Friday, August 31, 2007

Hilly Kristal Dead at 75

While his club closed it's doors last October and his real contribution was considerably further in the past, it was still a sad day for rock n roll. At least he didn't hang on long enough to destroy his legacy by re-opening CBGB's in Las Vegas though.

Check out the story.

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Review: Giving Chase - A Cheap Print of a Masterpiece

Label: Jump Start Records

Released: June 19, 2007

My first reaction to Giving Chase's A Cheap Print of a Masterpiece was that it was appropriately named. A cursory listen to the first few tracks seemed like just another band traveling down that worn and rutted road of screamo. Certainly they have all the elements, but a better listen also showed that they had much more. While the road may have ruts, Giving Chase isn't caught in them.

The first thing that's apparent with Giving Chase versus the many other bands that seem to be going their way is the sheer energy of the album. With few breaks, this album maintains a breakneck pace that few could maintain. There are a few points where they try to be quiet and delicate and those moments don't really succeed in providing anything other than a breather. When at full speed though, they are tight and intricate with melodic flashes. With vocals contributed by four fifths of the band, the call and response shows a lot more breadth than the typical sensitive-versus-enraged that now seems so contrived. Often the vocal arrangements are layered adding tension in the detail that is evident in ways you can't quite put your finger on. The guitars provide both hardcore crunch and metallic riffs with parts both dissonant and melodic and it all rides on the back of a relentless rhythm section. The bass lines are the punch while the crisp drumming is alternately straightforward and complex as a perfect traveling companion to the guitar approach.

While the album occasionally falls into a standard hardcore rut, they don't stay in it for long. It is the interplay of all the parts, four singers, two guitars, bass and drums, that keeps Giving Chase on the unworn part of this road well traveled. It is on this part of the road that the few bands willing to tread there find even more dangerous pitfalls, disorganization, lack of focus, trying to play over their heads; but on A Cheap Print of a Masterpiece, Giving Chase avoids them all.

Rating: 8/10



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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Review: Overlord - Ticker Symbols

Label: Storm Tower Records

Released: September 5, 2006

Awhile back, I wrote a review of Overlord's music from their MySpace page. Recently, I was contacted by George Pasles, who it seems pretty much is Overlord, who asked me to check out the CD since the tracks on MySpace were demos that he posts periodically to keep the page fresh. Knowing that and hearing Ticker Symbols put a lot in perspective.

Unlike the raw tracks from MySpace, the album is carefully crafted and downright irresistible. It draws on happy, jangly pop from both the 60s and the 80s and creates something very near to perfect in its own realm. This isn't an album where any single element stands out. Vocals, guitar, rhythms, none of these stand up on their own, yet together they fall so perfectly into place that it's mind-boggling. This is the stuff for which you can't take lessons. You either have it or you don't and Overlord has it.

The drums are minimalist; the bass lines sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate; the guitar, clean and ringing, never overdriven. The vocals are the key though. Their sweet harmonies conjure up visions of the Moody Blues or Herman's Hermits' big hit, "I'm Into Something Good." But this isn't a 60s revival. Overlord also shows an affection for the 80s guitar pop of the Church, REM and, most importantly, the Smiths as well newer elements of pop that have developed over the last decade or so.

The Smiths turn out to be both a musical and spiritual guide to Overlord. Not only does Ticker Symbols interpret the Smiths ability to make hauntingly upbeat guitar pop, it also runs with the Smiths' clever idea of matching such pop bliss with sadness. However, Overlord is far less maudlin than Morrissey and that makes the effect more subtle and in a sense more conflicting.

In a sense they bridge the gap between the 60s and 80s and make it all current with a touch of ambient electronics, used sparingly. In addition, the album vaguely dabbles at times in psychedelia, punk, even country. These almost unnoticeable forays are bigger than they seem in the scheme of things. They keep it interesting without even seeming different.

A term that would often be used with a band like Overlord is "pop sensibility." It usually refers to an uncanny ability to incorporate hooks into the music. It doesn't quite apply to Overlord though. Theirs is more of a pop consciousness or pop being. Ticker Symbols doesn't merely understand how to use hooks, hooks are its very essence. Like the groom on the album cover, you might feel like you've been left at the altar, but the cake still tastes great.

Rating: 8/10



Check out my review of the album cover at Whole Lotta Album Covers.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Review: Rachael Cantu - Run All Night

Label: Q Division Records

Released: February 7, 2006

A number of years ago, I bought a 7" from a band I'd never heard on a whim. The band was okay, but the thing that stayed with me was the voice. It was rich and mature, yet young and optimistic. It was beautiful. The band was Quite Satellite and that voice was Rachael Cantu. I got in touch with her and she hooked me up with a CD-R of some stuff she recorded after that with Robb MacLean of Limbeck. I bought Limbeck's first album just because she sang backup on it. Then it seemed like not much was going on and, while I still listen to those songs, I lost touch with her career. So, while I was perhaps early to appreciate her talent, I'm late in hearing Run All Night. About four years have passed since I'd heard anything new from her and in that time some things have changed and some have stayed the same.

Rachael Cantu still plays low-key, indie, singer-songwriter material. Therefore, the instrumentation is still sparse, but more polished. The music on its own is generally good, though nothing jumps out immediately, but a closer listen shows that there's more variety. Her voice is still the focus, but it's changed a little.

The album doesn't quite get off on the best foot. The opening track, "Hear My Laughter" lacks even subtle elements of interest. But the flat start is misleading. The upbeat, but not too upbeat, "Saturday" easily gets past the false start of the opener. It's not immediately apparent, because she's so subtle over most of the album, but there's a lot going on beneath the surface. Sometimes, Cantu sticks to her old folky, voice-and-a-guitar ways, but at others she dabbles in a variety of genres. They rise subtly from the album's basic form. She's soulful on "Sweat & Bones." There's jazz in her voice on the dark title track which closes the album. She really hits stride in the middle with "Blood Laughs," whose ambient drone proves the best backdrop for her voice; "This Breath Won't Hold," with an evocative jazz feel to her vocals over the indie/folk guitar; and "My First War," whose strings ebb and flow and which hints at her younger voice.

