Ponykiller, The Wilderness (Housecore Records)
A for-dummies compaction of King Crimson, Doors and Amboy Dukes, oddly enough from New Orleans. What I mean by “for-dummies” is that the meandering experimentation has been largely removed from the prog aspects, a point that won’t set the world on fire; King Crimson was enough of a drag to listen to in the first place, but at least they thought they liked classical. No, what this ends up sounding like is the band Witch, whom you’ve never heard of either, so basically what I’m saying is laws should be passed preventing any further historical re-enactments of 60s acid-rock, unless some glitch or other tech is added to it, thereby rendering it relevant to this century. Come now, three billion Strawberry Alarm Clocks have surfaced in just the last 5 years, and the only ones who’ve made a (small) dent are guys like the Warlocks, who at least drown that crap in feedback skronk. OK, melodically these dudes are clued in, but jeez, who isn’t nowadays?
Grade: B- [Release Date: 10/24/11]
Neil Leonard, Marcel’s Window (self-released)
Leonard is a jazz sax player out of Philly, bragging a list of associated acts and commissions that numbers in the many dozens, including Boston Ballet and the BBC. He can afford to be generous to a fault with his quintet: after some dinner-patter formalities are out of the way (“Uritorco”), the overriding standout slot here is the piano of Tom Lawton, who seems to fire wild darts at all 88 keys hitting the mark every time within these modal schematics, all of them written by Leonard with a mathematician’s eye for structure. Tempos and time-signatures drop down and out without warning, art imitating life, sometimes Mingus-like, sometimes (OK, rarely) boppy, and in the main, the spotlights remain on Markowitz and Leonard equally. Leonard’s work here ranges from skronky burn (“Alex in the Atrium”) to genius-level gimmickry (French-cafÃ©-accordion emulation on “Resounding Arc”).
Grade: A [Release Date: 10/11/11]
Uh Huh Her, Nocturnes (Plaid Records)
I can’t imagine why anyone would have actually disliked this LA chick-electropop band’s first album Common Reaction, but by the same token it almost seemed a second-thought vanity vehicle for Leisha Hailey, who’s been a little too flighty flipping between music and acting, the latter career’s most notable bullet her joining the cast of The L-Word. Common Reaction was mildly irritating owing to a bit too much — I don’t know, LA-ness; Camila Grey’s voice is and was too Faith Hill-like to gel with the She Wants Revenge-ish 80s-bar-rock rumble underfoot. This album, however, reveals the pair to be real contenders in the not-overly populated space between dream pop/shoegaze and mall-indie. Frankly, this more cathartic listenable-ness may have sprung from their (probably staged) outing as a lesbian couple, but whatever the case, it’s a huge sound with drop-dead hookage — you’re almost guaranteed to like this a lot if your taste swings somewhere between classic rock, Gwen Stefani, and (obviously) PJ Harvey.
Grade: A [Release Date: 10/11/11]
Jmaxx, Born To Be Famous (Jmaxx Records)
It’s not just the self-release aspect of this annoying little bling-house record that screams vanity from the mountaintop. Judging by the lyrics, this Situation-lookalike is all about boning one Kardashian or the other, and matter of fact, if Kim put out something this disposable she might never live it down. It’s not the worst CD ever to land in this office by any means, no, but its intent — and epic album-title fail — pretty much relay to the Martians all they need to know about this ruined empire. It’s like this guy took a few online associate degree classes in 80s-ology: a gimpy, humble cover of A-ha’s “Take On Me”; enough George Michael to choke a men’s bath-house. And my fricking God already with the “you’re so sexy” platitudes all over the place, why not just Sharpie “I Have Genitalia” on your forehead.
Grade: C- [Release Date: 10/3/11]
Evidence, Cats & Dogs (Rhymesayer Records)
I can definitely sort-of recommend this with a hearty “Eh, this is, you know, OK.” A real-life graffiti artist who’s been around the block enough to be convincing, Evidence is pure LA hiphop, boasting whatever level of cred comes with being part of the Dilated Peoples collective. I’d hate to be a local LA hack trying to squeeze out superlatives about this thing, though; between Evidence’s “patented” slow flow and a near-complete lack of beats that go anywhere, it can’t be said that this is essential listening for undergrounders with two brain cells to rub together. There’s sparkly ballroom bling here and there, added more as a culturally essential touchstone than anything else — yeah, yeah, we get it, Snoop Junior.
