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The Magic Numbers – Those the Brokes

September 30, 2011 Leave a comment

EMI Records, 2006

Ah finally, I can play a game with my readers.  Quick!  Pick out who in the album art is not a woman.  Hurry, you’re running out of … oh, yeah, the ones with beards.  Well, they all have nice sets of hair, eh?  They also look very relaxed and rather content staring out of the window at us.  The really hairy guy is even waving at us.  Unless this is some kind of black metal ruse pitched at luring us in for the epic assault, these guys are probably cute and cuddly with their music.  Well, wouldn’t you know!

This British quartet know how to spin a very fine pop song.  I don’t know how anyone who is into pop music couldn’t excessively salivate during the opener of “This Is a Song”.  Granted, it’s five minutes which doesn’t typify a pop length, but it has all those elements that can sweep one up (if one allows one to get swept up).  From the light vocals of Romeo Stodart to the pretty backup vocals of Angela Gannon and sister Michele Stodart to the appealing changes across the choruses and verses, “This Is a Song” sets this album up to be a great one.

“Take a Chance” is another excellent song that has an intro that reminds me of M83 (circa “Before the Dawn Heals Us”) as well as the Strokes (circa always).  The quick, cheerful tempo combined with Romeo Stodart’s honeyed vocals easily make it an instant hit.  The group slow grooves it with “Boy”, which I guess was inevitable because if they had kept going as they were going I was going to explode with self-hugging gushiness.  Whew, dodged that.  The song might come across as too delicate, especially near the end when the ladies are singing forlornly, but one could give them a pass after the earlier greatness.  It takes a few songs to get to “Keep It In the Pocket”, which is another sureshot pop beauty.  I confess, it has a lot to do with the “ooh ooh ooh ooh”s that the group excellently employ between verses.  Honestly, how easy and yet how wonderful do a few oohs sometimes sound?  The Magic Numbers know how to do it without sounding too forced.

I have to say, after hearing the first half of the album I was searching around the Internet wondering where these guys ranked in the top 50 albums of 2007.  I mean, wow, this is some seriously awesome pop music!  I’m really liking it and what the heck?  Not even in the top 50 of 2007?  Are you KIDDING me?!  I mean, how could this fantastic record get utterly ignored in 2007 unless something murdered the successful build up of the first seven tracks?  There’s no way that the last four could’ve done something so terrible as to … oh, but they do.

As it was hinted on “Boy”, the Magic Numbers do have a penchant to get a bit slow.  Well, the last four tracks are all slow and make the final stretch a little dull.  Why’d they kill the momentum?  “Take Me Or Leave Me” is forgivable in that it could just pose as the serious, heartfelt quiet song that employs strings and wilting vocals by one of the ladies.  Too bad it takes nearly five minutes, which probably makes it feel a lot longer than it really is.  Unfortunately, it sets up the derailment in interest until the end of the record.

“Let Somebody In” is another slow plodder that is quaint but man, not after “Take Me Or Leave Me”.  Too much is too much.  “Runnin’ Out” tries to save things with its overabundance of momentum, but it just doesn’t have the same hook as “Take a Chance” or “Keep It In the Pocket”.  No matter, for whatever rekindling of pop fervor it could have alighted “Goodnight” ends up much too sappy as a finish.  And hey, to add a little salt to the final run of songs the hidden track that lurks is even slower and quieter than anything heard before.  (snore)  Ultimately, the last group of tracks are a real let down to listen to the end of the record knowing how excellent the lead up was.  So yeah, that’s probably why this didn’t get on many (or any) 2007 lists.

The Magic Numbers have a very neat, professional-looking website to check out.  Then there’s MySpace.  We all know about MySpace.  By the way, one of the genres the site lists the band as is ‘psychedelic’.  Oh, that’s a good one.  I will say that MySpace sometimes looks psychedelic, though.

