Death in the Park, Death in the Park (End Sounds)
Alabama rockers aiming to bridge a few gaps between emo, rock, and punk, and occasionally succeeding, if mainly on the strength of trying many (closely related) trips on for size.   For reviewing purposes it’s simply a game of drawing a line from the song to the band it’s trying to sound like:   opener “Pitifully Exposed” is Queens Club, “Fallen” is Panic At the Disco, “Do You Want Me Now” redirects the frenzied hoarseness of The Used’s “Say Days Ago.”   This isn’t to say we have a bunch of ripped off songs here, just a paucity of focus, which admittedly is the mark of a debut album.   If there’s one common thread it’s singer Andy Jackson’s Steven Tyler-style swagger, a confident big-lunged looseness not usually found in this clone-infested genre.
Grade: B [Release Date: 9/14/10]

Chapin Sisters, Two (Lake Bottom Records)
It’d be more romantic if these 3 swamp-folk half-sisters were the subject of a triumphant Susan Boyle story of accidental discovery, but they’re the LA scions of Harry Chapin (two of them) and Wes Craven (the oddball).   Nevertheless, at least they sound like a trio of Appalachian Von Trapps who passed the time singing in the flowers in between hard farm chores.   Usually they’re like an unplugged Dixie Chicks with souls, but they can also pull off a good Wilson Phillips imitation, as evidenced in the Sarah-McLachlan-tinged “Boo Hoo.”   Two tones down the horror stuff just a tad from their 2008 LP Lake Bottom (though “Sweet Light”’s subject matter is obviously a grave) reaching more for pure emotion in the Patsy Cline-esque “I Can Feel,” but it’s obvious that the girls will be forever comfortable fronting any shtick they can cull from basic desperation and resignation (“Digging a Hole” explores the primal fear of being an individual in a screwed-up but predictable world).
Grade: A- [Release Date: 9/14/10]

The Acorn, No Ghost (Bella Union Records)
The Acorn is a Canadian quintet heavily influenced by Broken Social Scene (why do I hear jaws hitting floors worldwide), and are fronted by a Win Butler soundalike.   For hobbies, the band enjoys adding Wilco noises and backward masking to their faceless, marginally tuneful wimp-rock, and occasionally smuggle in well-worn Talking Heads moves (“No Ghost” borrows the percolation from “Same As It Ever Was”).   And there you have it, ladies and germs, The Acorn, yet another statement in wine-guzzler hayloft-indie, perfect for wine-tasting parties held in haylofts.   In other important news, my wife’s tomatoes were real late bloomers this year.
Grade: C+   [Release Date: 9/7/10]

The Morlocks, The Morlocks Play Chess (Popantipop Records)
Sloppy filthy blues-rock, heroin problems, oldschool tremolo on the guitar, a singer who did a dime in a Mexican prison for a drug scam gone wrong — exactly how are you supposed to outcool this LA band?   Singer Leighton Koizumi sounds like George Thorogood when he’s being nice and Al Jourgensen when he’s really trying to get his point across, and here he’s got a lot of history to help prop up that meaner side, a set of retired tunes from the Chess Records catalog.   The beauty part is that these guys don’t make like body-shop dweebs trying to bring out the beauty of these oldies; they’re more like American Pickers, taking the stuff as it is, rusted and run-down, and then bashing it with a sledgehammer for good measure.   One could easily imagine this Marlboro-puffing Halloween-rock backgrounding episodes of True Blood, from their blow-doors version of the Pulp Fiction-popularized “You Never Can Tell” to the Thorogood-beatdown “Who Do You Love.”
Grade: A [Release Date: 8/24/10]

Big Head Todd and The Monsters, Rocksteady (Big Records)
Summer 2010’s done, so I’m a bit late covering this one, not that it’d be bad form to want to bask in a little beach-tourist vibe when the leaves are orange/red/gone.   Now facing their third decade of incorporation, this Colorado crew remains among the best available bluesy alternatives for mandal-wearers who, for many good reasons, can’t stand Jimmy Buffett.   As always, on the whole the album’s simultaneously pretty and muddy — their “Beast of Burden” cover is palatable even if you don’t need to hear another sloppy Peavey-powered guitar mumbling that arpeggio again for the rest of your life.   The title track is a ska-spattered study in genial fake-jazz, guitarist/frontman Todd Park Mohr settling his delivery between Barenaked Ladies and Van Morrison; his cut-loose track is a cover of “Smokestack Lightning.”
Grade: A [Release Date: 7/20/10]

