Marilyn Scott, Innocent of Nothing (Prana Entertainment) When Marilyn Scott's Innocent of Nothing showed up in May 2006, headlines everywhere should have read, "Guilty As Charged: Marilyn Scott Does It Again". The vocalist has, time and again, proven her commitment to creating great music, as well as her passion for social enrichment. In 2005, her Prana Foundation raised over $30,000 for victims of Hurricane Katrina through her website's fundraising campaign. As for music, Innocent of Nothing proves she's guilty on all counts. First, she's guilty of joining forces with a musical dream team: George Duke (producer and keyboardist), Jimmy Haslip and Brian Bromberg (bass), Steve Tavaglione (Saxophone), Mike Miller and Ray Fuller (guitars), Renato Neto and Russell Ferrante (keyboards), and Patrice Rushen (piano). Next, she's guilty of challenging herself to create a fresh and action-packed album: that glorious, thunderous piano solo on "Round & Round" (Exhibit A), the way she nails her vocals on the slower numbers, like the seductive "'Round Midnight" and "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" (Exhibit B). She's mesmerizing on the funky "Icebox" (Exhibit C), and the album possesses added texture due to the incorporation of spoken word poetry on "Moods", featuring Steve Connell, and "Share It" (Exhibit D). If that's not enough, there's the social commentary of "A Change", along with the Dylan-penned "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" (Exhibit E). Finally, "The Wilderness" is a masterpiece that rises softly through Ms. Scott's tender vocals, and then crescendos in a wave of desperation and wailing guitar riffs (Exhibit F). We don't even need to mention her songwriting credits. We've already got more than enough to keep her in our stereos for a long, long time. The prosecution rests, Your Honor.
Quentin B. Huff
multiple songs: [MP3 and video]
multiple songs: [streaming]
Paik, Monster of the Absolute (Strange Attractors) Detroit's transcendent psyche threesome -- Rob Smith, Ali Clegg and Ryan Pritts -- hammer repeated patterns into distorted mandalas, in this fifth full-length's obliteratingly loud, murkily beautiful soundscapes. "Phantoms" slips in and out of rock conventions, its wickedly spiked guitar line running in clockwork-precise away from the drums and bass, then ducking precipitously earthward in a two-note nose-dive. Drums push to the foreground late in the cut, every beat making space for ponderous fills and ritual crashes. Dense, wall-to-wall textures billow through "Snakeface" where eighth-note shifting guitar patterns emerge from a resonant MBV-ish dirge. This disc, which will appeal to fans of Bright, Kinski, Bardo Pond, Yume Bitsu and other deafening but beauty-enraptured psychedelicists, peaks with the title cut. This nearly 10-minute meditation pits the transparently gorgeous guitar notes against the murky howl of feed-back. It is indeed a monster, and indeed a statement of absolutes.
rock / Space Rock / Shoegaze
Streetlight Manifesto, Keasbey Nights (Victory) Is this the same 1998 album by Catch 22, with only a miniscule number of alterations? Well, basically yes? The lead singer is the same, the songs are the same, nothing is added in terms of bonus tracks but the band is different. Aside from that, what is true is whether you have had this since 1998 or are picking it up for the first time, it is a rich and fun, happy, bouncy ska album (are there any other kinds?). The catchy, frantic "Dear Sergio" sounds like a bit like Less Than Jake while "Sick and Sad" will have you dancing into friends in some crazed ska hoedown. The same can be said for the sing-along title track that changes gears throughout. The consistency of the album is what drew people to it in the first place, with the rambling but spirited "Walking Away" easily one of the bigger highlights. "On & On & On" tends to recapture the early energy and comes off swimmingly well. Rather short and to the point, this album had no filler then and none now despite "Supernothing" being, well, nothing super. Two of the final three push the traditional ska boundaries as The Kinks-like "Kristina She Don't Know I Exist" and "1234 1234" are at five and seven minutes respectively.
