PopMatters home | short takes home | archives

PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases

e-mail print comment

12 May 2006


me and him call it us, Loss (Stickfigure)
Unlike current grind greats Daughters and The Locust, Monroe, Georgia duo me and him call it us choose to tone down the histrionics just enough to allow listeners to focus on the music, not the frenzy, and consequently, Loss turns out to be one of the more enjoyable albums of its kind to come around as of late. Despite the presence of a song called "My Heart Beats in Blast Beats", there's little if any blasting going on here, as the drumming is much more controlled and varied, as are the songs themselves, which range from the insanity of "Sarsaparilla", to the progressive hardcore of "Encirclement of the Dancing Scarecrows", to more moody, drone and feedback-drenched fare like the lengthy centerpiece "Headache". Add a healthy dose of metal riffs that appear from time to time, and you've got a solid breath of fresh air in what can be a rather stultifying genre. [Insound]
      — Adrien Begrand
"Encirclement of the Dancing Scarecrows": [MP3]
"Pallbearer": [MP3]
"Seasick": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MP3]

Big City Dreams, Honesty (self-released)
The fizzy power pop/punk this Gainsville, Florida foursome plays could easily go commercial (a back-handed compliment, if you ever heard one). Their jangly, tangly guitar lines sound like The Gin Blossoms pushed to punk rock speed, and shot through with exuberant drum shots. The singing is earnest enough to make you think these five silly love songs matter, trembling, even yodeling sometimes with sheer excitement. The band starts with its best bet, the goofily euphoric "I'm Your Density... I Mean Your Density", where octave leaps and thickets of dueling guitars just clear the dreaded "pop emo" hurdle. The rest is forgettable. "Can't Catch Halley's Comet" is a generic Rick Springfield outtake, and the downtempo closer "King of Hearts" transparently bids to make the teenyboppers swoon. Look, there's much worse stuff on MTV and mainstream radio, but that makes Big City Dreams bearable, not good. [Insound]
      — Jennifer Kelly
"Can't Catch Halley's Comet": [MP3]
"Head North Turn Left": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MP3]

Various Artists, Dorm Sessions: Volume III (Heavy Rotation)
Boston doesn't always get the musical props it deserves these days, overshadowed by New York City. But that doesn't mean the Beantown scene isn't vibrant -- especially at Berklee College of Music. Dorm Sessions: Volume III, featuring nine Berklee students/alums, and released on the student-run Heavy Records, proves that Boston is flourishing. DS:VIII runs the risk of trying to please too many different genre fans, covering everything from rap to singer/songwriter to emo, but all the songs captured here -- many literally recorded in students' dorm rooms -- boast an undeniable exuberance and musical joy. I'm no rap guy, but Raydar Ellis' "Graffiti Rock", a pre-gangsta ode to taggers caught my ear immediately, as did the jazzy/funky voice of Elizabeth & the Catapults' Elizabeth Ziman; their "Waiting for the Kill" is one of the disc's standouts. Admittedly, the world already has enough sensitive guys with guitars and pianos (sorry Will Champlin and Charlie Worsham), and a few too many tracks suffer from overpolishing and sound a little too WB-drama-ready, but as compilations go, this disc -- after a little wheat-from-chaff separation -- stands as a better-than-average primer of some exciting up-and-comers. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Stephen Haag
multiple songs: [MP3]

Mike Andrews, Hand on a String (Elgin Park)
Mike Andrews, the man responsible for the instrumental soundtracks to Donnie Darko and Me and You and Everyone We Know, has composed an album of gently psychedelic songs backed by strummed guitars. If I had to pick a TV show for this music to accompany then it would be a children's programme, something whimsical and kind and a playfully surreal, starring furry animals dressed in overalls. The lyrics wouldn't fit (they're often about adult love, the gaining and losing thereof. "I can erase you -- completely replace you," he sings in "Just a Thought") but the melodies would be perfect. Even when the music begins to swerve in a seasick way on "Sweeping, Cleaning and Organizing", it still sounds toy-sized. Monotony is the danger here. The songs are all a bit similar, and by the end of the album you might feel that you've overindulged. But anyone who likes Andrews' soundtracks will love it. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Deanne Sole
multiple songs: [MySpace]

