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The Rumble Strips – Girls and Weather

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Gigantic Music, 2007

I am pretty sure this is the best album cover I’ve ever come across in a dollar bin.  There’s been some real eye poppers and a few pretty, artsy ones, but this one is the current winner.  It’s a combination of the positioning of the band members, as well as the band logo on the immense drum, that seems to work for me.  The scenery is also spectacular, and though I have no idea why these guys are trying to get that giant thing up a hill, at least they’re taking the scenic route.  I didn’t care what these guys sounded like when I brought this album home.   I know, I could have fallen into an aesthetically quirky trap.  I’m used to it.

The Rumble Strips are British indie rock, which adds a slight level of excitement because hey, dig that British accent!  The album begins with sorrowful Charlie Waller singing that he has got “No Soul” with only a trumpet as an accompaniment.  After thirty seconds of it, if you couldn’t tell that the song is going to lift off with jubilation, then you haven’t been listening to enough modern indie music.  Hey, you’re better off than me if that’s the case, because it certainly wasn’t a surprise when the Rumble Strips promptly picked it up for an exciting conclusion.  Thankfully they don’t try to pull the same trick anywhere else on the album, for that move is a bit tired.

Aside from the accents, the Rumble Strips could get written off as just another peppy pop band with rock affectations.  However, the addition of a trumpet and saxophone does add some extra strength to the commonplace quartet of the usual instruments.  This is especially evident on the strong “Time” track, which interweaves a horn and guitar early on and, after some Waller wailing, really picks up and jumbles with a heavy dose of drums at the end.  “Alarm Clock” also includes a lot of horns, yet their sound is reminiscent of a few ska tracks I’ve heard in the past.  The horns are just enough to make rather typical British pop rock songs into a little bit more, which only makes them more appealing.

After giving this album a few listens, the only part that I still can’t seem to shake is Waller’s vocals.  Waller sounds like the guy from Art Brut if he decided to sing instead of speak most of his songs.  Better yet, if you’ve heard the Futureheads you’ll get a better idea of how Waller sings, which is slightly over the top and British.  Thing is, the Futureheads have the speed and brevity that makes each song more focused on the notes than the vocals.  By design, the Rumble Strips tend to take more time with their songs and thus Waller has more exposure.  I guess that’s what kills it for me a bit, which I’m sure may not be the case for others.

The Rumble Strips can be heard on their MySpace page but also have a working website as well.  Get your British kicks!

Despite my reservations of the vocals, the Rumble Strips are actually pretty good.  There’s plenty of indie pop rock bands out there but the musical additions, as well as the craftsmanship of the pop songs, make this for a peppy listen.  After a decent enough showing on the UK charts for their second album in 2009, the band hasn’t gotten anything out since.  Lucky for all you blokes and blokettes out there that these guys are merely taking a hiatus to write more for their next album.  Perhaps you can see them roll a drum up to a nearby club or festival stage soon enough!

Be Your Own Pet – Self-Titled

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Universal Records, 2006

Be Your Own Pet is another one of those bands that I have heard of but never followed up on.  There’s just so many bands out there that unless you’re a blog-surfin’ mp3 collector you may never actually get around to hearing what some of the buzz is about.  Consider me four years late, but at least I can hear an entire record on the cheap without having to resort to more devious methods, right?  By devious methods I mean, ah, taping stuff off the radio … YIKES!  I won’t tell if you won’t tell.

My first run through of this album had me thinking that these Nashville-based rockers were just making noise for the sake of making it.  However, on further spins I realized that I sold them a little short.  Despite the full volume, in-your-face assault, Be Your Own Pet does scatter some catchy moments amidst their songs.  The quick, swinging chorus of “Bunk Trunk Skunk” is like an oasis amidst Jemina Pearl’s squeals, Jonas Stein’s encompassing power chords and John Eatherly’s crashing drums.  Nathan Vasquez’s bass is in there somewhere but, like I said, many of these songs are like a sonic punch in the gut before moving onto the next song and another body part.  One doesn’t have much time to look around and shake hands.

With most songs sticking around two minutes in length or less, each tune accomplishes an adrenaline rush before ending abruptly.  “Wildcat!” is rare in form because it consists of a quick, yet sparse, instrumental undercurrent without rising to a head.  “Fuuuuuun” squashes that concept with an out-and-out explosion of jolting composition and Pearl high notes.  “Stairway to Heaven” is not a Led Zeppelin cover, but it does showcase Pearl’s occasional Karen O styling.  Pearl doesn’t get all “Maps” on us at any point, however, so if you prefer more attitude over sentimentality then you may enjoy this cacophony of loudness more.