rock / Ska-Punk
Chop Chop, Chop Chop (Archenemy) Definitive proof that you shouldn't just give every Harvard architecture student a record deal, Chop Chop is everything that could go wrong with "ironic", DIY indie music. From the oh-so-clever Kenny Loggins-referencing press sheet to the "twisted" lyrics (boiling an ex-boyfriend and eating him, etc) and retro/new-wave/indie pop within, this is a project that should've stayed in the bedroom. Singer/songwriter Catherine Cavanagh sing-speaks in a passive-aggressive little girl voice, like an affected Suzanne Vega fronting a bad Elastica cover band. The music is punchy enough to pass as hip -- until you realize there's precious little in the way of songs. When your best tune is cribbed from "Chopsticks", well, time to stick to the drawing board.
"Mix Tape": [MP3]
"Blood Bath": [MP3]
"Funny Funny Ideas": [MP3]
Indie / Pop / Electronic
Janita, Seasons of Life (Lightyear) For some artists, it's enough to be known by one name, like Madonna, Prince, Sade, and Sting. With Seasons of Life, Janita might be another name to add to the list. Of the four single-moniker icons listed, Janita's style bears the most resemblance to Sade. Both artists deliver sultry vocals that cascade over smooth and jazzy grooves. Still, Janita's sound, tone, and vocal arrangements might also recall the work of R&B crooner Chante Moore, particularly on Moore's sophomore album A Love Supreme. Janita shows us all of life's seasons, from the finger-snapping ode to a soulmate, "No Words", to the reflective title track. Without missing a beat, Janita handles the slow grooves as deftly as the faster numbers. Her voice is sweet and vulnerable on "Bear With Me", but later, on "I Only Want You", she channels it into playfulness in the line, "So OK the reality is/ that I wish you eternal bliss / And may you live a long and beautiful life / with noisy kids and an ugly wife". Each song teaches a life lesson, illuminating a different facet of life's constantly changing character, while also demonstrating Janita's skill as a songwriter. The singer, born in Helsinki, Finland, is backed by musicians from the New York Philharmonic, as well as producer and co-writer Tomi Sachary (keyboards, guitars, bass), Jonathan Maron (bass), Vincente Archer (acoustic bass), Antonio Sanchez and Skoota Warner (drums), Daniel Sadownick (percussion), and Jacques Schwarz-Bart (sax and flute). Other high notes include "That's How Life Goes", "More Than a Fantasy", and Janita's cover of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence".
Quentin B. Huff
"Enjoy the Silence": [MP3]
"I Only Want You": [MP3]
"I Miss You": [MP3]
"No Words": [MP3]
multiple songs: [streaming]
Soul / R&B
Yea Big, The Wind That Blows the Robot's Arms (Jib) The mind of the electronic artist known as Yea Big is one hell of a terrifying place, as debut album The Wind That Blows the Robot's Arms can attest. The song titles range from cute ("Look for and Remove Any Foreign Objects Seen in Mouth") and self-descriptive ("The Same Stupid Shit, Only Faster") to inexplicably strange ("Floccinaucinihilipilification") and even willfully obtuse (three songs in a row entitled "Elegant as Fuck"), and the sounds are equally diverse, united only in their complete randomness and seemingly haphazard placement. "Please Die, and Leave Me Alone" is an ominously spare hip-hop beat marred by a random storm of painful noise that bursts abruptly into the vocal stylings of a chipmunk-sampled Deep South prison choir; "Manufacturing Morals" is a well-executed aural collage of crumpling papers, chewing noises, and keyboard keys that can best be described as "devastatingly ambient". The Wind That Blows the Robot's Arms is completely disjointed and fragmented, almost impossible to vibe to (I will give my instant respect to anyone who can dance well to this), and meticulously, purposefully impenetrable. Samples are chopped not only beyond recognition but beyond even any recognizable tonality, while jarring electronic blasts crackle arrhythmically: I can't decide if this is complete stupidity or some new form of genius. And I think Yea Big would take that as a compliment. But while it's undoubtedly innovative and never boring, and while its disregard for conventional considerations like structure and beauty is admirable, a nagging problem remains: it's just not that much fun to listen to, and as a 50-minute album, it ends up feeling about 45 minutes too long.
