Brite Futures, Dark Past (Turnout Records)
Jeez man, the way this album was described, I was expecting something that wasn’t completely mediocre — “Abba pop with chainsaws,” I think it was. Instead, we get the remains of Seattle band Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head worrying away at the too-optimistic sounds of Los Campesinos and all those crappy Bowery Ballroom bands from 2 or 3 years ago — oh, and nu-rave, too, remember that? And post-punk Kaiser Chiefs sports-bar-rock, presented simply because one of that band’s producers is here collecting a leisurely paycheck for re-murdering the Buzzcocks. If Abba-pop with chainsaws sounds like a K-Tel retrospective of 2008, then the head of the nail is hit with superhuman force here. Good friggin grief is this useless — lemme see your war face, okay, echo-boomers, or is a blank Skelanimal stare the best you can do?
Grade: D+ [Release Date: 11/1/11]
Camille Bloom and the Recovery, Never Out of Time (self-released)
I dunno, Scandal meets zzzzz, um, huh, something or other, and at some zzzzzz points there’s cello, like a bunch of shapeless 80s-pop B-sides had a polite outdoor Chardonnay-tasting and Perfect Circle were throwing Nerf balls at them from the bushes. Bloom, a Washington state native if I’m reading the random-factoids sheet correctly, has accumulated a Gibson guitars endorsement, some touch-up work on such-and-so cable TV show soundtracks, and a few other accolades that, in lockstep with the tuneage itself, make you just sort of sit and think, “My, what a wonderfully obedient songwriting person — I wonder if Lifetime needs some soundtracking done on Who Stole My Infant Daughter III.” Nothing spells mediocrity more legibly than when an utterly vanilla singer/songwriter finally does something expressive on their album of way-too-long songs and immediately destroys it with lyrics from a nursery rhyme (“You Still Fall Down”). And lose the skunk hair. And state your sexual orientation immediately for the public record, young lady.
Grade: C- [Release Date: 11/8/11]
Vince Mendoza, Nights on Earth (Horizontal Records)
Someone has to be responsible for the orchestral backgrounds provided to Sting and Bjork — wait, it’s this guy, who did an LP of originals with the London Symphony in 1997, titled Epiphany, and has since been busy working with the small-potatoes mentioned above. This time the composer swivels toward the jazz world, putting on an organically meandering clinic in Zawinul styles swashed here and there with Caribbean fetishes. Pattering and puttering along, the all-star guitars of John Abercrombie and others exchange casual niceties with sax players Bob Mintzer and Joe Lovano, forming the musical aura of a stray leaf caught in gentle but unpredictable winds. Nothing disagreeable or too edgy, but it’s a complicated listen, not mercurial but certainly flighty, a thing for neoclassic heads with a lot of downtime to figure out.
Grade: A [Release Date: 10/25/11]
Dark Loft, Dark Loft (self-released)
Comprised of big-deal sidemen who’ve been involved with everyone from Alicia Keys to The Drifters, this project makes arena-rock that should be palatable to Minus the Bear fans, which is not to say that there are that many curveballs here, but the band’s retro-ness does exhibit the notion of a plan embracing moderately modern conceits — I mean, I can’t say I’ve ever heard a cross between the come-to-think-of-it-closely-related Bread and Chris Isaak (“Osprey”), or Sgt Pepper-era drums bonding quite nicely with basic Radiohead ideas (“Willow Seeds”). The lead guitar bob-and-weaves on most of the tunes make you think of David Gilmour, a good match given the Dark Side of the Moon steez wafting out of “Sleeping With Bullets.” Aside from all that stuff, they’re equally capable of doling out 70s fusion (“Backlash”) and weird-beardy Bon Iver frostiness (“Lullaby”), both of which, despite how it may look, work in the context.
Grade: A [Release Date: 10/11/11]
Yellow Dubmarine, Abbey Dub (Goldlion Records)
Honky-reggae-ized Beatles tribute band from Maryland set up like a NOLA jazz octet. Beatles fans are universally despised creatures, still gobbling up anything to do with a band that broke up 40 years ago, so this is for them, as only they could find a cute one-drop family-barbecue version of “Octopus’s Garden” a worthwhile novelty to have in their bottomless collections. They songs are done with real reverence — a blow-doors solo to “Something” does stand out — so their local-band hackdom can be forgiven I suppose, not that every Beatles tribute of whatever sort didn’t come from the heart. Not everything here sticks strictly to reggae style (“Oh Darling” highlights the funk abilities of the horn guys), which gives the live show (obviously the real bread-and-butter function of this operation) some much-needed breathing room.