.: posted by Editor 8:22 AM


11 May 2006


Bookends, Seventh for the Song (Spiritual Partners/Rhythm Barrel)
It's hard to really hate an album that's so very harmless. With Bookends, a trio with a heavy acoustic-pop edge, it occasionally sounds like a jam-band gone straight-forward, using the occasional quirky instrument for what are otherwise above-average pop songs that don't ever really make any deep points but just seem to... exist. When Hootie & the Blowfish blew up in the mid-'90s, it was the bar band that everyone knew making it big for almost no reason. With that in mind, you've definitely heard Bookends before, and that's not a bad thing, but it's also not the best news you've ever heard. Songs like "They'll See You" aren't as catchy as you thought they were on first listen, but the effect is still undeniably pleasant. Though the excellent acoustic-pop of "Torturer" is a great way to open the album (Seventh for the Song), the music of "Splitter" and "Again" fail to leave much of an impression. Leave it to the above-average lyrics to save the day, closer "Desert Island Records" cleverly detailing the things they'd want to bring when asked that immortal question. "You're not lisening, while I'm talking / Over the breakfast noise / But you are still the / Architect of your own good fortune" they sing on "Dinosaurs." Oh, we're listening, but the breakfast noise is what'll make us stay. Make sure we're hungry first. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Evan Sawdey
"Tree Me": [MP3]
"Again": [MP3]
"Such Grace": [MP3]
"They'll See You": [MP3]
"Dinosaurs": [MP3]

Intronaut, Null (Goodfellow)
Comprised of former members of Exhumed, Uphill Battle, and Anubis Rising, this debut EP by the Ventura, California quartet is not only as long as some albums (28 minutes), but is a markedly confident debut. Drawing heavily from the progressive-minded sludge of Mastodon, the technical ecstasy of The Dillinger Escape Plan, and the punishing art metal of Neurosis (not unlike what Canadian group Buried Inside did on their 2005 album Chronoclast), Null is steeped in punishing riffs and rhythms, more atmospheric interludes, and jazz- inspired departures, but best of all, is never afraid to let loose and shred away from time to time, as drummer Danny Walker, guitarists Sacha Dunable and Leon Del Muerte, and bassist Joe Lester all display the kind of taut, versatile musicianship one would expect from the genre. Centered around five songs in the six to seven minute range, the labyrinthine complexity might seem lofty upon first listen, but like all good progressive rock, we hear new revelations the more plays the disc gets. With a first outing this strong, expectations surrounding the band's debut full-length (out this summer) will be justifiably high. [Insound]
      — Adrien Begrand
"Fragments of Character": [MP3]

Keely B, Zoned Out (Negril West)
We can't all start at the top, but everybody has to start somewhere. It's where you finish that matters. For Keely B and his R&B-flavored reggae, the journey might begin with a few bumps, but only time will tell how far it will go. On his album Zoned Out, Keely B might have considered this when he wrote "Rugged Road", a song that explores the purpose of life. It's not a bad tune, although Keely B's voice isn't strong enough to handle the responsibility of a ballad. See, Zoned Out is basically a party record, with attempts at crooning ("I know a Place", "Anytime") thrown into the mix. As Keely B sings on "Party Time", he sometimes feels "like partyin' from night 'til dawn". "Sometimes", however, seems more like "all the time". Released in 2005, Zoned Out got healthy play in the Caribbean, while capturing the wannabe-Rasta crowd in the United States. Hardcore reggae lovers might find this release watered down, but it's great for dancing. For the wannabes, it's familiar enough to enjoy while sticking your big toe in the reggae pool. Unfortunately, much of the material becomes forgettable because of its repetition of sounds and concepts. Nevertheless, "Hype Up" and Keely B's cover of "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas are delightful highlights. Also noteworthy: the smokin' "Roll-In-By" featuring Kid Kurup, "Sweet Senorita", and the title track. [Insound]
      — Quentin B. Huff

Sleepy River, The Funeral Birth of a Tree (Swingset)
Justin Kline has a soothing voice that rolls smoothly over the acoustic chords of his one-man-band Sleepy River. Too soothing, perhaps: when his languid songs stretch past the four-minute mark, as seven of the nine here do, their main effect is soporific. Of course, the prosaic strumming, bland lyrics, and general lack of memorable melody provide little help. On the turgid "Misled," Sleepy River extracts over six minutes from such banal questions as, "Do you think I could write you a song explaining the pain," before concluding, "Our love is pure like a white dove in the sky," which may not explain the pain but is painful enough, as similes go. It's never fun to tear down somebody's labor of love, and with its abundant sincerity Sleepy River definitely qualifies as such. But there's not much to go on here, and while it can be a gorgeous nothingness, as the harmony vocals on "Her Name Was Despair" indicate, for the most part The Funeral Birth of a Tree is distinguished only by its mastery of mediocrity. [Insound]
      — Whitney Strub
album stream: [MP3]

