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Alan Braxe and Friends – The Upper Cuts

July 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Vulture Records, 2005

Truth be told, I thought I had stumbled on an early eighties folk rock act that wanted to be edgy.  Whenever “and friends” accompanies a guy’s name I’m thinking those friends are the ones with fiddles, slide guitar, and perhaps backup vocals.  The brash font of the album title, as well as the vinyl wear effect behind it, just screamed Chicago or Billy Squier.  I’ve seen enough of those record covers at flea markets to be wary of them, but I thought that for just a quarter I had to know (HAD to know) what Braxe and his honky tonk buddies sounded like.

I am so glad I was completely wrong about Braxe, but I am also so glad that I stumbled on an excellent record as well.  Alan Braxe of France is apparently a dance music maker that releases vinyl singles very infrequently, so this record serves as a compilation of twelve of his efforts.  One of his apparent friends is Fred Falke, known for his own dance music, so with two of these types of artists this turns out to be one big hip shaking party with no signs of haystacks or cowboy hats.  Score!!

I could go into each track, but a big surprise for me was my recognition of “Music Sounds Better With You”.  I have heard it somewhere before, really liked it, then forgot about it.  It’s a modern disco song that repeats the chorus quite often in its nearly seven minute span.  Not that you’ll notice as you abandon all semblance of responsibility as you jerk left and right to the groove, sloshing your cocktail all over the place.  Or a coffee mug, as in my case.  It’s a light enough song so one doesn’t feel overwhelmed, but it’s also got a strong rhythm that should get a room full of people to get down.

I also loved the airiness of “In Love With You”, the warmth of “Love Lost”, and the straight on dance anthem of “Rubicon”.  Everything just sounds so easy and casual, so if you want to dance you can but you can also just soak it all in.  Despite the overall enjoyment, there are moments when some songs do sound a bit dated, even if one doesn’t mind so much.  “At Night” has a drum machine and a chugging synth effect that immediately brought “Miami Vice” to mind.  It’s a killer track, and I know Crockett and Tubbs would have approved its appearance during a chase scene.  “Vertigo” also clearly comes across as something from the nineties with its cymbal pop and, again, drum machine.  Sure, the song was actually made in 1997, but I’m thinking early nineties like Technotronic or La Bouche.  Hey, there’s still room for enjoyment of those kinds of tunes, right?

Listen to all sorts of great tracks from Alan Braxe on his MySpace and Soundcloud sites.  By the way, the groovin’ video for Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” may have been when I first heard the 1998 track.  Those silver guys should have been stars.

Scoring this for only a quarter felt pretty good, but the ultimate satisfaction came from spinning it.  This is exactly the kind of music I’m veering towards these days since I feel a bit maxed out on punk and rock.  I admit, I like to get some dancing in when I am in the swivel chair and have my coffee mug at a safe distance.  Perhaps that’s why I’m more forgiving of Top 40 these days since it’s all dance music to me (compared to that awful tripe from the early to mid-2000’s).  If Alan Braxe was an American artist who could pump out the hits every other week he would no doubt be huge.

But I am glad he’s not, for he’s more into taking his time to get that song right than throwing everything against the wall and hope a hit sticks.  Braxe is still busy these days, putting out exactly one single and quite a few remixes since “The Upper Cuts” was released in 2005.  Since he’s mixing, producing and doing other sorts of music jobs, one might not see output from Braxe for months.  However, if one keeps up with certain websites there will always be a reason to keep those dancing shoes nearby.

Oh, and Golden Dollar for sure.  That’s two in one week, woah!

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Prince Fatty Meets the Mutant Hifi – Return of Gringo!

July 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Mr. Bongo Records, 2011

Whether it’s Clint Eastwood, “Red Dead Redemption” or an odd book here and there, I’ve had an affection for western-themed entertainment.  I know it has all been romanticized, for living on the edge with crime, natives, and hot weather abound does not sound like a good time.  But like those James Bond movies, I’ll throw away reality for a bit and sit through a spaghetti western if I’ve got the time (by the way, ever see “The Great Silence”?  That’s a pretty good one.).  Music with western themes isn’t as common place, but when I have heard it (like Spindrift) I’ve gotten great vibes from it.  So of course, seeing a varmint stare down another varmint in a dusty town far from here on a colorful album cover is a shoe-in for my money.  Plus, there’s a song called “The Good, the Vlad, and the Ugly” on here.  It’s gotta be good.

