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Replicants – Self-Titled

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Zoo Entertainment, 1996

One doesn’t run into too many records that consist entirely of cover songs, yet the Replicants join groups like Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and Golden Smog in reinterpreting perfectly good songs.  I knew of these guys because I remembered I had enjoyed their cover of the Cars’ “Just What I Needed” back in 1996.  Yeah, my song memory latches on to some random stuff even if I have to sometimes grapple with other important info like, say, my current age.  The wife remembers the where and the when of our first, second and third dates together, yet I vaguely remember anything beyond giving her winks across a table.  However, after 10+ years, I remember the Replicants.  The sentimentality part of my brain is clearly shut off.

Part of the reason I remember these guys is the eye-catching simplicity of the album cover.  The box is at a fine angle immersed in a fetching hue of green.  Alright, beyond that, the Replicants deal out some rather heavy covers that vary in quality.  This may be partially due to the influence of this group’s founder, Paul D’Amour, who was an early member of Tool.  As mentioned before, the Replicants’ cover of “Just What I Needed” is pretty good if you’ve always wanted the song to sound a little heavier with thudding guitars and louder chorus.  The cover of Wings’ “Silly Love Songs” sounds nothing like the light, fluffy original and instead lays it on unrecognizably heavy with the help of a Maynard James Keenan cameo.  Whether it is more enjoyable than the original is not the point, as covers could take on a tack of just being different for the sake of being different.  In my opinion, I couldn’t really take much of the seven minute plus cover as it unfluffily killed my ears.

Some of the more enjoyable covers closely resemble the originals, like T. Rex’s “Life’s a Gas” and Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl”.  The daunting version of John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?” also comes across well as D’Amour sings as if he’s actually going to bring on the repercussions that Lennon peaceably waved off.  The album loses a little steam in the middle of the record with some unmemorable covers, even if the light-hearted Steely Dan cover of “Dirty Work” is rather unexpected.  What could be the most unique cover choice is the little known “Ibiza Bar” by Pink Floyd, which combines a soft tone with screeching noise to conclude the record.

Listen to a few of the tunes on their still up-and-running MySpace page:  Replicants on MySpace

I don’t really know what to make of half of this record, but needless to say the Replicants aren’t predictable in their approach.  One can certainly hear the Tool influence on some tracks but the Replicants certainly try to approach these songs their own way with a more chaotic, if not aloof, style.  It was the only record that this group released, as D’Amour moved onto Lusk and other projects.  It would have been interesting if the Replicants had another go at some of the more modern songs heard these days, for the music industry needs a good injection of heavy interpretation.  However, I’m sure that would just end up frightening the kiddies.

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Categories: TheRest Tags: , , ,

The Wonder Stuff – The Eight Legged Groove Machine

November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Polydor Records, 1988

Sometimes it’s a feeling, sometimes it’s  the original release date, but usually it’s an album cover that makes one draw out the wallet and cough up the change for a cheap record.  Look at that thing.  It’s bright pink with cops!  Also, why does the band get all wavy with their band name and then make sure that “groove” gets the funky font treatment?  I figured at first that this was going to be late eighties version of Phish.  However it turned out, I thought it was interesting to find it in a dollar bin because, given its age and fine condition, it had been in someone’s collection for some time before it was let go.  Maybe the fact that it was in such good condition might have, in hindsight, implied that it wasn’t listened to very often.

The Wonder Stuff are a band from England that were victims of the time.  The eighties were coming to an end and though Madchester was in full swing, the band wasn’t one of the clubby few that got ravenous press.  They couldn’t even slip in over here because we got the arguably delusional idea that hairspray, guys dressed as women, and poor clothing were a great idea for hard rock.  This left the Wonder Stuff to ply their pop rock trade as best they could given the situation, and it worked for a short while in England.  It just didn’t end up sticking.

