attention than it's likely to attract. Whitney Strub
Denying the West: [player, click "listen"]
MySpace: [multiple songs]
The Bleedin Bleedins, Life Without Computers (self-released) Rating: 7
You know the phrase "fake it til you make it"? Boston-by-way-of-Dublin trio the Bleedin Bleedins certainly have, and please take that as the high praise it's intended to be. No phonies here; on their debut, Life Without Computers, the Bleedins sound like a rock band accustomed to filling arenas, though they've only recently hit the Boston club circuit. Soaring, earnest modern rock is the order of the day for the Bleedin Bleedins - U2 comes favorably to mind on tracks like the propulsive "One More Minute" and the shimmering "Fly Me Home". And they never get overearnest, either, keeping the proceedings like with the danceable "The Lights Are Out" and "Don't Stop City", which, if it's about Boston, is hilarious, given that city's well-know early-to-bed reputation (and if it's not about Beantown, it's still a fun, funky song). Folks waiting for U2 or Coldplay to get back into the studio would do well to pass the time with the Bleedin Bleedins. They may not be selling out arenas yet, but give 'em time.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Kobi, Dronesyndrome (Silber) Rating: 6
Listening to Kobi's Dronesyndrome is like waking up. Not in the good way that one might imagine, with bright sunshine, fluffy bunnies just outside your window, and the faint aroma of a good cup of coffee in the air. No, Dronesyndrome is more like waking up facedown on the concrete floor of an abandoned factory in a pool of your own blood and spit, opening your eyes and seeing nothing, hearing only the faint whirs, creaks, and gurgles of the dying machines that surround you. Sometimes, there's a drone that overpowers the environmental sounds, either the quiet hum of heat or some remnant of a hallucinogenic episode (opening track "Faint Echoes Ran Round the Unseen Hall (Pt 1)"). Sometimes, the faint echoes of a television left on overnight make their way to your ears ("This Inclusion is Not a Simple Operation"). And sometimes, there's no light at all, no clues as to your whereabouts, and no hope of identifying any of the sounds you hear as you try to feel your way to freedom (the ten-minute-plus "Interspersed with Semi-Conscious Moments"). It's ugly, it's menacing, and it's filled with dread. In short, Dronesyndrome is an absorbing, fascinating work of aural theatre.
"Faint Echoes Ran Round the Unseen Hall (Part 1)": [MP3]
Three, Hallucination Limited presents Three: Hallucienda (System) Rating: 6
Whatever happened to Rabbit On The Moon? Seriously, they kicked ass. The reason I am reminded of this is that Three's new mix CD, Hallucienda, features Rabbit On The Moon's "Timebomb", one of the best dance singles of the decade (seriously, have you heard it?), but as far as I know that's the last thing they've released, and that was, what, three? four years ago? In any event, the presence of "Timebomb" speaks well for this genial, if unspectacular mix. The order of the day seems to be techno breaks, and that's hardly a bad thing, especially when highlights include the Grumptronix mix of Q-Burns Abstract Message's "This Time", with vocal's from Naked Music house chanteuse Lisa Shaw. Come to think of it, where has Q-Burns been these past years? Hallucienda will probably be useless in terms of missing persons inquiries, but anyone looking for a solid and sturdy mix in the genre of techy, twitchy breaks should find what they're looking for.
preview the mix: [MP3]
.: posted by Editor 8:14 AM
15 March 2006
Nassau, A Fire in the Ashes (Broadcast Recordings) Rating: 6
Psych rock. It's a cool thing -- and often seems a too easy thing. Playing that consciousness throttling drone fuzz doesn't seem to require much nerve. Set up the pedals and bask in your own meandering riffs and voilą -- assume your place in the lineage of the Seeds, the Rolling Stones and Brian Jonestown Massacre. But it's not enough to just coolly nod to your fuzzbox ancestors, because this stuff only resonates when it's played with conviction. Nassau floats in the gray areas of this psych question, somewhere between boring and blissful. Getting past the middling, breathy vocals, you'll discover wonderful song craft and some expectedly mind-bending guitar strumming on their debut record, A Fire in the Ashes. Jon McCann, former Guided by Voices and current Tangiers drummer, is the principal songwriter here and he does well to keep things chugging at a brisk pace. Only one of the 12 songs eclipse the four-minute mark and most of the tracks could stand alone as charming contributions to the contemporary psych rock canon. McCann and company don't tread in terribly risky territory, but the results are warm and fuzzy nonetheless.