Grade: C [Release Date: 9/27/11]
The Devil Wears Prada, Dead Throne (Ferret Music)
This Dayton-based 6-some never sounded much like the Christian band they are, and now that they’ve decided they hate screamo (save for “My Questions” here) they sound even more… what am I supposed to say, ferocious. They readily admit that their earlier stuff was kind of stupid, and they’re right; nothing new was coming out of these guys, that’s for sure. Same for now, but their intensified service in the name of the muscle-bound Jesus of the Book of Revelations will be duly appreciated by the young hillbillies who blare this in their buds while shooting up schools in Afghanistan or wherever, semper fi and all that. Just the basics here — Cookie Monster vs. a hoarse Sam Kinison; stubborn, thrumming low-end a la Meshuggah, other stuff that nine million other bands are doing.
Grade: B- [Release Date: 9/13/11]
Boba Flex, Hell in My Heart (Megaforce Records)
In some-things-never-change news, Megaforce continues its domination over all uber-tight speed-metal bands with this one, which fits in perfectly with what Al Jourgensen and Ministry have been doing within the confines of the label. Like Ministry, the deal here is a southern-fried Texas Chainsaw death-punk approach, although these West Virginian guys (suuuure, they’re descendants of the original McCoys, as in Hatfields and the McCoys, absolutely, and I’m seriously considering buying a bridge in one of the New York boroughs) tack more toward nu-metal (“Vampire” is just basically Papa Roach’s “Getting Away With Murder” in a fake moustache). But don’t take that as a reason to hate on these guys, as their change-ups are pretty hilarious, intentional or not (“Playing Dead” sounds like a zombie-fied Strawberry Alarm Clock, while “Empty Man” could have been on any of the first 3 Kiss albums), and their real stock-in-trade is kick-assage that competes with and absolutely surpasses Staind, et al in the areas of both personality and hardness.
Grade: A [Release Date: 8/29/11]
Keb Mo, The Reflection (Yolabelle International Records)
Very few people have the right musical DNA to pull off bedroom-soul the way this guy does. Most attempts fall a little short, either too sexed-up, or not chill enough, though mostly it’s a problem with cartoonish vocals, not at issue here; “unadorned” is the most common adjective used to describe Mo’s voice, which, yes, sounds like someone’s dad with an disdain for throaty shtick and enough training to be dangerous. As a guitarist-singer, then, he’s BB King (who has covered Mo’s Grammy-winning stuff in the past) with a friendly baritone, and this time out he explores the depths of soul-chill, tabling a “What’s Love Got To Do with It” vibe in the title track, harnessing gospel elsewhere (“All the Way,” the wah-wah-decorated “The Whole Enchilada”). Nothing wrong here, obviously.
Grade: A [Release Date: 8/2/11]
Martin Moretto, Martin Moretto Quintet (self-released)
Sometimes you’re just looking for a little dinner-jazz and lots of subtlety. Moretto, an Argentine jazz guitarist based in New York, explores the sublime in his debut LP as a leader, pulling off some barely-there genius (the runs toward the end of “Imagenes” almost sound electronically altered). His agility in the more traditionally bop-centric “Iguazo” is another standout, full of friendly melodic banter that sax player Bill McHenry enhances with some wispy runs of his own. As a whole, the record — entirely written by Moretto — more than serves its purpose as a most companionable ally in getting through the commute or just having a pleasant damn day for yourself.
Grade: A [Release Date: 8/2/11]
Intensus, Intensus (Metal Blade Records)
Journeyman multi-instrumentalist Eli Litwin is from Philly, where he latched on to the extreme-metal scene at first before growing to dig math-metal and basically anything else that makes guitars sound utterly nuts. Even an eclectic snob like me can appreciate this project, which, simplistically enough, comprises a collection of off-the-cuff drum tracks Litwin made himself, which were then fortified with zoom-crash Dillinger Escape Plan ideas and state-of-the-art black-metal. Several guests are on here, so the vocal sound ranges from Cookie Monster to Toilet Monster to Quorthon to Animal, as in the drummer from the Muppets. Just calling it like I hear it, so walk it off, but meanwhile I’ll mention that when I first put this on — without knowing it was improvised noise — my honest-to-gawd first thought was “Maybe death-metal ain’t dead after all.”
Grade: A [Release Date: 7/5/11]
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