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02 June 2006


Macromantics, Four Facets [7"] (Quake Trap)
"These are the sounds of the future hip-hop coasts you are hearing," Macromantics announces at the beginning of "Four Facets". A hip-hop-loving pop-punk guitarist-turned-rapper with an impressive touring résumé (Aesop Rock, Sage Francis, Mr. Lif), Macromantics (née Romy Hoffman) isn't short on ambition. And she has a nice little gimmick to go with it -- hard-hitting, Jean-Grae-tough female MC with a thick Australian accent spits viciously intelligent battle raps. Hoffman has the flow to back it up as well, her verses thickly lyrical and rhythmically impeccable if nothing groundbreaking, and the production is equally solid on these two tracks: a blend of sweetly ominous crooning, dark strings, and melancholy piano on "Four Facets" and a constantly-morphing electro-shuffle romp on "Conspiracy Remix". What Macromantics lacks, however, can be crippling: charisma. Her lyricism is deft and impressive, there's no doubt about that, but her delivery is relatively monotone and essentially uniform in its unsmiling, hardcore-tough persona -- in the end meriting a look from deep hip-hop heads, but not much more. [Insound]
      — Michael Frauenhofer
"? Future": [MP3]
"hYperbolic LOgic": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Hip-hop  

Marcos Amorim, Sete Capelas (Adventure Music)
Reviewers of Marcos Amorim's last album, Cris on the Farm, his first to have had a major release outside Brazil, compared him favourably to Charlie Byrd, but I know precisely zilch about Charlie Byrd except that his name makes him sound like a comic ostrich, so I'll have to take their word for it. The line-up for this new album is the same as the last one -- Amorim playing the guitar, accompanied by the bass player Ney Conceição and percussionist Robertinho Silva -- with guest appearances from Nivaldo Ornelas, who plays a sweet flute. Sete Capelas is mellower than Cris on the Farm, less obviously Brazilian, and less varied, as if the guitarist feels that he no longer needs to make dramatic gestures to prove his worth, and that now he can sit down and concentrate his energy on a single, basic, brightly jazzy sound. It's playful and imaginative stuff. [Insound]
      — Deanne Sole
multiple songs: [CD Baby]
World / Latin  

Hayley Taylor, Waking EP (self-released)
I expected Taylor's disc -- with its girl-with-guitar artwork and song titles like "What I Never Said" and "What Matters Most -- to sound like much of the music I regretted hearing in college coffee shops, in which "brutally confessional" passes as art. Taylor knows something key: skipping the melodrama and delivering emotion in a conversational singing voice renders those personal feelings much more effectively. Even when thinking of a passed away friend ("Never Said"), Taylor keeps her cool, telling us what we need to know without indulging herself in theatrics. Backed by solid country-influenced musicians, Taylor's introduced herself in a subdued and graceful manner. [Insound]
      — Justin Cober-Lake
"What I Never Said": [MP3]
Singer-Songwriter  

Kevin, "Gentle Soul" b/w "I Don't Wanna Wake Up" [7-inch single] (Rhythm Barrel)
Kevin, actually a four-man band, is like a Finnish version of Soundtrack of Our Lives: a copy of a copy of the sound of the real psychedelic revolution some 40 years ago. Gentle Soul is blissful and competent enough, but goes on for a rather laborious six minutes, which alas lasted one minute longer than the Age of Aquarius this band tries so desperately to mimic. While the band comes across like they wanna be a double-ought version of Love or Spirit, the nail in the coffin is that they do so without the passion or swagger of any of those Nuggets-era bands and instead come off like the 5th Dimension on a bad acid trip. [Insound]
      — Zachary Houle
multiple songs: [official site]
Rock  

