Alternative Tentacles, 2006
This is a reissue of a live compilation from 1998, recorded in and around Denver. 16 Horsepower is a straight ahead rock band augmented by an accordion and violin. The mystique that the group creates is based upon the oompah sound that they concoct while swaying between rock and country idioms. The originals on this album are all relatively similar. Maybe that can be contributed to the band’s style as opposed to their lack of breadth or width of ideas. Three covers grace this slab: Creedence, Gun Club, and Joy Division. The Gun Club cover, being almost totally faithful to the original, makes me appreciate what 16 Horsepower is capable of in the language of rock. Really, though, it just makes me want to listen to Fire of Love (1981).
Compost Records, 2005
The music, at least the first half of the album, is gorged with European-style electronic hip hop. Out of the first four tracks, Nina Simone and Shirley Horn are sampled over top of minimal, lo-fi beats with jazz inclinations and strings. That in and of itself would be enough for me to guess not only Europe, but also France as the birthplace of this album. And that’s true. Alif Tree has a studio in the suburbs of Paris where he finds the laid back atmosphere conducive to creating his albums and varied production work. After the four tracks most related to hip hop, the sound veers drastically towards laid back piano lines and electronic production flourishes. Ending an album can frequently be difficult, and Alif Tree attempts to end this affair with an homage to minimalist composer Steve Reich. It works out well, sending a message of appreciation to the composer while giving the listener a many-layered finale to an interesting and schizophrenic album.
Angels of Light and Akron/Family
Young God Records, 2005
To coin a new musical genre, I would have to call the Akron/Family’s newest release (a collaboration with Michael Gira) “psychedelic campfire music.” If there’s one thing they’re good at, it is creating moods of rich human connection, where musicians delve deep into their own experimental subconscious but at the same time aren’t afraid to show off their own rough edges — a wavering voice, a bit of background noise. Put out in late 2005, this split with producer/collaborator/seasoned art punk, Michael Gira shows an angrier, louder Akron/Family than albums past. Maybe it’s the relentless touring schedule since their first, also self-titled release, or the direction from Gira (Ex-Swans), but this album is decidedly harder and rougher than the timid beauty of their first, a collection of melodic vocals layered on top of acoustic guitars and electronic beeps and bloops. There are still definite A/F signatures in their multi-part compositions, as on “Raising the Sparks,” a sprawling number that ranges from ‘60s prog jam to backwoods tent revival. Themes of time and change constantly crop up through this collection: “This moment is over/ The idea that you/ Were the same when it started as/ When it is through.” It’s as if the band themselves are confronting their own evolution, and the inevitable criticism therein. But, rather than toy with the familiar, the music shows a current, slightly different Akron/Family — and a reflection of their present selves.
For Blood and Empire
A-F Records, 2006
Anti-Flag has been doing approximately the same thing for almost a decade. At the onset of that time period, they toured consistently to build a fan base that appreciated their fast nineties punk style, pulling from an earlier time. They’ve been relatively consistent, and it’s a testament to their beliefs that the band still has something to say after their numerous releases. Overt political messages don’t generally make for good pop music based upon the fact that some segment of the listening audience will be offended at some point. That’s why our Pittsburgh friends aren’t MTV stalwarts. For Blood and Empire actually seems to increase the political messages as well as the different styles of punk they play. Almost each track bounces off of some branch of punk which easily makes this their most radio friendly release to date, except of course for the lyrics, which are relentless critiques of the government, the press and American society in general. So, this record will not take AF to the general ear holes of Americans, but they are now releasing records through RCA. Even with this, they maintain their vision of what their band should be, which is admirable. Maybe the distribution will help. Maybe millions more will hear what they have to say. Or maybe they’ll just become lazy millionaires and start releasing dance punk records.
Dixie; 4AM FRIDAY; Over the James
Jade Tree, 2006
This fall, Jade Tree will be re-releasing these three early Avail albums with new artwork and liner notes, plus tons of extras such as live tracks and singles.
Avail was a very important band for me in the ‘90s. These three albums (plus the debut Satiate and the 10” Live at the King’s Head Inn) form the bulk of what I consider their best work. Admittedly, I don’t own and haven’t listened to any of the records after Over the James, as I feel the band’s sound changed significantly around that time (incidentally, that’s also when they signed to Fat Wreck Chords). This early work has certainly withstood the test of time for me - I still own the records and return to them for their sound and not just nostalgia, over 10 years after having first heard them.
But, let’s talk a minute here about how fucking over the top the press materials that came with this release are: Avail was an important band to me, but I don’t consider them “instant classics of contemporary hardcore” or that they “irrevocably changed the landscape of melodic hardcore music.” Their sound is described as “emotive powerchord balladry,” the recording as “thunderously pristine.” Um, yeah. Despite that, for those of us who own these records on vinyl, it’s great to have these available again in a format that’s compatible with all our fancy computer gadgets.
This is an Exercise
Kill Rock Stars
According to their press-kit, Barakus from Washington DC, like to rock. Their brand of music is old-fashioned, relying on commitment, passion and professionalism, replete with accomplished musicianship and meaty arrangements.
The plus points of this, their largely self-produced debut ep, are the nicely layered guitars on tracks like the opening “Love and Money” that I imagine could whip up quite an impressive storm live. They also have a useful vocalist in Matt Code, who has a decent rock voice, without having to resort to screaming and histrionics. Imagine modern American rock if Dumptruck had been the defining influence instead of the Pixies. Imagine The Church attempting Bon Jovi.
The minuses: the ep is solid and listenable enough and the songs are well crafted, but it doesn't contain a killer track that would really make me turn the radio up or put it on again after the first play. I kept on waiting for the next song to be the stand-out, but in vain. Samey structures and an over-reliance on mid-tempo arrangements weaken the package, as does a production that is a solid and crisp but doesn't really play to the band's strengths. Code's voice at volume sounds like it could be a powerful, roaring thing, but is weaker during more subtle moments. The band themselves compare him to Jim Morrison, which is a shame because it is the occasional wobbly ‘The End-ism’ that lets down the performance. Who knows? With a ruthless producer and a killer song, Barakus might break out.
Which, unfortunately is not something I can say about Anna Oxygen's CD. I genuinely find it hard to dismiss any music that has obviously been made from the heart. I also love the Kill Rock Stars idea: the notion that pretty much anyone can make a record these days with a lap-top and some free software, rather than a palatial studio complete with space-station mixing desk and silver platters of cocaine. But...
Anna's press release for "This is an exercise" suggests that she is "searching for the soul of disco and synth pop" and plays up the kitschy qualities, but it is neither retro enough to convince as a tribute to 1982 or danceable enough to be disco of any era. The few reviews I've read of her live shows suggest an interesting and endearingly silly multimedia experience, but the music on its own relies too much on cheesily over-familiar standard synth sounds and is, apart from occasional pleasant atmospheric touches, in desperate need of some sonic imagination. The leaden, predictable drum-programming especially begins to grate about three songs in. Perhaps I just don't get it, but Anna's voice reminds me of Hazel O' Connor, and – perhaps this is the point - the whole entity of a musical naif trying to soundtrack their teenage poetry in their bedroom, using The Mobiles' Drowning in Berlin as a template.
