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Spencer Dickinson – The Man Who Lives For Love

January 4, 2013 1 comment

YepRoc Records, 2006

The man on the cover is flashing me the ace of hearts, so you know what that means!  He lives for love, for he is the man who lives for love.  He also apparently lives for chubby keyboardists, speeding tickets, and shootouts at gas stations according to the illustrations behind the late stage Jim Morrison look-alike.  Along with the retro design and songs like “Zigaboo” and “(Chug Chug) It’s Not OK”, this looked to be a record worth a spin just to see what kind of colorful tale I’d get wrapped up in.  Of course, if the background illustrations showed puppies sleeping, a few math equations and Christopher Walken, I’d probably still buy the record.  I’m pretty easy to impress.

Spencer Dickinson is actually a side project for Jon Spencer (of Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion) and Luther & Cody Dickinson (of the North Mississippi All-Stars), so these guys bring a solid background of rock and blues with them.  At nineteen tracks, this concocted group apparently had a lot to get on record that couldn’t be done with their usual bands, which is quickly apparent given the eclectic mix of style throughout the album.  Some of the songs could be placed with either group, but some are just completely out there.  I guess that’s what side projects are for, right?

“That’s a Drag” begins the album with a powerful blues guitar chug, with Spencer singing as if in personal pain.  If one had to think of what an Explosion/All-Stars song would sound like, this gritty and straightforward rocker is it.  With “I’m Not Ready” following in a similar vein, one may begin to think that Spencer Dickinson is just another predictably enjoyable blues rock album (sort of like the Black Keys and every record they have ever released).  But no, as “Zigaboo”s jilting changes in tempo and addition of organ attests, these guys didn’t get together to pass the usual time.  Spencer Dickinson’s momentum from the first two strong tracks takes a heavy sedative with the lulling slide guitar on “Body (My Only Friend)”.  Spencer has even lost all of that early punch as he mumbles and whines his lyrics in this five minute journey.

And so it goes.  With every tune that sounds like it’s a solid blues rock moment, there is one that causes one to rub one’s eyes.  “Primitive” sounds like a trucker on a CB radio losing his mind over the course of the song.   Can’t understand a word Spencer’s mumbling or screaming over the fuzz, can’t get past the jolting guitar pops, and can’t find a bit of replayability in the tune itself.  That song couldn’t get over with fast enough, though I do know what to play if someone asks me to a recommend them a song that would devolve them into madness.  “Flood (The Awful Truth, the Living End)” is collision of singing and shouting that culminates in a dismal screech-a-rific ending.

I suppose when nineteen tracks are compiled there are going to be duds, but there are a few particularly fun ones.  “Sat Morn Cartoons” is two minutes of guitar solo aggression while “Love Without a Smile” is definitely a toe-tapper with its excellently peppy pace near the middle of the song.  The funky title track has the lyric “I wanna mashed potato/down on my knees”, which illuminates the light-hearted feel that Spencer Dickinson delivers on the tune.  Truly, if the guys just shaved off seven or so iffy tracks this would be a very strong album with all the good music on the record.  I am not sure if that goal was really on their mind when Spencer Dickinson put this album together, though.

Since this is a side project that defines the term ‘off and on’, there isn’t a whole lot to go to on the Internet for them.  However, you can listen to a few tracks by Spencer Dickinson on Last.fm.

The group that is Spencer Dickinson has only put out two records, with this one in 2006 and the previous one in 2001.  Since nearly seven years passed after “The Man Who Lives For Love”, the slide guitar on this side act may have been put away.  That may be even more evident with the fact that Jon Spencer’s main act has ended their lengthy hiatus (begun two years before this record), so one half of this side project may not feel that itch to dabble with the Dickinsons for awhile.  Then again, if the point of Spencer Dickinson is to just be something to do when the main players want to get nonsensical and crazy, they might bring back the man and his ace of hearts.  However, if they wait too long they’ll have to name the new album “The Man Who Lives For the Early Bird Special” or “The Man Who Lives For Grandkids”.  Everybody, start brainstorming ideas for that fetching album cover…

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Witches With Dicks – Manual

October 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Kiss of Death Records, 2006

So let me get this straight.  These guys named themselves after transvestite dabblers in black magic?  How many of those are there?  Well, needless to say they didn’t have to worry about the old question of “Wait, what if someone already named their band ‘Witches With Dicks?”  No chance guys, so congratulations.  Given the typeface on the album art and a song called “Your Job Does Not Rock Balls”, I had a feeling this record was going to be punk all over the place.  Ahem, I mean that it will more specifically be a punk rock record by transvestite dabblers in black magic.

