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Lento – Earthen

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Supernatural Cat Records, 2007

Aside from a real eye-catching color scheme, I don’t know anything about Lento or Supernatural Cat records.  What I did know is that it was somewhat tricky to take a peek at the insides of the jewel case.  Why?  Because it’s a Super Jewel Box, folks.  It is true, for instead of merely flipping open the jewel case I had to press down on an official spot.  That caused the plastic fortress to open up and reveal a CD with a giant illustration of a bug on it.  The booklet had to be slid out from the top of the disc.  Whoa!  This is a heavy duty presentation, as if the case was constructed to contain something powerful.  Indeed, Lento brought the force in many ways.

For a majority of the seven tracks, Lento dirge it up so that you are always slowly headbanging with each power riff.  These Italians can truly lay it on thick and powerful, for songs like “Need” is pure muscle at a melodic pace.  Understand that Lento’s music is not any kind of speedy effort, but instead is more meditative with its rock.  A good comparison would be Godspeed You Black Emperor (GYBE) or Explosions In the Sky, except heavier.

As for “Need”, the song chugs along with a permeating tension before repeated blasts of power chords strike around the middle of the tune.  As one might expect from an instrumental band that compares a bit to GYBE or Explosions in the Sky, the repeated tempo changes throughout the song maintain the interest level as well as fluctuate the mood.  Lento does not always shake things up, for the following track “Subterrestrial” is an absolutely bleak three minutes of barren hollowness.  If “Need” provided any energy, “Subterrestrial” sucks it all out.

The rest of the album fluctuates from these volume extremes.  While “Currents” and “Earth” continue the deep power strums and dark, emotional content, songs like “Emersion of the Islands” and “Leave” utterly wash away any built up tension.  It’s like sticking an ice cube down the back of someone’s shirt and then blasting them with a hair dryer; these songs give off completely opposite reactions.  I will say that the long goodbye of “Leave” (at nearly ten minutes) doesn’t do as much for me as “Emersion for the Islands”, mainly because “Leave” has nothing going on except a long, moonscape-walking static sound.  Great in space, numbing on Earth.

“Emersion for the Islands” has a very pleasant periodic strum of a guitar that acts as, for lack of a better description, a drop of warm honey on the shoulders that slowly drips down.  This causes a calming effect and makes for a wonderful meditative piece.  The song would also be a perfect soundtrack for that desert scene in “No Country For Old Men” where a gun battle took place but no one knows why.  Unlike its predecessors, the song is heavy in a completely different way.

If you’re into metal, definitely check Lento out at their MySpace page.

Although Lento hasn’t put out anything new since this record (as far as I can tell online, that is), this would still be a good record to pick up for a different kind of metal experience.  I like the various moods that the band inflict on the listener, especially with the songs that sound like they want me to go to sleep only to blast me awake with the next tune.  Some may say that a band should stick to one sound so that fans can predict what they will like from them, but in the case of Lento I think they made the right choice in expressing how far their sonic boundaries will go.  If they ever put out something new, I look forward to hearing if they’ve veered more towards one extreme than the other.

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Various Artists – Secret Recipe From the Far East

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Nice and Neat Records, 2005

I’ll be honest that when I picked this album up for cheap I was under the impression that a band named Secret Recipe created an EP with songs like “Prambath” and “The Nailclippers”.  Hey man, when you don’t put the song titles next to the band names, you’ll believe anything.  So, it was with a bit of surprise that when I got home and flipped through the booklet there were six Japanese rock bands looking at me from their well-crafted band photos.  Well hey, even better!  I’ve always been a fan of Japanese rock as they all seem to have modeled themselves after the Ramones, and any country that does that has got it right in my book.

Psychotic Reaction begins the compilation with a fantastic tune “You’re Around”, which begins with a blitzing guitar and rapid fire dual vocals from a couple of singers.  Though their second song, “Crossing Gate”, doesn’t consist of the same amount of fire, the first track would have been enough for me to pick up something else from them.  The next group, Prambath, have a very squeaky sounding lead singer.  That can certainly irritate, yet she’s fantastic on “Play Loud! Play Loud!” as she keeps/squeaks up with her band’s aggressive pop punk sound.  Unfortunately, on the second song (“Silly Talk”) her coy quirkiness comes across a little too thickly and works against her.  The band still sounds excellent, though.

