Razer, Dark Devotion [expanded] (Blind Monkey Records)
Expanded version of of the Sony-propelled release from the melodic-nu-metal crew, who’ve opened for Judas Priest and whatnot in their native Phoenix. Like so many Metal Blade-level non-thrashers, there are tales of brushes with near-fame along their journey, in this case one of the guys touring as second-banana guitarist on such-and-so-guy-from-Mastodon’s overseas tour. They eventually roped in singer Chris Powers, whose Chris Cornell likeness has appeared on Guitar Hero, and blah blah blah, series of not-Ozzy-level connections, leaving our stage set for a real-world review of the final result. Proceeding logically, we must first ask how many bands might be named “Razer” or “Razorr” or “Razzer.” Answer: probably 65 million, the same as the number of years since an asteroid wasted all the dinosaurs. Next, how many minor-league metal bands out there have done a Zep cover (in this case “When the Levee Breaks,” which is as much a staple of polite culture nowadays as Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas”) and used a Hot Chocolate song or other disco-funk oldie as their “joke” tune? Answer: probably 22,000, same as the number of species of ants on the planet. But whatever; does Razer experiment with Egyptian modal scales, or put up the dough to fly in a bunch of didgeridoo-playing Aborigines to shake things up, or otherwise do anything to separate their interesting but ultimately same-same hard rock from the bunch of Megadeth-loving amateur teens down the block from you? Nope. So, like they say, next.
Grade: B- [Release Date: 7/19/11]
Hyperbubble, Drastic Cinematic (Bubblegum Records)
San Antonio’s response to Freezepop, Hyperbubble are possessed of a fetish for retro-80s synthpop, which, as a dead art, requires mass tonnage of hype to get any traction. Being from the tech mecca of Boston, Freezepop has always had the advantage, nowadays thriving in their design/video-game day-gigs while Hyperbubble does God knows what to put (pastel day-glo sparkly) bread on the table. They’re a pain in the neck every time they show up in my mailbox: is this a kiddie band, a joke band, etc., or what, and now this, which markets itself as some sort of “cinema” dingbattery; it literally took me 5 minutes to figure out this is a music CD and not some sort of annoying DVD music/art trip, because having totally forgotten about their previous LP Candy Apple Daydreams — the CD I thought was Teletubby kiddie music — Drastic Cinematic comes off as some sort of noir-ish ego-fest trying to shove some silly-ass idea of Culture I Need To Understand down my throat, like I don’t immerse myself in enough deconstructionist hatefulness as it is. Gahh, whatever, instead of their usual Ladytron-wannabe stuff, this time they’ve swiveled their 8-bit Korgs and Casios in the direction of soundtracking for, I dunno, 1980s B-horror films, tabling only 1 or 2 actual tunes in this unwelcome burst of retro-spookypants nonsense. Why am I even talking about this? Simple: because if you’re thinking of trying something like this, don’t.
Grade: C [Release Date: 6/30/11]
Gillian Welch, The Harrow & The Harvest (Acony Records)
First album in 8 years for the 43-year-old folkie, who became a more prominent strand of the genre’s fiber upon her production and song-slot on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. We’re looking at a step back in her progression after her getting stuck in an empty void of music she deemed good enough to record, and just point of order, in case you’re not sure, no, it’s not a positive sign when someone can’t come up with a measly 10-odd decent tunes in eight years. And so she and longtime crony Dave Rawlings have gone back to basics, away from the standard jam-band setup of her 2003 LP Soul Journey, back to her idea of basics, meaning a sparse but stout unpluggedness designed for her voice, which is what it would sound like if k.d. lang had a little Janis Joplin hoarseness. Fans who’ll gravitate to this Appalachian, country and blues fricassee mostly seem to like the lone-spotlight Neil Young vibe she proffers, and they’ll dig that the drum kit’s gone. That’s nice and all, but despite the sketchy production of the rockers on Soul Journey, it was more conducive to her ruggedness — either that or the songs on this one all sort of blow; literally nothing on this album grabbed my attention at first listen, which is sort of required in this setting.
Grade: C [Release Date: 6/28/11]
Grieves, Together/Apart (Rhymesayers Records)
Downtrodden hoodie-honky chill-rap of the quality familiar to Rhymesayers repeat customers. The Seattle-based 27-year-old isn’t in either the physical or lyrical weight class to fight his way through these ghetto survival issues, but he’s elegantly eloquent about them, curling his squishy-soft baritone around “Falling From You” when it’s time to get emo, playing the wizened Snoop when it’s time to flash through life-to-now, a blur of baseball cards, beers, double-shifts and shots at the indie-rap title (“Light Speed”). There’s dabbling in Britney-pop in “On the Rocks” and Marvin Gaye vibe used in album closer “Against the Bottom,” but there’s also a harsh psychedelic freakout of mashed rock sounds in “Speak Easy” — obviously the aim here is not to wow rhyme addicts but provide food for thought on the subway ride home. Toward all that, wheels are not reinvented, but at least he doesn’t call in reinforcements until a spot from Brother Ali in “Tragic.”
