The Hammer Bros.
Political hip-hop can be quite good, if it's done correctly. Take Public Enemy or Rage Against the Machine, for example. With Free Palestine!, unfortunately, the Hammer Bros. fall short.
As painful as it is to write, very little about this album impresses. The production is mediocre, with simple, repetitive beats that are anything but engaging. The songs lack hooks and choruses, and the rhyming ability of the MCs is decent at best. There's hardly anything to catch the listener's attention. And it doesn't help that the MCs' "wrong-side-of-the-tracks" accents sounded artificial, even forced.
Two tracks do manage to stand out, however -- one in a positive way and another negatively. The first one, "Rollin' with the Hulk," is just the slightest bit catchy, and the other, "ucaneatmydoodoo," is a disturbing, childish romp. The song's message is metaphorical, I'll grant, but it still gives the listener a disgusting mental image.
The Hammer Bros. don't shine on this album, but they show that they know how to get out there and make a record. The lack of this is what holds many aspiring artists back. If they work on their songwriting skills, production, and rhyming abilities, they could release some great songs in the future. For now, though, Free Palestine! is not recommended for listening pleasure. (PG)
(self-released; The Hammer Bros. -- http://www.urbanjoint.com/Artistpg.asp?artistid=2151)
Plastic Bag Ambitions
Shortest... Album... Ever. At about sixteen and a half minutes, France's The Hatepinks' 2005 disc, Plastic Bag Ambitions, is typical get in-get out, in-your-face, fast as possible, world-hating punk. As far as punk goes, though I'm not a punk fan, this was pretty cool. The problem with punk, in my opinion, is that all the songs tend to sound exactly the same. There's usually lots of energy, but no depth. This isn't about my like or dislike of punk, however, so I'll leave that for later. The Hatepinks seem to use humorous song titles and scathing lyrics that reflect the angst and styles of the original greats -- this isn't radio-friendly, Green Day/Offspring pseudo-pop-punk, mind you. This seems to be the real deal. If you're a punk fan, this CD should be welcome on your shelf. (CM)
(TKO Records -- 8941 Atlanta Ave., #505, Huntington Beach, CA 92646; http://www.tkorecords.com/; The Hatepinks -- http://hatepinks.free.fr/)
Hell's House Band
I'd never heard of Hell's House Band before I got the chance to review their album Dozen Lies, and yes, my literal first impression was that this actually does sound like the house band in hell. The guitar work is gritty with a tangible, scummy blues feel. At least, that's the impression I got from the first song, "Dozen Lies," from which the album was named. The next song, however, gave me a weird Edie Brickell-esque feel with a slightly fuzzy walking bass line and a strangely accompanied Red Hot Chili Peppers harmonic vocal arrangement, and oddly enough, the rest of the album sort of gave glimpses of a Tom Waits vibe in the mix, to boot.
This band really caught me off guard. I enjoyed their range in songwriting, such that I never quite knew what sort of song was coming next -- for example, a slow song usually led into a slower song, and the band pulled it off because the mood still varied among the more sublime moments of human experience. It's hard to make a sad song not depressing, and in my estimation, that takes talent and work. I'll admit that this isn't the best band known to man and, unless it grows on me, I might forget about 'em and leave the disc in a pile next to my stereo. It is the band, however, that you hear in your best friend's car that makes you ask him/her, "Hey, who is that you're playing?" (SR)
(Hard Soul Records -- 701 E. 3rd St., Suite #315, Los Angeles, CA. 90013; http://www.hardsoulrecords.com/)
Most albums have some combination of good songs, mediocre songs, and bad songs. Really good songs are rare, and really bad songs are probably more rare. Tragic City, by Taylor Hollingsworth, is something of an achievement: all of the songs on the album are either really good or really bad, with no middle ground.
The first song, "Take the Money," starts with a really annoying riff, but then when the verse starts, it becomes a good mid-tempo Wilco-esque rocker. That pretty much sets the precedent for the rest of the record. Except for that intro, the first five songs on the record are really good almost through and through. The second song, "Little Queenie," is a caustic Replacements-style uptempo rocker featuring the E Street Horns (hey, they're not busy these days). The third song, "I'm a Runaway," is a true Lou Reed homage, down to the artfully dissonant Robert Quine solo (he's paying attention!). The fourth song, "Duct Tape Heart," is the big single, with the female harmonies, the breakdown, and the big guitar solo -- it's slightly weaker than the others, but only slightly. The fifth song, "How Could You Be So Cold," is a great uptempo rocker, even better for all the third-hand Dylanism.
