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30 June 2006


Living Ornaments, Vlokken (Narrominded)
Vlokken begins with a rising hum accompanied by a throat-clearing tick-tick-tick that sounds like a record catching on the needle as it turns. It ends with a hangnail piano. During the long journey between one and the other it shifts voicelessly though dozens of samples and electronic effects. This music moves the way a brain thinks, wandering through its memories, probing a story and then finding something in it that leads to a different idea. One moment the brain is watching telephone wires humming in the rain ("Gevarendreihoek"), and the next it's connecting this image to a memory of an old thriller in which a neon light buzzed erratically to itself in a deserted hospital corridor ("Poppenkraam"). It wonders how the movie ended, then realises that its body is suffering from a fit of sucking hiccups. A skipping beat comes in; the dancefloor intrudes, but not enough to turn these arthouse echoes into a club album. Electric sealife skitters past, waving its antennae, picking up signals ("Knikkeren"). James Bond drops by ("Grauwsluier"). What could have been a piecemeal collection of noises has been turned into an album with real, introspective personality. Living Ornaments should be proud. [Insound]
      — Deanne Sole
"Motorsport": [MP3]
"Kattenkwaad": [MP3]
"Kaalslagerin / Hersenvocht": [MP3]
Rock  

Mon Frere, Blood, Sweat & Swords (Cake)
I've gotta say, Blood Sweat & Swords is an excellent name for an album. The music contained in that album isn't too bad either, actually -- Mon Frere plays a brand of power-pop with goth and metal overtones that sounds neither overly evil nor terribly happy, but always sounds energetic and upbeat. This would be the perfect album for the dance club in Hell if Hell were any fun at all. Thanks to a stellar production job, it never sounds as though something is missing in the guitars-drums-keyboard three-piece combo, and Mon Frere's three members know how to switch up the balance between their three instruments enough to keep the album from driving itself into too much of a rut. Singer/keyboardist Nouela Johnston's voice gets fairly tiresome sometimes, especially when she's been screaming for a while, and the band doesn't slow down very well, as slower tempos betray the holes that the presence of a little bass would cover up. Still, when they're ripping the hearts out of their audience and playing 'til their fingers bleed as on the excellent, new-wave leaning "Drain" and the supremely danceable "Look at the Cash" (the absolute highlight of the album -- love those drums!), they're unstoppable. Blood Sweat & Swords is a solid full-length debut from a band not all that far from a breakthrough. [Insound]
      — Mike Schiller
"Drain": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
multiple songs: [PureVolume]
Alternative rock  


Mon Frere - Look at the Cash

The Airfields, Laneways (Humblebee)
The Toronto band The Airfield have a name and EP title that indicate escape, or at least travel, but the first song starts more like a portrait of feeling trapped. "We have nowhere left to go / the roads are blocked and packed with snow," David Lush sings in the midst of a lightly shoegaze-ish dream-pop song that rolls along with determination, if not aggression. The cloudy feeling emulates winter, for sure, but there's also a lean directness underneath, like that of an open-hearted writer of love letters. And sure enough, it's the hopeful, proudly sensitive side that wins out, as the lyrics turn into a carpe diem declaration. The other five songs follow this path: jangle-pop with a shy sort of friendliness and earnestness about them, plus a sonic vapor trail built from the shimmering blankness of winter, and the way it grinds you down. [Insound]
      — Dave Heaton
"Lonely Halls": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Indie / pop  

The Five Mod Four, Whiskers (Contraphonic)
The Five Mod Four has a great rock 'n' roll name; it's both hip and confused, just like the best rock unintentionally is. The Milwaukee trio's song titles even add to the archetypal mystique: "Hot Wax Weekend", "The Sound of My Own Wheels Has Driven Me Crazy", "The Laws We Break". If names and titles made the band, this one would be on the edge of everyone's lips. But there are no guts in Whiskers, just jangly, creaky-hinged, (some would say) coquettishly dilapidated indie rock, which -- not to put too fine a point on it -- is a way of putting it nicely. The band works up an Attractions sweat on "Somebody Failed" and experiments with other textures on "There Will Be No Cahoots", but for the most part, all its inconsequential flailing has neither bark nor bite. "Don't you know rock 'n' roll is here to die?" goes one tune, and maybe that's supposed to be funny or ironic, or maybe it's supposed to upturn rock's dinosaur truisms. Speak for yourselves, I say. [Insound]
      — Zeth Lundy
"Somebody Failed": [MP3]
"The Sound of My Own Wheels Has Driven Me Crazy": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Power pop  