Grade: B [Release Date: 6/21/11]
The Chain Gang of 1974, Wayward Fire (Modern Art Records)
In a perfect, not-so-genre-gerrymandered 80s-revival world, this band would tour with goth-darlings Birthday Massacre, the bright keyboards and autumnal first-day-of-high-school angst of both bands duking it out for retro-supremacy. But as I alluded to, Denver’s Chain Gang of 1974 are more straightforward and less kitschy in their Talk Talk worship, which, in fairness, doesn’t really completely take control of this album until after a couple of Datarock/LCD Soundsystem/Justice formalities are out of the way in the first few songs. In other words, bandleader Kamtin Mohager does hedge his bets a little, applying his Tears For Fears baritone and wingnut falsetto to a few modern electro-rock things before going all-out Pretty in Pink. To his credit, though, there are some uniquely floaty synths and neo-trance sounds on all the tunes, making them a lot less disposable than they could have been, for example when “Taste of Heaven” robs Toad The Wet Sprocket in broad daylight (that sort of thing does happen a lot here). On paper, obviously, this is perfect for Gen X parents carting the kids around in the minivan, but your mileage may vary.
Grade: B [Release Date: 6/21/11]
High Fiddelity, Tell Me (self-released)
This jazz setup, led up by Munich-born violinist Natalia Brunke, could have been conducive to some exquisite creativity. Could have been. The major fail here is singer Marina Trost, whose workaday voice is as interchangeable as a muffler in a 1998 Buick, a warning from the get-go that there will be nothing more eventful here than some hilariously average lounge sounds. Brunke telegraphs her tedious motives as well, from “let’s see what this weirdy-beardy violin-gimmick will sound like on tape” (at the beginning of the title track) to “modal experiment! I’ll do a modal experiment!” (on torch ballad “Love Is All There Is”). The angular “Desperation” exhibits signs of life, but overall, damn, I just smell a vanity release from overeducated also-rans, fit for the most uninviting wine bistro you’ve ever visited.
Grade: C- [Release Date: 6/14/11]
The Dear Hunter, The Color Spectrum (Triple Crown Records)
Half the time, Boston-based Dear Hunter bandleader Casey Crescenzo has a voice that sounds like Julian Casablancas out of a pulltop can, but he can also do a passable Brandon Flowers. Given this, there’s obvious potential for making a permanent mark in show biz, at least for the next 15 minutes or so, and furthermore Manchester Orchestra helped out a little on this LP. But he’s a New England guy, having immigrated to Rhode Island from Boston, and hence prone to doing silly-ass egghead projects, for example this LP, “a collection of EPs” that apparently haven’t ever surfaced individually although their “highlights” are here. The problem? Cohesiveness, what else. It’s She Wants Revenge on “Filth and Squalor”, then Haujobb on “Deny It All,” and then “But There’s Wolves” futzes with a goth angle before turning on a dime to front like My Morning Jacket reinventing “Whole Lotta Love,” all of which leads to Band of Horses-like alt-folk — complete with dobro — on “Things That Hide Away,” segueing into the even more countrified “The Canopy.” Later still, “Trapdoor” muddies the water into complete opaqueness with a Strokes-as-blues-band angle. The songs are fine in their own rights, and it may have been artistically cathartic for Crescenzo to barf out these utterly strange-bedfellow tunes, but ahem, his whole band left prior to this album’s completion, a really, really smart career move on their part. Pick a genre, guy, it’s easy.
Grade: B- [Release Date: 6/14/11]
Sister, Hated (Metal Blade Records)
Sweden isn’t particularly famous for glam rock, not that those weird little frozen micro-countries in Europe won’t try anything for a laugh. So we have the band Sister, which I’m sure will never eventually run into any trademark name litigation ever, and they bill themselves as glammy sleaze-rock. Such it is, if you consider Skid Row the epitome of the genre as opposed to Motley Cure and such — this is more rooted in rebellion, less in porn chicks, more in speed metal, less in stripper-pole Flying V chug-chug. The singer’s rustbucket growl mostly evokes the dude from Savatage, which isn’t totally awful as a little raw-edge never hurt anybody; the riffing is standard but ear-catching, influenced quite a bit by Judas Priest, this all further evidenced in the brightly pinched blues-melodic guitar solos, and in fact the title track’s guitar solo sounds like editing-room-floor stuff from Priest’s “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll.” Most of the tunes involve fast grind from LA in the 80s, such as when “Too Bad for You” recalls Motley Crue’s “Red Hot.”
Grade: B [Release Date: 6/14/11]
Mike Prigodich, A Stitch In Time (Mexican Mocha Music)
I’ve said it before, but it does continue to be the case that one can almost never go wrong buying jazz albums for their cover art. Simple, streamlined, a wee bit oldschool while keeping one eye on an increasingly cybernetic world, the art and music itself evoke Weather Report in many ways. Which makes sense, being that Illinois pianist Prigodich has a Zawinul-like skew on both fusion and bread-and-butter bop in equal measure. Damian Erskine plays the Jaco part well, blowing doors with some impossible, fluttery fractals on “Spanish Swordfight” while his guitar counterpart Brandon Woody confines himself to complicated rhythms with only a few muted solos. “A Measure of Luck” is a commercially viable trifle right out of the 80s featuring a crypto-samba feel Ramsey Lewis wouldn’t have thrown out of bed during that period. Young broke musicians will be heartened to know that this project was paid for out of donations gathered through kickstarter.com.
Grade: A [Release Date: 5/2/11]
Gutbucket, Flock (Cuneiform Records)
Your upgrade from math-jazz-punk like this would involve buying bands like That Fucking Tank, but I suppose the utterly deconstructed sounds of real-live Brooklyn Knitting Factory avant-jazz kids will float enough people’s boats, sure. This crew is sax and stun-guitar over bass-drums, so you get Red Scare into Bosstones-ska bang on cue from the get-go (the tellingly titled “Fuck You and Your Hipster Tie”). We get it, dudes, you’re edgy and probably need to spend some time in the country, and while you’re there, kindly work on a few less predictable seques, oi?
Grade: B- [Release Date: 2/22/11]
Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.