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Album Reviews, Part 2 -- July 2004

<-- A - L on previous page

Graig Markel -- Tall Tales on Tape
Mastema/Yes, Collapse Split
My Hotel Year -- The Curse
Nap Attack! – Choose Your Own Adventure EP
The Natural Dreamers -- Self-titled
Otep -- House of Secrets
Pants Yell! – Songs For Siblings
The Paragraph -- Self-titled EP
Parker Ben Parker -- Backlog
Pleasurecraft -- Lost Patterns
Qwiet -- Rhyme + Revolution
RJD2 -- Since We Last Spoke
The Sad Riders -- Lay Your Head on the Soft Rock
Sex With Girls – Demo
Shadyside -- Later In The Past
Sharky -- Mousam Lake Sessions
The Six Parts Seven -- [Everywhere][And Right Here]
Soma -- New Life
The Soviettes -- LPII
Starlite Desperation -- Violate A Sundae
The Stepford Five – A New Design for Living
The Streets -- A Grand Don’t Come For Free
The Subcons -- Time Has Come
Theraphosa – Blondi
The Thermals -- Fuckin A
Time In Malta -- Alone With The Alone
Time Of Orchids -- Early As Seen In Pace
Twelve Tribes -- The Rebirth of Tragedy
Twilighter – Fortune Is On
The Unicorns -- 2014 EP
Various Artists – Buddyhead Suicide
Various Artists -- Bring You To Your Knees, A Tribute To Guns & Roses
Velvet Revolver -- Contraband
VIV – Flawed
Kanye West -- The College Dropout
The Whole Fantastic World – Self-Titled EP

Graig Markel -- Tall Tales on Tape
Sonic Boom Recordings

Graig Markel , former lead singer and founder of Seattle’s New Sweet Breath, a former guitarist for Tagging Satellites, and a solo artist with three previous albums under his belt, is no stranger to music.

Not having much of a background on Markel, I listened to “Hello Hello” fromThe Gospel Project, “All Aces” and “D’azz” from Hard Grammar and “Better Lost than Gone” and “Winter Never Saw Better Light” from Verses on Venus. Of the aforementioned tracks, “All Aces,” “Hello Hello” and “Winter Never Saw Better Light” definitely stood out above the rest.

What’s interesting is that while I liked some of Markel’s earlier releases, I was having a hard time getting into Tall Tales on Tape. It opens weakly if the first track rule is to apply, and I wasn’t listening to this album to review it, I’m not sure I would have continued to listen. “The Early Bird Gets By” isn’t all too interesting musically and the lyrics are repetitive. In retrospect I think this would have made a better EP as the songs that I personally think are good are strong musically tracks bring the album down as a whole.

Markel gains ground with the second track, “Seasons in the Shroud.” The vocal melody is much more interesting and the piano is a nice touch. The lyrics are also more original. Overall the song has a nice dynamic, starting out softly and ending with louder riffs and percussion.

What “The Year 3,000 Is Just Ahead” makes up for musically, it loses with the lyrics. They seem hodge podge and unoriginal, only used to follow a rhyme scheme that isn¹t necessary. “The year 3,000 is just ahead, and disco is nearly dead. I won a free trip to Club Med. I gave away my indie cred.” This song definitely has potential though otherwise.

”Green Eyes” could have been the first track, a nice introduction to Markel and his current style. I wonder if the line, “Your new sweet breath draws a shorter line,” was an intentional mentioning of his former band. The bridge just before the four minute mark is a really nice change up.

Track eight, “Water to the Flames,” definitely has the best lyrics on thewhole album. It’s one of the few times Markel breaks away from the need to rhyme the last words one after another. I think if he keeps to this his songs will improve not only lyrically, but overall. It seems like the songs that break free from rhyming come out on top. I also like how this song was mixed.

Overall I want to emphasize that this is an impressive album. Markel has some help with drums, Wurlitzer, piano and vocals on certain tracks, but on others is solo. It¹s a lot to take on for one individual and I think he does it well. I look forward to seeing what he puts out next.

Best tracks: two, seven, eight, ten
Package design: amazing
-Erika Snell

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Mastema/Yes, Collapse Split
Epicene Sound Systems

I’ve met each of the young men who participated in creating the “music” on this release at least once. After listening to this thing a few times through, I’m not sure I ever want to cross paths with them again. This is some twisted and sadistic shit folks. Dave Mann (also of Rune and Mouth Of The Architect) adopts the Mastema moniker for almost 15 straight minutes of heavy ambient drone noise (“mourning”). This is the kind of aural poltergeist that makes your teeth chatter and your insides churn. Listen to this while “under the influence” and you might never recover. Yes, Collapse delivers two fingernails on the chalkboard, steel wool cicadas in the industrial blender style, hearing impaling jams here. As if it couldn’t get hairier, Yes, Collapse dives into a rhythm during their second offering, “blinded by gap,” that makes you feel like this shit is following you. This is as close to feeling like I’ve beer bonged bleach as I’ll probably ever feel. The packaging for this exercise in mind melting deserves a mention here too: two 3” CDs in a hand painted DVD case and each release is hand numbered up to 47. I’ve got 33, so you may only have 14 more chances to get destroyed.
-Tim Anderl

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My Hotel Year -- The Curse
Heinous Records / Doghouse Records

