RANDOM STABBINGS & ARTLESS CRITIQUE, JANUARY 2009

stabbings_phixr.jpgLaurent Wolf, Wash My World (Ultra Records)

As a generic catch-all term, “house” is the most misleading one since “rock”.   Wolf’s Wiki entry tags him as a tribal house guy, but you’d have to go back an album or so to glimpse the sweaty-room sex-hunter vibe — Wash My World focuses on throwback-disco, electro-house and the general party-hearty glibness more native to the David Guetta (or, ah, Haddaway) of today. “No Stress,” the diva-belted opening track, is a soul-inflected floor-buster that went #1 on the French SNEP Singles chart, but it was doomed from the start to go no further; carelessly microwaved lyrics about not wanting to go to work today aren’t going to make people forget Madonna and do in fact point to what’s wrong with big-shot DJs today, that disconnect between playing to the disaffected rich minority and the regular-shmoe record-buying majority that can generate royalty money.   Same goes for the chorus-less, pie-in-the-sky, over-efforted “Wash My World” — as big a deal as it is in the Ibiza clubs or whatever, not even Bobby Brown would touch it.  [street date 10/7/08]

Nuspirit Helsinki, Our Favorite Things (Backdrop Records)

If ever there was one, this is the little chill album that could.   In the case of this Nordic production duo, the term “genre-bending” isn’t a euphemistic way of saying “you figure it out” but the real deal; although the pair specializes in laptop-jazz, the songs they’ve chosen for this compilation mostly lean toward pop, house, and trip-hop, all with a sweet jazz undercurrent. If you’re thinking Zero 7 you’re in the right ballpark, but this is mellower, less concerned with what radio might think; a kinder gentler Air perhaps; headphone-techno that’s by turns playfully unobtrusive (Aisha Duo’s “Beneath an evening Sky”), tentatively dissonant (Joakim’s “Peter Pan Over the Bronx”), even inventively danceable (the duo’s own sweet dub of Korpi Ensemble’s 60s-sounding torcher “A Moment of Love”).   Tales in Tones Trio experiments with the notion of a more mathematically inclined Dave Brubeck in “Sabari,” and even the collection’s debatable low point, Five Corners Quintet’s trip-electro “Before We Say Goodbye,” is more in tune with Massive Attack than their last hundred wannabes. [street date 9/16/08]

Wino, Punctuated Equilibrium (Southern Lord Records)

Before you ask “how much does Scott Weinrich sound like Black Sabbath this time,” recall that he hit his fanboy peak while with The Obsessed — now that stuff sounded like Volume IV.   So the cheap answer is “would you settle for Molly Hatchet,” although if not, you might get something out of this first solo album, which showcases Weinrich’s tobacco-spitting Gregg Allman vocal imitation, most strikingly in kickoff track “Release Me”.   It’s a side to his voice that I personally haven’t experienced, not that I’ve stalked the guy’s career; like you I know that his fame mostly grew from his legendary nick of Ozzy, blazing away in full glory in the relatively speedy title track.   For the “War Pigs” drums you so crave, there’s “The Woman in the Orange Pants,” wherein Weinrich’s guitar soloing flies around madly as though trying to avoid a swatter — he’s no Tony Iommi but the heart is more than willing.   The better parts are toward the rear of the track list, the oldschool-dooming “Silver Lining” in particular. [street date 1/20/09]

Woven Hand, Ten Stones (Sounds Familyre Records)

David Eugene Edwards is a true-breed go-it-aloner with a strong grasp of songwriting, drilling to extra pockets of heaviness and gravitas in whatever style is moving the moment. Okay, he’s a preacher’s kid to whom nothing is more serious than fire and brimstone, so there’s a certain adjustment period you’ll need to allow his vocal sound, best characterized as Burton Cummings trying to impress Nick Cave — if the Guess Who color your world you’re already mostly there, while if you love early goth rock you should be webbing to Amazon right now. The music isn’t terribly complicated past a typical-70s-arena-band point, and as such there are annoying ambient angles on which Edwards fixates to past the point of usefulness, best example being “Not One Stone,” where the cheesebag Bruce-Lee-movie guitars get beaten senseless.   However, even that song has a rather electrifying coda that will make the trip worth it for most listeners, and elsewhere is simply great rock, in the Bauhaus/Sisters of Mercy-blooded “The Beautiful Axe” and the early-Cult-like spaghetti-western “Horsetail”. [street date 9/9/08]

Gene Ess, Modes of Limited Transcendence (Simp Records)

A 1989 graduate of Berklee, jazz guitarist Gene Ess was tagged a prodigy while growing up on a US Air Force base in Okinawa.   Not all prodigies — and this is one of God’s greatest gifts — are in-your-face crazy-eyed Minguses; going by this set of tunes alone it would appear Ess is rooted in modernized bebop, New Age and Starbucks-chill.   It’s a greasy one to get a handle on out of the gate, as “Ryo’s First Flight” begins with what could be hazily identified as a stunted mambo.   This leads quickly into an intentionally sloppy bebop art mess that Ess skates over with surgical precision and butterfly playfulness, and just like that you’re intrigued enough to wade in over your knees.   “Discovery in Three” goes from Pat Metheny fluffiness to a Brubeck-esque run (led by pianist Tigran Hamasyan) that climaxes in two boisterous jams that are simultaneously calculus-headed and pound-down-the-beer-nuts.   Hamasyan whips out a spastic Rhodes on “Trance Chant,” which doubles as a vehicle for Ess to utter a series of amusingly concise musical sentences over a 7/8 time signature. [street date 11/28/08]