Unlike Prambath, Nylon has a female singer who sounds like she has been drinking razorblades with her sake.  Definitely a rock chick voice with a band that has a fantastic sixties rockabilly sound to it.  Both of their songs sound similar, which can be great news who like their rockin’ rambunctious and dirty.  Neither song, however, really stands out as a ‘must listen’ even if Nylon surely must be quite an experience to see live in a Japanese club.  Don Flames are probably the fastest band on the compilation, as their guitars are louder and their drums are heavier.  The vocals, therefore, are utterly incomprehensible and drowned out, but that doesn’t matter if a song like “Groovin’ ” is so fantastic with its chorus.  I can’t hear much in terms of lyrics on the freight train-speed song, but there’s a lot of “groovin’ groovin’ groovin’ ” all over the place.

The Nailclippers sound like a traditional pop rock group that easily fits in today but could have existed in the sixties during that psychedelic era.  “Mess You Are” cools one off a little bit from Don Flames’ assault, but it’s a good cool off as it has plenty of hooks, solos, and tempo changes one needs for a good rock song.  The curious title of “Hello!  Mr. Drain” unfortunately doesn’t match up with full scale song enjoyment, but I did like the high-pitched chorus (which may or may not contain the title because I think it’s in Japanese).  Finally, the possibly best group of the bunch is the last one, where Teenage Confidential pull off two excellent songs to finish the compilation.  The first, “Anyway You Want It” (originally done by the Dave Clark Five, NOT Journey … awww), is an immediate room crasher.  I can just picture tons of spiky-haired Japanese bopping around to this one, for it sounds like a sped up surf pop song a la the Ramones.  “Sick On You”, by band member Mickey Romance, is a little slower and contains some simple chord changes, but ends the compilation well as a fine mid-tempo tune.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a whole lot on these groups for you readers to listen to, but there was some success.  You can hear Prambath on their MySpace page while Mickey Romance (of Teenage Confidential) has his own Youtube channel.

It has been six years since this compilation has come out and, as we all know, six years is a long time for a band to stick together.  Who knows how many of these groups still put out the wonderful rock ‘n roll?  As you read above, I couldn’t find a whole lot on these groups aside from Prambath, who at least still have some music available that might even be current.  Regardless, this compilation showed me that while some of us were toiling with what passed for rock ‘n roll on this side of the globe, the Japanese were clearly having a lot more fun.  I imagine that if one dropped by a Tokyo club on a whim some Saturday night they’d get to hear bands just like these guys.

Annuals – Such Fun

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Red Ink Records, 2008

I’m going to be honest here.  I recently took another look at this album cover and immediately thought it’d be a nice aside to remind readers that Bob Ross used to be the man when it came to painting pretty little trees.  If you don’t know who Bob Ross is, he’s the fuzzy-haired artist who used to paint amazing landscapes on a thirty or sixty (I forget) minute show on PBS.  His voice was quite relaxing as were his paintings.  Well anyway, I decide to search for information on him and LO AND BEHOLD!  This is a Bob Ross painting!  See, I may not be able to tell a Rembrandt from a Monet (yes, I’m embarrassed) but I know my Bob Ross.  The pretty little trees gave it away.  Granted, when I picked this album up I didn’t know Ross had anything to do with it, but I do like mountains and landscapes so it was an easy buy for me.

Annuals are a group from North Carolina who have actually been subject to some positive press back when this record came out.  Did I mention that I was cutting edge when it comes to buzz bands?  Okay, okay, three years late cutting edge, but listen, I’m all about post-buzz anyway.  Instead of buying into all that hype and expectation, I prefer to take the bar and drop it all the way down below the ‘perceived quality’ level.  There’s only one place left to go in my bottom-dwelling, post-buzz location of critique, right?

Early on in the record one thinks that Annuals is trying to utterly represent the Ross painting by playing serene pop music.  “Confessor” has a gentle guitar concoction over the verses while strings permeate the background.  Adam Baker’s vocals vary between warm understanding and high-pitched emotion.  It’s a song that the Gin Blossoms could have written if they were starting out in 2008.  “Springtime” slows the minimal momentum with some solo piano, only to build (of course!  Why didn’t I see it coming?) to a height with Baker doing his high-pitched emotional singing again.  Then there’s the “dah dah dahs” during the bridge.  Yeah, this is indie pop all the way.