Trigger 10d, Trigger 10d (Wtii Records)
Suffice to say Illinois quintet Trigger 10d are like a cyberworked female Danzig.   Decking out oldschool razorblade-chick punk in edgy samplage is a trick you’d think would be old hat by now, but not a lot of it winds up on this desk, at least not of this caliber.   Sure, the too-loudly-mixed guitar bleeds all over the place, but overall it’s decent-enough tuneage comparable at times to Oakenfold’s “Faster Pussycat” (“Misplaced”) but mostly to latter-day Curve.   Singer Alicia Sotelo’s Motels-like soprano is lower than Toni Halliday’s, but that’s a good thing, being that the sound’s high-end is well-populated with synth debris whooshing and clanging together, which points again to Curve.   These guys are firmly grounded in industrial, though, and the whooshing and clanging goes through an Einstürzende Neubauten filter before it gets anywhere near the songs, so writing them off as mere clones is a disservice all around.   Mind, all of this noise and rock fury departs from their earlier work, which was trip-hop; another kudo in their favor, then, is that they’ve gone in a far more aggressive direction than one would ever expect.
Grade: A-   [Release Date: 6/29/10]

The Glenious, The Glenious Inner Planet (Blue Bamboo Music)
Led by bassplayer/composer Glen Ackerman, this moderately offbeat jazz project struts the abilities of the Houston jazz scene, particularly sax/clarinet guy Woody Witt, who flutters, struts and crashes all over the place in a superhuman effort to cohere Ackerman’s varied whims.   The stuff purports to revolve around a spaceship concept, which works in the context — opener “Blue Ronda a la Raad” quickly shifts from being a steamy Al Di Meola-style vehicle for Chris Cortez’ guitar to a thinly veiled sax-driven nick of the break from Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.”   It’s not an entirely crazy record at all, though, if you’ve heard avant stuff ever in your life.   There are Zappa-worshipping curveballs galore, yes — any modern Ed Wood would draft “Inner Planet” for soundtrack duty, and Ackerman looses some Pastorius outbursts (on “Potato Wagon” for example).   However, the lack of innovative synths — actually there are no artificial ingredients whatsoever — leaves this as simply a glimpse into throwback, albeit interesting, 80s fusion.
Grade: B   [Release Date: 6/28/10]

Jennifer Zarine, Fresh Made Cuppa Tea (self-released)
Like montage-backdrop for a vintage clothing shopping spree, New York singer Zarine focuses on 60s pop, setting it with unusual instrumentation (cello and accordion are rare sounds in resumé-style albums from jazz-diva-hopefuls) that lends it a certain otherworldliness.   She’s bold in the face of very little effect-age on her voice; the production puts very little between her voice and the listener, but her clarity and technique are spot-on in general.   That’s not too difficult in the context, however; in the main, her voice alternates between Brenda Lee brightness and basic showgirl hack, the only angle that’s common as dirt about this record, which runs through an imaginitive stab at “Paint It Black,” a childrens-entertainment version of the Kinks-written title track, and Zarine’s own new-age-ish original “Sleep.”
Grade: A-   [Release Date: 5/25/10]

Jonathan Butler, So Strong (Rendezvous Records)
Easiest way to break this down is to say that veteran jazz guitarist/singer/leader Butler is the Stevie Wonder of guitar.   No, he can see, what I’m saying is his vocal sound is similar, strong, upbeat and rubbery, and being that he’s a guitarist rather than a keys player, the chill-combo vibe is often redolent of WeatherScan background.   Untold “personal issues” plagued him last year, which can sometimes — actually always, if drugs aren’t involved — bring out the best in an artist, as here, with a great set of autumn-tinted chill that’s like a wool blanket for the heart.   Underlining his recent setbacks is a slow, reflective, soul-filled rip of “I Can See Clearly Now.” At 48, he’s aware that Ne-Yo and people like that are out there, so the album’s curveball “Factual” unites Nintendo-cheese, Marvin Gaye and nu-R&B.  
Grade: A- [Release Date: 5/11/10]

Mission Creeps, Dark Cells (Refractory Records)
Horrorpops, Rasputina, The Horrors, Zombina and the Skeletones — I will forever be indebted to eminently conceptual CDs that walk into my office, plop down in front of the keyboard and proceed to write themselves with no muss or fuss.   Arizona horrorpunkers Mission Creeps are the male version of Zombina, wishing they had had a shot at soundtracking The Munsters.   Unlike Zombina, though, who wants to be the Runaways on no budget, this strain of Halloween punk harmlessness is musically rooted in Bauhaus, Smiths and Sisters of Mercy; for the most part it feels like being in the edgiest record store of 1986, say New York Dolls after a Ritalin-fueled all-nighter locked up with Siouxsie albums.   Shtick this calls for and shtick it gives, from a cartoonish Boris Karloff imitation (in the Doors-tinted “Monster [Massive Return]”) to titles that speak entire movie scripts (“Nano Machines with Intent to Kill,” “Skull City Mine”).   Nicely done all around, production is appropriately SST-level budget.
Grade: A- [Release Date: 4/19/10]

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