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Gigolo Aunts – Minor Chords and Major Themes

June 29, 2012 Leave a comment

E Pluribus Unum Recordings, 1999

When you like a band once, you keep checking to see if you still like them.  I truly enjoyed “Flippin’ Out” so their follow up record was a must spin for me.  Even if I hadn’t heard of these guys before, the retro album cover with the purple trim is certainly grabbing.  However, showing pictures of contented dudes in a studio screams light music, so anyone else who was willing to dish out the dimes and nickels to hear what Gigolo Aunts were about probably left the hard stuff on the shelf and poured some lemonade as they popped this disc in the player.

The early part of this Boston pop group’s third record can easily turn off some of the more grounded listeners.  The overwhelming positivity of “C’mon C’mon” will give many people a toothache with its sugar impact.  The lyrics of “C’mon c’mon/can’t you feel something going on?” get repeated effusively and, aside from a few bits here and there, they are the only lyrics for the song.  What kind of a tune is that?  Then there’s “Everyone Can Fly” whose title made me gag just by reading it.  Who titles a song that sounds like it was lifted from Sesame Street?  It’s a much softer song in sharp contrast to “C’mon C’mon”, so I am not sure what the point was in getting everybody in a sky high mood only to douse them with light guitars and melancholy vocals.  So yes, the album starts off a bit awkwardly.

The tunes get back to more vibrant pop with “Half a Chance” and “Super Ultra Wicked Mega Love”, though the latter has a few power guitar riffs that heavily remind one of the early to mid-nineties, never mind the late nineties.  As the album quietly slides into “You’d Better Get Yourself Together”, Dave Gibb’s high vocals become very noticeable.  Five tunes in he’s gone from singing with exuberance, singing with balanced aggression, and finally to an absolute feeling of soothing gentleness.  It’s on “Together” that really makes Gigolo Aunts stand out as not just another power pop band.  Gibbs’ vocals help, but the sharply contrasting composition styles give an impression that Gigolo Aunts aren’t going to be predictable for thirteen tracks.

The best track, “The Big Lie”, could have been a big radio hit if it got out of Boston.  Well, and if boy bands and teenage pop princesses didn’t rule the airwaves at that time.  The tune has an urgency during its chorus, which turns out to be Gibbs’ profession that he’s not the right guy for whoever it is.  This is also a song that got stuck in my head for a few days, probably because it actually built up the adrenaline during that aforementioned chorus.  The band doesn’t let up for too long before “Rest Assured” bursts out a few tracks later.  It’s almost as if the band knew their listeners might be nodding off at this point to include two really strong power pop tracks so close together.  The reason is quickly apparent, however, when the last few songs resemble a steep decline into the nice soft pillow that is “Residue”.

Listen to a few tracks by Gigolo Aunts on their MySpace page if you need a power pop shot in the arm.

My body got the shakes from listening to this record, mainly because its energy level got jerked around so much.  I went from snapping the fingers, looking forlornly at a sad puppy picture, swiveling rabidly in my swivel chair, and then passing out.  These songs are everywhere, which can be very frustrating if one wants dwell on a particular side of Gigolo Aunts music.  I personally liked the group when they were energized, but I felt that they sunk too much into the lightweight stuff so that any sort of momentum was quickly eradicated.

Gigolo Aunts did manage to put out one more record in 2002, but the pop band called it quits after a decade of power popping.  It is too bad that their sound is no longer with us, but perhaps they went the way of the Gin Blossoms when they realized everyone (sadly) was listening to nu metal or throaty pop songs.  To think that if they had only stuck around for eight more years they could have caught on the Train bandwagon and sugared us over with crappy songs.  Except they wouldn’t be crappy, for despite my misgivings with the numerous soft tunes I still think that Gigolo Aunts are a great band.  Definitely check them out on 1994’s “Flippin’ Out” or even this album.