"Falling Out": [MP3]
"How Long?": [MP3]
"Sick Again": [MP3]
"Sick Again (Repair mix)": [MP3]
Collective Efforts, Trail Mix (Arcthefinger) Rating: 7
On their 2003 debut, A Vision of Things to Come, Collective Efforts shone lyrically, with dense, flowing, and refreshingly positive raps from a trio of talented, relatively unknown MCs. When they faltered it was with production, the laid-back, rarely memorable beats and decent singing miring together and sounding disappointingly similar much of the time, but altogether it was a solid debut from the Atlanta underground. Now that their second LP, Trail Mix, has been released, it's clear that the first disc was merely that: a vision of better things to come. Where Visions of Things to Come opened with a chilled-out synthesizer, Trail Mix begins with soulful twists of electric guitar and a great, wailing chorus. MCs J-Mil, Ben Hameen and Bambu have stepped up their game from the last outing, flowing as tightly and dexterously as ever (and the whole positive-message thing never hurts); even more noticeable, however, is the almost exponential improvement in production. The tracks are all solid, but the standouts are exceptional: "Another Soulful Song" is a shimmery slide of violins, "Let It Alone" a sweetly reassuring guitar lilt. From the bright chirps of "Verseability" to the beautifully fluid "Growth Part II" (probably the best cut on the album), Trail Mix is a huge step forward for the Atlanta underground hip-hoppers that satisfies and still leaves listeners hungry for the next thing to come.
multiple songs: [MP3]
Super Numeri, The Welcome Table (Ninja Tune) Rating: 7
Liverpool's Super Numeri collective makes heavy, insistent, psychedelic, trance music with the emphasis on beats and repetition -- a brooding, down-tempo, grown-up mutation of '90s trip-hop, that has mushroomed in the void left by the death of dance music. "The Welcome Table", their second album, is clearly the product of a gang of 30-something musical hedonists who stopped going clubbing about 10 years ago and decided to stay at home with a very big drum kit and an impressive stash. The 24-minute opening track, "The First League of Angels", is the sound of Lanquidity-era Sun Ra jamming in Can's Inner Space studios with the ghost of John Bonham. It's a pig-headed and Neanderthal advertisement for hallucinogens, which absolutely will not let go until you are raw and bleeding. Super Numeri are due to receive knighthoods some time next year for services to the lava-lamp industry.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Plumb, Chaotic Resolve (Curb) Rating: 3
Plumb has been featured on a number of soundtracks. The resume include cuts on compilations from Loser, The Story of Us, Just Married, Bruce Almighty, and View from the Top. This is only a partial list. It makes sense. Plumb has an interesting voice that lends itself to the anonymity that many soundtracks require. Apart from that interesting voice, Plumb has little else going for her. Think of her latest album as a less significant Evanescence record with a singer who's not quite as strong and hooks that are decidedly not as strong. The songs are derivative in sound and scope, and the lyrics only make things worse. Mostly it's a terrible combination of a polished sound and a very unpolished songwriting. If Plumb wants any kind of notoriety outside of second-rate movie soundtracks and TV appearances, she'll need a better songwriter.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
.: posted by Editor 6:28 AM
14 March 2006
Epic & Nomad, Epic & Nomad (Clothes Horse) Rating: 8
The first time cult Canadian rapper Epic opens his mouth, you just might want to laugh. It's some of the nerdiest-sounding rapping you'll ever hear, and on this, his new collaboration CD with the singer Nomad, neither are Nomad's vocals very conventionally beautiful. But once you can get past the fact that they sound like Muppets, you'll find the surprise hidden beneath: this isn't just another geeky attempt at slice-of-life hip-hop, this is slice-of-life hip-hop that works, that crawls under your skin and carves out its own unique emotional space. The production, supplied by the likes of Maki and Soso, certainly helps; many of the beats are surprisingly beautiful, from the acoustic guitar of "Isolation Interlude" to the pristinely morose piano and violin of "Another Left Wing Peace Song". Epic's glum lyrics are as on-point as usual; Nomad's singing inhabits a unique realm of feeling, conveying perfectly the almost fatal despair and boredom of modern life: Sunday-sad. At just over half an hour, it's a short but affecting album that leaves a definite mood of sadness behind. Don't let the delivery turn you off; trust me, it grows on you, and if you can dig deeper you'll find something much more important: humanity.
