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The Ditty Bops – Moon Over the Freeway

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Warner Bros Records, 2006

I had vaguely heard of the Ditty Bops based on their successfully accepted debut record that had a rather eye-catching album cover, so since I hadn’t actually heard the duo, I figured picking up their follow up might be of interest.  I certainly knew this wasn’t going to be the typical rock’n’roll grab that I usually aim for because, well, two barefooted women and a casually illustrated album cover usually doesn’t scream loud guitar solos are contained within.  However, artfully and creatively done black and white album covers does tend to require a pick up no matter who the artist is, so I was more than glad to give these ladies a spin for a dollar.

Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett are the two women who comprise this group that is supported by a few musicians when needed, but it’s interweaving vocals of the ladies that really drive this record.  The ladies can sing soft and smoothly or infused with immediacy when required, though in either case the voices are pleasing to the ear.  The spirited playing of DeWald’s acoustic guitar and Barrett’s mandolin also add to the charm and accessibility that each song brings.  The first song off the record, which also happens to be the title track, is essentially what one can expect throughout the record.  It has the pep of the band and the ladies’ velvet vocals that easily sweeps the listener up into a comfortable mood.  A couple songs, like “In the Meantime” and “Get Up ‘N’ Go”, shows a little more muscle in the variety of instruments that the Ditty Bops employ while simultaneously displaying how the ladies can sing with a more chippy, urgent air.  The duo also performs a fine, if not safe, cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love”.  It’s a nice version of the song, but the Ditty Bops mostly excel with their own compositions.

Even though they don’t have the same bomp and pow, the Ditty Bops somewhat remind me of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The duo give off an old, simplistic style that doesn’t try to overwhelm the listener with effects and force yet succeeds in inspiring toe-tapping using bright vocals and peppy musicianship. I can certainly appreciate that in this day and age and I know that many people would benefit from adding this record to their collection, for it can easily be spun to assist in building the mood for a party or in maintaining a mood while writing a paper. Simply put, it is a record that provides energy without being too intrusive, and that is one of the many qualities of this record that deserves the great Golden Dollar award.  In case you’re interested, the Ditty Bops have put out a more recent record in 2008 that one may want to check out if one is into this kind of crisp, folky sound.

The Stills – Logic Will Break Your Heart

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Vice Records, 2003

I’ve previously tried to scientifically break down as to why one would pick up a record based on its album cover versus thinking the cover is too trite or pushy, but the only thing going for this record are a bunch of feathers.  True, it’s dark and the typeface of the band name is quite bold, but the cover is only showing what possibly could have been a mass spontaneous combustion of a group of pigeons.  I know we sometimes wish that would happen when our walks get fowly hectic in the city, so maybe the Stills are artfully displaying their frustration with those birds that never quit.  Good for them.

As for the sound of the Stills, they come across as a mesh of the Strokes and Doves, with vocalist Tim Fletcher singing airily over the warm, (and sometimes majestic) compositions by the rest of the band.  Every song on this, their debut release, tends to be catchy with its rhythm but gives off an air of melancholy, mostly due to the inflections of the singer.  Songs like “Changes Are No Good” sounds great, even if the Fletcher either claims that he hates his best friends or is babbling nonsense.  The best rocker on the album, “Still In Love Song” , shows that the band can escalate a little higher when they want to shake off the usual mid-tempo song speed that the album mostly consists of.  However, when the band kills their energetic beats on songs like “Of Montreal” is when the songs can get tiresome.  However, the infrequent slow approach does work very well on “Animals and Insects” mainly due to the musical build up and the well-crafted, emotional chorus.

There haven’t been too many Canadian bands that have drawn great interest from the indie rock crowd, but this record certainly drew attention from a few when it came out some years ago. The band has released a few records on various labels that continue the path of resembling Doves, which I think is a good thing since I’m sure the sound makes for an excellent live show.  Next time I’m up there in Montreal I’ll have to go check these guys out, though I wonder what Canadian indie kids look like…

Categories: Bargain Tags: , ,

Merry Christmas (or Happy Whatever)!

