Blue Moon Rising, One Lonely Shadow (Lonesome Day Records)
Neo-traditional bluegrass in the manner of a less optimistic Infamous Stringdusters, part of a generational shift tacking away from the scratched-record vibe Earl Scruggs helped invent with his toothless-hillbilly-in-the-corner evocations.
East Tennessee’s Blue Moon Rising rely heavily on covers to fill their fourth album, five-odd originals fitting seamlessly into a picture highlighted by a rework of Robbie Fulks’s “Where There’s a Road,” an irresistible slice of unworried pick-and-grin that would have easily worked as montage material on the soundtrack to Cars. Unplugged guitar, mandolin and banjo alternate frontline duty in the lovey-dovey original “Angeline,” one that should keep Ricky Skaggs coming back as a fan.
One critical ingredient to the genre will never change, the storyteller, and it’s represented exquisitely in both the divorce bummer “I Grew Up Today” and the spooky “Hanging Tree,” an Edgar Allen Poe-like tale whose running denouement isn’t too predictably explained. The one major misstep is a cover of “
You can’t really go wrong with day-glo, so these godless, college-avoiding mercenaries dump buckets of fluorescent slop over themselves and make like a crazy-grinning Blue Man Group from Hell in the hope of capturing the 98-pound imaginations of both cluebie goths and death metal nostril-miners simultaneously. Inside baseball note: these consummate sophisticates have been, like, totally owning the Warped Tour, thus they were allowed to get this watershed of quintessential art reviewed in the paper despite its transparent aims. But anyway, our magnum opus of whatever opens with “Blue Monday,” a weenie-ish jolt of Dillinger Escape Plan worship that eventually relaxes on its keester and devolves into something totally Metal Blade Band of the Week. But once that hurdle in your workday is cleared, move on to “Go West Young Man,” a better breed of Bullet For My Valentine-vs-Red-Chord screamo-demon girly-man hatefulness, the sound they stick with, intelligently enough, for “In the Ashes,” others.
The Crash, Pony Rides (Rykodisc)
Finnish geeks doing stupid Britpop tricks for Americans. If you’d finally succeeded in forgetting all about neo-60s/70s taxi-cab-radio brain-rot, be ready for a Friday the 13th moment as the genre receives its biggest shot in the arm since perhaps its onset in this splattery mess of Beatle-boot organ, Bread vocals and bucketload of Strokes influence – think Scissor Sisters in general or OK Go with more historical accuracy. The title track leads off the set, its beat pretty much the same as Los Bravos’ "Black is Black," which for whatever reason inspires some of singer Teemu Brunila’s better Gnarls-meets-Billy Corrigan falsettos. Everything here is so enthusiastic it makes Datarock look like Depeche Mode – "Big Ass Love" could have been Franz Ferdinand covering "Kung Fu Fighting," while "Stalker" is first-album Gnarls under a glitter ball. The buzz factor here for this where-the-hell-did-this-come-from import is similar to that of the Teddy Bears LP of last year, and US TV will probably be inundated with this gunk backgrounding half its commercials.
Behrouz, Nervous Nitelife: Pure Behrouz NYC (Nervous Records)
One way for me to atone for not having written up Oscar G’s Nervous Nitelife: Miami – stomping, organic, blissful, essential collection of tribal house that it is – was to somehow survive this nearly-as-good mix thrown together by the top-dog DJ of Pacha Ibiza, a dance club you’re instantly familiar with if you’re young and have enough money to make normal rich people hate your guts.
Two CDs here, the first one leading off with King Street Crew’s old-school “Things U Do 2 Me,” a tiresome warmup that’s only missing a voiceover describing a
Tito Puente and His Orchestra, Live at the 1977
One super-sized care package of jazz received here recently came from Monterey Jazz Records, this instant-classic being only the tip of iceberg. As iceberg tips go, though, it’s amazing, finding the King of Latin Music going nuclear at the Super Bowl of jazz, his hands and sticks moving up through the gears of his timbales in the run-up to an animated rendition of “Para Los Rumberos” (Punte’s universally familiar salsa tune, the one that invokes Vegas-bound jetliners the way bread bespeaks butter).
Immediately following this is another world-famous artifact, “Oye Como Va,” heavy on the cha-cha, another Puente work that most folks automatically credit to Santana, after which comes “Babarabatiri,” an irresistible mambo singalong. Also on board is a cha-cha version of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” an homage to Stevie Wonder, who, Puente explains to the crowd, was instrumental in having Latin music recognized by the National Academy of Recording Artists and Composers.
Bigelf, Cheat the Gallows (Custard Records)
If Jeff Lynne of ELO had been a horror fan, hadn’t been an uncannily great songwriter and Ozzy had been his singer this is what might have resulted. But Bigelf has no problem playing second fiddle 30-odd years after the fact, and in fact such rich hindsight has allowed a lot of (intentionally, lord hear our prayer) funny little quirks into their time warp, perhaps even more so than in their debut, praised, or so I recall doing, last year.
