Farewell Drifters, Echo Boom (Crash Avenue Records)
With the help of a against-the-Nashville-grain producer Neilson Hubbard, this Kentucky fivesome are, as advertised, new-and-improved relative to their first LP Yellow Tag Mondays. Obvious clean-teens, the record purports to be an homage to their parents’ generation of 60s/70s music, but this sort of uppity bluegrass is more native to Mumford and Sons if not as speedy — there’s oldschool reverb on the handclap-synchopated Peter Paul and Mary-style chill-rocker “We Go Together,” if that helps. Gone from the first album are the Statler Brothers harmonies, replaced by a more tight, modern-sounding vocal framework skipping over the mandolin-woven pick-n-grinning. Some rag like American Songwriter, I forget which, liked their stuff enough to give it thumbs up, a deserving judo that brings up the quickly aging subject of blue-grass rebirth posing a threat to the NASCAR-country dog-crap that’s been the go-to vibe for C&W for too long now. A little bit of darkness, swampiness or glitch wouldn’t hurt, but that’s just me giving them a tip about broader audiences and such; not every kid is wearing a promise ring these days.
Grade: A- [Release Date: 6/7/11]
Brontosaurus, Cold Comes to Claim [EP] (self-released)
This smarmy experimental effort sews together patches of swamp-goth, gloom-prog, chamber-pop and baroque, covers it with un-pro, barely tolerable Ben Gibbard-influenced vocals that make it seem a lot less earnest of an effort than it may be, and sort of wanders around like a stoned college kid at a jock bar trying to spook himself with various quiet-loud-quiet Tom Waits-isms. Although there’s some serious orchestration on here, it fails to sell me that it wants to do anything more than get laid by the table of google-eyed chicks, or worse, sit in its room laughing about “Hey, someone else actually reviewed our piece of crap EP and graded it a C-minus even though it deserves an F for all the real intelligence we put into it! Let’s celebrate by buzzing some street bums in dad’s Mercedes!”
Grade: C- [Release Date: 6/14/11]
Army of the Universe, Mother Ignorance (Metropolis Records)
The endless dichotomy in the goth-metal world continues, with most bands (are we still supposed to call one-man and two-man operations ‘bands’?) offering catchy but disposable tunes and the rest sacrificing melody at the altar of whiz-bang android noise. This Italian duo lean more toward the latter, even if their next-gen cyber-dance sound can be fascinating; the songs are too contrived to ever get them off the B list but it’s nice to know they’re out there. They know what good tunes are supposed to sound like, don’t get me wrong (there’s a cover of Bjork’s “Army of Me” on here), but the acid test is dispensing with the ProTools plug-ins for 5 seconds, chilling it down a hair and seeing what melodies the singer can concoct. Toward this, “Resin” ambles along like a Volkswagen-sized spider but eventually offers nothing more than a microwaving of the chorus from Gravity Kilss’s “Guilty,” so that settles that.
Grade: B- [Release Date: 5/24/11]
Portrait, Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae (Metal Blade Records)
The words “Sweden” and “metal” in the same sentence of a review usually indicate speed, Beelzebub, white makeup, that kind of thing. Even worse, sometimes it means the band standing trial is a bunch of simpletons who have a fave Priest/Maiden tune they hope people have forgotten about and they’re shoving it up everyone’s nose without any sort of plan B, ie something original-sounding. This quintet has neither of these problems, tempering their not-hideously-obvious Maiden influences with singer Per Karlsson’s Paul Stanley dead-ringing. The production is way oldschool, like Metal Church’s first album and stuff; obviously the thing cost exactly $5000 to make in an analog studio with no laptop stuff, just like the old days, so this is a classic in every sense of the term, not least of which musically, ghouling up the holy-crap-octane-level of Priest’s Defender of the Faith. They’re big mouths too, having sort-of declared war against death metal, a soft target anywhere but within the genre they’re hoping to dent, so they’ve got their work cut out, leaving as their biggest weakness a curveball tune that evinces a sense of humor.
Grade: A [Release Date: 5/10/11]
The Bebop Trio, The Bebop Trio (Creative Nation Music)
The most casual reader of this column identifies me as a non-fan of clarinetists. Did you know Alan Greenspan, the insane Ayn Rand devotee who almost single-handedly destroyed the US economy, played clarinet? It’s an odd quirk of fate that I even tore off the shrinkwrap of this one, and trust me when I say that I was neither bug-eyed nor slobbering as I did. But surprise waited, even past the fact that the clarinet will forever have a place in oldschool bebop, which this is; relics from semi-obscure fossils like Elmo Hope and Herbie Nichols form the basis for these jam sessions, characterized by a constant teasing interplay between clarinetist Alec Spiegelman and pianist Lefteris Kordis, the latter of whom brings Greek wedding-band experience to the fore here. Their jibber-jabbering is constant, incessant and world-class, from the band’s own stuff to their reverent, almost ghostly stab at Duke Ellington’s “Zurzday.”