Boom Bap Project
Allow me to begin with my unfettered, undiluted and true feelings: I am disappointed by Atmosphere and by Rhymesayers. Even if I were to disregard the singles the group put out, they had the opportunity, through their label to effect hip-hop for the better. However, a few years down the line and the label is putting out mediocre hip-hop ad nauseam. To a certain extent these are all just my personal feelings regarding underground hip-hop, but being different than the norm is only useful if you are then different from the deviants. So, basically, if you have a Dilated Peoples record in your collection, there’s no need to pick this one up at your locally owned music dealer. “Resurrected” starts the album off with a Babu inspired beat and moves into a track about the Boom Bap Project’s home, Seattle. The entirety of the album is unified by the refusal to move from one style of hip-hop to another. There is a really nicely done jazz guitar sample on “Get Up, Get Up”, and a Marley snippet on “Sho Shot”. Even from those titles though, one understands the general idea of the album. There are a number of sing along choruses, recalling J5, and interestingly enough an oboe beat. I can’t claim to be the undisputed beat mining champion, but off the top of my head I can only recall one other oboe track and that can be found on “Accepted Eclectic” by Aceyelone. Despite my preceding two hundred words or so of whining, if you can’t squelch your appetite for late nineties/early-days-of-the-new-millennium hip-hop style, pick it up. Make sure to throw your hands in the air though, so at least some one knows that you’sa true playa.
From Now On Now
Morphius Records, 2005
I really want to like this band. And I can, almost. If nothing else, they’re a four-piece rock band from Cleveland on a respectable indie-label, so they receive at least my admiration. This cd/ep replete with Jake Kelly artwork, clocks in at eighteen minutes and sports seven songs. So, there aren’t any epics on here, but there is some solid music. I try to ignore the fact that the bass was consistently too low in the mix, giving the two guitars free reign on this album. Occasionally that turned out well for the band, and sometimes it didn’t; like on the closer “Seven Months Gone By” with the unimpressive, yet still painfully memorable guitar solo. Closest to awful this band comes to is “Oh Elise”. With such a succinct title/chorus, it sounds like a winner when you imagine it in your head but when you hear it, the tune is flat. Coffinberry likes the drone, and they use it on a few tracks to dubious ends. For a moment “Eva” is interesting because of the drone being coupled with what sounds like an alarm clock going off. Unfortunately, the track ends not going anywhere, even with the creative drumming. Sensibly, the band began this affair with the most enervating track. “Nightlife” lurches forward, being spurred on by drumming matched only in novelty by the guitar warbling. Even if I ended up not enjoying this type of indie faire, I would wanna see a crowd dance to this. If I wasn’t amused by the music, the throng of floppy haired, limp armed indie kids/twenty-somethings would make me content.
Manic Ride Records, 2005
One look at the cover and you know you’re in for a hellish ride: a massive skull above skeletons riding motorbikes. Cliché? Perhaps. But there’s nothing cliché about the relentless power of Coliseum. It’d be easy to say they follow in the deeply imprinted footsteps of bands like Tragedy or From Ashes Rise who made careers out of stealing liberally from Motorhead and Black Flag. Yet Coliseum blaze a furious path all their own. See for instance the towering “Year of the Pig” or the Land Speed Record-era Husker Du speed and pulverization of “Dehumanize.” What separates them from the mundane norm is the undercurrent of melody coursing through each song, especially “Theme.” Lyrically, they touch upon the standard issues: religion (see the title), politics, rising above inner demons. They’ve “made up” their minds and are “striking back at time,” while attempting to “set it straight.” They “don’t want anymore of your faith” because “goddamn it” they’ve “had it.” It’s a vital call to arms, a demand to question, criticize and act- in the world and interpersonally. Coliseum spew forth music not for the faint of heart. It’s a furious, charged and a hell bound stampede. This EP (eight songs) is light years beyond their debut full-length on Level Plane Records, featuring better clarity and a righteously full, loud and pummeling sound. Credit Jason Loewenstein of Sebadoh fame for it. What the album captures is a band in all of its power and glory. But the band remains best experienced in the sweaty flesh. This EP should suffice for those not ready for the in concert tornado that is Coliseum live.
Geffen Records, 2005
Can we just pretend that Common never made Electric Circus? Ok? Done. Let’s just pretend that instead of the futuristic soul of that album Be is the follow up to the 2000 release of Like Water for Chocolate. This latest installment of Common’s ever-growing library of records offers up no real surprises. Well, there is actually a song about getting head, which I haven’t heard from this man since 1992’s Can I Borrow a Dollar?. But there are a number of RnB inspired loops that make me cringe, expected lyrical content about being a good person and triumphing amidst adverse situations. When I listen to an album by Common I know that I’ll enjoy his raps, or at least how he delivers them (his delivery is on par with that of Guru), but I’m always weary of the beats. And on this album Kanye West is credited as a songwriter on every track. That simply scares me. And the album bears out my fear. The bad beats are horrific (“Go!”, “Faithful”, “They Say”) occasionally due to guest singers like John Legend. I have no room for updated soul in my hip-hop. Good beats on here though do get real funky. “Chi-City”, “The Food” and “Real People” all boast top tier production from West and solid raps from Common. Be is pretty much a middle of the road album by this man but, at least there’s still room for Mr. Lonnie ‘Pops’ Lynn to get a track on here.
Cool Calm Pete
Embedded Records, 2005
Listening to Lost is like watching a scene from Napoleon Dynamite; you’re never quite sure what era you’re in. One minute, I hear ’88 Big Daddy Kane on WindSprints. The next, I’m rocking ’91 Slick Rick on New Jack Biddie. By the time I get to Two A.M., I’m having a full-blown Electric Relaxation moment.
Don’t get it Twisted. Calm Pete is not a Las Vegas lounge singer, doing Ol’ Skool covers. He’s a scholar who’s studied the scrolls of Hip Hop’s Golden Era and has taken his solo debut as an opportunity to display his own unique style.
Babbletron’s DJ Pre handles the productions heavy lifting like Mr. Incredible on Dinner And A Movie and New Jack Biddies. But don’t sleep on Pete’s DOOM-esque production debut on Two A.M. and The List.
Devised Without a Plan
Tiberius / Phratry Records, 2005
Covington are a Cleveland threesome who play melodic, emotive punk. Their previous band, Ampline, was all instrumental, which explains the tight musicianship and interesting song structures, as well as the instrumental track “Form and Divide.” Thankfully, they avoid the overplayed quiet/loud sing/scream song structure of so many similar bands out there. The songs are all competently written and ably played, and the production does a fine job of getting everything to sound clear. Maybe that’s why it took them a year to release these songs after recording them.
I liked this disc best when the boys strayed away from the standard emo-punk sound and moved into something more interesting, as on “Flight 326” and “Black-Eyed.” Most of the album, however, is pretty standard impassioned vocals over tight guitars. The lyrics are vague, with lack of clarity sometimes standing in for poetics. It seems like they have something interesting to say, and I’m glad they didn’t drop any clunkly rhymed couplets, but I do wish they had been a little less cryptic.
While this isn’t destined to be the stand-out album of the year, fans of the genre will certainly dig it. Hello, Cincinnati!
-Patrick Sean Taylor
Eat The Night
Shake It Records, 2005
To begin with the gentlemen who produced this album, Martin Bisi, has worked with Laswell, Iggy, Zorn, Sonic Youth, The Ramones and countless others. So, at least this mess should sound better than your average punk album. It’s doesn’t though. “Copper Flashes” may lead one to believe that the album that follows this introduction is an incredible, dumb-fuck-punk album, but it’s not. Solely based upon “Copper Flashes” though, this album is worth picking up if you can find it used. The song starts with the most mangled shrieking I have ever been blessed enough to hear. Anguish can’t even begin to describe the emotion behind this yelling. Whenever this was recorded, I imagine Polly Watson exhausted and in need of a shower after completion of this track. The following nine tracks, though, are basically a waste of time. They’re all perfunctory mid paced rockers with Polly swinging back and forth between her growling and attempted singing. I will say that the cover of “Disowned” by The Live Ones (I’m not going to even pretend that I know who they are) is almost good but, the band gets to the chorus three times in about a minute and a half. If nothing else though it’s good that some folks are still playing punk like this. On the other hand, not everyone needs to hear it.
