Runner Runner, Runner Runner (Capitol Records/CE Music)
More emo lemmings for the pile, this bunch brought to you by CE Music, a new tentacle of David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants schlocktopus. Apparently Letterman’s drop in viewership (owing to the much better content being made available by Colbert, Hulu, and anything else that isn’t a Nerfball interview of Jennifer Aniston) led Dave’s overpaid marketing-droid army to believe the world is in desperate need of yet another Jonas Brothers clone boasting yet another polite, repressed singer who dreams of celebrating his girlfriend’s 21st birthday by taking her to Vegas to get married (“21”). Now that’s something all recent high school grads can aspire to, if they’re one of the 10 or so kids remaining in the country who get enough hours at Panera Bread to escape living with their parents.
But who are we kidding. This music — all of it microwaved leftovers from Hoobastank, et al — isn’t aimed at kids old enough to make terrible spur-of-the-moment adult decisions, it’s for teenyboppers who can text “OMG” at warp speed, that bizarre demographic that can actually detect the tiny micro-nuances that separate one cookie-cut dingbat boyband from another. All the power to them, as I cannot whatsoever.
Grade: C- [Release Date: 9/28/10]
ARP, The Soft Wave (Smalltown Supersound Records)
Avant krautrock ambience resulting from Alexis Georgopolis’s leaving San Francisco outfit Tussle and moving to New York, where, by the way, he’s found some measure of success in the mixed-art arena. These vocal-less, eerie, understated pieces are full of subtlety, created with older-sounding synth lines as bases of operation, from which sprout lightly dissonant noises, sub-hoover, hearing-test patterns and various species of glitch. With that out of the way, as a public service I’m going to assume you’re (and I wouldn’t blame you for) hoping to be spared further deconstructo-art-fart babbling and awaiting simple layman’s terms. Ahem. This stuff provides the same level of entertainment as watching saltwater taffy being pulled by one of those big stainless-steel gizmos — it does its thing while your brain does its own, accepting or rejecting the patterns and (I did mention subtlety, right?) shifts of the compositions, and make no mistake that this isn’t self-indulgent nonsense but a set of concise, intricate patterns. Open-mindedness helps here, as in life.
Grade: A- [Release Date: 9/28/10]
Combichrist, Making Monsters (Metropolis Records)
The promise of Andy LaPlegua’s second Combichrist full-length Everybody Hates You has still not come to full fruition, and if LaPlegua continues mass-producing hard-goth tunes from this same mold again and again, anyone with two brain cells to rub together is going to head for the exits soon. But that’s the bad news. The good news is he’s holding down the industrial-jackboot fort pretty much all on his own nowadays (okay, there’s Hanzel und Gretyl, and… okay, at least it can be said he’s made Rammstein, who abdicated the throne several years ago, totally irrelevant), stubbornly clinging to a formula of death-metal vocals and clangy Terminator grind fired through a laser of hate for anyone with a uterus. As I’ve said, though, the current problem stems from lack of variety; in much of EHY (we won’t even mention Jim Thirlwell’s devastatingly heavy serial-killer-techno project Wiseblood from, jeez, look at the time, 1987) hoover sounds and woofer-overload were only two components of the plan, unlike this, which feels like it was the result of LaPlegua feeding a few misogynistic sentiments into a randomizer.
Grade: B- [Release Date: 9/28/10]
Electric Six, Zodiac (Metropolis Records)
OK, I think I’ve finally got it this time. How about: Nick Cave taking over Scissor Sisters? Rocky Horror vs Bee Gees? Whatever — the revolving-door Detroit crew is pretty jacked on this album, with singer Dick Valentine going harder-faster at his Dr. Frankenfurter roar than ever before, rhyming “druids” with “Boston Bruins” and things like this during the act of wringing his now-familiar Weird Al-style wordplay for maximum yucks. The last time they did a cover tune was “Radio Ga Ga” in 2005, so lost time is made up for with a “Rubberband Man” that summons Power Station on black beauties.
Grade: B [Release Date: 9/28/10]
The Sleeping, The Big Deep (Victory Records)
By default and curse of fate, this Long Island power-pop is recently most famously identified as an opener for Taking Back Sunday, and they’ve recently been, or will soon be, on the road with Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. But with a Pennywise-minded rawness bolted to an idea of Snow Patrol on bennies, this (albeit dweeby looking) quintet isn’t a bunch of nose-holding emo gimps at all. Some nice noise experimentation (the coda of “Beautiful Gloom”) underscores the almost Tool-ish open-mindedness of the band, and although they don’t have the well-oiled sonic overdrive of Linkin Park, they’re on that sort of track, if in a less presumptuous way. And blah blah blah — what we’re talking about here is next-gen power-pop stuff compatible with PM Today, an unpretentious young band that might perhaps someday be capable of surviving a few rounds with Minus the Bear.
