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Danava – Unonou

May 27, 2010 2 comments

Kemado Records, 2008

There’s a gentleman ascending a staircase that leads to what has to be a neo-futuristic paradise.  He looks very confident with his place in life as he smiles triumphantly towards a yellow-clad vixen in a glass room.  On the back cover, a young guy with a mini-bullhorn in his hand gets ready to slip into the driver’s seat of a silver car that looks like it has melted under some intense sun.  Needless to say, this record was looking like a real gamble when I picked it up recently.  I thought for certain it was going to be an absolutely tedious experimental record (note: I hate the stuff) but I just couldn’t let this one go.  Thank goodness for risky spending!

Like the record cover, Danava evoke a true retro sound that harkens back to those jam it out seventies.  The first song of “Unonou” immediately gives off an impression that Carlos Santana is manning the lead guitar and is ready to just go on forever with a guitar solo.  Suddenly, an Ozzy disciple named Dusty Sparkles delivers an oddly appealing wail that adds some tension to the aggressive track.  The combination works very well and it wonderfully sets up the record.  “Where Beauty & Terror Dance” has a fantastic moody riff that culminates in a pop and stop chorus, only to continue its dominant presence with added style.  The song eventually gets a bit majestic, but that can be forgiven since the band clearly is not willing to be caught up in too much predictability.

No matter which song gets played in your stereo, Danava’s sole intent is to electrify you with some great long rockers.  There is a track or two that, despite their intentions, manage to stumble around the edges due to an unfortunate musical element.  On “The Emerald Snow of Sleep” there is an excellent, pensive synthesizer opening that sounds as if the song is going to be some sort of epic Who track.  However, the vocal approach by Sparkles on this track is just not strong enough to carry the tune.  To further diminish the potential, Sparkles double tracks his voice with a falsetto version that sounds like an annoying version of Marley’s ghost.  The song just never gets going after that introduction, so ultimately it’s a waste of nearly eight minutes.

Throughout the record, it is apparent that Danava are not just going to go quick and heavy through every song like, say, Motorhead.  They are willing to go mid tempo on “A High or a Low” as well as take their creative time on the thirteen minute epic “One Mind Gone Separate Ways”.  What I’m essentially trying to say is that these guys are not the typical blast it rock band, but instead come across as a more intellectual and crafty group of musicians.  The fact that they are willing to deal out a few long players on a rock record, which is practically unheard of now that we’re forty years beyond those classic rock days, makes them that much more interesting.

Thank goodness these guys will allow you to slip back into your tight leather bell bottoms and listen to gripping rock n roll for free on their MySpace page.  Yesssss!

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been a long time, but this record certainly gets the Golden Dollar for effortless ability to stir up some good feelings.  I’m just glad that these guys didn’t turn out to be the experimental electronica that I felt just emanated from the cover … whew!  The group is still together and have updated their website consistently enough, so there is hope that a new record of Danava’s will be out soon after a few years of waiting.  I look forward to seeing if they can top the peculiarity of this album’s cover.  Perhaps some awkward alien sex in a parking lot?  Hmmmmm.

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Northern State – Can I Keep This Pen?

May 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Ipecac Recordings, 2007

An old friend once exclaimed that Northern State was her new favorite group, but of course, I was too busy waddling in something that the Shins dripped up at the time.  Therefore, I could only vaguely remember her words (like an inner echo from far away) when I thumbed this out of of a nearby bin full of forgotten indie releases.  Its bright, pastel cover and rather normal-looking band members gave me little insight as to what kind of pop music I was going to be listening to.  As it turns out, this record is a whole lot of rap with varying degrees of pop!  I therefore declare Northern State as the pioneers of pop rap … or prap.  And yes, it’s better than countrified rap if you know what I mean.

The three girls of Northern State combine a few influences that I can think of on their bouncy third release.  The first that came to mind was the quick, comedic lyrics of some early Beastie Boys from “Licensed to Ill”.  With smirking lines like “I heard your mom drives an ice cream truck” and “I’ll be coming like Joan Rivers and the fashion 5-0”, it’s hard not to compare these three ladies to the three guys who gave us the poetic “Brass Monkey”.  Like the Beasties, the ladies don’t spend too much on fancy vocabulary from verse to verse, but that’s besides the point if the music is catchy and a grin is induced once in awhile.

However, unlike the vocally unique Beastie Boys, Northern State’s ladies all have a rather monotone delivery.  This reminds me of Jimmy Pop from the Bloodhound Gang or that guy from Cake, which in both cases get a little dull from repeated listen.  Thank goodness for the music, then!  Nearly every song has the expected beats needed to keep a rap song going, but Northern State also does a good job blending band elements like guitar and bass in each song.  The song “Away Away” actually comes off as a moody pop song that has very little of anything that could be construed as rap.  Hey, what gives?!  Thankfully, Northern State mostly sticks to the bumpin’ goofy stuff, so tunes like “Good Distance”, “Oooh Girl” and “Sucka Mofo” keep it light and head-bobbing.  Although the group does sometimes hint that they want to turn into softies once in awhile, this record is mostly an energetic flow of enthusiasm on the microphone.

Check ’em out on their website which has a few songs (“Mic Tester” and “Sucka Mofo” in particular) and the lyrics that you need to know.

I definitely admit to enjoying anything that has a great sound and humor, (note: Weird Al and me are like THIS) so Northern State combines much of what I can really appreciate about some groups.  Unfortunately, I don’t understand why Northern State aren’t even bigger than they should be.  What is out there that could top three rapping, clever females with some really catchy songs?  Apparently, the world isn’t entirely ready for them.  Hopefully the three years since the release of this record means that they’re working hard on their masterpiece.  Heck, I’ll take their “Hello Nasty” if that’s what’s coming up.