Like a grittier and less mature Jimmy Eat World, My Hotel Year plays capable, emotionally driven rock with strong vocal parts that compliment each other without sounding too professionally put-together. And like Thrice, MHY holds the guitar duet in its arsenal, but MHY doesn’t rely on that weapon to make its songs outstanding. MHY’s songs are outstanding because the songwriting is good and true. The Curse is a winning album if for no other reason than because one of its song titles includes the word “ninja.” But beyond its noteworthy sense of humor, MHY is a band that delivers delightfully rugged pop music that is more significant than the names it takes.
-Jeff Locher

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Nap Attack! – Choose Your Own Adventure EP
Mono Syllabic

In a steel cage match between California instrumental math rock trio Nap Attack! and other national bands of the same ilk (Six Parts Seven, Volta Do Mar, Pele, Roots Of Orchis, etc.) I’m guessing they have as good a chance as any of walking away with the title. Unfortunately, it seems like they best they could expect from their “spoils of war” are some jaded hipsters with their arms crossed peering over their glasses at them and maybe nodding in approval, or to become a backdrop for an NPR radio program. Don’t get me wrong, it’s likely that Nap Attack! are a little better than some at what they do. On each of the tracks here, melodies and rhythms weave in and out of each other to form an intricate and technical aural kaleidoscope. Unfortunately, I’m no Berklee grad. so I’m not really qualified to judge their prowess. But I’ve heard enough bands that sound like this one to know that while these dudes may be good, but there’s probably not anything here that is gonna really surprise you.
-Tim Anderl

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The Natural Dreamers -- Self-titled
Frenetic Records 2004

“ First thought, best thought” was the editorial motto of the late Allen Ginsberg. It requires that your first thoughts/impressions of things be incredibly accurate. Many of us are not that gifted. On first listen this self-titled composition was pegged as a sullen, sulky, instrumental composition of melodrama. After listening two more times, the only descriptor that still holds true is melodrama. The Natural Dreamers consist of members of Deerhoof, Dilute and Gorge Trio. If you are a fan of any of the bands, do not count on one particular sound to dominate. It’s quite different. It is not the kind of album that grabs you at first. In fact, three listens would be advised. The lack of vocals does afford you the opportunity to really think about the music as well as any emotional attachment that you may make to it. Summation: First thought--- Blah. Further thought— there are some interesting experiments going on. It is worth a listen.
-André O. Hoilette

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Otep -- House of Secrets
Capitol Records

In an unholy orgy of Pantera, Marilyn Manson and Slipknot, Otep would be the child of a thousand mad men. The Freddy Kruegar of metal, Otep wields its wit and ability to terrorize listener’s aural cavities to leverage its political message. Beyond the brash and guttural screams of front-woman, Otep, and her backing band’s metal mayhem, House of Secrets, the SoCal foursome’s second full-length, is more than a record, it’s a testament to the times. With elections on the horizon and a boundless war going on abroad, Otep has spearheaded the metal scene’s eulogy for the current administration.

If William Congreve’s observation that “Hell hath not fury like a woman scorned” ever vexed you, House of Secrets will remedy your confusion. From the single “Warhead,” on which Otep screams hysterically “break free!” until the song comes to a close, to songs like “Buried Alive,” “Hooks and Splinters” and the bone-crushingly heavy “Self Made,” for Otep, House of Secrets is a huge step forward both sonically and artistically.

The twelve tracks, which work their way through spoken word rants, mysterious chants, blast beats and brushes, come across as more of a concept than your average record. This growth is important, especially in a genre where sticking to the clear-cut path has created only stagnation. House of Secrets might be the most promising and creative heavy metal record of 2004; hopefully its innovation does not scare of the flock.
-Alex Kargher

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Pants Yell! – Songs For Siblings
Asaurus Records

I grew up a “military brat,” moving every couple years (and sometimes more than once a year) from elementary school to elementary school and junior high to junior high. Leaving friends and familiarity behind was difficult. Luckily, I had a brother who was just a few years younger (so I always new at least one person struggling with the same issues of acclimation at the next destination). In hindsight, our nomad lifestyle as youngsters is probably largely responsible for the close bond we have today. Unfortunately, knowing each other so well can sometimes be a disadvantage; I’m able to piss my brother off in ways that his other friends could never imagine. Often these “differences” can be quickly solved with a six-pack of Miller Light, but sometimes the offense calls for more drastic measures. The next time I really piss my brother off, I’ll give him my copy of this CD. There’s no way he could possible stay mad at me after hearing the pleasant pop treats that Boston’s Pants Yell! have assembled here; think Belle And Sebastian or Casiotone for the Painfully Alone-style niceties here folks. For those of you who need some indie cred as a qualifier here before you’re sold on it, the entire album was recorded on 16 track analog tape inside Mission Of Burma’s practice space. I know my brother is gonna love this.
-Tim Anderl

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The Paragraph -- Self-titled EP
Cosmonaut

New York’s The Paragraph are cut from a mold that is far more influenced by 90s Dischord-era bands than by the current crop of eye-liner and studded belt wearing fakers the music media is calling post punk or emo. It’s safe friends, so breathe a sigh of relief, and suck in the breathe of fresh air that this band delivers here. In my estimation, The Paragraph are near perfect package – herky-jerky and acrobatic rhythms, finger-tapping chaos, and a singer who likely has twice the verbal SAT score of the entire Drive Thru roster put together. These dudes are able to mash political and social commentary with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor and a sound that registers on the same radar as Pretty Girls Make Graves and Q And Not U. Trust an old man, there has only been a few post punk/hardcore/emo/whatever bands worth remembering since the late 90s and the Paragraph is definitely one of them.
-Tim Anderl

