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LTJ X-Perience – Moon Beat

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Irma Records, 1999

A well-thumbed digipak sat amongst the refuse in a dollar bin that mostly contained awful R&B singles that, frankly, should have just been burned.  I pulled this one out and got a good look at that colorful cover and thought this had to be some kind of fun time to listen to.  The fact that it looked like it had been previously owned for a lengthy amount of time gave me hope that at least someone before me gave it quite a few spins before parting with it.  With songs like “Disco People” and “You Got the Beat”, I figured it had to be some kind of dance record that might have had a few moon-based sound references.  The fact that it also looked like the group was based out of Italy made me cough up the dough to give it a chance.

Indeed, these guys turned out to be the groove music makers that I thought they were going to be.  The duo of Luca LTJ Trevisi and Ohm Guru spin out compositions that tend to be repetitive with their clips but always have an element that builds upon itself, thus making each tune increasingly danceable.  The group also doesn’t want you to think anything is unfinished for nearly every song is around five minutes or more.  The only tune that isn’t of that length is the ‘short’ four minute introductory song of “Keep On Grooving” which sounds like it uses a Bee Gees clip over and over again.  “Sitar Madness” is just that as a motivated drum beat gets people moving amidst a sped-up sitar clip and some wails from a female vocalist.  “Disco People” turned out to be less like a disco song and more like a bossa lounge tune, which is nice and all but doesn’t stand out nearly as much.  It sounded more like something one could use for background music for one of those home improvement TV shows where they’re rearranging a room.

One of the better tracks is “Saturday Nite Groovin” which actually fits the sound of disco a lot better than its predecessor on the record.  The song gave me the feeling of edging between dancers at an upscale club somewhere in the city … not that I have been seen anywhere near an upscale club.  However, if I were of the slicked hair and the slightly ajar collared shirt, I could picture myself giving everyone the “oh, you want me too so just take a number” look as I coolly stood at the bar too awkward to move.  The track that turns out sounding the best on the record is a track that has no relation to any of the others, and that is the title track.  “Moon Beat” is a smooth cool down at the end of a record that tries hard to energize, so it is surprising that LTJ X-Perience included it without much of a warning anywhere else.  It sounds pretty good as it gets going and definitely has a strong chill out essence to it, but it is at this point where I found out that my disc skips.  Alas, that might have been one of the reasons why the previous owner let this one go.  Oh well.

You can check these guys out on MySpace!

Most mix artists tend to fade away as time moves on and styles rapidly takeover each other.  It is rare, at least in my experience, to see these kinds of artists last longer than three or four years before running out of creative juice.  I can’t say I’m an expert in making such a conclusion, but when I found out that LTJ X-Perience had been together for more than a decade I was quite surprised.  They are still putting out music for various dance and groove compilations, so if you happen to pick one up that is European-based you’re bound to bump into these guys eventually.  As for me, I suppose when the rock n roll gets tiring and I just don’t want anyone to be singing at me, I may get more into this kind of music regularly.  I’ll probably keep this album nearby in case a party comes along and I need to dress up as an unapproachable heartthrob.

Samiam – You Are Freaking Me Out

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Ignition Records, 1998

Not sure what drew me to this one, but Samiam at least hired a pretty good art designer when throwing this record together.  I liked the design that seemed to resemble plastic wrap or ice on the cover with a single match in the middle, though I can’t say my symbolism-less mind could figure out what they were getting at.  I also didn’t know what kind of music the band specialized in as the typeface and song titles gave any clues.  It came down to the fact that they were a band on a label called Ignition Records which had better have been a rock n roll label or I would have sued for slander of the genre.  Rarely does that feeble long shot of a thought work out (I usually get stuck with edgy-looking faux rockers … blarrgh), yet Samiam fit the assumption.