Mush Records, 2005
On the second album baring his moniker, Daedelus dishes out only five tracks without the assistance of a guest. But those five tracks of the producer all alone are easily entertaining enough to warrant purchasing this album. Anyway, from the release of “The Weather” LP and “Of Snowdonia,” Daedelus has shown his considerable talents repeatedly. Here he continues, just not as consistently. The first of only five solo tracks we are lucky enough to hear is easily one of the most pleasurable on the album. “Dearly Departed”, while the music is close to awe inspiring, sports a somewhat sub-par female vocal sample. The second of the solo tracks most clearly states why Daedelus is worth listening to. Every aspect of this song is how Daedelus seems to define himself: from the electro-glitch production to the eastern theme, which so commonly ends up benefiting with its’ pairing with hip-hop. The remaining solo efforts aren’t bad but can’t really maintain my interest. Aside from the instrumentals, there are almost too many guests to get through. MF Doom shows up early on a track perfectly suited to his style although a bit short. In his allotted time he’s able to get off the line “He don’t eat gelatin/hot or cold ham”. What? Prefuse 73 makes an appearance as well as Cyne, who has been showing up on a number of compilations similar to this one. \An acoustic guitar on “Thanatopis” closes out what ended up almost being an average affair with a chocolate magic shell coating.
Empty Records, 2006
Ya know, I love the MC5, but I don’t really need them name dropped every ten minutes (this was an example of name dropping to ensure my credibility). The trio that is Dark Skies draw from that pool of rock and release an album of music easily surpassed by the cover art. I’m pretty confident that living in the sixties and seventies would have provided me with a great deal of fun, so I can understand the affinity bands have for attempting to recreate that time through notes. Each track of this recreation has positive elements, whether it’s the funky bass, a musical freak-out or guitar screeches, but when taken as a whole, the album falls short of anything that could be listened to more than once, or even once all the way through. Empty Records is toying with our emotions folks. The general public will be exposed to The Reatards or some other viable act and then we’re given Dark Skies. Mr. Empty Records Label Boss, we want to love you, but give us a reason
Beauty and the Beat
Lewis Ent, 2005
Edan has been practicing his syllables, his scratches, and his art since the release of “Primitive Plus.” He has studied the Sgt. Peppers, the Experienced, and the Treacherous. Now, the self-proclaimed Humble Magnificent is emerging from the malaise of corporate art to awaken the masses with his new album, “Beauty and the Beat,” a record surely to destroy all preconceptions of how hip hop is supposed to be heard.
Claiming Boston as his stomping ground, Edan is a one-man show, controlling all the scratches, rhymes and production on his records. Imagine a dorkish nasal sounding Kool Keith from his Ultramagnetic MCs days, mixed over 1988 style boom bap of Marley Marl and you have the Humble Magnificent wreaking havoc on “Primitive Plus.”
Edan considers his debut as paying homage by resuscitating the rhyme styles and production that made early hip hop so stimulating to him. It is an open time capsule full of silly rhymes and old school throwback references to create a lighthearted listening pleasure.
“It was a case of me being excited with hip hop and its possibilities,” Edan said. “Most people call it a throwback, but I was just trying to figure out why Marley Marl is stimulating to me, in the same way [Jimi] Hendrix is stimulating. That’s the vibe.”
But, the release of “Beauty and the Beat” on Lewis Recordings, will consummate the growth of an artist fed up with the complacency of modern music and media. Edan calls it a “fun house” of ideas, in which the listener is presented with a hallway of doors to peak inside and receive a special treat.
“By opening one door you might see a horse on a trampoline and behind the next will be a naked dude playing with an egg and so on,” Edan said. “I’m just trying to pre-empt people’s ability to predict what I’m about to do.”
Like lightening bugs in a pickle jar, each song on “Beauty and the Beat” captures the essence of Edan’s intentions through melodious intricacies of obscure samples, psychedelic warps, reverberated vocals and funky drums. It is an excursion from front to back as each song is condensed into less than four minutes of arrant madness.
It is rumored that in the time between his debut and the creation of his new record, Edan died in a freak accident involving rhyming in the shower (always leave your mics unplugged kiddies) and was reincarnated as a maniac composer with a thumping pain in his skull. Modern medicine proved to be useless in removing the pounding. His only outlet to remedy the pulsating malady was to compose “Beauty and the Beat.”
The tortures of this thumping resonate through the stomach of the album as darkness blankets the music. On “Torture Chamber” the un-legend Percee P, as usual, obliterates the song with vicious intentions of slow death while Edan maps the soundtrack to the execution.
Tools of the alchemist bang, the record plays backward and time explodes on the intense journey “Making Planets.” It is as if Edan collapsed his universe then allowed, guest emcee, Mr. Lif to rebuild anew. Throughout the album the idea of how a hip hop song and production should sound is removed and replaced with crashing closings and backward skips and hisses as Edan expresses childlike mischief in his production.
“I think a lot of producers are nice and neat with their beats; measuring it out with rulers and protractors on paper,” Edan said. “I like to splash the paint around and question which colors would look best on the canvas.”
The last third of the album, progresses into the beauty of art and life, as Edan takes a more melodic approach to the production. Songs like “Beauty” and the closer, “Promise Land” have strong orchestrated instrumentation, creating a triumphant ending for those that endured the journey.
To promote his album, Edan has planned a relentless tour schedule in March and April that will trek across Europe and Japan. Plans for a U.S. tour are still in the works. By the end of the year he hopes to have released a follow-up EP and begin working with Duplex companion, Insight; as the two virtuosos combine to equal six.
For Edan, “Beauty and the Beat” could be his Paul’s Boutique, De La Soul Is Dead, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pet Sounds or more recently Smile. He creates a world outside normalcy and expectation, yet remains within the genre.
“There is a corporate stranglehold on art right now,” Edan said. “No one is thinking about hip hop as a majestic art form and I want to carry that flag. I’m not losing focus that it can be so beautiful it blows your mind.”
Record Label, 2005
I guess this album is well produced, but that’s about all I can say about it. Ryan Rapsys I the man responsible for the music on this album and begins with an intriguing instrumental entitled “Zebras Cold Training”. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is a let down after this percussion-rich first track. The EP continues with “Some Want to Slowly Die” and Rapsys’ affected vocals. Sometimes distorted guitars just aren’t enough to make a track worthwhile and here’s your proof. Another instrumental, “Semi Alert”, follows, introduced by the noise that alien spacecrafts make when landing. Solid drumming and a somewhat belabored guitar concoction take up the rest of the track. Again, spaceship noises do not automatically make a track worthwhile. When reading the title of the next track, “More to Your Liking”, it seemed the Rapsys had anticipated my disappointment with his schlock and had created something that I would enjoy. I was wrong. A silly key line, overly simplistic drumming and Rapsys’ affected voice just don’t get it done. The last track begins and I think that it’s somehow a new Strokes single. Then I realized that even if it was a new single by the we-work-hard-to-be-cool-band, that it would be as vacuous as the rest of this album. I always believed that the point of music that skirts the mainstream is to be different and not necessarily easily digestible by the general populace of dullards and cranks. Unfortunately this is lost on the great hope of Chicago music, Euphone. You know what? If you’re in town and Euphone is playing, find out where The Drastics are jamming, unless you’re looking forward to falling asleep on a bar stool.