Boston’s Witches With Dicks play loud, urgent punk that sticks with traditional speed and grittiness.  The four guys in the band all sing/shout at various times during the record, and even though there is nothing pretty about it, at least they sound honest.  On “How to Cook 40 Humans”, the band gets hopeful with the realization that despite a difficult time in one’s early days one can still come out on top if they just stick out the troubling times.  At least, that’s what I could get out of the lyrics, which for punk rock came across as surprisingly thoughtful.  The band’s unabashed dislike of certain types of men in blue on “One Whopper For the Copper”, a song that paints some of the more power-hungry policemen in a bad light.

I am still a fan of the title of “Your Job Does Not Rock Balls”, which of course is a quick denouncement of getting stuck in a cruddy job.  I am making a note of that phrase to get my point across succinctly if a weary friend needs it told to him/her straight.  Another example of Witches With Dicks trying to help out in two minutes or less, the band promotes cutting off deadbeat buddies in “Die Painfully”.  Why hang onto a relationship if there is no reciprocation?  Thanks Witches With Dicks.  My favorite line is “So take a walk outside tonight cause it’s nice/There’s fireflies.”  This is a sensitive punk rock band that wants to hold your hand and give you those knowing eyes!

And hey, any band that makes a reference to 8-bit Nintendo wins some review points automatically from me.  The tune “Skate or Die Two is Going to Be Awesome When It Comes Out” is so true.  Granted, the song doesn’t seem to have anything to do with “Skate or Die”, but it got me thinking that I should have another go at punching out that mohawked punk again in the 1-on-1 skateboard race.  That guy always seemed to sideswipe me near the back alley finish line.  And uh, let’s not get into my lack of virtual halfpipe skills, okay?

Give Witches With Dicks a few listens to a couple of punk tunes at their MySpace page.

This is not a bad record, nor is it a great record.  It’s a punk record.  Straightforward tunes by guys who knew how to turn up the volume and not drag it on too long.  If one likes that nineties-to-now punk sound then this is a fine enough grab for a dollar to hear a few solid, quick ones.  As for the band, according to a clip on PunkNews.org Witches With Dick are no longer together.  So, aside from a few singles and this “Manual” album, Witches With Dick made a short, somewhat minimal stay in the Boston punk scene.  Some may say that it’s no big deal since these guys sound like a lot of other bands, but for Boston fans, it’s a pity to lose a crew that were capable of blasting out some high energy.

Melissa Auf der Maur – Auf der Maur

October 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Capitol Records, 2004

I am going to admit something that may or may not be a piece of information you hear from too many people:  I am a Hole fan.  I used to spin “Pretty On the Inside” and “Live Through This” quite often back in the day and was thrilled to see the band on their “Celebrity Skin” tour.  Even though I got mostly raised eyebrows from my friends, I thought Hole had a lot of good power despite some band member antics (ahem, Courtney) and a sudden shift to softiness after “Live Through This”.   I wasn’t surprised when the band broke up after too much middling pop, but I was surprised when Melissa Auf der Maur put out a solo album.  How often do bassists not named Paul McCartney put out solo albums these days?  Though I’m late on the pick up, hearing Auf der Maur ‘s debut record was an automatic must for a dollar.

Unfortunately, it is quickly apparent that Auf der Maur isn’t much of a singer. On songs for “Celebrity Skin”, Auf der Maur blends in fine because she doesn’t have to be front and center and can keep a pretty enough tune to help back up the vocals.  Unfortunately, Auf der Maur’s acceptable vocals are on display throughout this record, where she sounds like anyone who might be passable on a karaoke mic.