album preview: [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Experimental / Hip-Hop
Rocco DeLuca and the Burden, I Trust You to Kill Me (Ironworks) Armed with a Dobro steel guitar and the enthusiastic support of Keifer Sutherland's new Ironworks label, Rocco DeLuca has fashioned a full-length debut culled from the borrowed charisma of Chris Whitley and Jeff Buckley. His politely distorted guitar offers the illusion of bluesy grit, but the polished production and riskless delivery don't exactly kick the dust up from the dirt floor. At times DeLuca hits upon some hypnotic middle-ground (the opener "Gift", with its ambiguous major/minor chord shifts, recalls a sly subversion of Aqualung's "Brighter Than Sunshine"), but mostly he jangles through happythons ("Colorful"), standard heart-on-sleeve-isms ("Bus Stop"), and other variations of the anthemic chorus. With a title like I Trust You to Kill Me, you'd expect DeLuca and the Burden to play it dangerous, deadly, or devious -- anything but safe.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
E.Moss, Beatboxes at Dawn (Consumers Label) At five songs and two remixes, Beatboxes at Dawn is just the right length for a turntablist record. You can appreciate the beats, scratches, left-field samples, and hairpin musical turns before they have a chance to get under your skin. While the elements are nothing new to the genre, LA-based E.Moss conjures up some surprisingly dreamlike, evocative set-pieces, most notably the haunting "Your Life Right Here", which resembles a smoother DJ Shadow as channeled through a classical music appreciation course.
"Back to the Edit": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Hip-Hop / Down-tempo / Electronic
Dion, Bronx in Blue (Razor & Tie) If you're gonna play the blues, keep it simple and have fun. Don't worry about getting every detail right or else you're gonna sound like some vapid clone (re: Eric Clapton). Who'da thunk the boy from the Bronx knew this? The former '50s rocker gets back to basics here with an acoustic guitar, a single drummer, and a dozen classic tunes by the likes of Robert Johnson, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin' Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf and others (not to mention two self-penned songs). Dion keeps things loose but plays 'em hard and gives his fingers a serious work out. He's also smart enough to not let the vocals get in the way and understates the moanin'. The Wanderer isn't out to recreate the original masters, but instead he's out to recreate the feeling behind the old records. This urban New York City child does a great job, even on the country blues of Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues". This disc is an unexpected blues pleasure by a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"Walkin' Blues": [real]
blues / rock
Various Artists, David Waxman Presents Ultra Electro (Ultra) Ultra Electro, the new two-CD compilation from ubiquitous commercial dance comp label Ultra, comes out of the block strong: Soulwax's remix of Gorillaz blips and bops its way around the famous song, telling you it's OK, commercial dance music isn't all bad. In fact, the entire first disc is a confident, consistently engaging mix -– possibly the most enjoyable commercial mix I've heard yet this year. From Trentemoller's remix of the Roysopp spring anthem, to Ladytron, to Tiefschwarz's "Warning Siren", the lineup runs as a list of bands you should know if you want to know the first things about the electro sound. And we'll forgive the World Cup Anthem-esque middle section of Tommie Sunshine's retouch of Shiny Toy Guns "Le Disko", because Tiefschwartz gives us a stunning remix of Goldfrapp that is glamorous, dark and banging all at once, and local indie favorites DFA weigh in with the classic electro reimagination of a N.E.R.D's "She Wants to Move". The second disc also has some highlights but the mood is more downbeat, coiled, and less accessible. MANDY vs Booka Shade's "Body Language" is already a hit, and we could do without another remix of Tom Novy's "Your Body", but Alter Ego's "Rocker", though familiar from dancefloors throughout the world at this point, still tingles the senses with that needling melody New York's David Waxman's done a great job of showcasing the sound his city's progressive already listeners have already left behind, but it's a great ride.
