Luxury, or whether it is better to be loved than feared
Despite the title above, I'd have to postulate that it is possible to be both loved and feared, and hold up this CD as proof. The second album from Dallas' Captain Audio is definitely worth loving -- intending only a cursory first listen, I ended up going through the whole damn thing three times in a row (and then wrote this). But it's also pretty fearsome, as well; Captain Audio make me afraid in the same way that bands like The Pixies, Brainiac, and Smart Went Crazy make me afraid, simply by sheer force of originality. I find myself listening, dumbfounded, trying to figure out how the heck the world must sound to these folks, that they'd come up with something like Luxury.
The disc veers back and forth between styles, ping-ponging off Son Volt country-rock (the incongrously-titled whiskey-fueled roughness of "Velvet"), bombastic glam-rock ("All in the Everything," which sounds like Brian Eno as revisited recently on the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack), electronic Moog noodling ("Piano Robotico I" & "Piano Robotico II"), and heavy psychedelic rock jams ("Piano Robotico III," which eschews synths for a guitar raveup and weird, floating vocals). The opener, "Lemon," stands out as one of the high points, here -- it starts slowly, building from street noises to "We Will Rock You" handclaps/stomping to majestic, hypnotic indie-rock, a little reminiscent of Tsunami, but maybe with some Sonic Youth thrown in for fun; then it slowly retreats, quietly breaking back down to nothing. Also standouts are the crazy party track "Preséntame A Tu Novio," the only bad part of which is when it fades out and then back in twice before crashing to a stop, and "Take It Like A Pill," which sounds something like the soundtrack song to a high-speed, outer-space Speed Racer.
Throughout, the band never misses a beat, keeping everything humming right along, catchy and infectious as hell. Even when you think the song's fallen apart, as with "Los Pedasos," where the whole thing collapses close to the end into fits of sampled, out-of-place guitars, the band pulls it back together for a triumphant reprise and arena-rock fadeout. There are a few "Texas" touches on here, by the way, like songs sung in Spanish and echoey slide guitars, but they're just enough to establish Captain Audio's voice as a distinctive one. It's hard to get a handle on, occasionally, but by the time they get to the brilliant line "you get the silverware, I'll get the alcohol/we'll leave 'em all in pieces," in the album's closer "Goodbye Suite," Luxury is just about perfect. (JH)
(Last Beat Records -- 2819 Commerce St., Dallas, TX. 75226; http://www.lastbeatrecords.com/)
Alone in a Crowd
NOT ANOTHER SKA BAND! Well, yes, and it's not as bad as you might think...quite the contrary, as a matter of fact. As you've read in other reviews, most bands with horns have horrible mixes on their CDs, but not in this case -- the mixdown on this disc is among the best I've heard in a long time, if ever. Aside from the excellent production quality, these guys are amongst the best ska-type band around. They blend elements of punk and rock in their unique style of ska music, and do so in a convincing manner. If you are a fan of Less Than Jake or the Suicide Machines, you have to check out Catch 22, because they are just as good, if not better than the aforementioned acts. They are constantly touring, so be sure to check them out when they hit your town. If their live show packs as much power and energy as this CD, you will be in for a show of a lifetime. (RZ)
(Victory Records -- 346 N. Justine, Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/; Catch 22 -- http://www.njcatch22.com/)
Jay Clarkson's Kindle is the type of CD that sounds really good after you've seen the artist perform live, preferably in a small club. It's also the type that you try in vain to get your friends to like; instead of creating a connection between performer and listener, it sort of implies one that already exists. More than anything else, Kindle sounds like an ad for Clarkson's gigs, or maybe a future album.
That album will probably be a good one (and, for all I know, may well already be out in her native New Zealand), but for the time being, Kindle is what we've got, a CD whose muffled electric guitar quasi-folk sounds awfully unfinished at times. The songs, mostly drumless (preprogrammed keyboard beats usually serve as percussion), suggest a slightly more ornate Cat Power, while Clarkson's voice sounds like a mixture between Margo Timmins, a deeper and less warbly Victoria Williams and just a skosh of PJ Harvey's less frenzied moments. The whole album's pitched at an unsettling minor key; the organ and vibraphone in "Time," for instance, bring to the fore an Angelo Badalamenti feel that bubbles just beneath the surface throughout. The end result is how I imagine Jeff Buckley's quieter bits sound to folks who don't much like him. That tells me there's almost certainly an audience for Clarkson. I'm just surprised that it's not me. (MH)
(Arclife -- Arc Cafe, 135 High St., Dunedin, NEW ZEALAND; http://coffee.co.nz/)
Hit For Six
The cricket reference of the title notwithstanding, there's little throughout the duration of Hit For Six that would suggest that Consumed hail from the British Isles (unless you pay far more attention to the placement of the steering wheel on the bus on the back cover and the lane location of the moving vehicles on the inside spread than I'd care to know about). Less London punk than SoCal hardcore, Hit For Six speeds along briskly enough and packs a reasonable wallop during the course of its 14 tracks. Too bad for them that I can't remember a single song the second it's over. Actually, that's not entirely true, but I'm not convinced that I'd be able to recall "Twat Called Maurice" if I didn't think that they were, on some level, making fun of the Jam. Unfortunately, that's the only level on which they connect; viscerally, sonically, intellectually and that-nebulous-unexplainable-magically, they don't even register. It's like they don't even know those levels exist. But hell, I'm not clawing at my ears while it's playing, so I'll let others give them the benefit of the doubt they may well deserve and be on my merry way. (MH)
(Fat Wreck Chords -- P.O. Box 193690, San Francisco, CA. 94119; http://www.fatwreck.com/; Consumed -- http://www.consumedhq.com/)