The Gordon Highlanders – The Bagpipes and Drums of Scotland

June 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Laserlight Digital, 1990

At the risk of getting a flashing “HIPSTER POST!” emblazoned on the front page of the blog, accompanied by the wrong answer buzzer sound from “Family Feud” on repeat, I chose to pick up this compilation of bagpipe music from Scotland.  Why?  Well, I like bagpipes every once in awhile.  Not as a multi-hour listen but whenever they pop up in movies, events, or randomly during a road race (hello Portland, Maine) I appreciate them quite a bit.  I don’t even know how they work, really, though I see a lot of squeezing, blowing, and terse concentration by whoever is letting loose with that high pitched sound.  It’s impressive to watch the mysterious instrument in action, and with it the flashy attire of the musician (speaking of which, there appears to be some kind of blade attached to the guy’s ankle on the cover.  Don’t mess with the bagpipe dude).  So … I guess I thought I just wanted to hear fourteen bagpipe tracks to see if I could stand it.  I suppose the album’s also good to have on hand in case one likes to drive down a road full of people and blast this baby out of one’s car speakers.  Just for the heck of it, of course.

Every song on this collection performed by the Gordon Highlanders is labeled as “traditional”, so these songs are apparently well known to some group of people somewhere in the world.  Of course, “Amazing Grace” is as traditionally well known as it gets, and just to jump start this bagpipe party the Highlanders put it first in line.  That’s right, the song they play at funerals and emotionally moving parts in movies immediately sobers up any sort of upbeat mood the listener is in.  Sheesh, it’s like a brick to the face.  Sounds excellent, of course, but I would think something more peppy would have been better served as the first track.

That’s the only negative thing I could think of for this album, for everything else sounds just like it should.  There are a lot of marching to battle tracks, like “Battle On the Tyne”, “Regimental March”, and “When the Battle Is Over”.  One can picture the well adorned Scottish (or British, or Irish, or Welsh) troops with their military regalia stomping through the streets during a parade.  I wonder if these types of bagpipe tunes are used for the military in any other sense these days?  Perhaps they’re only brought out on the modern day battlefield when it’s early in the morning, mist covers the fields, and warriors gaze into the distance with the anticipation of fighting.  Okay, okay, I stole that image from “Braveheart”.

Not all songs on this album ring of battle, for “Miss Kirkwood” must be some sort of poignant love song that the Scottish compose so well.  Of course, there are no words, so one just has to imagine what kind of emotions the stoic bagpiper is going through when he’s playing it.  At least with its upbeat sound it might actually be a joyful tune, so perhaps no one died in the storyline.  “Scotland the Brave”, which is understandably a patriotic Scottish song, made me smile due to it being used as a rollicking punk intro on the Dropkick Murphys’ debut album “Do or Die”.  The Highlanders’ version has got enough to it to be a dance, but if you want something you can punch someone to check out the Murphys’ spin on it.

Admittedly, around “The Conund Rum” the songs were all starting to sound the same.  It could be due to my untrained bagpipe ear, but most songs on this record seem to blend together due to the consistent presence of bagpipes and drums.  I suppose that was predictable, wasn’t it?  With “Pipe Set 2”, however, a bit of a jig occurs with what sounds like an accordion and a flute.  I was picturing lasses with long hair and men with kilts doing some sort of Scottish dance at a local pub late in the night.  Given much of the droning and marching stuff early in the album, “Pipe Set 2” is the clear track winner.  If there is ONE bagpipes song you listen to this year …

It’s easy enough to find bagpipe music on the Internet, but hey, I’ll help you out with some “Battle on the Tyne”:

Now that I have listened to all fourteen tracks, I feel at ease about my bagpipes exposure.  When else, or at what other opportunity, would I have a chance to absorb this much of this unique instrument?  It’s not like there are bagpipe artists all over the pop charts … though perhaps that’s for good reason.  For a little bit of money this disc ended up worth the spin if only to say I had made the effort to understand the allure of the bagpipe.  Will this now get repeat spins through my speakers?  Well…

This is certainly one of those albums that you just have around for whatever occasion may arise.  I have a lot of music I just sort of hang onto just in case, like classical music, jazz music, some blues … and now bagpipes.  Perhaps when the Scottish Korean guy comes to visit in order to explain his long distance familial ties to my wife will I actually break this record out for the reunion.  Otherwise, it’s just a nice cultural set of tunes to have in case I end up visiting Scotland one day.  I suppose that depending on who you are you may run out and pick up this record at your earliest chance or go all the way and buy a set of bagpipes.  Hey, I heard there’s a niche market out there for ya!