Bill Sheffield, Journal on a Shelf (American Roots) Bill Sheffield's a considerable guitarist, and vocalist. Having seen this set called "blues", my first thought on listening was that maybe he was out to revive something of the too easily forgotten East Coast blues and song tradition healthily recorded in the 1920s and 1930s, and again when Gary Davis, Buddy Moss and others were caught on tape by field researchers. But there's too much parrot in the performances. At least Sheffied doesn't imitate the Tom Waits method of creating an individual style by means which ruin the voice, but he does echo Waits in the Waits song he sings, and he has too much going for himself vocally to play around, putting on different voices. He's a really talented guitarist and singer, with a good voice, the music's by and large fine, with the exception of "The Ballad of Brer Rabbit", amplified, buzzy, shouted in old-time rock and roll style with blues harp. The drug-taking implications are expressed knowingly, clever in a bad sense and mistaking ingenuity for musical purpose. If the singing had been more unified, less ventriloquial, some of the deficiencies of the words might have been overlooked. I won't overlook the guitar work. If this guitar wizard had better vocal material or relied less on lyrics I fear I've made seem poorer than they are, he might make many people happy. Quite a bit of this set, which also has a few well-filled guest spots by able unknowns, is not bad.
Robert R. Calder
multiple songs: [MP3 and streaming]
Blend, Deadlines (self-released)
Deadlines, the debut release from the young band Blend, contains quite a few dead lines. The band straddles (no, wait: blends) a hint of jam-band aesthetic with that of a genuine pop group, and get too caught up in the middle ground. When push comes to shove, it's the more jammy tracks that fall flat -- the pop songs containing soaring and surprisingly mature choruses. If you can survive "Say Your Lines" and "Second Guessing," then you'll be rewarded with the likes of "Far Enough," "Inside Out," and the surprisingly modest and beautiful ballad "Hamilton Street." Still young and trying to find their own sound, it seems Blend will have a better chance of Top 40 success when they begin gearing their songs towards it.
"Far Enough": [MP3]
"Say Your Lines": [MP3]
"She Likes Me": [MP3]
Indie / Rock
The Death Set, To (RabbitFoot) A joyous burst of noise-pop exuberance, the Death Set's To packs seven punchy songs into 12 minutes of simple keyboard lines, distorted guitars, and shouted vocals. The duo has migrated from Australia to Baltimore, but their sound is straight out of the New York City avant-loft scene of Japanther and affiliates. With more energy than profundity, co-lead singer Johnny Siera's high-pitched yelping sounds like mid-'90s Bis at that band's most excited state; I had him pegged as a woman declaring, "take it from me, I'm a feminist" on "Boys/Girls" (turns out he's saying "I'm effeminate", and the song's main argument is that "if I was gay I would get more sex"; it's more stupid than offensive, but the Death Set are not staking their claim to fame on lyrical depth anyway). The art-damage factor never impedes the sharp hooks, and nice touches like the machine-gun-fire percussive interjections that punctuate the bouncy rhythms of "Snap" insure that listener attention never wanders. That this will probably be embraced by the smarmy Vice set doesn't detract from its irrepressibly frenetic charm.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
The Poles, As Above, So Below (doubleplusgood) This EP begins and one can't help think of Girls Against Boys, Blonde Redhead, and a shot of whiskey. The dynamics on opener "Design the Fight" are predictable in their quirky way but that doesn't stop the song from being a great one. The next track, "Echoes for a Voice" follows a similar road but slows the song down, creating a powerful indie-ballad of sorts (well, the kind the Archers of Loaf would compose). From there it gets a tad confusing. "Amaze" is decent, but breaks into a Metallica thing, minus the power that makes Metallica listenable. Likewise, the next track wanders into the metal arena. This isn't so terrible (metal is cool again, right?) but it does make for an uneven release. The closer is a lovely, plaintive rock song. Perhaps as the Poles work on their forthcoming full-length, they'll find one cohesive voice to channel their songs through.
