Growing, Pumps (Vice Records)
In the same way that it’s hard as a reviewer to report correctly on the actual artistry involved in creating such bizarre sounds as this, it’s difficult to tell what this Brooklyn technologist is genuinely hoping to accomplish. In layman’s terms, it immediately demands a reality check of the stereo to see if some bagel crumbs got in there somehow; the layering consists of pure glitch on one parallel track, breakbeats on another, and subsonic house on another, ie it’s got a beat and you can dance to it, but are you supposed to? “Hormone” makes use of old-time vocoder — again for nebulous purposes — while the coolest thing on here, “Massive Dropout,” wants to be a Martian’s idea of drum n bass rinse, making use of claustrophobic in-your-face production riding one track and android disco on another, ultimately giving the impression of what your ears hear while you try to shake yourself out of a bad hit of Ketamine. Never a dull moment here, despite the lack of humanoid vocals, if that helps you any.
Grade: B [street date: 4/6/10]
Flatfoot 56, Black Thorn (Old Shoe Records)
Funny, I’m from Boston, but this Chicago style of Celt-punk resonates better with me than Dropkick Murphys’ stuff. Though the production can be a little cheesy and the punk a little light compared to Dropkicks, FF56 have a well-rounded sound that doesn’t always play to back of the scuzzy bar, simpatico more with Ramones on the harder bits. That doesn’t go for things like the Street Dogs-worshipping “Smoke Blower,” but these guys know that hardness isn’t exclusively the realm of meathead moshers; in fact there’s an 80s-ness in many places here remindful of Clash, Television, that sort. The boozy shantytown singalongs reek of mawkish authenticity too (“Shiny Eyes”).
Grade: A- [street date: 3/30/10]
Jerry Castle, Don’t Even Ask (My World Records)
Due to natural selection, country music is trending away from the over-processed sounds and predictable emoticons of Big & Rich and leaning toward the “real country” sounds of Gary Allan. While I admire the fact that Castle (here backed by a respectable squad of Nashville studio guys) has gone similarly au natural, I would have really liked to hear more along the lines of “Charades,” the opener to this, his second album. The tune is a countrified slant on Devendra Banhart and Zeppelin, which obviously has no relation whatsoever to Brooks & Dunn’s forced twanging and beer-gut BS, but also isn’t a direct challenge to Allan, whose inspiration takes over the entire balance of this record (although Castle gets even more little-cabin-in-the-woods-ish when he trots out his toddler daughter for a duet of “You Are My Sunshine” — kindly gag me with a spoon). Like Allan, the hooks are simple and don’t need racks of processors to get their points across… or do they? It’s one thing to join a rebellion, another to lead the pack the way Allan does, and quite another to play at being a Luddite for its own sake. Castle’s stuff has its charm, but honestly this stuff went in one ear and out the other; perhaps a little NASCAR pride might help in future.
Grade: B- [street date: 7/27/10]
Elizabeth Ayoub, Oceanos Y Lunas (Four Quarters Ent)
Born of Lebanese parents who fled with her and her 6 siblings to Venezuela, Ayoub comes from a strange multilingual planet, where one minute Barbra Streisand would be belting on the radio and the next the family would be reciting the Koran. There’s professional acting on her resume to go with this debut album, produced by Grammy winner Javier Limon, who has coaxed many gentle slopes and breezes out of the world-type sounds and vibes captured here. Not to say this is actually a world album, more like an unplugged, ethnically diverse whatzis that might as well have come from Gloria Estefan after a Wah bender, in other words yoga-workout chill. Although her voice is quite like Estefan’s, Ayoub is more charming (certainly more unique-sounding) when warbling lyrics in Semitic tongues (“Habibi”) than Spanish, but that’s just nitpicking on my part — brainy soccer moms could get a lot out of this one.
Grade: A- [street date: 5/18/10]
Darklight Corporation, Darklight Corporation (Ramrod Records)
Once you get past the default-mode drunk-pirate bellowing of singer Fabio Santos you’ll notice much similarity to Ministry on the part of this New Zealand foursome. They convey an anger-management style that’ll work as well for fans of KMFDM, especially in opening track “One Man Revolution,” with its hollered tag syllable of “rise” upping the anarchic ante (I wouldn’t have advised using antiquated Deep Purple-style organ for the fadeout, but don’t let me stop you kids from believing oldschool is your only hope). “Nailbomb” follows with a crazy-PO’ed mid-tempo grind riff, again in the fashion of Ministry, and then it’s on to 80s death/speed metal for “Born To Govern,” which only loses an edge when Santos resorts to government-issue screams instead of digging deeper to get at his inner hate. This all may sound a bit juvenile, but have no doubt that these guys are on the right track — a little more rage (and a few extra dollars in the studio) and they’ll be freezing blood in the same way that Jourgensen’s crew did in the closing scene from Hurt Locker, which, dammit, is what all you metal weenies should be aspiring to, if you can one day just get your head out of stuff that sucks.
Grade: B+ [street date: 2/24/10]
Melissa Auf der Maur, Out of Our Minds (Phi Group Inc.)
