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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
06 April 2006
Dir En Grey, Withering to Death (Warcon) Rating: 7
One of the most popular bands in Japan, Dir En Grey bring their unique hybrid of metal, punk, industrial, and pop to North American shores with Withering to Death, and judging by the strong reception to their first, brief US tour, Stateside interest in the veteran band appears to be growing. Long associated with the "Visual Kei" style, in which Japanese bands emphasize garish, androgynous visual styles, Dir En Grey has toned the flamboyance down a couple notches today, but with the fey, grills-wearing lead singer Kyo at the helm, they still remain a very visually arresting band. As much as people discuss this band's fashion sense, it's still all about the music, and the quintet show they are no slouches, displaying a similar versatility as American metalcore standouts Between the Buried and Me, unwilling to settle for one simple sound. "Saku" is an enthralling amalgam of Swedish metal (think Dark Tranquillity) and the theatrics of Marilyn Manson, "The Final" is the kind of glossy, goth-tinged guitar rock that many young American bands are incapable of pulling off, "Kodoku Ni Shisu, Yueni Koduku" is stirring, highly intricate progressive hardcore, and "Itoshisa Ha Fuhai Nitsuki" is astounding '80s pop, Kyo carrying each track with his impressive vocal range. The one thing going against Dir En Grey is the fact that they sing primarily in Japanese, which J-rock fans in large urban canters will have no problem with, but which mainstream-oriented listeners in much smaller markets will largely see as just a mere curiosity. However, Rammstein's surprising North American success in 1998 is enough proof that anything can happen, and as is the case with Withering to Death, the stronger the music is, the smaller the language barrier gets.
multiple songs: [Purevolume]
The Elevator Drops, Epidose 1 (Archenemy) Rating: 7
This Boston band made a few minor ripples in the national waters before quietly sinking away in the 1990s, and while it's doubtful this collection of their early material (recorded between 1992 and 1994) appears in response to any overwhelming demand, it's nonetheless well worth pursuing. Buried beneath freakish new-wave make-up and an often snarky attitude was a talented, versatile band that excelled in several modes, from swirling, distorted shoegazing to affecting lo-fi navel-gazing -- like some sort of unexpectedly effective synthesis of My Bloody Valentine and early Sebadoh. "Everything" explodes from a mumbled verse into a forceful, melodic chorus, while the guitar snarl of "Lennon is Dead" matches the song's Beatles-baiting lyric of "Lennon is dead, and I like it." I'm not sure whether "Silent Stupidity" is a Queensryche parody, but the band shows its playful side by dropping an uncredited verse from Duran Duran's "The Reflex" into "Floordrop Opera." In short, anyone still pining for the glory days of semi-indie masters like the Dambuilders, Tripmaster Monkey, or the still-rocking Poster Children will be well-served by this scrappy, energetic collection.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Cassidy, "Cassidy (Anthem)" [12-inch single] (Full Surface) Rating: 6
Fresh out the box from an involuntary manslaughter charge (early release, no less), 22-year old Barry "Cassidy" Reese has been given an extraordinary second lease on his life and career. So, what he dew? Jump right back in the booth with his first hit-making producer and get to work. The Swizz Beatz crafted "Cassidy (Anthem)" clicks and blares, sounding the return of the New B-Boy Stance. "Rhymin' and grindin'" are still his calling cards -- little surprise considering that he hasn't been gone that long. However, the total package is a tad overblown. Cassidy frequently overcompensates for his nasal pitch, spitting and pushing out every "P" and hard consonant. The effect is passable for the bulk of the track, but stumbles noticeably through My So Called Life lines like, "I was wild as a child, but got worser at ten." Let's see where he makes his next move.
multiple songs: [player]
.: posted by Editor 8:31 AM
05 April 2006
Various Artists, And to the Disciples That Remain (Amish) Rating: 8
Thirteen beautiful songs from New York City's new folk incubator, Amish Records, showcase the works of a diverse and free-spirited crowd. There are two new cuts from Tower Recordings' PG Six, the flute-haunted traditional "Lily of the West" and the porch-picking blues of "Feelin' Low." Helen Rush, also a Tower Recordings alum, breathes a luminous folk mystery into "Silver Sun," while Samara Lubelski (Hall of Fame, Metabolismus) whispers darkly, gently over plinked glockenspiel in "The Ladybird and the Golden Boy." Oakley Hall forges on where Crazy Horse no longer ventures, countrified electric roar erupting from a soulful rendering of Buffy Sant-Marie's "Cod'ine." "Cinema Style" by Black Taj (an Idyll Swords offshoot) is another highlight, its trippy, drone-y, amplified groove standing out in this mostly tranquil collection. This is a wonderful collection, every track vibrating with eccentric, individual vision, yet coalescing into an intelligently connected whole.