Grade: B [Release Date: 9/27/11]
Greenland is Melting, Where Were We (Paper + Plastick Records)
This Gainsville-based unplugged-punk unit would be a perfect warm-up for Mumford & Sons, from their banjo-banging hillbilly depravity to their raspy, drunken vocals, which reveal these fellers as heavy users of Kings of Leon (there are dead-on imitations of Caleb Followill, most prominently on “Always,” which will undoubtedly pose problems in the grand scheme of things). For the most part it’s banjo, fiddle, suggestions of poor dentistry, all with one eye toward mixing things up a little with Reel Big Fish. Along with this, though, is an odd flavor of Grateful Dead, a vanilla-pop sort of thing that helps a little to separate this band from the formidable scrum of contenders reading from the same rudimentary blueprint. I don’t believe there’s a lot of spare room for this type of approach in Bonnaroo land, not without a bit of glitch sampling or something else that might really brand them, so their workload is pretty deep.
Grade: C+ [Release Date: 9/27/11]
Pallers, The Sea of Memories (Labrador Records)
Johan AngergÃ¥rd may run Labrador Records, but this project, comprised of him as half of an electronica duo, isn’t a sloppy vanity release. I don’t know if I agree with other critics that this is all that “blissed out,” since after some shoegazey rinsing-down in opener “Another Heaven” the pair settles in to a series of sub-aquatic throbbings demarked by Pet Shop Boys style prettiness and prog-house chill. “Come Rain Come Sunshine,” for example, is precisely what PSB is doing these days, agreeable fractals underneath pie-in-the-sky twee baritone vocals. “Years Go Days Pass” is similarly airy/lofty but swirled in a rainy, sad void, like what Sigur Ros might do, covered in glitch, some Ovation open strings, and tambourine syncopation. “The Kiss” then proceeds to put the LP back on track nicely with yet more bedroom techno. All very euro, for sure, some grooves that M83, for example, could make real hay out of.
Grade: A [Release Date: 9/27/11]
Veda Rays, Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays (Alleged Records)
It’s nice when your average everyday rock band doesn’t just patch together some influences but actually demonstrates shared ground between sounds. These Brooklynites, when not time-sharing between Hives and Kaiser Chiefs, are shoegazers with purpose and obvious deep reserves of listening experience — perhaps the proudest achievement here is when they intersect the essences of Donovan and New Order on opening track “All Your Pretty Fates.” As the references above suggest, though, there’s much straightforwardness going on here: guitars, drums, a polite amount of anger, like Gang of Four with too much reverb (and better songs, if I may). There’s an industrial tinge to it, also, a post-something-or-other that convinces you they’re not a bunch of upper-middle-class dicks with hair and varying levels of daddy envy (that’s a really important thing, if you’re not sure).
Grade: A [Release Date: 9/20/11]
Patrizio Buanne, Patrizio (Concord Jazz)
With millions of units sold, this Naples, Italy-born baritone is at a crossroads, crooning in English on his fifth album after relocating to LA in what would appear to be a logical career move, to some extent anyway. This release has been widely flogged, mostly for a perceived lack of passion that was inherent when he sang in his own language, but come on, there’s Passion with a capital P and passion as defined by Vegas, by your basic American Idol 4th runner-up. Yes, the busted accent is pronounced, betraying a very tentative grip on the language, but that’s made up for by precise tonality and, best of all, a generous lack of over-the-top orchestration, whether he’s cozying up with Bryan Adams’s shlocky “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman,” calling out the Arthur Murray crowd (“Mambo Italiano”) or exploding into a swing track fit for Brian Setzer (“Americano”). Sure, there’s a generic sheen to all this stuff, but what were his fans expecting, some sort of god-like transformative experience?
Grade: B- [Release Date: 9/20/11]
Polar Bear Club, Clash Battle Guilt Pride (Bridge Nine Records)
Lots of start-stop goes on here, nullifying the adrenaline effect an all-out barnburner song might have accomplished, but that’s really the only negative, if you want to call it that. This Rochester punk-pop crew flirts with 70s-arena ideas, their emo angst given a steroid boost from the vocals of Jimmy Stadt, who may, no kidding around, be the most balls-out new singer since Chris Cornell. It can get a little gimmicky, that voice, but it’s a raw, imperative monster, and quite original in its own way; not a death-metal thing, a real rock thing. The production is clean, airy, massive when it’s needed, which is often, really — these guys are to Good Charlotte what Mastodon is to Papa Roach, if you can feel that, next-gen punk with an eye toward much bigger things than the Warped Tour.
Grade: A [Release Date: 9/20/11]
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