"Design the Fight": [MP3]
multiple songs": [MySpace]
Speaker Junkies, Tekno Punk (acropolisRPM) Having missed the boat with acid house and raves in fields and the likes, when I was about 15, I'd skim into town, drink as many sticky alcopops as possible and dance like a grinning, sweating loon to idiot DJ's playing glo-sticks-in-the-air trance music. It was cheesy and generic and totally irrelevant when you weren't mashed-up out of your tiny mind, but it always got packed dancefloors bouncing off the walls. The music on Speaker Junkies' second album sounds a bit like how I remember those fuzzy nights -- only some of the stuff here is actually quite good. At its best when the abrasive techno grooves spew shards from the speakers in an unrelenting assault on the dancefloor, Tekno Punk is an unashamed club record. Cuts like "Diffusion" and "Outerspace" are contagious and made solely for dark, flashing dancefloors. But therein lies the problem with Tekno Punk. Essentially a handful of premier dancefloor fillers for DJ's and live sets, over the course of a 70-minute album the music is simply mind-numbing. For the most part, deliriously free of any light and shade or textures, the album chugs on in a constant wash of mainstream techno, which surprisingly given the albums title, has no real edge. There was surely no need to include here the likes of "Leap of Faith", a song that plasters faux soulful vocals and comatose lyrics over identikit trance backing, and actually sounds just like those Saturday nights out in rotten provincial nightclubs when I was 15. And even that's better than the atrocious funfair soundtracking dross of "Give It to Me Hard". Tekno Punk unquestionably contains a number of dirty techno grooves that although generic and, whisper it, out of date, will get certain dancefloors rocking. However as an album it's seriously flawed. Techno and trance might be about as underground as the Crazy Frog but even so, the tracks on Tekno Punk frequently slide into familiar techno sheen, compounded by some lazy guest vocals and predictable flourishes. Most of this record will make no sense outside of the nightclub, and even there, parts of it would sound formulaic and slack. For all but the most dedicated, Tekno Punk is an album best avoided.
"Time 2 Get Crazy": [MP3]
"The Metro": [MP3]
Trance / Techno / Electronica
Harry Hunks, 20 Miles an Hour EP (Rhythm Barrel) Harry Hunks would be a poppy post punk-cum-country knock-off of twee British band The Boy Least Likely To if only this Scandinavian group didn't actually predate those lads. But whereas Boy is all heart on sleeve by playing gauzy adolescent, teddy bear indie pop, Harry Hunks -- for the most part -- heads straight past nostalgia and right into country-tinged juvenilia with song titles like "Bambi Eyes" and "I'm Not Your Pet". The songs feel so off-the-cuff either with its la-la-la's or boom-chikka-chikka's to the point that Harry Hunks seems unlikely to move above the band's shambly pub circuit origins. What's worse: the vocalist, who only goes by the name Antti, sometimes is a dead ringer for Stewie from Family Guy! Still, brownie points must be awarded for this group's sterling usage of a Rhodes keyboard for what must be the first time in popular music since, um... 1979? Yee-haw!
"I'm Not Your Pet": [MP3]
John Fahey & Friends, Friends of Fahey Tribute (Slackertone) I first discovered the music of John Fahey 10 years ago, which is also when I began playing guitar. All I've ever really wanted to do with the instrument write and play fairly simple pop songs. Still, Fahey's innovative fingerstyle technique and, more importantly, his beautiful and haunted melodies, are a part of me now and inform my music in subtle ways. This influence of John Fahey's has traveled far and wide, his plaintive mix of folk, blues, classical, and raga birthing scores of followers. So great was his reach that this winter saw the release of two tributes to his music. While Vanguard's I Am the Resurrection mostly featured the young indie crowd, Friends of Fahey Tribute is performed largely by his contemporaries, former associates, and his friends. Peter Lang, who contributes two tracks, was on Fahey's Takoma label, and both Terry Robb and Woody Mann often played and recorded with the man. Two famous fingerstylists who emerged shortly after Fahey, Stefan Grossman and John Renbourn, join together on one track, "Under the Volcano". Like most of the selections on this warm and lovely disc, that track is an original composition meant to honor Fahey's approach. On other tracks, the artists play older songs that informed Fahey's musical studies. New age pianist George Winston covers Fahey, offering two renditions of "Steamboat Gwine 'Round De Bend", from the latter's atypically New Orleansy album Of Riverboats and Religion. The vast majority of the tracks here, however, look to the unadorned fingerstyle recordings Fahey made in the 1960s. Those marvelous albums were the highlight of his career, although he continued to remain vital and interesting up until his death in 2001. Friends of Fahey Tribute is a very nice collection and, if you're a fan of the great man's classic output, you'll find his spirit here in abundance.