Categories: Bargain Tags: , ,

Bad Wizard – Sky High

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Howler Records, 2005

One of the most rock n roll albums of the past decade, in my mind, is Bad Wizard’s “Free and Easy” debut.  That record just blazes with sweeping guitar riffs and leather attitude and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something fantastic.  Given my positive outlook towards that record, you can imagine my obvious response when confronted with a truly cheap Bad Wizard record in a dustbin nearby.  My fist with a pinky and pointer extended was nearly raised to full height as I selected this rocker from its coffin.

The fourth and final record by Bad Wizard is what can be expected by them if one had listened to the band since their debut.  That is to say, Bad Wizard have not changed from their tried and true formula of straight up rock ‘n roll.  To rock fans just looking to take the edge off on a stressful day, the same old stuff is a non-issue.  However, if one is looking for something innovative by a band that specializes in an MC5 and Turbonegro head on collision, then that person is looking in the wrong place.  In fact, they should go check out Stone Temple Pilots and never turn back.  Bad Wizard never was in the market for being too clever.

Aside from the overwhelming cacophony of guitars, drums and all out noise that comprises of nearly every tune on this record, one of the best instruments is Curtis Brown’s voice.  It isn’t pretty nor is it necessarily intelligible, but it definitely has that rock star element that is a bit hard to describe.  You know how sometimes one hears great, inspired musicianship on a fantastic rocker, only to be utterly disappointed when the vocalist pops in and fails to match up with his or her band’s sound?  Well, Brown gets it right.  His raspy, double tracked vocals make for a fitting inclusion amidst all of the tunes without getting annoying or instrusive.

With Brown giving a little bit of direction for the wild guitars, the band cruises through many songs that can stand on their own.  The songs of “Agent”, “Jealous Man” and “13x Times Around the World” are all classic Bad Wizard tracks that are chock full of power chords and grandiose solos.  Granted, most of the other tracks on the record sound similar to these three efforts, but if one had to pull the better ones off of the album these are it.  The one exception to the typical is the inevitable slow song that every rock band tries to stick in amidst the rubble.  However, even their slow song effort comes across as excellent due to its build and emotional (for Bad Wizard) chorus.  When Brown sings “All my love is gone” repeatedly in the chorus of “Black Navigator”, one gets a feeling that the band opted to take the Dinosaur Jr route of softness than the, say, Warrant route.  By guitar dabbling in the background of the chorus, Bad Wizard still keep the song fresh without lulling one to sleep.  It actually is a welcome change of pace halfway through the record.

Look to listen to some tracks from Bad Wizard on Last.fm, Grooveshark, and their MySpace page!

I don’t care that they sound similar on most tracks, or that I never really get an idea of what lyrics Brown is mumbling out half of the time.  Dude, if one can jack a record up real loud on a good set of speakers and make it feel like one is amongst a crowd of headbangers and leather jackets, then it’s a good record.  Unfortunately, with continual predictable output and limited success, Bad Wizard never released another album after this one.  I’ve ranted on before about the loss of some good, unpretentious rock ‘n roll bands from the past decade, but I suppose one just has to enjoy what was no matter how brief or under-appreciated.  Pick this one up if you’re into this kind of thing and you’ll find that you scored a good one.

Categories: Bargain Tags: , , ,

No Motiv – Diagram For Healing

May 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Vagrant Records, 2001

I once picked up a free debut cd by No Motiv many, many years ago and thought they had a pretty good sound for a punk band.  Lots of energy, spunk, and the requisite angst.  Then, of course, I move on and fall into the cozy enclosure of indie pop and the in sound, which only gets me by for a few years.  Now that I’m a little older and feel that gritty rock has been a bit lacking this past decade, I figured I’d pick up No Motiv’s second record for really cheap and see what had transpired since their first effort.

Well, as you could probably tell, not much really changed within the two years.  No Motiv still has a powerhouse delivery that typifies what can be expected from a punk band of the modern age.  They quickly invoke the catchy power chord riffs and emotional choruses on “Throw In the Towel”, which still sounds entertaining despite vocalist Jeremy Palaszewski’s stern recommendation to a friend to dump his girl.  The breakneck entrance of the record continues for a few tracks before easing into the slow introduction of “Only You”, even if it is brief.  The chorus, of course, cranks it up yet again into power riffs that may have been heard not too long ago.

It all begins to get a bit dull when songs “Going Numb”, “Break It Down” and ” Savior” continue the same formula.  What is successful from song to song is Palaszewski’s vocals differentiating from a high tone to a lower, moody tone.  That really is the only change going on from song to song, though, since the guitars and drums all eventually reach the same loud, crashing level in every track.  Only until the last track of “Born Again” does the band get slower, but like “Only You”, it is short lived.  It seems that No Motiv want to make sure that no matter how somber a song’s message they are there to rock it out.  For a record that lasts for a personally long forty minutes, there was no other conclusion to possibly make.

The best places to hear something by No Motiv, even if it’s not from this record, is their MySpace page or Grooveshark.

Despite the monotony of their sound No Motiv deliver many enjoyably punky tunes, with “Celebrate” perhaps coming off as the best amidst the similarly edgy tracks.  Really, you could have made a decision on whether or not you wanted to hear the rest of the album based on that track alone.  What can be heard from this record compared to their first one is that No Motiv begin to slip into the more low key hard rock that is used often for emotionally serious subjects.  Unfortunately, as one can hear these days with mainstream rock bands, there’s plenty of that.  Therefore, No Motiv may have been progressing in their sound back in 2001, but they weren’t heading towards anything new or interesting.  This record stands as a nice treat for those looking for a quick infusion of motivation, but it is understandable why it got and continues to get ignored.