PG Six: "Old Man on the Mountain": [MP3]
Oakley Hall: "Light of My Love": [MP3]
Majic Massey, "Devil's Advocate" [12-inch single] (Universal) Rating: 5
Up and coming Windy City crooner follows up the pop step of his major label debut single "Ooh Wee" with a predictably thoughtful counterpart "Devil's Advocate." Raindrops don't stop fallin' as the track leans and snaps to a Syreeta-sampled beat, all while Massey turns to God for salvation from the streets. The singer demonstrates greater skill with his colorful enunciation and sudden octave leaps, but his approach here feels forced and chortled in the tight and intimate space of a breezy ballad. Hardly a misstep though, Massey proves his performance potential. Perhaps third time will be a charm?
We Are the Fury, Infinite Jest EP (East West) Rating: 4
I was secretly hoping that this five song EP named after David Foster Wallace's mammoth 1996 novel (and a line knicked from a play by some Shakespeare guy) came with a thousand page, annotated liner note booked, but alas, no such luck. And that merely proved to be the first of my disappointments, as We Are the Fury sound like nothing more than Hot Hot Heat's kid brothers (circa major-label-neutered Elevator, not Make Up the Breakdown); that's hardly a crime, but it's hardly an endorsement, either. And while they do fire off a few good ideas - "Nation, Forgive Us"'s "If we're so hopeless then why'd you mold us to be nothing more than soldiers with impressionable minds?" nails the tenor of the times, as does that song's marriage of a lazy bass groove to a prickly lead guitar. They maintain a high energy throughout, as well, and if we're comparing albums named after doorstop novels, then Infinite Jest EP is no worse than Pat Benetar's Gravity's Rainbow. Now, had We Are the Fury done an actual album informed by Wallace's book, full of teen tennis prodigies and wheelchair-bound Quebecois terrorists, then we'd be getting somewhere....
multiple tracks: [MySpace]
Just a Fire, Spanish Time (Sickroom) Rating: 5
Featuring Fred Erskine (Hoover, June of '44) on bass and vocals, I'm hard pressed to find a reason otherwise that anyone might really care for Just a Fire. Built around the classic three piece setup (guitar, bass and drums) Spanish Time is the group's second album in three years. Unfortunately, the band doesn't tread any new ground, offering the same Fugazi-era, DC-sound that has been done to death. That said, they do it very well. With nine songs recorded in three days with none other than ex-Jawbox member J. Robbins, Just a Fire bring that urgency to tape. Built around guitarist Chris Daly's ferocious guitar playing, Spanish Time will certainly get your heart rate up. Erskine delivers the requisite howling on the microphone, but his voice and lyrics aren't particularly noteworthy. By the latter half of nine-song disc, the songs begin to blend into one another, while attempts at breaking away from the formula such as the dub-heavy "The Sun Is a Magnet" are entirely forgettable. If you need a new fix of post-hardcore fury, you could do worse than Just a Fire but you might be better served pulling out the CDs that influenced Spanish Time that are collecting dust on your shelf.
.: posted by Editor 8:33 AM
04 April 2006
Work Clothes, These Are the Shoes We Wear (Fractured Discs) Rating: 7
With a voice somewhere between Alex Chilton and Low's Alan Sparhawk, Lee Waters whispers a melody on "Fort Bragg Summers" that will stay with you long after the song's two minutes expire, a perfect fit for bittersweet nostalgic lyrics like "the slow sweet trail of sweat from cheek to chin" and "every fireworks display that's littered every soccer field". Waters, along with wife Jenny, deliver several such folk-pop quiet storms on These Are the Shoes We Wear, which is on my short-list for best surprise of 2006, first quarter. If you can resist a love song like "Over the Moon", where Waters croons direct yet disarming lines like "I'm a better man when seen through your eyes / ... And Jenny I love you honey / ... I just want to live till you die" with absolutely zero schmaltz, then it's time to schedule a check-up for your soul.
"Fort Bragg Summers": [MP3]
"Super 8": [MP3]
Dreamend, Maybe We're Making God Sad and Lonely (Graveface) Rating: 6
Dreamend's second album begins with an instrumental that lifts up with intensity and then drops into quietude, leaving in the air questions and expectations. It's the sort of build-and-release approach common with modern orchestral rock ("post-rock"), but it seem especially driven by feeling. It's melancholy and emotional, by no means an intellectual exercise. And the rest of the album defies expectations in much the same way. A dreamy moodpiece backs the sound of an elderly woman telling a Civil War-era ghost story. That leads into a straight-up pop-rock song, and then a tantalizing, stretched-out atmospheric track that's also an open-hearted ballad. All of the music Dreamend plays is possessed by that eerie ghost-story feeling, but also by a sense of longing, a yearning for something inexpressible.
