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The “I Need That Record!” Documentary Review

July 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I sort of dabble with reviewing other mediums from time to time for Blogcritics, especially when certain material presents itself that I figure would be interesting. Brian Toller created a documentary about the rise and fall of independent record stores entitled “I Need That Record!: The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store”. Considering I write a blog based on record store finds, this was important to me.

The review article was first published as DVD Review: I Need That Record!: The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store on Blogcritics. I would definitely say it’s at least worth a rental when it comes out at the end of the month.

LTJ X-Perience – Moon Beat

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Irma Records, 1999

A well-thumbed digipak sat amongst the refuse in a dollar bin that mostly contained awful R&B singles that, frankly, should have just been burned.  I pulled this one out and got a good look at that colorful cover and thought this had to be some kind of fun time to listen to.  The fact that it looked like it had been previously owned for a lengthy amount of time gave me hope that at least someone before me gave it quite a few spins before parting with it.  With songs like “Disco People” and “You Got the Beat”, I figured it had to be some kind of dance record that might have had a few moon-based sound references.  The fact that it also looked like the group was based out of Italy made me cough up the dough to give it a chance.

Indeed, these guys turned out to be the groove music makers that I thought they were going to be.  The duo of Luca LTJ Trevisi and Ohm Guru spin out compositions that tend to be repetitive with their clips but always have an element that builds upon itself, thus making each tune increasingly danceable.  The group also doesn’t want you to think anything is unfinished for nearly every song is around five minutes or more.  The only tune that isn’t of that length is the ‘short’ four minute introductory song of “Keep On Grooving” which sounds like it uses a Bee Gees clip over and over again.  “Sitar Madness” is just that as a motivated drum beat gets people moving amidst a sped-up sitar clip and some wails from a female vocalist.  “Disco People” turned out to be less like a disco song and more like a bossa lounge tune, which is nice and all but doesn’t stand out nearly as much.  It sounded more like something one could use for background music for one of those home improvement TV shows where they’re rearranging a room.

One of the better tracks is “Saturday Nite Groovin” which actually fits the sound of disco a lot better than its predecessor on the record.  The song gave me the feeling of edging between dancers at an upscale club somewhere in the city … not that I have been seen anywhere near an upscale club.  However, if I were of the slicked hair and the slightly ajar collared shirt, I could picture myself giving everyone the “oh, you want me too so just take a number” look as I coolly stood at the bar too awkward to move.  The track that turns out sounding the best on the record is a track that has no relation to any of the others, and that is the title track.  “Moon Beat” is a smooth cool down at the end of a record that tries hard to energize, so it is surprising that LTJ X-Perience included it without much of a warning anywhere else.  It sounds pretty good as it gets going and definitely has a strong chill out essence to it, but it is at this point where I found out that my disc skips.  Alas, that might have been one of the reasons why the previous owner let this one go.  Oh well.

You can check these guys out on MySpace!

Most mix artists tend to fade away as time moves on and styles rapidly takeover each other.  It is rare, at least in my experience, to see these kinds of artists last longer than three or four years before running out of creative juice.  I can’t say I’m an expert in making such a conclusion, but when I found out that LTJ X-Perience had been together for more than a decade I was quite surprised.  They are still putting out music for various dance and groove compilations, so if you happen to pick one up that is European-based you’re bound to bump into these guys eventually.  As for me, I suppose when the rock n roll gets tiring and I just don’t want anyone to be singing at me, I may get more into this kind of music regularly.  I’ll probably keep this album nearby in case a party comes along and I need to dress up as an unapproachable heartthrob.

Crystal Skulls – Blocked Numbers

March 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Suicide Squeeze Records, 2005

Sometimes I surprise myself and pick up something out of a dollar bin that just screams indie rock.  You can’t even think of anything else in what this band might be about.  Pink sky?  Fluffy, upside down clouds?  This is all coded to say “I am indie and approachable, so heart me.”  (shudder)  The contents are also quite apparent if one takes a look at the record label, which is absolutely known for its indie output with bands like Minus the Bear, Modest Mouse, and Pedro the Lion.  Granted, they also have Russian Circles and the Unicorns, so I suppose one could expect something a bit more crushing if one gets an nervous feeling that the cutesy art cover is just a smokescreen.  Turns out Crystal Skulls aren’t into trickery, though.