I admit that I had never heard of this group before I gave a listen to this record, yet they have put out records since 1989!  This particular release was their fifth record that found itself at the tail end of the confused nineties and, though they have a radio-friendly rock sound, I’m surprised I hadn’t heard much of them until now.  Samiam certainly fit in with other pop punkers at the time, yet if anything separates the band from the rest of the crowd at the time was the even-keeled vocals of Jason Beebout.  He sometimes has an anguished side to his singing (see: emo) and could be pinged as monotonous from song to song, yet it’s that lower range in his voice that makes the music a little more listenable thanks to the simple fact that it doesn’t grate on the listener over time.  Another positive aspect to his voice is that it blends well with the band, so it sounds like he’s being swept along by the speed of the guitars and bass and not trying to shout out over it.  I’ve heard enough pop punk to know that this was going to be easy to listen to for the whole record.

The songs are your typical quick rock fare, but Samiam does have a few good ones that stand out amidst the formula.  I liked the rather calm pace that the band takes on “She Found You”, only to break into a catchy chorus with Beebout sounding a little like Dave Grohl (or vice versa, ahem).  “Ordinary Life” sounds like it was born from hardcore roots but turns into a heavier rock number.  What I noticed from these two songs as well as others is that the band likes to invoke a lot of background vocals that mainly consist of “whoooa-ooooaah”s, which I can understand.  Something about a drawn out “whoa” always makes a band sound like they want to be soulful even if we all know they just like women a lot and make crude jokes about fecal matter.  “While You Were Waiting” was the most pop punk of the bunch with its quick, chunking guitar riffs at the onset of the song before turning into a band singalong during the chorus.  Like most tracks on the record, Samiam doesn’t slow down too much to get sensitive but they do take their time when they want to amidst thirteen tracks of pop punk.

Check some of Samiam’s songs, including “She Found You” and “Ordinary Life”, on Grooveshark.

Listening to some earlier and later Samiam songs, it appears that these guys are like the NOFX of pop punk in that they are quite consistent in their sound even over years of time.  That can be a good thing I suppose, if only that these guys benefit from maintaining their group of fans as well as being regarded as veterans despite never attaining mainstream success.  Granted, they’ll probably be backstage one day and look around at their music festival counterparts and determine that all the other bands could consist of their children (or grandchildren).  Still, like any genre, fans will always flock to see a band that has done it many times before and still sounds just as tight as they’ve always been.  If you get a chance, check out their 1994 release “Clumsy” for a little more punk oomph.

Categories: TheRest Tags: ,

(I Couldn’t) Resist the Temptation: Grab Bags

March 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The lure of the unknown can sometimes overpower the sense of reason (or frugality) that usually lingers in the back of my head.  This restraint has not always been there as I have had oodles of lawn mowing and leaf raking money in my youth to greedily spend on other forms of entertainment without a considering something called ‘savings’.   The same went for music until I sorta smartened up and decided to listen to songs online before purchase (like that Lala site I keep referencing in reviews).  However, when I see a brown bag that has some mysterious contents (notice the plural) that is only worth a dollar, the imagination takes over.  Maybe this bag holds an album that is a surprise of some sort!  You know, perhaps the assembler of such bags thought that in order to draw in customers they needed to stick something random in one of the bags to get people to play the lottery so to speak.  Yeah, okay, there wasn’t a sign that actually said there was a surprise in one of the bags, but perhaps someone stole the sign so that they could buy all the bags at their leisure!  Oh I know about that devious stuff, so I made sure to stick it to that villain and buy one of these things at a local music store.  Ha!

Agh!  What a bad idea!  A more sensible person would realize that grab bags are a way for record stores to get rid of terribly unsellable music without getting that guilty feeling of actually throwing it away.  A grab bag could even be considered the dollar bin graveyard, for dollar bins at least show that the store believes that an album could conceivably sell if one were to look at it.  Music in a grab bag doesn’t even give you that luxury.  In fact, it is likely the store thinks that the album contained within are not only not worth listening to but aren’t even interesting to look at!  Let me tell you, there are plenty of records out there that have some seriously bad album cover designs as well as font choices.  Usually that kind of appalling art can be found on local records since money and resources are an issue.  If one can’t get a professional photographer to help out, a band sometimes sticks a candid picture or some artwork hacked together by a band member to use as the album art.  That, combined with music that no one wanted to buy, makes most grab bags an unappealing event.  So here’s what I got …

