Mystery Jets, Five Tracks EP (679) This five track album taster from West London beatniks Mystery Jets comes with much praise and promise. Cooked up in the hotbed of musical mayhem that is Eel Pie Island, the tracks here demonstrate a scattered, clattering musicality, touching on everything from prog-rock to post-punk and schizophrenic folk. Sounding like a less stoned and less consciously wacky version of the coral, a track like "Lizzies Lion" exudes a funky, weirdo charm in the way it jolts and scratches around before hitting a solid gold, Cure-esque chorus. Elsewhere there's the shamelessly un-cool King Crimson and Yes referencing of "The Tale", the sweeping tunefulness of single "You Can't Fool Me Dennis", and oh yeah, a song about cows and electric fires or something.
If the influence of most bands parents usually only extends to borrowing their Pink Floyd records, Mystery Jets have gone one step further in letting singer Blaine Harrison's 50-odd year old father play rhythm guitar. It's less of a gimmick though and more of a seal of this bands effortless unconventionality.
Of course this constant barrage of ideas and weirdness should be somewhat indulgent and downright annoying -- except it's not. Perhaps carried away by the strange pop sensibilities of it all, and that it all comes on as so uncontrived, that Mystery Jets pull it off. It's only five dizzy tracks, but this taster works as an exciting first look at a band bursting with invention and promise. Already making waves with the indie rock set in the UK, where they have toured with the Arctic Monkeys and released their debut album, Making Dens to steady acclaim, Mystery Jets are definitely a band to listen out for in 2006.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Pop / Pop Punk / Powerpop
Pillow, Flowing Seasons (2nd rec)
Pillow is an apt name for Italian keyboardist Luca Di Mira's side-project (he usually jams with post-rockers Giardini di Miro), as this is an album you could sleep on. Not an album you'd go to sleep to though. This relatively one-note LP strikes on helluva note, drenched in lush melancholy. Mira pulls off an impressive feat here, playing 12 instruments across eight tracks, and somehow coming out sounding like the Postal Service in desperate need of anti-depressants. He manages to create lush orchestral arrangements by sampling himself on "Mixologists and Waifs", making the music drown out the various vocalists who try to articulate his words to varying success (the burning credit card references certainly keeps your attention on "Cut-Out-and-Keep Quarrels"). The closing seven-minute epic "With the Passing of the Seasons" is the soundtrack for a movie that has yet to be made, but one that you'll no doubt be wiping your tears away when the credits role. Just like Pillow: soft, careful, and (at times) greatly needed.
"Song for Beginning": [MP3]
Grizzly Bear, Sorry for the Delay (Audraglint) Brooklyn's Grizzly Bear follow up their 2004 debut Horn of Plenty with a mini-LP of early demo recordings. This seven-track, 30-minute release is made up of songs composed in 2002-03 (including one Yes cover), and on the whole are somewhat rawer than the debut, though in the same general vein. Alienated Thom Yorke vocals barely interact with a sparse guitar accompaniment and a solitary, swung jazz beat. Grizzly Bear is best when they drop the psych-folk affectation and let the dreamy melodies shine through, as in the middle of "Particular to What?" Or the highlight "A Leader Always Carries a Stick", with its gospel-call kicking off each verse, beneath which whistles and electronic squiggles wander with a steady, marching beat. Beneath a dreamy drone of picked out major chord, Ed Droste's vocals seem like an intrusion on the beauty of the music. Perhaps it's a personal preference, but I like my folk purer, closer to the roots of the genre, for it to really touch me with genuine feeling. The album will be released in a limited edition, vinyl only format; which doesn't make it better quality, just more pretentious.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Indie / Acoustic / Experimental
Tony Levin, Resonator (Narada) As a member of King Crimson and sideman for Peter Gabriel, Tony Levin is best-known for his heroic bass-wrangling and enigmatic onstage presence. He's the four-stringed extraordinaire with the shiniest of shiny pates and fearless mustache, not to mention the only guy Gabriel will hit the road with. Resonator, his fifth solo album in 10 years, showcases a different side of Levin: he sings (a comforting sort of voice, not unlike Ron Sexsmith's, of all people), tones down the proggy science, and even gets in touch with his inner piano man. The company he's kept has made a distinct impression upon Levin's own songwriting, which hovers between Adrian Belew's off-kilter anti-pop and Gabriel's arty daydreams. Occasionally does Levin flash a weakness: ballads like "Utopia", while loaded with Beatlesque melodic charm, are ultimately weighted down by cement shoes of lyrical grandiosity, and the instrumental "Shadowland", with its dated synths and hairspray-scented guitar, feels like it's stuck in an '80s purgatory. Levin's best when he's singing oddball pop concoctions about "fundamental physics" ("Break It Down") or Mars ("Places to Go"). "Throw the God a Bone", with its wily allusions to "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" and "Live and Let Die", splits the difference: it's a little too cute for its own good, but it's got that wicked grin that suggests it's wiser than you'd think.