Oddly enough, Annuals were starting to get a little sick of their own sound as I was by the time “Down the Mountain” arrives.  It’s very quick, a little unpredictable, and certainly louder.  There’s also some silly violin doodling during the breaks.  Er, what happened to Annuals?  At least the song breaks up the usual pop, which only returns in “Always Do”.  That song will make any sensitive child or adult want to hug themselves.  Yeesh.

The rest of the record keeps surprising the listener, for Annuals are clearly not interested in maintaining any sort of impression one got from early on in the record.  “Talking” speeds things up all over again, making it a very energizing pop rocker that sounds excellent during the chorus with explosive horns and guitar work.  Then, like a rug, your ears fall over themselves as “Hardwood Floor” utterly mellows out to cheeseball soft rock like some of those sketchy Death Cab For Cutie numbers.  This sound tends to win out for the rest of the album, as “The Tape” and “Blue Ridge” are equally as saccharine.

Thankfully, Annuals end on a good, stirring note with “Wake”.  The song showcases all of the elements that one has heard throughout the record without dwelling on one particular sound.  There’s the emotional vocals, the sweeping strings, the hard-edged guitar, and the general sense that one has just listened to a pop record.  It is a fine conclusion at nearly five minutes in length, giving the listener a real positive send off into silence and contemplation about what the heck Annuals are trying to do.

Go to Annuals’ MySpace page to hear some newer stuff of theirs, or try to dig up some of their older music at Last.fm.

I like Annuals, but I also don’t like Annuals.  I appreciate the band in that they are not hung up on sticking to a formula for too long, which made “Such Fun” an intriguing record to listen to.  One can dislike one song but might find something more interesting to listen to on the next one, keeping the Annuals out of a ‘hate one, hate all’ predicament that many bands usually have to deal with.  What I don’t like about Annuals is that some of their pop tunes are just much too overindulgent in heartstring-tugging.  I took a small jab at Death Cab for Cutie earlier, but from what I’ve heard of them they at least don’t try to pour on the sentiment in such large doses as Annuals tend to do.  Unless they’re going for the sensitivity vote from fans, I feel Annuals should try to reduce a little of the shmaltz and pick up a few more catchy hooks.

Then again, some people like that shmaltzy stuff, so that aspect of Annuals combined with their periodic rock outs may be one’s sort of thing.  The group continues to put out records and tour, so if you’re one to seek out a band that mixes up their tempos like they do one’s emotions, then go see what they’re up to.

The Joggers – With a Cape and a Cane

October 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Star Time International, 2005

What the heck?  What did I have for lunch?  Where am I?  These are the questions that numbingly floated around in my skull when I glanced at this album cover.  I suppose this could be the inside of some sort of psychedelic cathedral, so I suppose it could hint at the music lying within its confines.  Despite its garish grab for attention, the album art has to beat a cover of an actual jogger running around in a jumpsuit.  Well … unless you’re Little Mac and dig the pink.  Since I had vaguely heard of the band through a co-worker at the time, the money was easily spent.

The Joggers are a rock group from Portland, Oregon that had been getting some good recognition back then in 2005 for this record and other releases.  I’m sure the album art had something to do with it too, right?  What makes the Joggers stand out from music of that year is that unlike their indie rock compatriots, the Joggers never sound boring after trying the same song repeatedly.  This is quite a good record.

The opener of “Ziggurat Traffic” immediately begins with something that sounds like it’s from the far east somewhere, but then quickly collides into a whole lot of Gang of Four.  The quick rise and falls, as well as the heavy bass line between raucous verses, gives me that impression.  In four minutes the song feels like a meal, for there is so much going on that one rides the line between deeming it the song as chaotic or a song with a direction.

