Mambo Legends Orchestra, Ten Cuidao! Watch Out! (Zoho Music)
Being the remaining contingent of Tito Puente’s band, Mambo Legends Orchestra is essentially the Latin reply to today’s Count Basie Orchestra, aiming to preserve the vibrancy of 40s/50s core mambo and salsa — there’s no better band to do the job, obviously, than the one on this 2-disker. Frankie Vazquez’ heavy/slithery tenor is as authentic as you could hope to encounter in such a preservation project, his vocal on Hugo Gonzalez’ “Vamos Pa’l Guateque” just one of several barrio-authentic turns, a few heartfelt “Hey! Jose!” bromantic shout-outs thrown in to good effect. Like the recent Basie efforts, there’s a little too much empty digital space and antiseptic aftertaste that one doesn’t find on vinyl versions, but I suppose that’s a complaint you could lob at pretty much any genre that wasn’t invented yesterday. Whatever, if you like this genre, this is essential, no question.
Grade: A [Release Date: 9/13/11]
Jenn Mierau, Hush (Galactique Recordings)
Montreal-based Mierau has her google-eyed-chick moves down, but with so many google-eyed chicks around there’s little to do to set oneself apart from the pack but slow it down a little more and get more spacey, which she accomplishes in “Hushabye,” a series of half-whispered loops over backward-mask loops and all that stuff. Martina Topley-Bird shouldn’t worry too much in the here and now — Mierau’s strongest track here is a cover of Cure’s “Lovesong,” a move not exactly screaming originality from the mountaintop — but she has some formidable strengths, including classical piano training, a fetish for Rhodes (“Shine”), and a good grasp of what to do with wide-open spaces on trip-hop canvasses (the title track). Grown-up fans of Collide would be all up in this.
Grade: B [Release Date: 9/13/11]
Samiam, Trips (Hopeless Records)
The 8th album and 3rd Hopeless Records release from this Berkeley, CA punk crew finds them relaxed in their age but not hurting for slam-dunk oldschool emo melodies. Matter of fact, there are countless newer bands who would have made one of half these tunes into the showpiece track of their most recent albums (not that that’s saying much given the track record of bands like Good Charlotte and such, I suppose I should add). Anyway, think of a more Ramones-ish Thursday and that’s this, in terms of both songwriting and engineering, neither aspect of which is weighted down with overhead here. I could insert a pious tangent here about Green Day, unsung heroism, the gloriousness of ancient straight-edge, etc., but you know the drill there — if you’re just looking for a reason to take the plunge and buy this LP, there are plenty, all in the forms of solid, hook-ass songs here.
Grade: A [Release Date: 9/6/11]
Correatown, Pleiades (Another Room Recordings)
As a Californian, Angela Correa routinely winds up on TV and movie soundtracks (Ugly Betty et al, the vocal double for Darlene in Dewey Cox), which is something to envy unless you factor in the conformity that’s required to succeed in such pursuits. Her surf-dream-pop band’s first full-length (she’s done shoegazier solo stuff before) is Raveonettes without the skronk and without the deep dark teen angst, and also sans the sick fetish for Everly Brothers. Correa’s sleepy, zonked-out voice isn’t the least bit new, making this a dream-pop Ramen noodle kit, some strummy Americana guitars, accessible but not astounding hookage, skeletal production, half-hearted attempts at glitch. It’s a DIY effort on Correa’s part, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t a glorified demo for the producers of True Blood or whatnot — is this generation ever going to rebel against anything, or are you really fulfilled selling smartphones and listening to commercial jingles?
Grade: B- [Release Date: 8/24/11]
Forty Winks, Bow Wow (End Sounds)
Every 6 months or so some foreigner finds my eclectic, willy-nilly output and assumes I’d be super-psyched to receive a big-ass stack of random LPs from their country. Poland, Belarus, Singapore, whatever — they’re always big stacks, CD-case-inserts written in foreign languages all crimped into thin plastic sleeves to save on postage, like a crash-course in the mediocre music of the sender’s country. If I’ve learned anything out of it, it’s that almost no band based in a non-English-speaking country can compete with your basic everyday US/UK/Canada band, but there are exceptions, for instance Forty Winks, an Italian indie-rock band whose name is not, despite what you’re thinking, ironic. The effort here is patchwork-ish, one minute psychedelic skronk (“Beneath her Feet”), the next a musical mash-note to The Hives (“Way Out”), but it’s consistently loud throughout, as if they’d just discovered the distortion knob on their Peavey amps, precisely the scenario you’d want to hear in this case.