Pernille, Fire (Aporia) This Danish artist has a very soothing, sophisticated style that borrows slightly from Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Bjork. With opener "A Captive", Pernille Gunvad tries to dazzle the listener with a smart pop style with subtle guitars and distant harmonies which give way to a tight, polished backbeat. At the same time, the title track has a folksy ring to it that again hits the spot with its lurking, Depeche Mode-circa-Ultra groove. Pernille has an ear for knowing what works, particularly with the adult pop sensibilities all over "Feels Like", even including a banjo for good measure. The first stab at something poppy or radio-friendly comes up smelling like daisies as airy but melodic "This Body" gels from the get go. Following an average orchestral-laced "I Love You", Pernille seems to fall off the rails slightly with a mediocre "Happy?" But it's her strong delivery that nails the blossoming, tender pop nuances of "Pollution" that falls somewhere between Dido and Natalie Merchant. It is a very charming and delectable bit of highbrow pop.
multiple songs: [e-card]
The Milestone Corporation, Big Night Out (self-released)
Within three songs, the debut EP from the Swedish quintet The Milestone Corporation goes from jam-band aesthetic to '70s-flavored rock to crap-rock. In that order, too. Opener "Suburban Boredom" features a frantic, galloping rock guitar played parallel to full-on organ pumps, creating a very Bonnaroo-styled jam, but very digestible (coming in at less than three minutes). "Loser's Way Out" is steeped in late '60s psychedelic rock, like a modern-day pop update of Iron Butterfly. Though the song is good, it fails to build on the sugar-bounce energy of its opener, leaving closer "Caught Up" in that tricky spot of having a lot to live up to. Sadly, it's a power-rock riff-fest that sounds like the Donnas have grown bored (again). In three songs, the band could already have its hit (which is well-deserved), its lesser follow up, and the song where they bottom out. If this is what they can do in three songs, imagine what they'll do in 10...
"Suburban Boredom": [MP3]
"Loser's Way Out": [MP3]
"Caught Up": [MP3]
"Stand Yourself": [MP3]
"Black Bag": [MP3]
Rock / Pop / Powerpop
Imaginary Johnny, Painting Over the Dirt (Unfinished Side) Imaginary Johnny is your typical electro-fused indie band, with sad, simple lyrics bolstered by a young man with a voice that's a little Eef Barzelay, a little Wayne Coyne, and a little Ryan Adams. This man is Stuart Wolferman, whose website shows he's fresh from the hipster factory: a sneering, pretentious college radio DJ of the worst kind.
