Infected Mushroom, Legend Of The Black Shawarma (Adrenaline Records)
Lot of blah-de-blah on the blogs and such about this not being (as expected in keeping with this Israeli electro duo’s original pigeonhole) psy-trance, probably owing to all the drum n bass that goes on (if you’re not a walking Wikipedia, DnB involves a lot of skittering, super-speed drumbeats). But psy-trance (originally concocted in Goa, India, and heralded by KLF’s “What Time is Love,” a tune that would seem to modern ears a slowed-down version of the Mortal Kombat theme song as re-done by Chemical Brothers in a Marky Mark mood) is now a genre heavily dependent on what goes on in Israel, thus whatever these guys do is, well, state-of-the-art psy-trance, which is now spilling over into the “psybreaks” space, hence the hyper-ass breakbeating, and now you know these things, and there will be lots of talk in your favorite horrible pop-culture mags about this record, so they’re good to know. Not a lot of official-traditional “trance” on here, beats-per-minute-wise; one of the dudes loves his heavy metal, so there are quite a few hard guitar lines (Korn guy Jonathan Davis and Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell do drop-ins). Album opener “Poquito Mas” sets the tone, honky-hiphop flows bonded to buzzing, hyper, in-your-face electronics. You know who’d probably love this record is someone who’s not getting enough content from Pendulum and Justice at once, if you can dig that at all.
Grade: A- [street date 9/8/09 in the US]
BLK JKS, After Robots (Secretly Canadian Records)
In perhaps the most widely publicized world-music-steeped indie thingamajig since Dengue Fever, African prog-rockers BLK JKS have hired themselves the right PR guns to babble on their behalf into the CMJ void. Thus, unless the world ends tomorrow in a ball of fire, you’ll soon enough be hearing about them via oddball placements on hip cable shows, not that they haven’t earned it after 9 years of effort, which recently put them on festival bills from here to Morocco. The music itself — sometimes tribal-celebratory(“Molalatladi”), sometimes Radiohead-ishly forlorn (“Standby”), sometimes Talking Heads-bug-eyed (“Lakeside”) — is a great tumbleweed of sound that can occasionally appear technically incoherent, which has won them comparisons to Mars Volta (and System of a Down as of right now), but that’s actually sort of a knock to BLK JKS, whose instrumental abilities could probably handle most of what Return To Forever ever did in the studio. It isn’t party-friendly, more a party on its own, evoking visions of crowds spilling into streets after work and play and everything in between, microcosmic in the ways that it wordlessly describes life in Johannesburg. Hopefully the band doesn’t end up losing their bizarre vibe by trying to compete with established nu-proggers — for now, as the planet quizzically tilts its head at this crew and vice versa, all is pretty much right.
Grade A- [street date 9/8/09]
Otep, Smash the Control Machine (Victory Records)
Things don’t get much more dementedly evil-sounding than this, but, you know, in a socially responsible way, like Korn (for reference’s sake it should be noted that guitarist Rob Patterson, who led up Otep’s first 2 albums, is back after an on-off love-hate stint with Korn). Between bursts of her most spooky-ghoulie loud-inhale exorcist-screams yet, blue-collar slam-poet Otep Shamaya splays vitriol in every direction, filling the void left in the wake of KMFDM’s abandonment of all things heavy and anarchic (and what is it with those guys anyway — did their AARP cards show up or something?). It’s these hot buttons — worker exploitation, health insurance, consumerism, blah blah — that she pushes in the two triple-speed-bass-drum, Tool-at-45-RPM epics that represent the album’s jewels, specifically “Rise Rebel Resist” and the title track. Such an effort: green pea soup messes all over the place, more tattoos than you can shake a navy at, Slipknot looking over their shoulder — these flailings burn energy fast. Background music for smashing every last computer down at Corporate, you see, peaked with KMFDM’s “Free Your Hate” (RIP and all that).
Grade: B [street date 8/18/09]
Ramsey Lewis, Songs from the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey (Concord Records)
A staple of Chess Records during his Grammy-winning days in the 60s, Ramsey Lewis, at 74 and counting, is a fixture of Chicago life, holding down a radio show and still managing to come up with best-of-breed in the area of high-class, exquisitely lyrical piano-jazz. 8 of the songs from his first recording in five years within a trio setting come from 2007’s modern ballet To Know Her (written for the Joffrey Ballet Company), the other four pieces from a 2008 suite. But regardless of their original intent, what these pieces all spell for the casual jazz listener is music to dine in the comfort of knurled mahogany by, as has been the case for so many years now (I remember hearing his entire 1980 album Routes at a 4-star eatery back in the 90s). The melodies he favors are warm, ethnically ambivalent and only minimally experimental, requiring listeners only to sit back and, y’know, eat good stuff.
Grade: A [street date 9/29/09]
Chevelle, Sci-Fi Crimes (Sony Records)
15 years into their ouevre, Chevelle possess an adequate-enough amount of characteristics to distinguish them from such like-sounding heavy-hitters as Seether and Disturbed, good news to anyone who’s ever noticed how unforgettably forgettable so many nu-metal also-rans can be, particularly when they’re cast as mid-festival opening acts (is there any reason whatsoever for Julien-K to exist?). A recurring rubber-band low-end first appears in roll-out track “Sleep Apnea” (and is especially pronounced in “Jars”) pointing straight to a Sevendust influence, but more distinctive is singer Pete Loeffler’s wild, wooly and ever-present karaoke of Serj Tankian; speed some of this up and it could have come from the cutting room floor of System of a Down’s early albums. Okay, okay, that’s exaggerated exuberance in the face of such corporate correctness — nothing here that couldn’t be played during your local Metal Hour.