I have to admit that your Saeger alarm should be going off, since in this record’s case I didn’t become nauseatingly familiar with the songs; my diagnosis of a half-assed songwriting job was arrived at strictly through a couple of passes made while being on the lookout for slam-dunk listenability, thus a ham-handed CSI is in order simply because the chances are astronomical that I detest what you usually listen to. So here goes: “Gravest Show on Earth” is the Elton John band doing your least favorite Ozzy song, and…
Oh shut up – these fire-tailed wingnuts want to be Alan Parsons Project and Pink Floyd rolled into one is what it is. All that’s missing is a slightly better job of recording the lead singer and they’d bum-rush the whole 70s-nostalgia marketing space.
Lost Boys: The Tribe [Soundtrack] (Adrenaline Records)
Like anyone not in his/her teens or 20s, I cringed at the thought of this movie and literally went out of my way not to see it (ditto with the rest of mankind — it went straight to
Other than that, though, rock on, and stuff. When spared the insult of watching Corey Feldman pathetically begging for a little chicken feed by reprising his Edgar Frog role, one can’t help but notice that this soundtrack is as pop-culture-relevant as that of the 1980s "classic." Aiden’s power-chord version of "Cry Little Sister" isn’t the disaster you’re thinking it is, for one, and hopefully the producers of the new film used Dave Gahan’s way-slick "Kingdom" when it came time to rip off the concert scene with Sweaty Muscle-bound Saxophone Guy. There are too many boneheaded nu-metal joints hanging around here, just as there were too many cheesebag synths in its predecessor, but The Von Bondies’ kook-goth "Only to Haunt You" is as fine a choice for this generation as Echo and the Bunnymen’s "People Are Strange" was to its. Also important to the historical record is the overly familiar sound of half-cocked Janes Addiction-oriented Robert Plant not-really-wannabes, a base covered here by Blind Melon in "For My Friends."
Elsiane, Hybrid (Nettwerk Records)
The pink-latex pretzel-girl manga album cover art for Hybrid is revelatory of its contents – if Portishead were the house band foir Cirque du Soleil this is what you’d get. Lovers of vocal gimmickry will find nirvana in Elsieanna Caplette’s naïve but not totally uninteresting method of operation, shifting her jaw from side to side and tightening various areas of her tongue to affect vocoder and phase-shifter sounds, the punchline being that she’s doing all this over synths that do a fine job of sounding like a wide-screen orchestra.
The slow, brooding “Vaporous” leans heavily on the strings that are a staple of modern Ronin cinema – think Jet Li contemplating his navel in a field of plum blossoms. Caplette’s bizarreness either fits the torchy, half-invisible “Mend (To Fix, Repair)” better or I had gotten used to her shtick by the time the song rolled around, while “Across the Stream” is a ski-adventure brochure for nut-hatches. The title track closes out the album in foreboding Die Form fashion.
Uh Huh Her, Common Reaction (Nettwerk Records)
Chick-flick indie-tronic duo co-piloted by Leisha Hailey, who portrays Alice Pieszecki on Showtimes’s The L-Word. A fusion of Loreena McKennitt, Sixpence None the Richer, Garbage and Sarah McLachlan, the vocals are overacted in the same way that gritty TV shows suffer from same; every breathy line is sung as though the girls are auditioning for the warmup slot for Celtic Woman. That’s not to detract at all from the pair’s seamless harmonies, so tight and indistinguishable they sound like the life’s work of twin sisters, but a little male vocalizing or hamming it up would have been a nice break, because as is, it’s a little too perfect, something regular Janes with respectably snarky intelligence would have a little trouble relating to.
As new-age-vs-bar-band escapism for the drive home from yoga class, however, it’s more than adequate. “Not a Love Song” sums up their core angle of McKennitt fronting Garbage, “Wait Another Day” has a refrain euphoric enough to calm the nerves of the most desperate soccer mom, and “Everyone” is punctuated with the bloopy orchestral hammer-ons native to Enya.
Juliana Hatfield, How to Walk Away (Ye Olde Records)
One of the great wonders of
Anyhow – average, thy name is How to Walk Away. No screamy stuff or daredevil Tori Amos stunts, simply pure non-toxic radio-rock with lyrics one would guess were written by Ally Sheedy’s kooky girl of Breakfast Club. The first 3 songs – the strummy “The Fact Remains,” the airy “Shining On” and the single-worthy “This Lonely Love” with former Psychedelic Fur Richard Butler – will run you $2.97 by my math; you’d be overspending if you wanted to own the rest, mostly Sheryl Crow filler with nary a pulse save for the post-riot-grrl-ish “So Alone.” The notes are precisely mapped out and strung together eloquently, all done more for making territory’s sake, it would seem, than listenability.
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