Painting Over the Dirt, on the other hand, is mostly inoffensive and sometimes inspired, with highlights like the opener "Work Related", the ticking "Anytime Minutes", and the swelling "She's Dug". If it does recall the Flaming Lips, then it is equal parts Counting Crows, especially the embarrassing Duritz-esque lyrics of "Sad Girl". But if anything, this is what saves Painting Over the Dirt from becoming just another barely-there indie album, a rambling electro track that bands like The Books try to pass off as music. These songs are saved by their attachment to cheesy pop tradition: an uplifting, building end saves even the stone cold beginning of "Rat Race". As badly as Wolferman wants to play it cool, he can't resist some good-old fashioned rainy-day melodies. And for that, Imaginary Johnny will stay on my stereo a little bit longer.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Indie / Rock / Electronic
Dr. Frankenstein, Chapter III: The Dragon Lounge Connection - Crime Scenes and Murder Songs from Dr. Frankenstein's Lab (Double Crown) When was the last time you heard a Portuguese surf-rock-noir garage band? If it was recently, you run in cooler (weirder?) circles than I. On Chapter III: The Dragon Lounge Connection -- Crime Scenes and Murder Songs from Dr. Frankenstein's Lab Dr. Frankenstein conjures the spirit of Bella Lugosi and bundles it with the tight surf-rock riffing of Duane Eddy. Fans of the band may find this effort to lack some of the explosiveness of the Psychotic Sounds of..., but Dr. Frankenstein is tight as ever -- especially the rhythm section. "I was a Teenage Astro-Monster" and "V-8 Death Race" explode with... well, monstrous riffs and "She-Devils' Stroll is vintage surf rock. However, it is the moodiness of songs like "Spy From Madrid" and "A.M. 666" that propel make this album such a fun romp.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Garage Rock / Surf Rock
Clit 45, 2,4,6,8... We're the Kids You Love to Hate (BYO) At the ripe old age of 28, I sometimes wonder just what it was that made punk the central doctrine of my adolescence. Clit 45 reminds me, and it's a testament to the band's unbridled power that my primary response was not intellectual but physical: practically sprinting through a five-mile jog with it on an MP3 player, drumming with spoons while I washed dishes, and pogoing around the apartment playing air guitar, to the certain dismay of my downstairs neighbors. The band reflects its influences, from the Adolescents to Rancid, playing the same three chords, the same hopped-up backbeat, and the same pissed-off lyrics (representative sample: "Every fucking day this shit seems more the same/Everything around me makes me want to put a bullet in my brain"). But Clit 45 adds the crucial components that set the best apart from the rest: energy, sincerity, passion. Anyone with two fingers and an hour to practice can play these songs, but not just anyone can do it with this level of conviction. Most punk bands sound like kids going through a phase before they immerse themselves in the finer points of 401k plans and homeowner associations; these young Long Beach ruffians sound primed for lives full of squats, basement shows, and Exploited patches. On this collection of out-of-print material pre-dating their 2005 debut LP, Clit 45 make the punk long-haul seem a wonderful proposition.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
"Can't Stop the Bleeding": [MP3]
Punk / Hardcore
Bizzy Bone, Speaking in Tongues (SMC Recordings) Bizzy Bone should drive other artists to ponder: "Am I working hard enough?" The former Bone Thugs-N-Harmony rapper has cranked out seven albums since the start of 2004 -- the eighth, Resurrection, is coming soon. He does this without clogging his albums with skits or guest stars, and Speaking in Tongues compresses 13 songs into a tight 47 minutes. "Compressed" is an important word here -- no one would think these songs were diligently worked over again and again in a studio. The weaker tracks like "BB Da Thug" and "Shake Ya Stick" could have been produced with a Casio keyboard and a few packs of Duracells. But the stronger tracks are as rich as anything Bizzy did with Bone Thugs. "Beauty (You Just a Rose)" turns a harmonica figure into pulsating hook joined by samples of harps and Spanish guitar licks. "What U See" is less frantic but even more compelling. A soft, soul piano figure forms the basis of the track, and a harpsichord (if it's not one, that's a fine synthesizer Bizzy has) bubbles underneath with a riff similar to David Byrne's opening notes from "Burning Down the House". Bizzy's own vocals lift the material considerably. He can lapse into a soft reggae patois on "He Told Me" as easily as he can batter the mic with warp-speed rapping on "Seeing Things".