December 25, 2009 Leave a comment

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

May all your presents be filled with the best dollar bin records!

Categories: Author blabber

Black Kids – Partie Traumatic

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Almost Gold Recordings, 2008

Rarely does one find something in the dollar bin that those hipster kids really like these days.  You’ve got a simple yet noticeable band name, strange headwear, and the bubbly typeface that alerts the viewer that this is an indie band.  You can even hear the deep voice from a speaker far off calmly stating “Warning, warning, this band may try to overdo it with the dance rock that has over-saturated the market!”  Indeed, Black Kids fall into line in regards to what can easily be expected before the album is slotted in the discman.  As embarrassing as it may sound, I did put on my thick, black-rimmed glasses and tussle my hair a bits before I coolly slipped this onto the store counter to purchase for a buck.  I didn’t want anyone thinking that I wasn’t worthy of such a candied treat, but after I stole out of the store thinking my ruse had worked, I noticed I forgot to pop the collar of my polo shirt.  BLAST!

There’s two types of stereotypical indie music these days.  One type is to get all intricate and sensitive where the musicians try to turn you into emotional goo.  The other type prefers to act as if there is a party going on because they are the party.  This is what Black Kids try to do, for the first song off the record, “Hit the Heartbrakes”, is a rousing number about an obsessed ex who has decided to try and renew the relationship.  Hey, I’ve heard songs like that before.  However, this is the first one that infuses some nonsense into the narrative, like “call the ghost in your underwear”.  Mmm-hmm.  Despite some of the lyrics, what is incredibly enjoyable about this song is the back and forth between the monotone backup singers and the pained wailing of lead vocalist Reggie Youngblood.  The song also has a dance element to it, but there is a great interweaving of guitar solos, synthesizers, and quiet pauses that keeps it all fresh.  Essentially, the tune works.

The rest of the record takes it a little higher with the intensity of Youngblood’s vocals and the volume of the band. Nearly every song eventually jacks up the juice by halfway through, so it is quite apparent that Black Kids want you to make this your feel good album of some clubby evening. “Partie Traumatic” essentially details what life would be like if I ditched this 9-to-5 and went out every night to the socialite locales. You know, sharp clothes, smooth shaves, aloof attitude, uh, glitter. Good times with this one.  I also really enjoyed “I’ve Underestimated My Charm (Again)” not only for its fantastic, narcissistic title but for the fact that Youngblood just sings as if he’s full of himself and can’t be bothered to deal with yet another confused female.  It’s yet another song that I can envision scores of t-shirted and alt-hairstyled youngsters hopping up and down and doing who knows what with each other.  I can sorta envision me hopping around with them.  Okay, fine, you know what, this record sends me back a decade. I can’t find anything wrong with that or this album.

Reading around a little bit, I found out that apparently Black Kids had a decent deal of hype leading up to the release of this record based on their first EP. Hey, I totally missed it. See? Being unhip can have its advantages, at least in terms of musical bias. Therefore, I declare that this record is quite a bit of fun and I can certainly picture blasting it while cruising down some well lit city main street on some busy evening. I don’t care if Black Kids fall squarely into an indie stereotype; this was one of those rare modern records that made me want to listen to the entire thing multiple times. Oh yes, it gets the Golden Dollar many times over.

Various Artists – It Came From Beneath L.A.

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Triple X Records, 1995

A combination of factors makes one pick up a cheap record, never mind a cheap compilation.  In this case, zombies with briefcases wandering around in an apocalyptic city setting got me thinking that this must be mine.  Plus, it’s from Triple X records which has been known to release records from little known L.A. bands that rock as hard as they can given their lack of exposure.  Bizarre album cover, record label, zombies … this disc had some potential!

