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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
14 April 2006
Tartufi, Trouble (Acuarela) Rating: 7
Slash-pop exuberance erupts from Slint-ish post-rockery in a four song EP from San Francisco's Tartufi, a threesome comprised of Simone Grudzen, Lynne Angel and Brian Gorman. The band melds careening female harmonies with complex and off-kilter rhythms, sounding angular like Sleater-Kinney, but sweeter, hookier and more effervescent. "Midnight Tracks" starts with twitchy, pogo-worthy guitar strums, pock-marked with hard-hit snare shots. Atop this head-grabbing anxiety, the vocals come sweet and smooth. There's a descanting, wildly exciting vocal interlude near the end where the women's singing overlaps like a round. "This train is not derailing..." they sing, and the melody is so headlong and exhilarating that you marvel it doesn't. "Nurses" is also strong, the chaotic clatter of Gorman's drums intersecting with occasional piano chords and druggy-sweet female coos. The groove is difficult, abstract, fraught with stops and changes, smoothed on the surface by womanly calm, but roiling away underneath.
Jen Foster, The Underdogs (American Garage) Rating: 7
John Lennon was a quality songwriter and Jen Foster is doing her best to carry on that title. And being a finalist in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for the title track certainly doesn't hurt. Foster sounds like a roots-y Sarah McLachlan or Natalie Merchant on warm, adult-contemporary pop nuggets such as "All This Time", even making the line "I was just going out for groceries" dance. "Taking Bob Dylan" stays close to this error-free formula, sounding just a bit more like Sheryl Crow on this effort. A gentle, folksy schoolyard ballad which is also the title track is a soft and lovely number that builds after the initial verse into a roots pop format. And fortunately none of the songs are too slick or glossy, even if "Without Michelangelo" sounds like it could be heading down that over-produced road. But she pares everything down to a bare-bones "Amen" that works on so many levels, including gospel and/or pop equally well. However "In Between Poses" doesn't quite make the quality cut, relying too much on the melody to carry the bulk of the song. "Everybody Goes" is a sullen and somewhat somber piano lullaby along the lines of McLachlan or Tori Amos. Counting in "Sun in Seattle", a folksy tune that seems perfect for her singer-songwriter gifts. An engaging and joyful listen!
"All This Time": [MP3]
"Taking Bob Dylan": [MP3]
Lifehouse, Everything [DVD] (Geffen) Rating: 5
Oh, Lifehouse. They're so nice, and so harmless, and did I mention nice? I mean, sure, they sing about painful things like relationships on the brink and vicious social cycles, but mostly, they're nice Christian boys, the types that might never see my baseball bat when they ring my doorbell asking to take my daughter out. Everything is the first official Lifehouse DVD, and it's a bit skimpy, but bargain-priced to make up for the lack of material. Everything contains all of the band's studio videos to date, but beware -- the video for "Hanging By a Moment" isn't the one that tore up MTV a short five years ago. This version's just a "live in the studio" take on the song, which isn't even as interesting as the other (still boring) version. The Alice in Wonderland feel of "Sick Cycle Carousel" is far more engaging, and the happy ending to recent hit "You and Me" makes me feel all warm and gushy inside. After the six studio videos are four live ones, and besides reiterating the fact that "You and Me" is the most recognizable song by the band at this moment in time (Really, there are a scant ten videos here. Did "You and Me" have to take up two of them?), it drives home the fact that Lifehouse live is a lot like Lifehouse recorded, except with more screaming girls. Really, if you enjoy Lifehouse enough to care that they released this, it'll probably be just fine for you, even if there's nothing here you haven't seen or heard before.
