Every Time I Die, Ex Lives (Epitaph Records)
Buffalo NY skate-metal meatheads ETID haven’t been this fierce in a while, even if the melodic singing in the enclosed “I Suck” bums out any grindcore purists. But who cares anyway; it’s hard to avoid by-the-book primordial emo if you’re trying to make statements that amount to “this sucks; no, it really does; no, seriously, DO YOU GET IT?” And that’s the tale of the tape, opening tune “Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space” melting the corpse of Black Flag and pouring it onto a Dillinger Escape Plan omelette while deftly avoiding any bona-fide math-metal — if Red Scare had been around in 1982 and had a real producer, it might have been similar to these heartfelt, dangerous tantrums.
Grade: A [Release date 3/6/2012]
Moonlight Bride, Twin Lakes (self-released)
This Chattanooga noise-pop band wasted no time in bumming me out by ripping off Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” right off the bat in “Diego,” which leads off this EP. Their expressed deal is noise-pop, which had me expecting something a bit more creative than what’s here; add to that the fact I think I read some scuttlebutt about their 2009 album being more experimental and such and it really was surprising hearing such straightforwardness, a slab of buzzkilling grunge-pop with half-asleep vocals. One positive is the edgy, desperate feel of some of the open-chord riffing, which makes it more “alternative” than most of the music tagged as such these days; there’s a resigned autumnal sadness to the My Bloody Valentine-ish “Lemonade” that generates immediate rapport with the listener on a human level; it’s too bad the epic fail of “Diego” wasn’t pushed way back in the track order (or left off altogether), but that’s indie for you.
Grade: A [Release date 2/28/2012]
Johnathan Blake, The Eleventh Hour (Sunnyside Communication Records)
This one’s been getting a lot of play in my car, which I never could have predicted being that this jazz quintet is led by a drummer. Blake’s not just any drummer, though; the son of famed violinist John Blake Jr., he’s a speed-dial guy for New Yawk session work for the likes of Kenny Barron, Tom Harrell, David Sanchez and so on. But whatevs, right, it’s a quintet led by a drummer, which doesn’t usually forebode the tight, slick, prog-bopping urban-sang-froid offered here, much less any technical blow-doors-ness as subtle as what Blake’s sticks do within the structures. Kevin Hays’s piano roams and jabbers throughout, taking the heaviest workload even in the face of two very capable sax players (Jaleel shaw and Mark Turner), while Gregoire Maret adds extra sugar to the mix with some Sesame Street harmonica.
Grade: A [Release date 2/28/2012]
Bad Weather California, Sunkissed (Family Tree Records)
One takeaway from this 2nd LP (and first on Akron Family’s personal imprint) might be that it’s an irrepressibly fun version of Yo La Tengo, or maybe a much whiter, more stoned Calexico. One could easily also be left with an impression of Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles after an all-nighter with Pavement and Beck: half-crazed but controlled yell-y vocals, surf all over the fricking place, pegged reverb and stuff. But all is not quirky irony and stupidness here; these guys work some really nice knuckleballs into their knucklehead rock, like the Justice-style crunch-tech-chill that barges into “Let It Shine,” and the dead-on Franz Ferdinand tangent that happens in “I Feel Like Dancing.” But those things don’t steer far at all from its real intent as bleeding-edge party tuneage for cruising in the Lowrider after working the morning shift at the hemp stand.
Grade: A [Release date 2/21/2012]
The Dunwells, Blind Sighted Faith (RED/Sony Records)
Pub-safe Brit-rock mates hoping for a little spillover love from both 80s-lovers and Mumford & Sons fans. The jangle on opener “I Could Be King” gradually moves away from Mumford and more toward Coldplay, or more accurately U2, instilling fears that this stuff could all of a sudden go full-on Kaiser Chiefs and hence become limp. But these dudes have studied their Squeeze and Fixx records, and coupling that with Mumford worship produces some out-of-the-ordinary alt-radio hookage. Their indubitable Englishness is an x-factor that results in heartfelt lines remindful of Elbow, in other words a certain naivete that is, while outside the norm, perfectly suited to the sensibilities of (name of American hippy festival here). There’s enough of a lack of subtlety that it could make a dent in American sports bars, which can always use curveballs like “Hand That Feeds,” a blend of CSNY, Foo Fighters and “96 Tears”-style organ. Not desperately needed sounds, but they do no harm.