But these bass-obsessed, almost-Korn-level-heavy tunes do have a lot of heart, even vulnerability; if I had to strand you on a desert island with a guitar-solo-free album consisting only of stuff fit for a Saw soundtrack, it’d be these guys way before most of their competitors.
Grade A- [street date 8/31/09]
Black Heart Procession, Six (Temporary Residence Records)
Wait wait, who are these guys again, and are critics honestly pretending to care about this infinitesimal, moping, slightly goth-ized swill-pile of Pavement-worship as relayed through a David Coyne-on-vodka prism? I suppose it’s good for full-time adult trick-or-treaters, who am I to diss anyone’s trip, but, you know, WTF already, does everything have to be bread-and-circus brain-rot everywhere you turn? The headline here appears to be something about how they’ve gone back to numbering their albums, which is important, I suppose, if one is sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling NAH NAH NAH while the album slogs along, this time with even less steam than 2006’s The Spell, which at times poked around with the idea of slo-mo no-wave. This thing, though? Who bloody cares in the slightest.
Grade: C- [street date 10/6/09]
Revocation, Existence Is Futile (Relapse Records)
Every once in a while a happenin’ rock critic’s just got to shove a mitt into the 50-gallon drum of thrash metal releases that’s recently begun threatening to overflow, pick one, and hope for the best, the best being something that makes you say, “Hmm, I kinda like these guys,” which you in turn report to your readerland constituents, who in turn might buy it and hopefully say to one of their non-reading mullethead friends, “Hmm, I kinda like these guys.” Today is for that, as Boston-based Revocation channels defunct 80s thrashers from the New Renaissance Record stable — Dream Death, things like this — but sticks with one vocal sound (drunken monster-pirates ahoy) instead of ladling out boy-band-emo here and there like everyone else is doing. Come to think of it, singer/guitarist has a lot of Joey Ramone to his voice, and that — in tandem with the crystal-clear sound, high-class lead-work and latex-tightness of the band as a whole — is why it’s not loser-ish to say “Hmm, I kinda like these guys.”
Grade: B+ [street date 9/29/09]
Chris Ayer, Don’t Go Back to Sleep (ARC Records)
What, am I supposed to hate a guy who can do James Taylor and Goo Goo Dolls impersonations within the first two songs? I cannot. I can, of course, detest being situated having to think of a clever way to out-snark myself acknowledging that the opening song on the album is called “Opening,” but I won’t; I’ll simply leave you knowing that the tune nicks Taylor in a way that makes your pimp-hand twitch to slap the Martha’s Vineyard-happy-assedness right off his puss. ”Awake” is a mope-boy’s notion of “Your Smiling Face,” and hence it would normally be clear where this is going. But the Goo Goo Dolls karaoke comes in at “Lost + Found,” and then, all the Taylor impersonations dropped, we’re suddenly dropped into alt-country territory in the vein of Rhett Miller to a degree (“Let Go” is ballady Old 97s; “Pretty Poison Things” would have worked as one of the kind-of-rockers on Miller’s last solo album). The songwriting is really no worse or better than what Taylor or Miller have done before; fans of both those marquee names might like this a lot.
Grade B [street date 8/18/09]
Sharel Cassity, Relentless (Jazz Legacy Productions)
I’m embarrassed to confess a prejudice against serious chick musicians, a blackness that comes from a frightened corner of the basic male psyche in response to this monstrous new millennium. The sexier sex is taking over the planet, getting the decent jobs and actually holding them (“decent” being debatable, of course, but any underpaid file-and-phone gig beats busting rocks in machine shops doused in carcinogenic solvents, let’s be real); being good doobies; and always being right about the Really Big things, thereby keeping us drooling-moron Y-chromosomes out of jail, dammitall. Forthwith a jaundiced ear beheld this, and what washed over me during the first few songs was annoyance at the trite, wonkish approach to Cassity’s writing, unfair being that if a guy had done this I would have simply tossed the CD out the window and not bothered you with it. Maybe it’s a lose-lose situation, though, for this (increasingly popular) lady: in spite of all her college training she’s a blow-doors sax player, evidence of which doesn’t surface until later, when she feels she’s done enough wonking to stretch out and go toe-to-toe with her trumpet guy, Jeremy Pelt, who’s got Al Hirt’s workout routine down. Before this, however, there’s too much stodgy, perfect “experimentation,” seemingly angling for high letter-grades and blank-faced cocktail-party accolades instead of emotional impact. And thus my work is done; mayhaps she’ll read this horrible misogynist drivel and damn all future torpedoes because men suck anyway, or she’ll continue on her path to becoming a session curio and you’ll not have to read anything further of this.
Grade B- [street date 9/8/09]
Kittie, In the Black (Koch Records)
A tale of the girls keeping up with the boys here, long-toothed Canadian thrashers doing the 80s power-metal-throwback routine in keeping with the whims of their pirate-bellowing male counterparts. The sounds here comprise a ping-pong match (oops, make that DEADLY EVIL ping-pong match) between their trademark caterwauling screech-demon thrash and parts that tack toward the more melodic, in which singer Morgan Lander crosses Lacuna Coil with, well, Gwen Stefani actually, not that these chicks’d be caught dead around anything ska or whatnot. No, our planet is safe, the script calls for a variable-speed battle between In Flames and Savatage, some exceptional lead-guitar contributed by Tara McLeod, the newest ax-meisteress to pass through the revolving door. Drummer Mercedes Lander, Morgan’s sis, is mixed almost out of earshot, mayhaps on purpose; when I paid attention to her she sounded easily replaceable. The mix of oldschool power-metal, newschool extreme-metal and Lacuna Coil angst is a pretty formidable triple threat even if the curveball factor doesn’t come in until a weirdo freeform retrofitted-Hendrix mess at the final track (“The Truth”).
Grade B- [street date 9/15/09]
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