Monday, April 30, 2007

Review: The Bomb - Indecision

Label: No Idea Records (vinyl) and Thick Records (CD)

Released: March 26, 2007

After seeing the Bomb light up the stage (despite Pezzatti's drunkenness) last February, I was pretty shocked by how dull their 2000 debut, Torch Songs, was. But a lot of time passed between the debut and the show, so I gave Indecision a chance. I'm glad I did. (The limited color vinyl from No Idea didn't hurt either).

Indecision has a lot more in common with Naked Raygun than Torch Songs did. It's certainly not a rehashing of Naked Raygun (Pezzatti is only 1/4 of the band after all), but it has more quirky hooks, more whoa-oh-oh singalongs, more variety, more of the elements that made Naked Raygun so great 20 years ago. It just does it all in the Bomb's way.

One thing that makes Indecision stand out is its ability to be subtle, gentle even. Don't get me wrong, this is a punk album in every sense. The difference is that instead of being brash and raw at every turn, it manages to convey its power in a more understated way. Instead of losing energy in the process, the Bomb ramp up the energy to far greater levels than they had managed on Torch Songs.

Rating: 8/10

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

New band, old name

Metal Mark's post about the Rocklahoma nostalgia fest got me thinking about how so many of these bands continue on in name only with only one original member or proceed without a crucial member. One or both of two things can be true here:

  1. The latest version of the band is a disingenuous attempt to cash in on past success by fooling fans who are willing to be blinded by nostalgia. (I suspect Bang Tango and Faster Pussycat are good examples of this from the lineup Mark posted).

  2. The original version of the band wasn't that good in the first place, because members are interchangeable with other musicians meaning there there was no real chemistry in the first place. (I'd think the Bulletboys are the best example from the lineup).

I suppose the fans who fall for the former get what they deserve. I'm not a big fan of laissez-faire economics, but at some point you do have to say, "Let the buyer beware." That doesn't let these bands off the hook, it just means that their fans might deserve them if they can't tell the difference between real and fake when it's that obvious.

The fans of the latter could be excused under the "guilty pleasure" rule. The bands will just have to live with the fact that they suck, which I'm sure many have been in denial about for years.

This trend seems to be a particular problem for hair metal. I suspect it's because maybe more than any other genre, hair metal wasn't about music and soul as much as it was about makeup and hairspray.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Review: The Things - Major Bailey's Menagerie

Label: self-released; available through CDBaby

Released: 2004

I bought this at the same time that I picked up the Charms' So Pretty from CD Baby. There was a "buy three CDs and get them for $5 each" sale and I had two already, so pretty much got this one for free. The Things are a Baltimore garage rock band, so I thought I'd give a local band some support.

Major Bailey's Menagerie has some of the makings of a very good garage album. The music is raw and a bit sloppy. The rhythm section is competent, but more importantly, enthusiastic. The guitar is loud, chunky and dirty. While the vocals often have a second-rate Grace Slick quality, at least they're stealing from something a little off the beaten path. The band does mix things up with some slower, mellower tracks among the generally unbridled energy that runs through the album. The Things also capture the dark feel of 60s underground psyche and they pull off a fair cover of the Sonics classic "The Witch.".

The trouble with this album is that it is strictly rehashing something that's already been done. It isn't influenced by the garage/psyche/pre-punk bands of yesterday, it is a re-enactment and, even though it's a decent one, it doesn't really stand up well on its own. The one really significant difference between Major Bailey's Menagerie and its predecessors is that the production was probably a little better back then.

I doubt I'd pick up another album from the Things, but based on the energy on this one, I suspect they'd be worth checking out live. Perhaps in that setting, they could conjure up the past even if it isn't theirs.

Rating: 5/10

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Review: The Specials

Label: 2 Tone/Chrysalis

Released: November 1979

There have been three waves of ska. The first originated in Jamaica in the early to mid 60s as a predecessor to reggae. It was danceable, fun and full of energy, but generally poorly recorded, making it more difficult to take in large doses despite some great artists such as Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker. It was essentially Jamaican soul music. The third wave of ska occured during the 90s, but with few exceptions showed no real understanding of ska's soulful roots. It was occaisionally fun, but most often just pop punk songs played with ska technique. In between these two waves, in the late 70s and early 80s, another wave of ska had its day. It was deeply rooted in its own history, with a keen understanding of what made ska tick. It took the fun and soul of the first wave of ska, wrapped it up with punk energy, a social agenda and better production and made some of the genre's best music.

Perhaps Madness was the second wave's best band, but they generally stretched themselves beyond the style's musical boundaries. It was the Specials who best captured ska's essence and were it's purest performers. In fact, they were the fathers of this second go round. They formed in 1977, before any ska revival was afoot and songwriter/keyboardist Jerry Dammers was both the founder of 2 Tone Records and the designer of well-known balck and white ska logos associated not only with the Specials, but with Madness, the English Beat and the Selecter among others.

By 1979, the Specials released their self-titled debut which may just be the best true ska record ever recorded. It ranges from upbeat good times to slower more serious subject matter and everything in between. The rhythm section is crisp without being stiff and cold and rolls smoothly as the pace changes over the course of individual songs and the album as a whole. The guitars are sharp, precise and clean, but not to the extent of stifling even an ounce of the fun, with keyboards often providing a dirtier counterpoint. Vocal parts range from snotty punk to smooth soul. For anyone familiar with the third wave of ska, the Specials emply relatively few horn parts, but that gives them considerable impact.