.: posted by Editor 9:07 AM


01 June 2006


Various Artists, Exponential Presents: Collapsing Culture (Exponential)
San Antonio-based record label Exponential freely admits that Texas is not quite world-renowned for being on the cutting edge of indie music, but as they so grandiosely state in the press release, they plan on changing that. Their new label compilation, Collapsing Culture, showcases the work of five San Antonio electronic/trip-hop artists (Æther216, Theory of Everything, Darby, Mnolo, and A.M. Architect) and proves the city surprisingly apt, in this particular subgenre at least. While they each have their own subtle stylistic variances, there exist clearly apparent similarities as well, and at points their songs are almost interchangeable. That's not to say they're bad, however: they range from tone sketches to fully-developed melodies, but the general vibe is gentle and pretty, and there are often buried surprises. "Little Prince" creates contrast between building, soaring string loops and the sharp, jabby beeps that unexpectedly subvert their energy, while "Fall from Grace" hums along, dark but subdued, until the unearthly distorted orchestra shimmers into view in smooth, precisely-spaced slices. And "The Birth", by Mnolo, grooves for a bit on flutey chirps and stutter percussion before it completely unhinges to introduce a swirling operatic sample, finding a new, slower vibe and then gently righting and unrighting itself as the track continues. As far as paintings go, these are not masterpieces of sharp-eyed realism: Exponential's aural paintings are impressionistic little abstracts, solid colors and shapes and random boxes that subtly reveal their hidden layers. And despite its ambitious title, Collapsing Culture collapses no culture, really; rather, it's an hour and change of experimental electronic trip-hop, a chilled-out, coolly-paced mood piece of laconic synthesizer thrums and often beautiful sounds. It could easily become simply background music, there's no doubt about that, but as far as pretty background music goes, you could certainly do much worse. [Insound]
      — Michael Frauenhofer
"The Antidote": [MP3]
"Theory of Everything": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Electronic / Downtempo / Hip-Hop  

The Post Office Gals, Esbeohdes (On the Rise)
You could play some games with this disc. Right now I'm wondering if this full-length album will end before I can type 100 words on it (it will). I'm also wondering if I can say any of the titles in less than that song's running time ("Good I'm Glad" is a cinch; "No Patent Leather Shoes for Catholic School Girls" isn't). With their blend of a grindcore speed and attitude, an electro-ized sound, and exhumation of the fun in both styles, the Post Office Gals might be on to something. They've even got that biting social satire you want. Oh, wait, it's over. [Insound]
      — Justin Cober-Lake
"The Bitter Irony of...": [MP3]
"Good I'm Glad": [MP3]
"Right Click My Heart": [MP3]
Rock / Progressive / Screamo / Thrash  

Edison Glass, A Burn or a Shiver (Credential)
Edison Glass (a purported collaboration between Philip Glass and Albert Einstein [what?]) is one of those bands that's unsurprisingly easy to peg down: they're basically trying to be the Mars Volta with everything you like about the Mars Volta taken away. Actually, their lenience towards 40-minute song suites is scant (the longest song is the seven-minute closer), and they carry more musical common ground with At the Drive-In offshoot Sparta. "If I'm unable when you call / and if I'm unable / when all we have is taken" is one such fracture-sentence that is peppered throughout the LP. The album is well produced and the guitarists no doubt talented, but the songwriting lacks any real propulsion, solidifying something most any upstart prog band should already know: before you conquer Mars, you got to conquer Earth first. [Insound]
      — Evan Sawdey
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Rock / Indie / Pop  

Joe Algeri / The Sugarrush, Split 7" (Rhythm Barrel)
You can feel the love in the room on this one. Australian singer/songwriter Joe Algeri wrote a song about Finland's The Sugarrush, and The Sugarrush respond in kind by writing a song about Joe Algeri. Awwwwww. Cute idea, but to listen to this four-song split seven-inch is like listening to an in-joke that was probably best shared between friends. Not that it isn't horrible: Algeri's Sugar Rush boasts some nice melotron, and the four songs collected here would be catchy enough if you caught them on a static-y AM radio. But the melodies on both groups' songs seem pretty standard and recall other, better bands more worthy of homage. The Sugarrush's 3 Chords for Joe even reminded this reviewer of Phoebe from Friends singing Stinky Cat. Enjoyable to a point, but not really worth repeat spins. [Insound]
      — Zachary Houle
Rock / Pop  