Run All Night is certainly a more mature recording than Cantu has made in the past, but there's both an up and down side to that maturity. The songs are better written and the arrangements help bring out her voice which is every bit as beautiful, but is missing the youthful optimism that made it even more striking in the past. The songs have long had a sadness that permeates them, but the optimism always added a yearning that this album is missing.

Rating: 6/10



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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Review: Bridge and Tunnel - 7 inch EP

Label: No Idea Records

Released: May 9, 2007

A superficial listen to Bridge and Tunnel's debut EP gives the impression that they're just one of many bands out there now in the mold created by Hot Water Music, with passionate songs and a raw and catchy yet complex sound. So many bands have run with that and just taken a bit of the edge off for accessibility that it's become a bit of a tired sub-genre. While Bridge and Tunnel don't break away from that entirely, a closer listen reveals a subtle intricacy in their music that gives them their own piece of that sound. Vocal harmonies, at times sweet, at others dissonant, beautiful and fluid guitar interplay and varying rhythms all combine to make music with life and movement and passion. Bridge and Tunnel bring quite a pedigree of prior work in other bands together to create something really special, if not entirely new. Just don't assume it's the same old thing, because while it may not break the mold, it certainly comes out of that mold as its own thing.

Rating: 7/10


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DVD: The Bangles - Return to Bangleonia

Label: Shout! Factory

Released: August 14, 2007

I've always loved the Bangles. Even the big sellout of Different Light still had the sweet harmonies and sixties jangle that I loved in their days in the Paisley Underground. I don't operate under the illusion that bands often recapture their prime when reuniting, but I did expect an energetic show and an enthusiastic crowd for this 2000 set at Hollywood's House of Blues. I got some of the former and none of the latter.

Part of the joy of a good live performance is drawn from the vicarious energy of the fans lucky enough to be there. Without that energy and its interaction with the band, there's really no point to a live recording. That's the biggest problem with this DVD. Most of the fan noise is filtered out, even between songs. That's just half the crime though. It really doesn't appear as though the crowd had much to offer anyway with only a few hands in the air for "Walk Like an Egyptian" and little other response. It looks like a crowd at the theater, not a rock show.

With little energy from the crowd, the Bangles are only partially culpable for a lack of excitement in their performance. Still, great bands rise above adversity and the Bangles aren't fully able to do that. Things don't get off to a good start with their cover of "Hazy Shade of Winter." One of the several fine covers from their prime, the song, Vicki Peterson's guitar leads in particular, drags as though they're unsure of themselves. By "If She Knew What She Wants," the band is in better form and they manage a soild if unspectacular performance. To their credit, they play five new songs that would ultimately end up on Doll Revolution (still three years away at the time of this show) rather than playing it completely safe with the material from their two biggest and least personally creative records. While they did pull three songs from All Over the Place (including "Hero Takes a Fall," which may be their best tune), I would have gladly traded "Angels Don't Fall in Love" (from Different Light) and "Get the Girl" (from the Austin Powers soundtrack) for "James" and "Dover Beach." Still, at least they kept the contributions form Everything to a minimum and threw in a solid cover of the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard." So, the set list was decent, but not perfect and once they got going, the did justice to the songs I love.

Return to Bangleonia showed me what I always suspected was true: The Bangles are merely a good, not great, band, no matter how much I love their music. Still, the songs sound good all these years later. It makes me wonder why the crowd was so dull. With a little help, the performance may have come across much stronger. It also makes me wonder why anyone would go to the House of Blues. It's not a venue that's conducive to fan participation and energy, so why not just stay home and listen to records?

Rating: 6/10

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Monday, August 27, 2007

SXSW Contest Results

Metal Mark was the first to respond with the correct answer regarding Austin's unofficial motto, "Keep Austin Weird." Enjoy that DVD, Mark.


Myspace: Covert

UK-based Covert has been making their dark post-punk since 2006. In that relatively short time they've proven that they are capable of producing moody, edgy, moving music seemingly influenced by the better bands that followed the initial punk explosion of the 70s rather than the watered-down new wave that was digested by the masses and is now seeing quite a revival. They have recently recorded their second demo, a five song EP entitled Songs for the Lost, and four of those songs are available on their MySpace page.

"Cry Answers" starts off with a fluid bass line and grating, trebley guitar and moves into big chords and almost operatic vocals. The chorus breaks into a fast, prog/metal riff bringing a solid rock sound to the song. It touches a lot of influences, but remains cohesive. They move into darker, moodier territory with "Let's Go Out," suggesting some love for Joy Division. Its quiet bass line, sparse drums and piano builds to an edginess reminiscent of Gang of Four. Still in the Gang of Four vein, "Hope" is angular and unsettling, putting it very much at odds with its title. A mellow, moody piano piece with pleading vocals, "Favourite Star (For a Lover)" has a stark nature that even the ringing guitars of the chorus can't change.

In a world where it seems that so many bands want to seem dark and moody, Covert is the real thing. Their artistic, though not yet commercial, success stems from their influences, who were bands of substance themselves rather than chart-toppers. Covert may have the same fate, but it's better to tap into the darkness of your soul than to sell it. They sing, "Gotta move in your own direction, / take control of your own skin." They seem to practice that as well.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Review: War of Ages - Fire from the Tomb

Label: Facedown Records

Released: July 24, 2007

This is not an entirely new album, nor is it a re-issue. Rather, it's a re-recording of War of Ages' first album with a bonus track. I hadn't heard the original recording, but the band felt it didn't do the songs justice and opted to take another shot. If the recording quality was truly an issue, then they certainly had reason to release this, because the sound quality is excellent and the songs for the most part are intricate enough to warrant good production.

Fire from the Tomb doesn't rewrite the rules of hardcore, but they do put a particularly technical spin on it. While the vocals stick to the standard guttoral growl, the rest of the music carries War of Ages at times into the realm of the hardcore elite. The tight, brutal rhythm section sets a pace varied and creative enough to keep the songs fresh. The two-guitar attack provides both chunky rhythm as well as some downright beautiful melodic leads. Occasionally, the album does get bogged down with a song that can't seem to rise above generic, flat hardcore, but those instances are clearly an exception.