Other songs that sound excellent are “Wicked Light Sleeper” and “Since You’re Already Up”.  The former tune is another one that sounds just like Gang of Four, at least with the singing style of vocalist Ben Whitesides (you know, that sometimes sharp, sometimes bored tone).  The bright guitar riff that starts off the song, however, is modern all the way.  “Since You’re Already Up” has a darker opening but is quite consistent in its eventual uplifting tempo.  “White Madam”, however, trumps both of those tunes with its excellently chirpy guitar riff that repeats throughout.  It also carries a bit of anxious gloom with it, so even though the energy is high I can’t help but feel this isn’t a positive tune.  If you’re going to listen to one song by the Joggers, “White Madam” is it.

Despite my zeal over how great this disc is, there are a few tunes that don’t really do much for me aside from giving me the feeling of treading water.  “We’ve Been Talked Down”, which follows the excellent “Ziggurat Traffic”, sounds a little bleak during the verses.  The chorus does carry on nicely but the droning vocals by Whitesides and the band doesn’t give that much to latch onto.  “Yawning Brahmins” is probably the only other track that doesn’t thrill me due to its whiny chorus that whines on for too long.  This track, more than some of the previous ones mentioned, resembles a lot of what early Minus the Bear sounded like.  Unfortunately, it’s not a sound that works well with the vocals used on this tune.

The Joggers can be heard on MySpace, though there aren’t many songs there.  Last.fm might be a better listening resource to get more music to experience, but one could also read up on the Joggers at their blog.

What I really appreciate about the Joggers is that every song seems to hold my interest.  Although there are points at which I could use a switch from Whitesides’ vocals I think the musicianship and composition choices are excellent.  If you find yourself listening to the Joggers and wish to find some more material from them like me, then know that you are nearly completely hosed.  The group did put out a record before this one, but they haven’t released an album since this one in 2005.  Gahh!  Well, hope for the best that the Joggers aren’t through with their exercise regimens and keep an eye out for any new updates on their blog.  Hmmm … maybe if I bestow upon them a Golden Dollar for their fine work they will consider another round of rock ‘n roll.

The Hellacopters – Supershitty to the Max!

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Man’s Ruin Records, 1998

Since I’m a heavy enthusiast of rock ‘n roll, I already know of the Hellacopters through their excellent “By the Grace of God” record.  However, this one I picked up actually came out some years before that record, so as it goes one never knows what, if anything, of the band you know exists from their early days.  Could they be flat out metal and the stuff I heard later is watered down?  Did they start cute and poppy like adorable Swedish musicians, only to decide to wreak havoc on the listening public due to a chemical imbalance?  Given the album title and cover image of a maniacal goblin, I figured these guys were going to try on their best Motorhead impression and tear it up.  Indeed, after ‘Play’ was pressed, there really wasn’t much time to strap myself in.

Yeeeaah!  ROOOOCK!  (pump fist pump fist pump fist)

I’m not lying, the first track of “(Gotta Get Some Action) Now!” has to rank right up there as one of the best first tracks off of the first album for a band from Sweden. Nicke Andersson’s frenzied vocals sound like the microphone is being consumed while the rest of the band produces something that might have come from an early KISS.  “24th Hell” is borderline punk with the speed in tempo and chorus, which continues just as urgently (and as shortly) with “Fire Fire Fire”.  Talk about making an instant impression on the debut record!

The rest of the record unfortunately wears of some of the excitement of the first few tracks, mainly because they all sound the same.  Every song has Andersson absolutely in your face with blast of volume out of his mouth, only to severely muffle the microphone and thus get drowned out by the band.  There is no break throughout the album (nor should there be on a ROCK ‘n ROLL record, maaaan) unless you count the slightly slower “Tab”, so after awhile one could start to feel that songs start to blend together.  “How Could I Care” has a great chugging guitar riff that pounds throughout the tune, but since it came not too longer after “Bore Me” and right before the thrash punk tune of “Didn’t Stop Us”, it gets a little lost in getting itself noticed.  They might as well have thrown “Random Riot” in with “Didn’t Stop Us” given its pace and muddled vocals, though the chorus sounds a lot cooler in my opinion.