Most of the tracks address some kind of social concern whether it's a warning to stay out of trouble in "A Message to You, Rudy" or breaking down the racial divide in "Doesn't Make It Alright." The Specials certainly have a message which is even embodied in the multiracial makeup of the band, but they maintain their conscience with a sense of fun rather than self-righteousness. One listen to their debut and there's no avoiding it's lessons, because they're so much fun to learn.

Rating: 10/10

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Review: Clutch - From Beale Street to Oblivion

Label: DRT Entertainment

Released: March 20, 2007

Admittedly, I haven't spent much time with any Clutch release since Elephant Riders. It's partly due to the disappointment of their live shows after the expectations raised by two albums that ranked #1 and #3 on my best albums of the 90s (Clutch and Elephant Riders respectively) and it's partly due to the fact that nothing since has grabbed me the way those two albums did. However, I still think I understand what makes them a good band and t hasn't really changed in the last 10 years. They're heavy, but not just another Black Sabbath ripoff, they always find a good groove despite their heaviness and they have a great quirky touch of psychedelia. The problem might be simply that they perfected it by their second album, so it eventually wore a bit thin.

From Beale Street to Oblivion is a bit of a departure for them, but instead of getting even further out there, they decide to return to earth in a sense. This has to be their most straightforward album ever. Unfortunately, it's also their dullest. The album has almost no texture. My first impression was that they must've spent a lot of time listening to ZZ Top and Foghat while writing this one. With few exceptions, that impression didn't change as the album played on. Where Clutch was once influenced by a lot of 70s hard rock, they now sound like a 70s hard rock tribute band. They do mix in a little bit of soul on "Devil & Me" which works well, but they don't build on that at all. The album immediately returns to the status quo. Only on the closer, "Mr. Shiny Cadilackness," does anything waver from the dull road this album drives, once again with a nice touch of gospel and soul.

From Beale Street to Oblivion is listenable, but uneventful. It's hard to believe this is the same band from 10 years ago.

Rating: 5/10

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Review: The Legion of Doom - Incorporated

Label: Pakuni Records/Illegal Art

Released: March 6, 2007

Back in the heyday of Napster, I downloaded a Metallica/Britney Spears mash-up entitled, "So Fucking Crazy." I wouldn't go so far as to call it good in its own right so much as it was just fun. Recently, I decided to give a whole album of mash-ups a shot after hearing Legion of Doom's "Crazy as She Goes" (Gnarls Barkley versus the Raconteurs).

Legion of Doom is punk/emo producer Chad Blinman and Face to Face singer/songwriter Trever Keith, so the pedigree is fairly good. On their Incorporated album, they take on mixing a lot of emo/screamo/metalcore tracks with varying results. For instance, the opening track, "I Know What You Buried Last Summer," works very well, but it's primary strength comes from the original Taking Back Sunday melody, not the remix. Other tracks don't fare so well. "Dangerous Business Since 1979" takes on Underoath and Mewithoutyou, but only manages to weaken both songs in its failure to actually "mash" anything together. Just about half of the album is listenable only if you like the originals. The other half is a little bit painful, because there are glimpses of good songs that get lost in the confusion.

What I realized after listening is that, much like my first experience with the Metallica/Britney Spears mix, these tracks seldom end up being anything more than vaguely interesting and maybe a little bit fun. It's not serious music, just a little fun and games in the studio. If you're into collecting novelties, Incorporated isn't a bad purchase. Otherwise, I'd probably steer clear.

Rating: 3/10

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Another reason...

...that the Beatles are better than the Stones (or anyone else for that matter).

From the late Kurt Vonnegut's last novel, Timequake:

I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, "The Beatles."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Peel Sessions

Back in the mid to late 80s, Strange Fruit Records released a series (or three) of EPs that were actual sessions from John Peel's radio show on the BBC's Radio One. I bought some at the time and I've always loved listening to them. They have a lot of raw energy that likely comes from essentially playing live for someone of John Peel's stature (let's face it, he witnessed a lot of rock n roll history in his studio). But the controlled environment ensures a quality recording. In some cases, I can really hear how tight some of these bands really were, knowing that these tracks were a single take with no post-recording magic. If you're interested in the EPs, check out my Peel Sessions page for a list with recording and track info. I'm hoping to review the ones I have (and the new ones I buy) over time (probably in batches). My track record for posting isn't that great, so we'll see how it goes.

Review: The Charms - So Pretty

Label: Red Car Records (available through Cd baby)

Released: 2004

I picked this one up for $5 after hearing a Charms track (not from this album) on Little Steven's Underground Garage. I'm guessing the track I heard was newer and that the band has grown a good bit since this one was released.

The first thing that struck me about this six track EP was that I'd heard it before. Only last time the band was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Seriously, the first two tracks could be right off of Bad Reputation. By the time I got to track four, the Charms had laid off the Joan Jett and decided to do a cover. Ah, "Sweet Jane," nice. But this song is called "Candy." What's up? Oh, I was wrong, it's their own song, they only stole the good parts from "Sweet Jane." My bad. Finally, just after the halfway mark, the Charms give me something of what I expected. "So Pretty" is a raw, but catchy garage rocker with a nice dose of organ. The EP finishes up with a pair of non-descript tracks that at least aren't a complete rip-off of someone else's sound, but I'm actually thinking I like the Joan Jett stuff it started off with better.

I still have to go back and look up that track Little Steven played. Maybe I'll try a newer release rather than the cheapest one. I guess sometimes you get what you pay for.

Rating: 4/10

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