Fans of Hole and Smashing Pumpkins will know bassist Auf der Maur (that’s her real name, not some dingbat shibboleth), who joined Courtney Love’s circus after the overdose death of Kristin Pfaff. Her bucket-list accomplishments have thus far included forming a Black Sabbath cover band, sleeping with Dave Grohl, and generally being a go-to bassplayer associated with a diverse set of acts ranging from Smashing Pumpkins to Ryan Adams. OOOM is her 2nd album, and if the music were more compelling I’d get off my ass and check the self-titled debut for comparisons, but for our purposes here it really should suffice to note that it’s a bassplayer’s album. No, not in the sense that Auf der Maur is Stanley Clarke’s Mini Me; I’m saying the lackluster skaggy post-punk riffing that goes on was obviously written on a bass, aimlessly rolling and meandering for some parts, settling into minimalist dumb-bunny grooves for others. It’s got a pulse, sure, but the sell-by date is expired — people don’t even get Lydia Lunch anymore (not that Hole had an iron grip on such punk concepts either). Glenn Danzig makes a bizarre duet partner in the stream-of-semiconsciousness gab-fest “Father’s Grave.”
Grade: B [street date: 4/6/10]
Paul Manousos, C’Mon C’Mon (Shock & Fall Recordings)
It takes more than one half-attentive listen to the title track to see that Manousos is influenced by anyone other than Van Morrison, so I’m proud to report that I bit the bullet — I cannot fricking stand Van Morrison — and noted the Elvis Costello in “Outside of Town” and the 70s approach to his cover of “Wichita Lineman” (one particularly angsty passage sounds like vintage Moody Blues). More and more voices pop out of the record as it presses on — this San Fran-based world-traveler groks the advantages of sounding muddy-crazy, so there’s a hillbilly edge in here reminiscent of Deer Tick in the more acoustic numbers and Kings of Leon elsewhere, but wait, he gets kind of Roy Orbison-vs-Robert Plant-ish on “Getting Out,” and then it’s Mick on twangy stompy closer “Long Long Way Back Home.” The upshot, then, of all this is that Manousos’s voice is more a pastiche of familiarity than a wholly unique sound, but there’s certainly room in the music world for a Kings of Leon gone madly pop-melodic, which is the general gist.
Grade: A- [street date: 4/6/10]
Toadies, Feeler (Kirtland Records)
2nd album in 2 years from the Fort Worth post-grunge band who invented the radio hit “Possum Kingdom” with its “do you wanna die” chorus (now an integral cog of Guitar Hero II). The band was broken up for several years when bassist Lisa Umbarger went off to raise dogs and get all Dali Lama, not that one could blame her after they suffered the humiliation of Interscope Records telling them that a lot of the material from the original 2001-era Feeler sessions sucked. That’s probably more than you need to know to enjoy this LP, but it’s helpful background being that there’s very little about this album that would persuade one to think of it as something that wouldn’t have worked back in 2001 as a typical edgily hip Interscope product. There’s a lot of commercial post-punkiness here, plenty that’s ear-grabby but not annoying (a Tool-inspired break on “Suck Magic,” Soundgarden-like roaring on “Joey Let’s Go”). It’s a different world, though, post-9/11, and because of that one could almost see this as — I dunno, quaint. Good hard bar-rock (with a quirky enough edge, yadda yadda) is over, but don’t let that stop you from picking this up.
Grade: B+ [street date: 8/17/10]
Remaindermen, Remaindermen (Nowhere Records)
Remaindermen’s rather nice collection of college-radio grooves — some of which border on prog, if you want to get pedantic — would have resonated with me a lot more if they’d left “White Lodge” off this EP, only because I believe that a ban on both xylophone and cello is way overdue in “alternative” rock. That said, this Chicago fivesome (who used to be called Trio In Stereo) could be hugely appealing to wine-gulping cube-droids who look to Canada for their rebellion — though touted as a psychedelic band, Remaindermen’s softly tweeing French Kicks-style vocals evoke Win Butler in a romantic mood, and there are quasi-U2 grooves that Broken Social Scene wouldn’t throw out of bed. Regardless, there’s really no filler here (which is, yes, an essential characteristic of EPs), and if pressed I’d obviously sum this up as French Kicks after a Minus The Bear bender.
Grade: B [street date: 4/6/10]
The Russians, Crashing the Party (Moontower Recordings)
One (and the most common) way to categorize the output of Boston-area jack-of-all-tradesman Scott Janovitz is Beatles meets Flaming Lips. I’m not sure Janovitz is real big into Flaming Lips, though; he and his band (actually a series of 15 different guest spots from locals who’ve played with the likes of The Figgs and Juliana Hatfield) make quasi-pop in a broad but always agreeable palette of pastels, so although their budget is probably markedly smaller, this belongs in the gray area of psychedelic-ambient AOR-bubblegum inhabited by Here We Go Magic and Winston Giles (am I still the only human on earth who knows about Winston Giles?). The bolded bullet on Janovitz’ resume is a stint in Graham Parker’s band, but, just so you know, there’s no shuffley bar-rock here, just pop vibe that can get a little Gang of Four on the hard edge but mainly cloisters in a no-nonsense Brit-pop dream world adorned with ambient-techno. Opener “The Record’s Over” channels George Harrison, and then you’re in territory pioneered by Norman Greenbaum (“Not So Loud,” which would have been a more apropos title for the album, come to think of it), and then it’s Oasis on Rohypnol for “Talking to Yourself.” The appeal and potential is obvious, but this angle just hasn’t clicked with John Q. Public thus far (perhaps because it speaks so succinctly to genuine artistic freedom, that old menace).
Grade: B [street date: 7/13/10]
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