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The Jessica Fletchers – Less Sophistication

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Rainbow Quartz, 2005

Yes, the Jessica Fletchers.  Right again, based on the character from “Murder, She Wrote”.  These guys are even from Norway, so how the heck did they decide as a band that they’re going to name themselves after an 1980s detective played by Angela Lansbury?  Apparently “The Old Lady Detectives” wasn’t swinging enough for them.  Maybe this is a shout out to some sort of rerun that was popular in Norway when they were growing up, where “Murder, She Wrote” brought them joy when Jessica Fletcher busted some of her own friends as murderers.  Those were uncomfortable episodes (and yes, my parents watched the show and I enjoyed picking out the gardeners or church ladies who dabbled in murder).  I only wish some other shows might have been popular in Norway, like “The Golden Girls” or “Different Strokes”.  How killer would it be to see a show with the Jessica Fletchers, the Estelle Gettys, and the Watchu Talkin Bout Willises?  I would BE there.

If one could liquify a Snickers bar, add even more sugar, and top with whipped cream it’d be the Jessica Fletchers.  If that concoction sounds delicious to you, well, sip away in your plastic cup and extra long straw.  However, if the description made you gag then you’re going to hate this.  The Jessica Fletchers pour on all of the tricks associated with a hardworking pop band.  They’ve got the five relative handsome guys with five foppish hairstyles.  There’s even a guy with a mustache for good measure … though the guy with the glasses sort of looks like a psycho killer.  Anyway, one does not need to listen to the record for very long to determine whether they’re going to love it or hate it.

The first track sounds like the second track that sounds like the third track, which is to say that it’s all poppy cheerfulness without a moment of weight.  “It Happens Tonight” has Thomas Innsto singing his best high-voiced John Lennon impression while the backing vocals by three (!) other members of the band remind me of some kind of seventies cartoon theme song.  The guitar is light, the keyboard is charming, and there is absolutely no lull in happiness.  “Magic Bar” follows suit with an overdose of falsetto “la la la la la”s during the chorus.  They don’t even get tired of that la la stuff during “How Unlucky (Can You Possibly Get)” which also features a flute!  A flute!!  These guys can rack up the inoffensive pop points like no other band I’ve heard.

On “Get Connected” I did notice that the descending keyboard notes, as well as the vocal breaths, that introduce the song sound like a nod to the Zombies’ “Time of the Season”.  That’s not so bad, I like that song.  However, the chorus comes across as one of those Elton John numbers from the seventies … which I guess is the good time period of Elton John, which then scores these guys another one of those inoffensive pop points.  Really, if you haven’t poked your eyes out by now just imagining how poppily pure this band must sound like, I present to you the song “I Need Love”.  You don’t even have to know what that tune sounds like to know that five guys gave the okay to put a song called “I Need Love” on an album.  Laying the chick-digging strategies on a little thick, eh guys?

You too can be overwhelmed with upbeat, finger-snapping music by having a listen to some Jessica Fletchers songs at MySpace or Last.fm!

Well, I don’t know how one sorts it out over time, but despite the Jessica Fletchers’ best efforts to bask me in direct sunlight with their music, it’s not really my thing.  Yet I do believe that if someone did like this kind of carefree, high sugar content music then it would be a great listen.  There really isn’t a downer on the entire album, and none of the songs veer very far from the same intent the band began with on the opener of “It Happens Tonight”.  So if this sounds like your kind of fun, the good news is that the band put out a couple of more albums after this one.  Unfortunately, their main website doesn’t work anymore, which usually means one thing:  the Jessica Fletchers may have solved their last case of boohoo blues.

Jessica Fletcher eying her next suspect.