Their debut record with the trippy album art is as good as any for a rock band making a feisty impression.  A great double dose to open the album will get the head nodding, with “Red Berry Joy Town” and “No For the 13th Time” speeding along freely with quick guitar hooks and multi-layered vocals.  I also like the fact that there isn’t a synthesizer to be heard as far as I can tell, which is a small miracle even if this was released at the end of a decade full of ’em.  However, with a rather dense sound and vocals that are immersed in the music, these guys really do resemble their contemporaries the Stone Roses .  They do get a little sluggish with “Rue the Day” early on the album, which sort of bumps along without inspiring much interest.  However, its thankfully short-lived as the band recovers quickly with a couple of good ones starting with “Merry Go Round”.  The Wonder Stuff are certainly at their best when they just serve up the pop rock in agreeable two and a half minute doses.

A few of their songs can be found on their MySpace page, but for more info on these guys check out their website.

The Wonder Stuff has actually regrouped and have put out a few albums this decade, including a 20th anniversary re-recording of this very album.  Whether or not anyone was hoping for a return is another discussion, but spinning this record a few times I have to wonder why this group didn’t catch on so well at the time.  They’re catchy, they’re earnest, and they sound whimsically engaging.  At least they’re giving the Brits another chance to appreciate them, even if its a few decades later.

Categories: Bargain Tags: , ,

Love Psychedelico – This is Love Psychedelico

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

HackTone Records, 2008

With an absolute mob scene of artists jostling to grab the attention spans of millions of Americans, it comes as a wonder as to which artists have yet to do so.  This usually has nothing to with their aspirations and more to do with the rather crowded and money-making mentality of the American music business, which no doubt puts up some walls when it comes to opportunities for groups outside of the country.  This makes some sense, I suppose, since we’re wrapped up in ourselves as pioneers of music that doesn’t involve sitars or strange one-string instruments that an elderly guy likes to twang in the middle of Harvard Square once in awhile.  Unless one is Canadian or British, it is not likely that a band from the hundreds of other countries will have influenced the general masses in the States.

This does not stop those outsider artists from trying, of course.  Although you’ve likely never heard of them, Love Psychedelico appear to be huge, Huge, in Japan and the surrounding asian countries.  I mean, hey, check them out at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.

They love ’em over there!  You’re lucky to get a crowd handclapping simultaneously for 10 seconds before we get bored over here.  As you can see, Love Psychedelico are a pop duo that plays positive music with a bright amount of energy.  Nothing crude, nothing flashy, just straight pop.  Unlike the metalheads, country dancers and goths roaming around various cities and establishments in the U.S., most of the populations in China, Korea and Japan are really big into sappy pop that focuses on the vocals instead of glitz and hooks.  Now granted, Love Psychedelico doesn’t seem terribly sappy, but they are always upbeat and crisp.

Along with the release of this record last year, Love Psychedelico decided it was time to gauge how an American audience might receive them by going on their first U.S. Tour.  If one gave a listen to the record before they showed up they might’ve wanted to go out and see them because, like that live clip above, they do have the stage thing down.  The record itself is what can be expected with some light pop and a lot of strong singing from Kumi.  At first I thought the songs were going to be in Japanese, but then I heard her sing in English.  Turns out she mixes the lyrics up in Japanese and English in each song, sometimes within the same sentence.  This makes deciphering a bit tricky, but as you can imagine it is not like you’re going to get a really thick story out of this stuff since most of it is about love or loss of love.   Most of the music has standard, mostly supportive beats, though such simplicity works for songs like “Your Song”, “Unchained”, and “My Last Fight” (stream them here).  Other songs are a little too light to the point of boring in my opinion, but then again, I’m not from the other side of the world.

For a dollar this was an educational pick up that got me to write a little more than I thought I would.  Since I’m rather more familiar these days with Korean pop music and have listened to a lot of Shonen Knife over the years, I had a good idea of what this group would sound like before I gave it a spin.  I also figured that the note on the album’s back cover of “100% Pure Rock & Roll” was more of an amusement than a likely truth.  Overall it’s a bouncy disc that those who aren’t searching for something particularly complicated but would at least want music that doesn’t bring them down could enjoy.  I am not sure if Love Psychedelico are going to try another venture to America anytime soon, but if you’ve got some vacation time set aside and are thinking of going to Japan, you might want to consider buying tickets early to see these guys.  I hear they sell out Budokan.