multiple song samples: [official site]
Ichinchilla, Record Player (Coney Island Discs) Record Player is the first wide release for Paddy Wright, a.k.a. Ichinchilla, and it stays very much true to his website's description of his art: "A hook, a beat, some Devo, some Chic". "Record Player" is all hook, actually, stringing a repeated phrase along for a minute until it switches gears and settles on another repeated phrase. Record Player contains three versions of the title track, the most interesting of which is actually the original -- survive the first minute of stilted synthpop and the song launches into a long stretch of indie rawk, complete with handclaps, tambourines, a big dominant three-chord guitar riff, and programmed percussion so intricate and quick that it borders on silly. "Def Disco Player (Ichinchilla and White Rabbit Re-Vamp)" adds new bass vocals and makes the whole affair sound like a big yellow smilie face dancing to Kraftwerk, and "Les Voleurs-Player (Les Voleurs Re-Model)" sounds kind of like Underworld making a disco anthem with bonus tom toms. Add to those three tracks a video that features Wright (and his swirly hairdo) dancing incredibly self-consciously to his own song, and we have a release that half of me finds hilarious and the other half is just confused by, all of which means I've likely overthought it. It's cute novelty, and you can dance to it.
multiple songs: [player]
video: Ichinchilla - Record Player Pop / Synthpop
Bob Cheevers, Texas to Tennessee (Back 9) Sometimes the best thing about the liner notes is that you can probably tell how credible the musician is by the company he keeps or chooses to work with. Spooner Oldham, Fats Kaplan and Joy Lynn White are three of the many supporting cast on this album by Bob Cheevers. But it is his smooth, Willie Nelson-esque delivery that seems to pull it all together as it does during the pretty, mid-tempo "Drivin' That Mercury" and the rootsy but moody, cocksure swagger of "Bag and Bone Man". But sometimes he doesn't know when to stop, as the ending of "Pearls of Ivy Road" seems too long. Fans of JJ Cale or Ramsay Midwood would enjoy the bluesy boogie nature of the title track yet again it jams a tad too long at the end. Fortunately he hits the mark in terms of tone and time with "I Need to Slow Down" that brings Bruce Hornsby to mind. Perhaps the highlight is the tender but toe-tapping "Downhome Backwoods Hillbilly Fool". Cheevers is able to make the most of his blues/roots/country style that is both laidback and punchy at the same time.
multiple songs: [Mperia]
Country-Folk / Folk-Blues / Adult Alternative
Pie Eyed Pete, Dandelion Wine (self-released)
Hey! You got your pop-rock in my country and western! Fortunately it's for the better: Dandelion Wine, the new LP from Pie Eyed Pete, is a pleasant sip. Never waving around anything spectacular, the album is pleased enough to be well above its average peers. What's most astounding about Pete's sound is that it actually does straddle the line between pop and country extremely well, though if push came to shove, they'd have more rock fans than country, but only just barely. Their sound could be argued as a modern-day update of The Band, but it doesn't really matter when you're just going to be rocking out anyway. The ballads ("Southbound" and "Sleep on It") are merely average, but the more up-tempo tracks like "Barstow" and "Let's Go" really pack an oomph. The country charts may not enjoy their presence (too rock), the rock charts may not either (too country), but the important thing is that you will -- and that's all that matters.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Rock / Indie / Folk Rock