Cradle of Smurf – S/T

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Tes Fesses Records, 2007

Well, of course I am picking up an album by a band named Cradle of Smurf.  But the group also helps with that long time hipster difficulty of taste entrapment.  Ever been asked “Hey, do you like Cradle of Filth?”.  It’s a tough question.  If you say that yes, you do like the symphonic death metal band you know you’re going to get sucker punched with “Oh really?  What is your favorite album by them?”  Trapped!  However, if you say no, then the Cradle of Filth fan scoffs at you and says “Of course, you look too wussy to like symphonic death metal.”  Trapped again!  But now you have an out.  If someone asks you if you like Cradle of Filth all you need to do is look knowingly distracted and say “Mmmm, they’re not as good as Cradle of Smurf.”  Not only do you flout the question asked of you, but you now put the other person on the defensive because they have no idea who Cradle of Smurf is!  OH YEAH!  Hipster high five!  Just hope that this Cradle of Filth fan doesn’t read this review, otherwise you may get slapped by a spiked glove because the jig will be up.

The maelstrom of colors and shapes that highlight the album’s cover is not a bad representation of the electronic music Cradle of Smurf composes.  The French duo (one of whom consists of Julie Normal if my research serves me right) deliver mostly poppy electronic songs with quite a few instances of noise and bleeps.  If you listen to these songs repeatedly to let them soak in, those sudden bursts of static nonsense fit in nicely with the flow of the tune.  For instance, “Akai to Aoi” is an upbeat track that begins the album but one can immediately hear the screeching pops that are thrown in periodically.  It doesn’t matter, as they mostly add texture to a song that might sound too bland on its own.  Normal’s voice sort of drones on amidst the light beats, but it’s mainly used as an excuse for lyrics more than a critical part of the song.

While I’m on the topic, if you prefer singing with your electronic music, you can forget it with Cradles of Smurf.  Most songs have no lyrics of any kind, but when there are vocals one almost wishes they just stuck to instrumentals.  For instance, on the group’s cover of Beat Happening’s “Look Around” Normal’s vocals are hard to hear because they are mumbled and wispy.  That may not be such a bad thing to some ears, for it’s not like Calvin Johnson was any kind of Pavarotti.  Thankfully the keyboards keep the song true to form, which also makes it clear that the band probably prefers to stick to its strengths.  Melodically fuzzy songs like “La Mort Du Pape” and lo-fi dance anthems like “Bachir” show that no matter what Cradle of Smurf try, their keyboard skills can craft some pretty good songs.

Just as I was to write this album off as just another experimental electronic record by a French duo (such a long list, monsieur!) out pops “Tokyo Song”.  Man, this tune has got the ability to get the indie dance floor packed!  It’s got a general dance beat and light intro, but then the keyboard that sounds like that Japanese stringed instrument sound (think samurai movie) weaves effortlessly into the tempo.  Finally, a sensitive tone sparsely adds to the composition yet makes it complete.  Of course, the end of the song devolves into a confusion of noises, but the impression was very strong.  Easily the best song on the record for me.

Cradle of Smurf have quite a few songs that aren’t on this album on MySpace, but maybe the recorded live experience (Youtube) is more for you.  Even this guy recommends you bring your goat to the dance floor.

If I am reading Julie Normal’s discography correctly, there were only 500 copies made of this Cradle of Smurf disc.  Am I a lucky man?  I suppose so, especially thanks to that “Tokyo Song”.  However, it’s going to be tough for other people to find this disc kicking around a dollar bin, so maybe it’s the mp3 route you need to go.  It certainly won’t likely be the live show route, for it seems that this side project ended around 2008.  Although Cradle of Smurf may be finished, they still provide hot argument material in the long running Cradle of Filth versus Cradle of Smurf debate!

