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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
28 July 2006
Skye, Mind How You Go (Cordless Recordings)
Skye was Morcheeba to some people, so it should come as no surprise that her solo album tends to stay with part of her past while branching out into her own with her own written material. Working with Daniel Lanois, Skye managed to mix the best of both worlds here judging by the gorgeous and soothing "Love Show" that is part urban and part adult contemporary, making for a rich, fluid ditty. Another little nugget is the melancholic "Stop Complaining" with her precious vocals supported with a bit of jungle and electronica. Sultry and oh so sexy, Skye's style makes even the simpler songs like the roots-y, organic "Solitary" soar with the slightest of ease. You can also hear traces of Bjork and Sade in a few efforts, especially on the light, soul-tinged "Calling". There are a few songs screaming for radio play including the slightly up-tempo "What's Wrong With Me?" that has her repeating a line about not thinking about the rain. Other highlights include the sensual and uplifting "Tell Me About Your Day" which describes a happier time in New Orleans during St. Patrick's Day. Quality from start to finish, Skye gives the murky, orchestral "Powerful" a powerful, airy delivery that would put Dido and Sarah McLachlan to shame while the hymnal-esque "Jamaica Days" sounds like she has Ladysmith Black Mambazo backing her.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
David Mead, Tangerine (Tallulah!)
On his website, David Mead wrote that he has "never stretched as far" as when he recorded his latest album, Tangerine, and he wasn't kidding. The record finds the singer-songwriter traversing an incredibly vast musical territory. Mead performs on keyboards, guitars, ukelele, vibraphone, and glockenspiel, and he tackles styles ranging from tender folk to infectious pop. All of the singer's efforts are informed by a commitment to detail and a keen sense of songcraft. The result is a record which never falters, moving from strength to strength and from one melodious, intricately arranged song to another. Fans of Mead's music should find this to be perhaps the singer's strongest release, and everyone else will find Tangerine to be one of the finest and most rewarding pop albums of the year.
album stream: [MySpace]
Create(!), A Prospect of Freedom (Sounds Are Active)
There is an unconscious assumption that improvisatory free jazz is abrasive, difficult, impenetrable. Asd,klfjnoisea. [Whoops, sorry about that; just improvising on the keyboard.] The appropriately-named Create(!) challenges this notion in A Prospect of Freedom. Save one composition -- a tribute to guitarist Sonny Sharrock -- all eight tracks are both completely "improv" and surprisingly accessible. The sextet constructed these sound sculptures in one take, without overdubs, during the exploratory sessions for Castanets' First Light's Freeze. That album features Raymond Raposa's gentle goth-folk compositions melting into jazz abstractions. In contrast, the tracks on A Prospect of Freedom were recorded with a "no solos" mandate. Know this fact and, as a listener, the six minutes of "Six Dreams/Divided" will surprise you with their coherence and subtlety. You can almost hear these players (who have worked with Eugene Chadbourne, Red Krayola, and Wadada Leo Smith) simultaneously listening to and playing with each other. At times, the playing with is too sparse ("When A Single Flower Blooms, It is Spring Everywhere") or too exploratory ("Duridana") for my ears -- but, overall, these fingers say: this.Is,a-ok.
Mark W. Adams
"Six Dreams/Divided": [MP3]
Jazz / Experimental
Ben Vaughn, Designs in Music (Soundstage 15)
What happens when a composer of TV themes loses the boob-tube safety net? With Designs in Music, Ben Vaughn (composer for shows like Third Rock from the Sun and That '70s Show) aims to find out, applying the scoring aesthetic to a dozen new instrumental tunes that are meant to stand on their own merits. The songs unfold like a running tribute to the small pantheon of cinematic composers, with sweeping allusions to the windswept tapestries of Enrico Morricone ("Brushfire"), the cocktail espionage of Henry Mancini ("The Stalker Pt. II"), the pop culture debris of Danny Elfman ("Frequent Flier"), and the lounge-pop affectations of Jon Brion ("Avanti"). It's all perfectly competent music with keen melodies and texture, but its tame evocation of mood wears thin without the complementary scenery. As a result, Designs in Music is incidental without the corresponding visual incidents, a collection of olives in search of drinks to garnish.