Tami Chynn, "Hyperventilating" [12-inch single] (Universal) Rating: 5
Listening to the pop-dancehall skip of "Hyperventilating", one is hard-pressed to sense the coming of the next big thing. With its lithe low end and gently stuttering melody, the song breezes past quicker than its own repetitive hook. Yet, in spite of the scarce semblance of a song, the singer's breathy coo hints at the industry's golden egg: mass appeal. Jamaican-born and internationally minded Tami Chynn rides dancehall-lite riddims, but with a pop singer's lilt -- just what the label ordered to further break Jamaica into the American conscience/pocketbook. The recipient of a recent four-album deal with Universal, Chynn is off to as auspicious a start as any pop hopeful could ask for. However, she has already received big league endorsement (placement on Sean Paul's most recent record Trinity), so expect plenny more noise.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
.: posted by Editor 8:40 AM
11 April 2006
Gram Rabbit, Cultivation (Stinky) Rating: 7
Gram Rabbit commences its sophomore album with the languid psychedelic dustcloud of "Waiting in the Kountry", perfectly evoking the desert in both sound and lyric. The connection is appropriate enough -- the band comes from the arid expanses of the Joshua Tree, after all -- but Gram Rabbit resists any attempt to pigeon-hole it according to some notion of the "desert sound", whatever that hybrid of everything from inspirational namesake Gram Parsons to Kyuss might be. Instead, the band moves fast to deploy an impressive stylistic variety, from the demented disco bounce of "Bloody Bunnies (Superficiality)" to the straightforwardly rocking "Sorry". Singer Jesika von Rabbit makes for an enticing frontwoman, though musical leader Todd Rutherford delivers a highlight when he steps up to the mic on the countrified folk number "Angel Song", and the whole band presents a rather spiffy, sharply-dressed image. Though the album loses some steam at the end, with a few by-the-numbers efforts like the prosaically-titled "Follow Your Heart", Cultivation is a strong, rewarding album by a band that's already built up a sizeable buzz in Southern California and is clearly ready to take it to the next level.
"Bloody Bunnies": [real]
"Angel Song": [real]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Dept. of Energy, EP (Roam) Rating: 6
Now that quirk-pop band Dear John Letters is now defunct, singer/songwriter Robb Benson has moved on to... yet another quirk-pop band! The shock that Dept of Energy sounds remarkably similar to his first band isn't unexpected, but the five-track debut EP is certainly a worthwhile look. While sometimes Benson's lyrics can be extremely overwrought and sometimes a bit pretentious, he can still write a few zingers, as best seen on the relationship drama of "I Remember What the Light Felt Like": "We both laid staring at the ceiling/ feeling empty/ or maybe it was sad and angry at the same time/ not at each other but at the way things work out sometimes" -- a great line despite the fact that the guitar-strum buildup leads to a chorus that sounds dated the second you hear it. Often the band feels that simply because they have Ego Band USA's keyboardist Ty Bailie on board, they should use him at every moment. The keyboards actually wind up killing songs like "Song from John Volutine" and "I Remember...", but plays a strong role on songs like the excellent multi-part "Summer" and the straightforward rocker "One Last Wish for Claire Grogan". Yet, the real surprise is on closing ballad "Lemon" -- just Benson's voice and a solo piano is all that's needed to make the most memorable song on the whole LP. The band still has a ways to grow away from Dear John Letters, but at this rate, the Dept of Energy's future looks bright.
"Cowboys & Aliens" (8-track demo): [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Playaz Circle, "U Can Believe It" f/ Ludacris [12-inch single] (DTP/Universal) Rating: 7
I'll say it again: the '90s are back. With Swizz Beatz helming a handful of today's hits ("Check On It", "Touch It", "Spit Your Game"), it only seems appropriate that Buckwild, another NYC favorite (O.C.'s Word... Life..., Organized Konfusion's "Stress"), be able to cover his share of bases. With high-profile spots on 50 Cent (the "4th Chamber"-esque "I Don't Need 'Em") and The Game (the reflective closer "Like Father, Like Son") records, Buckwild seems to have found his niche in the industry: providing the "soulful" and "dark" flavors to hit albums. This time, he crosses the Mason-Dixon and reaches out to Ludacris' camp, Disturbing Tha Peace, and dishes a buttery cut for the duo Playaz Circle. In the same way Beanie Sigel's "Look At Me Now" echoed hauntingly around its floating vocal, "U Can Believe It" lingers in the air to the tune of a lush Tom Brock sample. While Buckwild's use of whole notes and tension are apt for dexterous emcees, Dolla Boi, the somewhat questionably named Tity Boi, and Luda style with finesse to lend the track a proper swagger. The effort even trumps Buckwild's previous collaboration with PC, "You Ain't Got Enough", on Disturbing Tha Peace, perhaps signaling another possible route for the producer: soul patrol?