Extra Blue Kind
The Tide and The Undertow
Opulent Records, 2005
Rock and Roll music is an amazing animal because a man can sing anything and as long his group sounds urgent enough, I’ll be into it. You can sing about cling peaches, it’s ok; sound desperate and it’ll sound like quality. Extra Blue Kinda have almost figured this out. Not quite though. The opener from this rock triumvirate actually utilizes poignant drum rolls and droney keys to make me think that this slab has promise. The next track removed that hope and pretty much assured me that this would be an up and down affair. I was right. “Out of My Hands” punishes with a lame chorus but pleases with an incredibly beautiful lead guitar melody. It’s a trade off. The rest of the album shifts back and forth between bad rockers and Wilco sounding acoustic guitar rock. Really, this would have been a strong EP but, it’s an album and the extraneous filler is readily apparent. “Our Only Appeal”, probably the worst track track on here, has electronic sounding drums and an annoyingly jerky guitar line. Closing out the average affair is “Sugar”, which seems to have an eerily similar melody to the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, except not as fast. Initially, I heard hints of the good rockin’ Beach Boy’s (not “Pet Sounds”, as that album is for people who want to be hip), and it’s there, but the Stones over ride it. Don’t buy this. You can go see ‘em play a show and it’d be more entertaining, but save your money for something that’s pleasurable the whole way through; like a beer.
Perfect Toy, 2005
The instrumentals on this slab of German Jazz are not only passable, but pleasurable to hear. Save the first track, “Carrousel”, and “Spring Seems To Be a Little Colder”, there’s not a clunker in the lot. The female vocals on these two numbers do put a damper on the foreign jazz party, but not so much so that the other tracks are less enjoyable. I can’t claim to understand German culture, Kraftwerk or world domination, but Jazz (with a capital J) seems to be a universal language. This band sounds new and unique while also adhering to some basic tenets of Jazz. The electric keys make this band more interesting than an acoustic combo, but there’s just alotta soul behind the music. The exotic drumming on “Dewendiana” coupled with the tight horn section sets this track apart from the more traditional sounding instrumentals, whereas the funked out blues bass line of “Nova Express” is more representational of the album. I don’t know what “The Opposite of Hamburg” actually means, but the rhythm and the way the track moves along seems more fervent with the time changes. Each track the piano accents the right places culminating in a Monk style work out on “A Mad Angel”. The interaction of the group really is amazing in every aspect. Hipnosis is smooth; their transitions are tight, the solos are interesting and the keys keep making the right airy noise in the right empty places.
Hope You Choke
One Percent Records
As evidenced pretty clearly by the name of the band, Hope You Choke are not messing around. Mixing elements of metal and hardcore for a sound not unlike genre forerunners Integrity, this five piece offers a short but aggressive blast of power.
In no more than twenty minutes, Hope You Choke combines viciously delivered vocals with a thunderous rhythm section and lead guitar solos that will surely light your speakers on fire. The amalgamation of metal and hardcore is surely not a new one, but not often does it sound so fresh and full of bite. The lyrics are scathingly delivered amidst the ruckus that is the music behind it. The guitars blast quickly and effectively, with the drum and bass combination steadfastly anchoring it all.
While the album is without any true standout tracks, that allows for each and every minute to be as solid as the last. Be it the invigorating guitar squeals of “Ad Nauseum,” or the more traditional hardcore delivery found in “No Cure For Cancer,” there’s simply no weak patches to speak of.
Full of unrelenting intensity and musicianship to match, Hope You Choke’s self titled effort will no doubt please fans of metal and hardcore alike.
Corwood Industries, 2006
PO Box 15375, Houston, Texas 77220
Macy’s Day Bird/Black With Green Leaves
Important Records, 2006
After a series of dreary and indistinct releases in 2005, Texas recluse Jandek mixes things up in a refreshing manner with this live(!) double(!!) CD recorded May 22, 2005 in Gateshead, England. For over 80 minutes Mr. Smith jams with drummer Alex Neilson and bassist Richard Youngs to an enthusiastic crowd. Our man sports a highly flanged/phased/fucked electric guitar sound and his playing is better here than it has been in years, with his backup team flailing about relentlessly. This is the Jandek record we’ve been waiting on for quite a while now, very energetic and detailed and more than scratching the itch. Lyrics are as bleak as ever, with song titles like “Mangled and Dead” and my favorite, “Cottage In The Rain.” Excellent.
NYC songstress Diane Cluck is like a feminine reflection of an earlier, quiet, acoustic Jandek, with a stunning voice that is beautiful and haunting at once. This double CD reissues her 2001 debut and its 2002 followup EP, self-released by Cluck back then and tough to track down in original format now. Sparse piano and guitar arrangements augment Cluck’s engaging songs perfectly, and the care that went into these recordings is obvious. Like much of Jandek’s earlier work, the production conveys a sense of the artist being not just right in the room with the listener, but actually inside the listener’s head. An amazingly intimate release from one of the best songwriters I’ve ever come across.
Electronic music, like instrumental hip-hop, only works when disparate sections of a single song come about through clever layering of simple loops. Resilience displays the ability of kid606 to do that. A wide variety of influence makes itself readily apparent on this release. There’s reggae and dancehall, funk, hip-hop and old timey electronica from decades earlier. “Spanish Song” and “Phoenix Riddim” evoke island sounds with the dub style bass lines but add to the mix robot noises, monkeys and acoustic guitars for variety as well as for the pleasure of the listener. The most laid back number on Resilience comes in the form of “I Miss You”. With its’ emotional sentiment one might not expect what one hears. Hand drums and electric piano sound calm cooing from the speakers. And if one were to define hip-hop in very broad terms, this track might fall under that definition. At times this release begins to repeat itself and when that notion enters the listeners mind, “Cascadia” comes along to remove such a concept. One harsh melody dominates the majority of the track and eventually segues into something more soft and synthesizer based. A bizarre ending to the album takes shape as “Audtion”. This final track is ambient, not to a fault though. There is actually music in there, just not a lot. Amongst the numerous recordings of a relatively short career, kid606 mashes typical musics into a mosaic of atypical noises; recommended for listeners of all electronic muzaks.
Kind of Like Spitting
Learn: The Songs of Phil Ochs
Hush Records, 2006
Phil Ochs was a seminal folk singer in the ‘60s and ‘70s, known for protest songs such as “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” and “Draft Dodger Rag.” Though often called a contemporary of Bob Dylan, I’ve found his songs ultimately more compelling over the years.
With this record, Kind of Like Spitting cover nine of Ochs’s songs in the same style — acoustic guitar and singer(s). I have mixed feelings about this record. On the one hand, I’m ecstatic that a new generation of people are being exposed to Phil Ochs and his legacy, that they appreciate and understand the importance of protest music in these days of war.
On the other hand, Ben Barnett and David J don’t have the vocal versatility or warmth to really pull it off. The familiar chords really resonate with me, but the singing is often flat and nowhere near as captivating. I think there’s something to be said for taking a song and making it your own, instead of trying to replicate the original — as is done here. No one can be Phil Ochs. Yeah, call me a purist, OK? If you like KOLS, buy this record. If you want to know about Phil Ochs, go for the original.