Lyrically, the band relies on many of the stalwarts of hardcore imagery: battle, strength, solitude, pride, brotherhood; but they also express a more personal (though by no means emo) side related particularly to their Christian faith. Many "positive" bands have a tendency to become preachy, expressing a black and white, fundamentalist view of the world. War of Ages steers clear of this, dealing more with their struggles and, when they do point the finger, it's at other "Christians" who fail to be true and thereby fuel anti-Christian arguments. This resonates with me as a Christian, but also has the potential to do the same with non-Christians and that's something that few bands with these intense feelings (on any side in the spectrum of religion, atheist to devout) can accomplish.

Fire from the Tomb puts War of Ages very close to the top of the hardcore game and gives them enough crossover appeal that they should have a significant fan base in the metal camp as well. With their second shot at these songs, they've created a record that is brutal and occasionally even beautiful.

Rating: 7/10



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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Review: Various Artists - Down Home Saturday Night

Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Released: July 31, 2007

As the liner notes describe, all across the country on a Saturday night music and good times go hand in hand and always have. American roots music, from bluegrass to zydeco, has been an influence on modern music as well as a vital part of life for many, many people. It's the latter that this compilation tries to capture.

Down Home Saturday Night crosses time and genres, mining the Smithsonian Folkways archive to create a collection of what is essentially an American roots music party. From the opening track, John Sebastian and the J Band (yeah, the "J" is for "jug") doing the old classic folksong "Minglewood Blues," to "Uncle Bud," the zydeco closer recorded by Boozoo Chavis and the Magic Sounds, every track can be taken on two levels, educational and enjoyable. Over the course of the album, cajun, bluegrass, jump blues, conjunto, Western swing (courtesy of no less than the Texas Playboys, masters of the genre), and country are all represented without the album seeming the least bit haphazard. Among all 15 excellent tracks, the New Lost City Ramblers version of "Bill Morgan and His Gal" still manages to stand out. The song itself has a clever comedy that eludes today's hip, cool indie artists along with a sing along chorus that is irresistible. Complaining about his spendthrift girl, Bill Morgan sings, "You might have known me pretty long / But sure have got my initials wrong. / My name is Morgan, but it ain't J.P.," over great old string band backup. It's more infectious than any of today's pop songs.

This may be seen as a label sampler by some, but that misses the point. Typically, a compilation like this would focus on a particular genre, be it folk or blues or zydeco or any other, as its theme. While that's a logical way to approach it, Smithsonian Folkways understands there's an even more fundamental connection, the spirit of the music. With that understanding, they create what may be the ultimate party album for people who love music. Sure, there's something to be learned on Down Home Saturday Night, but the album is such a good time, you don't even realize it's an education.

Rating: 10/10

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Review: Irritant - Good Evening from the Machine

Label: self-released

Released: 2007

I first heard of Irritant at Rock of Ages. I was expecting Good Evening from the Machine to be a bit heavier, but it turns out to be more on the hard rock side of metal. It took a couple listens to adjust, but once beyond my preconception, I found the album to hold quite a bit of promise.

The songwriting on this four song EP isn't earth-shaking, but it is solid hard rock with a fair amount of complexity that approaches prog. Irritant's strength lies in their two-guitar attack. Will and Jack's guitar melodies are both the best written and best played element of Irritant's music. At their best, they hint at Iron Maiden and at their worst they still give purpose to their two-pronged approach. The vocals are adequate, but lack the dynamics required to be integral. Rather than a strong hard rock voice, Niall seems to have taken some influence from the thinner, whiny approach of emo, only occasionally having real power. Still, his voice is good overall and may become a strength if used properly. The result isn't bad, just lacking the punch needed to match the guitars. The rhythm section provides a mundane backdrop for the music and never really gets into the driver's seat, but that's no more the fault of the band than it is tied to the album's glaring weakness, the production. The sound is crisp, but especially in light of the guitar work, this album should pack a lot of punch and it doesn't. The sound is too thin and that keeps the album's hidden thunder at bay.

Keep in mind that this is a young band with members in their late teens and early 20s and the only logical conclusion is that Irritant has a lot of potential. Not many young bands write with this level of complexity and even fewer have a single guitarist at this level, let alone two. Still, they need to figure out how to better use Niall's voice. Better production and more interesting rhythms would also drive the songs better, allowing those guitars to shine even more. While this album is short of amazing, it may set the stage for amazing things to come.

Rating: 5/10

Irritant Website

Irritant Myspace

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Contest: SXSW 2007 DVD

Despite the poor review I gave it, I'm going to run a contest in which you can win a copy of the SXSW Live 2007 DVD. Hey, don't complain, it's free! And there are some good performances on it. So here's the deal, the first person with the correct answer to the following question gets the DVD:

In recent years, Austin, home of SXSW, has adopted an unofficial motto to promote its eccentricity and diversity and to promote small, local businesses. What is it?

Don't put your answer in the comments though. Make everyone else work just as hard even if they don't get the DVD. Send me your answer here. I'll announce the winner next Monday (August 27).


DVD: Various Artists - SXSW Live 2007

Label: Shout! Factory

Released: August 21, 2007

John Lennon once said, "If there wasn't a fight, it wasn't a good gig." So, what is it if no one even moves? Lennon was clearly arguing that a sterile show is never good and sterility is exactly the problem with SXSW Live 2007. The DVD is a collection of songs from shows at two Austin venues, the Bat Bar and the Lonestar Lounge, during SXSW back in March. While some of the artists offer decent performances the clubs and the crowds hardly have a pulse.

The Bat Bar was certainly the lesser show space. The stage was right out of Dick Clark's New Years Rockin' Eve and so was the crowd. Most of the performances were stiff, likely dulled by the lifeless audience. The Automatic Automatic's Alex Pennie jumped down into the crowd, but even this failed to invigorate them as he returned to the stage almost untouched. An impressive performance from Aqualung, pushing the boundaries of pop, didn't fare any better. Bowling for Soup, a band I'm sure well used to a rowdy crowd, had a few people jumping up and down, albeit carefully as not to crowd their neighbors. Even Polyphonic Spree's revival-fueled show got nary a heartbeat from the crowd. I have to wonder, do those people even like rock music?

