viking_sword_01_phixr.jpgUFO, The Visitor (SPV Records)
In this installment of SPV Records’s continuing missionary expedition to find survivors of the shredder and power-metal eras and throw them some studio time, we find UFO alive and well to a degree.   The hate-fights between current singer Phil Mogg and ex-guitarist/band-drunkard Michael Schenker long consigned to the gossip bins of history, Mogg’s axe guy is nowadays one Vinnie Moore, whose totally shredding shred-work was the talk of indie metal when the Shrapnel imprint was competing with Metal Blade Records for the Guinness record for total number of forgettable metal bands signed. With Schenker around, UFO was something not totally forgettable.   With so much distance between our times and the 80s, though, it takes an oldschooler’s appreciation for Moore’s mellowing with age to get past Mogg’s rote blues/hard-rock songs (the long and short of this, musically, is early Whitesnake, the end).   Moore’s forte is, as we just discussed, shredding, and there’s plenty of it here, but the highlights here come from his obsession with fretboard control and whatever remains of his interest with decorating unadventurous post-Zeppelin riffs.   Mogg, content in playing at David Coverdale clone, matters little here, as does his longtime sidekick, bassist Pete Way. Grade: B- [street date: 6/2/09]

Kyle Eastwood, Metropolitain (Rendezvous Records)
Boy, talk about a hater’s tackling dummy: the son of Clint Eastwood, trying to sell us on his Innate Jazz Talent, obviously stemming from a firm grounding in deep art, all inherited from a man who could imitate a large obtuse block of wood for entire movies at a time.   And, oh, oh, look, a bunch of snooty French surrender-monkey jazz-hacks being all… you know, jazzy and French. Nothing bad here, though.   Nothing Miles or Dizzy or Thelonious either, no, but if you’re in the market for mature background-patter jazz for romancing a middle-aged science teacher to, this is as good as anything that was ever playing during scenes where Dirty Harry took his date to the gin-n-steak joint where there’s never any kids at the tables.   Have your skip-button finger ready for the first song, wherein Kyle lays his bass down for the single-named French enchanted enchantrix superstar Camille to coo a bunch of oohs and ohs over.   After this bit of silliness, however, you can relax in friendly, uncompetitive vibes that recall restaurant-jazz biggies like Ramsey Lewis circa Routes. Grade: B+ [street date: 6/2/09]

Celan, Halo (Exile on Mainstream Records)
A fast-food recipe that will appeal to very specific tastes, Celan is a risky test-run album co-operated by classically trained pianist Ari Benjamin Meyers (a sometime contributer to Einstürzende Neubauten) and Unsane singer Chris Spencer, whose deal, should you be unfamiliar with Unsane, is angry-young-wifebeater-hollering over garage-doom rancor that’s more attuned to roots hardcore than the sort of plain-Jane roaring-pirate-metal that Neurosis, whose preferred speed is sluggishly similar, does.   With me?   No? Can’t say’s I blame you if you’re a thrasher or tend to avoid music that wants to toss you on a catapult and fire you at platoons of Orcs, but even if you’re jiggy with this in the least, it’s Spencer’s yelling and paint-by-number Crowbar-like riffing that’s mostly running the show, with Meyers and his eggheadisms confined to the quieter moments.   “It’s Low” has designs on smarter, Einstürzende/Swans/Foetus-like anti-pomp with Maximum Rock n Roll overtones, a place where these two minds actually melded instead of swapping turns in the spotlight. Grade: C+ [street date: 6/2/09]

Luke Winslow King, Old/New Baby   (Fox on a Hill Records)
One release to look forward to next month is this collection of oom-pah-pah-ing backdrops for the New Depression, not to venture that King actually had that angle in mind during the design phase.   Kicking off (“As April is to May”) with a girl-group beat played by a sad-sack troupe one can clearly picture wearing holey shoes, the record gets its real quirkiness from King’s vocals, a sound laser-guided to the CMJ set, like a Ben Folds afraid of his own lung-power.   Like Sufjan, Winston Giles and the other interesting-enough weirdos out there, he’s only predictable as far as unpredictability goes, so when “Bird Dog Blues” trots out cha-cha instead of the Blind Lemon Jefferson its title telegraphs, it’s the right thing to do.   Aside from that, it’s small-brass-band drinking music for the recently unemployed cube droid shuffling hir way to the soup kitchen. Grade: A [street date: 8/11/09]

Sean Nowell, The Seeker (Posi-Tone Records)
Apropos enough of an album title here; from leaving behind his Alabama a cappella choir in favor of the big east cities to bombing Kosovo with culture and jamming soundtracks with Stanley Clarke, Nowell’s life is officially a circus of art.   On this 2nd album for Posi-Tone as a leader, however, the surprise lies in the conventionality of his passion for small-combo 50s/60s avant-jazz/post-bop, here branching into uncommon ethnicities (the wizened Jewish flavor of “Oy Matze Matze”), subliminal bar-rock beats (“Dunavski Park”) and chicken soup for the gangster’s moll’s soul (“I Will,” a nice space for some Humphrey Bogart dialog).   “New York Vibe” is pure Blue Note oldschool, with Nowell taking a 3.5 minute solo he probably concocted while playing the Manhattan clubs in which he’s a resident; other sizzle is found between the fusion basslines and psychedelics of “For All Intensive Purposes.” The brain-blower comes last, in the warp-speed Coltrane-like closeout track “I Remember You.” Grade: A- [street date: 6/9/09]

