Pelican, Ataraxia/Taraxis (Southern Ground Records)
Again we hook up with all-instrumental metal trio Pelican, who haven’t improved on their drummer situation since last we spoke, but being that this is only an EP there’s not a lot of sound-and-fury lack-of-significance to endure. Matter of fact, shorties like this are conducive to enjoying what they do; lots of Marshall bliss incorporating the guitar sound of High On Fire but steeped in slower riffing — one part is a lot like Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral” if you wanna get pedantic about it. As always, the lack of a singer allows them freedom to roam and riff away, and that’s their strength, whilst their weakness (fricking still) remains their Motley Crue-style drummer, splash, flail, whomp, nothing of import, where a Neil Peart fanboy would add so much more. Until next time with these guys, then.
Grade: B [Release Date: 4/10/2012]
MxPx, Plans Within Plans (Tooth & Nail Records)
This veteran straight-edge mosh-trio celebrate their 20th anniversary with a full album of originals, which works, being that they already have 4 compilations under their belt. As usual, it’s a skate-park of (tastefully articulated) good-kid angst powered by 3- and 4-chord riffs over which the vocals write themselves; they’ve never been under the gun to come up with anything as unwieldy and corporate-centric as one of those awful Green Day radio vehicles, so, although it’s better than out-and-out emo-rawk, it isn’t anything that hasn’t been done literally millions of times before, if not necessarily better. Singer/bassist Mike Herrera’s cookie-cut geek-o-rama vocals could use some sort of distinguishing characteristic — something electronic that isn’t Autotune, I don’t know, just try something — but that would of course defeat its purpose as disposable Punknews fodder (yes, there are plenty of hooks, but what else have you got?).
Grade: B [Release Date: 4/3/2012]
Drowner, Drowner (Saint Marie Records)
It’s encouraging (to me at least, probably not you) that the traditional shoegaze genre can now put a tack on Houston, Texas in the national map. Drowner are 4 pieces, drums apparently handled by machine; their shtick is leveraging the above-average vocals of Anna Bouchard to capture a 60s sound, altogether coming off like Raveonettes after a Mamas & the Papas (“Never Go Away” is dangerously close to “Monday Monday”) bender. The massive amount of vocal overdubbing can be almost Glee-like at times, which is what this alienated sound is all about, isn’t it, the high school kid in all of us hooting and ghosting away in the corner of the gym. A couple of songs depart from the mid-tempo The Pink Floyd-speed “Wildflowers” strives to be as beautiful as Cocteau Twins’ “Alice” before descending into the usual speed-strummed vortex, and it’s not until 5 songs in that any Ringo Deathstarr-type guitar buzz shows up (“Written”). Mellow material overall, and not completely sexless, which is always a bonus.
Grade: A [Release Date: 3/13/2012]
Eivind Opsvik, Overseas IV (Loyal Label)
Norwegian bassplayer Opsvik has made his mark as a violent deconstructionist, throwing nothing but kitchen sinks at his disagreeable brand of jazz fusion, if that’s what this should be called. Toward that, almost no one has dared step up and review any of these albums on Amazon, a sign that he’s probably accomplished whatever goal he set for this project (or it could be a massive backfire; I suppose we’ll know for sure if he jumps off a bridge or something). The fourth in this series is a morose, slug-slow set that could be variations on Mingus’s “Mood Indigo,” most of it sounding improvisational unless I’m missing the point, not that I’d lose a wink of sleep over it. A celeste (the plinky keyboard you’re familiar with from the Nutcracker’s “Waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairy”) was used on Overseas 2, but here it’s a harpsichord (played by Brooklyn keyboard journeyman Jacob Sacks) setting the weirdness level of these experiments, as if Lurch from Addams Family was tasked with mellowing out a That Fucking Tank record. In the smack-dab-middle of all this murk a sax-honking punk riff (“Robbers and Fairground Folk”) pops up, a cultural foothold that’s a welcome respite.
Grade: B [Release date 3/13/2012]
New Riders of the Purple Sage, 17 Pine Avenue (Woodstock Records)
Always nice to see stuff from the root-hippy dudes down at Woodstock Records (doesn’t get more ground-zero than where those guys are at, does it?), but what a surprise to see this one slide out of the mailer — where have those New Riders guys been anyway? If you don’t know, now you know: New Riders were Merle Haggard fetishists in San Francisco back when Jerry Garcia was a green-assed upstart, and in fact Garcia played pedal steel on their first few albums. Yep, we’re referencing 2 members of a band that’s pushing nearly 50 years of psychedelic Americana, and on a shoestring indie too, all of which wouldn’t normally be a predictor of stuff this great. They sound fine, absolutely, not only original guys David Nelson and Buddy Cage, but the rest of them also, which includes Professor Louie himself on the Hammond. There’s a rare polish and shine to this throwbackness, like if Anne Murray’s backup band was trying to write stuff for Dire Straits — older hippies will absolutely go ape over this.