Made up of four guys who have done this kind of thing before, Crystal Skulls deliver a pleasantly light yet well-crafted inoffensive sound.  Christian Wargo’s lackadaisical singing style is consistent throughout the record and never tries to reach a level it shouldn’t.  I suppose that feature of his vocals could be considered too safe or unimpressive, yet I have heard many modern singers try too hard to hit certain notes or affect their voices so much to make one twinge in discomfort.  Wargo has a tempered delivery and the band follows suit with a steady but not necessarily predictable musicianship.  They do sound a little like the sometimes quirky songs by Minus the Bear, but unlike that band Crystal Skulls never stray into the terribly interesting or lapse into the utterly dull with the music.  Like I said, these guys define the inoffensive sound.

And you know, some people just like that.  I found that “Hussy” was very listenable to and resembled a more sedated Strokes kind of fare.  The intro riffs of “Count Your Gold” sound as if they carry a warning, and despite the lowering of Wargo’s voice the song still carries a positive feeling by the end of it.  The band really doesn’t want to upset you, though perhaps there is weight in the lyrics somewhere.   One would really have to delve into that factor, though, to walk away from all of this with a poor attitude.  Crystal Skulls even try a more aggressive pop number in “Hard Party” which does get the listener to bob along a little faster, but no matter what slight alteration in tempo the band creates they still only come across as a good background band for busy activities.

Check out the poppy goodness on their MySpace or Last.fm page.

Crystal Skulls are a nice band but I didn’t really feel they stood out a whole lot in this record.  Most songs, although enjoyable, induced comfort but did little else for one to take much notice.  However, I do kinda want to retract my earlier blanket statement that declares Crystal Skulls typically indie.  They aren’t so much indie as they are just an easy listening pop band that happens to be modern and a bit lukewarm.  The band did manage to get out another record in 2006 before possibly disappearing for good.  I hope they’re just on a somewhat long hiatus, though, because their generally appealing sound could probably make a few more jaded music listeners give pastels a chance.

Tarnation – Mirador

March 3, 2010 1 comment

Reprise Records, 1997

A fellow DJ helpfully prodded me towards giving a spin of Tarnation a try and I belatedly thank him now for doing so. Tarnation is a wonderful, under-appreciated band that doesn’t sound like it is from this era. I vaguely remembered this fact when I found their second release amidst the cheap stacks and swiftly took it home with me. Sometimes all it takes is a band name to gamble your money on.

Tarnation is a moody sort of band that emits a midwestern feel and a sense of loneliness.  This may mostly be due to the fact that Paula Frazer’s voice is strong and yet beautifully wilting.  Her periodic long cries as well as her tone of a knowing storyteller gives one a mental image of a silhouetted gunslinger riding slowly towards nowhere on the edge of a hill during sunset.  No I’m serious, I get that sometimes.  “An Awful Shade of Blue”, while on the surface sounds like someone’s rant about an interior decorating session gone wrong, actually concerns … well geez, I don’t know.  The lyrics seem rather vague, so you know the best thing to do is bet on a relationship song.  Either way, it’s an excellent opener to the record.  The much more rousing number in “Your Thoughts and Mine” sounds like the credits to the end of a movie featuring the aforementioned gunslinger after he left a woman in some desolate town.  It has a sorrowful trumpet as well as a reverb guitar keeping a galloping horse’s pace in the near background.

The band does take a step away from the dusty west by doing a fine cover of the Nightcrawler’s “Little Black Egg” from the sixties.  I first heard that song off of the Nuggets collection from Rhino records and found it charming, yet here it was getting covered by a band that must have thought the same thing.  As much as I enjoy this record, the band does get a bit distracted with some desperate sounding sparse music in “Christine”, which is a tune that sounds as unsettling crazy as the unfortunate psychological end of a girl and her doll.  Aside from this road block to easy flow, the record in total is dreamy trip across the plains with Frazer as its haunting guide.

Not much can be found about Tarnation on the web in terms of listening, so head on over to Paula Frazer’s MySpace page or the band’s Last.fm page.

