Highlands, Singularity (self-released)
A more psychedelica-focused Gliss or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club would sound like this, mid-speed deep-reverb beach-vampire-rock infused with guitars native both to Warlocks and Kyuss.   Makes sense — they’re Long Beach metal-hippies doing the best they can; if you’re keeping score toward an actual buying decision, what you want to keep in mind in particular from the reference list above is Warlocks, although there’s a distinct aversion to overblown, overdrawn gusts of feedback skronk, meaning Highlands isn’t a peer-pressured pain in the ass to sit through.   Further, they’ve got some good riffage and a real feel for basic hooks, occasionally giving off a bouquet of early Black Sabbath duking it out with The Birds.   In other words, they’d probably be heroes at Nylon and whatnot if they weren’t completely (and commendably) DIY for the time being.
Grade: A- [street date: 6/26/2012]

Moritat, Clill Blanzin (self-released)
If Fontaine Toups did all the singing for Versus it might make you think of a ten-times-better version of this Chicago threesome, configured, as it were, in pretty much the same manner as Versus.   Come to think of it, half the chick-fronted toss-off bar bands of the 1980s would have mopped the floor with this band, who may or may not consider themselves a contender for Blonde Redhead’s spot in the rock spectrum — I mean, they try to be pretty and mildly shoegazey, but the cheesy keyboards need to be completely amputated from anything further that they do, lest they be confused with the house band from a series of Leanna Quigley comeback films.   There are people who really dig this sort of stuff, but I’ve never met any of them; I suspect I’ll meet an abominable snowman before I do, actually.
Grade: C [Release Date: 6/26/2012]

Cinema Cinema, Manic Children & The Slow Aggression (self-released)
Cousins Ev Gold and Paul Claro have a 2-man White Stripes setup, a conducive thing when there’s no room in whatever Brooklyn cubby they’ve found that’ll put up with this much noise — think Warlocks on angel dust but with a stunning amount of rich melodic sweetness (Gold has to playing a 12-string on “1st Writings On Levitation,” where he deftly swivels his vocal between Thom Yorke falsetto and tattered rawk-gawd).   Lots of layering here, which goes well with their warm-hearted angst, incorrigibly urban as it is, but then again it does get no-wave-ish (the second half of “Cycles & Territories”) and even surfy — they have a stacked palette of sounds, see.   Furthermore, if Iron Maiden were cool, they’d have done something like “Adult Themes,” which moves from Motorhead/Fugazi yell-rock to “Run To The Hills”-like gallop-metal riffing with scary ease.  
Grade: A- [street date: 6/19/2012]

Mykul Lee, Fortress (Arts and Crafts Collective)
As a former singer myself I can’t help but be wonky judging this Hollywood-by-way-of-Oklahoma dude, who’s known more as a producer (Oh No Not Stereo, Pluto, others) than a bedroom-bandleader.   His whisper-singing style is the fastest route to wrecking one’s vocal chords for good, you see, so you have to take that testimony and weigh it against any breathless fawning from antiestablishment poseurs who never took a voice lesson — Yoda might say something like “sing, or sing not; there is no ‘quiet singing’.”   and now that you hate my know-it-all guts, we can discuss the core musical concepts presented here, haunted downbeat organic café-chill that occasionally see visits from saxophones and Rhodes keyboards: they’re not so bad at all, no; you could easily envision Norah Jones buying one of these tunes for an album, whether for filler or potential hit single.
Grade: B- [street date: 6/5/2012]

Jerome Sabbagh, Plugged In (Bee Jazz Records)
A bit of foreign intrigue at play within this jazz combo, mostly redolent of a French bouquet given that sax-player/leader Sabbagh is French by birth, and his keys partner, Jozef Dumoulin, is Belgian.   What results is a sort of Weather Report 2.0, with Sabbagh not stretching his tenor sax too far, nor getting too noisy with it, leaving the weird stuff to Dumoulin, whose tones and outbursts can be real curveballs, even dissonant at times without going all-out skronk.   But that’s the first half of the LP; the second half holds more interesting things for the casual chill listener; less experiment and more club.   Ideally you’d want to see these guys make up their minds as far as an overall vibe — as I’ve said countless times, not everyone enjoys being jolted out of their reveries with electronics squawking unbidden samples into their headphones.   The talent — certainly Sabbagh’s thick, smart approach — is more than adequate to stumble upon greatness.
Grade: A- [Release Date: 4/26/2012]

Oscar Castro-Neves, Live at Blue Note Tokyo (Zoho Records)
Brazilian jazz-guitarist Castro-Neves played 7 nights at this world-famous club, the highlights of which are captured here as something of an advanced primer on bossa nova, introduced by way of standards such as “Ponteio” (playfully duetted by Castro-Neves and one-time Pat Metheny singer Leila Pinheiro, whose unadorned soprano gets the brunt of the vocal work here.   Liner notes from Castro-Neves pronounce a lucky similarity between Japanese and Brazilian sounds, but if any ethnicity other than Brazilian jumped out at me it was a sort of African vibe (on the hypnotic rambling toasts of Jobim’s “Waters of March” and the animatedly percussive “Caninana,” which includes an extended display of throat-singing). A pleasant, exotic getaway from one of bossa nova’s top figures.
Grade: A [street date: 2/14/2012]

Kate Reid, The Love I’m In (Kate Reid Music)
Despite any outward dime-a-dozen vanity-release appearance, this is a deserving, very solid release, not just from the standpoint of Reid’s ability to sing these standards (from Gershwin’s “I Love’s You Porgy” to “With Every Breath I Take” from the stage production of City Of Angels) or even taking into account her doctorate: see, she plays the piano on this stuff as well, meaning the diva factor — already low given her simple, Diana Krall-vs-Karen Carpenter approach — is completely negligible.   Her quartet surrounds her serenely, just letting her go, resulting in a warm, relaxed set that must be a real treat in a live setting.
Grade: A [Release Date: 10/24/2011]

Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome. Email – esaeger@cyberontix.com.

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