.: posted by Editor 7:22 AM



Elijah Wyman, Why We Never Go Swimming & Other Short Stories (Blue Duck)
An off kilter and frequently enthralling release, Why We Never Go Swimming... by Boston-based artist, Elijah Wyman is an album that could well be deserving of your attention. For the most part, shunning the usual strummed miserablism associated with acoustic guitar wielding sensitive singer-songwriter types, the songs here aim for something quirkier and ultimately a little more interesting. A track like "What I Save in Flowers, I Spend in Postage" combines swooning horns and flutes with Wyman's tumbling lyrics to real effect. Likewise, the Tom Waits-lite, "The Storm Outside Your Car", with its clunking and wailing, is strangely beguiling. Indeed much of this record is shot through with invention, as the songs remain constantly open to leftfield musical turns. Unfortunately it doesn't always work, and over the course of the nine tracks here, Wyman's sometimes-droning delivery and knowing, wordy songs do begin to grate. "My Blood Will Cry Out to You" in particular is too clumsily clever and strangely lacking in heart to really fall for, whilst "Doves Blood, Desert Sand" sounds like nothing more than a few minutes of unnecessary filler. Still, the homemade charm and understated beauty of a song like standout track, "Girls Should Drive Automatics", with its sparkling instrumentation and frankly lovely melody, showcase a promising talent. With a few more of these moments, this album, released by Blue Duck Records, would come highly recommended. As it is, if literate, skewed singer-songwriter charm is what you're looking for, Elijah Wyman may be worth sounding out. [Insound]
      — Michael Lomas
"Why We Never Go Swimming": [MP3]
"My Blood Will Cry Out to You": [MP3]
"Beautiful Like Words": [MP3]
"3rd Song of the Architect": [MP3]
"Music of the Slaves": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Indie / Folk  

Figurines, "Silver Ponds" b/w "The Wonder" [7-inch single] (The Control Group/Morningside)
Be forgiven if you were to mistake Christian Hjelm, the vocalist behind this Dutch group, for being either Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock or Built to Spill's Doug Martsch incognito. Be forgiven, too, if you thought the A-side teaser to their well-received sophomore album, Skeletons, swiped a few chord progressions from The Posies 1993 should've been a hit Solar Sister. Figurines, like their name implies, offer miniature replicas of things you've heard before in the indie world: jangy guitars, tinny indie-rock production and so on. But for all the pillaging from rock's arsenal that this band tunefully does, Figurines have the sense to steal all of the really good hooks from other sources. Which makes prying this one off the turntable all the more unpleasant, and which makes their shameless riffing from the past deeply forgivable. [Insound]
      — Zachary Houle
"The Wonder": [MP3]
"Rivalry": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Indie rock  

Laudanum, Your Place and Time Will Be Mine (Monopsone)
Laudanum appear to be a collaboration between Frenchman Matthieu Malon and anyone that happened to drop by the studio that day. Your Place and Time Will Be Mine is a varied selection of delirious '80s electro pop that stirs up the ghost of Fad Gadget and gives it a 21st century makeover. Music is often not sinister and fun at the same time any more like on this record. The vocal on "Sailor and Bruno" (probably unintentionally) sounds like Neil from the Young Ones (seminal 1980s UK sit-com). This is a quality record that may have limited appeal but gets my vote due to my affection for the works of Frank Tovey. Check out "Left-handed Right Mind" for an interesting piece of The Cure meets The Postal Service pop music. This record is dark and brooding in a cheerful sort of way. If that seems like a contradiction you should listen to the record and it will make sense. [Insound]
      — Marc A. Price
multiple songs: [MySpace]

Indie / Electro  

Mercy Fall, For the Taken (Atlantic)
Mercy Fall are from Arizona, but they could have been found perhaps somewhere in Chad Kroeger's back pocket. Despite the obvious Nickelback influences, the band also cites Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. That's much harder to find with the hard, polished, perfected and "heavy" rock of "Insurmountable" with Nate Stone's manly, guttural wailings. And from there "Hangman" and the slightly slower, melodic "Worth" rides the same hard nu rock flavor that Theory of a Deadman or Alter Bridge have taken to the coffers. The first ditty that turns one's head has to be the anthem-like "Not Broken Down" and the radio-friendly "Here I Am". Mercy Fall however falls into that trap so many bands of this ilk fall into, attempting to be mildly different by relying on a formula that's been done to death. Still, a quasi-power ballad like "Wake" still has its place... somewhere. [Insound]
      — Jason MacNeil
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Rock / Post-Grunge  