hip-hop / G-Funk / Gangsta Rap
The Black Swans, Sex Brain (Bwatue) To the already extensive set of bedpost notches scratched by libidinous indie rockers, the Black Swans add their own inscription on this five-song EP. Lead singer and songwriter Jerry DeCicca sounds like the anti-Greg Dulli at first: "I don't want to fuck, I just want to spoon," he begins the first track. But by the fourth verse his "finger's between your legs" -- if not quite Dulliesque, then at least Oberstian in its "shag me not because I'm sensitive, but because my self-conscious playacting at sensitivity gives me added allure" posturing. Instead of the Afghan Whigs' roaring swagger or Bright Eyes' histrionic melodrama, though, the real reference point here is the hangover-folk of Arab Strap. Musically, the Black Swans set an effectively gloomy mood, making stellar use of Canaan Faulkner's accordion and Noel Sayres' viola and violin as songs stretch slowly out with the unnerving discomfort of the morning after. But while DeCicca deserves credit for taking sex seriously, his lyrics are seriously marred by their overwrought imagery. It's bad enough when his "dark plums need some love today", but hearing about his "silky white tar" is enough to inspire declarations of abstinence.
[Amazon | Insound]
"I.D.W.2 F.": [MP3]
indie / sadcore
Day Action Band, Right on Dairyland (Captain Cape) It's the classic way to start a rock band -- two staffers at Duke University's Department of Neurobiology who can harmonize so well it's scary at times. Using a laidback roots-oriented backdrop generally (on songs like "All Comes Down to This") brings to mind Cat Stevens. Both Matt and Nate O'Keefe hit their strides with the quirky, off-kiltered percussion fuelled "65 Miles", while "Finding Everything" is a delightful pop romp. Day Action Band is at its best when they tone things down to the sparse, and at times haunting, harmonies sprinkled liberally on "Untitled". The acoustic ramble of "Heartless" is a highlight and the slow, retro-groove on "The Eyes in the Back of My Head." The lone departure from this rather relaxed atmosphere is "Know What You Know" that sounds like the New Pornographers on an acoustic tour. The first clunker is the strolling "Day to Get Done" that is best left off the record.
"Tony Gwynn": [MP3]
"We Got Baseball": [MP3]
rock / Folk Rock
Rhythmicru, Rhythmicru Presents D-Ray's Supertoke Mixtape Vol. 1 (After Midnight) Canadian hip-hop collective Rhythmicru has been steadily building its rep with a series of releases and performances, opening for acts like Non Phixion, Pete Rock, and C.L. Smooth, but their latest release, Supertoke Mixtape Vol. 1, is less of a typical Rhythmicru release and more of a showcase for their in-house producer D-Ray. The Rhythmicru MCs and a multitude of guests flow over beat after beat from D-Ray, and the tracks (true to mixtape form) are numerous but short; while none of the rappers featured are particularly mind-blowing, they're all solid and the constant variety of flows keeps things interesting. D-Ray's production is subtle and muted but nevertheless consistently strong, leaning heavily on deep basslines and spare, low-key samples. Highlights range from the hissy percussion of D-Ray's own "Rock 'n' Roll" to the jazzy saunter of "Magical Saxophones" and the offbeat "Dropzone", which is entirely made by Uncledropsi's charismatic delivery. Supertoke Mixtape Vol. 1 is, all things considered, a nice production showcase for D-Ray that also serves to keep Rhythmicru's name out there before their next full-length, but for those outside the Canadian hip-hop scene, there's nothing hugely appealing or exceptional to make this disc a must-have.