Well, where to go from here?  The Magic Numbers had a record before and after this one, so one could take a chance on their earlier stuff as possibly being more poppy and fun.  One could also hope the Magic Numbers created a few more good tunes on their follow up record, yet at the same time dread that they went completely soft.  I’ll have to find out and let you know.  In the meantime, the Magic Numbers are still out there making music that you might be able to catch live at some point when they’re Stateside.  They’re certainly a band to go check out if you like your indie pop at a level that rides the line between catchy and catch z’s.

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Nurse & Soldier – Marginalia

September 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Jagjaguwar Records, 2007

There are album covers that grab you right away, and there are album covers that don’t do much of anything.  I felt that despite the utterly plain design of what looks like embroidery and a few letters of interest, this group might be worth a light purchase.  Maybe it was due to the record label, Jagjaguwar, which also released some of the new Dinosaur Jr records.  I’m a big fan of them, though I didn’t know anything of what Jagjaguwar might also have on their roster of releases.

The Boston-based Nurse & Soldier consists Bobby Matador (Oneida) and Erica Fletcher.  Even with just the two of them, the songs sound very full due to layers of guitars and electronic sounds.  This helps make a song noisier when they wish it (“Capture the Flag”) or quite serene (“Satellightning”).  Although both members tend to sing solo more often than not, when they combine their vocals it adds yet another pleasing instrument to their arsenal.

One of my favorite tracks occurs early on in “In the Dark”.  Honestly, I feel that the group sounds like a mix of the poppier side of Brian Eno and earlier Magnetic Fields on the track.  The latter band sound is likely due to Fletcher’s vocals, which sound simultaneously uninterested yet emotional if one listens closely enough. The scratchy, fuzzy guitar meddling in the background nicely adds a little bit of urgency to the song as well, even though its tempo gives the impression of pensiveness.

“Back In Yr Corner” sounds like it should’ve been the college radio anthem of 2007.  It has the twee sound that also doubles as a comforting pop embrace with the constant presence of a warm keyboard sound.  That twee sound only shows up after a somewhat moody tempo begins the song, so the combination of twee and moody really seems to work here.  Along with Fletcher holding some higher notes and the duo dishing out a few “ohh ooh ohh ooh oh-oh”s, it is a rather infectious song.

As for other tunes I like, “North of Baltimore” gives off the impression of being a Galaxie 500 song that didn’t make the cut due to not being sparse enough.  It’s a great song with Fletcher’s lilting vocals chiming in nicely amidst the engaging guitar work.  The band isn’t all quiet and nice, as “Lies & Alterations” picks up into more of a light pop rock sound that reminds me a little bit of those indie nineties bands.  “Brought Up Too Soon” is as fast as Nurse & Soldier get with its lone fast track.  Even when momentarily quicker in pace, Nurse & Soldier still come across as enjoyably pop.

Though there hasn’t been much regarding updates, one can still try and catch up with what Nurse & Soldier are up to on their website.  They also have a few songs to listen to on MySpace.

So yeah, I’m definitely glad I took a chance on the plain album!  As for Nurse & Soldier, the duo hasn’t released anything since this record and it sounds like they’re quite busy raising their child.  I imagine, though, that as the little one ages this group is far from done.  This is what I hope, for I think this sound could really win over quite a few indie music fans.

Plastiscines – LP1

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

EMI Records, 2007

When the opportunity comes to pick up an album consisting of four young, lovely French ladies that play poppy rock ‘n roll, one must immediately put it away and ignore it.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

I kill me. Alright, obviousness aside, let’s review.

The immediate comparison to these French ladies’ sense of two minutes or less style are the Ramones.  Maybe it should be more like Shonen Knife, though the pioneer Japanese lady punkers seem more poppy than the Plastiscines.  I guess the Plastiscines are a mix of both with their catchy, quick hooks and lighter topics.

The ladies tear right into a rousing “Shake (Twist Around the Fire)” that includes a slew of power chords that one has heard many times before.  It’s a good start, as “Alchimie” and “Loser” are stronger punk follow ups.  “Alchimie” is particularly fun with the rest of the band chiming in with “Comme tu sais!” (or ‘as you know!’) during the chorus while Katie Besnard sings.  Besnard’s singing voice reminds me a little bit of Elastica’s Justine Frischmann, though she doesn’t sound as sarcastic or bored as Frischmann sometimes did.  Also unlike Frischmann, Besnard’s delivery on “Le Regle Du Jeu” and “Tu As Tout Prevu” is as pointed and fresh as it needs to be on the more rapid punk tracks on the record.

