Miracle Parade, Hark and Other Lost Transmissions (Little Record Company)
It could be said that this surf-Americana-rock solo project from Everyday Visuals frontman Christopher Pappas mimics the effect of putting CDs from Bright Eyes, Glasvegas and Snow Patrol in the stereo and hitting Randomize. Owing to the predominance of it, I get the feeling Pappas most prefers doing bummer-busker stuff, strumming and angsting away at Conor Oberst posturing, but by the same token he does possess great intuition toward what makes for good modern radio rock, thus he can’t be blamed for hipstering-up old Eagles vibe (“Sweet Tooth”) and pandering to middle-speed folkies (the Americana-tinged “When It’s Your Time”). “Lost At Sea” baffled me at first, with its too-bright shoegaze guitars, but it does ultimately point to Pappas’s having a variety of interests and a lack of concern about what the bovine neo-hippy Bonnaroo crowd will make of him.
Grade: A+ [Release Date: 6/7/11]
Mia Doi Todd, Cosmic Ocean Ship (City Zen Records)
There’s a certain kind of New Ager who’d dig Mia Doi Todd, whose voice is a cross between Annie Lennox and Joan Baez. And then there’s folks like me, who don’t lose sleep over not having any new music that sounds like the singer is battling tooth and nail just to stay in key. Pleasant and chilly as this stuff is (think “True” by Spandau Ballet reinterpreted for yoga class, lots of bink… bink… incidental jazz chords), Todd needs to cease and desist even attempting trills until she truly understands what trills actually are in the first place, two alternating adjacent notes of the same key hit back and forth repeatedly and on-key. Her lyrics, inspired by the forest, beach, exotic tourist traps and blah blah blah, are nice and stuff, but cripes man, anyone’s mom could sing like this — maybe it ain’t quite as bad as South Park making fun of New Agers, but I personally will never listen to this CD again. But again, those two ears are yours to abuse as you see fit.
Grade: B- [Release Date: 5/17/11]
Hate Eternal, Phoenix Amongst the Ashes (Metal Blade Records)
Although sporting much better production than they’re used to, this Florida death metal outfit doesn’t need it as much as bands like Nile do. Riff-wise, this is quite experimental in a sense, with guitarist/frontman Erik Rutan trying to find the longest route between two adjacent notes in a (heavy-ass) scale, sort of like Meshuggah in a roundabout way, but meanwhile it’s far less doomy. I more or less assume Rutan’s chromatic axe meanderings are modal in one way or another, but at first listen (which is really about all I can handle when this type of band spends its time puffing out its chest with 64th notes instead of trying to foment unease through actual melody) I can’t really say for sure — whereas Nile has the obvious Egyptian nonsense to rely on, this just sounds like hero worship of old-schoolers, as if this genre is in short supply of that.
Grade: B- [Release Date: 5/10/11]
Farewell Continental, Hey Hey Pioneers (Paper+Plastic Records)
This Minneapolis alt-rock quintet have an embarrassment of riches in that they can sound exactly like many popular acts of both the present and the not-crazily-distant past, such as first-album OK Go, Snow Patrol, Killers and stuff, not to mention singer/keys chick Kari Gray’s gold-medal-level karaoke of Dolores O’Riordan. There’s a dark side to that, of course, but I don’t have the time to investigate whether or not they’re a copy band and thus bust them as worthless magpies. Even if they are, though, the stuff on this record doesn’t appear to be half-cocked microwaving, it actually sounds melodically original, so the sky’s the limit, really, if they keep up the great songwriting and decide once and for all which vocalist they want at the front, Gray’s Cranberries shtick or the cookie-cutter boyband stylings of guitarist Justin Pierre. Not that either one tops the other — they both have radio-quality voices — but it’s a cold vicious boogeyman of a world out there, overly fond of keeping its pop culture simple.
Grade: A- [Release Date: 5/10/11]
Orchestre National de Jazz, Shut Up and Dance (Bee Jazz Records)
From the title you might deduce either A) weirdo indie techno, or B) epic hipness fail by old dudes. Actually it’s neither, this large-scale prog-jazz project; it could be more rightly assumed that the word ”dance” really means “play” in this context, as the scope of these ten mini-concertos allows for some cutting loose by this jazz orchestra, a project backed by France’s Ministry of Culture (do we even have something like that in the US?). Noises are allowed, so there are circuit-bendings and organic glitches, such as a ping pong ball dropped into piano wires. Overall the feel is proggy, a la John McLaughlin, Weather Report, etc., although percussion plays a major role (“Racing Heart, Heart Racing” is a bizarre sort of careering zydeco) and the curve balls tend to get a lot of English on them (the coda of “Flying Dream” finds the full-blown horn section cooking up something out of a 60s action TV drama).