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Parker Ben Parker -- Backlog
Self-released

Parker Ben Parker’s Internet-released Backlog is more than a collection of songs that Athens/Cincinnati/Dayton musicians Adam Fox and Marc Aiello wrote and recorded over the past three or four years. It’s a record showing how independent music is made. Nicely documented and offered for free at www.parkerbenparker.com, Backlog is presented online with notes about its songs and with technical details about the tools used to create the album, making the listener understand that recording music is really not beyond anyone with talent. Of course, talent – not presentation – drives good music, and Parker Ben Parker’s talent is apparent. Remaining subtly intense throughout Backlog, Fox and Aiello play pleasant guitar-centered compositions that ebb and flow in tone. There’s the energetic “Rhumbus,” the ominous “Rome and Back,” the mellow and rolling “Two.” Most of Backlog‘s songs are pensive and questioning, as struggling artists often are, and “The Mission” offers one of my favorite brooding lyrics so far this year: “With necks in ropes of sanctity we swing.” If Parker Ben Parker can follow this collection of one-offs with a more cohesive project, we’ll know they can make it.
-Jeff Locher

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Pleasurecraft -- Lost Patterns
Self-released

Four dudes: two synthesizers, two guitars; one recording studio/hair salon; and a collective record collection that consists of David Bowie, Cause & Effect, Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran and The Faint records. I think you can surmise what this sounds like.
-Tim Anderl

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Qwiet -- Rhyme + Revolution
Cambrian Soul Records

I can’t prove it, but the emcee known as Qwiet could very well be another alter ego of Adam Thick, the Octopus-wearing Detroit indie rapper who calls himself Mr. Scrillion. The flows and voices belonging to Qwiet and Scrillion (who was reviewed last year in Bettawreckonize) are so similar that it’s uncanny, and this is no compliment to either artist. Qwiet and Scrillion share the voice of a man who is constricting his throat to control his volume while rapping, and their flow is often frustratingly busy while not quite exactly on the beat. Now, what makes Qwiet very different from Scrillion is that Qwiet is an amazingly positive person who is unafraid to publicly praise God and to criticize pop culture’s emphasis on sex and violence. Unfortunately, Qwiet’s positivity is overshadowed not just by annoying vocals but also by backing music that’s little more than amateur keyboard lines layered over bedroom-produced beats. It pains me to criticize a good person, but although Qwiet’s motivation is excellent, his hiphop is not.
-Jeff Locher

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RJD2 -- Since We Last Spoke
Definitive Jux

With his official sophomore release, Columbus’s RJD2 proves he can hang with DJs/producers/composers like Moby and DJ Shadow. On Since We Last Spoke, RJ expands on the hiphop flavor of 2002’s Deadringer by incorporating lots of guitar and keyboard as well as many different styles with a consistently tranquil tone. While RJ’s newer album actually begins aggressively with the guitar-heavy title track and “Exotic Talk,” it quickly delves into Latin flavor (“1976,” “Ring Finger”) and also reveals a sweet pop-singer/songwriter personality (“Making Days Longer,” “Through the Walls”). Making an excellent case for the DJ as musician, RJ plays all of the instruments here and performs most of the vocals, and throughout, he maintains the soul of hiphop in his music. From the emphasis on the beat to the crackle of the vinyl, Since We Last Spoke proves RJD2 is a still a hiphop musician, and a very capable, multi-talented one at that.
-Jeff Locher

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The Sad Riders -- Lay Your Head on the Soft Rock
Doghouse

A little background from Chris Wicky, also of Favez (yeah, it’s a 180 for sure), “So these songs are about that moment, when you realize how strange the world around you really is, and what influence some people you hardly knew have on your life.”

I’m once again not floored by the first track, but it proves to be the only song on the album that falls flat. I think most bands would aspire to having only one song that didn’t rub someone the right way and this does not detract from the rest of the album, I just wish it was placed somewhere else.

” Where’s the Light?” is one of the songs that currently has airplay. The guitar solo at around two and a half minutes on track five is great. This song is much more upbeat than the majority of the album and is probably more appealing to the masses, although I don¹t find it nearly as interesting as some of the other tracks.

” I¹ll see you in the morning” is soft, short and sweet. The perfect song to end a bad day, it¹s the grown up lullaby any girl would kill to have sung to her at bedtime.

Overall this album is good. It’s simple. Apparently taught to Wicky’s friends in a couple of days, I would say that: a. the simplicity makes sense; b. it works; c. they did a great job. The tracks are a good length and there is enough variety to keep things interesting. It quickly grows on you and is up for multiple listens.

This album has the best thing in the liner notes I think I¹ve ever seen: “Raphaël: oohs on track 5,” which reminds me that for a solo album, there are an awful lot of folks listed in the liner notes, not that that’s a bad thing, it just seems kind of amusing coupled with the plural of “rider’ in the band’s name.