Most of the songs are easily enjoyable, but half if not less are in English.  The lyrics aren’t too complicated (another Ramones trait there) as evidenced by the line “I can hear your boom boom heart” in “Mister Driver”.  “Under Control” pretty much consists of “Oh ah” and “Everything is under control” throughout its nearly two minutes.  Perhaps some of the French songs have more depth, though the cutesy sounding “(Zazie Fait De La) Bicyclette”, which translates to “Going for a bicycle ride”, gives me some doubts.

While the band mainly sticks to the same formula of hitting the listener quick with hard riffs and early exits, the group does take a few moments to be cheeky.  Like “Bicyclette”, “Pop In, Pop Out!” is a one minute pop song that consists of Besnard periodically popping in and popping out with a playful reminder of the song title.  As much as I’d like to believe that the Plastiscines will stick to their brief, uptempo tunes in the long run, it does sound like there is a possibility that they may eventually lean more towards the poppier side of things with these two winking asides.

Les Plastiscines from France can be heard on their MySpace website or read on their blog.  While you’re on the blog, go pick up a Plastiscines t-shirt to add to your le cool wardrobe.

Ladies or not, this sound is my kind of thing.  I like the short bursts of energy that can invigorate me after a few songs.  If they’re singing it in another language half the time, who cares?  I was certainly glad to see that the french quartet released a follow up album a few years later, so I’ll definitely have to go check that out sometime.  I’ll also have to do some research to see if the Plastiscines are the biggest band in France right now.  I mean, c’mon … who else has the looks and the hooks over there these days?  Air?  Vanessa Paradis?  Edith Piaf?  Get with it, France!

Pink Floyd – The Division Bell

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Columbia Records, 1994

I am not a big Pink Floyd fan.  There, I said it.  I do like some Pink Floyd, though, yet I have always felt that the band is a little beyond me and that I’m missing something.  Okay, some may say I am missing a dark room, a laser show, and a few extra substances on hand, but I would like to think that anything by Pink Floyd can be enjoyed without the excess additives.  Seeing “The Division Bell” lying in a cheap bin, as well as those rather intimidating metal statues staring at me, gave me some incentive to at least try out an album of theirs I was unfamiliar with.  As it turns out, I was much more familiar with the album than I thought I was going to be.

Very early on it is clear that although many years had passed since Pink Floyd’s hey day, the band still sounds as consistently ethereal as it had ever been.  The first half of the record is a little sleepy, as the opener “Cluster One” and the so-so “What Do You Want From Me” casually stroll in without much fanfare.  David Gilmour’s guitar work is already plucking away in lengthy solos while the band puts you in that Pink Floyd state of easiness.  Despite the slow start, the first two tracks set up most of the tone for the rest of the record.  The songs sorta hint to the listener to get ready to sit back and immerse oneself.

The instrumental “Marooned” reminds me of every Pink Floyd song I have heard before.  Gilmour is central to the song with his sky high guitar solo that seems to speak to the listener about some unknown conflict or conversation.  The booming drums from Nick Mason as well as the pensive keyboard work from Richard Wright give the five minute track an added sense of meditation.  Really, in the right frame of mind, this song could go on forever without anyone thinking it has gone on too long.  It’s such a Pink Floyd song.

Once “Take It Back” comes on, the record finally shows a little spark of life.  I also got flashbacks of the nineties, for this song as well as a few others were all over alternative radio at the time.  It’s no wonder that “Take It Back” was chosen as a single since it has one of the few musically invigorating tempos and vocals on the record.  Like a few other songs, “Take It Back” uses backup singers to help flesh out beyond Gilmour’s lower vocal range, which likely help in the energy department.  “Keep Talking” is a lot more somber, even with the backup singers, though its pace, mood, and echoed guitar remind me of “Comfortably Numb”.  The third familiar song, “Lost For Words”, has a lot of Dylan-like inflections as well as resignation, which sets up the stirring build up of “High Hopes”.  At eight and a half minutes, “High Hopes” ends the record on an emotional note as Gilmour sounds like he’s reminiscing about his life or the band that started many decades ago.  It’s quite a send off.

