Ghost Knife, Kill Shelter Yes (End Sounds)
There may be much unfortunate confusion when people buy this LP expecting “pop-punk,” one of the main categories into which this stuff’s been lumped. This stuff has nothing to do with the oversaturated emo market, as fans of Austin-based singer Mike Weibe (on leave from Riverboat Gamblers) would instinctively know. But the rest of us don’t, and so their sound — close to Redd Kross or half the bands that came out on the SST label in the 80s — may come as a letdown to people whose tastes are in their feet. It’s a lost art they’re indulging in here, echoes of Replacements/Thermals/Spits garage with hooks that are simultaneously upbeat and vaguely edgy, Clash guitars, reverb pegged up, no budget, you get the drift. It’s a seminal post-punk moment in Weibe’s career, speed reduced but not completely booted out of the picture; a good move that flies in the face of conventional indie-rock wisdom simply because it’s truly indie-sounding.
Grade: A- [Street date 9/20/2011]
Freddy V, Easier Than It Looks (Watersign Productions)
Okay, okay, about 4 songs in I get where this is going, basic Weatherscan background jazz a la Kenny G, born from Freddy’s artistic turpitude developed during hack stints with Average White Band, Michael McDonald, need I say more. The ideas, though lovingly rendered by Freddy and co-producer Mo Pleasure (am I supposed to know who that is?) are budgeted for Vegas soul outings, like demos for Anita Baker’s backup band, that sort of thing. Klyde Jones’s singing on “Let’s Go Round Again” reads like a male Vonda Shepard — the squeaky-cleanliness is as devout as you’d ever want if this is your bag, up to and including the pensively amused glamor shots that fill the CD cover, the artist reposing in facial expressions that tell you someone just told him a polite joke they recently printed in Huffington Post or somesuch.
Grade: B- [Release date 9/13/2011]
Lowe, Evolver (WTII Records)
The rate at which Chicago indie WTII has been wailing on Metropolis Records in the fight for the goth dollar has been noticeable lately, and now it’s even happening in the 80s-pop sideshow that’s becoming more and more a part of the action. The 3rd album from this Swedish band is short on volume but long on content, featuring some super-catchy ideas in the vein of Depeche Mode and New Order (the hypnotic, mission-critical bass lines are handled by the son of ABBA’s old bassplayer), the perfect amount of subterranean noise loopage — I dunno, it’s what I’d do if I were in band like this, thus your own mileage may vary. The one downside is that the sound itself is derivative, but that’s the least of people’s worries when they’re hunting for good neo-80s vampire music. But song-wise, where things are made or broken, it’s a flawless victory, most notably “Adorable” and “Half the Double Speed,” which allude to Sisters of Mercy without being at all clone-like.
Grade: A [Release date 9/13/2011]
Regurgitator, SuperHappyFunTimesFriends (Valve Records)
Their 7th full-length finds these anti-Wiggles Aussie punks floating an endless supply of quite listenable joke tunes powered by (very appropriate) bones to pick. “All Fake Everything” is just awesome, singer Quan Yeomans taking aim at modern rap with a grenade launcher, the first half a poetic apology from an interchangeable Jay-Z sung over a cheese version of “Whiter Shade of Pale,” after which Yeomans’ character boasts his uselessness from the rooftop (“you’d be bored if you were me!”) over a guitar line that’s a thinly disguised (what else) “99 Problems.” “Punk Mum” is straight-edger stuff about sandwiches and things, which is always important, let’s face it; “Be Still My Noisy Mind” puts Duran Duran in a leglock for a skewering of “Rio.” Like an aural Mad magazine with swears, the way you fricking kids are supposed to be doing it.
Grade: A [Release date 9/5/2011]
The Chocolate Horse, Beasts (Stable Records)
Specializing in the wispy, sparse and non-commital zen that defined 70s chill-folk-rock, this Cincy band makes elevator music for bongpackers old and young. They rarely deviate from a formula that nestles Blind Melon between Mountain and Belle & Sebastian — wait, I’m lying, there’s some Warlocks fuzz-rock in there too. What I’m trying to say, and failing miserably, is that the band is perfectly named: it’s strong and lithe, a little too sweet, blocky and chunky but simultaneously graceful. One thing you’ll walk away knowing for sure is that this is historically accurate acid folk-rock; there’s no way you won’t think things along the lines of “Jesus, did they have to chase the singer around with a butterfly net to get him to show up in the studio or what?” Reason for that is singer Jason Snell’s half-there-ness; it’s like early 70s Ozzy in ballad mode jamming with Canned Heat in endless variations on “Going Up the Country,” in other words about 70% of your basic Bonnaroo crowd would take to it like magpies to a roll of Reynolds Wrap.
