Jet Black Kiss, Star Rock Lights

Jet Black Kiss, Star Rock Lights

OK, now. Close your eyes really tight and try to imagine Alice Cooper performing periodically with keyboards. That’s a pretty fair description of most of the material contained within the first self-released Jet Black Kiss album, Star Rock Lights. A functional nom de plume for musical artist Robert Liam of Los Angeles, Jet Black Kiss pours on the pseudonyms even further by referring to Liam on the album merely under the lone moniker of “Simon.” Make no mistake about it, though: the whole thing boils down to just the one person who all-inclusively wrote, performed, and produced everything on this set from his personal studio in Southern California. Though Simon, as it were, is currently auditioning musicians to form a live stage act, this recorded collection represents his virtual take on what Jet Black Kiss will likely evolve into when it eventually takes on more literal, humanized elements.

The aforementioned comparison to Cooper and company might be a bit oversimplified, but not by too much. After hearing Simon sing throughout, I have to say that he’s about the closest thing to a Vincent Furnier vocal deadringer that I’ve ever heard. Take away the lowest reaches of Alice’s mumbled growls and add the periodic shrills of Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil, and you have a quasi-verbatim copy of Simon’s vocal range and leanings.

By and large, the instrumental usage and musical arrangements fit pretty squarely within the hard rock-to-older-heavy-metal category. As far as rock styles are concerned, there’s not really much new here. In fact, even though there are a few smatterings of progressive and post-punk properties sparingly doled out here and there, the lion’s share of the tracks simply play on retroactive, well-established hard rock features developed over the last three decades or so. Star Rock Lights might have been a cutting edge candidate in the late ’70s, but it’s pretty standard fare today compared to the differing sub-genres and experimental content that are toyed around with in today’s multi-directional music market. As such, the album is a good and pretty solid example of up-tempo, guitar-layered, fairly bombastic and rough-edged pieces, accompanied for the most part by gravelly-yet-melodious lead vocals.

Still, there are two definite areas where the songs depart markedly from traditional hard rock renderings. First, where the bottom and high ends are usually brought up in most mixes of this type, Simon has chosen to attenuate rather than accentuate these frequencies. The resulting sound is relatively flatter around the extremities; much less of the in-your-face, John Bonham drums or Doug Pinnick bass headbanging ambience one usually expects in such cases. If this was done by design, then as a byproduct it succeeds in enhancing the keyboard and other mids quite effectively. This observation segues into the second difference, where Simon creatively punches in keyboard synth-instrumentation to introduce a subtle symphonic fullness into the sonic landscape on several songs. Far less prominent in presence than bands like Evanescence or Styx, to be sure, the crafted effect of this slight nuance, along with the previously-stated mix qualities, comes off sounding either somewhat surreal or somewhat tinny, depending on your personal music taste and expectations. Now, don’t get me wrong — Jet Black Kiss is still going to get down and rock your socks off, just not to the overwhelmingly bass-pounding kickdrum degree of a lot of other bands in this same general category. If Simon isn’t totally wedded to the idea of compressing all of the outer edges toward the middle, I would personally suggest that he make the bass heavier/hotter and highs just a tad crisper on his next recording project. It would give the recording a much more extreme, modern-sounding edge and feel to it, and any trade-offs might be well worth it.

A clear majority of the cuts on Star Rock Lights are just great rock songs, of the Alice Cooper, Mötley Crüe, Joan Jett-on-steroids ilk. My personal dubs from the collection are “She’s An Alien,” a dramatically-fused mixture of ’70s heavy metal and glam rock influences, “A Road Called Psychosis,” a synth-filled Cooper-esque rock anthem with dark lead guitar work, the monotonically-ranting title track, with its thoroughly punk-laden strains, repetitive and slightly dischording riff patterns, and pedal-to-the metal vocatives, and “The Secret Door,” which invokes an on-the-beat vocal echo effect the likes of which I haven’t heard since Brit-invasion experimentation. (Certainly more like The Blues Magoos or something here than Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” FX or whatnot.)

Listeners who like their rock music hard and the vocals a bit on the gratingly-coarse-yet-melodic side will probably enjoy this album. Though currently available only via MP3 download, a CD version release is planned by mid-2008. All Alice Cooper fans really should check this stuff out. For now, just go to the appropriate site and click on that old download button. Uh-oh, please excuse me. I’m not playing the game right. I guess I should have prefaced all this by saying, “Simon says…”

(self-released; Jet Black Kiss --

Review by . Review posted Thursday, July 3rd, 2008. Filed under Reviews.

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