multiple songs: [MySpace]
.: posted by Editor 8:46 AM
10 April 2006
The Smittens, A Little Revolution (North of January/Dangerfive) Rating: 7
With Belle & Sebastian blowing up bigger than could have ever been expected, the time is nigh to decide whether we abandon elitism and embrace the alligator-logo and Abercrombie crowd swarming the shows and spilling beer all over our thrift store sweaters or leave behind a band we once held dear. Fortunately for those who take that later path, there's a twee resurgence underway opening up plenty of other objects for the unyieldingly earnest affection of our impossibly innocent hearts. Saturday Looks Good to Me is an increasingly visible alternative and The Boy Least Likely To is also on the rise. Another considerably less obvious option is The Smittens. Over A Little Revolution,The Smittens endear via invocations of various indie stalwarts. "Jeans and Mittens" jangles along with Go-Betweens' chime while a Beat Happening reference in "The Garden" proves gratuitous given the warbling baritone. Shades of Stephin Merrit are never very far away either and the whole thing resonates with the defiantly uplifting sincerity of Jonathan Richman. The ready palpability of all these influences compromises any defined sense of identity or originality and lyrically The Smittens can get every bit as saccharine as their name. Still the affable familiarity and infectious joy inherent in every bouncing clap and chorus makes A Little Revolution an enjoyably amateur reminder of how potently pleasurable overtly-precious pop can get.
"Good Migrations": [MP3]
"Gin and Platonic": [MP3]
Richard Cheese, The Sunny Side of the Moon: The Best of Richard Cheese (Surfdog) Rating: 5
For those of us with developmentally stunted senses of humor, the hilarity of this lounge-act lothario and his one joke-formula rarely wanes: cover rap and alternative rock hits in sleazy nightclub renditions; add plenty of swearing and tasteless jokes; and, presto, that old Dick Cheese magic. Why, then, the relatively low rating? Well, the very idea of a greatest hits album by a group (backing band Lounge Against the Machine no longer wins titular credit) who has released a measly four all-cover albums is crassly cynical enough to fit the Cheese aesthetic, but the fact that Ministry deployed more clever Pink Floyd wordplay on its Dark Side of the Spoon is a big demerit. What's more, the sheer genius of Cheese's take on Bell Biv DeVoe's "Do Me" from last year's Aperitif for Destruction is nowhere to be found, while this album slogs through plodding versions of tired chestnuts like "Another Brick in the Wall" and "Nookie." That being said, Cheese's deranged singing on the Ying Yang Twins' "Badd" earns a snort or two, and on "Baby Got Back" the band really swings. A few more bonus points for stopping the band in the middle of Young MC's "Bust a Move" to let us know that, "seriously, we do weddings," but not enough to validate the album. Richard Cheese might be a better wedding bargain the Dan Band, but the biggest joke on Sunny Side of the Moon is that his greatest hits don't measure up to any of his albums.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Rhymefest, "Dynomite (Going Postal)" b/w "Chicago Rillas" (Interscope) Rating: 7
Leave Lupe for the hipsters and 'Ye for the paparazzi: rhymers confess their respect for an emcee named 'Fest. The long-time battle champ stands on the cusp of the release of his full-length debut Blue Collar and finally has the material to leave his star battles and Grammy shares behind. His debut, the Kanye-produced "Brand New", reintroduced himself to the tune of a familiar roll-bounce, but "Dynomite (Going Postal)" is the proper single to set him apart. Just Blaze laces crashing drums and a classic scratch chorus for Rhymefest to get heated over. This 12" is exceptional because the b-side comes in neck-to-neck: No I.D. shakes out his bag of percussive tricks while the ladies go la-la-la-la, an easy head-nod platter for the three-emcee monty of Rhymefest, Bump J and Mikkey. Can't wait for the full-length...
.: posted by Editor 8:25 AM