Grade: A [Release date 3/6/2012]
Cuddle Magic, Info Nympho (FYO Records)
Quirk-drowned chamber-pop as relayed through what sounds like a Figurine compiler but isn’t; it’s all analog, amazingly enough. Formed at New England Conservatory of Music, this band fetishizes math to the extent that opening tune “Disgrace Note” was mapped out on graph paper on a giant canvas, which wouldn’t normally bode well at all — math built around music is usually prettier than the other way around — but the tribal-twee works well enough, wrapping itself neatly around Christopher McDonald’s confused, Pavement-esque vocals. Looking through the press sheet here, it’s obvious that these guys basically went nuts at the college, trying to cram every weirdo instrument they could find in the rehearsal rooms into the mix. In a major world news special report, using crazy instruments wasn’t always successful here — half of “Jason” is a pretty neat re-imagining of Radiohead, while the other half drones on too long — but if you’re looking for a bony, triple-industrial-strength answer to Vampire Weekend, this would work.
Grade: B+ [Release date 3/6/2012]
Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea (Merge Records)
I can’t be on top of every stupid thing that’s out there, so I was always under the impression that Magnetic Fields was one of those smug Canadian bands whose members all have “partners” instead of “girlfriends” or “boyfriends.” I mention this only so that you know that what we’re dealing with here is a really good 20-year-old veteran band that originally formed in Boston, not Canada, so it’s safe. No, not just safe, something you really need to hear — if someone had ever told me there was a band that had the guts to push their synth-glitches way the hell up in the mix and actually pull off a seriously interesting 80s-rebirth trip on half their stuff, I’d have said they were crazy. The songs are short, around 2 minutes each, but they’re really solid, redolent of Pet Shop Boys on “God Wants Us To Wait,” Wire on “Andrew in Drag” — okay, I’ve already mentioned my two favorite new-wave pop bands, so my work is done, other than to mention that this is a great one (NPR is all up in it, if that’s a selling point to you).
Grade: A+ [Release Date: 3/6/2012]
Inure, The Offering (Metropolis Records)
On a lark I checked into the Metropolis stable to see if anything’s changed in their goth-rock world. LA band Inure offers a lukewarm release here, representative of what passes for churn-and-burn catalog-padding among the hardfloor crowd, or so I assume; once the whiz-bang deep-aggro stomper “The Death” fades out, most of the stuff doesn’t build on any of the been-there basics you’ve heard from Hanzyl Und Gretyl and whatnot since 2007 and thereabouts. “This Is the Life” is slightly different, strapping itself to KMFDM’s death-disco meme while borrowing liberally from Skinny Puppy’s “Pro-test,“ but the bulk of this stuff, as I hope I’ve hinted at, is content to hang back, doing cheap Too Dark Park-era tricks so generic they could be used in “underground” bar scenes on CSI. A perfect case study of the band’s half-assedness is “Cold,” which starts out with some pretty slick gloom-chill slither before collapsing in a dirge-metal heap.
Grade: C+ [Release Date: 2/28/2012]
Jacob Deaton, Tribulation (self-released)
“Atlanta” isn’t the first thing people bark when asked to word-associate “jazz,” and “pristine production” isn’t the first thing I’d utter about this record, but then again I’m a hard-ass about my mellowing-out time: I don’t dig it when the sax is so loud in the mix that it’d hurt your chances at sucking face on a first date. This one’s more for wonks, then, shades of John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny and of course the mighty Wes bubbling from the frets of this admittedly rising young guitarist. Some bandleaders can tend to hang back to a fault, such as here, wherein sax-guy Akeen Marable gets so much time in the opening title track that I almost had to check the artist name on the release. Tux-and-tails swing patterns weave in and out of the Metheny vibes, which helps demarcate Deaton’s (well trod, let’s face it) compositional territory in this noble-enough attempt.
Grade: B [Release Date: 2/28/2012]
Duke Robillard Trio, Wobble Walkin’ (Blue Duchess Records)
I’m sure I’ve mentioned Duke Robillard before — he was one of the Roomful of Blues guys and is now seemingly content to doodle away at light guitar-jazz, which this is. The album cover is as beatnik as the stuff within, really pleasant reveries on both his own stuff and refried standards (Billie Holiday and the Gershwins for two). Two things that stand out: for one, the non-Wes Montgomery sound of his guitar (clean throwback sounds but not hopelessly plinky), and two, the vocalization he comes up with for his swingy originals (half the record). Not many modern guys can throw down with the old Blue Note masters the way this guy does — unless you’re familiar with the complete history of oldschool torch, you’d be hard-pressed to know which ones are the Robillard pieces.
Grade: A [Release Date: 2/14/2012]
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