Songs like “Lightning Is My Girl” is a straightforward rocker that could use a powerful vocalist to carry it to a higher plane, but Auf der Maur mostly speaks her vocals and doesn’t do a whole lot to improve them during the droning chorus.  The same goes for the obviously sexual “Taste You”, even though Auf der Maur’s voice does nothing to add to the content.  On tunes like “I’ll Be Anything You Want”, Auf der Maur’s voice sounds limp during the blazing, high volume chorus.  As much as she likes to bring the rock ‘n roll, Auf der Maur has trouble carrying it vocally.

The music itself is decent enough, but nothing one wouldn’t expect from a usual rock band.  There are some catchy moments here and there, like the fast-paced chorus of “Real a Lie” (which does well to layer Auf der Maur’s vocals) and the snappy opening riff to “My Foggy Notion”.  The “Barracuda”-like riff to “Skin Receiver” sets up the seat-gripping chorus quite well, though by this point in the album (the second to last track) the adrenaline comes quite late.  Honestly, this tune should have been placed earlier in the album to spark some momentum, for most of the strong energy coming out of “Skin Receiver” gets wasted in the utterly dull and droning “I Need I Want I Will” conclusion tune.  As for the rest of the tracks in between, many of them give off a drudgy, mid-to-late nineties vibe.  One gets the impression that one will experience plenty of noisy energy at a live gig featuring all of these songs, but on a record their bombast has trouble translating.  Again, Auf der Maur’s vocals don’t help much.

There are plenty of guest stars on this record, which look great on paper but ultimately might explain some of the sound issues.  Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) writes and takes on the guitar for some tunes.  James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) and Eric Erlandson (Hole) also show up for guitar work, while Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) even shows up for some backing vocals.  Do those four names have something in common?  Yeah, that late nineties rock sound.  Like I said, they look good on paper.

See and hear what Melissa Auf der Maur is up to at her website, or you can simply go to MySpace as well.

Well, I really wanted to like this.  I figured there would be quite a few tracks, especially with the hired help, that would be strong enough for a repeat listen.  However, aside from perhaps “Real a Lie” and some aspects of “Skin Receiver”, the record is mostly forgettable.  Auf der Maur continues to be involved in music, film, and photography and already released a follow up record in 2010.  I know that six years is a lengthy amount of time to reinvent, revise, or whatever, so maybe that’s worth a spin since Auf der Maur is still a cool, redheaded rock ‘n roller from Canada.  Unlike this record, I will likely spend time instead of money hearing a few online tracks to find out what Auf der Maur has evolved to.

CoCoComa – Things Are Not All Right

August 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Goner Records, 2009

Oooh, quite the color scheme.  Orange, white, and fuchsia.  Through the fluffy clouds and bright rainbows are five missiles heading towards some unfortunate destination.  So, I suppose one couldn’t ultimately decide this was going to be a light pop band.  Maybe without those missiles, but they’re there, so there has to be some sort of edge involved.  I also figured that songs like “You Better Beware”, “Lie to Me” and “Suspicious” hinted at some sort of relationship entanglement.  Like an obnoxious rubbernecker nearing the result of the traffic jam they’re stuck in, I had to stop and see/hear how CoCoComa were going to explain that cover art with music.

This second album from the Chicago-based group is a rock ‘n roll release, nothing less and nothing more.  The missiles proved true when the guitar feedback introduced the foot stomper “You Better Beware”.  It’s got all the rousing elements of rock with its tempo, group shouting during the chorus, and its general disregard for deep, intricate verses.  “The Right Side” continues with the theme with its rambling style and more group shouting (including the ever effective “Yeah Yeah!” between lines … when has that never worked?).  It’s very evident early on that CoCoComa want to overdose everyone immediately with their energy and zeal.