.: posted by Editor 8:16 AM


29 June 2006


Hazard County Girls, Divine Armor (Rev'd Up)
The Hazard County Girls pack a decent wallop on their second album. Stomping out of Louisiana with a full arsenal of lumbering riffs and the kind of heavy downbeats that end arguments fast, they're easy to mistake for retrofitted heavy metal whose musical vision begins with Black Sabbath and ends at Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. The first few tracks support such a notion (though pleasurably so), but by fourth track "Insect" the Girls introduce some guitar work more reminiscent of early '90s Sonic Youth. Some other creative excursions also benefit the album, such as a thundering take on the traditional murder ballad "Knoxville Girl" (regendered here as "Knoxville Boy"). Still, thick, heavy sludge is where these Girls like to tread, and they know whereof they rock. "Doom" distills their essence down to six minutes worth of slow, insistent riffs, and one has no choice but to comply with their demands. [Insound]
      — Whitney Strub
"Doom": [MP3]
"Lucy": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Rock / Metal / Grunge  

Bright, Bells Break Their Towers (Strange Attractors Audio House)
Where did the term "shoegazer" come from? According to Wikipedia this is something else for which we must thank the NME... makes as much sense as anything else. Anyway, the shoegazing spirit is alive and well and channeling itself through Bright. It's been six years since their last album but Bells Break Their Towers doesn't betray any of the hesitancy or awkwardness that such a long hiatus might imply. On the contrary, this is an extremely interesting record, built around long droning guitar passages and implacably grooving rhythm tracks. At times the disc conjures up the specter of a mellow Can, at other times (as on the anthemic "It's What I Need"), a less detached Sonic Youth. Although your tolerance for long-winded minimal quietude may vary, if you've got a hankering for conscientiously trippy post-rock, this should be the cure for what ails you. Me, I liked it from the opening chords of "Manifest Harmony", which seems to be the result of playing a pile of Stone Roses, Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine LPs simultaneously -- good stuff, right there. [Insound]
      — Tim O'Neil
"Receiver": [MP3]
Rock / Experimental / Indie  

Paper Airplane Pilots, Western Automatic Music (Spade Kitty)
Wow. I have nothing bad to say about this album. But I don't have anything particularly glowing to report either. "The name of the band is cute," my girlfriend says. It's true. And Western Automatic Music is a phrase emblazoned in my mind from the four years I spent in Chicago, as a cool sign on a long abandoned and decrepit store front. So I guess there's that. But these latest ten songs from the Paper Airplane Pilots, while pleasant, well-executed power pop, don't portend to be as memorable as their monikers, with the possible exception of "Prove You're Alive". The penultimate track on the album is a mini-epic crunched into just under three minutes. Backwards guitar, sighing background vocals, and pounded piano vie for attention with front man Jeremiah Wallis, who modestly tiptoes up and down a tight, effective melody. With stated influences including Big Star and Wilco, one hopes that the Paper Airplane Pilots hold together long enough for their own Summerteeth or Sister Lovers, the point where they stretch themselves for better or worse, but at least dare not to play it safe. [Insound]
      — Michael Metivier
"The Way It Goes": [MP3]
"Prove You're Alive": [MP3]
"Helium Balloon": [MP3]
"Listless": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Indie / Pop  

Erin Boheme, What Love Is (Concord)
Am I a grumpy old man if I'm immediately put off by a 19-year-old making an album called What Love Is? Maybe. Am I a grumpy old man if I think it unlikely that this 19-year-old's optimal mode of musical expression is a rhythm section and string orchestra circa 1955? Maybe less so. Look: Erin Boheme can sing, and she's got all the moves down here. Her voice is less old school than her musical setting -- she's got a variety of come-hither inflections and pouty tones than sound more Christina Aguilera than Peggy Lee. She's at her best when she's accompanied by young label-mates Taylor Eigsti (keyboards) and Christian Scott (trumpet) in a more contemporary mode, like on "Give Me One Reason". But when she's singing about wanting "One Night with Frank" (Sinatra), it's a little child-molester creepy, even though she's the one making the moves. You can't help but cheer on a gorgeous, ambitious young singer who wants to work in the jazz tradition, and I hope this album is success for everyone involved. But, despite some talent for writing original songs that suggests that Ms. Boheme may yet have a real future as an original artist, it's not easy to understand why listeners would prefer this disc to either the old stuff it's aping (actual Sinatra, say, or Nancy Wilson) or the genuinely new stuff it can't touch coming from jazz singers like Cassandra Wilson or Carmen Lundy. [Insound]
      — Will Layman
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Jazz / Nu-Jazz / Lounge  