The Blue Van – The Art of Rolling

February 23, 2012 Leave a comment

TVT Records, 2005

One of the great things about buying one dollar bands is getting other one dollar albums by the band.  I reviewed the Blue Van’s 2006 record “Dear Independence” and thought it was a great surprise from a bunch of Danish rockers, so in this case I managed to get their debut album.  This could go one of two ways.  In one instance, the debut album could be worse than the second record due to shoddy production or meandering direction of interest.  The other possibility is that the debut album is a near match to the sophomore effort, meaning the band decided not to change anything (and thus get pegged as ‘limited’ or ‘stuck’).  Really, for a buck I wouldn’t mind the consistency.  Now that I think of it, there is a third tack that the band could have taken, and that was to change their sound completely.  So, ulp, I could have purchased the band’s initial love of covers of Danish traditional songs, a misguided attempt at modern Danish disco, or recordings of actual blue vans driving around a parking lot.  Now you know that there truly is a lot of danger involved as a bargain bin music reviewer.  I live on the edge… of taste!

Well, I lucked out.  It turns out that this record sounds very similar to their follow up album, though it seems to actually have more energy.  The opener of “Word From the Bird” is a warm cacophony of guitar, drums, and organ with vocalist Steffen Westmark’s ceiling-touching efforts completing the scene.  Even though it’s just over two minutes in length, “Product of DK” and “I Remember the Days” seamlessly continue the romp.  These early songs, as well as the rest of the two to three minutes rockers spread throughout the record, easily emit a sense of having a real good time.

As the tunes continue their rousing level to “The Remains of Sir Maison” (yet another good rock song), one begins to wonder if the Blue Van will ever take it down a notch.  You may say “Hey!  When should anyone ever wish for the party to end?”  I agree with that, and yet the continuation of the same level of volume and excitement can work against a band if the songs all blend together.  Westmark’s voice continues to reach the high register, the organ is constantly present, and the cymbals never seem to cease reverberating in my ear.  For five songs in a row, the Blue Van make a case for an amazing band, but one will more likely be left with just that impression more than a favorite song in particular.  Some diversity helps appreciate the band’s talents further.

It almost seems that the band knew it had gone on a little too long with the same old thing, as the Blue Van suddenly veers into the leisurely “Baby, I’ve Got Time” where Westmark relates his hesitancy to hurry out of the warm confines of a bar with his girl.  The light electronic piano introduction to “The Bluverture” reminds me of a Beatles song, but then it turns into a dramatic instrumental that could be used in “Kill Bill, part 3” if ever a movie was going to be made.  It’s a curiously interesting interlude to the bombastic nature of the record, which thankfully allows some pause to soak in what the band had completed up to that point.  Then, of course, it’s back to the party.

“Revelation of Love” and “What the Young People Want” are par for course, but “Mob Rules” at least tries to invoke a bluesy swing before erupting in the second half of the song.  The final song of “New Slough” is probably what the band could have done at the beginning of the record in that it’s eight minutes of sheer rock out.  Why make five songs that sounds somewhat similar when you can make one really long one?  Granted, a long one with such stomach-churning lyrics as “1-2-3, I’d like to look at thee” and “I’m a rebel with a cause/but I ain’t no Richie Rich”.  I know these guys are from Denmark, but reading around a bit it seems that the Danish start learning the English language in the third grade or so.  Okay, so they stink at lyrics, but I suppose if one didn’t care what Westmark was screaming out then this record serves nicely as a fine boost of rock ‘n roll energy.

The Blue Van has an immediately musical website (as in, make sure your speakers aren’t too loud) and a potentially musical MySpace page.  Check out their new stuff on either site … it sounds good.

Whenever I give a Golden Dollar to a band, I always keep an eye out to see how that band is doing.  Even if this was a record that was released before “Dear Independence”, I am still excited that such a band exists in Denmark.  They must (should) be loving these guys over there.  I’m not sure if the Blue Van will ever make it over to the States that often, but if their new album “Love Shot” is any indication of how good they are now, the group should at least pop over to open for someone like the Black Keys.  They’ll likely get pegged as some kind of posthumous garage rock revivalists that are trying to pick up the remains of the Hives’ efforts, but I bet the crowd will love them.  I look forward to the next Blue Van record that comes my way.

