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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
30 March 2006
Free Diamonds, There Should Be More Dancing (Deep Elm) Rating: 7
British group Free Diamonds come across initially as some sort of version of The Living End if they were wind-up dolls. The whiny, high vocals take some getting used to on "International Gathering of Champions", but it's worth it for the old-style rock feeling mixed with some garage rock rave up. From there, they offer up a hi-hat, retro-pop vibe on "The List of Everyone" that brings to mind Franz Ferdinand on speed. And it gets you in the mood for shaking a leg if not two as does the sweet, bubbly "Blind Boys" and bass-fuelled "Lovers Die Young" that sounds like Arctic Monkeys on low-speed dubbing. Equally fun and enjoyable is the punchy "The Day We Conquered" and swinging, rockabilly-ish "M Is For Missing". The trio is strong at finding a quirky hook and riding it from start to finish, particularly on the punchy "Land of Giants" and the album highlight "What Part of Free Diamonds Don't You Understand", a rumbling rocker that gallops along perfectly. File somewhere between Violent Femmes and Dogs Die in Hot Cars.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
multiple songs: [purevolume]
Why?, Rubber Traits EP (Anticon) Rating: 6
By now, Why? (Yoni Wolf) should have his past associations behind him, no longer that old cLOUDDEAD guy after the strong Elephant Eyelash album, but he hasn't left his underground hip-hop sound behind him, mixing conversational rapping into his indie pop sound. Besides the title track (a single from the album), this disc's highlight is "Dumb Hummer", an attack on US cultural superficiality. "If you wear first-hand clothes / And get your haircut by somebody you don't know / I'm below you" closes the album with a memorable kiss off to various segments of society drivers (most notably Hummer-drivers). Through these four tracks Why? exposes frustration through odd, personal asides and witty bitterness, but makes it sound pleasant.
"Rubber Traits": [MP3]
Nick Cannon, "Dime Piece" f/ Izzy [12-inch single] (Motown) Rating: 5
Is the career trajectory of a purist pop star more of a gamble than that of an impure pop star? Consider this: once Lil' Jon drops a "Get Low" and breaks a phrase like "skeet, skeet, skeet" into the mainstream, there is nowhere to go (if there is anywhere to go) but up. On the other hand, both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera entered the field as comparable tartlets, yet only one maintains People-cover presence while the other struggles to hold a line in Page Six. While both sets of celebs win the instant gratification of commercial success, the lewder travels a wider road toward critical acclaim; going from titillation to T&A can be far more damning than starting with T&A. So, what do you expect from a Nick Cannon record called "Dime Piece"?
multiple songs: [MySpace]
.: posted by Editor 8:43 AM
29 March 2006
Burns Out Bright, Save Yourself a Lifetime (Deep Elm) Rating: 7
Burns Out Bright are a moody lot, but one that can deliver the goods time after time, finding their way through the opening song "The World Is Going to Hell..." with some rich melodies before boring headlong into emo-ville with some curves thrown in for good measure. And the song titles would give Panic! At The Disco a run for their wordiness. Crafting each number as if it's a pop/rock/punk/emo journey, Burns Out Bright hit more often than miss with angular tunes like "Optimistic Nihilistic" although lines like "Punk rock is dead in the trunk and you're asleep at the wheel" sound cliché even by today's standards. The band attempts to distance itself from the current emo punk glut, and is often successful with well-crafted nuggets like "Replication Is the Highest Form of Replication" that breaks out into a lovely high energy rocker before fading out some six minutes later. Another highlight is the fully-developed, majestic and infectious romp called, er, "The Michael Keaton Backslash". The band's biggest asset is culling various ideas and making it sound cohesive as they do with "Sincerely I". But "I Just Want You to Know I Hate Each of You for Completely Different Reasons" mopes along without any real bite or verve. However, they bite off more than they can chew with the gear-shifting yet tired "Nothing Keeps the Werewolf Away Like a Silver Bullet".