Beginning with “Didn’t Stop Us”, the last six tracks finish rather quickly.  It likely has to do with the aforementioned pace, though “Spock In My Rocket” is the exception to the acceleration.  It still burns fire with heavy guitar and the clashing of the drums over the choruses (which, by the way, was featured in the twelve previous songs as well).  However, it lasts for six minutes!  It’s armageddon in a song.  Then, of course, as a band from the late nineties the Hellacopters opt for the signature ‘hidden song’.  Unfortunately, it turns out to be an even more muffled live track that just comes across as a bunch of noise in the end.  Oh well.

The Hellacopters’ website could use a real update, but at least they’ve still got a good assortment of music up on MySpace.

It’s a tough call for this one for me.  I really liked the music and would love to hear a few tracks from these guys from time to time when I need an instant boost of power.  However, thirteen tracks that generally sound the same and come across as rushed might be a little overdone.  I still think the Hellacopters are a great band and that people should definitely go check out any release from them.  Since “By the Grace of God” sounds a lot more varied and contains much more clarity, while still delivering true on its fantastic rock anthems, I recommend starting there rather than the very start with this debut.

The Blake Babies – Innocence and Experience

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Mammoth Records, 1993

First off, I have to admit I have a small thing for Juliana Hatfield.  It probably started when I declared the Lemonheads’ “It’s a Shame About Ray” as one of my favorite albums.  I follow what Evan Dando does as well, but Hatfield’s light vocals on that release as well as her early Blake Babies stuff has always interested me.  Then there’s those curious eyes of hers.  She always looks a little angry or disappointed in most of her pictures, but that’s probably because one never finds her smiling much (take a look for yourself on Google images).  Finally, the fact that she’s from Boston and used to work at Newbury Comics completes the reasons as to why I’m always keeping an eye out for all things Hatfield.  I did know that this record by the Blake Babies was likely an old light pop affair off of the defunct Mammoth Records, so I figured it was going to be a safe bet for a solid listen at a discount.

The Blakes Babies are a trio that, when heard, instantly bring back those memories of the  early days in the nineties where the easygoing pop music was neither in your face nor particularly memorable.  Since this record is actually a collection of b-sides, demos, and live tracks most of the songs actually take place in the late eighties given when the band started.  For most of the record, songs revolve around the general approach of the “Rain” demo song.  There’s the jangly, light guitar that carries the comforting pop rock feeling throughout the song while Hatfield’s vulnerable vocals sing about an unfortunate relationship story.  Though songs like “Lament” (with Evan Dando on bass) and “Star” pick up the pace a little bit, every song is consistent in its sound and construction for the most part.  If you like your Blake Babies you’ll enjoy most of the songs on here.  However, if you’re new to the band you might get a little bored if you are used to more variety.

Even though most of the songs seem to blend in together for me, I will say that “Out There” stands out.  Perhaps it is because Hatfield’s vocals not only rise above the usual quiet level but they also sound double-tracked.  It also helps that the band picks up their level of volume during the chorus so as to wake you up after the slew of couch sinkers.  Another tune that may not be for everyone, but will win over those who like the original anyway, is the group’s upbeat cover of the Grass Roots’ “Temptation Eyes”.  Nice choice!  I also think that any band that does a Neil Young cover, like the Blake Babies do with a live version of “Over and Over”, is only trying to win me over.

Lots of listening choices for the Blake Babies.  You could head on over to their MySpace or Last.fm pages, or instead veer directly towards Juliana Hatfield’s website.

I feel that although this disc didn’t really put it together in terms of making a strong impression, one has to keep in mind that it is a b-sides and rarities collection.  This one is for the fans who already like the Blake Babies.  I wouldn’t start here if one was thinking of delving into the group’s music, but it’s still a decent record to start from if one wants to experience their sound.  “Sunburn” or “Earwig” are probably better examples of albums of what the group can do.

The Blake Babies took a lengthy hiatus after the release of this collection and only released one more record (“God Bless the Blake Babies”) in 2001 before ending things officially.  Juliana Hatfield, of course, has been releasing and self-releasing her own albums for quite awhile now.  I imagine she probably sounds a lot different now than she did nearly twenty years ago, but the pleasant vocals are probably still there.  If what you read about and hear from the Blake Babies interests you, then go pick up something new from Hatfield when you get a chance.  And uh, if you see anything by the Blake Babies or Hatfield for a few dollars or less at a local music store, ah … well, you know who to send a note to.  😀