Only six bands are included on this compilation as the people at Triple X figured that each of them needed two songs each.   Either that, or there weren’t enough good bands on the label at the time that they had to double up just to fill the record.  As each song unfolds, it is quickly apparent that those people were terribly mistaken in releasing a compilation, period.  It doesn’t help that this compilation was conceived in the mid-nineties when music tended to be grunge or bust.  When a band tried a different direction in those days they were either named Yo La Tengo or they usually failed in their mission to entertain.  As it turns out, of the six bands on this compilation, about four and a half spewed absolute garbage.

Lifter is the designated rote rock band that sounds like a bar grunge band impression with their plain, local sound.  The first track on the record is Lifter’s “Shutout,” which is just a terrible way to begin the compilation since it has zero appeal and virtually no originality.  Their later song of “Nova” at least gives the group a fair chance at roping in standardrock fans, but it’s still a headshaker of a tune.  The Penny Dreadfuls are a female-led rock group that channel a bit of the Throwing Muses without the aggressive Tanya Donnelly vocals.  They’re just another hohum act.  A band called Nameless tries much too hard to be noisily different that one can’t help but quickly skip past them.  E.Coli actually mix a bit of punk in their streamlined rock and, in truth, prove that they might have been alright enough given time.  The songs they contributed are listenable and so I must give them some credit for sorta succeeding.

Congo Norvell … I don’t even know what to make of this duo.  They want to sound artsy with sensual female vocals and disjointed musicianship, but it all comes across as very tedious to listen to.  I guess one member of the group, Kid Congo, used to be involved with the Cramps.  Could’ve fooled me with this pretentious crap.  Snap-Her is a another female-led band on the compilation, but they go with a promising punk vibe.  Unfortunately, they opted to include a tune entitled “I Want to Beavis You”.  Huh huh, uh, yeah.  They do, however, resemble a band that I thought was going to encapsulate this compilation and do turn out to have at least one song on here (“Name Brand Society”) that sparks a bit of energy.

There aren’t any mp3s I could find online, but I did find this Beavis tune on Youtube.  The song begins about one minute in.

The text inside the booklet claims that there are “plenty of terrific up-coming groups in Los Angeles”.  Unfortunately, none of those bands were included on this compilation.  Sure, E.Coli and Snap-Her had some potential but they’re nothing one couldn’t have easily heard elsewhere.  Overall, this compilation is a real disappointment and certainly fails in delivering any kind of inspiration to follow up with any of these now-defunct groups.  Bad bands, the nineties, and a mostly unsuccessful song list qualifies as a dead ringer for the Golden Garbage Can.

Rick Astley – Free

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment

RCA Records, 1991

Four years after releasing the song that, you know, gets stuck in your head whenever you stumble upon it, Rick Astley put out a record that mades him look truly smooth. No longer could he just use his voice to woo over countless women (and closet soft rock dudes), Astley knew that the hair had to change and he needed to lock us into his tempting eyes.  The hand gesture clearly means he’s calling us to say ‘hello, it’s Rick again’ and oh dayum, here comes the heart melting once more.  This is the melodramatic storyline that I came up with in my head when I found this early 90’s release tragically ignored amidst other 90’s castoffs.  I felt I ran into an old, oddly dressed friend that recently had a makeover, so I opted to see what my man Astley was all about in those days.  Plus, it’s not like I could resist those eyes.

So what exactly did I expect when I casually inserted this into my cd player while sipping a martini in a dimly lit room?  I expected at least a little pep, or even a tune that might have shown a bit of a pulse.  But what I got, and perhaps what I deserved, was a looooot of sleepy soft pop music that tried a little too hard to make me cry.  The first sign was the jaw dropping opening song of “In the Name of Love” which just reeked of heavy-handed mushiness.  I even got a double-dose of the soft stuff, for Astley was definitely channeling Michael MacDonald when he was singing.  Just awful, awful.  Then the big hit from the time “Cry For Help” puffed out and I was starting to wobble on sanity, because I realized that Astley was asking questions that I was not prepared for.  For instance, “Why can’t we ever break down and cry?” is a perfectly plausible inquiry to have, but there’s no real answer to that and I’m used to giving answers.  Is it because we are too embarrassed with the public display of emotion, or is it because people are too British over there, or is it because I’ve built up a wall around me and am not letting anyone in?  Oh Astley, you’ve got me in a corner, man!  I had to escape to the next song for balance …