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Categories: TheRest Tags: ,

Piebald – All Ears, All Eyes, All the Time

November 23, 2009 1 comment

SideOneDummy Recordings, 2004

Piebald is known around the Boston area as an energetic rock band that was rather shy on national success (per usual) but full of local success.  I also have grown to like these guys because they don’t come across as pretentious or run of the mill, and coupled with the fact that they’re local to me, I do appreciate them even if it’s a tempered reception.  Like I said, they’re a good band, but despite all their records, they may not be everyone’s taste depending on a few minute elements.  This can get a little hard to explain.

Piebald’s fifth release has an exceptionally fetching album cover as well as the rather full compositions that one may not expect from a typical rock band.  There’s only four guys in the band but they fill a lot of empty space with layers of guitars as well as creative drumming by Jon Sullivan.  The vocals of Travis Shettel can be a deal breaker for some, for although he sings clear and rivals the energy amassed by the entire band, I can’t help but hear traces of a smug cleverness.  It probably isn’t his intention, but you know how it is with vocalists; people are drawn to some while repelled by others for little things like pronunciation or style.  If one reads into the lyrics they don’t reek of obnoxiousness, so whatever you hear from Shettel at least you can appreciate the writing.

It could be that Shettel only unnerves me for some tracks more than others because track itself comes off a little too cheeky.  “Haven’t Tried It” has a catchy flow but sounds a little too cutesy for these guys, which makes me think they wanted this particular song to become popular with its overall feeling of handclappy feel goodedness.  I hate that stuff.  However, Piebald does have a few great tunes like “The Jealous Guy Blues”, “Giving Cup”, and “The Song That Launched a Thousand Ships” that clearly illustrate they can burst out with rock when they need to (or just should).  “Get Old or Die Trying” is another winner with its heightened force from the guitars and drums before the album slips into a few sleepy tracks.  A few tunes to listen to:

You can check out a few of their songs on their MySpace page.

I have to call this dollar bin grab a Bargain because there really are some great rock tracks on this album that illustrate how good these guys were.  Piebald only put out one more album after this one before ending their long career together, which is bound to happen even with some of the most supported bands.  I do like the fact that these guys didn’t buy into the dance rock or electronic effects stuff that some more modern bands try to pull off.  Piebald certainly stuck by the approach that had worked for them for years, which is why this record is as good as any to check to see if one might like them.  For not very much money, I think they certainly should be.  I need a few more casual fans like me to wait for the reunion gathering.

Categories: Bargain Tags: , ,

Crushes – Hyperirony

November 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Dendrite Records, 2008crushes

Alas, I fall as another victim of cover art trickery.  Truthfully, what does one expect from a band that features a traffic cone impaled by a fork on the cover of its debut record?  I don’t know, but coupled with the duo’s shot on the back cover of being unceremoniously dumped out of a cardboard box filled with styrofoam peanuts I thought this was going to be either a synthpop or garage rock affair.  As it so happens, I am certainly finding that my genre-sensor needs replacing immediately.

Crushes are a demolition troupe from Boston that collides with one’s ears using electronic drums and a wide assortment of screeches, chugging guitar samples, and bad radio frequencies.  Add all of this up and you get experimental noise, which is probably my least favorite music genre if there’s ever going to be one.  A guy named Smith does most of the noise with his futuristic looking noisemachine, which is in the form of a guitar but it really looks like a soundboard concoction.  The woman named Jones taps away at her drums while singing once in awhile.  Notice I wrote ‘singing’, for she at least tries.  Smith, however, is the guy who makes no attempt to pretty up the air with his voice and instead sings like a drunken guy at a karaoke bar wobbling off a version of “Living On a Prayer”.  Can you picture how bad that sounds?  How about for nearly thirty minutes straight?  Welcome to this album.  I do find it amusing that within the gatefold cover of the record there are printed lyrics as if they matter within this mess.

Here they noisily are on MySpace:  Crushes It has videos as well which are more interesting than the music.

I imagine that if you’ve been looking forward to a new experimental noise act that isn’t saturated with mainstream stuff like Autotune and booty-shaking videos (I make joke) then Crushes will thrill you.  As for the rest of us, the majority will despise the music Crushes is blaring out.  This record goes in the Golden Trash Can as well as the real one.

