Ambiances Magnetiques Volume 4: Mystere
This album is the fourth volume in a series of compilations of music released by the Montreal-based label Ambiances Magnetiques. The label's emphasis is on works by French-Canadian musicians, and the music itself often tends to fall somewhere near the intersections of art music with rock, jazz, and experimental forms. Although a compilation of various artists, the album works surprisingly well as a whole; many of the tracks induce a feeling of quiet contemplation while the musical events unfold. If you're curious about the art music coming out of Quebec these days, (and really, who isn't?) this is your ticket. (CP)
(Ambiances Magnétiques -- 4580, avenue de Lorimier, Montréal, QUEBEC H2H 2B5, CANADA; http://www.electrocd.com/)
The soundtrack to an as-yet-unreleased horror film by Sadie Shaw and Sarah Reed, Charm falls together theatrically if you listen to it in order, with an overture and epilogue sandwiching a mix of moody electronics, creaky noises, pop, country, dance music, noise, and a little bit of rock. So far, the only info regarding the film is on the enhanced CD, which shows a short and oddly riveting trailer of morose faces, sex, ladies with pigtails, and blood.
Judging from the soundtrack and trailer, it seems that Charm is more ambient and and creepy than horrific, which makes for an interesting listen, both as background and as a focus. It's mostly instrumental, but a few songs have vocals, while others have great samples ("Dear Diary, my teen angst bullshit has a body count"). A languid rendition of "You Really Got a Hold on Me," by The Face Family Players, and "I Told a Lie To My Heart," a stripped-down-girl-with-a-poky-guitar ditty by Juanita Family and Friends, lope along peacefully, while "Appetite," by Deerhoof, is a minute and a half of an ambling sonic meltdown.
Some of the tracks sound as if your friend got their hands on some keyboards and samplers and had some stupid fun. "Dansk Floor," by Concentrik, for example, has a synth loop or two over an "oomph-shh-oomph, diggidadiggida, oomph-shh-oomph" dance beat. "Jolly Roger," by The Need, plays like an Olympia-style sea shanty with a drum machine and keyboards, and "Forwarding Address," by 27 Faces (two members of Mocket), is one of the few stompers on the soundtrack, and makes you dance like a fool.
Overall, its a great CD for hanging around the house on a rainy day, and a good introduction to more electronically-derived music for those that are staunch believers in guitar/drum/bass instrumentation. Not exactly eclectic by todays standards, Charm mixes it up while remaining consistent. (AP)
(Kill Rock Stars -- 120 NE State Ave. #418, Olympia, WA. 98501; email@example.com; http://www.killrockstars.com/; 5 Rue Christine -- firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.5rc.com/)
Coming Up: Independent Artists Pay Tribute To The Music of Paul McCartney
Listen To What The Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute To The Music of Paul McCartney
The very reasons that pop aficionados so gleefully deride him are essentially what make Paul McCartney ideal for a tribute album. Songs as starkly honest and resonant as those by -- oh, let's be random and say John Lennon -- tend to make performers look like fools unless they happen to be geniuses themselves (cf. Melissa Etheridge's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" v. Neil Young's "Imagine"). The very insignificance of McCartneys lyrical content, on the other hand, absolves anybody daring to cover him of wrongdoing. The results won't change the world, sure, but at least some lucky musician gets to grab hold of a fine pop song for four minutes.
So even though it's not a very sexy idea (low-risk propositions never are), it's frankly a wonder that nobody's thought of putting together collections like Listen To What The Man Said and Coming Up before now. Both CDs put together constitute a moderately comprehensive survey of McCartney's oeuvre, as well as a handy reminder that despite your selective recollections, his songs actually tend to split into two camps; when he's not celebrating domesticity (or mourning its loss, or anticipating its return), he cheerfully makes a beeline for the surreal and bizarre (check "Jet," "Band On The Run" and "Temporary Secretary," one two). It's the (relatively) hitless latter group that's largely absent from McCartney's Wingspan package, which (along with the Matthew Sweet-endorsed documentary) seems to have unofficially primed the pump and provided coattails for these CDs to grab a hold of.
One thing remains clear, and it is the same flaw that dogs nearly every tribute album you can name: these songs are, with very few exceptions, better heard in their original versions (although I can appreciate that some folks might be wary of wading again through McCartney's full catalog). And, sorry, you'll find nothing from the Beatles era. The selections chosen (to demonstrate that Macca's crucial output didn't stop when he said goodbye to his schoolmates, one presumes) are all solo McCartney or Wings, which only an idiot or a McCartney would not consider to be the same thing. We are, however, spared a run-through of "Uncle Albert (Admiral Halsey)," although keen listeners will spot an homage to this most annoying of all McCartney songs during Cliff Hillis's version of "This One."