The official website for Pink Floyd allows you a few songs, but Last.fm delivers on quite a bit of listening enjoyment if you need to hear some Pink Floyd right about now.

I have to say that I enjoyed the record, though the few solid songs on the second half of the record still make this only a middle of the road recording in my opinion.  I think I’m still a little perturbed about the slow beginning, though maybe I’m just spoiled by the more interesting second half.  “The Division Bell” is still a good enough album to relax to or put in the background, (like a jazz record,) and I’m sure the band could have put out even more of its signature sound if it wanted to.  However, after this record the group decided to finally hang it up and pursue other projects.  I don’t know if “The Division Bell” will ever come to mind when someone thinks about Pink Floyd, but given its strong resemblance to traditional Pink Floyd sounds there is not much to complain about.

Tarnation – Gentle Creatures

September 12, 2011 Leave a comment

4AD Records, 1995

I have to admit that I enjoy reviewing bands that I’ve actually heard of and will find relatively easy to write about.  It also helps that I wrote about Tarnation’s second album earlier, so I knew exactly what I was going to pick up.  However, it turns out this is the first record they released, so as great as their second album sounded the first could go in many directions.  It could be less polished and clunky or perhaps heavier on the rock ‘n roll.  You know, sometimes bands are still finding themselves and Paula Frazer does come from a punk background.  But hey, for a dollar I was just hoping for some of that fine Americana music to relax to whatever bumpiness may occur.

Amidst a decade knee deep in grunge and grunge knockoffs, Tarnation takes a calmer tack with its warm Americana and folk songs.  There is nothing on this record that will make your heart race, unless of course you’re swept up in the lyrics.  I found that the casual pace of the record actually serves as a relaxation pill to help get one’s feet kicked up.  It certainly helps that the band utilizes the lap steel guitar and a cello once in awhile, though anyone know what an optigan is?  I had to look it up to determine that it is an electronic keyboard that had a short run in the early seventies.  I guess it also assisted in these country feelings.

Now, as much as I like the sound of Tarnation and Frazer’s voice, I could completely understand if someone is turned off early on in the record.  This could be due to either the back-to-back six minutes songs of “The Well” and “Big O Motel” or easily the quiet, plodding pace of the band.  Not much changes during these songs, so if one does not enjoy the light strumming and slide guitar on “The Well” then the tune will be cumbersome.  The same goes for “Big O Motel”, which is ever lighter and more repetitive.  The rest of the album sticks to three minutes or so for the most part, so why these epics were fastened early on in the listening process is a little puzzling.

Lengthy songs aside, Tarnation is quite good in the shorter instances.  The opener “Game of Broken Hearts” sounds like a solo demo by Frazer, but it easily sets the tone (and example) for the rest of the record with its easy guitar and Frazer’s stirring vocals.  The title track’s brevity is a pity, for as the lone instrumental on the record it gives off the air of a track from an unknown western movie.  “Do You Fancy Me” is as slow as anything else, but something about using the word ‘fancy’ as well as Frazer taking the cloud-shooting voice down a bit makes the song a real nice, countrified listen.

Unlike the second album, where it was Frazer all the time, “Gentle Creatures” gives time to the other band members to sing lead vocals.  Matt Wendell Sullivan’s deeper voice sounds excellent on “Listen to the Wind” with Frazer echoing in the background.  As for the other band members, Lincoln Allen has a fine weathered voice on the traditionally country “Stranger in the Mirror” while Michelle Cernuto sings in echo on a Magnetic Fields-like “Burn Again”.  Though Frazer has the most captivating voice, the rest of the band succeed in carrying a few good tunes when given the chance to sing.

There still isn’t a lot on the web about Tarnation, but Paula Frazer’s MySpace page, the band’s Last.fm page, and a video from their second album may convince you to go check them out.