.: posted by Editor 8:49 AM


28 June 2006


Various Artists, Carving a New Standard (Up Above)
Up Above Records does a solid job on first label compilation Carving a New Standard of showcasing their own artists and putting together a collection of conscious-leaning hip-hop. You won't find a lot of party jams here, as Up Above typically strays away from the party, and though the production is solid throughout, it takes a backseat to the solid rhymes offered by the myriad MCs. Visionaries offer up a fantastic early highlight in "War", where every Visionaries MC gets a chance to shine, and shine they do, riffing on the war in Iraq as if it just started, but doing it in such a fresh way that it's easy to nod in agreement anyway. MF Doom shows up for the Blend Crafters' "Melody (Remix)" and tears up the joint with rhymes like "Bass and treble peakin / Make sure they even / Be fakin' more and he break our jaw and teeth in / Leavin', creepin' / No time for weepin' and grievin' / Deeply breathin' / Keepin' on believin' it don't matter," and so on. Perhaps most memorably, Jean Grey makes Songodsuns' "Breath of a Salesman" her own, with an inspired diatribe against dowloaders. Sure, it's a comp, so it has a few clunkers (the Kanye-lite sensitive-rap of Self Scientific's "Tears" comes to mind) but for the most part, the good folks at Up Above have given us a better-than-decent selection of tracks from some undeniably talented artists. [Insound]
      — Mike Schiller
Visionaries - "War": [MP3]
Blend Crafters feat. MF Doom - "Melody (Remix)": [MP3]
Prince Po - "I Got a Right to Know": [MP3]
Hip-hop  


Visionaries - Can't Say Love

Parenthetical Girls, (((GRRRLS))) (Slender Means Society)
The name is cute, the cover art is cute, and, rightly, the music is cute, too. DIY to the max (or would that be to the min?), Parenthetical Girls first issued (((GRRRLS))) in 2004 on Slender Means Society. Zac Pennington heads both the band (whose membership, as they admit, is "fluid at best") and the label, and went broke with the original LP issue. The 2006 CD version features two different takes on the brief album, with version "O" mixed by the Dead Science's Jherek Bischoff and "X" redone by Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart. Because that's not quite confusing enough, the disc contains regular audio files of mix "O" and mp3s of the "X" mixes. While Stewart's mixes are predictably darker-hued and sonically scarred, both versions of the album feature sweet little songs made of drum machines, cheap synths, lots of xylophone parts, and Pennington's spare and weary vocals. (((GRRRLS))) contains echoes of DIY kiwi pioneers Tall Dwarfs as well as contemporaries like Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Nifty, quirky budget-pop, Parenthetical Girls show plenty of promise. Look for their new Slender Means Society album, Safe as Houses, on June 27. [Insound]
      — Michael Keefe
"Here's to Forgetting": [MP3]
"C-86 Is Killing My Life": [MP3]
Pop / Punk  

Cubik & Origami, Cubik & Origami (Wide Hive)
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Cubik & Origami's self-titled debut. This is well-trod ground, but they tread it with alacrity. The intersection between instrumental hip-hop and jazz has been fruitful territory for dubbed-out exploration since before Kruder met Dorfmeister, but even if the genre seems slightly tired at times that hardly means good stuff can't be done. Anyone who has heard The K & D Sessions will find very little new on this disc, but the familiar pleasures are well-delineated. There's a lot of fresh acoustic instrumentation throughout the album that gives it a pleasantly live texture: both Cubik and Origami are musicians in addition to DJs, so they bring a jazzy devotion to free-form improvisation that serves the tracks well. Again, nothing new under the sun, but the pleasant crack of a well-miked snare drum and a gentle noodling of a Fender Rhodes organ are consistently splendid. Maybe Cubik & Origami are going to reinvent the wheel on their next outing, but for now they are content merely to produce some smoked-out vintage G-Stoned. [Insound]
      — Tim O'Neil
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Down-tempo / IDM / Hip Hop  