"Another Left Wing Peace Song": [MP3]
"Days n Times (What's Really Good)": [MP3]
"Act on Stage": [MP3]
Tic Code, FBCCADE (Sick Room) Rating: 5
There are people who would, no doubt, absolutely love Tic Code's debut album FBCCADE. And there are people who get a visceral thrill out of working through a complex math problem (I know this because I watch Numbers). I have a suspicion that, given knowledge of each other, these two groups would probably intersect in quite a few places, mostly because Tic Code seems intent on turning each of their songs into math problems, shifting between time signatures before they really establish them, employing atonal melodies that surely turn into patterns upon deeper examination, but to the untrained ear sound a lot more like random notes. The band professes a love for Steve Reich, and it's no coincidence that their strongest moments are quite Reich-like -- The first two minutes of "The Second Stanza of the Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza" are focused on two guitars (one in each ear, naturally) playing what originally appear to be repeated identical melodies, but there's an extra note being played by one of the guitars resulting in a phasing exercise quite similar to Reich's famous "Come Out". Likewise, the beginning of "Swedish Fish" evokes distant thoughts of Music for 18 Musicians. Unfortunately, everything else is fairly standard math-rock, complete with the emotional distance and ill-advised attempts to "rock out" that the label implies. FBCCADE is interesting enough, but incredibly difficult to truly love.
"Swedish Fish": [MP3]
Gavin Keitel, Balance Presents 'Eclectic' (EQ) Rating: 6
My goodness -- usually when a mix CD like this advertises the fact that it is eclectic or otherwise multi-generic, it means that maybe, maybe there's a house song with a tiny bit of techno thrown in at some point. But, lo and behold, Gavin Keitel seems to have actually made good on the billing and delivered a CD that represents a fairly wide survey of the current electronic music world. Beginning with the slightly micro-house vibe of Inaqui Marin's "Six" and segueing into the funky Tiefschwartz mix of Osunlade's "Pride", the mix goes uphill from there, with stops at the slightly electro (the Tiga mix of Drama Society's "Crying Hero"), ramping into the old-school techno vibe of Hugg & Pepp's "Snabeln" and even dropping in a taste of trance in the form of "Double X's "City Lights" before ending with Superpitcher's profoundly cool and decidedly minimal "Happiness". I'm not sure the mix adds up to more than the sum of it's parts, but it is certainly more interesting for its variety than any number of the faceless mix compilations that cross my desk.
multiple tracks: [samples]
Steve Cole, Spin (Narada) Rating: 6
This seasoned sax man has taken the likes of Maroon 5 and John Mayer as some of his influences for this rather laidback piece of adult contemporary pop/jazz. From the start of "Thursday", fans of fellow horn men like Dave Koz and Kenny G. would enjoy these tracks as Cole gives them crystal clear solos backed by some interesting arrangements. Meanwhile, the slower but folksy, comforting "The Real Me" definitely falls in line with something Mr. Mayer might have churned out with an earlier album. After a rather mid-tempo "Simple Things", Cole tries to, er, jazz things up with the up-tempo title track, but again it is very safe and somewhat comforting. Perhaps the best of the lot has to be "A Letter to Laura" which seems quite tender but not too sappy at the same time. Cole also nails quite a few extended solos here with some subtle keyboards in the distance. The second half isn't all that different, although at times it's just a tad too muzak for some people, particularly during "Serenity". But he redeems himself with the funky and rather rock-tinted "I Was Alright" and the bombastic closer "Confounded". Not quite "smooth jazz" but pretty darn close. Jason MacNeil
.: posted by Editor 8:02 AM
13 March 2006
Voxtrot, Raised by Wolves (Cult Hero) Rating: 7
It's tough to tell whether it's just a product of the limited production values afforded to a band that's proven nothing thus far, but everything on Voxtrot's debut EP Raised By Wolves sounds very quiet. The band sounds as if its members are playing their instruments very carefully, as if they're in the basement and mum's upstairs trying to catch a couple winks before dinner. Intentional or not, the careful (though not quite tentative) feel actually lends itself well to the danceable, lite-rock sound that the songs convey. Indeed, these sound like nice boys who just decided to up and start a band, particularly vocalist and bandleader Ramesh Srivastava, who might be the most utterly pleasant vocalist in this genre since Travis's Fran Healy. The band sounds most comfortable with the quick, early '80s alternative sound of "The Start of Something", which sounds a bit like the humble, quiet-spoken little brother of The Doors' "Touch Me". Less convincing are the attempts at more straightforward rock 'n roll that feature the typical distorted guitars and slower beats, particularly prevalent in closer "Wrecking Force", which really neither wrecks nor forces. Still, Srivastava saves the day with his irresistible voice singing still-catchy melodies, despite the rather weak racket behind him. This is the type of debut that I could see selling for 50 bucks on eBay two years down the road while the band embarks on its first arena tour -- Voxtrot is destined for big things. Mike Schiller