Record Label, 2005
Another EP from the smugly named Record Label, doesn’t really get the juices flowing. At least on this offering there’s some really interesting guitar playing. But, couple that with the contrived poor singing and this slab ends up in the used section of my local slab dealer. Some clever titles are too clever and end up making me want to set fires. “Fondu or Don’t” is one of these. But you know, the list of drugs that pass as lyrics for this track make up for it. The guitar picking too adds an element of entertainment to this outing, but the vocals take it all away by sounding a bit to vulnerable to fit with the music that spews forth from mine speakers. The second track begins with my least favorite drumbeat; the disco beat. At least it’s compensated for by tossing in more interesting guitar work, which seems to be the only saving grace of this EP. An instrumental follows, which isn’t engaging enough for me to recall. Finally track five flows into track six and peters out. The silence between the end of the album proper and the radio interview with a crazy gentlemen focused on converting to Islam is the most pleasurable time during this entire affair. So, if you’re in Chicago and this gentlemen, Tim Kinsella, is playing somewhere, try to find a good movie to see.
Maim & Disfigure, 2006
Monstrously fucked post-Sun City Girls free from this Columbus, Ohio trio of basket cases. Drone dude Zac Davis goes Ginn-on-steroids with his guitar, Kathy O’Dell pushes lysergic feedback out of hers, and Shane Mackenzie smokes mad crack in between car wreck drum fills. This stuff is kinda like Borbetomagus times infinity, but without the horns getting in the way. It’s a doom trip, man, and there’s not any way out. It’s raised on equal parts SST jamming and American Tapes gurgle and sputter, perfect for both hipster post punkers and armchair cosmonauts like myself. The original edition of 60 on Megafauna Records is long gone, but the Maim & Disfigure reissue has five extra tracks, so go for it, head.
The Lawrence Arms
Fat Wreck Chords, 2006
I wanted to review this CD just so I could send it as a gift to an avid Lawrence Arms fan. Now, I’m sitting here looking at it and the dubbed cassette copy I made and grappling with which one to mail to him. You know you’ve got an honest to goodness punk album when 12+ songs clock in under 35 minutes. Thirty-five minutes of virtually non-stop and unstoppable pop. Not the most unique musical output but a tried and true one for sure. Power pop? Pop punk? Whatever classification you want to file it under it’s upbeat enough to shake your ass to and still hard enough to nod that head until your neck aches. Dueling, yet equally scratchy, vocals deliver lyrics about feeling lost, lonely, and disillusioned. There is a fight against those feelings waged with living for the moment, drug references, and party anthems. And what’s with Fat making a habit of releasing albums with biting criticisms of the Van’s Warped Tour, largely Fat’s baby? (See Propagandhi’s “Rock for Sustainable Capitalism” and the bonus track right here on Oh! Calcutta!) Let’s hear it for self-accountability!
The Like Young
Polyvinyl Records, 2006
A boy. A girl. More solid pop rock and roll than two people should theoretically be able to make without enlisting in the help of a couple of friends. This has been playing non-stop while I’m putting this issue together, and I’m still sad that we couldn’t get these two to drive down from Chicago for the Clamor party last March.
Kid Gloves — A Modaji Long Player
Compost Records, 2006
This album was originally released during the summer of 2005 in Japan and unfortunately only now are we, the west, getting to hear this. Harvey Lindo is Domic Jacobson, a producer whose background is ensconced in electronic music, which implies a certain degree of knowledge regarding hip-hop. And that’s mostly what this album is, hip-hop. There are a number of tracks featuring Phillipa Alexander, who lays her voice over chilled out dance tracks. But let’s not have our focus deterred by the less than pleasurable moments. Count Bass D, one of numerous guest MCs, is featured on “Rugged Individuals.” Here he sounds as self assured and mellow as Guru at his peak. Amongst the instrumentals, there are some funky numbers, but also a few club influenced tracks that don’t come across as ridiculous, unlistenable or even out of place on this album. Kid Gloves is able to balance this producer’s electronic tendencies with his interest in hip-hop without one detracting from the other.
Safety Second, Body Last
Ipecac Recordings, 2005
This compact disc holds just over ten, that’s correct, ten minutes of music. Yet some how, Mike Patton and his team of savvy indie-music biz moneygrubbers have deemed this slab worthy of a ten, that’s correct, ten-dollar price tag. Now, whether or not I’m a fan of Patton and his various projects, I refuse to allow such a blatantly ridiculous occurrence to go uncommented upon. So, let’s take time out here so that I may begin a dialogue with said label boss. Ahem. Sir. I am part of the record buying populace and find the pricing of your labels latest single to be exorbitant. Firstly, the pretension of squeezing eight (or whatever the number maybe) songs onto two tracks is blindingly repulsive. Secondly, when I purchase a record by a group such as The Locust, I am not looking for minimalist electronic music (which occurs sometime during the first track), I’m solely looking for some (retardedly) short blasts of HC violence. Furthermore, Mr. Patton, while I appreciate the space noises and what occasionally sounds like Devo playing HC, I simply loose myself in the space of a seven minute screed of noise that is the first track. I can tell, sir, that the band meticulously planned out this recording, replete with videogame and cricket noises, but I simply want more for my money. You see, I have a job that pays seven dollars an hour. So I have to work 1.428 hours just to buy this record. I don’t find that quite acceptable. Please get back to me when you get a chance. Thanks again.
The Loved Ones
Keep Your Heart
Fat Wreck Chords
As Clamor readers know, Fat Wreck Chords have a real history in the punk rock scene of the 1990s. Face To Face, Lagwagon, NOFX, all rose to popularity as label flagships, now, in 2006, a new breed of bands will be carrying that very same flag. Among those are Philadelphia upstarts The Loved Ones.
This three piece knows just how to truly pack a punch, combining powerful melodies with surging rhythms and tight and effective drumming. Singer Dave Hause’s scruffy stylings set the tone brilliantly and give each song its own unique identity. The up-tempo “Over 50 Club” accomplishes a great deal in less than a minute and a half, with the guitar work cascading over the rousing drum fills and powerful bass lines. Even in a more reserved effort such as “The Odds,” each musician gels in terrific fashion with the others, giving ample reason to tap your foot and sing along.
It may be early in 2006, but this is a terrific punk rock record and it captures the spirit of everything the genre wants to be. It’ll be a hard one to top.
The Punk Terrorist Anthology Vol. 1
The Punk Terrorist Anthology Vol. 2: ‘85-’88
Alternative Tentacles, 2006
The ‘80s you see on TV these days doesn’t look much like the one I lived through. MTV, The Preppie Handbook, and Reagan where the way that the ‘80s went down in the suburb where I came up and me and my like-minded fellows huddled in cold, dark rooms — crappy clubs doing all-ages shows and abandoned warehouses to listen to bands that shared our dissatisfaction with the sunny and stupidly optimistic tone of the era. These records bring back the ‘80s as I recall them. Hardcore bands were experimenting with metal, politics was everywhere, and only morons were optimists.
Nausea were a product of their time, but that doesn’t mean that they were just a composite of the influences and feelings in the air. On both of these records, Nausea prove that they could deliver the goods with power, clarity, and honesty and make it seem soooo simple. Taking cues from the awesome riffs of Discharge, the ideological integrity of Crass and the Ex, and the cool parts of metal, Nausea built a sound that bludgeoned you with power while reminding us of the value of collaboration during the waning days of the Decade of Competition.
Originally self-released in 2001, The Punk Terrorist Anthology Vol. 1 features most of their Extinction LP along with a bunch of singles and comp tracks. The shit rages pretty hard — alternating male and female vox, pounding drums, and thick guitars with occasional (ok, more than occasional) mangled solos. This record has the jams on which Nausea’s rep rests and, nearly twenty years later, they still hold up while a rugged video of “Cybergod” shows you what you missed, liveshow-wise.