Best tracks: two, three, six, ten
Overall rating: 8+

The next album should be even better if troubles of the heart hold to be inspiring. After a break up with his girlfriend and now long distance love, Wicky writes, “So basically, all I have that is stable now is the songs and the guitar. Writing new stuff for the next Sad Riders album brings me down to the place where I feel safe and warm, storytelling, my little acoustic moves, a couple of simple melodies, and sharing that with a few people around the world for whom music is not a gimmick, not a contest of originality, look or power, but a simple and ancestral way of bonding lives with univeral tales of death, murder, life, love, dogs and nutella.” Chris, if you¹re reading this, I think this as a whole would make for a great song.
-Erika Snell

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Sex With Girls – Demo
Self-released

This demo isn’t terribly different from my first sexual experience. Sloppy, crashing, bruised, and running only a few minutes, SWG conjures some uncomfortably satisfying moments. To their extreme credit, they do spit way better game than I ever had on “Sex Chocolate” (“Can we check into the Sex Hotel/They’ve got sex chocolates on the pillows there”). The standout final track (of four), “Let’s Dance,” twists muddled electronics, vocal histrionics, and lifts some lyrics from New Order’s “Blue Monday.” Like the moments following my first time “getting busy,” I’m not sure what to make of this afterglow. I have the feeling I might enjoy this demo more with just a little more practice. In the meantime, Kill Rock Stars should be making plans to knock out a Sexy Prison/The Show Is The Rainbow/Sex With Girls split LP.
-Tim Anderl

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Shadyside -- Later In The Past
Ex-/Ex-

The dudes in Shadyside have over five years under their belt, including at least a hundred all-ages shows, and can each play their instruments like a mother fuck. Why aren’t these dudes signed to some big independent, headlining their own tours? Simple answer: they’re taking the high road (for those of you who no them, no pun intended here). Rather than copying New Found Glory, throwing a couple of metal riffs on top, and sending their discs straight to Hot Topic, these dudes are obviously challenging their writing and technical abilities with six and eight minute math rock opuses that veer into territory Braid and Ethel Meserve briefly touched on during their tenures. However, as much of their third track (“Life In Rewind”) suggests, Shadyside also have some very metal tendencies (this particular track reminds me of local tech metal heroes Eyes Upon Separation). Both styles come to an awkward impasse on “Past Mistakes Equal Future Blights,” which sounds like Waking Kills The Dream in a tug of war with Mineral. But, the band gets back in the fast lane by their final two tracks: pleasantly, the intro for “The Standstill” sounds a little like The Who’s “Babba O’Riley;” and “A Wooden Gun (Shot Ring Out)” channels Incubus, Mr. Bungle, and Braid simultaneously. These days, a disc like Later In The Past is “the road less traveled,” and unfortunately it isn’t likely to get the attention it deserves. But Shadyside has already demonstrated that they’re just the kind of badass unsung indie heroes who’ll keep busting heads and winning over fans one at a time anyway.
-Tim Anderl

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Sharky -- Mousam Lake Sessions
Self-released

In punk and indie circles it is pretty common knowledge that Seam singer Sooyoung Park had an integral part in the seminal Bitch Magnet. However, upon further investigation, I may have uncovered another band that he fronted. And, for those of you keeping score, the rest of the band may have been comprised of future members of the Shins – before they discovered psychedelic drugs. Seriously though, from what I can tell, the D.C.-based indie pop maestros in Sharky (who to my knowledge have no affiliation with Seam, Bitch Magnet, The Shins, or your mom) have their shit together. Or they at least had it together on November 3, 2003 when they recorded seven songs on Mousam Lake, Maine. The warm, soft sound of “Stars,” the standout track here, also suggests that they may have drank some hot chocolate with marshmallows and cuddled a bit. Visit www.sharkypop.com, beg them to send you a copy of this CD, and get “all warm inside” too.
-Tim Anderl

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The Six Parts Seven -- [Everywhere][And Right Here]
Suicide Squeeze Records

My ability to enjoy rock music, of any type, is often directly dependent on how catchy the melodies are, and whether I’m able to relate to the lyrics. And, for the most part, I’m the kind of person who needs to have both music and vocals/lyrics. Guitar virtuoso’s like Joe Satriani and Steve Vaia….no thanks, I’d rather have Van Halen or Aerosmith. Similarly, avant garde instrumental combos such as Tortoise have never really been my bag either; I never really felt smart enough to hang with that kind of stuff. More importantly, it just didn’t turn me on. However, one of very few instrumental bands who has been able to capture my interest and keep it (for just short of a decade in fact) is The Six Parts Seven. This is largely due to the fact that they don’t let their technical virtuosity and music school panache overrun their ability to move melodies, build dynamics, and just make you feel it. Kent Ohio’s Karpinski brothers have returned with their menagerie of collaborators (Tim Gerak, guitars and recording; Mike Tolan, bass, Rhodes and guitar; Eric Koltnow, vibes and percussion; Ben Vaughan, lap steel and guitar; and Steve Clements, piano and fantom) for what is the best effort to date, hands down. On this particular effort, they manage to conjure a sound that can be roughly, and amateurishly summed up as a strange hybrid of Modest Mouse’s desperation, Mojave 3’s spaciousness, and Tristeza’s quiet hopefulness. As an avid fan of almost every band that Kent’s Donut Friends label every turned out, nostalgia dictates that my favorite track here is “The Quick Fire,” which was originally written by Party of Helicopters singer Joe Dennis for his shoegazer band The Man I Fell In Love With. However, I’ve found myself becoming choked up by both “This One or That One?” and “A Blueprint of Something Never Finished.” This record goes where few other instrumental CDs have gone before – to the top of my pile of favorites.
-Tim Anderl