.: posted by Editor 5:46 AM


10 May 2006


Dog Fashion Disco, Adultery (Rotten)
Saddled by a strange name and stranger album artwork over the years, Dog Fashion Disco should hit the big leagues with Adultery. With its apocalyptic horns, twisted humor, and short attention span, the band recalls Mr. Bungle, down to Mike Patton's various vocal inflections. Adultery runs through metal, lounge, ska, and even country; "Desert Grave" features banjo and a dead-on Johnny Cash impression. Despite the genre skipping, the album is coherent, thanks to a storyline involving one man's descent into debauchery. The comic book artwork perfectly matches the music's film noir feel. Five albums into its career, Dog Fashion Disco has mastered songwriting. Cinematic interludes make Adultery a smooth, dark listen; if Sin City had a metal soundtrack, it would be this. [Insound]
      — Cosmo Lee
multiple songs: [MySpace]

Function, The Secret Miracle Fountain (Locust)
For an album that was recorded in pieces all over the world and then brought together and mastered in two different countries, The Secret Miracle Fountain is wonderfully coherent. It's a soundscape, featuring the pale, strong voices of Matthew Nicholson and several women singing along with the sounds of birds, pianos, groans, chatter, violins, humming, drums, forests, keyboards, trumpets, fire, and a host of other things, including, according to the credits, a "falsetto dimentia choir" and a "duck's arse" -- tho' I think those ones are tongue-in-cheek. There's something earnest and proggy about it but not in a bad way. The musician wants to gather us all up and invite us on a trip. Here we are in the valleys, listening to something like the theme music to "It's A Small World." Here we are on the mountains with an unexpected rock guitar. Here we are in a fjord with a mistily reverberating set of wine glasses. Well, perhaps the earnestness gets wearing after a while. But the inventive progginess is great. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Deanne Sole
"Beloved, Lost to Begin With": [MP3]

Turnstiles, 13 Telephone Towers (self-released)
Debut albums often sound like the product of a limited musical vocabulary, mainly because many of them are exactly that. Bands usually overcome this constraint in one of two ways: 1) slowly but steadily increasing their skills with each album; or 2) using such limitations as inspiration for experimentation. On 13 Telephone Towers, New Brunswick's Turnstiles suggest they'll take the latter path. The band compares its sound to that of Wilco -- rooted in tradition while innovative, but the Turnstiles are coming at experimentation from the other end. While many of the songs on this debut are indeed catchy, clever, and indicative of a band with great potential, the overall impression is of a band forced to use a wide arsenal because they aren't proficient with any single weapon. This isn't necessarily bad; genius is often the offspring of necessity (the Edge's guitar sound, anyone?), and the Turnstiles have enough of a solid footing in melody and hooks to produce something great down the road. [Insound]
      — Michael Franco
"Better Off Lost": [MP3]
"My Town Is on Fire": [MP3]
"Get Out": [MP3]

Time Again, The Stories Are True (Hellcat)
The Stories Are True's title track features Rancid's Tim Armstrong on guest vocals -- a pretty redundant appearance, since Time Again has already thoroughly aped that band's sound, and it's even signed to Armstrong's Hellcat label. While lacking the songwriting talent or sharp musical skill of Rancid (no great Matt Freeman bass runs here), Time Again runs through the familiar lyrical checklist of opposition to cops, violence, racism, and drug abuse. Singer Daniel Dart also catalogs his romantic infidelities on "Fountain & Formosa", which runs a bit counter to the values I've always admired in punk. At any rate, Time Again isn't terrible, exactly, just utterly generic, which actually makes it less interesting than something truly disastrous. [Insound]
      — Whitney Strub
multiple songs and videos: [official site]