Read more…

Rival Schools – United By Fate

March 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Island Records, 2001

The bright green sliver of album art that shone amidst the cracked cases and nineties soundtracks gave me something to finally aim for with my hand as I browsed a difficult dollar bin the other day.  The design of the disc is really striking, even if it is in a shade of green that normally causes one to feel rather relaxed.  I like the circle with the erratically spaced horizontal lines the most, but it’s the duo that I can’t figure out.  Are they running or getting ready to sit cross-legged?  Their arms also look rather flimsy, so I have no idea really on what’s going on.  However, I did notice that the album was an advance CD all the way from 2001, so for this to be found nine years later on the cheap must have meant that someone held onto it for awhile for a reason.  Well, I took it upon myself (and my quarters) to find out that reason.

The marketers of the CD wanted to tell me why I made the right decision nearly a decade later.  Since this is an advance CD, the inside the cover of the album is a long script about why this record is the greatest thing ever released.  It helps that the group contains one of the more prominent American hardcore musicians in Walter Schreifels from Gorilla Biscuits and Quicksand, which the marketers gushingly elaborates on.  Cache Tolman is also a member, which gives the group a little more cred since he was in CIV and has worked with the Gavin Rossdale.  Finally, drummer Sammy Siegler was all over the place with Glassjaw, Youth of Today, and quite a few others.  Does this excite you?  It was supposed to.  Since the meeting of all of these members constitutes as “an event” in hardcore music history, I began to feel inferior to the magnitude of awesomeness that was apparently contained within the thirteen tracks.

Needless to say I was ready to tear into this record, but it turns out it’s just a regular old hard rock kind of thing that is essentially passable.  The vocals of Schreifels definitely sound like they’ve been through a few cheese graters/hardcore bands, but it is a fitting sound for the type of music that the group blasts through.  “Travel By Telephone” is the introduction to the group and it comes across more as an emotional hard rock song that one has heard many times before but, of course, can’t think of which bands have already done it.  It’s a pretty good song, but it is commonplace.  Quicker and rawer songs like “High Acetate” is more like it thanks to the volume of the guitars and the immediacy in Schreifels voice.  Unfortunately, the breakneck speed is short-lived as they immediately sink into a slower, emotional track entitled “Undercovers On” that, of course, has the predictable emotional build.  Can you believe this thing goes five and half minutes?  It reminded me a little bit of Sunny Day Real Estate … which if you’ve heard enough SDRE beyond “Diary”, you’ve definitely heard more than enough of that pleading rock stuff already.  The band does pick it up to its usual place for the rest of the record with some decent tunes like “The Switch” and “My Echo”, but nothing really stood out for me.  If a band is going to be “an event” I would have figured I’d have noticed.

You can find a few music clips from their MySpace page or Last.fm.

I can see why people were excited for this disc back in 2001 and I can’t blame the marketer for trying to get people to believe that this was a big deal. However, what it really ended up being was a foray into something more accessible by musicians who aren’t used to doing such music. It was room temperature hard rock and not much more. It still had some appeal to a few crowds of listeners, so it was a bit surprising to find out that the band only put out one record before going off to their respective groups. Apparently the band is putting out a reunion album soon, so if you like what you hear maybe you’ll look forward to it. After nine years apart, hopefully it sounds better than what they tried before.

Crystal Skulls – Blocked Numbers

March 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Suicide Squeeze Records, 2005

Sometimes I surprise myself and pick up something out of a dollar bin that just screams indie rock.  You can’t even think of anything else in what this band might be about.  Pink sky?  Fluffy, upside down clouds?  This is all coded to say “I am indie and approachable, so heart me.”  (shudder)  The contents are also quite apparent if one takes a look at the record label, which is absolutely known for its indie output with bands like Minus the Bear, Modest Mouse, and Pedro the Lion.  Granted, they also have Russian Circles and the Unicorns, so I suppose one could expect something a bit more crushing if one gets an nervous feeling that the cutesy art cover is just a smokescreen.  Turns out Crystal Skulls aren’t into trickery, though.