After only a few tracks in I recognized where I’ve heard lead vocalist Bill Roe’s tone before.  His voice sounds a lot like a combination of the lead vocalists from Television and the Futureheads where it always sounds like he’s got a cold.  It blends in well with his group mates during the choruses, but on its own it could annoy after awhile.  Thankfully the music tends to be the primary focus, and songs like “The Right Side”, “Lie to Me”, and “Water Into Wine” are straight forward, good time rock ‘n rollers.  Since every song is rarely above three minutes, there isn’t any time to think a tune has gone on too long.  One could say that the band knows how modern attention spans work, eh?

Perhaps the best song on the disc is the last one, “Alright, Alright, Alright”, which references the album title.  It’s got group singing (plus), constant pounding of drums (plus), and repeats the song title over and over again with increasing emphasis at the end of the song (plus!).  The song practically puts you in one of those rockets and launches you into the great silence that occurs in the aftermath.  It’s kind of like leaving a great party and, upon staggering around the streets, you come to wonder why you left at all.

Have a listen to many of CoCoComa’s tracks from this album on their MySpace or Last.fm pages.

This is a good energy-inducing album, though it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.  For thirty minutes you get to hear a band that sounds like they’re having a great time blitzing through their cadre of upbeat rock compositions, so at least there is no room for downers.  CoCoComa is still around as far as I know, though with this record it has been about three years.  It’s getting into that territory of unknown future, but I hope they’re still packing the bars with their raucous style.  CoCoComa may not be original but they’re a lot of fun, so I imagine people will always want more of that whenever it is available and ready to break out some new tunes.

The Self Righteous Brothers – In Loving Memory Of…

July 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Black & Greene Records, 2006

The album cover looks like a couple of ghosts from Pac-Man got together and said, yo, forget this ‘getting eaten’ gig!  Let’s start a band!  The band name of Blinky and the Roadmasters was already taken, and Pac-Man Sucks probably reminded them too much of their old job.  So, due to their love of the Righteous Brothers’ song “Unchained Melody” from their favorite movie “Ghost”, they created a spinoff band moniker in tribute.  For a dollar I wanted to find out what the ghosts’ musical abilities amounted to after years of chasing and getting chased.  However, it is possible that the group is actually comprised of three Boston musicians.  But c’mon, that seems less likely.

Turns out these are a bunch of Boston guys mixing up between pop, rock, and some experimental tendencies.  The opener of “Floyd” is a sometimes abrasive, sometimes dated rock affair that introduces the listener to what the Self Righteous Brothers can sound like, even if it is not that interesting.  Despite their choice of introduction, it doesn’t take long for the group to slip into their primary sound of pop rock.  On “Alan Watts” the Self Righteous Brothers wanted to sway kindly when they sang about the late British philosopher, who was all about the Zen.  This carefree sound continues into the forlorn “Graduated Cylinder” as well as the catchy “When I Want To”, which is actually half moody instrumental and half nineties indie rock.

I was beginning to like the Self Righteous Brothers, mainly because the pop songs as well as the pensive instrumentals of “Didjeridon’t” and “48 to 6”, really kept the variety interesting.  Sometimes the group would venture a little too far from what they’re good at (like unfortunately funky “Electric Boogaloo”) but they are generally quite palatable after that “Floyd” number early on.  They do manage to slip a few zingers in periodically, as is evident near the end of the album on “Sidecar Jesus”.  As the record appears to finish on an upbeat pop note, the Self Righteous Brothers couldn’t resist finishing the cheery “Sidecar Jesus” with a confusing noise guitar segue as well as a sped up, louder version of the chorus.  (sigh)  Perhaps they didn’t want to end on a predictable note, though listeners may not appreciate the non-Zen interruption.

Listen to a few tunes by the Self Righteous Brothers (one of which is a Beatles cover) at their Myspace page.  Er, read about wedding arrangements in, uh, Japanese at their website?

Despite a few hiccups, this is a decent pop rock record that has a few good songs on it.  Most of the weirdness is contained on the album cover as the Self Righteous Brothers prefer to be easier listening than those bizarre ghost masks may infer.   With the limited amount of information on the internet about these guys (and not the Australians by the same moniker) it appears that this was the group’s one and only album.  Perhaps their confusion about what they really wanted to sound like did them in, or perhaps it was just time to move onto more focused projects.  Like running away from that juiced up, yellow ghostivore!  Gahhh!!