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Soma -- New Life
Self-released

This New Jersey quartet is a band with some great ideas. Unfortunately, they seem to be the same ideas that The Killers are going to take all the way to the bank. Both bands probably actually like New Order’s Republic, both bands have really good hair, and both bands dropped their CDs in June. But, the Killers have a little more aggressive (and hooky) approach, the major label deal, and have a video in rotation on the music networks. So unless nu new wave is the new nu emo, Soma will probably get lost in the shuffle. This is unfortunate, because while this four-song EP isn’t my absolute favorite nu-wave disc of the year (see Communiqué review) it is a really consistent showing by a band who is actually able to flex their appetites for feedback and new wave tendencies without boring me to tears. Because this is a website that has prided it self on hanging its hat on the side of the underdog, I encourage you to visit www.insidesoma.com, download this EP, start the first ever Soma fanclub, and make me eat whatever doubts I’m having here.
-Tim Anderl

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The Soviettes -- LPII
Adeline Records

Like a breath of cold Minneapolis air, The Soviettes refresh listeners by taking everything that’s good about female indie guitar bands like Sleater-Kinney and injecting not only the fun of female pop groups like the Go-Gos but also gallons of caffeinated beverages. The Soviettes play at the speed of death metal monsters, yet they retain the charm of new wave hipsters. Only four of LPII’s 14 songs pass the two-minute mark; however, the album’s overall quality gives them the right to go on forever. Check the speed-demon countdown of “Count Off Ten,” the call/response of “Pass the Flashlight,” and the sweetness of “Tonight.” Damn, what a terrific pop-punk record.
-Jeff Locher

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Starlite Desperation -- Violate A Sundae
Cold Sweat Records

In what may be the most brilliant resurrection since a certain son of God, Detroit by-way-of San Francisco quartet Starlite Desperation are back. But since Jesus never made it nearly impossible for tourmates like The International Noise Conspiracy, The Datsuns, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Kills to follow his filthy rock and roll swagger, I’ll try to stick to the task at hand – dropping the science on this absolutely friggin’ fantastic six song Cold Sweat debut. I probably nearly lost you at the words “Detroit” and “rock and roll,” but make no mistake, Starlite Desperation isn’t some cheap knock off of The Stooges, nor do they seem to be playing the dirty hearts out for the sake of irony. This is 20 minutes of authentic ride-or-die, balls-to-the-wall, rock acrobatics. Dante Adrian’s vocal performance here, which is unmatched in intensity by any rock band in my recent memory, sounds roughly like Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine going toe-to-toe with a very hungry pack of coyotes -- and that isn’t even the half of it! Though it is nearly impossible to pick a favorite here, I’m leaning toward “Frustration” or “Born To Be Dizzy.” While I don’t expect to see this band making a couple fish and a loaf of bread feed 5,000 hungry faces, I’m pretty damn sure they are able to transform a bar full of static bodies into a writhing rock and roll sex machine. And for that, Bettawreckonize advocates putting a copy of this CD in hotel desks the world over.
-Tim Anderl

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The Stepford Five – A New Design for Living
Reverbose Records

Imagine if a local band that you always thought were “eh, decent,” finally got their shit together and put out a great record that is astoundingly well produced. The Stepford Five is kicking ass all over the place on what is, in my opinion, one of the better rock and roll albums to come out of the Ohio area in a while. I don’t consider it a put down to say that they’re not trying to do anything more than rock here, slightly edging in with the almost math rock sound that helped make Braid noteworthy. There are a few quieter and slower paced tracks, like the lyrically creeping “Ted Hughes,” but even those songs manage to rock just enough to trickle right in and flow with the rest of the record. Unfortunately, I’m sure some pretentious reviewer will turn their nose up at this record for being “overproduced,” but they can eat it. Even my dad likes this record. Go out for a nice long freeway drive, roll your windows down, and crank this one.
-Tim Anderl

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The Streets -- A Grand Don’t Come For Free
Vice/Atlantic

Apparently understanding that the best song on his debut album was the everyboy-heartache story “It’s Too Late,” Mike Skinner largely passes on the danceable stream-of-consciousness garage songs that dominated Original Pirate Material (2002) and releases a concept album as a follow-up. Musically, Skinner strips down to the essentials on A Grand Don’t Come For Free. The tracks are extremely spare in order to keep the focus on a story that stretches across all 11 songs: A young English man loses £1000, finds love, runs into relationship problems, finds his money, and learns a lesson. Skinner tells the modern urban tale in a charming, endearing way, using his heavy accent as a strong brand and relying on the details of everyday life to make the story breathe. Mobile phone reception, fake tans, and movie-rental late fees all creep into Skinner’s lyrics, which are barely delivered on beat but sound perfectly planned nonetheless. A Grand Don’t Come For Free reaches its climax with all of the protagonist’s relationships crumbling at the end of “What Is He Thinking,” and on “Dry Your Eyes,” his heart is broken over a gorgeous acoustic guitar and simple beat. Resolution occurs beautifully on “Empty Cans” when light piano chords begin softening a stomping beat. The more I listen to this album, the more I believe it’s a classic.
-Jeff Locher

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The Subcons -- Time Has Come
Self-released