Grade: B [Release Date: 2/14/2012]
Sick Friend, The Draft Dodger (Bird & Flag Records)
Some people shouldn’t make albums, but these guys did, and for that alone they deserve at least one coherent review of what they’ve done, not that I’m guaranteeing anything at the moment. They’ve been mistaken as a dream-pop band (it’s too grungy and yucky for that) and scolded for not really identifying themselves on their social media pages, the latter of which no longer pisses me off completely — if new bands with little to offer are going to be stupid, I am at the 12th step of knowing I cannot help them but being aware that they will eventually realize their errors. This Montreal duo is like a male version of St. Vincent, but with both a lot more distortion and fewer hooks than their songs need. If they’d knock it off with the distortion knob it might rope in some middleminds who think they like Bon Iver, but they’ve already dug their grave — it’s too late for salvation with songs this tedious. Their geeky, schoolyard-punchbag voices gravitate to staccato lyrics, and at one point, God help us, there’s some rapping — I flatly refuse to go back and try to find which song it was. If there’s one saving grace, it’s that they have a hi-resolution graphic of their cover floating around in the Google, which all you idiot bands need to put out there.
Grade: D [Release date 2/14/2012]
Ram, Death (Metal Blade Records)
It appears I’ve won, more or less: I’ve become a repository for oldschool heavy metal, a situation which, in my opinion, is definitely better than having a constant rain of zombie-splatter-thrash death-metal dudes filling up the mailbox (not that they stay away, they can’t help themselves at this point). So, then, short and sweet on these Swedish longhairs, who’ve opened for Sebastian Bach, which isn’t as apropos as Ram would probably secretly like. Judas Priest and King Diamond fetishes are evident everywhere you look, from the Rob Halford screechings to the power-metal parts duking it out for space in all the hard-melodic riffing. Guitarist Harry Granroth doesn’t rely too much on chromatic anything-goes fret-work; he does seem to have spent a few Red Bull-fueled nights plotting out the instrumental stuff, made up of Exciter-era Priest, Iron Maiden debut-LP churn-n-burns (“Defiant”), even a nod to Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” in “Frozen.” Oscar Carlquist’s vocals don’t get their best foot forward, sounding a bit amateurish in opening tune “Comes From the Mouth Beyond,” but that’s a terribly common mistake for this genre, and he absolutely blows doors on the rest of the LP. Strong all around if this is your bag.
Grade: B- [Release Date: 1/31/2012]
Black Taxi, We Don’t Know Any Better (self-released)
We have to get a little bit personal in the CD-reviewing business, particularly when so many genre-centric bands sound so damn similar, like this Brooklyn crew, whose disposable Strokes/Modest Mouse mash-notes here don’t rate for much, even if it can be said that they’ve accidentally roused the corpse of Squeeze from its 80s grave, not that they were trying to do so. Anyway, the production values (does anyone even give a crap about that stuff anymore? The shouldn’t) are above the norm; a few shekels were laid out to drag Black Keys producer Aaron Nevezie into this pit of vanity, but the real problem, aside from too many phoned-in Franz Ferdinand angular guitar-razors and all that kind of junk, is that the members are unapologetic Bowery Ballroom fixtures, wannabes who can’t name any band from Boston aside from the Cars (sorry, but does the term “represent” mean anything to you?). As the planet slowly drifts toward the sun and all turns to dust, this album will not be one of its great losses.
Grade: B- [Release Date: 1/14/2012]
Enter the Haggis, Whitelake (Firebrand Entertainment)
Not a lot of fiddle-stomping Celtic jam-outs from this Toronto crew lately, as they’re growing up, more or less. The problem one could have with this is that vocally they can sound boy-band-ishly emo, like on “Headlights 1 & 2” here. But if you can somehow walk off all the agony of that stuff, this collection of tunes is remarkably solid, gathering together a bunch of sounds that evoke Mumford & Sons, Allman Brothers, and of course Flogging Molly. It definitely feels collaborative, given the diverse range of hooks that show up, some of which are big-hearted show-stoppers meant for wowing Bonnaroo crowds and such. “Follow” is the closest threat to a ren-faire jam, but it eventually quiets down after a folk-rock fashion.
Grade: A [Release Date: 10/1/2011]
Josh Levinson Sextet, Chauncey Street (Jlev Records)
Levinson is a trumpet guy out of Brooklyn, a situation that doesn’t scream uniqueness. But one major advantage he’s got is that Freddie Hubbard’s Goin’ Up LP came out in 1960 — that sort of sound being as warmly addressed as this definitely counts for a lot. Levinson’s early career was spent in funk bands, later in small combos, so on the whole this album (his 2nd) makes a lot of sense. Throwback bop on the title track and the obliviously reverent 70s burn of “For Freddie” isn’t the whole story at all; there’s a lot of Latin and funk vibe throughout. I suppose this would have gotten a lot of attention in 1975, but even now there’s always room for a pleasantly club-atmospheric collection of solid originals (!) by a damn good trumpeter who not only knows post-bop and all that came before, but obviously lives for it. You’ll be filing this with your oldschool-style favorites for sure.
Grade: A+ [Release Date: 9/27/2011]
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