Garrrgh!  It’s a self-confidence inducer entitled “Move Right Out” that made me gag.  Quick, to the ‘rocking’ “Be With You” and its crisp horns that disappear immediately once Astley starts crooning, only to return during a half-hearted upbeat chorus.  As I crawl to the next track of “Really Got a Problem” I encounter a doo-wopping Rick Astley and OH IT’S JUST TOO MUCH!  I … I turn off the cd player and take off the sunglasses I’ve been wearing.  (sob)

Rick Astley, do your pasty magic:

This record is primarily a Bust because I wanted to hear that big, dance single.  I didn’t hear it, so I was let down by a Rick Astley record.  It was clear that Astley had chosen to spend his time crafting the slower, sensual songs for soft rock radio and skip the obvious success that the goofy love songs brought him.  Big mistake, Astley.  He decided to give up the music business for nearly a decade not long after this record was released, only to make a return early on in the next decade because some small pocket of people demanded more Astley sappiness.  Does anyone truly care about that, though?  Nah.  One is likely more interested in his brief, unfortunate foray into the hip hop music scene in Birmingham.  MC Astley indeed.

Categories: Bust Tags: , ,

Bitesize – Sophomore Slump

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Packing Heat Music, 2001

As a weekly radio DJ for a local station (oh, it’s true) I stumble upon a few fun bands that I would have no thought to have researched on my own.  Usually that involves flipping through some terribly dusty and neglected CDs that have all sorts of horrific band names and cover art.  I can’t tell you how many sensitive, earnest looking guys have given me that ‘spin me if you can handle it’ look from bygone photo sessions.  It just reminds me each time that there are plenty of artists that come out with new material every week, only to further bury the groups from five years ago from everyone’s memory.  It’s sad, really, and I sometimes have to blink away a few tears when bands like the Coffin Daggers and the Cycle Sluts From Hell aren’t getting enough play.

One of these random scoops from the void of forgotten music is this second record from the somewhat zany pop punkers Bitesize.  I think what drew me to their presence was the fact that their cover art looked very animated and eclectic.  Essentially, this could’ve been anything, so slipping them into the CD player I was pleasantly surprised by the quick, bright punk music that sped out.  The trio of Bitesize manages to fit most of their songs under two minutes so that one doesn’t get too hung up on one thing or another.  What makes them a little more endearing than most pop punks bands is that one vocalist (Serano) sings with an anxious lisp while the other (Leslie) sounds as if she’s trying hard not to sound awful with her modest voice.

Most of Bitesize’s songs are of the sillier, awkward vein, which at least sheds the pretense of making us think that these guys want to be taken seriously.  For instance, the charming “Understudy” details the thrill of being a backup actor for characters that go batty.  “BTO (BathTub Orgasm)” is the amusing tale of a creepy person stalking a record store worker.  Okay, ‘amusing’ in the sense that the band portrays it as so, but man is this track catchy with the way the two vocalists quickly trade off.  Then there’s the tale at the end of the record where the group laments about drunkenly kissing an old guy in “Proverbial Old Guy”.  These tunes, like everything else on the record, don’t stick around long.

Check out a few of their freely available mp3s here, including “Understudy”:  Bitesize Site

What I enjoy about this record is its twenty tracks of joyful injections of punk that doesn’t sound cliche.  Maybe it’s also because Serano sorta sounds like Frank Black at his highest, or that these songs give me the grins when I read over the lyrics.  That’s all it takes to earn the Golden Dollar here, for this one’s a keeper for those downer days.  Looking at their site, it was great to read that these guys have reunited and are still doing shows here and there.  I suppose I’m also a bit thrilled about this album because, after hearing this record at my radio station, it just so happened to be coincidentally jammed in a dollar bin at a local store.  This welcome union (and review) was meant to be.

Categories: Bargain Tags: , , ,