Grade: A+ [Release Date: 5/10/11]
Young Widows, In and Out of Youth and Lightness (Temporary Residence Records)
This Lousiville noise-rock trio sound like a tank-led mop-up operation during wartime, depressing drone punctuated by metallic guitar stompings. They’re in line with the Temporary Residence stable insofar as comprising a dark yin to the moderately more agreeable yan of Explosions in the Sky, but this could have fit just fine in the Mute Records catalog circa 2008 — picture Liars as a more drone-centric band. It’s very new-jack, is what I’m saying, in spite of industrial memes that go all the way back to EinstÃ¼rzende Neubauten, controlled assaults that sound disheveled but not cheap (the vocal qualities of “Lean on the Ghost” have a hazy similarity to Alice n Chains). You’d catalog this somewhere between Neurosis and Ministry, near Cult of Luna but toward the more listenable side, a lot of anger but not hobbled by over-the-top forced-interest in ringouts and whatever other silly Sabbath-esque metal-du-jour might chum out to stroke Pitchfork’s fur this week.
Grade: A- [Release Date: 4/12/11]
Tim Larson and The Owner/Operators, A New Deal (American Pharaoh Records)
“Survival is the new American dream,” sings Larson on “Own to Rent,” the bummed-down rocker that opens this LP, and even the most ADD-afflicted cynic has to stop in the face of it. An asphalt worker in a past life and formerly of Irish band The Drovers, Larson does know first-hand the horrors of blue-collar-dom upon which his unadorned, unadventurous baritone concentrates for this collection, but it’s not at all outright Springsteen, more a pub/garage exercise with hits, misses and much in between. The production is the weakest selling point, with the backup band sounding like an afterthought under Larson’s voice’s too-loud status in the mix, and come on already, we’re seriously at a point where the middle class has to drop everything that isn’t the mass production of guillotines. But putting aside the notion that American citizens could ever tear themselves away from Grand Theft Auto long enough to take back all their birthrights, these are certainly heroic acts of wordplay, documenting citizens who’ve descended to living under bridges and all that stuff, and once Larson gets his hands on a producer who’ll do the band right, there’s always the possibility of an NPR Fresh Air prop or whatnot.
Grade: B [Release Date: 4/15/11]
Andrea Wood, Dhyana (self-released)
Usually the arrival of a CD from a white chick jazz singer with actress-level good looks elicits expectations of not much whatsoever, and oh my God, it’s a Sanskrit title. Thus it was with much surprise that I found myself falling over myself with positives to blabber about this debut LP from the DC native and graduate of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and oh my God, the original tunes don’t sound like posturing. Wood’s versatility is legion, moving from effortless Caribbean scat to torch to blues-fused bop, but above even that she’s a smart captain on board this oldschool ship, demonstrating a wonderful grasp on how to make a record that allows you to close your eyes and picture yourself in a steamy, warm-hearted, very foreign club, this propelled maybe by her studies in Jamaica, where she worked with Fab Five, or perhaps by her work with Afrikan Rhapsody. One thing I really like is the production, which is more interested in the actual feel of a lounge and not the sound of every chain on the snare. Absolutely great from start to end.
Grade: A [Release Date: 3/29/11]
MystÃ©fy, Me (Silversonic Records)
I was prepared to rain the wrath of God on this LP for lots of reasons. For one, this is an obviously upper-crust-coddled German lady who lives in Canada (it really couldn’t get more hedge-your-bets-bohemian than that, let’s face it). Two, she gave herself a pretty stuffy mononym, and three, her last album, despite its soundtrack cameos on Ugly Betty, was a tour de force of off-key 40s-torch singing that presented critics with an easy tackling dummy. With all this said (oh, she’s also disjointedly photogenic, looking hot half the time and like your worst tranny butterface the other) (oh, also, the album is titled Me) I can’t really throw this new album out of bed. She’s doubled-down on the Billie Holiday steez, her sourball Maria Muldaur/Toni Tennille likenesses sticking to the low end and staying in key for most of the time, making for some really great lounge-jazz at times, even if the aspirations are never lofty. Keeping in mind these are original tunes, she gets a free pass for blowing the vocal experiment she attempts in “Sisters in Spirit” — she’s got guts for sure, which counts for a lot.
Grade: B+ [Release Date: 3/4/11]
Brulee, New Beginnings (CDBY Records)
Unadventurous cocktail-jazz sung impeccably by 3-octave-ranging newcomer Julie Weiner with occasional vocal spots from pianist Doug Onstadt. I like that Weiner isn’t afraid to walk the wire, even with such clinical, stale production; within these dishwasher-safe by-the-book tinklings she wrings out her lungs on a few long-held high notes, scats without sounding like she’s taking an exam, and even flouts her French vocab in the original “Si C’est Un Oui.” Onstadt’s low-end tenor works nicely to break up Weiner’s stretches of clean-honky PBS-kids-programming-ready vanilla-ness, which can get a tad cloying. I’m being overly picky toward this act, I’ll admit, but I’m always about evolution — honestly, if I ruled the world, every non-Amy Winehouse jazz act would be locked up in a room with a tech-head and his Ableton until unique results came out of it.
Grade: B- [Release Date: 1/25/11]
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