Wumpscut, Siamese (Metropolis Records)
This is a review I’ve put off for a while, being that I’m big into Rudy Ratzinger’s one-man operation and this record is as nondescript as he’s ever threatened to get. As usual, the pickings are all good enough to top the best efforts of most any goth-posturing crew, but what I’ve become accustomed to over the years is at least one real standout tune per album, one with something of a pretty curve on it, an apple in the garden. I could try to get past it with a lot of hyperbole about this album’s heaviness, but it’s been done before, much better, by this guy. Even the proffered single “Boneshaker” is a snooze — not to goth-club newbies, don’t get me wrong, but stomp-stomp-stomp metallized mid-tempo hardfloor and some ghostly wailings don’t shake the earth anymore, and the title track is a plodding study in mnemonic advertising. Jane’s missing in action, too, which could be the whole problem. Recommended for completists and newbies as always, but old-timers will be disappointed.
Grade: B- [street date: 4/13/10]
John Troast, Living Room (self-released)
Wisconsin folk-slacker Troast is a unique breed of troubadour, roaming the States in a car full of his CDs and not much else, playing at whatever house (or nursing home or whatever) will have him for an impromptu concert/barbecue/whatever. He couldn’t be much better equipped for such a lifestyle, his voice and tude a cross between Jim Croce and Michael BublÃ©, unplugged guitar vibe evoking Ben Harper. As you can easily imagine, the songs are constructed for best Americana effect, immediately likeable stuff that can, with impunity, throw out the ghost of Elvis on a fadeout (“Another Mile”) and immediately move into an accordion-accompanied ballad that isn’t hideously sappy (“Favorites”). Beneath this harmless folkie faÃ§ade is some kind of Tom Cochrane guy whose headphones obviously got more than a little loud, though, no doubt — “Sunshine Love” could be the unplugged version of a Killers tune.
Grade: B- [street date: 1/12/10]
Dave Glasser, Evolution (Here Tiz Music)
I remain vulnerable to neo-throwback-bebop for now, sax players in specific, and Glasser’s meandering, Thelonious Monk-worshipping quartet is set-it-forget-it ambiance for whatever-whenever. Glasser’s alto resided with the Clark Terry Quintet for ten years before spending a couple of years with the all-star Count Basie circus, but oddly enough Wiki only pegs him as a faculty guy (he’s been at New School Jazz since 1996). Not a lot of newness here, as Monk’s the game, which is no secret, even in the song titles; I kept expecting to hear some crazy-ass honking during the original “Monkish,” within which Glasser flirts with modality for only a few bars, while solos by bassist Jeff Campbell and pianist John Nyerges stick to the rules. “Monk’s Blues” is a self-explanatory original from Nyerges, who mainly stays back to support Glasser’s airy whims; any flat-out speed is relegated to a cover of Monk’s 1957 “Rhythm-a-ning,” a wanton display of “I’ve Got Rhythm” fetish.
Grade: B+ [street date: 4/19/10]
Glitch Mob, Drink the Sea (Glass Air Records)
This will probably rub someone the right way — maybe someone born too late to have any idea what Kraftwerk was about — but there was only so much of this slo-mo Justice I could take before I screamed aloud and tore it out of the player. Grudgingly I must report that out of the gate this latest line of emperor’s new clothes for the hipster ear is different — “Animus Vox” leads off with the organic feel of two brontosauruses taking a midnight make-out stroll — but without a rapper rapping over all this cumbersome, woofer-destroying electro-bloat I don’t see it lasting much past one night in the clubs, that is unless all of Generation Y has thrown in the towel on progress ever being made with synthetic music. Cripes, on and on and on it slugs, throwing in some military snare drum to try and get mileage out of “We Swarm” and waiting several songs before trotting out the breathy bimbo singer for “A Dream within a Dream,” which should have been part of the blueprint for all of this stuff in the first place instead of the band expecting people to be fascinated with a bunch of — you know, Justice in slow motion, like background music for some stupid bar scene in a soft-core vampire movie. Pardon me if I sum this up with “big fat hairy whoop.”
Grade: C [street date: 5/25/10]
Truth & Salvage Co., Truth & Salvage Co. (Megaforce Records)
It’s a moderately bold leap of faith to think longtime metal label Megaforce Records could deliver some decent country-pop, but here it is, a songwriting platoon that’d fit well on tour with Hold Steady, playing the role of something less opaque, slightly more Big & Rich-like — definitely more LA, ultimately, and not only because they formed there, meeting at Hotel CafÃ© where they held court on an every-Friday residency.
The record starts out shooting at a bullet-pocked barrel of fish with “Hail Hail,” a controlled burst of yee-haw singalong that tacks the words “reefer and beer” smugly to its chorus, but this is no one-off joke band — if Alabama had grown up listening to Barenaked Ladies they would have done something similar to “Call Back.” One thing about these urban cowpokes is that there isn’t really one main songwriter; 4 different contributors get equal time, but it’s hard to tell which is which being that they have identical vision. Hints of Everclear on “Rise Up”; best knuckleball is the gen-yoo-wine Allman Brothers-style jam that closes out “See Her.”
Grade: A- [street date: 5/25/10]
Maria Neckam, Deeper (Sunnyside Communications)
There’s a quilt of snark lain over this disaffect-o-matic wine-and-cheese jazz-pop chick’s tunes — all of them self-written, a nice switch. Could be the fact that she’s a cute 20something dressed retro Laurie Petrie and wearing an Audrey Hepburn smirk, but more likely it’s because her default flow is pure Joni Mitchell, that know-it-all of yore — not until “When You’re In Love” does Neckam bust out of her half-there scat-and-murmur routine and do a little belting, as if all of a sudden she was told to throw together something for a Juno-type movie. That’s at song number 4, after which she does an obtuse Mingus-ish sing-along with one of her 2 sax guys (“Fear”) that soon becomes a prog thing, then a beatnik jam-out thing, then a colorfully animated marathon scat that reveals her as a serious, ambitious experimentalist. The whole thing reminded me it’s time to open my bedtime medicinal pinot noir, which is pretty much the tale of this thing’s tape.