Moving Units – Dangerous Dreams

February 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Palm Pictures, 2004

No, I do not love the eighties art.  Well, that’s what it looks like to me.  If I had to title it I would call the piece “Smurfette Gives the Erotic Demon a Slap”.  Obviously, it may not be the album art that truly makes one want to know what band is behind it, but the name of the band reminded me that I had wanted to check out Moving Units at some point.  You know how it is; you may not know why certain band names stick in your mind, but you still feel obligated to at least say you tried to give them a shot.  Plus, I would hate to find myself in that awkward situation eight years later when an old friend says “Hey, did you ever check out Moving Units like I emphatically recommended eight years ago?”  Yeah, definitely don’t want to break out the umm-ahh-errrs.  I’m preparing myself for all situations, you see.

Before I get into the value of “Emancipation”, the first song off the album, I have to admit that at certain points throughout the record vocalist Johan Boegli gets on the nerves.  When he’s simply singing at his even tone, then his voice can concurrently convey cool (alliteration points!) attitude and mysteriousness.  However, when he enters the upper registers it sounds like he is either getting kicked in the balls or is whining that his toy was taken away.  I know he wishes to emit spontaneous energy once in awhile, but it’s too much of too much.  As great as a band may sound, if the vocalist is deemed taxing by a listener then it doesn’t even matter if the band exists.

Thankfully, Boegli doesn’t get carried away too often and tends to deliver songs in a more subdued yet pained way. “Between Us and Them” proves to be one of the better tracks on the record due to its powerfully catchy bass hook and, of course, the upbeat danceworthy tempo.  I also like the moodiness of the keyboards in “Anyone”, which provides a beat that people can shuffle emotionally to.  Yeah, I suppose the track won’t trigger an indie party to start hopping, but it definitely stands out amongst all the maxed out burst occurring around it.  Even the last track, which usually has a low chance of succeeding of being anything worthwhile, is actually pretty good.  “Turn Away” mainly features a simple guitar riff and Boegli’s slowly building presence.  After a whole lot of drum thumpin’ and head noddin’, the final song is a very good (and much needed) reprieve.

Unfortunately, not all of the songs are nearly as catchy as “Between Us and Them” nor as thoughtful as “Turn Away”.  “Going For Adds” is a radio-themed tune that, well, may have played itself off the radio with its jilting guitar and the ultra repetitive “everybody’s on the radio” line.  “Birds of Prey” sounds excellent 80% of the way through, but then Boegli sounds like he’s getting his teeth pulled during the final hurrah by screeching out a few painful “aaaaaaaaah!”s.  Too bad about that one.  Most of the other tracks have their moments, but a lot of it sounds the same.  Quick cymbals, rapid guitar/bass, wailing from Boegli … on repeat.

Have a listen to Moving Units at their website or MySpace page.  My favorite track on the record, “Between Us and Them”, has its own fan-made video on Youtube for a more visual experience!  Check out those sideburns…

Unfortunately, though Moving Units and Bloc Party used similar methods to drive up the rush, I feel that Moving Units falls short of making a true impact on this effort.  As mentioned before, I think it’s mainly due to not having too many standout tracks and instead finding a common ground amongst all of the tracks.  As in, everything’s so-so and digestible but not great enough to make everyone demand more.  I still think it’s a pretty solid album that has some good songs, but I can understand why people weren’t talking about Moving Units a whole lot back in 2004.  These guys were victims of a trend that other bands were doing better.

Moving Units is still around making music as evidenced by their latest EP “Tension War”.  They still have a little of that dance rock element, but the music and vocals sound so much better.  In fact, “Until She Says” is a great tune that features a toned down Boegli along with what sounds like electronic piano.  Even though Moving Units may not have had the best record out in 2004, I think they’re certainly worth a look nowadays.

