Maxfield Gast, Eat Your Beats (Militia Hill Records)
Philly-based acid-jazz trio incorporating hip-hop, breakbeat and drum n bass into a 70s/80s sound… wait, it’s not as sloppy and convoluted as I just made it sound. It’s compartmentalized — songs for generic asphalt Jay-Z beats, songs for generic breakbeats, you get the idea; from what I cursorily gathered, Gast is a college kid trying to make the scene as a voice-of-a-generation type who simply can’t let go of his childhood record collection. He’s got my vote simply because of the warm, soulful Ronnie Laws/Ramsey Lewis breeze he allows into the room, a long-retired sound wherein you can practically smell the CFCs depleting the ozone layer without a regulatory worry in the world. Though DnB rinseouts are forewarned in the artist-info gobbledegook, no Grooverider-style spazzing happens until the 8th track (“Noolio”), which stands more as a (commendable) token entry than any preference of approach. No, Gast is more an underground hip-hopper dude, cutting loose with a long train-wreck of spurious public-service-announcement verbiage in closing track “Yellow School Bus.”
Grade: B+ [street date 1/12/2010]
Leo Biollo, From the Depths of Hell to the Gates of Heaven (self-released)
The retro trend continues in metal, ie. the politically correct thing to do within the genre, from the bigs to the smalls, is to sound like a power metal band clad in a tee shirt bearing the cover of Ride the Lightning. Buit you already know this, because I’ve already gone over it at least 4 times over the course of 4+ metal CD reviews, and I’m well aware of the broken-record-ness of it all, but what else is one to say when a trend swallows a million albums into its black hole with no rest in sight? OK, how about insulting Canadians? Canadian art is the Made in Taiwan of art, perfectly cloned in every way, safer than hell, and everyone’s pretty, like this Leo Biollo (note the carefully chosen Italian last name, because all remaining “serious” metal guitarists are Italian bums from New Jersey, savvy?), who plays everything on this disk except for the drums, which are sampled. Lots of oldschool metal fans will love Leo Biollo, because he sings like a cross between King Diamond, Quorthon and the fat dude from Savatage and knows how to get those screamy bleeding pinched high-notes out of his guitar. What’s missing is messiness like you’d find on old Misfits albums, but the DIY train doesn’t look to be hitting metal’s regurgitation station anytime soon. You could buy this or the new King Diamond, which is slightly slower, your choice, not much difference.
Grade: C+ [street date 5/5/2009]
Coalesce, Ox EP (Relapse Records)
With their knack for finding bands whose only mission is putting forth deathly heaviness, Relapse Records owned metal’s corner of the “naughts,” as the just-passed decade is increasingly consensually referred to. Like many of their labelmates, Coalesce is similar to a half-speed Burnt By the Sun, a far cry from the spastic-math-metal comparisons that are posted everywhere you look (Dillinger Escape Plan fans looking for similar product are strongly advised to look elsewhere). As with the full-length Ox album of last year, this followup EP finds a way to be math and core and thrashy without using outright math-core thrashiness; the wacko-pirate vocals screech atop the complicated, mid-tempo riffing like a wounded panther attacking an elephant. Lumping this band in with Isis wouldn’t be ridiculously far off, as you may be able to tell, but this is no clone — the most accessible track, “Absent in Death,” merges Crowbar with Neurosis.
Grade: B- [street date: 11/10/09]
John Digweed, Bedrock 11 (Bedrock Records)
2009 was a lame year for house music, or techno, or whatever feels right for you to call it. The problem: Britney tried house, and so did other big names, which further cast DJs as full-fledged, important musicians, which they’re not. And so naturally, like a bunch of dingbat-drunk, AÃ©ro-clad Caligulas tripping over their own feet at the orgy, house DJs — already a spoiled, worthless lot — put out some of the most careless, putrid garbage in history. Man, did the new Tiesto album suck. One exception to the great sucking noise that was 2009 was this latest compilation from UK DJ John Digweed. Within these 3-hour mixes are very few 70s/80s anachronisms, if any — I’m not sure why disco dweebs like David Guetta have the hot hand nowadays and IDM is playing the bridesmaid — and in fact dance ambiance couldn’t possibly get more urban and right-this-second sounding. At least there’s one of these guys with an eye on something other than bucks to be made at this particular pop-cultural nanosecond.
Grade: A [street date: 10/20/09]
H.E. Miller, Apocalyptic Dreams (self-released)
With this album’s swamp-scum-level production value and all-around un-pro-ness, my first reaction was to look around for a hidden camera, as I suspected I was being punked. But the thing stayed in my player, being terrible and karmically wonderful at the same time, sounding like what might have happened to Joe Walsh on no budget if he’d had to compete with a million MySpacers in the present day. A performance artist of sorts, Miller is from New Jersey by way by New York City, the only place on earth where some skaggy, boisterous rawk-maniac like him could avoid being laughed at while cultivating this monstrosity, a one-man demolition squad trying to bring a little sorely needed New York Dolls and Sex Pistols into the sorry state of music today. Your friends will marvel at its rawness and dismiss it as suckage, but know that this is what they’d be listening to if the world ended today.