This disc is as good as its cover depicts.  Mixmaster Prince Fatty (Mike Pelanconi) and multi-talented musician Mutant Hifi (Nick Coplowe), as well as a huge accompaniment of instrumentalists, lay out some of the hippest ska-tinged western music I’ve ever heard.  Okay, perhaps it’s the only ska-tinged western music I’ve ever heard.  Regardless, the entire album paints a picture of a bunch of guys in bowling shirts and cowboy hats skanking at the OK Corral.  It’s not a typically rapid ‘pick it up, pick it up’ type of ska, though.  More along the lines of the Skatalites where you can sit back with beer, have a conversation, and nod your head slightly with the beat.

The first track “Transistor Cowboy” starts off with a gunshot (possibly the result of the album cover’s showdown) and bulls into a gritty tune that sounds like a combination of surf rock and ska.  Despite the audio violence, the whistling that transitions the first two tracks gives off another impression of that sixties western theme.  The multitude of saxophones, trombones, and trumpets on “Black Powder” certainly help invoke that feeling as well, so it isn’t long before one may wish that this really was the soundtrack of a movie one hasn’t seen yet.

It is a blaring start, but most of the rest of the album provides a more relaxing set of tunes.  “Plague of Locusts”, “Across the Border”, and “Up the Creek” show more of a ska influence than a surf one, which allows for a steady toe-tapping session for listeners.  There are no vocals to be heard aside from the occasional clip from a movie/TV show, so one doesn’t have to worry about getting disrupted during one’s low-brimmed, pistol-packing daydream.  The whistling returns on “Son of a Thousand Fathers”, as well as those fantastic horns in a sweeping enchantment.  Mutant Hifi even does his best Dick Dale impression with the guitar, making it one of the strongest tracks on the record.

Though every song sounds like just a cool ska-western concoction that one hasn’t heard before, “The Good, the Vlad, and the Ugly” will probably snap everyone to attention with its take on the “Tetris” video game theme.  The horns, guitar (of course), and the creepy chanting in the background give it a sound that could follow a gunslinger as he or she crosses a desert expanse.  Or it could just be a scene where a bunch of odd shaped blocks are shooting it out while yelling out “Four lines!!”.

Have a look at what Prince Fatty is up to on his website.  You could also listen to the entire record on SoundCloud, but I would be remiss if I didn’t send you over to Forces of Geek for a very comprehensive review and history lesson.  I can write a review, but that guy can take you even further!

This is a great disc.  It reminds me of all sorts of things, from old ska and reggae artists to those spaghetti westerns I like to sit through once in awhile.  It has been awhile since I’ve given out one of these, but Prince Fatty, Mutant Hifi, and the entire band deserve the Golden Dollar.  Not only does this album have a unique swing to it but it also provides an excellent soundtrack to whatever gathering one pulls together.  Not sure how the duo is going to top this one, unless it is a take on film noir or the musical.  Whatever it is I will certainly be there to hear it.

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.

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.

Seks Bomba – Operation B.O.M.B.A.

July 27, 2011 2 comments

Ya Ya Records, 1999

I’m an absolute sucker for James Bond films. If they’re on the tube and I’ve got some time to kill (or not), I will watch whatever daring episode Bond finds himself in no matter what cheeky humor is going on amidst the gunfire. I know that after Sean Connery left the series there was this big hullabaloo over the merits of Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and some guy named George Lazenby. I thought Pierce Brosnan was okay, even if the movies were much too sheen. Thankfully Daniel Craig rekindled some of the grittiness aspect of the films and, thus, my interest. Therefore, any record that has this fetching of a cover will automatically get some money thrown at it on my behalf. Plus, and I wasn’t sure if it was for real, but the record hints at being a soundtrack for a film. I’m not so sure if I’ve heard of a movie entitled “Operation B.O.M.B.A.” (even if I wish there was), but who cares?! I figured this was going to be good.