Kill Cheerleader – All Hail

February 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Spinerazor Records, 2006

It is a rare situation when I buy a dollar bin album that I already own.  I even recall originally buying this record for $13 or so online because I wanted it so much.  I winced at the price a bit at the time, and I winced even more harshly at the cover art, but I knew this was quality rock ‘n roll when I bought it a few years ago.  And would you believe that this copy, which was more than ten bucks cheaper, was still wrapped?!  I nearly fainted.  This truthfully was an act of saving a great disc from the inevitable landfill in the hopes of handing it over to a friend.  I suppose this review is my defense of getting a dollar bin-deemed record twice.

I could just leave the music description of the band as “a derailed train hitting a Baptist church” or siamese twins engaging in carnal contact, but I’ll keep the metaphors to a minimum when I say that Canada’s Kill Cheerleader resemble a hair metal band without all the schlock.  Ethan Deth (aka Ethan Rath of Crystal Castles) and his leather-wearing cronies blaze through most of their songs with guitar layers, drum thwacking rapidness, and disdain for anything sedentary.  One of the standouts of the record (and there are a good amount of them) is “Lady of the Night”.  Something about a bass intro, meshing with a lashing guitar, and the sneering Deth demanding his lady of the night to come back to him reeks of rock ‘n roll.  A particular favorite part of the songs comes during the mid-song double guitar solo, which helps split the song into half chorus/verse, half instrumental.

“No Feelings” and “Find Your Own Way Home” also pack in a lot of quick riffing and grim rawness.  In “No Feelings”, Deth’s vocals take on the tone of simmering anger that only bursts during the chorus, yet it’s the blitzing guitar work at the end that seems to truly convey the song’s emotions.  “Find Your Own Way Home” sounds more like a punk song given its speed and the vocal shouting, yet it fits the tone of the lyrics given that this is one of those anguished see-you-later songs.

“Don’t Call Me Baby, Baby” wins the best title for the record, but man does it deliver on the powerful sonic juice.  Granted, it’s an unfortunate story that details the unhappiness a girl is feeling towards her wayward boyfriend, but yet again it’s that wailing guitar solo and extended instrumental that makes this song an encompassing mass of blissful energy.  (sigh)  How can one truly describe songs that just get one utterly amped up?  Can you feel my conviction through the screen?

For all their bombast, Kill Cheerleader do enjoy their quiet moments.  “Go Away” is a nice break from the action halfway through the album, and though it slots well as a rock ballad the “na na na’s” and sometimes whiny vocals might not make this one’s favorite spin.  Still, its later verses aren’t so pitifully quiet to kill the momentum that the record surged forth from the beginning.  “No Lullabies” is nearly whispered at the end of the record’s onslaught, reminding me of some kind of conglomeration of Guns N Roses ballads.  Finally, for whatever reason, Kill Cheerleader wanted to end the record by plinking away on a piano in “Hurt the People You Love”.  Letting us down easy, I guess.

These guys have a few tunes on their otherwise desolate MySpace page, but I think Youtube will serve you better for your headbanging fix.  For a pretty good live video of the band, check out “Sell Your Soul”.  For a video that I thought was taken off the Internet, check out the official “No Feelings” video.

I cannot express to you how much joy this record brings me.  It has that retro metal element but also some fantastic modern takes on rock that keeps it from being too monotonous or predictable.  I also really like the fact that Deth’s vocals are rarely in your face, so it gives each song a garage rock feel while primarily focusing on the music.  Even the slow songs are appealing with their slight tugs on a metalhead’s feelings regardless of how well the lyrics are crafted.  I suppose … I suppose this is a record that Motorhead fans, who like that consistently beautiful blend of hard rock, metal and edge, could truly enjoy.  It makes you want to hear the next record, which will hopefully sound like the first, and then there will be more devil horns thrust into the air, and then…

But no, this is it.  Unfortunately Kill Cheerleader is no longer and merely put out this one record.  It’s already known that Ethan Deth (Rath) has gone onto Crystal Castles, so perhaps that path of chaotically catchy electronic music was more his thing than hard rock.  Seems a shame, but at least this record exists to give some rock fans out there some satisfaction.  Well, this one definitely gets the Golden Dollar.  This one’s a keeper…. er, twice.