"Sincerely I": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Busta Rhymes, "Touch It Remixes" [12-inch single] (Interscope) Rating: 7
The anticipation for Busta Rhymes' seventh (!) LP The Big Bang is... well, there is anticipation and that's more than can be said for his recent solo output. Fortunately, from the sound of the advance singles/leaks, the hype may be justified. "Touch It" succeeds where most of the emcee's past tracks failed: it matches his frenetic energy with just the right amount of "Woo Hah!" and "Put Your Hands." Ruff Ryder backbone Swizz Beatz comes out of his beat coma to combine a cold, screwed-down Daft Punk sample with explosive drums -- a clever jab to set-up Busta's hook. In truth, the remixes here are strictly mixtape heat -- the Ladies First cut (Missy Elliott, Rah Digga and even Mary J. Blige drop 16s), the
Studio Gangster New York Thug cut (sleepy-eyed Lloyd Banks and the still-waiting-to-pop Papoose), and, um, DMX -- though these mixes will likely be most remembered for the tragic video. Beats are essentially the same on each mix; Busta drops new verses each time (kudos); clean and dirty mixes of each version.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Hey! Brontosaurus, Hey! Brontosaurus (Fortune) Rating: 4
"Hey mighty brontosaurus / don't you have a lesson for us?" sang Sting in the classic Police song "Walking in Your Footsteps". Sadly, bay area upstarts Hey! Brontosaurus aren't all that mighty and don't have much of a lesson. Very much recalling early Wilco with a bit of a jam-band instrumental bent to it, the band tries to find its identity in their idols only to find themselves wading in a hazy generic mush. Instrumental "Ode to Me" with its acoustic licks and Wurlizter backing, is pleasant enough for an instrumental, but even at two minutes you feel your patience being stretched a bit. You should listen to muzak in an elevator: not on the album you just bought. The band even manages to call itself out on "Into Your Own" with the striking line "The fight for who you are will be your biggest battle". Despite the fact that Galactic and Handsome Boy Modeling School sometimes-keyboardist Jim Greer produced the album, none of the excitement of said bands finds its way through. The instrumentals are pleasant but bland, and the rock songs are generally meandering, sometimes fitting in awkward lines like "play the chord structure of your sorrow". What? Fortunately the full-on Wilco embodiment song "Talk of the Town" proves to be a memorable highlight, and this reviewer finds it somewhat coincidental that the song no doubt named after him ("Evan") proves to have the strongest rock melody on the album. It's too early in the game to count them out, but if the Brontosaurus wants to survive, they're going to have to learn to evolve.
"Build It Down": [MP3]
"The People": [MP3]
.: posted by Editor 8:15 AM
28 March 2006
Danielle Howle, Thank You, Mark (Valley Entertainment) Rating: 6
Danielle Howle has opened for a number of people, but her voice is unique, not quite soulful, not quite roots or country but able to color both genres easily. The safe, adult-contemporary roots pop of "Roses From Leroy's" sounds like an Austin version of Bonnie Raitt while "I'll Be Blue" (and later "Woman to Win") is an old-school, country honky-tonk song that is quite polished, even it is a tad wordy at times while she scats out portions of the ending. "Fields of Cotton" shows another side of her music, a dark, Appalachian tune that is quite barren, leaving Howle's voice to carry the tune. However, the slow soulful blues of "If I Can't Have You" doesn't quite cut it, despite the horns and shared lead vocals. A far better effort is the tender "This Kind of Night" that is teeming with country soul. The best way to describe Howle is, well, you can't describe her. She is comfortable in all genres and facets, whether it's a slow, moody "Love Is a Fall" that seems to mix Patsy Cline with Nina Simone. Unfortunately the bouncy "Who Knows" comes off as rather hokey. The jazzy, smoky, bass-tinged closer "Jesus Won't Wait" is perhaps not the strongest here, but showcases the myriad of musical palettes Howle is able to draw upon.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Various Artists, Songs to Break God's Heart Vol.1 (Acuarela Discos) Rating: 5
A compilation with a title like this is begging to be heard. It sure worked on me. But the music is considerably more subtle. In the liner notes, label manager Jesús Llorente explains that the album is more than some spectacle designed to drum up interest in new releases; for a 12-year-old label that's only released five compilations (including this one), the comp is an effort to "prove that we can release records which symbolize a different way of seeing things, beyond markets, preconceptions and labeling". Those unfamiliar with the Madrid-based Acuarela will likely not recognize many of the artists here beyond Xiu Xiu, who himself is still an obscurity in the scheme of things. The 19 songs, in both Spanish and English, are consistently sullen -- or at least downbeat. Pick-me-ups like Darren Hayman's "Little Brown Chevette" (after the one-minute mark), the Strugglers' "Dancing Song", and P:ano's "Hiroshima Mon Amour" rise above the rest. Quality is fairly even throughout, but other notables include previously unreleased songs from Tara Jane O'Neil & Miggy, Tex La Homa, and 12Twelve. Acuarela's diverse roster dabbles in pop, lo-fi, jazz, folk, and ambient; connoisseurs of independent and underground music in each may find their next big discovery here.
Yummy Bingham, "Is It Good to You (Remix)" f/ Fabolous and Red Café (Motown) Rating: 5
"Is It Good to You": take a classic Diamond D loop (itself based around a juicy Flaming Embers sample), throw some new school vocal and emcee talent atop, and you have another exemplary song to pour either the accolades or Haterade for. Do you like the raw belting of Bingham, or find it contrived when held against the skills of her godparents Chaka Khan and Aaron Hall? Do you find Fabolous to be your generation's A.G., or would you rather stick with the original Giant? Do you love the track, or are embittered that the new jacks jacked an old jack? From one God's perspective: "The Choice is Yours." P.S. - "I'ma leave the blow pop in your pink cookie"? Yummy can't even drink yet. Gangsta, please.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Daturah, Daturah (Graveface) Rating: 3
There are only three songs -- "Shoal", "Warmachines", and "Lovelight" -- on this German group's debut release, but they stretch for 45 minutes. It's mostly droning, instrumental industrial shoegaze, without much in the way of song development or, apart from a few instances, even much aggression. Like the soundtrack to an apocalyptic anime movie, the music paints the still, quiet aftermath of destruction. But above any atmosphere that's created, the music is so heavily-laden with self-importance that I feel lethargic even writing these words. Behind a microphone a voice speaks something in German, but the effect fades, and we're back to the familiar, slow-shifting guitar drone. A dreary exercise without easily accessed emotion, this music will likely appeal only to established fans of the genre, or of Daturah.