"Rock 'n' Roll": [MP3]
"Very Serious": [MP3]
"A Meditation": [MP3]
"Taking It Back": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
hip-hop / alternative hip-hop
Demolition Doll Rods, There Is a Difference (Swami) To the cynical, the Demolition Doll Rods -- Margaret, Danny and Tia Doll Rod -- seem to have been created by an indie/garage focus group: Co-ed? Check. Sexually aggressive, gravel-throated frontwoman? Check. Fuzzed-out, Stones-indebted riffs? Check. Cutesy gimmick of the bandmembers sharing the same fake last name? Ugh -- check. Fortunately, the band's latest (their fourth), There Is a Difference, is much more lively than the above calculating checklist would indicate. The Doll Rods keep it simple, cranking the guitars and tackling such time-tested topics as drinking, partying and screwing -- mostly the latter. Songs like "Take You Home", "Booty Call" and "We Will Ride" positively ooze sex and frontwoman Margaret sounds like a woman who won't take no for an answer. While everything to this point paints the DDR as just another face in the crowd, they do enough interesting things to stand out: for all the hipness of having a female lead singer, the band sounds better when Danny sings -- on "Booty Call" and "Lil' Piece of Leather" the band turn the guitars down and veer into almost-power pop. And for all the sexual come-ons, the band sounds equally at home on a not-embarassing cover of "Amazing Grace" (really, the best anyone can hope for) and a medley of spirituals. How these latter songs will play out live, when the band performs in their typical outfits of, uh, almost nothing, remains to be seen.
[Amazon | Insound]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
rock / Garage Rock
Natasha Miller, Don't Move (Poignant) The powerhouse team of Sharp and Miller returns on this 11-song set composed in the tradition of '50s-era jazz standards. As with their last collaboration I Had a Feelin', Natasha Miller lends her personality and the silk of her voice to songwriting legend Bobby Sharp's considerable charm and wit. Sharp, who penned Ray Charles' "Unchain My Heart", as well as tunes for Sarah Vaughn and Sammy Davis, Jr., hasn't lost his ability to set the mood, from the swinging title track, to the hilarious "Stolen Love (On Highway 99)", and the superbly melancholy "Bye Bye Bayou". Instant favorites are "At Midnight", along with "As the Years Come and Go", featuring both Mr. Sharp and Ms. Miller on vocals, and the twinkling piano of "You Don't Have to Learn (How to Sing the Blues)". There's also Miller's magnificent violin work ("Snow Covers the Valley"). Elsewhere, Miller shines on "Don't Set Me Free", the companion piece to "Unchain My Heart". As a package, the CD case is lovable, styled as a hardcover book and filled with bright photos of Sharp, Miller, and the band. As a whole, the album is enjoyable, adorable even, including the whimsical "Doin' the Impossible". The main nitpick is the length. At slightly less than 48 minutes, don't be too disappointed. My remedy is to set the player to "repeat". Another remedy is to check out Bobby Sharp's "debut album" entitled The Fantasy Sessions.
Quentin B. Huff
Multiple songs: [Poignant Records]
"Don't Move" and "Stolen Love (On Highway 99)": [MP3]
rock / Adult Alternative
Missing Numbers, No Anecdote (Susstones) Missing Numbers aren't anything out of the ordinary, relying on long-winded blues-based jams that try to accent the swagger of its lead singer. "The Game" features some decent guitar work but it's been done before too often and far better. It sounds like Steve Earle trying to cover Robert Cray, with less than impressive results. Thrown in a jazzy "A Real Realizer" and it begins to have all the hallmarks of a yawnfest. "Write It on the Back of My Hand" is a mild improvement with a blues-rock feel. And thankfully they get away from those initial miscues with the Stones-y ballad "Cheaper by the Ton" and the pleasing "Nothing Lasts" that sounds like a depressed Jeff Tweedy who has discovered Miles Davis. Unfortunately Missing Numbers don't build any momentum off this, with the title track definitely not curing what ails this record. And "My Alibi" does nothing to persuade you otherwise. This album is indeed missing a few numbers.
"The Game": [MP3]