.: posted by Editor 7:12 AM


30 May 2006


Animal Liberation Orchestra, Fly Between Falls (Brushfire)
Fur flying and critters set free. That's the image conjured by a band name like Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO). As demeanors go, though, this act is closer to ELO then the PLO -- gentle as a lamb. When on tour, ALO often moves in jam band circles. But keyboard driven exercises like "Pobrecito" bring to mind the fey jazz-pop of Michael Franks, rather than Phish, String Cheese Incident, or the almighty Grateful Dead. The lightly funky "Wasting Time" ought to appeal to the hemp clothing wearing and incense burning contingent, though. "Spectrum" is as hippie as a peace sign tattoo; it ponders the conversations that go on in our heads, and plays out like one long stoner run-on sentence. Then there's "Girl I Wanna Lay You Down", which is as overtly sexual as anything Barry White ever put to wax. Otherwise, this animal house is a relatively calm and quiet one. [Insound]
      — Dan MacIntosh
"Possibly Drown": [MP3]
"Pobrecito": [MP3]
"Spectrum": [MP3]
"Wasting Time (Isla Vista Song)": [MP3]
multiple songs and videos: [MP3]
Rock / Jam Band  

Tungsten74, Binaurally Yours (Technical Echo)
Tungsten74 created this album by taking a collection of classical pieces and then burying them deeply under electrified cover versions. Their first try at Bach's "Well-Tempered Klavier" leans too self-consciously on its source, but the second moves through ringing, blossoming crescendos with a kind of grandeur. In between them we get "Waltz," which sounds as if it's being fed through a rock band and coming back to us via the Dr Who theme tune -- and "Come Sweet Death", Bach again; a nimble, pleasurable bit of guitar with a noise behind it like a host of frogs -- and "Fire Alarm", which sometimes sounds like a computer game -- and "Absolutely", which comes at you in a series of heavy waves, relaxed at first and then finally fast and urgent. Binaurally Yours is spacious and dramatic psyche-rock. [Insound]
      — Deanne Sole
"Rusty Cavalier (alternate version)" [MP3]
Rock  

The Nervous Return, "Bad Girl" b/w "Snow in Berlin" [7-inch single] (La Salle/Atlantic)
From the boutique record label run by former blink-182 drummer Travis Barker comes this one-two pseduo-punk band punch from some band probably only your 11-year-old nephew has heard. This advancer to The Nervous Return's debut LP, 144 Hours, only really delivers two things: 1) a kind of funky bass line played over the most discordant and obnoxious one-chord guitar riff you're likely to hear this year (please see exhibit A: Bad Girl); 2) a really catchy chorus on the B-side, Snow in Berlin. The Nervous Return demonstrate here how, oddly, they can't decide if they're a pure pop noise outfit like Pere Ubu or another blink-182: pure pop for tomorrow's teenagers. And that, my friends, can only mean one thing. They'll make a wonderful tax write-off for Mr. Barker. [Insound]
      — Zachary Houle
multiple songs and videos: [MP3 and quicktime]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Rock / Indie  

Modern Skirts, Catalogue of Generous Men (self-released)
If you are familiar with the Modern Skirts and aren't already a member of their loyal fan base, it is unlikely that this debut record is going to convert you. If you've never heard the Modern Skirts before and are looking for a band to fill the gaping hole left by Ben Folds when his solo career failed to move you, these could be your guys. The Athens based soft-rockers have some catchy hooks and are emotive enough to sting together some good tunes, like the semi-rocker "Seventeen Dirty Magazines" and the more touching, "City Lights". Unfortunately, most of the songs on this album are delivered with far more sentimentality than emotion, leaving these pop tunes a little dull, despite the polished-to-a-shine production. [Insound]
      — Dave Brecheisen
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Indie / Pop  

.: posted by Editor 7:43 AM