.: posted by Editor 8:01 AM


09 May 2006


DJ Five & Pizzo, Backpack Thugs 2005 Megamix (self-released) Rating: 8
This CD shouldn't be any good, given the fact that it incorporates into its basic premise not one but two music clichés: both the compulsive need of music people to give end-of-the-year recaps and the no-longer-quite-as-fresh-as-before mash-up trend. On Backpack Thugs 2005 Megamix, DJ Five and Pizzo, of the Abe Froman Showmen and Inhumanz respectively, bring back all of their favorites from the past year in hip-hop by matching indie vocalists with commercial beats (and vice versa) in a series of popular/underground mash-ups (hence the title). They even include those cute little mash-up pun song titles like "Galangalicious". We've all seen this type of thing before, but Backpack Thugs doesn't even need its indie vs. commercial gimmick to differentiate itself -- it escapes the ghetto of novelty mash-ups by, surprise of all surprises, being really good. DJ Five and Pizzo offer mix after professionally-executed mix (no tempo glitches or grating discord to be found), and the match-ups are consistently well-planned. "Down and Out" can't be the same without Cam'Ron's mentally-unhinged, percussive gangsta-isms, but Buckshot's whispery flow takes the track in a whole new direction; even mixes that shouldn't work, like John Legend crooning over a Fort Minor beat, somehow fit. DJ Five and Pizzo know they're not the main attraction here, so they remain subtly out of the spotlight, scratching to blend the tracks into one another nicely but never excessively. And Kanye's verses from "Gold Digger" work perfectly with a sublime string selection courtesy of DJ Premier, Edan rips into "Wait (The Whisper Song)", Slug gets going over "1 Thing", and West's gorgeous "Hate It or Love It" beat is finally rescued from G-Unit and given to GZA. The original wrap-up track from Skillz is cute though unexceptional, but really, the minute you hear Mike Jones tip on the Danger Mouse groove of "Feel Good Inc.", none of that even matters. [HipHopSite | MixTapeBros]
      — Michael Frauenhofer
"Remember I Used to Love You - John Legend Vs. Fort Minor": [real]
"We Want Preemo - Kanye West Vs. AZ and Premier": [real]
"Smart Went 50 - 50 Cent Vs. Atmosphere": [real]
"Wait For Meat - Ying Yang Twins Vs. Danger Doom": [real]

Hail Social, "Warning Sign" b/w "Objects in Mirror" [7-inch single] (Polyvinyl) Rating: 5
Philadelphia's Hail Social has a license to confuse. On this seven-inch, singer Dayve Hawk flirts awfully close to imitating the vocal tics of David Gahan (Depeche Mode) on the awkward, flat, A-side, a song that sounds like an awkward breeding experiment between the Psychedelic Furs' Sister of Mine (without the sax) and the Pixies' Debaser. B-side Objects In Mirror is, strangely, a much peppier and danceable affair, and is perhaps a song that could be played during the end credits of a John Hughes film in an alternate universe. Why weren't the two songs flipped? This band might have the '80s in its rearview, but it has yet to understand how to put its dated rock and pop elements cohesively together in order to best move back towards the future. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Zachary Houle
multiple songs: [MySpace]

Blueground Undergrass, Faces (Landslide) Rating: 6
When I saw the name of the band I wondered if I was going to hear bluegrass with its tongue in its cheek -- Bill Monroe with a sense of humour, all speed and competitive extroversion, or Flatt and Scruggs with a psyche-folk hemp-powered twist -- but Blueground Undergrass play modern country music at a moderate speed. They have a fiddle and a banjo, two singers, and an electric guitar. Their version of country has a soft-rock flavour. Their lyrics are often rueful, sometimes nostalgic. "Who are the faces that you'll see... as you're drowning?" Jeff Mosier asks on the title song. I have no idea, but it's a melancholy thought. "In This Life" advises you to "work real hard to stand up tall," before you grow old and die. "Clinch Mountain Backstep" begins with banjo and fiddle; then the electric guitar comes in and starts doing polite power chords. Faces is easy listening. Bill Monroe won't be rolling over in his grave for this one. He'll be smiling at the radio, humming a little, then dozing off. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Deanne Sole

The Concretes, "Chosen One" [CD-single] (EMI) Rating: 7
Attractive and cool, the packaging for the first single, "Chosen One", off the Concretes' new record is a study in style. Occasionally, it can be hard to get beyond that style the Concretes' ooze so well. But In Colour is a step forward in the humanizing factor and this single is anything but a throwaway. The two exclusive tracks are pop songs slowed down to moody introspection. Drummer Lisa Milberg gives lead singer Victoria Bergsman a break on "Postpone It" and the result is simply charming. Also included is the video for "Chosen One", starring the band in their own make-believe town. It's eye candy for certain -- cool (that word again) and fun. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Jill LaBrack
"Chosen One" (video): [windows | real]
more songs and videos, click on "downloads": [official site]