Things got a little better at the Lonestar Lounge. It's really a sad comment on the Bat Bar that a place that looks like a Texas Roadhouse restaurant is a step up. The filming is much better during this segment, because it focuses on the artists rather than this lackluster crowd. Marc Broussard hits his groove with no help from the audience. Annuals push the envelope as if everything depended on their set. Mando Diao feed off of each other for an energetic performance. Joe Purdy manages to separate himself from time and place and lose at least a little control. But Lee "Scratch" Perry seemed as old as he is even if his message was current. His band, though younger chronologically, seemed even older. Kraak & Smaak had a soulful groove, but their stage presence was almost non-existent. Mostly, the artists lacked any of the edge that you'd expect them to have in the make-or-break environment that an event like SXSW supposedly is.

With all the hype surrounding SXSW each year, I expected that it was a great event, but if this DVD is indicative of what it's like, and worse yet what the future of rock and roll holds, we're in for some lean years. Most of the bands probably expected to make an impression with the right clothes and a safe set rather than taking the chances that have traditionally driven rock music, and all art, forward. The best I can say about this collection is that you might find a few artists to check out if you can try to picture what they would they be like at a real show.

Rating: 4/10

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Review: Papermoons - 7 inch EP

Label: Team Science Records

Released: July 24, 2007

Houston's Papermoons, the duo that is Matt Clark and Daniel Hawkins, make music that is soft and gentle on the surface, but moves with subtle power. Their debut EP contains four songs (five on the CD) of indie folk beauty that mix layers electronic drone and traditional instrumentation. In just a single listen, the ride travels deep under the surface, touching far more than just the ears. The band really seems to be on its own path. It's a similar vein to the Postal Service perhaps, but by no means derivative. Each track is a big lush soundscape without losing its small folksy, rootsy feel. The best recommendation for approaching Papermoons' music comes from the record itself: "I think we think too much about everything..." This isn't a record to over analyze. Abandon yourself to its flow and you'll just understand.

Rating: 9/10

Note: Place your mouse over the album art to see the beautiful vinyl.

Papermoons Myspace

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Street Smart Cyclist needs a singer

This is a great band, but they parted ways with their singer. Anyone interested in singing for a band that streches the limits of punk rock, check this out.


Review: Elvis Presley - Viva Las Vegas

Label: Sony BMG

Released: July 31, 2007

With a title like Viva Las Vegas, I suspect many people's expectations are very low, associating this with the lounge lizard Elvis. However, that turns out to be an off-base assumption. The truth is this album captures Elvis during his second-wind. True, the young, hungry singer from the days before the Army and the movies is gone, but he still had an awful lot of performance left in him and these 16 tracks, all but one recorded live between 1970 and 1972, find his great voice backed by a much bigger sound.

It does get a little over the top at times, foreshadowing the fat bloated days soon to come. "Release Me" and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" both take a step or so over the line and I can't imagine why the limply patriotic "An American Trilogy" ever appealed to anyone (even the anti-anti-establishment Elvis fans of the sixties), but most of the album shows that Elvis could still pull off a fine and moving performance. The bands backing him generally show a lot of vigor, especially considering that they're just Vegas house bands. It really shows the power that Elvis still commanded.

If you're expecting the Elvis whose arteries were clogged with bacon fat, just waiting for a bout of constipation to stop his heart, you're in for a real surprise. While this isn't the Elvis of 1956, its energy is closer to those days than to what he'd become a few short years later as drugs and obesity took their toll.

Rating: 7/10

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Review: Lozen - Enemies Against Power

Label: Australian Cattle God

Released: May 15, 2007

Lozen, a two-piece from Tacoma, Washington, take their name from an female Apache warrior and prophet. The name fits, because the music is simple, making a visceral connection more akin to prophecy than science. Enemies Against Power doesn't rely on complex rhythms or highly technical playing. Instead it sticks to simple riffs and pace changes. The result though is anything but dull.

Over the course of seven tracks that stretch to almost 50 minutes, Justine Valdez's plodding drums drive its meandering pace. Hozoji Matheson's guitar work is heavy, overdriven and often phased for great psychedelic effect. At the emotional peaks, her riffs are reminiscent of Greg Ginn's work on Black Flag instrumentals of the mid-80s, only simplified. The rest of the time she chugs along in the basic, yet moving stoner tradition. Her vocals are rich, but disturbing, occasionally straying into Perry Farrell's twisted trippiness.

The overall effect is a dark, tribal album. It isn't the type of thing that becomes a steady diet, but it will definitely find its times for those of us who need a break from the shiny, happy sheen of pop music.

Rating: 7/10

Lozen Myspace

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Review: Street Smart Cyclist - 7 inch EP

Label: Our Neighborhood Records

Released: April 17, 2007 (or thereabouts)

Not since the Minutemen has a band been able to combine such wild abandon with such a high level of musicianship. This three song EP is quite a ride, without a note of music or a second of time wasted. The pace changes are almost too much to keep up with and the intricate triple guitar approach loosely weaves around the rhythms. The lead vocals are raw and passionate with backing vocals that are at times wild singalongs and at other times forlorn discord. The band knows just when to let the music run away and when to rein it in, just when to be complicated and when to be to-the-point. Street Smart Cyclist packs more music into these ten minutes than many bands get into a full album. (The cool silk-screened cover doesn't hurt either.)

Rating: 8/10

Street Smart Cyclist Myspace

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Myspace: Rubbing Down Debbie

Rubbing Down Debbie is yet another band from Jacksonville, Florida. After writing about the Explicits awhile back, this is the second band to approach me asking if I'd do the same for them (Baker Act being the other). Something good must be happening down there, because Rubbing Down Debbie makes them three for three in my book as far as good unsigned bands go.

Rubbing Down Debbie is a little different than the two previous Jacksonville bands I've checked out. First, they've been together longer, having formed in 2003. They've also had some higher profile gigs, including playing with Exene Cervenka's Original Sinners. They seem to be more focused on getting signed and the professional angle of being in a band than their peers as well. Where the other two bands were intended to be taken at face value, Rubbing Down Debbie seems to have a bit of sexy shtick that reminds me of the Lunachicks.