The Punk Terrorist Anthology Vol. 2: ‘85-’88 digs deeper into the vaults. With classics like “Smash Racism” and “MTV (Feeding the Fortune 500),” we get to see a fuller picture of Nausea’s politics in smudgy demo sound. Pretty fucking hot. Covers of the Subhumans, Discharge, Omega Tribe, and the Business pay tribute to their roots and “New Generation” is one amazing punk-assed anthem.
At about 75 minutes a pop, there is no good reason not to buy these. Nausea pointed the way to the countless crust bands that followed and remind us that a band can be effective format to express rage, hope, and solidarity. Buy now and see how little has changed since Reagan Youth were still youths.
Nightmares on Wax
In a Space Outta Sound
Instrumental electronic and hip-hop albums are always a tenuous outing. Whether or not one enjoys the album as a whole, there are inevitably a few moments that are less than pleasing. I suppose, though, that this notion is applicable to any album of any genre, but specifically a useful thought in the case of Nightmares on Wax. In the mid-nineties NOW was hailed as the leader of instrumental albums, much like the one before me now, In a Space Outta Sound. Unlike previous releases by NOW, the first two thirds of this album eschew the more electronic sounds that Warp Records is known for and simply goes for seemingly organic grooves. Of course this is all production trickery. Jamaican influecenes infect a number of cuts here, which is always a nice coupling with hip hop. There are a few moments of soul and ambient music getting the best of the producer, but overall a more than satisfying release from a name that is and should be synonymous with instrumental music.
Rough Out There
Echo Beach, 2005
Sweet mother of Christ. Let me say that I guarantee that these gentlemen listen to some extremely good dub and reggae music. Additionally, if you visit their website, there’s a track called “Sly and Robbie Vice Vanity” on which a man named Beans raps for a little while. Having said both of these complementary and slightly inane, positive comments, I have two other things to relate. One, Noiseshaper is one of my least favorite names for a group in the long and varied history of music. Two, the music on this slab is pretty eye-stabbingly awful. From the first track on, there are occasional pleasing moments, but they’re so deeply buried in the mire that it’s not even worth trying to find them. What makes the entire outing even more offensive is the final track on the record: “Kung Fu Fighting (Noiseshaper Remix)”. Granted Carl Douglas was a star and is related to the music Noiseshaper is creating by virtue of being from Jamaica, but there really is no excuse for this final track. I won’t ever listen to this album again, but I have played the last track for a few people and enjoy watching each person’s jaw drop in amazement that someone took the time to do this.
Live in Ann Arbor – April 9, 2006
I stood in the back of a crowded bar with about 400 of my closest friends. I could barely see Of Montreal without pushing my way to the front of an unbelievably packed crowd, but it was still the best live show I’ve seen in a long time. Over an hour of solid joy-fillled, pretension-free energy. Of Montreal is definitely comfortable in their skin, and they look damn good in it. I said a few issues back that Polyvinyl is kicking my ass with releases like The Like Young, Decibully, and Of Montreal. I can only imagine how the new Aloha is going to sound.
Pattern Is Movement
Noreaster Failed Industries, 2005
I think all art students should be forced to start bands, and all musicians should be forced to study art. Good things often come of it: Wire’s herkey-jerky punk, Crass’s sound collages and entire aesthetic, the White Stripes garage-rock-meets-Godard minimalism. Particularly if you are going to work within the constraints of bass/guitar/drums, you either need to be a 19-year-old fuck-up going balls out, or have some sort of grounding philosophy. Otherwise you end up being Nickelback — and no one wants that.
I don’t know if Pattern Is Movement are art school kids, but they certainly sound like it. On the surface, they are your typical indie band — bass/guitar/drums, well-versed in both Belle and Sebastian and Built to Spill. However, they defy the limitations of indie rock and create something much more interesting and unique.
Their name tells you what they are going for — their music is all about patterns, repeating patterns, particularly. “Maple,” the opening song, starts out with a simple melody and the line “I love you when you come near/ Standing naked in the door.” Then it repeats the line over and over and over, until it goes from being a cute little melody into being something kind of disturbing.
The resulting album is something that is sweet, whimsical, and a little unsettling. The songs can be enjoyed on both a purely aesthetic level as a fun little indie tunes, or they can be appreciated for their experiments in song structures and sound. Like a Truffaut film, there is a depth to Pattern Is Movement, but they are also entertaining, and you don’t need an MFA to appreciate them. I’m glad bands like Pattern Is Movement are keeping indie music interesting, and I highly recommend this disc to anyone bored with the ordinary.
-Patrick Sean Taylor
An Untitled Album
Friction Records, 2005
Paucity happens to mean, “smallness of number; fewness.” Paucity is also an instrumental rock band. Anyway, instrumental music is supposed to evoke a mood, and while this mood is open to any kind of interpretation, each track on this slab seems to take us on the same emotional journey. Perhaps that is the ultimate limitation of instrumental musics; there is not really a unified vision, unless within the group there is a visionary. Paucity sports four adept musicians but lacks one individual who possesses the foresight to change music. Basically, there isn’t a stand out musician; one that dominates and makes the listener drop open his jaw and listen for innovation. The drummer comes closest but not quite close enough. He’s not a Rat Scabies or Keith Moon but he is talented. Regardless, the most “experimental” of these seven tracks come at the very end in the form of “A Random Killing” and “80 Years For”. Up until this point each track sports interesting drumming and a talented guitarist intertwining with the bass and keys but really taking the music nowhere. The final two tracks somehow tap into something more primal and a bit more interesting. There’s electronic production at the beginning of “A Random Killing” and unadulterated guitar noise on the last track. Even with this slight bit of variation, a vocalist would make the supreme difference. Either way, it’s ballsy to make an instrumental album when you’re set up like a rock band (unless you’re German). The result here is why it’s a risk. Not good or bad but, it’s just there.
DJ Mumbles hails from a collective in L.A. called Project Blowed. Simply put; if you’re birthed from that group of musicians, you’re talented and/or conceptually gifted. In this case, both apply. Mumbles and cohort Gone Beyond have put together an instrumental-conceptual-hip-hop-album. Both apparently are greatly inspired by eastern culture and religion as the name of the collaboration and the title of the album serve to exhibit (Spirit Evolves Via Awareness). Basically, instead of ‘conscious’ hip-hop lyrics, the titles of the tracks, which seem to be affixed regardless of the tune, are the concepts the need to be related by the music. Amidst the eastern influenced hip-hop beats, there are interludes with speakers proclaiming rather profound concepts overtop of soul jazz. The songs themselves are mostly interesting, or at least interesting enough to listen to and examine. Generally, the tabla is present but the pairing of that with either jazz sounds or funky drum beats results in very listenable single movements. The tracks don’t actually have disparate sections with transitions. Instead Mumbles and Gone Beyond rely on production flourishes to move the loop forward. Sometimes it works (“The Tides of Titan”, “Soul Surgery”) and sometimes it doesn’t (“Suspended Animation”, “In the Tiger’s Mouth”). Overall an interesting album added to by the concept behind it all, but not the greatest thing that Mush has ever released. If your looking for good production, you found it here, but if you’re looking for the instrumental album of the year, keep looking.
Kill Rock Stars, 2006
Escapism ruled the sound of the first half of this decade. From the guitar-based dance bands that have mutated to rule mainstream airwaves, to underground noise jammers who continue to snowball in popularity, musicians find audiences all the more willing to be swept away by gentle, deafening drones, harsh frequencies, or hedonistic disco beats and go-go bass lines. Shoplifting holds on to the revivalism aspect of these times, but eschews the escapism. On their Body Stories CD, the band spawns a creature comprised of equal parts no-wave and riot grrrl revivalism, their strongest suit being their lyrical resoluteness.