On repeat lessons I found that the quick tunes of “Bog” and “Girls on TV” to be excellent, especially the latter’s hint of early Devo riffs.  It was also at this point halfway through the record that I began to think the group would get a bit monotonous if the rest of the album kept up this way.  You know … even the most energetic bands can fall victim to too much of the same old stuff.  I found that even if Be Your Own Pet doesn’t really slow down much over fourteen tracks, they do get a little lengthy near the end of this record.  At 2:59, “October, First Account” can be considered a long play for these guys.  The song turns out to be one of their slowest songs on their album yet it still has a great uptempo hook to it.  The three minute ‘breather’ is quickly forgotten as the simple kick drum intro to “Love Your Shotgun” wastes little time in bringing the band back to its powerful height of volume.  It’s a fantastic track thanks to the guitar and hurried chorus.

Their band site is no longer functioning as far as I can tell, but they still have a MySpace page if you’d like to listen.

With their brash energy and stir it up motive, I have to say that Be Your Own Pet are a fine addition to the modern rock band collective.  This album is definitely a strong choice to play when looking for a serious burst of energy.  Sadly, the group only cobbled together two records before calling it quits in 2008.  Bands have their own reasons for splitting up, but I doubt Be Your Own Pet crumbled due to being boring.  If you know of another band out there that can pose as chaotic but still manage a few even-tempered catchy tunes like the ones at the end of this album, you let me know.

NYCO – Two

October 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Self-released, 2005

The picture on the cover of this record is the mental image I construct about an hour or so before I leave work everyday.  Oh man, if I could juuuust leap into bed like this guy … looks divine.  Turning the album over, I noticed they were unsigned.  Not to typecast self-supporting bands, but since no label is attached to the group then one can’t easily pinpoint what they’re going to sound like based on a label’s genre track record.  Most labels do diversify their talent these days, but one can usually guess seven times out of ten why a band got signed to the label given their sound. Without that, one can feebly make a guess that NYCO makes floaty music … whatever that means.  It was worth a pick up just to find out what they were about.

Clashing symbols and stretched out guitar notes, coupled with Ted Atkatz’s nasally, emotionally-tinged vocals, make NYCO a particularly difficult listen.  Despite the pop affectations and light tone, everything sounds extremely plain.  Nothing is catchy, nothing latches on as a repeat spin.  You may be thinking, woah, HEY, aren’t you being a little harsh?  Perhaps, but that’s only because I generally find something likable in most records.  This one has minimal redeeming value, especially since it’s a pacified version of much of what has come before.  The truth is that NYCO is an even more watered down version of John Mayer.

I do not wish to pick apart every song on this album, for if I have to dig deeper into these tunes I am going to lose it from an excessive gag reflex.  “Cash For Time” probably typifies most tracks on this boatload of foulness.  Despite the hint of bass funkiness it still provides zero edge, and Atkatz’s breathy vocals just bring one down since there is no force behind them.  With a dull chorus and even duller verse, “Cash For Time” feels like a much longer song than its nearly three-and-a-half minute official length.  If you even get to this song after the travesty of the first four on the album, you will still not be impressed.

The only song that remotely caught my attention was “Soda Can”, and that was because Atkatz opted to go playfully falsetto during most of the song.  He actually sounds listenable here!  If Atkatz learned anything from this record it is that he should have outright given up on the sensitive singing bit and just stuck with light-hearted amusement.  NYCO has put out other records, but I just can’t be bothered to hear if Atkatz figured that out himself.  I bet they’re still a watered down version of John Mayer.

I am telling you that this is incredibly unimpressive, but if you don’t trust my aluminum-plated words then head on over to the NYCO website or MySpace and hear for yourself.

I’ve said all I’ve really needed to say, but in case it didn’t click yet I was not a big fan of this album.  I was more of a fan of the album cover, which as I’ve spoken of in the past is usually a poor indicator of album excellence.  This record definitely should’ve levitated out my window, but if it did then I wouldn’t have been able to warn you away from it.  Therefore, in the line of music reviewin’ duty, I took this on the chin for you guys.  NYCO is still making some rounds and will actually play at the South By Southwest Music Festival in March 2011, so it’s impressive that they’re getting some exposure five years after this record.  I’m not sure if they would be given much of a chance by the SXSW committee in 2005, though.  Into the Can you go, NYCO.