I’m finding that I’m easily swept up in bands that portray a western feeling, like I was with Spindrift.  Despite all the garage rock and punk that I listen to, once in awhile something different comes along and gives me a nice surprise.  Tarnation may not be for everyone, but if you’re up for something low key and enjoy pretty voices as well, check out this band.  I noticed that Tarnation as a group is back recording with all new members around Frazer, so keep an eye out for a possible new record if you like this one as much as I did.

Love Is All – Nine Times That Same Song

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

What’s Your Rupture? Records, 2006

The note of “Sleeve By Josephine” means nothing to most, and yet this was one of the more stand out record designs that I’ve ever seen.  I liked the circular, jammed black and white newspaper look that gives off a combative sense of order and chaos.  The printed words that you can barely see in the album art repeat the name of the record over and over as if Jack Torrance was shedding his dull boy image and getting into indie rock.  The back of the record has a lot of pink dots, block lettering and faded type printing, so I felt that no matter what this sounded like it was probably going to have at least a little fun to it.

It turns out that Love is All is yet another rock band from Sweden that, as has been mentioned before via the Flaming Sideburns as well as other groups, continues to impress me as a country that legitimately deserves attention for its music.  Granted, unlike those other rock bands Love Is All pours on the dance rock element that is more popular these days.  Every song tends to have a rapid tapping of cymbals and break neck speed that could be considered punk if it wasn’t all sung by a high-pitched female.  Josephine Olausson, already established as the aforementioned artistic talent, sings urgently in nearly every song with a slight echo that sounds like she might be singing somewhere in a subway station.  Do they have subways in Sweden?  Regardless, the opening tune of “Talk Talk Talk Talk” is showcases the fervent pace and singing that the band continues for most of the record.  Nicholaus Sparding pitches in with a bunch of “one more time”s but it is all one big dash to the end of nearly three minutes of tune.

The band gets a little softer (and conceivably more available for marketing ad jingles) with “Turn the Radio Off” which incorporates some cutesy keyboard and sweeping saxophone.  Not having heard some of their more recent stuff, I might even say that this might be where the band could be heading if they got tired of the usual high exertion they spin into on songs like “Busy Doing Nothing” and “Spinning & Scratching”.  The band definitely hooks into a more typical indie move with a song like “Make Out Fall Out Make Up,” which I knew was catchy for a good reason and but did not make me necessarily like it.  You know those modern songs that start slow and build up anticipation for a big chorus, and then what do you know, the big chorus happens?  Well, that is exactly what this song does.  It pulls that stunt about four times under three minutes, so even though it is a short song it feels very long and a bit tired after awhile.  I threw it into the small listening station for you hipsters out there…

I like this record as it has enough edge and bombast to make the listener think these guys are going to do something great after their debut. Spinning a few of their newer tracks shows that they have definitely held onto the dance element, gotten a little more touchy feely, and shed much of the mayhem they established on this record. I figured that would happen, but I suppose that just means they’re growing right?  Ach.  Love Is All still has a lot of excitement about them starting with this record, so go check them out for some music that has a little less abandon than what you might get usually from the States.

Nine Black Alps – Everything Is

February 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Interscope Records, 2005

If there is a band that is not from an earlier decade and yet seems to find itself in every dollar bin, it’s Nine Black Alps. I’ll get into why in a bit, but the group’s debut record has found that it is quite likely the first, non-mainstream indie rock acts that has found itself tossed about into bins of neglect everywhere. I’m surprised it has not been picked up more given the fact that cover art screams indie, artsy, and probably emotional. That pastels look, as well as a visage of something that seems to resemble a bunny rabbit smoking a beat up cigarette, should be automatic buying material. So what did I do? Yeah, you guessed it. I’ve gotten more predictable in these reviews, eh?

England’s Nine Black Alps are a pulverizing young rock band that slaps you across the face immediately with the bludgeoning opener “Get Your Guns”. Indeed, the tune sounds like some kind of call to arms for rockers due to the fact that the sheer volume … “Cosmopolitan” does not let up whatsoever with the aggressive vocals of Sam Forrest tearing into another rousing number that, if one can catch any of the flurry of lyrics, sounds like a puzzling relationship situation.  “Unsatisfied” is also pretty heavy, and yet it is one of the first songs that isn’t in your face with sound.  Forrest actually sings more casually as he deals out his frustration regarding a difficult acquaintance.  His somewhat sneering delivery reminds me a bit of Oasis’ Liam Gallagher, even if Gallagher tends to sound as if he’s sneering in all of his songs.  Either way, the song sounds great with the band’s back and forth between hard and soft riffs.