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.

The Hives – Club Vera Live (February 13th, 2001 in Holland)

May 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Digital Underground Inc, 2001

I am not that much of a fan of live recordings.  I find that no matter how much energy is apparent on the album, what songs are involved or whatever the banter is, it’s just a let down.  It gives you a good idea as to how the band sounds in person, of course, but it completely doesn’t work for me because it’s not in person.  Can’t see anything, can’t smell anything, can’t feel anything … I know KISS pulled it off well on “Alive” but ever since then most live accounts are unimpressive for my ears.  However, I can’t resist any album by a band I really like, especially one that I actually have seen live.  Even if I wasn’t in Holland for this recording, I might be able to relive the great time I had here in Boston with some common songs.  Plus, one never knows when old habits (or perceptions in this case) die, so maybe this would be a live album I could stand.

For those who have heard live bootlegs before, I suppose this review might be predictable.  Therefore, I’ll split it into two predictable parts:  the good and the bad.  The good is mainly the Hives themselves.  Aside from a few singles from their “Veni, Vidi, Vicious” period, the Hives are shamefully ignored for the most part in America.  When one hears songs like “Knock, Knock”, “Main Offender” and “A Get Together to Tear It Apart” on this live record one can feel the hasty energy that the Hives emit on the crowd.  Maybe they’re not as fast as the early Ramones, but they surely can inspire some rapid head bobbin’ and arm jerkin’ in most humans with a pulse.  Since it’s a 2001 concert, the Hives rip through most of the “Veni, Vidi, Vicious” record without a lot of sounds of recognition from the Dutch audience.  Ahhh, those early and best days of the Hives.

Many of the songs get extended a bit due to vocalist Howlin Pelle Almqvist’s chatter between songs.  These were the times that reminded me of when I saw the group, for Almqvist’s discussion is mostly directed towards saying how great his band is and how the Hives were now everyone’s favorite band.  The cheeky confidence, as well as some of the made up stories that Almqvist tells (like the one where he personally surveyed the people of Holland by phone to determine their favorite Hives song), doesn’t come across as dull or irritating.  I suppose when humor is involved anyone is easier to listen to.

Now for a bit of the bad.  At some point during the fourth song some guy decides to speak loudly to the person recording the show.  Apparently the dude with the big mouth missed the recording device that had to be held in the air at the time, but I suppose those interruptions happen often for bootlegs.  For a recording that isn’t straight out of the sound board, the recorder did a great job staying away from a majority of the loud crowd members so that the songs are easily heard.  The songs all still sound a bit muddled due to distance, but that’s forgivable.  That one dude probably still lives with the shame of besmirching this bootleg, though.

Another item that is annoying is that this album doesn’t have a track listing!  To all you bootleggers out there, just throw a track list on there somewhere will ya?  Hives fans know their songs I’m sure but they don’t want to have to guess where certain ones are if they want to skip to them.  Perhaps the bootlegger did intend to put a track listing somewhere in the album art, but while they were printing out the mind numbing day-glo cover the Dutch authorities busted down their door in a Hives bootleg crackdown mission.  The bootlegger had to escape by the window, likely in tears, since his or her product was unfinished.  Yes, that must be why there isn’t a track list.  Couldn’t have been due to indifference, I’m sure of it now.

Listen and see all things Hives at their website, but perhaps it’s just best to see them at Pinkpop in Holland in 2001.  Hey, pretty good visual aim considering the bootleg, eh?

I admit that I am surprised that I didn’t find this a grating listening experience.  The Hives’ songs all sounded as quick as their album versions while the recording never got choppy or distracting.  I don’t know if I”ll ever really enjoy live albums, but this one turned out to be a pretty good one overall.  The Hives continue to release official albums as well as tour around the world, so it’s certain that if you end up seeing them live sometime there will be a person up front with some kind of recording device.  Just don’t go up to them and say something like “Hey!  Are you recording the show?!”.