Cave Deaths, Glacier on Fire (Modern Radio Record Label)
Cave Deaths are an acquired taste to be sure, a taste I don't possess unfortunately. The group try their hand at some jazzy post-punk or post-rock with "Hysterical" that sounds like a poor man's Frank Zappa with its jerky, quirky delivery. "Garrgh Returns To Work" is slightly better with more urgency and Holly Habstritt's trumpet work before veering into a dreary, sludge-like approach. The same can be said for "Background Radiation" that is rather boring and meandering but has one saving grace with the trumpet again. A tad more interesting is the indie rock and minimal but intricate "Hand" as well as "Loose Lips" that sounds like Lou Reed doing something around The Raven. One track that seems to stand out is "Yawn... Click" that is upbeat and sounds like a cross between Franz Ferdinand and Panic! at the Disco before heading into some quasi emo-jazz terrain. Odd indeed! Cave Deaths are in their own little musical world with pieces like "Over Shellfish" and "From Here, Not Here", and this album doesn't really seem to welcome many more people into it. [Insound]
      — Jason MacNeil
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Rock / Post-rock  

.: posted by Editor 7:01 AM


27 June 2006


Tape, Rideau (Hapna)
Now this is an interesting record. Whereas most of the modern crop of rural-influenced electronic artists cultivate a dense and busy sound, Swedish trio Tape are content to pick the perfect note and hold it in isolation for a long, long time (as on opening track "Sunrefrain"). There are no superfluous bleeps and bloops herein: the whole thing is constructed with an almost architectural eye towards an endearingly simple -- which is not to say simplistic -- design. Of course, the album isn't merely an exercise in meditative minimalism, but even when they mix it up the results are never anything less than perfectly controlled. "A Spire" manages to balance multiple repetitious melodic elements to create a fragile kind of harmonic dissonance. They give vent to (relatively) more pop impulses on "Sand Dunes" and finish the album off with the epic ""Long Lost Engine", which sounds like nothing so much as an outtake from Johnny Greenwood's Bodysongs remixed by Kieran Hebden after a hard night of drinking -- and if that sounds like your cup of tea, you'll probably dig Tape. [Insound]
      — Tim O'Neil
"Sand Dunes": [MP3]
multiple songs: [MP3]
Electronic  


Tape - Sand Dunes

The Snowdrops, Sleepydust (Matinée)
The name of the band and the title of the CD suggest something small-scale and delicate, pale and pretty, surprising and ephemeral, like a snowflake. Those first impressions don't lie. Sleepydust sits somewhere between Belle and Sebastian and Air. "Too Cold to Snow" is a series of rising piano chords. "Teddy Dragons" takes a sampled voice and swaddles it in cottony layers of fog. In "The Boy With The Hummingbird Eyes" and "Sleepydust", Keith Girdler sings about "another lonely star fallen from the sky", and "my new best friend" while a heartbeat throb bops along next to him. A full-length album of this tweeness might wear out its welcome by the end (or it might be ravishing, you never know) but a 15-minute EP gives The Snowdrops just enough time to wander into your life, beguile you with indie loveliness, and wander out again, leaving you wanting more. [Insound]
      — Deanne Sole
"Sleepydust": [streaming]
Indie  

Bayside, Acoustic (Victory)
There are some albums that groups wish were never released. But for Bayside, the performances on Acoustic have a large cathartic presence to them. Following the tragic crash last October that claimed drummer John Holohan, Bayside carried on with their tour by having Anthony Raneri and Jack O'Shea doing acoustic sets that were extremely, emotionally charged affairs. This CD/DVD contains some very pleasing tracks starting with the new track "Winter" that speaks about the life of a group while the swinging "Blame It on Bad Luck" is quite catchy. Most of the material though seems appropriately melancholy given the circumstances, especially with "They Looked Like Strong Hands" and a cover of the Smoking Popes' "Megan" with the Popes' Josh Caterer making a cameo. The "emo" feeling comes through even without the amps for "Devotion and Desire". And a great cover of Elliot Smith's "Baby Britain" is electric. The DVD portion contains the final show of that tour from Chicago, with some moving, poignant moments and a tribute to Holohan. [Insound]
      — Jason MacNeil
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Punk / Alternative  


Bayside - Devotion and Desire

Judge Jules, Proven Worldwide (Koch)
The "people's DJ" –- at least, everywhere but America -– tries to break into commercial dance's mainstream with an album of original club-music-for-the-radio tunes. These pulsing, driving songs swell up and up, trying hard to emulate the ecstatic peaking moment, 3:45am. But really it's a big gimmick, relying entirely on cliche: it's the Aftrican chant on "Alma Fe" or the Spanish guitar on "Puesta Del Sol". And the music doesn't fare much better. It's a kind of softened-up hard trance, the kind of music Nic Fish or Bexta were making in Sydney in the '90s drained of all its edge. The trouble is, at this point these songs sound less like serious dance music and more like the kind of song that gets played over the credits of sporting programs; and at 1.2 hours the disc feels quite bloated. Judge Jules may be proven worldwide, but in the States he may find a significantly less warm reception. [Insound]
      — Dan Raper
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Electronic / Trance  