Of course, every hard rock band inserts a breather amidst a slew of napalm, and that tune comes in the form of “Behind Your Eyes”.  If one didn’t know that these guys spent more time knocking your brain around, one could think that the pretty guitar work and softened vocals could be from a typical indie rock band.  However, as if to respond to anyone thinking that maybe these guys should stick to the light stuff, the group immediately careens into another harsh rocker in “Ironside” so people don’t get too comfortable.  The rest of the album is pretty much the same in the sense that it’s all adrenaline and spit.

If you’re interested in hearing Nine Black Alps yourself, check out their website or their MySpace page.

Perhaps the record got too monotonous.  Perhaps consistent rock n roll is no longer in demand.  Okay, it better not be that.  The only other reason I could think of that Nine Black Alps’ debut record is in quite a few dollar bins is that they sent out too much product to be reviewed before release.  That, or they sold their debut for an exceptionally cheap price so that people didn’t feel too badly in letting it go.  Whatever the reason is, this record should be in more shelves of rock enthusiasts.  The fact that the band is still putting out records should give folks ample opportunity to pick up a copy of this record before checking the band out live somewhere.  If you ask me I think these guys should be bigger than they are, so if you are going to believe the somewhat baseless claims of one cheap music blog writer this year, well, consider believing me!

Powersolo – Egg

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Crunchy Frog Records, 2008

If I’m not loving rock n roll, I’m loving breakfast.  So hey, if you’re going to throw an egg on the cover of your record I’ll consider hitting up a diner nearby and read the liner notes with a side of pancakes, sausage, and home fries.  I’m not sure what possessed Powersolo to feature the egg prominently in all the photos for the record, but it certainly stands out without too much effort.  If only the music was equally worth the appetite.

The Danish trio Powersolo are certainly a rock band but with a quirky twist.  This approach could be a bit of a risk around here, for a) Americans like their rock and b) Americans may not like quirk with their rock.  Maybe it’s a Danish thing, for I had trouble thinking of too many tongue-in-cheek bands that have had a prominent stay in our musical consciences.  The only one I could think of was the Presidents of the United States, and they’re not from around here either.  Regardless of what these guys find funny, their musicianship is quite enjoyable if you take out the words.  “Messerschmidt” is an excellent, mostly instrumental dragster-like rocker that features some crafty organ work by a guy named Palle Hjort.  The energizing background of “Dans Les Rues De Paris” reminds one of some kind of updated 60s dance track with people doing the mashed potato with pointed enthusiasm.  However, the song is in french and translates to “In the Streets of Paris”, so for all I know they’re jamming wildly about berets.

Unfortunately, the quirkiness aspect of the group just frustrated me.  The vocalist, Kim Kix, varies between sounding like Moby and fiddling with his tone so as to be rather obnoxious at times.  In “Dumb Dumb Dumb” it sounds as if he’s trying his best Bee Gees impression, despite the band playing a fine, sinister-sounding composition that could have been written by Tomoyasu Hotei.  So, in a sense, Kix ruins it.  Then there’s the similarly hard western-sounding rocker of “Plasma Crystal Dope” that has Kix sounding like a nu metal guy raving about smoking that crystal dope.  Trust me, it sounds awful. I will admit that the pensive sound of “Gentle on the Nards” is complemented greatly by an agonized ranting towards the end, which has the singer throwing himself at the listener’s feet and desperately wanting not to die.  It is an interesting way for a record to go out, but it was only one of a few tracks that made me think these guys were remotely amusing.  The band clearly feels that their songs with a wink are hilarious, but I felt that the record would have sounded better if it was all instrumentals and they left their humor in Denmark.

I must say that I don’t musically know much from the Dutch … but there’s gotta be other Danish rock bands out there that don’t try to be clever, right?  Know of any?  I’d like to give the country another chance, because these guys didn’t do it for me despite the delicious cover art.  Powersolo has been releasing records at a pretty good rate and, if longevity is to be considered credible, the group must be somewhat popular in their home country.  I’m sure if they ever tour around here they’re probably a laugh to watch in person, but from what I’ve heard from this record, they’re mostly causing groans.

Categories: Bust Tags: , , ,