Do you wear socks with sandals, worship Doug Martsch and spend all your free time watching Kids In The Hall and Anime? Then you are probably savvy enough to identify the subtle differences between The Unicorns, The Shins, and The Subcons? I’m an episode of Gundum Wing, a tube sock, and a power pop record collection short finding a tried-and-true method for telling them apart. In all seriousness, the Subcons have heard Pet Sounds a number of times and their record will appeal to all manner of pop fan, assuming they don’t mind cartoon sound effects, goofy, affable lyrics, and skipping to the sixth track before any actually music begins. Original? A little. As good as The Unicorns or The Shins? Almost. Go to www.thesubcons.com and decide for yourself.
-Tim Anderl

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Theraphosa – Blondi
Save Your Servant Recordings

I’m scrambling to locate the one sheet that came with this disc, but I can’t find it. It would really come in handy right now so I can let you know how fantastic this band is and the city where you can expect to see these dudes (and dudette?) dropping total rock science. From what I can tell from their record label’s address, Theraphosa is from Cincinnati. If so, they’re the best thing that’s happened to that town since Afghan Whigs and Skyline Chili. Despite somewhat horrifying artwork (a painting of one of those poor “for just 83 cents a day you can sponsor a…” little children, whose insides you can see, like Slim Goodbody), this record is also way musically intense in the best way possible. These guys trapse through the backyards of the best: U2, Peter Gabriel, Psychedelic Furs, TV On The Radio, Shellac, Soundgarden, Pretty Girls Make Graves (musically, not vocally), and a few other really heavy hitters without ever falling into blatant copycatting of one band or another. Also totally impressive is that that this trio did all of the recording here themselves. In any event, if you are down for sludgy bass, mathy, sometimes dub influenced drumming, and razor sharp guitar work, perhaps a roadtrip to Cincinnati is in order. If you’re not gonna make it there before summer’s end, do yourself a favor; e-mail these guys (theraphosa@saveyourservant.com) and make arrangements to get blown away.
-Tim Anderl

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The Thermals -- Fuckin A
Sub Pop

This is lo-fi pop punk played the way it’s supposed to be: with youth, speed, simplicity, passion, and balls (or the female equivalent in the case of the Thermals’ bass player Kathy Foster). Recorded with no frills at all by Northwest indie maestro Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie), Fuckin A is nothing but a young Portland power trio rocking its anthems like it’s their last chance. The irreverence of vocalist/lyricist Hutch Harris is nonstop, and this album is probably best reviewed just by sharing some of Harris’s lyrics. From “Our Trip”: “We’re taking grip / We’re talking shit / Our slate is clean / Say what you mean / It’s our trip and / We’re not listening.” And from “God and Country”: “Pray for a new state / Pray for assassination / I can hope, see? / Even if I don’t believe.”
-Jeff Locher

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Time In Malta -- Alone With The Alone
Equal Vision Records

Lately I’ve noticed that hardcore bands have placed an increased emphasis on experimentation in other genres. While they’ll tell you that their sound is developing to broaden to reach a broader core audience to some altruistic outcome, I suspect the main motivator or agenda behind this trend is that bands are trying to get their cut of the bank resulting from Fuse and MTV2’s willingness to actually promote/sell independent music to their viewers. This trend has its obvious pros and cons. On the one hand, hardcore bands are able to make a living on their music, raise money for worthy causes (Thrice is a good example here), and expose their social and political causes within new groups. On the other hand, one of the cons can be adequately illustrated with the following story: I accidentally and begrudgingly spent a very brief portion of Saturday evening with a couple of racist rednecks from suburban Ohio, both of whom were carrying firearms, and who loved the new Killswitch Engage, and hated minorities and homosexuals. Ironic, isn’t it? While Time In Malta’s motivations for venturing further into punk and indie rock territory with their latest release aren’t clear to me, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt until they start wearing black nail polish and are headlining a Revolver magazine sponsored tour. The truth is, if the fire I’m hearing here in their intense hardcore breakdowns, the ingenuity I’m hearing in their psychedelia-tinged guitar riffs, and the heart and soul I’m hearing in their chugging punk riffs are indicative of even the least of their intentions, then Time In Malta are some of the truest blue-est dudes participating in hardcore today.
-Tim Anderl

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Time Of Orchids -- Early As Seen In Pace
Epicene Sound Systems

Rarely do I come across a band that is capable of leaving me at a loss for words, but Time Of Orchids is definitely one in a million. These New York-based weirdos aren’t obviously derivative of any one musical style or scene; I suspect they’d do as well in dance or jazz clubs as they’d fare on the indie-rock, hole-in-the-wall dive bar circuit. While these guys aren’t easily pigeon-holed, they’re also not too arty, incomprehensible, or inaccessible for their own good. Time of Orchids chameleon-like, skronk-rock anthems and hyper-quirky outbursts would perhaps fare best in a circle pit with Prince, the dudes from Fishbone, and Mr. Bungle, which is a damn fine place to be in my estimation.
-Tim Anderl

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Twelve Tribes -- The Rebirth of Tragedy
Ferret Records