"Can't Take You": [MP3]
The Fantastikol Hole, The Mathematikol Oil (Basement Apes Industries) Rating: 5
Equal parts Autechre and Pig Destroyer, France's The Fantastikol Hole incorporate man and machine impressively on their latest album, a disc that people will either find repellent or fascinating. Guitars reel off riffs that smack of Voivod and Converge, rapid fire electronic beats blast away like machine guns, acoustic drums hold the fort, and the vocals are screamed in the classic grindcore style, equal parts grating and indecipherable. For all the racket, though, this band's music remains surprisingly pedestrian, the riffs recycled, the drumming unspectacular, the vocals run-of-the-mill, leaving the sampling work of Yan Arexis to hold our interest. When the band does come together, as on "Rock and Die, Suffer and Roll" and on the furious grind of "Riot", the results are thrilling, but with 27 tracks in just under 40 minutes, the pace is so relentless that near the end, it all borders on overkill. For grindcore fans only.
.: posted by Editor 9:45 AM
03 April 2006
The Diableros, You Can't Break the Strings in Our Olympic Hearts (Baudelaire) Rating: 8
The comparisons to the Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene for this Toronto-based six piece will probably be coming fast and furious, but it won't be entirely accurate. The Diableros dispose of Arcade Fire's mannered passion and Broken Social Scene's endless sprawl offering something more contained and even more vital. Powerfully direct, and charmingly rough around the edges, You Can't Break the Strings in Our Olympic Hearts is every bit as expansive as the title suggests. Powered by a Farfisa and 12-string guitar, the Diableros melt additional keyboards, drums and bass into a fierce rock 'n' roll machine. Falling somewhere between the Nuggets box set and Belle & Sebastian, the Diableros are vulnerable with a switchblade's edge. There is a verve throughout You Can't Break the Strings in Our Olympic Hearts that is impressive. Debut albums rarely come with this kind of confidence and quality. The Diableros had better ready themselves for kind of attention already lavished on the bands previously mentioned. It seems that the well of quality Canadian acts is not yet dry -- go find this.
multiple songs: [complete album stream]
Dan Jones, Get Sounds Now (Daily Records Online) Rating: 7
Dan Jones has been compared to some select company, including Husker Du of all bands. But it's hard to see what that comparison might have any clout with the surf-guitar rave-up instrumental entitled "Successtro". Not a bad song but nothing to write home about. From there, the '60s pop feeling of "Cooling Off" has some things going for it, namely a nice melody but with Jones sounding like a whiney Westerberg at best. It has a strong bridge though bringing to mind the Attractions without Elvis at the helm. As the album continues, it gets better, including a poppy and light "The Rain and the Swell" that would fit alongside something David Kilgour might have recently put out. Jones wears his heart on his sleeve during the soft, ballad-ish "Little Machine" that seems to fit his tired, weary vocal. But "Baron Von Wasteland", while flexing a wall of guitar at times, is best left to They Might Be Giants with some twists and turns. The Petty-esque "Redbird in the Rain" is perhaps the best of the lot here. A close second might be the mid-tempo roots pop of "Bluebird". And anyone who can make the phrase "plumber's crack" sound wistful, as he does on "Saggy Pants", can't be all bad. The added bonus songs don't live up to expectations, just filler.
"One Man Submarine": [MP3]
"Sunrise Man": [MP3]
Marty Casey & Lovehammers, Marty Casey & Lovehammers (Epic/Burnett) Rating: 5
The second banana on INXS' search for their lead singer left Marty Casey in a difficult spot. But with an opening slot on INXS' North American tour, Casey and his band have made the best of it with an album that seems to tap into the radio-friendly hard rock that Nickelback has mined for the past few years. This despite the fact the closing "Clouds" is a ballad-by-the-book tune. A perfect example of this is the leadoff "Casualty" that has the heavy chorus but ends just a hair too quickly. From there "Hold On" is a bouncy, high-energy, somewhat catchy pop rock tune with guitarist Billy Sawilchik hitting all the right riffs in the right places. The early highlight is a slow-building "Trees" that made Casey a household name on the show, a tune that has a thick, meaty chorus that cruises along. Some other songs, while not exactly filler, don't quite measure up including "Tunnel" that is ordinary at best. The same can be said for the hook-fuelled "Eyes" but finally hits paydirt with some great solos at the conclusion. Meanwhile "Riddle" sounds like a long (and I do mean long) distant cousin of Oasis' "Don't Look Back in Anger". But another high point comes with the Jimmy Eat World-ish "Call of Distress".
multiple songs: [MP3]
.: posted by Editor 9:41 AM