Grade: B- [Street date 8/16/2011]
Abyssal Creatures, Social Awkwardness (Independent Records)
A vanity release in more than one sense. Colorado kid Ian Garrett Fellerman is a lonely geek with a score to settle with jocks, chicks who read Dostoevsky, pretty much everyone of his generation, so he’s attached his own Hoobastank emo bleating to his own Postal Service-like cheese, beat it with his own out-of-place stun-guitar lines and now hopes for the best, which would be me saying that I feel his pain but kindly either take out the whiny/cheesy guitars or fix their mix levels. Obviously a bedroom project, but that doesn’t mean anything negative nowadays with bands like Salem and whatnot around; we pause to honor Fellerman’s reckoning of his place in the world (there isn’t one, nor is there one for anybody else who blindly questions the world’s constant roiling tide of BS) and hope that next time he’ll replace the Flying V with more subtle ProTools or whatever he’s using to make his Atari-techno.
Grade: B- [Release date 8/5/2011]
Benji Kaplan, Meditacoes no Violao (Circo Mistico Productions)
New York-bred Brazil-o-phile Kaplan provides a sort of life-travelogue here, soloing nonchalantly throughout the entire album on his nylon-stringed unplugged guitar. It’s so relaxed and unhurried that it can come off as improv, and reading some of the blurbage here I believe that’s the case with some of it. No matter, of course, if you’re lazing in a hammock trying to visualize your last time on an uncrowded beach or whatever; this record’s perfect for that, asking nothing of its listenership other than to put its brains on screensaver. Slow purposeful strumming ending in speedy fractal flourishes is the core formula, little deviation to be found aside from the bouncy up-and-down Baiao rhythm in “Baiao For Gershwin,” the title of which hints at what Kaplan would like to be thought of, a sort of oldschool-jazz-meister with advanced knowledge of world music, but it’s perhaps best viewed as an exotic form of baroque.
Grade: A [Release date 8/2/2011]
Reverse The Curse, Hither & Yon (Paper+Plastic Records)
Take a bunch of Cleveland-burb kids who wish they were in either Airborne Toxic Event, Unsane or Thursday, let them yell, holler and flog themselves in a studio and it’d sound like this. If I’m reading their blurb sheet right they’re moving away from the indie-punk that was their original formative glue and fumbling for their inner pop stars, and that approach works for the first song (“Bell Book & Candle”). But this maturity gets quickly lost, as they gradually and visibly become possessed by their favorite Seether videos, and by the 6th song it’s a contest to see how ragged the singer can sound — okay, whatever, “ragged and powerful simultaneously.” It’s an admirable attempt, really; I suppose if I were in the miserable position of being 21 again and trying to add a little hard-ass credibility to my emo-pop I’d be sold on this angle (“To Dig A Hole” is particularly cool). And there you’d have it, integrity maintained, rock-star dreams invariably crushed.
Grade: A- [Street date 7/12/2011]
Kiyomi, Child in Me (self-released)
Interesting little vanity release here in that it stars a Japanese-American chick from New Yawk doing an unintentional Forrest Gump routine. I’d expected jazz, but this is straight piano pop, open-hearted, almost like something you’d hear during lovey-dovey scenes in an anime cartoon, ie, believe it or not, there’s a market for it. Her voice is like Aimee Mann after taking a few Pat Benatar lessons, unadorned, doing it for the heck of it. The melodies are church-social in their limited but adamant joy, and overall, as a songwriter, she’s not bad at all, really — she kicks Rebecca Black’s ass if that helps any.
Grade: B- [Release date 6/28/2011]
Gauge, Hustler on the Move (Aqua Boogie Records)
Texas rapper Gauge knows how to compact syllables, but that won’t separate anyone from the current pack, especially given all the dried-up roto-tom-filled beats on this docket, the worst of which is “Beat It Up,” an Usher-blingy makeout number with a feat. by Miss Myke. Chicago-house (and tenuously Tupac-connected) producer Mr. Lee handled this stuff, and he adds a few phoned-in lines to 2 tracks Slim Thug got roped into as well, but despite any ambivalence he made sure his name was all over “Shake It (Make It Bounce),” being that its rumbly EBM sound has the strongest pulse of anything here. Basically it’s what you’d expect from a hiphop assembly line, which has resulted in little more than Gauge having to explain away scumbaggish booty-bagger lines, things of that sort; if you live and die for this kind of stuff there’s no reason at all to stay away from it, but pardon my snoring. Lots of B-list guests — in the widest clash of speeds, fellow Houstonian Scarface adds his mouf-fulla-hamburgers drawl to Gauge’s full-auto flame-spitting for the ballroom-twinkletoe soul of “Hot Love.”
Grade: B [Release date 4/5/2011]
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