Grade: A- [Release Date: 9/28/10]
Jed Davis, The Cutting Room Floor (Eschatone Records)
Rumpled New York session-fixture Jed Davis wrote “The Bowery Electric,” the heartfelt tribute song that brought Tommy, Marky and CJ Ramone together in the studio in memory of Joey Ramone in 2001. Being a session guy, his keyboards are naturally in constant flux; he’s dabbled in electroclash and punk and worked his own stuff with Steve Albini.
Keeping all the above in mind, remember also that he’s a keyboard guy who’s done a little theater writing, so when I say his latest effort sounds like Andy Dick doing an impression of Elvis Costello doing an impression of Elton John, it shouldn’t be that much of an M. Night Shyamalan moment for you — punks, even relevant ones, get old too, and truth will out. There are grabby melodies, off-Broadway bombast, and shtick (much of it unintentional, most likely), all in a zone that might rope in fans of both Tom Waits and Nick Cave, ie one man finding his soul against the backdrop of lower Manhattan, nothing to see here, folks, keep moving.
Grade: B+ [Release Date: 9/21/10]
Swans, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (Young God Records)
You know — or should know — Swans, the legendary no-wave drone act whose revolving-door members have been involved in the most vituperative deconstructionist projects in rock history, including of course this band itself. Band boss Michael Gira has resurrected Swans ostensibly to depart from his current outlet, Angels of Light, whose sound is in general so much like this that I’m left with little doubt this reunion was more a business decision than any throwdown against Angels. Consider also that he runs Young God Records, and that the music biz is as screwed as any other racket out there, and well, do the math. That’s not to infer that there’s anything wrong here; the signal-to-noise leads me to state without reservation that I wouldn’t care if Gira were going to toss all this album’s proceeds at the “Sarah Palin For Fascist Demagogue 2012” campaign. There are some repetitive industrial beatings that are so devastating as to be beyond horror-soundtrack — “You F–king People Make Me Sick” is a cruel, delicious assault — and Gira’s voice is as Iggy-as-reasoned-social-critic as ever. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely for everyone else.
Grade: A+ [Release Date: 9/21/10]
Taylor Eigsti, Daylight at Midnight (Concord Jazz Records)
The 3rd LP for this New York pianist/leader on the vaunted Concord label focuses mainly on a well-explored but always welcome sound: small fusion-leaning dinnertime combo at the end of the world. Like so many 20something bandleaders, however, he disagrees with the status quo apprioach of covering 50-year-old show tunes. His answer involves covering stuff from Coldplay (a “Daylight” that floats a mathematical coolness far beyond its original fractal), Feist (Sade-soundalike newcomer Becca Stevens sings “The Water” and couldn’t be a more appropriate fit for it), Rufus Wainwright (“The Art Teacher,” in which Eigsti’s acoustic piano sounds ironically Brubeck-ish) and Nick Drake (emotional rollercoaster “Pink Moon,” in a strummy showcase for guitarist Julian Lange). Another vehicle for Stevens — she gets 5 tunes altogether — is Imogen Heap’s “Little Bird,” wherein Eigsti barks and wiggles along with a very busy Fender Rhodes.
Grade: A [Release Date: 9/21/10]
How To Dress Well, Love Remains (Lefse Records)
Murmuring unintelligible 70s-soul falsetto melodies against a backdrop of bad-radio-reception indie-techno loopage isn’t exactly the fast track to mainstream success. Sure, it’s comforting to know it’s out there, sort of, like knowing there are tornadoes going on in some backwater Southern town and not on your street. And oi there, rumpled rich kids who can’t center your daddy-hating angst for five friggin seconds, you’re nowadays freer than ever to put whatever you want on a CD for whatever label will have you (translation: Your Own Bank Account Record Co. Inc.) — harmonizing cow farts if you think it’s important, which, come to think of it, would actually be a lot less depressing than this desolate swill. But really, once the Pitchfork ponces are done licking your PF Flyers, it’s only a matter of time until you run into a jerk like me, whose “ideas” just aren’t as self-mutilating as yours. I do not like your no-fi minor-chord-fixated junk, Sam I Am. I will throw it in this can.
Grade: D+ [Release Date: 9/21/10]
The Pipettes, Earth vs The Pipettes (Fortuna Pop Records)
In her (decreasingly effective) efforts to be clever, Lady Gaga has left the door open for any old chick band to walk right in and position themselves as a simple, real-deal ABBA bearing no Ting Tings terror and less Scissor Sisters Meatloaf-ness; something sugar-syrupy but with a visible-enough DJ-era stamp to avoid being written off as an ABBA wannabe. This 2-girl-fronted 6-piece could take it all, I’m serious, or, at the very least, spearhead another Brit invasion. It’s rare that outright theft is a sign of strength, but the wanton ripoff of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” in leadoff track “Call Me” is as clear a call-out as you could ever hear, and from there it’s a relentless series of Giorgio Moroder-tinged ABBA-pop, 60s-girl-group, and anything that could possibly slip into the narrow space between. The only obstacle I could foresee preventing this from world takeover is that there’s no unlistenable filler in it.
Grade: A+ [Release Date: 11/16/10]
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