Grade: A [Release Date: 4/26/11]
The Hit Back, Who Are These Weird Old Kids (Sidedown Audio)
Mixed bag, thy name is The Hit Back. At the start this DIY album behaves like most of your basic quirk-electropop records, endlessly inviting, understated electro-twee in the manner of Here We Go Magic’s more subtle material, stuff that’s considered electro-folk for lack of a more imaginative term; it’s simply very agreeable, very, you know, pleasant. These guys have hung out a Kings of Convenience franchise shingle to some extent, also, hence there’s softer, okay, electro-folk. Moving forward there are disagreeable moments made of things that don’t fit if you’d hoped to throw this thing on for background steez, for instance the unnecessarily loud Figurine-doing-shoegaze non sequitur “Afternoon.” I’m all for small-potatoes producers using everything at their disposal to make interesting things, but am I the only one getting fed up with having friendly chillout records suddenly remind you that there’s danger at every goddamned corner, and the terrorists are coming, and blah blah blah screeeech?
Grade: B- [Release Date: 4/26/11]
Mike Gibbons, Marigolds: The Bangkok Sessions (self-released)
Sounding like a more controlled Conor Oberst, Gibbons often comes off a bit loud over this strummy Americana-rock, but the tunes themselves make up for any questions about the mixing levels. Perhaps one reason his lines are so adamant is a psychic need to be heard over the Red Shirt violence going on in Bangkok, where this album was recorded; he apparently had to change his jogging route due to warnings of sniper fire on civilians. Oddly enough, his lyrics gravitate to the inner rather than outer, focusing on guilt, zen, things like this, but either way, after sitting through this entire LP, I can honestly say I haven’t met a Gibbons tune I didn’t like, all of them what you’d hear from a more straightforward and less depressing Band of Horses.
Grade: A- [Release Date: 4/12/11]
Little Tybee, Humorous to Bees (Paper Garden Records)
Like an airier, less in-your-face James Blunt, singer Brock Scott leads this alt-folk quintet into a sound that evokes angels dancing on the head of a pin, tempering progressive, complicated statements with chill mix levels in a combination that might best be described as Vampire Weekend vs Blind Melon. A lot of sucky bands attempt to be like this, but it takes a rare panache to pull it off, which this crew does easily, albeit with the help of over a dozen of their local Atlanta compatriots. Fiddle/piano parts give way to jam grooves that become rockouts — hayloft-indie with lots of brains in constant flux, with, most thankfully of all, no out-of-the-blue cacophony.
Grade: A [Release Date: 4/5/11]
Curtis Macdonald, Community Immunity (Greenleaf Music)
With an overabundance of alto-sax-player competition in the jazz world, Macdonald knows he has to come out of the gates wailing in this debut LP. The title track opens things in progressive dinner-jazz fashion, Macdonald and pianist David Virelles moving through its complicated, well-written melodies with aplomb. Wonky weirdness is important in this space, as anyone who’s ever heard the masters know, thus there’s a floaty-wobbly line that goes on for a bit in “Childhood Sympathy,” an otherwise slow-mover built for reflective insulation. More weirdness is found on “Figmentum II,” this time from visiting guitarist Travis Reuter, who plinks out some atonal shtick that isn’t all that bothersome. Overall an excellent example of sedate nu-bop, which one would expect from a Canadian (Macdonald is Brooklynian by way of Alberta).
Grade: A [Release Date: 4/5/11]
Nasar Abadey & Supernova, Diamond in the Rough (CDBY Records)
The 2nd full-length from Williams/Roach-inspired jazz drummer Abadey isn’t a showcase for his drumming technique so much; what sticks out for me in that regard is a deep fetish for extended cymbal-splashing. His off-kilter, angular snare-shots go well enough with the (often Minus-like when it isn’t being, in general, 80s-throwback-ish) modal stuff on tap here, much of it improvised if I have any sort of intuition for this by now. My main quibble goes in tandem with the comment about his personal showcasing: Abadey was a bit too generous when it came down to the final mix, and he’s buried under the blorting, bleating atonal dust-devils tossed out by saxplayer Joe Ford, who most often comes off like a real talented dude running through warm-ups as opposed to working to cobble something listenable, but such is the nature of the improv beast, which is adamantly not my cup of morning Starbucks.
Grade: C+ [Release Date: 11/23/10]
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