I envy those of you who have yet to experience this album, because you’re only gonna hear this absolutely devastating album for the first time once and it is going to absolutely blow you away. Nearly four years in the making, Twelve Tribes’ basement born opus has finally seen the light of day, and I’ll be damned if The Rebirth of Tragedy hasn’t emerged the swan song of all swan songs. I wouldn’t expect any less than a seamless and pristine hardcore album from this band, after all these are the same guys who already delivered two of the best hardcore efforts of the last five years: As Feathers To Flowers And Petals To Wings (1999, Eulogy) and Instruments EP (2000, Eulogy). But their earlier efforts, and the efforts of most of their peers, absolutely pale in comparison to the 10-track killing blow they’ve fashioned here. While their music is certainly the most unrelenting aspect of this album, lyricist/vocalist Adam Jackson has penned a manifesto of such breadth and scope that I’m sure Homeland Security has him on their hit list. With an arsenal of soaring melodies, hip hop syncopations (which borrow equally from Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine), and earth shattering screams, Jackson brings the capitalist system, the government, and religious zealotry to the streets for a bare-knuckle showdown. Andy Corpus and Kevin Shindel’s searing guitar work, coupled with Shane Shook and Matt Tackett’s goliath rhythms register seismic waves that could level a city. The Rebirth of Tragedy is also the rebirth of modern hardcore as we know it – a shot of pure adrenaline to the heart and jugular of a scene that has been choking on excess and absurdity for far too long.
-Tim Anderl

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Twilighter – Fortune Is On
Hey Sailor Records

North Carolina’s Twilighter is pretty good. They’ve got that mopey-indie-rock-come-Pavement-worshiping-basement-band sound nailed. Their lyrics are adequately ironic and tongue-in-cheek, and if I was a betting man, I’d guess that their lyricist probably has at least a four year degree in either English or Philosophy. The band is just a little left of straight forward indie guitar rock -- incorporating moog, farfisa, piano and some bongos -- which is also a good thing. In fact, this album will probably create a bit of nostalgia for those BW readers who went to a liberal arts college and had friends who had bands. Judging from the collage in Twilighter’s liner notes, this is that “my friends from college were in this band” band for cross-eyed girl sipping drink and group of friends standing arm in arm in front of marching band. Twilighter is the band whose songs their friends know all the words too, and the band they spend the after-show hours splitting pitchers with. If satisfying the musical appetite of their hometown fans was Twilighter’s goal in releasing this record, than their mission was likely accomplished. Unfortunately, I can name a decent handful of “my friends’ college bands” who were a little bit tighter, flexed a little bit more muscle, or had just a bit of an edge on Twilighter’s home-style recording skills. But, if the Wrens have taught us anything, another decade of playing in the living room of your shared home and dicking around with the Tascam can do wonders. I can’t wait to hear from Twilighter again in 2014.
-Tim Anderl

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The Unicorns -- 2014 EP
Suicide Squeeze Records

Let’s call this what this is, a CD single disguised as an EP. There is a single “The Unicorns: 2014,” a b-side “Emasculate The Masculine,” and an outtake and a demo (“Evacuate The Vacuous and The Unicorns: 2014 respectively). I’d have gladly traded any of the finally three songs for the Booty Juice-remix of the single. I have to admit, I’m not accustomed to purchasing CD singles (though I’d make an exception to get my hands on Kellis’ “Milkshake” single) -- too little bang for the buck normally – and this “EP” does little to change my position on CD singles. But it does remind me to dig out their 2003 full-length Who Will Cut Your Hair When We’re Gone. Oh yeah, in case you were wondering, The Unicorns are still a bunch of goobers from Canada, who make really hooky, bizarre cartoon pop music. This time they do it with more synths and some beats. If you’ve never heard the band, this might be a good introduction to them, but I’ve always preferred skipping the appetizer and going straight to the main course.
-Tim Anderl

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Various Artists – Buddyhead Suicide
Buddyhead

The unpredictable bunch over a Buddyhead have done it again; leave it to those guys to make even the title of their latest two-disc compilation a parody. They had to have known that coupling some of the riskiest artists in recent memory with “pranks” of monumental proportions and hilarity in the same jewel case could have only one outcome: unprecedented success. Where else could you find studio and live tracks by The Icarus Line, Burning Brides, Your Enemies Friends, Ink & Dagger, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Text, Shat, and Gayrilla Biscuits; Latch Brothers remixes of tracks from At The Drive In and Murder City Devils; and Jerky Boys-style prank calls to The Locust, Tenacious D, the Burning Brides, and other unsuspecting friends and foes under the same roof? The Icarus Line riffing and howling their way through the UK single version of “Love Is Happiness” + a trip hop remix of The Murder City Devils’ “Press Gang” + The Dillinger Escape Plan’s blistering cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” + hearing a very frustrated Gideon Yago call supposed AP editor Jason Pettigrew (who is in actuality a dude who calls himself Torture Device) a “pedantic bastard” = priceless. The cover art, a nod to Suicide’s self-titled release, will remind you file this disc among your keepsakes. Anyway, this is just a sample of what you’re in store for here -- evil genius at its most diabolical.
-Tim Anderl

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Various Artists -- Bring You To Your Knees, A Tribute To Guns & Roses
Law Of Inertia