Seks Bomba were a band out of Boston, surprise, that specialized in surf and lounge music. Boston is certainly more known for its garage rock and pop, so it’s nice to see that there was a little variety in the scene. “Operation B.O.M.B.A.” does showcase the talents of the band along the lines of a soundtrack, even if it would be hard to gather any sort of continuous plot line from the song titles. Regardless, the whole album an invigoratingly entertaining spree of music.

One could say that Seks Bomba opted to show three sides of themselves. The first, most obvious side is their surf rock affection. “Jet City” opens the album alternates between a frenzied cacophony of organ and drums and a cool, pensive surf style. “Klown Car” sounds like “Jet City” ignited, where it doesn’t opt to cool off at any point during its nearly two minute tenure.  The last track on the record, the double agent of “Seks Bomba Theme, pt. 1-2”, alters between a peaceful accordion introduction and a rousing surf track that befits the band well as its theme.  If you’re looking for some good modern surf music Seks Bomba know how to do it right.

There is also a lot of swing going on throughout the record, including a bouncy “The Right Track” sung by the very crisp, strong vocals of Chris Cote. He gives off a sound that one could easily mistake as being from those days of fedoras and speakeasies, or at least, the type we have seen in the movies anyway. “Bright Lights and You, Girl” is even better with its tone variation between tense emotion and splashy love song. Cote sounds like a guy that could be depressed late night on the strip or skipping through the slot machines as he passionately finishes up the song with one last round of the chorus.

While Seks Bomba has a lot of dazzle with its surf and swing songs, it is their lounge act that transitions each number quite smoothly. “Theme from ‘Mondo Edgar'” and “Rum Holiday” are typical lounge instrumentals, where the latter makes one feel that they’re vacationing on a secluded beach somewhere with drink service.  Seks Bomba’s chippy cover of Burt Bacharach’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” has all the cute aspects of the original, except this time Dionne Warwick’s vocals are replaced with what sounds like a distorted guitar.  Those classic “woah woah woahs” and “bah bah bahs” are all there, though.

But oh man, the BEST track on the record is easily the surf force that is “Main Title & Love Theme From ‘Satan’s Shriners'”. It is an absolute tear through a rapid clashing of drums, organ and guitar.  After about a minute and a half it comes to an abrupt halt with some eastern-sounding vocals, only to conclude in a blitz.  Although the following song of “Last Call” (a live, raspy and rambling track) could be deemed as the only dud on the record, the energy buzz from “Shriners” carries the listener on for a few tunes until the end of the record.

Check out everything you need to know and hear on Seks Bomba’s comprehensive website!

Unfortunately, if you had noticed the past tense from earlier, Seks Bomba no longer exists. After releasing three records, playing 250 or so shows, and hanging up the instruments after a show in 2005, Seks Bomba are now part of the history of the Boston Scene. Even though they played a lot of music that was mostly popular in the sixties and seventies, Seks Bomba showed with their longevity that there’s still an audience for such genres.  Since I haven’t heard this kind of music since the last time I saw one of those James Bond films, I have to give this record one of my golden dollars due to the good vibe I got.

A Band of Bees – Free the Bees

May 13, 2011 Leave a comment

4AD Records, 2005

Oh boy.  It’s one thing to pick a band up at random out of a bin and hoping for the best.  The mystery is part of the excitement of picking up dollar discs, for you could wind up with something that is spectacular or completely awful.  Unlike those situations, I already knew about A Band of Bees due to a previous review I’ve written of them on this blog.  Therefore, by buying this record I was willing to take the chance that they were actually better than what I had heard before.  Some bands you hear once and just need to stay away from, but A Band of Bees weren’t that bad, so I figured I’d cough up some more dough on them.

This Bees record wastes no time in redeeming itself from its predecessor with the absolutely catchy “These are the Ghosts”.  I think the layered vocals, combined with the consistently brash drumming, make the straight forward indie rock jam a fine introduction.  Thankfully it truly is a good case of foreshadowing regarding the quality of the rest of the record.

