The Mechanical Boy
The Mechanical Boy truly threw me for a loop. I had no idea that Richmond, TX, was the musical place to be, but apparently it is. Musically, I totally hear Audioslave and the like in this band. I have mentioned countless times before that, in my book, metal blows chunks. Give me something new here, please. I'm not necessarily condemning an entire genre just because it does not fit my taste, but c'mon, the genre's so stale that even the good bands sound like remixes of someone's cover of an iconic cliché.
Now, you might be wondering "why did he start this review by stating that Richmond is the place to be?" Well, if you throw out the Audioslave similarities and that The Mechanical Boy doesn't offer anything you haven't already heard from the genre, you're left with really good musicians in perfect harmony with the record studio/record label on this particular effort (a three-song promo for an upcoming EP release). There's not one thing I can discern as not being perfectly done on these songs. The singer has a decent, albeit Cornell/Kiedis-knockoff-sounding, voice. All the musicians seem to have paid enough attention to the writing of their parts, as every song I was able to listen to was seamless. Nothing is overpowering anything else in the mix, and it wraps itself up nicely into the Mechanical Boy sound. The production qualities are superb, and everything is professional, to the point where you could tell someone was really nursing this baby out of the womb.
After hearing this, I'd recommend that all metal bands get their stuff done with the guys at Moshmellow Records. I mean, really, if you're going to make metal, you might as well go professional with it. In my opinion, that's way better than sounding like the only genre that's more played out -- "independent metal." In fact, these guys not only have a Website but a clearly defined mission statement, stable of bands, engineers, etc. Sounds like Moshmellow's bracing to bring metal back to the masses. (Shawn Rameshwar)
(Moshmellow Records -- 1860 FM 359 #105, Richmond, TX. 77469; http://www.moshmellowrecords.com/; The Mechanical Boy -- http://www.themechanicalboy.com/)
Oh, good grief. Where do I start? Okay, well, this is a three-piece outfit from Austin (one demerit there) led by a guy named Steve Tobin (guitarist, singer) along with a thudding (and now departed from the band) rhythm section. The liner notes and material on the band/Tobin's website tell the unfortunate story of Tobin's near-fatal car accident, after which he had to have reconstructive surgery on his left arm; the present album is, therefore, a clutch of pre-accident sessions from 1998. Stacking the deck even further against the Mentals was the fact that Tobin insisted on doing everything in one take, on a 4-track recorder, with not terribly spiffy microphones -- something you should only do if your band is really good, but I'll get to that.
Aside from all of this, the only thing you need to know about this record is that Tobin likes Nirvana -- a lot. This is a problem. "Down" replicates the riff of "Dive"; the irresponsibly titled "Alien Sex Fiend" is "Breed" minus the killer chorus; "Numb" sounds musically too much like "Dumb," natch; and on and on. Tobin uncannily nails down the weird hillbilly bawl that Kurt developed after In Utero; even the damn title of the album rips off Nevermind. Endless strummy ballad-like things clutter this CD, like the lazy, wounded cow bellowing of "Virgin Mary" and "Abyss"; the biggest sin he commits, I feel, is cracking the four-minute barrier on nearly all the songs. The best things I can say about it are that the relatively short "Without A Care" is almost like Nine Below Zero in its punky, major-chord weightlessness, the drummer was actually rather on point and knew how to support the shakier points in the songs with nifty, filigreed fills, and if I kinda forget what I'm listening to, I can gull myself into thinking that I'm listening to anything off of the Outcesticide boots -- at best, Tobin approaches the level of those early songs like "Pen Cap Chew," "Opinion," or "Marigold." If you think that sounds like praise to you, this is the record for you; if not, then you could safely skip it. (Marshall Armintor)
(4-Track Recordings -- P.O. Box 4450, Austin, TX. 78765-4450; http://www.4-track-recordings.4t.com/; The Mentals -- http://www.thementals.com/)
The Mercury Stars
Music like this restores my faith in indie-rock -- DIY rock with interesting vocals and straight-ahead, simple songs. On songs like "To Be Down," "BeKind," and "Options," New York City's Mercury Stars mix their New Wave-meets-post-rock stylings into some weird cross between Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order, and a lighter version of Queens of the Stone Age. It's an odd combination but one that works wonders -- The Mercury Stars' four-song EP is one of the most refreshing things listeners will hear this year. (David A. Cobb)
It's pretty refreshing to hear a reggae artists like Mishka, particularly if you, like me, have been bombarded with not much of the genre beyond gun-happy dancehall toasting in recent memory -- because let's face it, most of that's about as interesting as the glut of gangsta rap spawned by the likes of N.W.A. and the Wu-Tang. There is good stuff in there, yes, but you have to dig through a whole lot of dumb, violent, misogynistic, and just plain lame crap to get to it. Mishka, on the other hand, harks back the lyrical uplift of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, singing songs about love, hope, unity, and all that other sappy stuff most of us turn our noses up at when we're out with friends (but we secretly smile along to when we're alone). It's sweet, low-key, a little spooky (see the religious references of "Angels and Devils"), and surprisingly well-put-together, to boot.