Paul van Dyk, Volume: The Best of Paul van Dyk (Ultra Records)
Lately I’ve been making more and more snide remarks about spandex Speedos and “glorified record collectors,” but truthfully that’s come in direct relation to my fetish for house and trance techno being scratched by awesome promo people sending me the very best of the stuff in the world.   Take van Dyk, for instance, a charter fixture in the same very exclusive cabal as Tiesto, Oakenfold and van Buuren. From this compressed vision of his life’s oeuvre — one CD of originals, another one bearing his greatest remixes — it’s clear that his strength lies in making Britney more bratty and such more than cooking up a trance number for the ages.   His 1994 hit “For An Angel” is here at track one, still standing as his most glorious achievement as a tinkerer of song; it segues into the emotionally raw “Home,” a not-bad second banana.   As for the remixes, U2’s “Elevation” and Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around” are awesomely rendered, but the slammer is the hypnotically cinematic reboot of Lisa Miskovsky’s gigantic video-game-soundtracker “Still Alive.” Grade: A [street date: 6/9/09]

The Blackout, The Best In Town (Epitaph Records)
Aural scrapbooking project centered around the bands loved, admired and worshipped by the 6 emo/nu-metal limeys who were probably shocked as anyone else at being given the money to do this album.   No angle, just pure copycatting at every step — first they knock over Papa Roach’s anthem-emo bank in “Save Ourselves (The Warning)” (yes, that’s how stupid they believe their audience is, adding redundant parenthetical emphasis to the title, which probably refers to catching a glob of Maybelline in one’s iris), and then giddyup varmints, it’s off to rob the Socialburn/Gavin Rossdale general store (“Top of the World”).   But that’s not all folks, act now and you’ll hear our boys get themselves in hot water with P.O.D.’s copyrighting people (“Childen of the Night” a song title so overused it’s probably become a drinking game), pick Saving Abel’s pocket for psycho-boyfriend-screamo chump change (“Said and Done”) and finally forge their signatures on Dashboard Confessional balladry in “Silent When We Speak.”   There’s a generic description for this kind of art, and it is not ‘devilishly innovative’. Grade: D+ [street date: 6/9/09]

Astra, The Weirding (Metal Blade Records)
The “New Wave of Psychedelic Prog” is dawning, colored pretty much the same as the 60s/70s thingie.   Engineered to mimic a Mountain album from the Mesozoic era, Astra’s debut is so wintry and faraway that it’s inconceivable that they’re from San Diego, their only trace of modernity being the vocal resemblance to Bigelf, who, in the great comparative scheme of things, are ELO or Sweet to Astra’s Yes/ELP.   Like anything that’s prefaced nowadays with “nu-“, nu-prog is more homage than innovation, here even down to the album cover art, clearly premised upon the same Planet Bizarro landscape that inspired 5 or so Yes covers.   Thing is, along with Yes (and the first Sabbath album, and even Jethro Tull if you watch closely), slowbie-oldbie SST bands — St. Vitus, to be precise — get a nice foot-rub at the hands of these fellers, particularly in the 15-minute-long title-track, which, in spite of its thick waves of mellotron, ambles along in a cartoon-zombie state of amicable doominess, firing feakazoid Leslie West guitar solos in every direction.   “Silent Sleep” and its Styx-like bliss fare better; “Ouroboros” even more so by doing a seriously good Yes impersonation that would slay My Morning Jacket if the singer was more a Thom Yorke than an Ozzy.   Grade: A- [street date: 6/23/09]

Ted Nugent, Motor City Mayhem (Eagle Records)
On Fourth of July of last year Ted Nugent, one of the few rock n roll banes to liberalism, proudly whipped out 20-ought and 20-year-old chickie in commemoration of his 6000th show, give or take I’m sure, this at the DTE Music Centre in his hometown Detroit.   As captured in this 2-disker, Nugent at 60 is more Imus-looking than Nugent at 25, but that’s the only difference:   hell-yeahs, s-bombs, f-bombs and crazed screaming remain stock props, as do bassist Greg Smith and drummer Mick Brown, and double-ditto for Nuge’s vein-popping intro to “Wango Tango.”   Fans will know the rest by heart — “Stormtroopin’,” “Weekend Warrior,” et al, all the drunkenly shrieked epithets (he’s ordained himself with the rather pervy “Uncle Ted” nick now that he isn’t the bare-chested redneck your mom wanted to jump).   The nostalgia train’s never late in these type of spazzy events, thus there are drop-ins from several Detroit legends as well as his guitar teacher, Joe Podorsik. Grade: B+ [street date: 6/30/09]

Wonderlick, Topless At The Arco Arena (Rock Ridge Records)
Semi-casual side business run by a couple of LA yuppies wistful for They Might Be Giants.   Once in a while this duo clocks in some writing and studio time, little and far between as it may be, since one fellow runs programming at the Rhapsody online music service and the other produces and directs TV shows; immediately a picture floats in my mind of Reluctant Adoptive Dad in the movie Juno, a little tinkering here and there with rock n roll dreams that won’t die no matter how dead they are.   But don’t mind me and my general apocalyptic worldview — these two did come up with the punkish theme song for the teevee show Here Come the Newlyweds (“This Song is a Commercial,” included here) as well as music for Chelsea Handler’s show.   Besides, most of the bands streaming away in the ether are only good for one song anyway, and they’d literally cut off a finger to get their sorry asses on a soundtrack, so it’s a little bourgeois to begrudge Wonderlick their connections and borderline joke-band aims (the cheesily vocodered “We Run the World” — along with much else here — is better than most of what Reel Big Fish have accomplished lately). Grade: B- [street date: 7/7/09]

Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome.   Email esaeger@cyberontix.com


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