Florian Hoefner, Songs Without Words (OA2 Records)
Sometimes strengths could be construed as weaknesses, as here, wherein this jazz-piano New Yorker-by-way-of-Germany stretches out in rabidly improv mode on his opening track, then does a 180 and heads in the direction of chill modern prog, stuff that comprises the bulk of the album. Only reason I mention that is the whole continuity thing; most jazz listeners have to be in weird moods to want to zone in to what sounds on the surface like warmup nonsense. Throughout the entire sphere of music, though, this generation has a hard-on for being predictably unpredictable, so there’s that, but meanwhile, certainly the effortlessness of the players is jaw-dropping as they follow along like a dolphin armada over the stutters and spurts of Hoefner’s hopscotch-like rhythms (“Uncertain Times”) and hotel-bar mellow-outs (“Sometimes”).
Grade: A [Release Date: 5/29/2012]
Ablaye Cissoko and Volker Goetze, Amanke Dionti (Motema Music)
Western listeners will peg this as a series of sad new-age duets between trumpet and guitar, but Senegal musician Ablaye Cissoko is actually playing a kora, a funny looking gourd-like stringed instrument. The sadness is inferably inspired by the state of Cissoko’s country, which German trumpeter Goetze has sort of adopted along the way during jazz tours in Africa. But continuing on here, once past the mawkish yoga-class tranquility of the first three songs, Cissoko cuts loose in “Silo,” evoking not just flamenco guitar but acoustic harp in the process, a welcome changeup that’s got some overdue intricacy; there’s only so much mournful, late-night introspection one should put themself through if you ask me, but much of this sort of complaining is actually pointed at Goetzke, who solos nicely enough but can’t seem to add any brightness to the simple finger-picked things Cissoko prefers (several of them sound like variations on the guitar to CSN’s “Lee Shore,” which doesn’t necessarily force the artist to play only in the minor key). Proceeds from their last album went to an African relief fund, so there is that.
Grade: B+ [Release Date: 5/8/2012]
Portland Cello Project, Homage (self-released)
Sorry, but I don’t feel compelled to climb aboard the critical Titanic that’s been busily digging around for the correct non-spicy un-snark to bestow upon this set of hiphop-rooted tunes (mostly Jay-Z/Kanye, some Lil Wayne, and a version of “Hey Ya” — yes, these guys are all white). PCP’s last project was a collection of Pantera tunes, which I won’t compare to this stuff because I won’t listen to it; I’m not into Pantera as Pantera, let alone Pantera played on cellos. As far as this NPR-pandering nonsense, it’s at turns better and worse than I’d expected: better in that its classical vibe is full-bodied, worse in that it sounds like bad classical music, like elevator music for the offices of a smartphone factory. Your mileage may vary on all this, as with anything else, but forgive me if I weep for the plastic and cellophane lost in this item’s manufacturing.
Grade: C+ [Release Date: 5/1/2012]
Dead On TV, F–k You I’m Famous (WTII Records)
These guys are a PR person’s nightmare, lying on their various social-media pages about being from the UK (they’re from Chicago), and generally being unmanageable genre-chameleons. But all that stuff’s pretty cool in a world where every stupid little tune is market-tested so rigorously that we reviewers should in turn be allowed to copy-paste our distastes for it. Their first EP starts out with a massive eff-you, too, the eponymous “Dead On TV,” a sprinting run of God Lives Underwater-tinged electro-punk obviously meant to teach Mindless Self Indulgence a thing or three (not that it’s too difficult to mop the floor with those hyperinflated never-wases). Then there’s some Gravity Kills in “Diry American,” some Buzzcocks-vs-Husker Du in the title track, some Animal Boy-era Ramones (“Cocaine”) and, finally, some Electric Six faux-Britrock (“Last Chance for Love”). Bright future ahead for these guys, who, like The Horrors, have already turned their whole trip upside down, making fun of the Killers and/or Ben Folds on a recent tune they posted on Facebook.