Grade: B [street date: 2/16/10]
The Constellations, Southern Gothic (Virgin Records)
You’ll be hearing a lot about this album, what with Virgin doling out free CDs to reviewers the way AOL used to stuff your mailbox with sign-up disks (feeling flattered, a lot of novice reviewers will talk about how rockin’ it is, which has been proven to create a weird trickle-up effect, like what happened with the comically overrated TV On the Radio). The PR angle for this Atlanta band is that they’re reviving hiphop by adding a darker edge, which I suppose is true if you only count the Cee-Lo-guested “Love is a Murder,” kind of (rapping in actual musical keys is going to save the world?). The real takeaway is hideously commercial alt-rock, a cynical pandering to small-city hipster nitwits, with singer Elijah Jones mumbling his lines in a factory-issue Eminem/Beck drone-drawl that the Madison Avenue jerks will be jumping on in no time to vibe up their Ford Focus commercials. Any rebellion will be quickly crushed, trust me: there’s simply too much “Tom Waits cover song! Hot chick backup singers!” dingbat couture being microwaved here for anyone or anything to stop it — producer Ben H. Allen has done records for Animal Collective and Gnarls Barkley, and these club-crawling chuckleheads are the perfect cross between those two, if, God help you, that sounds like your bag (Cliff Richard 80s cheese, self-indulgent but completely unadventurous instrumental passages, smell the relevance being stuffed up your nose).
Grade: C [street date: 5/22/10]
Carrie Rodriguez, Love and Circumstances (RED Distribution)
Doomed to be unfairly overlooked by pundits beholden to bigger-label offal, this cover set of country and Americana tunes that have influenced Rodriguez has a tastiness and sweetness that’s rare for a Sheryl Crow chaser. Rodriguez’ tone is one bit Taylor Swift, one bit Lisa Loeb, but her waifishness is tempered with a Joan Osborne maturity, straightforward and thankfully free of forced croaks for decorative value. The first standout is Buddy and Julie Miller’s “Wide River to Cross,” its arpeggiated guitar evoking morning lake-water (Buddy himself provides a smoky harmony that looms larger as the guitars plug in and get loud). The marquee track is a finger-picked version of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” whose main thrust is spotlighting Rodriguez’ bang-on vocal technicality. One influence is Rodriguez’ own dad, David, whose insidiously gorgeous Americana tune “When I Heard Gypsy Davy Sing” is rendered in the aloof but pleasant tradition of Eastmountainsouth, a good touchstone comparison act, being that this is isn’t world-weary stuff, nor overtly commercial, simply an understated triumph.
Grade: A [street date: 4/13/10]
Uriah Heep, Celebration (Earmusic Records)
Maybe the problem with nu-metal — the successor genre to 70s/80s hard rock and even 90s grunge — is that the blues that are it its roots are so much depleted soil (arguing that punk rock is the real engine behind newfangled metal is sort of a bummer position, being that new guys like Papa Roach actually take their stuff seriously, not like the safety-pinners of old, but sure, it’s a valid counterpunch). It’s funny, listening to this rather odd Uriah Heep collection — comprised of 2 new songs that sound just as dated as the other 12 re-recorded (not re-engineered, seriously: re-recorded) “classics” of their 60s/70s salad days — how ancient-vinyl it sounds. There’s no way to modernize the sound of Deep Purple-style organ (I’d never thought of this band as an Avis to Purple’s Hertz, but it’s pretty plain), but you know what, maybe there is. The album comes stumbling over its own feet with one of the newbies, “Only Human,” seeming to be already in mid-song, a far cry from the polished radio-prostration of their Abominog days; perhaps these guys expect all sorts of love for being old-school, and oldschoolers certainly won’t complain, but there’s a difference between trying to do something, anything new and using muscle memory to go through the motions. I honestly don’t see the point of re-recording “Easy Livin’” from scratch, put it that way.
Grade: B- [street date: 3/16/10]
Italian Japanese, The Lush Romantic Weirdness (Vampire Media Group Records)
There are times when I should seriously not throw bio sheets into the great paper abyss of this desk when an album comes in, and this was seriously one of those times. Being self-released, this has really only sort-of been released, as it were, or so it seems; having to weed through the band’s Facebook nonsense to get a grip on who and what they are was a tragic misadventure I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Talk about un-pro; I mean, a pack of stupid tweets are pretty much what these LA boys have as far as evidence they’re even a fricking band in the first place.
The thing is, they’re quite good, which was why I forced myself to go on this info hunt. Don’t go in expecting a Vampire Weekend trip, despite their self-run label’s name or the cockeyed, blurry shot of a ceiling on the album cover — there’s a little Wilco, a little Goo Goo Dolls, some Death Cab, that stuff, but it’s very accessible, radio-ready tuneage. They have a fetish for echoing-but-not-faraway guitar segues that lend softness and a lot of space (that’s the Wilco) but they’ve obviously looked long and hard at the current market and seen plenty of room for, you know, songs. They’ve got a DIY fail going only so far as basic PR stuff, but with college-media-beloved Planetary Group recently taking over the PR end you may be hearing more, not that muscling their way into the CMJ 200 chart is anything to sneeze at.
Grade: A- [street date: 1/5/10]
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