After number five, however, is where it all starts to go wrong. The sixth song, "Gambling Barroom Blues," is an incredibly annoying tuneless blues song that sounds like it was supposed to be some kind of Dylan parody but goes on way too long for it to remain funny. This is where Hollingsworth's judgement starts to slip. The seventh song, "When Eye Get Around," attempts to redeem things, but it's not that good a song (it may be the only truly so-so song on the record). The next one, "Like a Cave," sounds like an awful Blondie outtake so bad it wouldn't even be re-released on a reissue. From that point on, Tragic City is all varying levels of irritance. There's one pretty country song called "Bonnie and Clyde" later on, which has some questionable lyrics redeemed by a pretty melody, but it's swimming in extremely deep waters. "Head-On Collision" would have been just an okay song, but the guitar part it's loaded with brings it to the ground; same for "Heart Attack." "In From the Storm" combines a moderately annoying melody with incredibly irritating harmonies. "One Stop Motel" swings back and forth between a decent chorus and really annoying verses. The mystery track may reach new levels of irritation -- sandwiched between two J. Mascis guitar solos is the most annoying vocal part on the record. At this point, everybody should know that vocoders are banned from all records, but Hollingsworth goes ahead and uses one anyway.
It's an impressive achievement to write any kind of good songs, but in some ways it's more impressive that this guy wrote so many profoundly irritating ones. There's no doubt that he's got some kind of talent. The question the this record leaves you with is: will he choose to use his talent for good? Or for evil? (HM)
(Brash Music -- 658 11th Street NW, Atlanta, GA. 30318; http://www.brashmusic.com/; Taylor Hollingsworth -- http://www.taylorhollingsworth.com/)
The Deadly Poison
When a band asks "How old have we become?" on a song called "Fartknocker," one has to wonder how the rest of the album's gonna play out. For Tennessee-based Hotpipes, the result, The Deadly Poison, is part middle-of-the-road jam band, part indie-rock, with a dash of soul and the blues thrown in. Their music seems tailor-made for the college music circuit, and who knows -- maybe the band's hoping for a sidestage gig at next year's Bonnaroo Festival. They seem like they'd be a perfect fit.
But music's only part of the game, and unfortunately, lines like "Love has the most subtle sting" ("Dix Dix") and "It's a drag when every road is paved with ways to be yourself" ("B-Line") do little more than remind listeners how deep the band wants them to think it is and how shallow the music really happens to be. While none of The Deadly Poison's songs are horrible -- and the vocals sound very similar to Chris Cornell, which is a good thing, in my opinion -- there's just nothing that sticks. Given the number of bands struggling to make it in today's musical landscape, maybe the boys should have let their Music City roots influence the album a bit more. It might have given it some depth. (DAC)
(Vacant Cage Records -- 2557 Oakhill Dr., Murfreesboro, TN. 37130; http://www.vacantcagerecords.com/; Hotpipes -- http://www.hotpipesmusic.com/)
The Hourly Radio
lure of the underground - EP
No offense to Texas band The Hourly Radio, but after listening to lure of the underground, I'm simply not getting all the U2 comparisons in their press materials. Now, before anybody balks, let me say that I actually mean that as a compliment. Don't get me wrong -- U2 is a wonderful, revolutionary, epic band, and their music unfolds accordingly. The Hourly Radio, on the other hand, is more intimate; it draws you in and envelops you. It's crafted on a different level and speaks to its audience in a much different language. Without getting on a soapbox here, there are many lovely British bands that are well-known and allow for easy comparisons; why does U2 have to always be the go-to band?
At any rate, those British bands, people like Placebo, Suede, and Blur, are more akin to the type of sounds you can expect on this CD. The plaintive undertone to singer Aaron Closson's voice catches you from the beginning in "First Love is Forever" and, much like a first love, leaves you wanting more as it trails off into a closing instrumental. You know that moment in Cruel Intentions when the Placebo song cues up and Sebastian is driving across the bridge in that gorgeous car? The camera pans back and everything is so grand in the picture, but its meaning and the background music are deep and personal. I can totally hear "Fear of Standing Upright" or "Stealing Off" in that kind of situation. Maybe that's what draws me to this album so much; it invokes the attention and the interest those bands and that movie did and still bring out for me.
Far from sounding over-produced and clean, lure of the underground manages to provide some of the live show atmosphere without falling too far into it. The guitar, bass, and drums actually all work together, fusing into something at once comprehensive and askew. It's really rare that you find this measure of true collaboration. No one element is stronger and more in focus than any other, and it all seems to drift and flow with equal grace. "Travelsigns," the final song on this six-track EP, has no actual lyrics at all and yet it stands up as well as every other. If you've ever tried to imagine the melding of strength and grace, lure of the underground might be the very picture you were looking for. (JR)
(Kirtland Records -- 3100 Main St., Suite 347, Dallas, TX. 75226; http://www.kirtlandrecords.com/; The Hourly Radio -- http://www.thehourlyradio.com/)