Grade: A [Release Date: 8/23/11]
Gothsicles, Industrialites & Magic (Wtii Records)
This Chicago duo-or-however-many-some invented Tosh.0 for the goth scene before there was a Tosh.0; they can be forgiven, then, I suppose, for fixating on old NES games and internet memes the way 12-year-old boys worship virus-riddled free-porn sites. Singer Brian DarkNES (that right there is an adorable little jab at Skinny Puppy, in case you’re new) sounds like Weird Al trying to mock Hanzel und Gretyl, his voice cracking as he yells his impotent geek-fetishes from the rooftops, whether the loops be 8-bit (“Save That Mermaid,” in which he discovers that the Goonies video game is difficult), disposable hardfloor (“Voicebox Botox”) or Front Line Assembly-esque trance (“My Guy Died”). So there you have it, cool techno and (honestly hilarious) jokes, its scope limited to the goth kids, whose collective sense of humor, as you may know, would lose most comedy-club battles to any given crew of accountants. And thus it is doomed, though certainly fun (and long, long overdue) while it lasts.
Grade: B+ [Release Date: 8/9/11]
Malefice, Awaken the Tides (Metal Blade Records)
Despite the fact that the words “awaken the tides” look like they came together by way of a heavy metal album title randomizer (I know, I know, by “tides” they probably mean “legions of downtrodden blue-collar dudes who’ve finally had enough of The Man’s oppression and are about to, um, I dunno, watch more Meet The Press to, you know, know more stuff, and stuff”), this British lineup has Britishness in its corner, meaning there are melodic, Iommi-style guitar solos and that certain urgent bombast, passages that make you think the tanks and troops are coming right around the corner. Dale Butler’s vocals are right out the Tom Araya outraged-yelling handbook, but wait, calm down, yes, there is Cookie Monster, are you crazy, you can’t have thrash metal without that absolutely groundbreaking sound — it just refuses to get old, doesn’t it? Some math stuff in there for people who hate their own ears, and even something for me, the one-note syncopated groove at the coda of “Dead in the Water” (I hate to let on that I can be kept endlessly entertained by shiny objects, but there you have it).
Grade: B+ [Release Date: 8/2/11]
Heart-Set Self-Destruct, Of Nightmares (Soundmine Musicworks)
This Chicago neo-hardrock 4-piece has a tough nut to crack, mainly because they do stuff correctly. They’re equal parts Gravity Kills (the on-the-phone-patch hollering part), Offspring (the singer’s a dead-ringer when in normal mode) and Avenged Sevenfold (the riff part), in other words they’re pretty much the perfect prescription for white anger-management kids who can’t deal with rap. But the budget bins are fully stocked forever with guys who apply logic to their outstanding music while meanwhile refusing to work on their knuckleball. No, not joke songs, who the hell needs any more of those, I’m talking (again) about things like samples, glitch, white-noise, Bavarian polka, I don’t care, just something to make the stuff stand out, a value-add. I sense a lot of intelligence here, however, and trust that they could weave something wacky into this stuff as long as the whole team’s on board.
Grade: B+ [Release Date: 7/17/11]
Obadiah Parker, The Siren and the Saint (self-released)
Famed for his apologetic, unplugged cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” Obadiah Parker is the adopted name of Phoenix busk-rocker Mat Weddle, who apparently popped in at the Howard Stern show, I’m assuming to talk about his addictions (now that Stern’s on pay-radio, isn’t it hilarious watching him squirm while trying to get Leno audiences and everyone else all caught up?). On his first full-length, Weddle’s got a Train-like backing band spouting shuffling, angular, Dave Mathews-ish faux-jazz, over which he croons/sighs in a vague cross between Robert Palmer and Amos Lee. What’s most amazing here is that it’s all DIY; the production makes it sound like Weddle couldn’t make a single move without the consent of such-and-so bloated New York AOR hack producer. Nothing wrong with the songs, either; apparently the guy simply has the ideal DNA for urban dinner-jazz-pop.
Grade: A [Release Date: 4/5/11]
Duda Lucena, Live (self-released)
With a pro PR effort breathing new life into its perceived relevance, Brazilian jazz guitarist Lucena’s late-2010 live collection (mainly comprised of Latin classics such as “Corcovado”) will reach many more ears, and deservedly so. This is further proof, not that any was needed, that Latin guys just cold own chill-guitar. Sublime almost to a fault, Lucena cooperates with pianist Gerald Gregory all through the set, never relying on dissonance for reality-checks (acoustic bassplayer Kevin Hamilton is the designated diversion, thrumming out technically profound and melodically explorative runs accompanied only by the barely-there brushes of drummer Quentin Baxter). The interpretations are quiet and romantic, speaking more to unique, oaken world tastes than ones geared to chill-combo, though both areas get plenty-enough pampering in this endlessly pleasurable record.
Grade: A [Release Date: 12/28/10]
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