They have four songs on their myspace page. The first, "Out of Darkness," seems to have come from a different mold than the other three. It has a bit more of a metal sound and it seems like they stretched themselves a little too far. Too much reliance on effects, flat vocals and a plodding, awkward chorus combine with poor production to make this a questionable effort at best. Luckily though, this song is the anomaly and they follow it with perhaps their best song, "Get Off." It's more of a punk song along the lines of early female-fronted LA punk bands. The vocals build from talking to tortured over an interesting rhythm driven by the bass line. The stripped down sound eliminates both the effects and production problems of its predecessor. "High Heels" is another simple punk effort, with great snotty vocals. It has moments where it goes a little flat, but all in all, it's a decent low-key change of pace that likely finds an important role on their album. Their final song, "Intrepid Fear," is another high-energy punk rock affair that falls only a hair shy of "Get Off."

Rubbing Down Debbie should be well on their way to finding a record deal. Their brand of punk rock isn't a huge field and they do it well when they stick to it. It's admirable that they tried to push their own boundaries, but they should be careful not to push too hard, too fast. Learning their limitations should allow them to capitalize on their strengths and find the best avenues for growth. In the meantime, their sexy, slightly gothy brand of punk rock should gain them a decent audience.

Rubbing Down Debbie has a self-released album available at CD Baby.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

GWAR is still funny...

...but their grammar sucks. Check out the title of this press release. The only world they're gonna take over is the world of bad grammar.


Humans, it is I, your Master, ODERUS, lead singer of the most violent band in metal history, the mighty GWAR, with the latest update on our progress in the destruction of your world! We are pleased to smugly announce our continuing ravaging of North America shall continue throughout the fall and winter of this year, as GWAR joins the first ever “Viva La Bands” tour, hosted by everyone’s favorite troll, Bam Magera! Yes, apparently Bam didn’t get enough of our abuse during our appearance on his show, and begged us (while he was hung over a vat of boiling urine) to join a line-up that includes CRADLE OF FILTH, C.K.Y., and more!

You are COMMANDED to attend and grovel in the presence of your infernal overlords, GWAR, as we extend our mastery to even more flaming venues across your world and inflict more suffering and pestilence upon a deserving nation!

GWAR will tour with the “Viva La Bands” tour throughout the fall, and then move on to destroy even more cities in a final frenzy of touring that shall bring to a close the “Beyond Hell” tour cycle.

Stay tuned for dates, times, and free crack!

GWAR lives!


Review: Dear Tonight - We're Not Men

Label: Red Leader Records

Released: July 3, 2007

Because Dear Tonight hails from Brooklyn, I suspected they'd be at least somewhat about hipster cool cleverness and indie rock irreverence. The reality though is that there's no sheen of cool over this band. In fact, there's no sheen of anything at all. This is hardcore at its genuine, honest best.

Following in the footsteps of Fugazi and Hot Water Music, Dear Tonight has created a multi-faceted record of both crunch and complexity as well as delicacy and simplicity. Each song is an unstoppable force upon which rides angular grooves and subtly melodic guitar lines. The vocal interplay is far from the sappy whine and scream of emo. Instead, the gritty lead vocals are backed at times by screams, melodic whoa-ohhs and deliberately imperfect harmonies. The music moves like a machine having various moving parts with a common goal. The overall picture is that everything is ready to explode, but the anger, from personal to political, acts as the gravity that holds it all together.

Dear Tonight doesn't quite break free of its post-hardcore genre nor does it redefine it. What it does is to purify it and distill it into beautiful punk rock imperfection.

Rating: 7/10

Dear Tonight Website

Dear Tonight Myspace

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Amy Winehouse is on drugs? I'm shocked!

Here's a big surprise from Amy Winehouse. After seeing her perform last weekend at the Virgin Fest in Baltimore, it doesn't really surprise me that she was on the verge of collapse.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Review: Slough Feg - Hardworlder

Label: Cruz Del Sur Music

Released: July 2007

Though Slough Feg's name is derived from Irish mythology, they're really at the forefront of the NWOSFHM (New Wave of San Francisco Heavy Metal). What that really means is that they're from Frisco and they love Iron Maiden.

This is the band's sixth release, but the first one I've heard. Even from a band with that many releases under their belt, Hardworlder is a fine album. The album is technically proficient and has great energy which they manage well. They do borrow heavily from the NWOBHM, Maiden in particular, but their approach is more raw and that makes Slough Feg stand out. There is the occasional hint of prog rock as well, but it's never overbearing.

It would be a stretch to say that Slough Feg is the next thing in metal, because they're not. They look more to the past than the future, but at least they do the past a service by re-energizing it. If you don't like Iron Maiden, you probably won't like Slough Feg (you're also probably deaf or stupid), but if you can't get enough of Maiden, Slough Feg has enough of their own thing going to be of real interest.

Rating: 6/10

If you'd like to read other reviews of Slough Feg's latest, check Metal Mark and the Metal Minute.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Review: Against Me - New Wave

Label: Sire

Released: July 10, 2007

It's always weird when a band you liked from their early days ends up with a major label deal and a lot of hype to back it up. Such is the case with Against Me! From the days of Reinventing Axl Rose, they showed a passion that few bands can match, but their real charm came from their raw, awkward approach. The question now that they're on Sire is, "Can they walk that line between their charming awkwardness and major label slickness?"

The answer seems to be yes. New Wave is certainly more polished that previous efforts, but that's just a bigger jump in what has been a gradual track for the band. The songwriting is more consistent. It doesn't quite reach the heights of As the Eternal Cowboy, but it also fills in the lows. The result is an album that, rather than splitting the difference, overall comes out better. In order to reach this even ground, Against Me! doesn't smooth out all of the edges though. Some of the lyrics have those lines that thrive on awkwardness, yet they wouldn't be as good if they fit better. The sound is still gritty, just bigger. There are a few tracks that depart from the past a bit. "Stop!" reminds me more of the dance-oriented new wave of Frankie Goes to Hollywood than it does of punk rock and "Bourne on the FM Waves of the Heart" has all the bombast of an 80s power ballad. But all in all, the band has simply tweaked its sound in way that retains its punk roots and will allow them to play arenas.