The group put out “Mirador” a few years later before taking a ten year hiatus, which essentially gave Paula Frazer time for her solo career.  The band did put out an album in recent years, so it remains to be seen whether or not Tarnation is back for real. I suppose I’m a fan of the group now with two straight, enjoyable records.  Some people may not warm to Frazer’s voice or the quiet country sound of the songs, so if a few tracks don’t turn you on then you likely won’t agree with my spin on the two albums.  For me, I suppose that if I need to hear something soothing with a vocalist that doesn’t grate on me I would choose something from Tarnation.

The Lappetites – Before the Libretto

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Quecksilber Music, 2005

This one was a real mystery.  Well, aside from the tongues.  I deduced that there were four members in the band.  I, uh, had no idea what they were going to do, though.  There were no song titles on the back and, aside from a very pink color scheme, I couldn’t tell if this was going to be some kind of pop or rock.  The message on the back declaring that the Lappetites are “a forum, a meeting place, a concept within which to make and exchange new music via digital and sonic linking games …” had me scratching my head.  Okay, electronic music perhaps, but this could have gone anywhere… and it did.

The Lappetites consist of four ladies from various locations who are into electronic editing of music via laptop.  There’s a woman from Germany, another from Japan, as well as one from England and France.  A real nice mix of international backgrounds.  This record, as it turns out, is meant to be a beginning to end sort of artistic piece with visuals, but I had to kind of visualize things myself as I spun it.  Well, here’s my initial reaction ten seconds in:

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?  Wh … what is this?!  The first ‘song’ of “Tzungentwist” is just people speaking in what I think is Japanese and repeating some kind of word over and over.  Y’know, using my serious track title analysis skills, I bet they’re tongue twisters.  But no, this is not music.  Then the dooming sound of “My Within” piledrives my senses, mainly because my volume was rather high.  Nonsense yammering continues the song.  Folks, I have stumbled into a dreaded experimental CD.  This is not going to be good.

The title of “Avoiding Shopping” is great, but it’s really just a cacophony of screeching electronic notes that succeed in grating the silence.  Maybe it’s the conversion of my boredom senses when I have to lope around a department store while the wife looks at jewelery.  Hmmm … well, “Disaster” is aptly named as after two minutes of brooding tones it abruptly blips off into near silence with only a rather irritating light noise in its wake.  The tune does end up bringing back the moodiness, though it wasn’t as loud as I thought it was going to be.  Maybe it’s referring to a depressing disaster, like you are sitting on the edge of the bed thinking about what went terribly wrong.  Guys, I’m just trying to work with this right now.

Oh no no no, the chirping sounds on “Kuchen Keiki Cake” give me visions of microphoned mice chewing through paper while staggering backwards at bizarre speeds like in a horror movie.  “Aikokuka” is a vacuum cleaner in space that duets with a maniacal Japanese string instrumentalist.  There’s actually some singing in here too, but it’s the madness-inducing kind.  Gahhh I am hating my life right about now.  I want the CD to end!

“Prologue”, which shows up more than halfway through the album, is merely a pulse that is similar to a dial tone.  Ever listen to a dial tone for more than two minutes?  Uh huh.  Well, shockingly, the nearly eight minute “Funeral” could actually be deemed relaxing.  It’s mostly one long tone that has various levels of warmth which eventually degrades into a foreboding and deep depression.  I can’t believe it, I actually find a tune that is decent!  Of course, the Lappetites finish off the record with this sort of rave on track “Overture” that absolutely kills whatever zen was found from “Funeral”.  It sort of reignited my headache from this morning.  But hey … I made it.  I … finished … listening to the album.  Goodbye, Lappetites.

If you want your ears to go numb, give the Lappetites a listen by watching their video or listening to a few tunes on Last.fm.  Or, perhaps, you want to provoke a hostage taker to give up the hostage.  Maybe you want the North Koreans to suffer across the Demilitarized Zone.  Maybe you could use this to shoot up into space and scare off any aliens that are thinking of invading.  In that case, give the group a listen to see if you can use their music as a sonic weapon.