.: posted by Editor 7:59 AM


08 May 2006


Bronx Cheerleader, Tough Guy Clichés (Yummy Recordings) Rating: 6
Other than war, no milieu brings out male fallibility more than organized crime. Yet, Americans harbor a nostalgia for the relative certitude of the glory days of gangland; how else can you explain Al Capone's northwoods hideout as a tourist attraction complete with caricatured t-shirts that read, "Justice -- Chicago Style"? Cleverly, ex-Pope Factory man Scott Warren uses the push and pull between these two ideas as the loose underpinning for Tough Guy Clichés. His lyrics are smart but never cutesy or deliberately shocking. A song title like "Our Grudges Have Handles" sums up his approach pretty well. The music, played by Warren and several ex-Pope Factory and Palooka members, belies the subject matter. Mostly acoustic, gauzy, and navel-gazing, at times it's barely there; Warren's voice literally floats by. A little more lo-fi than necessary, but still devastating on tracks like "Hollywood Ending". Some of the better CD packaging you'll ever see, too. [Amazon | Insound]
      — John Bergstrom
"So Nice to See You (Fall)": [MP3]
"Hollywood Ending": [MP3]
"Crapshooter's Blues in A": [MP3]
more songs: [MP3]

Blackmore's Night, The Village Lanterne (SPV) Rating: 6
Ritchie Blackmore's continued foray into new age/folk music with his wife Candice Night might frustrate fans of the man's work with legendary bands Deep Purple and Rainbow, and no question, Blackmore's Night lays the Renaissance Faire shtick very thick, but for all the schmaltz, the pair is capable of moments of gentle beauty on this, their sixth album. "I Guess it Doesn't Matter" and "St. Teresa" don't so much gallop as politely canter, but it's pleasing to hear Blackmore take the old Stratocaster out, but it's the beautiful, heavenly-voiced Night who proves to be the main draw, who showcases her vocal skill on the gentle crescendo of the title track. As usual, the production is decidedly sterile, but Night manages to inject plenty of emotion into the music, not to mention pull the rug out from under us on the covers of Deep Purple's classic "Child in Time", and especially the old Rainbow nugget "Street of Dreams", which much to the shock of yours truly, tops the original. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Adrien Begrand
audio clips: [MP3]

Carquinez Straits, Humiliation Jacket (Lather) Rating: 6
Sacramento's Carquinez Straits have a pretty good thing going with their third record, Humiliation Jacket, tangling straight-up C&W with a host of other influences, from R.E.M. ("Sturdy Like An Eggshell"), to Pavement ("Confusion Island"). Jed Brewer's lackadaisical voice is reminiscent of Howe Gelb's drawl, tumbleweeding through an impressive variety of musical settings. The Straits can rock with the best of them, and still convincingly downshift into a pedal-steel soaked moonlight drive on "Paco + Witch". Plus, they've got a penchant for fantastic song titles. The band's MySpace page features a song called "Oatmeal Stout Man", and this record's got the barroom blitz "Dog Food Binge" that'll reduce you to kibbles and bits and bits and bits. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Michael Metivier
multiple songs: [MP3]

The Hidden, Smash to Ashes (self-released) Rating: 4
Steve Albini will always be remembered as the producer of The Pixies' Surfer Rosa, one of the greatest rock albums ever made. He will not, however, be remembered for engineering The Hidden's first full-length, Smash to Ashes. The inside of the jacket suggests that the album "be played at maximum volume". The only feasible response to such a suggestion is "why?" "Can't describe my empty hands / Without your hand in mine" sings Kevin Grant in "Thirteen Hands," one in a long line of generic riff-rockers. The album is genuinely one-note, the hazy guitar melodies and surprisingly weak drums making for a 10-course sampler of generic rock. The band places its two best hooks up at the start of the album ("Feed" & "The Goat"), but by the end you just won't care. A large part of the problem -- oddly enough -- rests with Albini, who manages to suck any energy out of the album with a production style that ultimately disengages the listener. As long as he remains producer, the band will forever live up to its name, and simply stay Hidden. [Amazon | Insound]
      — Evan Sawdey
"Feed": [MP3]
"The Goat": [MP3]

.: posted by Editor 7:40 AM