Grade: A [Release Date: 4/24/2012]
Prong, Carved Into Stone (Long Branch Records)
Prong leader Tommy Victor is working with Danzig and Ministry these days, leaving not a whole lot of time for his own crew, whose rock-tinged speed metal may have suffered a bit, if you’d call it suffering when a band sounds like a cross between, you know, Danzig and Ministry. There are pinched guitar squeals, steroid-muscled vocals and industrial riffs here, stuff that isn’t exactly in line with previous albums but close enough, and bang on cue, there’s a sucky mid-tempo thing on there, namely “Keep On Living In Pain,” a glimpse of what ends up in Ozzy’s songwriting trash barrel. But none of this is rocket science anyway, thus if you’ve always wanted to hear something that was the closest thing to a set of obscure Nuclear Assault and Slayer tunes re-tooled by a Ministry cover band, this would be pure heaven to you.
Grade: B [Release Date: 4/24/2012]
Wumpscut, Women and Satan First (Metropolis Records)
Jeez, talk about gross album covers. You know, I really wish some of these guys who use 4-letter words in their titles or disgusting Lynchian images on their LP covers could walk a mile in the shoes of a sad-sack CD reviewer who has to roundfile any work they did on the review before finding out the art in question is too edgy for the paper/zine/blog they write for. And so on, which doesn’t answer the question of whether or not the new Wumpscut album is worthwhile, or at least worth its weight in naked fat chicks, the answer to which hinges on your predilection for depravity, Nazi thematics and Rudy Ratzinger’s unique brand of darkwave-powered electro-stompage. His subtlety, raspy whisper and fetish for beautiful symphonics in the face of, well, evil, remain intact, evidenced in opening tune “Hallelujah,” with its death-camp announcer-chick hurling robotic Achtungs against a desperate wall of opera background. His strengths defined thus, we can move on: it’s nothing shatteringly new from this dude, aside from sticking fast to a theme of human cruelty, but — and I hope this isn’t word-for-word from a previous review — when you completely own a subgenre (I dunno, satanic chill-hardfloor?), and no one else really does it at all, the cult will come forward to buy the stuff in spite of any verisimilitude. And, as always, if it’s the first time you’ve heard this guy, and you’re any sort of horror fan, you’ll be pretty psyched.
Grade: A [Release Date: 4/24/2012]
VCMG, Ssss (Mute Records)
If you’re a fan, in whose eyes nothing could go wrong pairing the synth guys from Depeche Mode and Erasure, you were sold upon this all-instrumentals album’s first announcement. It’s got everything you’d want if your desire to stay retro-techno isn’t so fatal that a little Ed Banger woofer-busting wave-modulation would bum you out (“Lowly”), so go ahead and get in line with the other fanboys who’ve loaded up the blogs with sentiments that all boil down to “Nothing new here, and Martin doesn’t sing for some reason, but wow, awesome, you know?” There’s an organic depth to these repetitive, stomping beats, being that they appear to have come mostly from 80s/90s analog machinery, so there’s that, but — here, here’s what happened when these guys decided to make this record. One guy said, “I say old chap, that Justice sound is mightily not-unlistenable, and the children do seem to like it,” so they decided to do a record, then got tired of Ed Banger after one song and went Kraftwerk-and-later retro with the rest of it. Right, shut up, I’m not saying this album sucks, not by any means — the problem is I’ve heard Oscar G and all those other modern tribal-house dudes, and their hypnotic meanderings just plain mop the floor with this record, as does most of the Sonar Kollectiv suite of products, its most logical competition.
Grade: B- [Release Date: 3/13/2012]
Chrome Cranks, Ain’t No Lies in Blood (Racing Cam Records)
If you were going to program a giant, impossible-to-defeat boss to whale the tar out of the Stooges, this would be it. They’ve been around for 25 years, these guys, doing ferocious blues-based garage punk, but they’ve been gone for the past 15 years until now with this Pandora’s box of vitriol. The engineering is no-wave, guitar speakers miked up in some mens room stall or something, but those mikes ain’t the cheap ones — there’s simply nothing distilled or misrepresented. Peter Aaron’s vocals are like a less polite Danzig, sparring to out-muscle the all-ages-saloon-leveling stuff underneath, songs that are pre-industrial, loud as hell, and yeah, hooky in their way, up to and including the 10-minute “Lover of the Bayou,” their own personal “Free Bird.” If there was a real-life Terminator tank crushing the skulls of Vampire Weekend-wannabes under its treads, these guys would be steering it.
Grade: A+ [Release Date: 1/24/2012]
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