Made up of four guys who have done this kind of thing before, Crystal Skulls deliver a pleasantly light yet well-crafted inoffensive sound.  Christian Wargo’s lackadaisical singing style is consistent throughout the record and never tries to reach a level it shouldn’t.  I suppose that feature of his vocals could be considered too safe or unimpressive, yet I have heard many modern singers try too hard to hit certain notes or affect their voices so much to make one twinge in discomfort.  Wargo has a tempered delivery and the band follows suit with a steady but not necessarily predictable musicianship.  They do sound a little like the sometimes quirky songs by Minus the Bear, but unlike that band Crystal Skulls never stray into the terribly interesting or lapse into the utterly dull with the music.  Like I said, these guys define the inoffensive sound.

And you know, some people just like that.  I found that “Hussy” was very listenable to and resembled a more sedated Strokes kind of fare.  The intro riffs of “Count Your Gold” sound as if they carry a warning, and despite the lowering of Wargo’s voice the song still carries a positive feeling by the end of it.  The band really doesn’t want to upset you, though perhaps there is weight in the lyrics somewhere.   One would really have to delve into that factor, though, to walk away from all of this with a poor attitude.  Crystal Skulls even try a more aggressive pop number in “Hard Party” which does get the listener to bob along a little faster, but no matter what slight alteration in tempo the band creates they still only come across as a good background band for busy activities.

Check out the poppy goodness on their MySpace or Last.fm page.

Crystal Skulls are a nice band but I didn’t really feel they stood out a whole lot in this record.  Most songs, although enjoyable, induced comfort but did little else for one to take much notice.  However, I do kinda want to retract my earlier blanket statement that declares Crystal Skulls typically indie.  They aren’t so much indie as they are just an easy listening pop band that happens to be modern and a bit lukewarm.  The band did manage to get out another record in 2006 before possibly disappearing for good.  I hope they’re just on a somewhat long hiatus, though, because their generally appealing sound could probably make a few more jaded music listeners give pastels a chance.

The D4 – 6Twenty

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Infectious Records Ltd, 2003

New Zealand.  Quick, name two bands from that country.  And no, the New Zealanders don’t count and neither does We Ain’t Aussies, though there may be a band by those names already.  Yet here we are with a group called the D4, who look like they could really be from everywhere given their simple t-shirts, haircuts, and tattoos.  But wait, there is a guy with a mutton chop hair thing going on, so perhaps that could have tipped me off that they weren’t from around here.  Regardless of their look, the exceptionally sharp red and black contrast is a real eye-jarring look that at least makes one think that the band might be edgy.  That, or they knew there were color contrast suckers like me.

The band doesn’t waste too much time colliding into your senses with its extremely rushed “RnR MF” opener, which you can easily interpret despite the acronyms.  There isn’t much to distinguish this song from, say, every garage punk song you’ve heard before.  The singer prefers to blend in with the band and doesn’t make any real attempt at standing out with vocal displays.  The band also likely wouldn’t let him take a dramatic breath either, for they just pound through each song once “RnR MF” is quickly over.  Songs like “Get Loose”, “Come On!” and “Invader Ace” all have that max excitement element, but one would be hard pressed to depict which song is better than the others.  Once “Heartbreaker” rolls around the band finally decides to utilize the slow build up.

Arguably the best song on the record, “Heartbreaker” begins with a riff that may have been ripped from Devo’s “Mongoloid”, but it is quite welcome considering the blitzkrieg the listener has just been through.  The band takes its time getting to the chorus, which you know is coming with a bang, and finally delivers with an escalation of the lead vocalist, a pair of guitars, and some backing vocals to boot.  Great song.  The band varies its approach after that song with a more bluesy “Ladies Man” and a New York Dolls-tinged “Pirate Love”.  They actually slow down a bit compared to the blast off at the beginning of the record, so it is almost as if the band wanted to keep you interested initially as long as possible before trying to delve into slightly more creative compositions.  It still mostly sounds the same throughout, which is cut and dry garage rock.

Check out a few tunes from these guys on their MySpace page.