The disc opens with a not-exactly-inviting groove that holds steady for the first couple songs. The opening salvo, “M. Sally” (the M. abbreviated for copyright purposes) takes the Wilson Pickett standard on a gender reversal journey. The vocals are genderless, and perhaps this is why they chose to open with this otherwise unremarkable track.
“Talk of the Town” is the empowering musical centerpiece of the album. The song starts out off-kilter, the dual vocalists becoming less obtuse and exposing a fair amount of vulnerability, quietly admitting they are “precious kid(s) no more, just the talk of the town.” It’s a front of course; this rape story doesn’t end like that, and with a rousing “fuck that,” the cheerleading, protesting chorus kicks in, the rhythm section finally kicks it proper, and guitarist Chris Pugmire follows with a serpentine guitar line that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from Keith Levene circa Metal Box.
Shoplifting’s affectation for sloppy dub doesn’t stop there. Check the interesting musical turn on “Cover to Cover.” The instrumental “Flying Factory” is Shoplifting telling us their record and bookshelves are equally deep, but where are the vibes and the ghostly organs that close out the track on the rest of the songs? Other songs on the album address castration as liberation, the semiotics of terrorism, and most frequently, the ambiguity of sexual ethics in an entirely convincing manner. Beyond the name-checkable influences, there’s a surprising amount of Dead Kennedys in these songs, a pleasant realization.
Shoplifting gets their point across, and its one that needs to be heard. If the band can become less of a musical mixed-bag, their records will become the formidable weapons they want them to be.
Harlan Records, 2005
I’m going to try to curb my anger for the duration of this review, but all these songs sound like songs that you’ve heard before by another band that you didn’t care about in the first place. So now we must wonder why these folks would take the time to record these tracks, ostensibly for the second time. I was never good at understanding the motivations of others unless I had some sort of personal insight, but I guess in this case, I just don’t understand the genre of generic tiny label musics. The screamers that make up Slang alternately sound like Perry Ferrell and an angry man. Oddly enough, in addition to the Ferrell sounding female singer, Slang has a song called “My Mountain Music”, whereas Jane’s Addiction has a track from their second album entitled “Mountain Song”. Now, I’m sure that you, faithful reader, can’t recall the last time that you saw a Jane’s Addiction reference in a review, so I’ve included it for your reading pleasure. It duly serves though to distract from the farcical nature of this rock drudgery. Whoever the audience is for such Indie-Arena Rock acts as The Mars Volta, should search this out. The band is competent and from one listen you can ascertain the planning and passion that was involved in the construction of this slab, it’s just not all that interesting. Slang does have a breadth of tempos and they exercise them all about equally. But the most memorable track “Within My Reach, Diving”, is easily recalled simply because the female Ferrell is pretty much off key the entire screeching time. With that problem fixed, Slang could wind up on the radio sooner or later. But that just gives me another reason to burn compact discs and avoid the airwaves.
Conditioned By The Laugh Track
Orange Peal Records, 2005
Just the sound of the name of this band, I thought this was going to sound like one of those crazy grindcore bands from Europe, but this is actually far from it. This is more laid back rock. Not too heavy, not too light, just great music. Imagine Soul Asylum, Collective Soul, and Candlebox all blend in together with a little punkier and even emo twist. The singing is definitely emo-like. The music sort of has that punk edge but not too punk. The best example for this would be newer Dashboard Confessional. It's just hard to imagine a band with a name such as Sloppy Meateaters playing such wimpy rock. Though this isn't a bad album, something is just lacking. I'm not sure what it is though. This could be accepted very well in college radios as well as college students. Sloppy Meateaters has that sort of college rock band vibe going on. Who knows if this type of sound will ever be widely accepted other than in the San Diego rock scene? Time will tell.
- Adhab Al-Farhan
Juke Box Alarm
Kill Rock Stars, 2005
The synthesizer can be a dangerous instrument. It can either provide a band with a fresh and unique sound, full of jarring dissonance and foot tapping rhythms, or it can be the single most annoying thing you’ve ever heard in your life.
Luckily, Germany’s Stereo Total are well versed in the art of tact, as their synthesizer use only serves to enhance the lush pop melodies that the band specializes in. The subtle fuzz of feedback behind the delightful vocals of singer Angie Reed offer a stark contrast but a terrific mixture. Opening up with the heavily synthesized “Holiday Inn,’’ the bands charms are immediately evident in both delivery and overall composition. Simplistic, but wildly effective, each track offers up enough of its own identity to feel new every single time.
An enjoyable electro pop record that impresses in a variety of areas and should score another hit for Kill Rock Stars.
Kill Rock Stars, 2006
One of my favorite genres of music is sixties female Euro pop, and Stereo Total serve it up in spades. My Melody offers up19 tracks of sweet, goofy, non-English goodness, with lyrics in German and French. I was in a horrible, horrible mood the first time I put this disc on, and it immediately put me in a good mood. How can you be bummed out listening to a girl sing about the issues of make-up in German over a quirky synth beat? You just can’t.
Stereo Total could easily be the younger sibling of Stereolab, only while Stereolab’s songs are overtly political, Stereo Total keep things much lighter. I don’t speak French or German, but from what I can understand, they aren’t exactly criticizing the current socio-economic system and fomenting socialist revolution. Most of the songs are about love, I think, except for the songs dedicated to Yoko Ono and Ringo Starr, and the one about being a badass disc jockey.
Besides their own stuff, they also cover Serge Gainsbourg, and do a rowdy version of “Drive My Car” titled “Tu Peux Conduire Ma Bagnole”. It all sounds very sixties and yet contemporary. The disc brought me back to the heyday of the Britpop revival in the mid-nineties, and the nights I spent at Bardot-a-Go Go celebrating Mr. Gainsbourg’s birthday with the rest of the San Francisco francophiles. Maybe that’s because My Melody was originally released in 1999, that kinder, simpler time, before the economy crashed and we decided to go to war with the world. My Melody is a charming and enjoyable record, and is guaranteed to do more to lift your mood than all of the antidepressants on the earth.
-Patrick Sean Taylor
Kill Rock Stars, 2005
The vocalist, guitar player, and chief songwriter of this now-defunct band is Colin Meloy. Currently, you can find him appreciating his recent and ongoing success in a group he now heads called The Decemberists. He is now a rock star. And because of this I need to point out the inherent irony in a label called “Kill Rock Stars” releasing a band that hosts a current rock star as leader. This double album, which encompasses the band’s lifespan, was recorded in the late nineties, when Meloy was not a rock star, but a college student in Missoula. So is a label that prides themselves on releasing interesting, unheard music and making new underground rock stars guilty of cashing in? Kinda. Surely, a great deal of people want to hear the band that birthed Meloy.
However, in the liner notes there is a picture of a rejection letter from Arista Records. So, in fact this band, Tarkio, sought a deal and could not find one. Is this the fault of KRS? Nope. But it is the fault of the label for releasing two hours of country rock that rarely varies in tempo while sustaining a measure of interest due to the entertaining vocals and well-crafted song. Should Meloy be a rock star? I guess so. Should Tarkio have gotten a record deal in the nineties? Probably not.
Ursula Rucker’s mouth is a womb; when poetry flows from her lips, she brings truth to life. On her third album Ma’at Mama, Rucker speaks as the mother of truth, the album a 15-track manifesto for restoring ma’at — universal order and balance — to a world plagued with injustice.