multple songs: [MySpace]
Deadstar Assembly, Unsaved (Pure)
Showing promise with the militaristic intro "Unsaved, Pt. 1", Deadstar Assembly is an industrial rock-meets-metal fan's wet dream. With band members named Dearborn, The Dro and my personal favorite Mubo, the group ends up becoming parodies of industrial bands before them even with better than average tracks like "Unsaved, Pt. 2". At other times, the group's knack for what they dub "death pop" sounds like Vince Neil with a nu metal/screamo chip on his shoulder during "Killing Myself Again". They have a few good tunes, including "Dejected" which is basically Linkin Inch Nails at best. "Naïve" shines brighter as Deadstar Assembly downplay the tune perfectly a la Trent Reznor so the huge uber-chorus comes bursting out of its skin. Perhaps the album can be best surmised in "Darker Now" which has potential but never lives up to that, resulting in a tepid and tired power rock effort. Other times they're reinventing Def Leppard, especially on "Pale Blue" although with a nu metal edge to it. Each song could be great, but then about half fall by the wayside and into the gutter, particularly "Bled" which dies a slow, agonizing death. "This sucks!" they chant in "Serial" (or so it sounds like) and, well, half the time it describes it perfectly. The best by far is "Death Wish", possessing the oomph the album mostly lacks.
multple songs: [MySpace]
.: posted by Editor 9:48 AM
27 July 2006
Mew, The Zookeeper's Boy EP (Red Ink/Columbia)
Mew, a pop band from Denmark, may be in for some more international attention with their upcoming CD, And The Glass Handed Kites: their brand of pop prog has enough high-flying choruses, perhaps, to find an audience Stateside. "The Zookeeper's Boy" is Mew's triumph, a vast Neverending Story of a track with, of course, the kind of sky-high chorus gets stuck in your head for days. "Apocalypso" is a lesser version of the title track, with the same high-flying chorus backed with swirling sonics, strings, and polyphonic guitar lines just filling up the space. "Special" is more baroque, with a dance-rock beat obscured beneath layers of multi-tracking. After the third track, though, the shadow of that triumphant chorus from "Zookeeper" keeps poking its head back, so you find yourself anticipating "Are you my lady?" at the end of "Am I Wry? No" even though you know it's not coming. The nine minute "Comforting Sounds" passes by in Mew's ablest Coldplay impression (repeated bass, soaring strings), and the EP's done its job: an able appetite-whetter for the upcoming full-length.
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Violet Nine, Any Wonder (PKG Entertainment)
In my hands I hold two CDs. I have Maroon 5 in my left hand and Violet Nine in my right. Sure, the names are similar -- a color plus a number -- but that doesn't mean much. If I start a band called Canary Yellow 12, it doesn't automatically mean I'll be recording the next "Harder to Breathe". Yes, the bands are composed of similar elements -- five dudes covering bass, drums, guitars, keyboards, and vocals. And, sure, Ben Consoli, the voice behind the Nine, shares some tonality with Maroon 5's Adam Levine. But that's about it. Violet Nine's guitar work makes for a grittier, edgier sound, which works out considerably well on Any Wonder's 10 full-length songs (there's a 1 minute, 12 second outro), most notably on "Yell It Out", "All That Glitters" and "Proposal". By not connecting its title to anything "gold", "All That Glitters" demonstrates Consoli's knack for fresh songwriting, carefully sidestepping clichés even when the subject matter is love. On "Leaving Rain", he sings, "This gift is caged in my body / The flesh that I live in / This gift is not a prize at all / It is my sentence / Do you feel love? Come with me love". Consoli's soft, melodic vocals create an intriguing tension with the band's aggressive soundscape. The best tunes are "Out Loud" (track 1) and "Yell It Out" (track 2), as well as the daring falsetto in "Imagination", "All That Glitters", and the rock ballad "Leaving Rain". Produced by industry veteran Greg Archilla, fans can look forward to hearing more from this Boston band.