Well, it is understandable that this band has found its debut record in so many dollar bins.  It is a perfectly fine rock record that typifies the modern genre and will get one’s energy up.  However, it is completely indistinguishable from records that have come before it.  There’s nothing wrong with developing a similar sound to past bands, but it certainly doesn’t get anyone to think twice about letting the record go when it comes to making a choice.  The band has not let this mass dump off get to them at the time, though, for they did manage to release another record in 2005.  It does seem that they haven’t done anything more recently, so that may be it for the brash D4.  They may not do much for the seasoned rock fan, but if there’s someone younger who you know is just exploring this rabid garage sound, it’s worth a cheap gift.

Categories: TheRest Tags: , , , ,

Tralala – S/T

March 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Audika Records, 2005

The approximately 108 eyeballs that stared blankly at me during a thrift shopping trip beckoned me to buy this record.  It also helped that I had downloaded a pretty good track entitled “The Girls Say” from a prominent indie website not too long before this encounter at a music store, so I was willing to take a chance on what I figured would be a cheerful record.  I also didn’t want those eyeballs to be visiting me later in my sleep in case they were planted by the band as a psychological punishment of guilt.  I don’t know, it could be true.  It’s only a matter of time before cover art steps up to the next level and truly influences (instead of casually influences) one’s whimsical purchases.

Tralala is a band that is made up of seven members (four chicks, three guys) that primarily has the women singing and the guys trying to keep up with them.  Unlike some other bands out there with multiple vocalists, these four ladies sing concurrently in every song.  Therefore, one can’t really distinguish one from the other in the recording because they all sound like they might be a part of a cheerleader squad with the way they always sound excited and fond of the home team (aka themselves).  I did manage to notice that Stella was the cutest in my book, but that did not come out in the music.  However, some people may be more interested in the liner notes and the photos within than the music.

The music itself is, as you might have guessed from a troupe of mostly chippy women, quite upbeat.  “All Fired Up” sounds like it bursts out of the middle of a hopping crowd and saturates the listener with honeyed pop, while “Your Time is My Time” follows up and maintains a lot of that energy.  What will notice from both songs is that they are relatively quick and quite simple.  The band doesn’t go into long solos or get crafty with their tempo.  Instead, they serve more as a steady back up band to the four singing ladies.  I suppose this might make the more discerning listener critical of being forced to listen to a lot of the same riffs, but then again, sometimes the old credo of if it works then don’t change it serves pop music well.

“The Girls Say” is one of those songs that sound like just another smiley Tralala track, but its upbeat tempo disguises a subject regarding one’s lack of confidence to committing in a relationship.  I’ve admitted before that I’ve got this thing for Stephin Merritt songs, so this song’s lyrical and sound contradiction just go right for me.  Even the ‘ba ba ba, ba ba-dah dah’ chorus at the end doesn’t sound forced or overly cute.  It’s a great tune.  For the most part, Tralala continues its cheerful tack for the rest of the album.  The band does decide to finally slow things down a bit with “Stop Pretending”, but even though it continues with the four girl chorus, it does seem a little out of place based on what was heard for eight straight songs previous.  And even though the more energized music is what makes Tralala a fun band, it doesn’t mean that somewhat annoying songs like “No/Yeah” don’t find their way to make perfectly good songs tedious to listen to.  Essentially, there’s a woman that sings a bit too high and sounds a bit like a barking small dog.  Oh well, they can’t all be great.

Give the ladies of Tralala a listen at their MySpace page.

Tralala have managed to put out a more recent record but, looking around blogs and other music sites, the group still has yet to catch on.  I definitely feel that this record was worth a dollar no matter if many songs resemble each other in pep.  I will say that, if there’s someone you know that mostly listens to softer stuff but might be willing to try out some harder rock albums, this album is a good transition piece.  It has enough non-stop energy to give a newbie rocker a chance to experience continuous noise but it is light enough to make it appealing to softer ears.  Heck, maybe if they add another female singer to the group this band will be unstoppable no matter what genre of music one is into.  Then again, maybe they should just do that so the liner notes are even more interesting…

Categories: Bargain Tags: , , ,