The Walkmen, Heaven (Fat Possum Records)
This band — at one time a loud, angular hot-mess — is, officially as of this LP, content to sip cappuccinos at NPR and chuckle at their oldness. This album seems a continuation of their last one, Lisbon, in which they’ve gotten off the plane from Spain, hung their souvenirs carefully on the wall and gone — reluctantly — back to the business of making all Strokes clones shake in their boots at the mightiness of the Walkmen. Trouble is, this listless but melodic set of self-congratulatory ruminations could be a premonition of a considering-retirement Strokes (or Cold War Kids, or maybe even Pavement, with a strong-enough tranquilizer) just as easily, meaning the sounds, especially vocally, aren’t particularly compelling. One could say it’s a half-asleep album for a fading Generation Y — mature yes, rock n roll absolutely not (in an alternate Julia Roberts-universe move, “Heartbreaker” lifts its import from “Be My Baby”), but either way, it’s for sure that the world needs to prepare itself for a deluge of devil-may-care chillout powered by guitars with essentially no testosterone whatsoever.
Grade: B [Release Date: 5/29/2012]
Whitechapel, Whitechapel (Metal Blade Records)
This Tennessee death metal sextet claims to try crossing a lot of bridges in this one, but by this they really mean working out with different BPM speeds, not experimenting with vibe, which remains the same gargoyle-vs-screamo vocals contending with mostly uninteresting (caveats fully in place, sure, fine) riffology they’re sort-of-famous for: Pantera, Cannibal Corpse, etc., even Misfits (“I, Dementia”). Assorted bellow-along proclamations of semi-comic relief include “You’re all worthless!” and “I will kill you all!” and “Shut your f–ing mouth!” There’s always night school if this somehow fails.
Grade: B- [street date: 6/19/2012]
Malynda Hale, The Train Ride Home (Goldway Records)
With Godzilla-diva monstrosities like Mariah Carey and Beyonce around, chick-sung-soul has turned off more hip ears than the Glee rendition of “Glory Days.” Pockets of resistance can be found to the big-top norm, such as this sincere offering from Alicia Keys-wannabe Hale, her voice an eerie echo of Michael Jackson (yes, Michael, not Janet) mixed with the no-rush steez of Des’ree (of “Ya Gotta Be” fame) — low-voiced and sultry, obviously, with a few Beyonce oh-oh-ohs thrown in on opening track “City Lights,” which is actually one of the few not-that-greats on board, being that it comes off as an afterschool-special primer on city life. Nice overall, if a little past this sound’s expiration date.
Grade: B- [street date: 6/26/2012]
Morning Parade, Morning Parade (Astralwerks Records)
This UK band doesn’t just have one decent song to proffer to the gods, they have three, the trio of tunes that lead off this debut in fine Coldplay-worshipful style. It’s alt-rock for grown-ups, nu-AOR if you will, heartfelt pleas for… I dunno, something that can’t be found at bars no matter how many souls want to find it there. “Headlights” and “Carousel” in particular are outstanding, soaring aloft on a certain pub-gospel wing, and then that’s it, except for an interminable bunch of slow dirges that peer at Radiohead fans as if to say “is this sluggish and alienated enough for you?” Hardcore fans — if such exist — of Vampire Diaries might argue that the show’s soundtrack-included “Under The Stars” passes inspection, but a little bit of fog added to a little bit of microwaved Franz Ferdinand has probably been performed by chimpanzees under lab settings.
Grade: B [street date: 6/19/2012]
Thyx, The Way Home (Metropolis Records)
Having been exposed to the entire spectrum of goth-club music over the years, it’s been my singular disappointment to find so many chinks in so many suits of armor, from KMFDM’s parade of epic fails to Birthday Massacre’s hilariously obvious well-run-dry to Andy LaPlegua’s rapid descent into mediocrity. The only two bands who have never disappointed are Skinny Puppy and the underreported but amazing Mind.In.A.Box crew from Austria, whose every kraut-techno-futurepop release has been good for many minutes of urgent, goosebump-gorgeous ambiance. Thyx, a side project of MIAB leader Stefan Poiss, explores his softer side, preferring breathy prog-trance over harder-riffing stuff — yes, there are guitars, even solos, on here, but if it had to be categorized, you’d need to file it somewhere between Oceanlab (the vocal-centric side project from Above & Beyond) and, oh, Haddaway I suppose.
Grade: A [street date: 5/22/2012]
Matt Ulery, By A Little Light (Greenleaf Music)
This Chicago-based upright-bassist incorporates modern chill-fusion into a somewhat bizarre brand of 1940s ballroom-jazz, stuff that makes me think of American Horror Story, to be honest, as in something to make you think of some warping of Judy Garland’s early era yet modern-sounding enough to indicate that someone’s kidding around to some extent. The setup is pretty big, with cellos, clarinets, flutes, violins — all very chamber-oriented, clear as a bell, a bit unsettling at times, though not as outright dissonantly dark as Ulery’s output with his previous project, Loom. Two disks are here, the first a more subtle collection, the second slightly more energetic and featuring a vocal from Grazyna Auguscik (I doubt they could have found someone more capable than this girl to convey the sort of fish-eye-lens combination of weirdness and period authenticity demanded by this material).
Grade: A- [Release Date: 6/19/2012]
Manuel Valera, New Cuban Express (Mavo Records)
Producer/jazz-pianist Valera’s compositions are as slick as you’d ever want in neo-classical, let alone the Afro-Cuban-inflected prog that’s his real forte. “Upwards,” for example, unleashes some organic percussion elements that offset the unabashed New York-ness of the busy vibe, choppy rhythms held down by six guys who are all at the top of their game. Sax player Vosvana Terry stands out in particular, not allergic to honking but far more interested in muscular, stretching runs; same goes for guitarist Tom Guarna, whose extended solos in the title track are stupefying in their precision. Overall, prog is heavily emphasized over ethnicity, but you won’t be oblivious to the roots either.
Grade: A [Release Date: 6/5/2012]
Jason Adamo Band, Bricks & Mortar (self-released)
One busker I always cite is Theo Eastwind, whose talent is my personal benchmark when critiquing bands like this one. The long and short of it is that they’re as good as my homes Theo, meaning there’s a lot of heart and grit, obvious past-payment of hard dues, great songwriting. This apparently unsigned outfit (bands, just put a goddam record company name on your album somewhere, pretty friggin please? You know, just make one up — you’re creative, right?) has the backing of their local Raleigh, NC hockey team, the Hurricanes, who’ve used the band’s Springsteen-esque “Foundation” in a marketing campaign. It’s a nice tune, an angst-dipped country-fied Dave Mathews-ish goose-bumper that might soundtrack the entrance of some WWE wrestler who just came back from pondering life from where he was dumped after being kidnapped by one of the bad guys, savvy? Adamo’s busked in New York, also, as noted in a recent documentary, adding to the viability of his raggedy soulfulness — he’s definitely been around the tenement block. If he NASCAR-ed it up a little more he’d be pretty huge in Nashville, I’d suppose.
Grade: A [Release Date: 6/5/2012]
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