So, they can walk that line. There is little on New Wave that should alienate Against Me!'s old fans aside from the new label and there is plenty that should attract an even broader fan base. They've managed to make their sound arena-sized without becoming impersonal and detached and that's quite a feat.

Rating: 7/10

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Review: Superdude - Pothead Punk

Label: Ace Records

Released: August 7, 2007

Superdude seems to rely an awful lot on his reputation. Unfortunately for him, that reputation isn't very current. I don't even think it was ever all that substantial. His entire being seems to stem from some time he spent at the Factory with Andy Warhol. I've heard of the Factory, of course, and done a little bit of reading about it, but I'd never heard of Superdude. I googled "factory warhol superdude" to find out what I was missing. As it turns out, that only returns links promoting Superdude and nothing that indicates he was any kind of real insider. Sure, there's a picture of him standing behind Warhol with a lot of Factory regulars, but that is only proof that he was there, not that he mattered. It seems the only person who considers him a real insider is Superdude himself. He also likes to point out that he emceed at CBGBs and Max's Kansas City, introducing the likes of the New York Dolls, but that hardly seems like a reason to suspect he'd make great music either. So, I wondered, "Why does Superdude name-drop rather that talk about his real accomplishments?" The answer is probably pretty obvious even without listening to the tunes.

Like Superdude, I really don't want to spend a lot of time talking about his music. I can really summarize it in one word: awful. If you don't like that one, pick from these: bad, rotten, dumb, poorly produced, poorly played, poorly written, unoriginal, uninteresting, unlistenable (need I continue?). In a way, I kind of feel bad for Superdude. All those years of being on the periphery of fame must have been hard to take. But this album won't make it any easier. It's as if he's jumping up and down, screaming, "Hey! Look at me! I met Andy Warhol! I saw the New York Dolls! I'm really something! I'm an artist!" That'd be like meeting Einstein at a party and then claiming to be a genius. It doesn't work that way.

You know maybe I'm wrong though, because he did win Best Rock and Best Reggae at the 2006 Global Marijuana Music Awards. Next stop: the Grammies!

Rating: 1/10

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Review: Various Artists - Mystic Radio Presents Covers

Label: Mystic Records

Released: 1985

Punk covers albums are a dime a dozen these days, but back in 1985 this album was a pretty good novelty. Twenty mostly fine efforts were committed to vinyl under the tag line, "Our favorite bands mutilate your favorite songs." How true that was.

Some of the covers are typical choices and some are more obscure. Some of the bands are still remembered and others largely forgotten. There are a few real oddities like Governemnt Issue covering the Seeds' "Wild Blood," Stukas Over Bedrock turning Pink Floyd's "Careful With That Axe Eugene" really crazy and Love Canal's wild ride doing the Eyes' "Don't Talk." A few others don't really matter. Scared Straight would have done well to do something other than just speed up "Born to Be Wild" and Don't No chose "Earache My Eye" which probably can't be anything but generic. But for every one of these misses, there are several that the bands really nail. The Idiot Pills rip through the Runaways classic "Cherry Bomb." Acid Head not only turn "Love Child" from Motown to punk rock, but also finish it off by tacking on the end of "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" just for good measure. The Membranes keep some of the funkiness of "Super Freak" while infusing it with plenty of punk energy. Ill Repute tear "Taking Care of Business" to shreds. NOFX doesn't abandon Black Sabbath entirely to put their signature on "Iron Man." Even SWA's "100 Bottles of Beer" and Plainwrap's version of the Disney song "It's a Small World" are a lot of fun.

This good time comp from Mystic Records may not be essential, but it's a precursor to what has now become an exhausted punk trend. Not only did it come first, it's also much better than any other collection of punk covers I've heard to this day.

Rating: 7/10

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Live Review: Virgin Festival 2007 Day One

Pimlico Racecourse, Baltimore, Maryland

August 4, 2007

Catching Day one of Baltimore's Virgin Fest was a bit of a surprise. A friend had tickets she couldn't use, so she gave them to me. With that bit of kind good fortune, I headed off to Pimlico with Ray (of The Metal Minute) for 10 hours of rock n roll in the hot summer sun.

In order to enjoy the music, there is a lot of logistics that go into a successful festival of this scale. For the most part, Virgin Fest succeeded. The grounds at Pimlico were spread out enough that neither the two large stages nor the dance tent and smaller performance spaces interfered with each other. It also provided plenty of "in between" space to get a break from the crowd. Food and merchandise were all easy to find. They had several mist tents (Re Generation Domes) to cool off and all were easy to get into any time I tried. There was a definite focus on recycling with recycling and composting bins at every trash receptacle. Plus, a lot of the trash generated by the festival itself was compostable and they did use at least some "green" energy. It wasn't perfect, but it was a step in the right direction. There were plenty of spot-a-pots and I really didn't see a lot of lines, although I didn't have to use them myself despite drinking over three liters of water (it was just that hot). On the down side, water fountains were a little sparse and the lines were long. The stage schedules were the most problematic thing I faced. I had to make a few tough decisions when sets overlapped. Merch prices were outrageous ($35 festival t-shirts, $20 posters, etc. etc.), but that wasn't much of a surprise. All in all though, the festival was well-organized and ran smoothly.

The schedule was on the web, so I planned ahead and picked out who I wanted to see. Some acts I really wanted to see and others I was just curious about. In the end, it didn't matter, because circumstances and my own changing views modified my pre-determined schedule anyway. I made two important decisions going in: First, I was going to cut out on the Beastie Boys 20 minutes early to ensure that I saw the entire TV on the Radio set. Second, I wasn't going to see the Police, because I can't stomach Sting no matter how much I love the music. These two decisions would end up playing off each other in determining what I actually saw and how I felt about it.

I didn't expect to catch any of Fountains of Wayne, because 15 minutes after they started, Fiction Plane would play on the South Stage. But the crowd wasn't too bad for Fiction Plane, so I ended up strolling over and catching a few songs from Fountains of Wayne. I don't really care much for them and the two and a half songs that I saw were just what I expected. The live edge made them a little better than they are in the studio, but not enough to keep me there in lieu of Sting's biological and musical son's band.