GarbagePin

Categories: Bust Tags: , , ,

Adventures in Stereo – Alternative Stereo Sounds

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Bobsled Records, 1998advInStereo

The acquisition of this record was mainly due to what is known as a ‘brain fart’.  In a moment of faulty recollection, I thought I was nabbing a cheap record from Apples in Stereo.  I am not all that familiar with the faces or names from said band, and since they’re a very poppy, colorful group I figured this record could easily have been from them.  At least I walked out of this with my educated guess hitting on most points, but it ended up being an unfortunate disaster.

Adventures in Stereo are a trio from Scotland that specialize in very light pop and rather basic musicianship.  Judith Boyle, whose face is making a strong attempt at luring in cheap record buyers on the album cover, airily sings about cheery stuff like “A Brand New Day” and “Here Together” usually under two minutes.  Boyle’s voice tends to register rather high without too much variation, and though the double tracking of her voice adds a little more depth for some songs, it isn’t a true strength for any of the tunes.  That leaves the aforementioned simplistic musicianship from the two guys in the band, who were definitely trying to channel an early Beach Boys sound.  Too bad the vocals definitely can’t compare.

Overall, all of the songs come across as ditties that were thought up quickly without much interest in drawing out via composition or plot.  If the vocals aren’t appealing, and the lyrics aren’t appealing … what is there to listen to?  Although the band slips most songs under two minutes, that primarily means that they might have known these songs had little lasting value so they quit before the listener got too annoyed.  Eighteen tracks of these insta-fluff tactics made me realize that although I live by the quantity aspect of my cd scrounging, it doesn’t work the same way for bands.  Stick with quality, musicians!

It’s hard to find a place to listen to Adventures in Stereo online, but Last.fm can help one out.

The group didn’t last that much longer due to varying interests, but it is just as well since there isn’t much to be positive about from this release.  Granted, it was their debut record as a collective so perhaps every band has a rough go of it at first.  Regardless of how they progressed, the lesson learned here is that if you’re going to get excited about a dollar bin find, make sure it’s the band you’re thinking of.  Don’t end up with the discography from the Meatles like I have …

Categories: Bust Tags: , ,

Stereolab – Dots and Loops

November 13, 2009 Leave a comment

Elektra Records, 1997dotsLoops

Alright, alright I’m cheating.  This blog is dedicated to discs that I find (and usually buy) in dollar bins and I usually prefer to write about the more obscure and random stuff.  However, I can’t resist writing about a disc I found from an artist I’ve always enjoyed and really didn’t take too much of a risk on picking up.  Stereolab has been a long-term casual favorite of mine, which means they’re a group that I enjoy listening to but I don’t tend to seek them out.  Part of that has to do with the fact that I’m not one to listen to jazzy pop music all that often (which I should probably reconsider).  The other part is exactly what might be considered a fault with this record.

Stereolab are very predictable.  Aside from a few tracks here and there, for the most part, you know what you are getting with a Stereolab album.  Warm, comforting swirls of keyboard and guitar compositions draped with the pleasantly smooth vocals of Laetitia Sadler and the effective backup additions of the late Mary Hansen.  Every song is very full and animated, yet subtle and unimposing as you get swept up with the complexity of the pop rhythms.  I am speaking about pretty much every Stereolab record they’ve produced that I’ve come across, and though it doesn’t help much to discern whether this record is better than any others, I have to say that I couldn’t find a true dud anywhere within these ten tracks.  The group will slow things down, or they’ll add a peculiar effect in once in awhile, but it’s nothing that would make most want to skip ahead.  I still like “Miss Modular” very much, which is likely due to its over-familiarity as the Stereolab song even if it is consistent with much of Stereolab’s other output.  However, if you haven’t heard it yet then you must do so now.

This is why I don’t write reviews on bands whose material I feel that I know rather well. I will just sit here and glow about them without commenting on how repetitive they might sound or that they could be losing a little interest with age.  They are not on everyone’s list of favorite or enjoyable bands, yet I think Stereolab can’t foul up too much on anything they put out.  Even their more recent records of “Chemical Chords” and “Fab Four Suture” still have the fine Stereolab grooves that most have come to know them for.  I don’t think you will find many Stereolab records in dollar bins, but if you do, pick it up and make sure it finds a good set of ears to listen to it.  Stereolab is a wonderful band.

Categories: Bargain Tags: , , , ,