The Old Haunts, Poisonous Times (Kill Rock Stars Records)

Olympia, WA-based swamp-indie with many a Creedence angle once one gets past the nu-Stones swagger set forth in album-opener “Volatile,” a pegged-Camaro cross between the Stones’ “Happy” and the fade to Nazareth’s “Changin Times.”   Wait, don’t go anywhere, it’s not that corporate — check the record label again and name-check the band’s drummer, ex-Bikini Kill Tobi Vail, who’s in a million other bands and who probably inspired half of the songs on Nirvana’s Nevermind through her friend-with-benefits tie to Whatsisface Cobain.   Next song in is “Poisonous Times”, close enough to Batmobile for psychobilly comfort; ditto for “Sister City”, in which singer Craig Extine squeezes out a Robert Plant imitation that physically makes a man hurt just to hear, ie it’s executed magnificently for the purposes of a band whose sole purpose in life is flipping non-“punks” the bird.   “Hung Up on the Down Side” welds Jim Croce to Siouxsie. [street date 4/8/08]

Billy Currington, Little Bit of Everything (Mercury Nashville Records)

As with all genres, cowboy-pop is often overcooked by too many chefs dumping all sorts of extra effect-age into the gunk, all of which Billy Currington must have become well aware when he was conveyer-belted into the Shania Twain machine and selected to contribute the actual “country version” half of a duet with Twain on the song “Party for Two.”   This goes toward his overall cred, I guess, which was already in good standing after the Platinum-selling success of his 2005 LP “Doin’ Something Right.” As with his previous album, Currington co-wrote less than half of LBOE, his first partial contribution appearing at track 3 with the “Help Me Make It Through the Night”-spirited “Every Reason Not to Go,” as average a country tearjerker as you’d ever want.   His strength, however —or that of his handlers, what have you — is attracting good songs, such as the frisky Rascal Flatts-like album opener “Swimmin’ in Sunshine” and its jam-band-inflected follow-up “Life & Love and the Meaning Of”. Currington may or may not be a Man-manufactured commodity, but the production is never overdone and the guest-written songs are all winners. [street date 10/14/08]

Gringo Star, All Yall (My Anxious Mouth Records)

A random burst of enthusiasm on the part of a CMJ writer propelled this Atlanta foursome into, you know, CMJ-likes-us buzz-dom. But anyway, any group of fops in stupid 60s sunglasses and distantly related attire can try sounding like Strokes sounding more like a latter-day Kinks than the Strokes, but that does, let us not forget, require a little bit of catchiness.   In other words this album doesn’t suck by a long shot, at least musically; somewhere in some obscure sub-paragraph of the rulebook it’s dictated that if something has a good beat and you can dance to it it’s at least worth something, and in this case the title track boots the record up in fine “All Day All of the Night” fashion, exhibitive of a quicker pulse than most Strokes clones could raise for themselves if they were surrounded by Abercrombie models. “Ask Me Why” follows this up with Strokes vs. Johnny Cash spaghetti, and the balance forward is pop-n-roll shapeshifting, with Byrds-like things (“Up and Down”), a whiff of “Hey Hey My My” anti-guitar-god bluster (“Transmission”), etc. [street date 11/14/08]

South Central, The Owl of Minerva (Egregore Music)

As electro-punk acts go, Does it Offend You Yeah are a lot more nimble than South Central, who opened for the former during their October UK tour.   That’s expected, naturally, since opening acts aren’t automatically supposed to blow their benefactors off the stage.   But something sinister’s at work here — the pungent stench of mercenary me-too-ness maybe.   Unlike DIOYY, South Central risk nothing, taking the bulk of their cues (ie a lot of vocoder for the sake of vocoder) from Daft Punk and Justice rather than spreading out into the Klaxons, Johnny Rotten, Joe Jackson and hip-hop territories DIOYY pop into. But that’s typical thinning of the herd as God intended; it’s why there are opening acts and headliners.   Owl of Minerva is a collection of obtrusive TV commercial jingles for the texting age, sometimes with an ear toward acid-house whirligig synth hurricanes (“Aeon”) that may or may not be part of a plot to seem Muse-like toward a prog-rock idea or two.  Nothing wrong with all this, of course, particularly if your social life revolves around glo-sticks and defibrillating synths wiggling your Toyota. But it’s getting more expendable with each tick of the clock, be real. [street date 11/14/08]

Brighton MA, Amateur Lovers (Loose Tooth Records)

These aren’t local to Boston; the moniker actually stems from the singer’s “home he can never return to,” if that helps any.   The lyrics, wallowing in a morass of George Costanza romantic hopelessness, are not, at least, redolent of poseur turpitude nor are they lacking in semi-useful real-world sentiment; they cohere rightly enough with the sound, say Wilco in a “What Light” frame of mind, occasionally smuggling in elements of New Order (“Your Sweet Time”) or (take a wild guess) Raspberries (“Hold On”) or (even wilder) Flaming Lips (“Not Our Fault”).   Indie-pop, you see.   What sets these Chicagoans apart from every sixth-odd band shoved down my gullet this year is their engineering, which has a pleasant, what, staleness, like “Sister Golden Hair” resurrected, as though everything was pre-amped through comfy pillows floating on puffy clouds.   Potential market: dejected slackers, shaved monkey boys, women who regret their every sexual dalliance but press on nonetheless, fun kids like that. [street date 8/12/08]

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Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome.  

Email: esaeger@cyberontix.com

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