I caught most of Fiction Plane's set. In many ways, they were a very good band. They were very tight and their energy was genuine. They did a scorching version of "Sadr City Blues" that really got the crowd stirred up, especially considering how early it was. The problem was they sounded just like the Police. I understand that some of that is just genetics, but the similarities run much deeper than the vocals. The songs themselves sounded like second-rate Synchronicity. I have to wonder why a band as good as Fiction Plane would settle for being a knock-off when they have the potential to be a great band in their own right. Nonetheless, it did raise the question of who was a better Police at this moment, Fiction Plane or the reunited Police themselves. Despite earlier misgivings, I decided at this point to catch a bit of the Police's set just to answer that question.

From there, I headed back to the North Stage to see Cheap Trick. I've never cared for them aside from “Surrender,” but I've always heard they're a fantastic live act. They had all the trappings of a great rock act. Rick Nielson went through guitar changes like a boy band goes through costume changes. His banter with the crowd was a perfect mix of arrogance and tongue-in-cheek humor. They really seemed like they hadn't missed a beat since they regularly played shows this big all those years ago. They touched on all the big hits (including "Surrender" which gave me cold chills to hear live) and threw in a new song as well just to show they were still making new music. They proved that they're still a very good rock band who even now puts the power in power pop.

Spending the whole 50 minutes with Cheap Trick came at some cost. I missed the first half hour of the Fratellis, who I suspected had the potential to put on a fine performance. While they didn't make me wish I'd bagged on Cheap Trick, they certainly made me wish the bands hadn't overlapped. The Fratellis high-energy garage rock borrowed just enough from rockabilly to make things interesting.

I trekked back across the infield to catch Amy Winehouse. I like her voice, but her propensity for being erratic (not in the good way) kept my expectations fairly low. It's a good thing too. Winehouse certainly seemed to be in another world. Her backing band was a solid outfit, but she was unemotional and timid even. At one point, her mike came unplugged. She seemed baffled, laughed uncomfortably and then fumbled to plug it back in. A better performer wouldn't have missed a beat. Amy Winehouse, however, is not that good.

It was off to the dance tent next. While I was hoping to see Sasha & John Digweed, there were other conflicts, but during the lull that was Paolo Nutini and Incubus, neither of which interested me in the least, we caught part of Felix Da Housecat's set. Dance music isn't quite my thing, but I've been told that in the right atmosphere anyone will dance. Maybe that's not true or maybe this wasn't the right environment, but I didnot dance. Still, the crowd seemed to be feeding of of his energy and vice versa. It was a decent performance, but not one that will make a convert out of me.

While walking back across the field, we spotted some performance artists with a band backing them. Grandchildren played some pretty out-there avant-jazz that really hit me. It was good enough to skip Peter Bjorn and John on the South Stage to hang around for their set and pick up their CD.

Another band off the beaten path was Center Stage performers Motormorons. The Baltimore band included a guy who played power tools, a vocalist who contributed to the power tool section with some fine work on the metal can grinder. They were completely bizarre, mixing industrial noise (the tools, not the genre) with barely competent art rock a la Flipper. During their first set, the bass died, but they just kept going. The ability to play under adverse conditions is really the sign of a great band. I ran back over to see their second set between Ben Harper and the Beastie Boys.

Jam bands aren't really my thing, but knowing that Ben Harper is a fantastic musician and that his band would be capable of backing him, I was sure it would be worth seeing. The band's reggae/funk blend was super-tight and some of the percussion work was among the day's best. Harper's voice had great movement making it the core of the performance. As good as his voice was though, it was topped by his slide playing. Overall, the performance was very good, occasionally reaching the level of greatness.

I approached the Beastie Boys with mixed feelings. On one had, I wanted them to be as good as I hoped. On the other, I wished they'd be disappointing, because I knew I was going to miss the last 20 minutes of their set to head over to TV on the Radio. The Beasties ran through the breadth of the styles they incorporate. They hit the instrumentals, the live band songs, the old school punk and of course, the rap. Their ability to nail all of these genres without breaking stride was just dumbfounding. They left little doubt in my mind about their greatness.

Leaving the Beastie Boys early was tough and they were good enough that it almost certainly set TV on the Radio up to be a disappointment. I decided to take the chance of banking on the future rather than the past and present. That gamble paid off huge. TV on the Radio are not just the future, but the very bridge to get there. Unlike some of their post-rock contemporaries, the term “post” doesn't really apply, because it indicates that they don't rock. Their set at Virgin Fest leaves no doubt that they do. It occurred to me how interesting it was that I left a band who had once been that bridge themselves to see the new bridge, the one we'll all be crossing, some sooner than others. Their ability to translate into a live setting answered the one question left in my mind. Seeing the future also allowed me to deal more easily with the past as I headed over toward the Police.

I headed from South to North once again, this time to catch just enough of the Police to compare them to their almost-cover band, Fiction Plane before getting back to see Modest Mouse. I could hear "Synchronicity II" as I came over. The closer I got, the harder it was to forget that I love the Police no matter what I think of Sting. Little did I know at that point that I wouldn't even see Modest Mouse. I began to consider that I may have been wrong, maybe Sting does have some soul left. Maybe it's just buried under his tremendous ego (you know, it's the one that makes him think that his solo work isn't just lite-jazz crap, or lite-renaissance crap as the case may be). Early in the set, one of the many flying beach balls landed up on stage near Sting. This was it, the deciding factor as to whether he really had anything inside. He let it sit and I thought, "Ahh, I'm right. He just goes through the motions, completely disconnected." Then, he pulled back his leg and kicked it back into the crowd. It was a small thing, but it made a big difference to me. It showed me that he did in fact have some connection to the crowd. From that point on, there was no leaving. I knew right then and there, that Modest Mouse really didn't matter, but the Police, or at least their songs, still do.

Their sound was usually very crisp and clean. I was easily reminded of why Stewart Copeland is one of rock's very best drummers and why Andy Summers is one of its most underrated guitarists. Maybe it was just the songs I love, the night and a chorus of tens of thousands singing along, but all my obstinacy couldn't drag me away any longer.