Since I was expecting another one of those mildly interesting, decent indie pop albums I thought my hour’s worth of listening was going to be tolerably standard.  However, “Chicken Payback” showed to me that A Band of Bees are not just going to lie around and deliver the usual.  It is such a dance number, this “Chicken Payback”, due to many factors.  First, the light rhythm guitar riff and drum rhythm sound like a 50s throwback rock setup.  The lead guitar also screams 50s if not surf, but it’s vocalist Paul Butler’s excited delivery of the nonsensical lyrics that add wonderfully to the song.  This song definitely was the watershed moment of thinking these guys were a little more than the typical output from a modern band.

Another impressively strong track is the slow doo wop sound of “I Love You”.  The pleading in Butler’s voice, the collective crooning from the rest of the band, and that distant trumpet during the chorus remind me a little of that melancholic Motown vibe.  Dudes who are reading this should thinking about finding this song to score some romance points.   Without gushing over too much else on this disc, (even if it’s quite good throughout), I’ll mention a few more great tunes.  “Go Karts” has a tone that reminds me of a quirky Beatles tune fronted by Paul McCartney, while “This is the Land” comes across as a flower-waving seventies pop jam.  “The Russian” is an excellent five minute instrumental with its mixture of jazz and funk. “This is the Land” is another song of many that reference a sixties sound, which when mixed with some modern styles of composition, sounds quite good.

A Band of Bees can be heard online in a few places, such as here, here and here.  They’re still around so a live show could be in order as well.

Unlike my review of their debut record, this one by A Band of Bees sounded absolutely great.  I think Butler’s voice has that quality that won’t drag on the ears from too much exposure.  In other words, it blends well with the music without trying to step in front of everything to make itself noticed.  The band also seems to be a lot more interesting in its variety of approach, making each song enjoyably unique.  I have to say that my opinion of the group has changed and I’ll be looking forward to hearing their subsequent records.  Here guys, have a Golden Dollar for this one.

Oranger – New Comes and Goes

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Eenie Meenie Records, 2005

Either there was a spectacular disaster involving a hair dryer and hair gel, or that woman stepped out of the car over an air vent installed in the street.  Let’s go with the “Something About Mary” scenario for the interest of this article.  That would’ve been a flashy enough image in of itself, but the blurry guy in the white suite and the pink wrestler mask steals a little bit of that show.  Is he her date?  Is he about to grab her and give her a suplex?  Maybe he accidentally found himself in the picture and is unrelated to this scene.  It’s a curious cover and one that doesn’t allude to too much of what Oranger may sound like, but that hasn’t stopped me before from coughing up the money.

Oranger are your quintessential indie rock band without any hint of what can make modern indie rock bands a bit tedious.  There are no violins, no strange pauses, and no desperate yearning to get to the root of your feelings (man, I hate that stuff).  Though it may sound boring on paper, having five guys lay into some well paced music with two guitars, a bass, and a set of drums can sound refreshing in this music market.

A large majority of the tracks on the album have a strong catchy element, and that is quickly evidenced with the opener of “Crooked in the Weird of the Catacombs”.  The opening bass riff from Matt Harris carries throughout most of the song and provides a consistent momentum to underlay Mike Drake’s vocals.  The title track, “Outtatoch”, “Radiowave” follow with strong pop rock hovering around three minutes each.  With Drake’s voice, “Sukiyaki” actually sounds like a Wilco rock song circa “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”.  Although “Flying Pretend” absolutely kills the momentum with its plain piano, the band ends the record quite well with a flurry of tunes that remind one of why the album sounded great in the first place.

Currently on hiatus, Oranger still has a website up for if and when they opt to get back to making albums.  It’s got music to listen to there, too.

Oranger aren’t any kind of break through band or even the best indie pop rock band out there.  However, given that some of the more prominent indie rockers try to style themselves up, promote themselves to death, or try image themselves after things they consider artistically ironic, it can be a bit overwhelming to know which band actually sounds good.  Oranger manage to dodge a lot of that fluff and are an indie rock band that people should actually give more of a listen to.  For a dollar and nearly zero hype, Oranger gets the Golden Dollar from me.