On “Rant (Hot in Here),” a funky track punctuated by blaring trumpets, Rucker prods, “Here/put this gun in your hand/go shoot some shit up,” and then proceeds to spit verbal bullets at everything from poverty, the prison industrial complex, and gun culture, to war, AIDS in Africa, and the Patriot Act.
“Children’s Poem” highlights the ma’at mama’s concern with raising our children more positively, protecting them from the negativity of an adult world rife with pedophilia, child murderers, and inadequate schooling. “No/this is not just another poem about children/it is a prayer/a plea/a lament,” Rucker declares.
The album also explores various manifestations of black womanhood, and she infuses songs like “For Women” (a reinterpretation of the Nina Simone classic) and “Poon Tang Clan” with feminist impulses. In the latter song, Rucker takes on the personas of Black Pearl, Rah Rah, and Half Blood, womyn who speak their truths unabashedly over a simple drum and cymbal beat.
Not singularly concerned with new world order, she gets personal over the futuristic boom-bap of “I Ain’t (Yo Punk Ass Bitch),” the mellow, steady beat of “Uh Uh,” and the mid-tempo groove of “Broken,” speaking on the difficulties of relationships and her refusal to surrender who she is to who her lover wants her to be; at the risk of losing love, she stays true to herself.
With Ma’at Mama, Rucker proves that poetry is just as powerful on wax as it is on paper as she uses her words to speak the truth that will restore order and set us all free.
- Kendra Graves
Creative Musicians Vol. 2
Perfect Toy, 2005
Unfortunately, I haven’t heard the first installment of this compilation but, I have heard other albums from this label and they generally got the goods. About half of this album, though, does need to be absolutely discounted. Through the first half though there are a number of funk gems that most likely would have never come to my attention otherwise. Jimmy Lynch makes a few appearances on this slab, including the first track during which he is introduced as the “Funky Tramp”. The band is tight and Lynch cranks it out. Probably the most memorable track on the album comes from a woman named Betty Barnes. Her track “Momma Momma”, uses the song title at the beginning of each line of verse; creating a nice effect. And if nothing else her voice is mildly reminiscent of Tina Turner’s, and who doesn’t like that? A few instrumentals are worth noting; Ruff Thomas, with handclaps and all entertains on “Give Me Mercy”. Faruk Green has a remarkable drummer on “Faith”, but the rest of the album falls short of funkentabulous. Probably, you’d be more satisfied with Roy Ayers’ “Coffy” but who knows? There’s no accounting for taste.
The Harder, The Better: Worldwide Extreme Music Compilation: Volume 9
Turkey Vulture Records, 2005
I have heard of this compilation for several years now. I know that this is a strong compilation series and Volume 9 is no exception. This CD has 27 tracks from 27 different bands. The title says it all, Worldwide Extreme Music Compilation. What more could you want? This CD is full of aggression from many of the diverse extreme hardcore and metal bands. While the majority of the bands here have that typical hardcore influence in their music, there are some that actually stayed away from all that though not entirely. The names of the bands here also bear such typical hardcore tone. The majority of the bands here are for the most part underground and some are even just up-and-coming. The only band here that is sort of a big name in the hardcore scene would be M.O.D. (featuring Billy Milano, who for most of you out there may know as also the founding member of the legendary band S.O.D., which is short for Stormtroopers of Death). That band also featured founding members of Anthrax. The harder, the better, and yes, this is by far the best compilation CD I've heard for this genre.
- Adhab Al-Farhan
Run The Road
Vice Records, 2005
All I can say is, WOW! I haven't heard compilations this good in quite a very long time. "Run The Road" pretty much consists of UK rap artists. There is a lot of heavy accents in the vocals that are clearly British and not leaving out that heavy Jamaican accent influences as well. This new form of rap is becoming hugely popular in London nowadays and it's just a matter of getting this release out here in the U.S. with proper marketing that this CD will take off, no doubt. The American rap artists these days are where its at to me. They all sound the same and more pop and or r n' b than ever. "Run The Road" has the best street rap/rhymes I've heard so far, and coming from the UK!? This is just gettin' more and more interesting. Pick this up now!
- Adhab Al-Farhan
sorryeverybody.com Vol. 1
KAB Records, 2005
This CD is the most exciting release I have heard so far this year. It features various artists of several different genres of music. The music in this CD is quite balanced, music-style wise. There's indie rock, hardcore punk, experimental, electronica, acoustic, a little hip hop, and even marching band music. There's plenty of liner notes in the CD inserts and tray card as well. This is such an interesting piece of product. Be sure to check out sorryeverybody.com for more details about this CD and the artists in it. All of which have a sort of political theme, which is what this CD is all about in the first place. I would say that this is pretty much an anti-Bush and even anti-war CD release, but predominantly anti-Bush, that's for sure. One of the song I heard had a sample of George Bush's speech on terrorism, WMD, and so on. Ahh, the war on error-ism is indeed still going on, and maybe for the next 4 more years. Be sure not to miss this one.
States of Abuse
Entartete Kunst 2006
Entartete Kunst are a San Francisco-based label who specialize in avant-garde electronica and radical politics. On States of Abuse, they’ve lined up 19 tracks of politically charged hip-hop from both North America and Europe. Hip-hop has replaced punk as the global music of rebellion, and this disc is the proof. It’s striking to see that people from so many different places sharing a similar musical language and political ideology. There are MCs rapping in French, Italian, and Spanish, along with British and American artists.
There are a lot of gems on this disc. Among them are BC400’s pissed-off rant on Bush and Chirac, which comes through even if you don’t understand French; Filastine’s “Judas Goat” which incorporates Middle Eastern instruments; and Giddee Limit’s blippy, grimey “Revolution Soldier.” These tracks combine banging beats with righteous anger, which is both cathartic and inspirational, just like a good punk song.
As with all comps, not everything here is solid gold. A couple of the songs are too preachy and simplistic; I appreciated that their hearts were in the right place, but wished they had more finesse in turning political arguments into good songs. This comp is definitely about the message first and music second, and sometimes it showed.
However, the majority of this disc is good, and it does a great job of presenting a unified, global assault against the Bush Regime, the War on Terrorism, and corporate greed. I’ve heard a million rappers yell “fuck the police”, but this was the first time I heard one quote Proudhon. This is sure to be the soundtrack of the next WTO protest, and worth checking out.
-Patrick Sean Taylor
The We That Sets Us Free: Building a World Without Prisons
Justice Now, 2006
This CD accomplishes a rare thing: A compilation of poems, spoken word, interviews, and songs meant to educate about the prison industrial complex and the affect of incarceration on women, their families, and communities also moves you with strong rhythms, strong images, strong music. An educational tool that can challenge and instruct the most educated organizer for prison abolition will also reach those with no background or understanding of the role of prisons in the US, the physical realities of negligent health care, sexual abuse, worker exploitation, or the emotional effect of cages, humiliation, and state abuse. An account of a most oppressed group in the US (complete with staggering statistics — women of color comprise over 60% of imprisoned women nationally, about 80% of women in prison in California are mothers, the world’s two largest women’s prisons are both located in Chowchilla, California) through its very honesty and thoroughness also leaves us hopeful and more open than when we heard the first beat.
This is a CD you may get for the information — where else can you hear women activists inside and outside of prisons delivering truly cogent and incisive analysis — but you’ll keep coming back to for the music and the beauty. Which is fitting for a CD that aims to open listeners’ imaginations to the idea and reality of a world without prisons, and to challenge us to conceptualize a society that bases relationships on compassion, respect, and meeting everyone’s needs. Another rare thing: To so fully convey that possibility, to let us bear witness, and, in the process, to liberate and transform us too.
-Sarah H. Cross