.: posted by Editor 7:14 AM
27 March 2006
JigGsaw, Zero Generation (Playing Field) Rating: 6
They're a little bit naïve, a little bit rough around the edges, but mostly it's fun to listen to a band like JigGsaw. They haven't even smelled the faintest whiff of major-label success, they're still writing songs that they believe in, and they put their all into their performance, all of which makes their debut album Zero Generation a modest success. Zero Generation comes with most of the typical problems of an independent debut -- songs that don't quite sound like finished products, a mix job that flattens the entire dynamic range of the band, and a garish, vaguely annoying fluorescent album cover, to name a few -- but a couple of these songs have the potential to command arenas. "Mona Lisa's Mirror" is particularly fun as JigGsaw goes with upbeat power-pop for an entire song, "Holly Brown" is a little bit sinister in its new wave leanings (despite some cringe-inducing lyrical choices), and the title track is a surprisingly well-thought out bit of "get off your asses and stop believing your TVs"-brand rock 'n' roll. Unfortunately, for every highlight, there's something like "Swimming in a Sea of Alcohol", which just seems to lurch aimlessly until it finally ends. There's not a lot to separate JigGsaw from the rest of the independent rock 'n roll pack just yet, but as the band finds a better sense of identity and production that befits its spunky, dynamic style, it could absolutely be worth paying attention to.
"Mona Lisa's Mirror": [MP3]
"Pretty Pride": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
El Hijo, La Piel Del Oso (Acuarela Discos) Rating: 7
The Skin of the Bear is the sort of album you find yourself burrowing into as you listen. Abel Hernández's strong, snuggly-warm voice sits at the core of the music like the boy inside the bear skin on the cover while the violins dart in and swing away in open loops. A glockenspiel makes a whimsical plinging. Raül Fernandez strums the acoustic guitar and Piotr Karasiuk contributes a cello. Fernandez's arrangements are layered and luscious but not over-rich; they're charming without pretension. Hernández is perhaps best known as the singer of the Madrid band Migala, who have released albums through the same label, Acuarela, but with El Hijo, his new side project, he seems to be moving away from Migala's sometimes avant-garde sound toward a more plainly indie vein of music. This EP has five songs and runs narrowly under 20 minutes. It could run twice as long without outstaying its welcome.
Nic Garcia, The Desperate Ones (Yer Bird) Rating: 4
Engaging is a term most musicians -- even those building on a minimalist or ambient foundation -- would want applied to their music. Memorable couplets, intriguing compositional elements, or a warm, lo-fi production may help the artist hold the listener. Engaging is, arguably, the most important adjective for those singer-songwriter albums filed under "Last Name, First Name." The latest album by "Garcia, Nic" is a desperately dark album, where strings swell, pianos chime, and keyboards brood around Garcia's gruff, spoken-word eulogies. But, engaging it is not. There are few strong melodies, and almost no choruses. From the second song, the album seems to trudge through a vacuum of light, with little variation in tempo or orchestration. Drums appear on only three of the thirteen tracks, courtesy of Joe Bailey and Secretly Canadian's June Panic, and they provide welcome buoyancy. In fact, the twelfth track "The Ones Who Waste the Day" is the album's brightest spot, if only for an upbeat drumbeat and some conventional -- and yes, engaging -- compositional elements. One opens the liner notes expecting to find lyrics, sketches, or production notes -- but is only offered a bleary, rain-splattered window pane. It's an appropriate image. I've nothing against a wallowing record, even one that is stark, skeletal, and minimalist. But The Desperate Ones gives the listener little to engage with.
Mark W. Adams
"The Black Turn Pink": [MP3]
Lokyata, Purified By Anger (Indianola) Rating: 4
Jacksonville hardcore band have all the spit, chops and polish of about 24,108 other hardcore bands out there today, with lead singer Dustin growling and wielding blood-curdling wails during the cheerful "You Can't Say Much with a Gun in Your Mouth". The saving grace, if there is one, is the guitar work of Tony and the triple-time drumming of Alan. When that take the metallic road, as they do primarily with "What You Have Given to Me", it's slightly better with some intricate but beefy, machine gun-like riffs accenting the lyrics. The title track and "Cover Up My Eyes" don't have much distinction between them, although the latter is a slight improvement with more energy and oomph. Perhaps the most entertaining of the half-dozen on this EP is "Wretched Inside" (spelled "Wrtetched Inside" on the album).
"You Can't Say Much": [MP3]
.: posted by Editor 8:10 AM