It’s 2003 and Axl Rose has Alicia Keys’ haircut. The guitarist for the reformed GNR has a bucket of chicken on his head. Fast forward to 2004: turns out Keys’ hair and bucket of chicken dude don’t pan out. Final “Best Of” CD = final nail in the coffin? Nope. In their downtime, between filing lawsuits against their once fearless leader, the rest of the original lineup are putting their Michael Jackson collaborations and b-rate glam bands behind them and are taking a second swing at stardom. Only they’ve enlisted a singer whose ego, martyr complex and rehab bills trump even those of the grade-A asshole who ruined GNR’s shot at a respectable legacy the first time round. Why, after all this, are people still paying attention? Simply, for a time, GNR summed up rock and roll excess and fuck ‘em all attitude, and it sounded amazing. Nearly twenty years later, the influence and aftershocks of GNR’s swan song, Appetite For Destruction are still being felt. I dare anyone to spin “Welcome To The Jungle” or “Paradise City” without tapping out a drum line or running the neck of an air guitar. While some of the bands here have openly recognized the punchline behind the legacy they’re paying homage to here, they’ve agreed to take a shot at those savage riffs, battering rhythms, and eff you attitude that once summed up the world’s most notorious band. Unfortunately, most of these tracks prove that today’s metal and hardcore elite couldn’t mussy up a rental van let alone devastate a hotel room. There are ofcourse a few exceptions: Zombie Apocalypse’s thrash and burn treatment of “Welcome To The Jungle;” Unearth’s battering “It’s So Easy;” The Dillinger Escape Plans schizophrenic “My Michelle;” and The Beautiful Mistake’s interesting prog remake of “Estranged.” Unfortunately, the rest of the tracks here seem half-assed if not completely phoned in. But perhaps this is a fitting “tribute” considering the blanks their “heroes” have been shooting since the early nineties.
-Tim Anderl

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Velvet Revolver -- Contraband
RCA

If you’d like to hear what it would sound like if Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland sang for Guns N’ Roses, wonder no more. You can buy the Velvet Revolver album, or you can take my word: It sounds exactly like you think it would. Like Audioslave’s 2002 debut, Contraband shows a supergroup playing fairly basic rock songs. The main difference between Audioslave and Contraband is that the latter offers signature Slash guitar solos instead of interesting Tom Morello guitar noise. Velvet Revolver also has extremely produced vocals by the most famous living junkie rock vocalist of our era instead of the most talented vocalist of the big ‘90s grunge bands. Audioslave has some cheesy songs like “I Am the Highway,” but Velvet Revolver really takes the cheesecake with the awesome and unabashedly 80s rock ballad “Fall to Pieces.” It is what it is, folks. You know if you’ll like Velvet Revolver, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I do.
-Jeff Locher

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VIV – Flawed
Ten Toes Over Records

If you’re over 26, you were probably right there losing your religion when R.E.M. had their first brush with commercial fame in the nineties. R.E.M. is a band who in my estimation did much to push the door open for today’s commercial indie rock boom. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that marketing folks would be peddling cars, fries, toothpaste, and WB television shows with hairspray metal had it not been, at least in part, for R.E.M. While their exposure may have pissed off R.E.M.’s core fanbase, I think television commercials are better for it. Before this analogy gets thin let me clarify: while I’m not yet sure VIV has the potential to make as sizeable a contribution to the world of music as R.E.M. has, they are certainly at least one of the high caliber, pristine indie pop bands that will benefit from the doors R.E.M. left open. There are a lot of these kinds of bands, the “music behind the commercial though still a totally legit band” bands out there -- Modest Mouse, The Shins, The Walkmen and Remy Zero are included among these ranks folks. VIV could definitely go toe to toe with well-produced pop bands of their same ilk, bands who have a handle on the finer points of Weezer and The Police, of U2 and Tom Petty. While you’re waiting to see which of the WB’s lineup will benefit from a VIV-penned theme song, feel free get in on the ground floor and rock out to the perfectly acceptable Flawed. Then you can be one of the smug few, one of their early fanbase, who is entitled to talking shit on them on the internet when they make it big.
-Tim Anderl

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Kanye West -- The College Dropout
Roc-A-Fella Records

Sure, Jay-Z’s Black Album was pretty good, but if you told me one of this year’s best hiphop albums would come from Roc-A-Fella, I never would have believed you. Enter hot new-school producer Kanye West, who sports Roc-A-Wear but has more on his mind than women and firearms as he offers up his debut CD. Throughout College Dropout, West dwells on the stereotypical problem of fast money being more attractive to African Americans than education and straight money. Kanye confesses that even he is not above the lure of big money as he guiltily admits, “Golly / More of that bullshit ice rap / I gotta apologize to Mos and Kweli” (“Breathe in Breathe Out”). Beyond its message, College Dropout contains consistently excellent, danceable, densely layered music, much of which bears West’s pseudo-trademarked samples of soul, disco, and pop sped up to humorously higher frequencies. West succeeds in giving his audience a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.
-Jeff Locher

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The Whole Fantastic World – Self-Titled EP
Self-Released

This past weekend I had the chance to see one of the most interesting pop bands I had seen in a while. Intelligent lyrics with a prose like flow, positioned over the top of angular guitar work, with syncopated drumming, and butter sweet harmonies. My ears were tweaked from the start. With the progression of each song, I found my legs moving me closer and closer to the stage with my head bobbing more and more. By the end of the evening I found myself chatting up the band at their table with my new CD in hand. I have a feeling that after listening to CD you will have a very similar reaction and check this band next time they come through your town.

Unfortunately the CD contains no track listing so I can’t comment on songs by title, but tracks two and three are my new driving jams and won’t be leaving my car for a few weeks. Song four shows another side of the band that I didn’t really catch live, very Karate-esque – free form, jazz based song -- while most of the others are the straightforward angular pop that I described before. Overall, this is a great EP, a great live band, and a great find.
- Joe Anderl

 

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