They had some new arrangements and we all know what happened the last time the Police offered us a new arrangement: "Don't Stand So Close to Me '86" was even worse that some of Sting's solo work. A few of these did have problems, but nothing nearly as bad. "Wrapped Around Your Finger" struggled the whole way through despite treating us to Stewart Copeland's fine percussion work. Likewise, "King of Pain" was largely reworked less than favorably. Other songs were stretched out with new parts, but left the rest mostly intact. These fared better. About thirty minutes before the end of their allotted time, the Police walked off. It was just their staged encore though and they came back and played their remaining time and then finished with "Next to You" as a second encore. I'm of the opinion that encores in general should be abandoned and this one was particularly planned since everyone knew the time the festival had set aside. It was easily forgotten though, especially as they played the rocked-up and extended "Every Breath You Take." In the end, to answer my question from earlier, the Police are still the best Police.

So what kept me there, watching a band I said in advance I wouldn't watch, fronted by a man whose soulless music and lightly veiled hypocrisy in the post-Police years make me sick? The bottom line was the songs. I loved them 25 years ago and I love them still, even performed by a band re-united after all this time. I'm glad I stayed and watched. I don't regret missing Modest Mouse in the least. For what it's worth, I never clapped for the Police, but I sang along a lot. The songs don't care if I clapped.

One last thing. I have to thank The Children's Health Fund for the apples. Just for getting on their mailing list, they gave out nice juicy Granny Smiths that just may have been the best thing of the day!


Friday, August 03, 2007

Review: Chesterfield Kings - Psychedelic Sunrise

Label: Wicked Cool Records

Release Date: September 18, 2007

The Chesterfield Kings get frequent comparisons to the Stones in their mid-60s prime. It's pretty accurate, because the they're a better Stones than the Stones have been in over 30 years. But it's also only a piece of the picture, because there are plenty of Stones knock-offs, but the Chesterfield Kings are so much more.

Psychedelic Sunrise certainly has a healthy dose of the early Rolling Stones throughout. Some tracks are pure Stones. "Spanish Sun" is painted pretty black and "Outtasite!" has "Gimme Shelter" written all over it. Most of the album isn't so blunt though, because the Kings dig a lot deeper into the 60s. "Streaks and Flashes" has all the soothing jangle of the Byrds, albeit without the sweet harmonies. They channel Syd Barrett on "Elevator Ride." "Inside Looking Out" dabbles in the baroque pop of the Left Banke. They fast forward just a bit to the early 70s with the glam-influenced "Up and Down" and finish up by borrowing just a bit of Alice Cooper's prime on "Yesterday's Sorrows" and "Dawn." Most impressive of all is the opening track though. "Sunrise (Turn On)" is what the Moody Blues would have sounded like had they actually rocked!

It may sound like Pysychedelic Sunrise suffers from multiple personalities and struggles to find itself. Nothing could be further from the truth. It takes a lot of what was good about the sixties and distills it into a new sound. The Chesterfield Kings will save you from wearing out your old, fragile vinyl, because they'll give you just about everything you want in a brand new package.

Rating: 8/10

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Review: Watershed - Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust II

Label: Idol Records

Release Date: September 11, 2007

As Watershed well knows, a live album is a difficult proposition. Their 1994 debut (on Epic Records) didn't pan out the way I'm sure they'd hoped and now, 13 years later, they're trying again. The real difficulty with live albums is that it's hard to find that middle ground between too live, making it difficult to appreciate the music, and not live enough, making it difficult to feel the band's (and the crowd's) energy. While this album occasionally strays into the former, overall, it does a fine job of finding the best of both worlds.

Having successfully dealt with the most precarious problems of a live album, you'd think Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust II would be in the clear, but it's not. It's real troubles stem from Watershed's rather generic power pop/pop punk sound. The songs are all solid and there is little doubt that the large hometown crowd loves them (it was recorded at a sold-out show in Columbus, OH). The fact that this is an unedited live recording and nonetheless maintains its listenability is certainly a tribute to the band and their ability to be a tight live act that keeps the show moving. There are a few tracks like the opener, "Suckerpunch," and the lyrically and musically quirky "Mercurochrome" that stand out, but by and large the songs wouldn't have large appeal to anyone who doesn't care for Cheap Trick and all of their many followers. However, if that is your thing, this may be at the top of your live album hit list.

Having captured the energy of their live show, it's a shame that Watershed doesn't have a better repertoire to draw in people outside of their established fan base. Having spent time with their latest live effort, I am probably more prone to catch them when they come to town than I am to stock up on their studio efforts.

Rating: 5/10

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Myspace: Birds of Maya

In response to Myspace's generic "sounds like" field, Birds of Maya state that they sound like "like a gg allin demo played through a megaphone." It's a fair description and it's certainly colorful, but it leaves out an awful lot. If they really sounded like dear-departed GG, I wouldn't be writing about them. They are loud and they are chaotic, but they have way more groove than GG Allin ever imagined.

"Porch Dude" sounds like it was probably recorded live. It gives a good idea of the sheer power emanating from the speakers, but loud alone doesn't make great music and it's hard to get much out of this one beyond hints of what might have been had the song's structure been better captured along with its volume. "Killer in the Snow" is Dark Side of the Moon by comparison. It's still a cacophonous mess, but it captures just the right amount of the song itself and mixes it with the unabated energy of the performance, creating a near perfect track that is so bluntly heavy that Blue Cheer might put in ear plugs. Still, the song moves along with a slow undeniable groove. It fades at the end, begging the question, "What else did it have to offer?" "Traveller" suffers from the same problems as "Porch Dude," but some of the manic guitar work still manages to come through and it is worth hearing even if the song struggles to rise above the poor recording. Low recording levels and bad mixing aren't enough to stop "Sleepwalker" though. The heavy groove soldiers on and feels like it'll smash your eardrums to bits even if you turn it way down.

Birds of Maya do have a bit of GG Allin in them, but more importantly they have a lot of Blue Cheer and the MC5 in them as well. Even those bands might be given a moments' pause at Birds of Maya. They have a full-length album coming in a few months on Holy Mountain and one can only hope that they don't rein in any of this power in the studio.

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