I'll admit that I initially had the urge to dismiss Mishka, figuring him for another Snow -- a white-skinned "Caribbean" artist with little talent cynically trading on the history of reggae for some easy cash. After hearing One Tree, however, it's pretty obvious that I'd gotten it all wrong. Mishka's got a great voice, for one thing, a powerful, almost soul singer-esque voice a la Marvin Gaye, as well as a good sense of what makes a song work. On top of that, his music seems less to be an attempt to co-opt Bob Marley and company and more of a loving tribute, a reinvention of roots reggae for the modern era. At its most basic, One Tree is almost folk, nothing but Mishka and his guitar, but he mixes things up, as well, throwing in some more "electronic" touches, as on "Angels and Devils" (which is oddly reminiscent of the Gorillaz) and "Sometimes the Ones," and he's not afraid to get funky, James Brown-style, on tracks like "In a Serious Way" -- despite the fact that the song seems to be an attempt to convince the object of the singer's affections that he's not just some player.
While a lot of the album's good, the high point of the whole thing comes early, with "Love and Devotion," the album's second track, which is a smiling, slow grind-ready, buoyantly joyous proclamation of love that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Bob Marley's Kaya or son Ziggy's Conscious Party -- not bad company, if you ask me (although now that I'm thinking about it, it's the album's title track that comes closest to "Tomorrow People," especially with its message of unity). The album staggers a bit near the end, with "Rock With Me" and "Sometimes the Ones" sounding a little forced and unsteady (the effects on "Rock With Me," in particular, make the whole thing sound off-beat and wobbly, and not in a good way), but the instrumental "Dust Your Blood Dub," which is actually not really very dub-like but is just a delicate guitars-and-drums track, helps to bring things back up.
I have to say, though, that the weird thing about this album is that what One Tree makes me think of more than anything isn't Catch a Fire or Exodus, but a much more recent album -- Jack Johnson's In Between Dreams. Now, I wouldn't call Johnson himself reggae -- although he does throw some little touches of it into his music -- but he's a fellow island-dweller and surfer (though born of Canadian expat parents, Mishka's from the Caribbean island of Bermuda, and he apparently used to be a competitive windsurfer), and both musicians share a languid, rootsy, slack-stringed, sitting-around-on-a-porch-with-the-waves-crashing feel to their music.
Call it parallel evolution if you want, but the two almost feel like kindred spirits, and I tend to react the same way to both musicians; as with Johnson's albums, the stuff on One Tree doesn't make me want to jump up and dance, or rock out, or rush out and catch Mishka's live show. What it does make me to do is put it on the boom box and lounge in the pool in my backyard, floating around and around beneath the banana tree with my eyes closed and the sun warming my face. (Jeremy Hart)
(Cornerstone R.A.S. -- 27134B Paseo Espada Suite 222, San Juan Capistrano, CA. 92675; http://www.cornerstoneras.com/; Mishka -- http://www.mishka.com/)
Adventures of Me and Me
The title is really gonna say a lot, here. At first, I thought Tabitha Monet was signed and had a million dollars' worth of studio time behind this record. And yeah, I was still planning to say that it was recorded very well. Beyond that, the packaging looks like each CD cost $20 apiece. Turns out, though, that this was all done locally; that shows a lot of dedication, and says Ms. Monet's not going to go away. Even her Website looks like a million bucks.
Tabitha ("Tab," for short) lists her influences as Aimee Mann, PJ Harvey, Joni Mitchell, Ani Difranco, the Indigo Girls, Björk, Tori Amos, Portishead, Sarah McLachlan.... I'd say that the list could go on (and on and on) fairly predictably, and the record shows this, although she'd do well to draw more from PJ Harvey or one of the other "tougher" ladies on the list. There's a whole lot of Tori in this record; not as much man-hating, mind you, as occasionally aimless self-pity. The singing's angelic, similar in tone and style to Natalie Merchant's solo records, but I've never really liked it when people sing lyrics pulled from their diary. Her songs are better than that, but it does have that diary element. If you saw her at a piano bar, or playing a swanky hotel lobby, I'm thinking she'd seem pretty fantastic. I'll be rooting for her next record to be the one where "Tab" rocks. (Creg Lovett)
(self-released; Tabitha Monet -- http://www.tabithamonet.com/)
Warriors & Warlocks
On the press release for the Mystechs, it says they attempted to create an "opera about an unfortunate teenage soul who can no longer distinguish Dungeons and Dragons from reality" on Warriors & Warlocks. Hmm.
Good news first: there is some competent banjo picking on "Zombie Mountain," and the obvious punk influence of "Sweet 666teen" creates some semblance of normalcy. Other than that, it's terrible. Their cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" starts off interestingly, with a slinky techno groove, but it never leaves the ground or has any real passion. None of the songs on Warriors & Warlocks have any real passion or intensity. All the instrumentation is bare and uninteresting, as if no one in the band had any proficiency with any instrument but all were able to hit a one-two beat on the drums and strum a few power chords. Every word is well-enunciated and more said than sung, as if it were a line from a middle-school play. I can imagine how a live show could be interesting (especially if they had props, a la Spinal Tap, for their many songs of elven mischief and gothic zombies), but for listening, don't bother. (SCR Staff)
(Omega Point Records -- 4707 N. Springfield #2, Chicago, IL. 60625; http://www.omegapointrecords.com/; Mystechs -- http://www.mystechs.com/)