Grade: B [street date: 8/1/09]
Patrick & Eugene, All Together Now (Birds Bees Flowers Trees) (Tummy Touch Records)
The 70s-like cover art telegraphs the intention of this British duo, that being a barrel-load of the banjo/ratchet-box/sax Mungo Jerry shtick they slapped together for the title track (once the closeout song on an episode of Weeds). The puzzle is where to fit something made of Dustbowl jangle, Monty Python irreverence and an attitude of don’t worry be happy — oh wait, that’d be just about anywhere nowadays. It’s all harmless joke stuff, evoking the Beatles and Donovan teaming up to play an Austin Powers shag-in during “Llama” (think the theme song to the old Batman TV show re-done by Jack Johnson after waking from anasthesia). The Donovan-nicking “The Leprechaun” is decorated in ghost-whistles out of a Ren & Stimpy cartoon; “A Dog’s Tale” adds a house beat to a manly Charlton Heston spaghetti-Technicolor chorus.
Grade: B- [street date 1/26/10]
Andy Caldwell, Obsession (Uno Records)
An original member of Soulstice, Caldwell blows all stops in this artist album to shake off the “Bay Area House” label he’s been tagged with, and, being that that’s a pretty easy thing to do (simply by being a little less disco-ey and fun-sounding), he has succeeded. He’s an LA guy anyway now, from the cursory reading I’ve done (emails screaming for a correction will be automatically routed to my Trash folder), and toward that we have “Fear My Pride,” a hot-panted, serious-sounding chick-sung track that’s a little bit Oakenfold and a little bit King Britt. Caldwell loves it when people mention that he flies around a lot and plays lots of shows but “somehow” finds the time — I’m assuming between reading Herman Melville novels forwards and backwards on those long flights — to write songs, so I’m hereby mentioning that, even if it could be interpreted as another way of saying “WARNING: These songs could be phoned-in.” They aren’t, though, even if “Black Diamond Sky” has the woozy vibrato nonsense that Tiesto used while ruining his last record. The title track is surprisingly Depeche Mode-ish for something from a house DJ, while “It’s Good” buddies up a Bodyrox vibe with some low-key rap slickness from Mr. V.
Grade: A- [street date 11/3/09]
The Kin, The Upside (Aletheia Records)
The formula for making pure radio-pop out of hard-rock-ish emo is by now familiar to anyone, leaving as the acid test any band that actually goes out of their way not to sound like Last Goodnight, Alternative Routes, things like that. This lot are New Yorkers by way of Australia, thus the bit of full-throated Big Country-style harmony to opening track “Waterbreaks” is unexpectedly sophisticated and inward-looking (not that Australia’s hit chart is full of uncoordinated gimps, but this band drips more maturity than most bands palying to the back rows of the AOR-emo scene). The chug-chug half-rocker “One Thing” is part nu-Britpop and part REM, at which point the album drops into gears most mawkish, pining away like a crew of heartbroken Enrique Iglesiases in “Never Be The Same,” exulting over romantic hooey in the Maroon 5-ish “You & I,” then indulging in some sadboy “With or Without You”-era U2 in “Highest Place.” You can see, then, that the audience for this is a bit tight (and a tad old for tee shirts and concerts), but some band has to own the thing, and these fellers do have a legitimate shot.
Grade: B [street date 10/6/09]
The New Heathers, The Fuel, The Fire, The Spark (Redbird Records)
More a peephole into what Ludo might have been than anything else, this 5-songer is more on the serious side of arena rock than what comes from Ludo as fronted by Andrew Volpe. The long and short of it is New Heathers are three Ludo guys (the two Tims and Matt Palermo) who have every right to be sick to death of the four-eyed Yellowcard/Blink-182 geek-punk they’re famous for. It’s not a wild right genre-turn someplace, though, not when the adenoidal vocals are similar to the Ataris or Hoobastank. Toward good imitative art, the arena rocker-ballad opening tune “Agatha” owes its existence to Ben Folds; “Mr. Green Blades” tables some Living Colour/Queen-like riffage; the title track could have been a collaboration between Ataris and Grizzly Bear.
Grade: B [street date: 9/22/09]
Round Mountain, Windward (Red Shield Music)
2009 was a year when half the bands out there seemed to be offering alternative soundtracks to Where the Wild Things Are, with lots of cutesy, weirdly folky, quasi-Decembrists fluff. Like many of this sort of act, Santa Fe multi-instrumentalist brother duo Round Mountain cater to Boomers, tie-dyed hempsters and little kids equally, opening their album as though trying to quicken pulses at the tofu bar, this with “Don’t Lie Down,” wavering between zydeco, tumbleweed-folk and a chorus that a New Age artist like Wah would be tempted to steal. It’s this sort of gumbo approach — you never can tell when a bagpipe or mandolin or trumpet is going to pop out of nowhere — that keeps one attentive (even enchanted, as during the harp-strummed “In Us All”). Continuity isn’t completely lost on them, which is a plus; even when they’re appearing to slut up to radio they’re picturing that same tame audience (the lazy “Carry the Stone” is a vision of Grizzly Bear rewriting “Under the Boardwalk”).
Grade: B [street date: 10/20/09]
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