.: posted by Editor 8:50 AM


26 June 2006


Various Artists, Sing Me a Hank Williams Song (Time Life)
This disc is part of the Time Life Classic Country Collection, and one would be hard pressed to think of anything more classic country than the songs and artists featured here. This is the cream of king of country music's material. Hank Williams wrote about 100 different tunes, but the 30 selected here are among his most timeless and unforgetable ones, like "Jambalaya", "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", "Lovesick Blues", "Hey Good Lookin'", "Honky Tonkin'", and "You Win Again". The performers are just as stellar, and include superstars like Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, George Jones and Johnny Cash. The recordings here span from Porter Wagoner's 1952 single of "Settin' the Woods on Fire" to Willie Nelson's 1995 cover of "Cold, Cold Heart" and are uniformly excellent. There may be no big surprises here. One expects the best from these artists. But there are several wonderful delights by genre favorites, like Charley Pride's high-spirited rendition of "Kaw-Liga", recorded live in 1969 in Fort Worth, which almost jumps out of the speakers with its raw energy and Johnny Horton's forlorn vocals on "Lost Highway". Sadly, Horton died in a car crash a year later and left Williams' widow Billie Jean, whom Horton had married after Hank's death, husbandless again. [Insound]
      — Steve Horowitz
song samples": [streaming]
Country  


Hank Williams - Cold Cold Heart

Bill Wells & Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Osaka Bridge (Karaoke Kalk)
Japanese avant-pop "naivists" Maher Shalal Hash Baz don't just accept mistakes, they cherish them. This collaboration with Scottish pianist Bill Wells is a perfect example of the way that notion unfolds as more than just an interesting idea, of how it can lead to music which possesses a true spark, the mark of the now. Often the ensemble -- the horn section in particular -- resembles a children's orchestra feeling their way the pieces for the first time, but in the context of these oddly sophisticated yet simple and direct songs, that lack of precision is both charming and somehow magical. Both Wells and Maher's Tori Kudo have a unique sense for composition and arrangement, making the foundation for their collaboration graceful, strange songs that possess a striking sense of beauty, especially when the horns carry a memorable yet wayward tune, or when Reiko Kudo steps forward to gently sing a ballad. [Insound]
      — Dave Heaton
song samples": [streaming]
Avant Pop  


Bill Wells, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Tenniscoats, Kama Aina and Nikaidoh Kazumi

The Cardinal Sin, Hurry Up and Wait (Suburban Home)
This Minneapolis outfit sounds like power "emo" is such an animal exists. Mixing power pop riffs that work often along with the "woes me" lyrics, The Cardinal Sin make the most out of tracks such as the radio-friendly "Eye-Opener" and the equally frenetic "Under Your Skin". Sounding like a whiny Replacements circa Tim, the band nails this tune quite well thanks to some great guitar work in the bridge. The early highlight though is "Rough Road" which is smooth and polished. There's a lot of urgency in each song that seems to capture the band's live feeling, particularly with the tension building and tension breaking "Saddest Song" and the equally hi-octane "Keep You Guessing". And The Cardinal Sin never let up for a moment, making the album a very consistent and hi-tempo affair with sugary ditties like "Light Years Behind" and a fine "White Light/What Light?" that brings to mind Jimmy Eat World and Taking Back Sunday combined (Jimmy Eat Sunday?). The homestretch is just as strong, especially with the mid-tempo, roots-y "He's a Space Case" and winding "Swarm" that contains snippets about Saddam Hussein and WMDs. [Insound]
      — Jason MacNeil
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Indie / Punk  


The Cardinal Sin - Eye-opener

Kero, Logistics (Neo Ouija/Detroit Underground)
Despite its pedigree as one of the wellsprings of American electronic music, the city of Detroit doesn't seem to be doing well in the modern field -- leastwise not if we judge by the output of the Detroit Underground label. It would perhaps be a stretch to say that there was anything wrong with Logistics, considering that it is perfectly serviceable minor-key IDM influenced by a grab-bag of popular Warp Records mainstays. But there's the rub: anyone who would be likely to seek out an album like Logistics probably already has quite a few records by Autechre, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Venetian Snares, et al, and really, why listen to Autechre fan fic if you can just put a real copy of Tri Repetae ++ in the stereo and bug out authentically? [Insound]
      — Tim O'Neil
multiple songs: [MP3]
Electronic  

.: posted by Editor 9:55 AM