Tuesday, December 16, 2008

8 Album Reviews (Published in The Reviewer, June 2008)

Bayadera, Rotation of the Earth

An unironic cover of the most overtly commercial song pop song in history (Wham!’s “Careless Whisper”) says it all: Bayadera want to make it, and make it big.

Their template has potential. Gina Bandy’s vocals are smooth as the synth sax in Wham’s original while the light, Latin-inflected guitarwork is technically solid.

But everything feels restrained. The choruses seem suppressed, Bandy’s suggestive lyrics are too coy, and the music is always a couple bombastic riffs short of head-bobbing. What could be fun radio rock ends up being indistinct, mid-tempo mush. (http://bayadera.ning.com)

Company Car, Collars

There is a branch of emo that is fun, noisy, and self-affirming. Company Car embraces that side of emo with abandon.

Collars is garagey romp chock full of sloppy, infectious guitars and workman-like drumming. In a lot of rock music, however, the most important instrument are the vocals and singer Dave Parker knows it. His wail is whipping hurricane of a hook and from “Couch Critics” to “Driving Star” it never relents.

The songs themselves are almost completely indistinguishable from one another but it doesn’t really matter. The sheer force of the music as a totality is what counts and that’s what makes Collars hugely entertaining. (http://www.companycarmusic.com/index.cfm)

Death on Mars, Tomorrow’s Today

Death on Mars scream prog-rock with their name and shout it even louder on the first track. “True” opens with a rapid drum intro, Mars Volta distorted guitars, and doomstruck lyrics about hell.

The album as a whole is much more eclectic though. Death disco (“In the End”), lush balladry (“Curve of the Earth”), and even chamber pop (“Doorways”) infuse Tomorrow’s Today.

If a particular genre dominates, though, it’s post-punk. It never exactly fails but often the band has a tough time reconciling this Ian Curtis-style rage with its compositional perfectionism.

Overall, though, the eleven tracks cohere fluidly due its heavily textured soundscapes, as Death on Mars announce they are one of San Diego’s most promising bands. (http://www.deathonmars.net)

Marya Roxx, 21?! the EP

With its straightforward crush of guitars, monotonal vocals, and calculated iconoclasm, 21?! the EP sounds like it’s fronted by someone whose knowledge of American rock music is severely limited.

This makes sense with Marya Roxx. The 21-year-old singer is from tiny Estonia, the former USSR country in Eastern Europe. And what she lacks in breadth she makes up in energy. Marya barks her way through her punk-metal debut with the ferocity of Axl Rose and in general it works. From the album’s opening chug on “21?!” to the death drone of “Nothing Going On” the rage of 21?! never relents.

Lyrically, though, the album needs a lot of work. The whole “rebel” angle is as authentically anti-establishment as Hot Topic (there is even a song titled “Rebel”) and the guitar racket needs some variety. But in general the album is immensely entertaining and strangely endearing. (http://www.myspace.com/maryaroxx)

Down and Away, “Reclaim the Radio”

Scandinavia has produced quite a few angsty left-wing rock groups given the area’s political stability and quasi-socialism. Sweden’s Down and Away is one of them and they announce it loudly on their fourth release, “Reclaim the Radio.”

Their proletarian punk is energetic as expected and recalls the pillars of the movement, like Against Me!, The Business, and Rancid. But unfortunately their revolutionary potential is drowned among interchangeable riffs, bland thrash, and derivative pop-punk choruses.

It’s too bad because some of the lyrics are excellent. In “You Can’t Break Me” lead singer brilliantly Marcus skewers corporate culture: “Am I a number? / A face in the line? / I am somebody / Accept or decline.” Unfortunately Down and Away's acute lyrical punch is meaningless behind indistinguishable blasts of sound that are as anonymous as the monoculture they assail. (http://www.uppsikt.nu/new/user/mainpage.asp)

Sorrow Town Choir, Espinas De La Vida

Even on the rocking opener “Simpleton” there is a latent sense of anguish. Excavate underneath Greg Dale’s growl and slashing guitarwork you’ll find a skeleton of moodiness and vulnerability.

That skeleton is revealed throughout Espinas De La Vida. Pitiless mediations on missed opportunities and self-doubt accompany every song.

Musically, meanwhile, Sorrow Town Choir borrows heavily from southern rock. But in tone it’s dominated by Robert Johnson blues music, with its understated, Biblical sense of dread.

The only problem is that it’s too understated. Beef up the Allman Brothers-style slide guitars and a major label might be calling for Sorrow Town Choir. (http://www.sorrowtownchoir.com)

The Press Project, Get Right

The Press Project are one eclectic band with their fusion of lite funk, soulful grooves, and lucid rapping. But eclecticism doesn’t guarantee good music. Look at 311.

Most of Get Right feels flatly uninspired. The injections of neo-soul and old school funk are flavorless and don’t enrich the LP’s hip-hop core. They just water it down.

There are some high points. The muscular lilt of “Moment pt. 4” evokes the jazzy pop of St. Germain and their lazy, mellow rhythms create a pleasant, chill-out whole to the album.

But few of the individual songs blossom out of their harmless, adult contemporary shell. If you want hip-hop to do laundry to buy this, otherwise stick with the Roots. (http://www.myspace.com/thepressproject)

Mary Knickle, Weave

Contemporary Celtic artist Mary Knickle’s third album presents an interesting problem. Is Weave merely an homage to Irish-Scottish folk music that has been around for hundreds of years? Or are the traditional arrangements and anachronistic lyrics an attempt to accentuate simple, everyday values that we tend to forget about in our busy world?

My guess is that Knickle aspires to put her own twist on Celtic music and make it relevant to today’s world. But instead Weave sounds like a facsimile from another century.

She doesn’t do a bad job either. “Tears of a Woman” is a great story and the stark, piano-driven “Grail” is plaintively beautiful. But most of the album is dominated by an expected stew of weepy fiddles, earnest harmonies, and “lost at sea” lyrics.

All pleasant songs, but nothing you wouldn’t hear at your local Irish pub for Tuesday night entertainment. (http://www.maryknickle.com)

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