Okay, I should probably put a disclaimer on my blog stating that I am not likely to ‘get’ or enjoy experimental music.  Therefore, the Bust label is probably a given whenever I find one of these meandering records.  I would like to say I’m open minded but I just have never caught onto this kind of music, so perhaps I just need to find that wildly eclectic artist to help me catch on.  Zappa?  Zorn?  Jandek?  No idea.  If anyone wants to send a thought along to get me started please do.  As for the Lappetites, the ladies are still putting out music and hosting shows as of 2009.  Go check them out if you want an experience.  I, however, must send this frightening electronic and experimental doozy to the Golden Trash Can.

Various Artists – Look Directly Into the Sun: China Pop 2007

September 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Invisible China, 2007

I know nothing about Chinese music, popular or underground.  Therefore, seeing an affordably priced compilation that declares it represents China Pop in 2007 easily captured my attention.  I have heard a lot of Japanese and Korean pop, so I thought that I might have to wade through quite a few sugary numbers.  With bands like Queen Sea Big Shark and Voodoo Kung Fu I felt I could survive a few cute dance numbers.

Apparently this compilation was put together by a fellow named Martin Atkins, who traveled out to China some years back and wanted to put together a collection that represented the Chinese underground scene.  Great concept!  He actually is a member of China Dub Soundsystem (on this disc with so-so flare) and created a film entitled “Sixteen Days in China” about his Beijing trip and the bands he ran into.  Whatever one thinks about this compilation, I bet that film would be fascinating to watch.

So, on with the music.  I know that compilations are a real crapshoot when it comes to hearing tracks that are interesting enough to spin again.  Unfortunately, this album required some serious effort to find much of anything that was agreeable with the stomach.  The compilation starts off with two serious clunkers, the first being Snapline’s “Close Your Cold Eyes” that has a vocalist that sounds a lot like a really bored Damon Albarn in an elecro noise effort.  Then China MC Brother’s “JaiJung” rap rock gave me the Limp Bizkit chills.  Like I said, awful start.

Thankfully, a pure pop punk number by Caffe-In saves the disc from a preliminary chuck out the window.  The female vocalist squeaks a little bit as the power chords speed through “Mario and Peaches”, which would be great to have the lyrics to for this Nintendo enthusiast.  After digging up a little bit more about them, it turns out the group is actually made up of Japanese folks.  Other good tunes on the album are an excellently blended guitar instrumental by White and a live ska-like track by Rococo.  “Panda” by Carsick Cars is also a solid straightforward rock song that reminds me of that 90s indie sound, but the vocalist is dull.

Alright, now for the outright junk!  Aside from those first two songs, Subs pulls a Linkin Park and tries to sound very soft and then blow up in your face with shouting.  However, at four plus minutes the song is tedious to listen through with its disjointed guitar and repetition of “Shut up, shut up, shut up” and top volume.  The Scoff’s “Nasty” probably is the equivalent of an American grrl band, so I guess one can’t ding too much on a punk song whose vocals that are intentionally ragged.  Unless, of course, it’s a guy singing.  HoneyGun stole a riff from Alice in Chains’ “Man in a Box” and Voodoo Kung Fu is just … out there.  I guess they are an artsy metal screamo band, which is fascinating to listen to once given the country of origin I guess.

Those looking for more about the music on this compilation might find something on the record label website:  Invisible China.  I also managed to find the Chinese MySpace page for Caffe-In if you want to listen to what pop punk out of China sounds like.

I feel sort of bad labeling this collection as a Bust, for I do like Atkin’s idea of promoting music we might not otherwise hear.  Unfortunately, aside from a few good songs from Caffe-In and Rococo, I couldn’t recommend this compilation to anyone unless they just want to hear what Chinese underground music sounds like for the experience.  According to these eighteen bands, it simply sounds similar to American underground music.  Glad to hear that bands are trying to make it over there in the East, but there aren’t many on this collection that makes me desperate to buy a plane ticket to go see what I’m missing.  I suppose this hurts my diplomacy score, eh?