MySpace: [multiple songs]
Slideshaker, In the Raw (Bad Afro) Rating: 7
Guitar rock trios come a dime-a-dozen nowadays. Chances are one is playing at some closed off space only a mile away from where you're sitting right now. Lucky for you, Slideshaker is one of the good ones. Opening their sophomore LP In the Raw with a catchy riff-rocker like "Bones" is a great idea, making you wonder why '60s garage-revival groups like the Cato Salsa Experience died out as fast as they did. They gladly mix it up, throwing acoustic guitars on songs like "Easy Street" and the intentionally crappy Casio keyboard drum beats on "Heartbeat Baby." While there are no actual bad songs and the album maintains a strong momentum, you soon hear them repeating a bit of the same territory as the album draws to a close. Fortunately, they save one of their best songs, "No Love Lost" for the very end. This album won't blow you to the back of the room, but you just have that strange back-of-your-head itching that their next one just might.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Annihilator, Schizo Deluxe (Locomotive) Rating: 4
Annihilator, led by Canadian guitar whiz Jeff Waters, is one of those bands where the often-used Spinal Tap comparisons actually seem especially appropriate. Like the mighty Tap, who went through drummer after fictitious drummer, Waters goes through band members like Kleenex. No fewer than five lead singers have taken the mike in Waters's employ, along with the five rhythms guitarists, four drummers, and two bassists who have appeared on record over the last 20 years, but incredibly, despite the constant turnover of band members, Waters has been able to carve out a decent career for himself, highlighted by two thrash metal classics, 1989's Alice in Hell and 1990's Never, Never Land. His band's eleventh full-length studio release, marks Waters's much-heralded return to classic late-80s thrash, and while it's great to hear the man has not lost a step as far as the nimble staccato riffs (just listen to "Invite It") and blazing solos go, the vocal hooks Dave Padden employs are substandard (again, listen to "Invite It"), and Waters's lyrics are damn near laughable. We do get moments that will bring smiles to those of us who were heavily into thrash 20 years ago, especially on cuts like "Warbird", "Like Father, Like Gun", and the early Metallica feel of "Pride", but Annihilator are so preoccupied with recreating that old-school sound, yet unable to equal the greatness of their early work, that aside from pleasing the oldsters for a few minutes, it all winds up being a rather pointless exercise. Adrien Begrand
Randy and the Bloody Lovelies, Lift (Cheap Lullaby) Rating: 3
If there is a negative world in which every truly great rock band has an evil twin that fits neatly between the margins of the page being scripted by record company marketing gurus, this band is Whiskeytown's middle-of-the-road Doppelganger. Randy Wooten's vocals lack any real emotion and his lyrics are detached and judgmental to match. The music is polished to a fine sheen and strolls listlessly from the speakers (the price to pay for recruiting session players rather than taking the time to record an album with a band). Somewhere in 1972, Elton John is freaking out listening to Honky Chateau being so blatantly aped. Springsteen's ghost-of-Born To Run past is rattling his chains. And hosts of alt.country fans are seething and feeling the old wound left by the Uncle Tupelo split reopen. This is all hypothetical of course. I doubt any of these folks have heard this band. Really, I doubt they would notice if they did. Dave Brecheisen
Castanets / I Heart Lung, split 12" (Sounds Are Active) Rating: 6
A beautiful marbled 12" gives the first side to two Castanets tracks and the flipside to three from I Heart Lung. Castanets work the ambient drone to longer form than on either of their spiritual Americana albums. After the more rock-based release First Night's Freeze, these tracks sound like Ray Raposa turning back toward his more experimental folk leanings. I Heart Lung start their side without an immediate percussion-led freakout. The middle track, "Song of the Boatman of the River Roon" slows down the record not by employing drone, but by turning in a downtempo piece with rolling percussion passing through the background. An effective mood piece, but not that memorable, that piece gives way to closer "If I Were a Young Man Now", a clanking number with more move to it. I Heart Lung might be proving itself to be the rare folk band (experimental or no) whose percussion stands out the most. Justin Cober-Lake
.: posted by Editor 8:26 AM