Steel Mammoth – Atomic Mountain

June 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Ektro Records, 2007

I don’t care if you’re a pop fan who likes coordinated dance moves and electro-falsetto effects, this album art has to draw you in.  A skull with ram horns, lightning bolts, and what looks to be some kind of World War I helmet is impressive by itself, but check out that band logo.  It has to mean guitar shredding and vocal wailing lies within.  I, uh, even dig the colors of orange, light brown and black.  That reminds me of Halloween YEAH!  Okay, so the three Finnish guys on the inside booklet look like they’re making a mockery of their band photos by posing like goofballs, but that can’t be enough of a deterrent from picking up this record.  This disc has to roar.

As much as the cover looks like this is going to be some kind of Motorhead at light speed, it is not an accurate representation of the band’s sound.  Steel Mammoth may be confident in their artistic choices of rock ‘n roll visages, but they end up hiding behind the amps and guitars with their music level.  “Black Team” does start off rather well, though it isn’t anywhere near the heavy metal I expected.  Instead, the songs reminds me of Steppenwolf and that “Magic Carpet Ride” song … which is a good song, sure, but it’s more of a jam than an exultant rocker.  Initially I waved it off as just a slow, safe start for Steel Mammoth.

“Heart of Bone” has a great squealing guitar amidst its sense of despair, and the chorus of “Barbarian lords, we ride alone/until we’re just a pile of bones” is an excellent mantra for barbarian dudes who can’t be bothered with those wenches and their emotional demands.  Unfortunately, after this one the songs get disappointing fast.  A song like “Blackout Leather” screams nitro shredding or at least some kind of howling.  Instead, it jollies along at mid-tempo with some very fey vocals by some guys named Garfield Steel and Juicyifer (nope, not the band Jucifer … well, that’d be confusing anyway).  Lemmy would even have a hard time making this a powerfully sounding rock effort, for despite moments of volume during the chorus the entire song goes on too long with a limp.

“Commando Leopard” sounds like it could be another flaming hammer to your skull if you heard it … and behold, it is!  But not in a great way at all, for the band sort of drones on for nearly three minutes before the noise sets in.  That’s right, for about nine minutes they just turn to a kind of space out music that would probably be the soundtrack to one’s time spent in a dungeon.  Strange echoes, rumblings, and what sounds like the crumpling of paper.  I guess they sort of gave up at this point.

If “Riders of Death” didn’t start off with some kind of riff that could hold one’s attention for at least ten seconds, this review was going to be over.  Thankfully, the guitar intro was somewhat interesting even if the rest of the song just sort of repeated it while dabbling with some high-pitched twanging by a second guitar.  The deeper chanting during the chorus is probably the best metal impression one is going to get from this record, which at least shows they could pull it off.  It’s too bad that, yet again, “Riders of Death” goes on too long for little reward.

You can hear a few tunes at MySpace or at Ektro Records if you wish, though make sure you don’t accidentally knock over your latte when snapping your fingers.

I had such high hopes for this record and the metal that it should have brought that I waited to listen to it for the right time.  I expected to drive everyone away within a mile radius due to the volume that would come out of my speakers.  Instead, it’s a rock ‘n roll album that people wouldn’t want to necessarily get out of their arm chairs to break a beer bottle for.  Whoever created that horned skull on the album cover should just sign up to craft Motorhead’s or Mastodon’s upcoming album and let Steel Mammoth mimic a Journey album cover for their next record.  Rock ‘n roll indeed.

So, despite a few decent songs, I’m labeling this one a bust.  It should have been better.  Since this is their debut record, there is certainly hope that Steel Mammoth has moved on from the lightweight rock to a stronger dose in later albums.  Listening to a few tunes on their MySpace page, the only one that stands out as something improved is “Nerheim War Cry”, which is a pretty good metal song.  If they record more of those, they can keep putting skulls on their album covers.  If not, perhaps an illustration of a plushy gray elephant is a better representation of what Steel Mammoth really represent.