Quentin B. Huff
video: [official site]
multiple songs: [MySpace]
multiple songs: [PureVolume]
Indie / pop
The Grismore/Scea Group, Well Behaved Fish (Accurate)
"Dancing in Your Head" could be redone with Caribbean tuned drums and a fiddle in the opening ensemble. It goes nowhere and Brent Sandy's trumpet entry is too soon skewed by Paul Scea's soprano, winding up sounding lost. Brent Sandy's "Cletus N'Gugu" has Anthony Cox dynamic and grumbly on bass guitar, a nice riff theme for trumpet and flute, Steve Grismore tearing off on guitar synthesizer, and Paul Scea's flute barks then flies like some relative of the bumble bee before an uncredited Donald Duck descendant does some fast scat singing. Grismore's "Baghdad" evokes bassoon and sitar, and has some neo latterday George Russell ensemble Arabiana. Scea's "Spinach Dip" is Cox, drums, and a piping flutter of flute and trumpet, the latter pairing to be heard again on Scea's "Introductions", which also has a repetitive Arabian figure behind a drum solo. Things mostly start well but don't maintain substance. The title track is nearly nine minutes of neoMessaien to a hip-hop rhythm. "Pigs at the Trough" harkens back to the Caribbean, with sounds close to car horns, after which Jamaican traffic jam "Benevolent Psychopathology" features real and synthesized soprano sax, and an impression of actual car horns in ensemble. Yes, it's lively, and repetitive. "Good God" begins like, well, waiting for James Brown. Sandy's constrained by insensitive overstated frogmarching escort rhythms, Scea plays lot of notes on tenor within the same hex machine. A noise pops up now and then as if there was a football game over the wall, and the crowd suddenly got excited. Just as the last note sounds of this sometime synthesizer-burdened set of too many mere introductions, a last burst of the crowd noise suggests somebody just scored a goal.
Robert R. Calder
Velvet, The Juggernaut (Double Decker Bus)
A Chapel Hill trio led by Jane Francis, Velvet is velvety smooth with the shimmering, polished pop style of the summer-sounding "This Is For You" that sounds like a distant cousin of contemporary Metric. Other touchstones that are obvious include Blondie and New Pornographers, particularly on the sugary "Cracker" and "Winner" which is, well, a winner. The same can be said for "No One Here" that is extremely hard not to like, even if it comes off a tad too slick. The title track also contains a memorable lyric talking about being run over by a bullshit stampede. Not everything comes up aces, especially the tired and mundane "Bossa Nova Robot" which has them on cruise control a la Sheryl Crow. The retro-electro factor also rears its synthetic head during "Girl Fan" that could be one of the best tracks by The Pretenders in recent memory. As the album reveals itself, the pop feel is replaced by a Southern pop/roots flavoring on self-assured tunes like "Something My Brother Said". "New Day Witch" is an acquired taste, a kind of ambling McCartney-ish track that bobs along with nary a care in the world. And fortunately it ends with another bang and not a whimper with the pleasing, well-crafted "Monika".
multiple songs: [MySpace]
Rock / pop
Del Castillo, Brotherhood (Smilin' Castle)
Robert Rodriguez likes Del Castillo enough to have used their music in the soundtracks of Once Upon a Time in Mexico and the third Spy Kids movie. Brotherhood gives you some idea why. This rock band has energy, a lot of it, and they like punchy climaxes and escalating, complicated bursts of Latin guitar. The first track starts with a shout and a bang and then they charge into the album at a hundred miles an hour. Most of the singing is done in Spanish. The English lyrics are standard-issue rock affirmations about living for today and everyone being the lead singer's brother, but then you're not here for the wordplay. You're here to rock out. You might also be here because you want to hear the band duet with Willie Nelson on "I Never Cared For You". That's possible as well. But I'm going to guess that it's for the rocking out.
multiple songs: [streaming]
.: posted by Editor 8:27 AM