Released separately, Listen and Coming Up are as independent of each other as Use Your Illusion I and II, which is to say that they're not. The only possible excuse for someone being interested in one but not the other would be if he or she were a hardcore fan of a specific contributor but not -- and it seems preposterous for me to even complete this sentence -- a fan of McCartney. That said, each CD develops its own unique character, although this is more of a conceptual consideration, especially considering that the titles each lie to you twice before the shrinkwrap's been torn off. The distinction between the "popular" artists showcased on Listen and the "independent" artists on Coming Up seems somewhat arbitrary; have the Merrymakers and Linus of Hollywood burned up the charts since last I looked? "Coming Up," meanwhile, appears on Listen (in a muscular version by the John Faye Power Trip), and although the Judybats give us its uncharacteristically moody B-side, "Listen To What The Man Said" is nowhere to be found (a situation I chalk up to collective good taste).
The true difference between the two CDs lies in the choice of material. Listen tends toward a more hit-based selection, both in terms of individual songs and albums (nearly half of the disc derives from just two albums, Band On The Run and McCartney). Coming Up is a touch more experimental, with a spectrum of sources wide enough to include not only a song from 1997's Flaming Pie (Phil Keaggy's multi-acoustic "Somedays") but four single-only cuts, including two B-sides (one of which, "Oh Woman, Oh Why," is more than 30 years old). The overlap is kept to a minimum, with only three songs making appearances on both CDs. Matthew Sweet's and Mark Bacino's arrangements of "Every Night" cancel each other out by being mostly indistinguishable not only from each other but from McCartney's original. SR-71's punky "My Brave Face" on Listen is the victor by judge's decision over Star Collector's power-poppier run-through, despite the latter's superior "Now that I'm alone again" harmonies. As for "Maybe I'm Amazed," the Virgos' cover from Listen takes it by a country mile over Gadget White Band's more pedestrian bar-band take by virtue of a combination of tougher guitars, the muted-bass attack on the ascending riff and a vocal take by Brett Hestla that so accurately nails the spirit of McCartney's lost-marbles screaming that it no longer qualifies as imitation or even homage but instead achieves a sort of brilliance on its own.
After that, it's every song for itself. The reunited Soft Boys crank out a fine version of "Let Me Roll It" that is perplexingly straighter than the original and less perplexingly (but still dismayingly) credited only to Robyn Hitchcock. Owsley does nothing particularly different with "Band On The Run" and admits as much, and it still sounds pretty damn good. Cherry Twister's "Another Day" (in which a liberated Eleanor Rigby gets a job and sleeps around) makes an implicit argument that the song would be hailed as a moving slice-of-life précis if it were by, say, the Zombies (which this version might as well be). McCartney II turns out to yield fertile ground for both discs (possibly because Paulie's performances were so awful to begin with): the Andersons crassly admit that "Temporary Secretary" isn't a particularly good song and spit out a killer version nonetheless, while Sloan's "Waterfalls" is just plain lovely without being cloying. In a song declaring, "I need love/Like a second needs an hour/Like a raindrop needs a shower," that's nothing less than a small miracle.
Which is, quite frankly, what McCartney has been giving the world for the past three decades (I posit that his stock-in-trade before that was large miracles). The last track on Coming Up sets it out about as plainly as possible. It's "Back On My Feet" (from a mid-'80s single), and as performed by Cockeyed Ghost, it starts out as ultra-slick pop-rock, with a too-bright piano and ultra-processed guitar and drums (ready reference: Split Enz's "Strait Old Line"). Somewhere around the first chorus, though, the instruments gel into a unit, not fierce but friendly and encouraging, and that tingle of ineffible magic begins. The song bursts into a chorus of optimistic longing, full of harmony vocals that surround the melody as if protecting it from harm when we know good and well that it's indestructible. The song closes on a repeated bridge of impossible tunefulness, leaving the world with a simple fact, the true reason for putting together a McCartney tribute and the only one necessary: the guy absolutely deserves it. (MH)
(Oglio Records -- P.O. Box 404, Redondo Beach, CA. 90277; http://www.oglio.com/)
Down to the Promised Land: 5 Years of Bloodshot Records
Down to the Promised Land is an astonishingly good introduction to Bloodshot's bands and friends. Loosely focused on "alt-country," the label encompasses a lot of roots-inspired music, some of which stretches that category pretty far, but it's all consistently good... which is even more startling when you're talking about two CDs of bands you've never heard.
It's actually the smaller bands that are the most interesting to hear. The Yayhoos provide the perfect opener for the record with their pure energy and drive, and then Hazeldine achieves a chilling intensity worthy of Hüsker Dü's darkest moments. Andre Williams and Sally Timms together turn both loud electric country and Barry White-style soul on their respective heads. The Unholy Trio covers "Bring the Noise," not with a beat but with a thump reminiscent not of Hank Sr. but of Tom Ashley -- neither quite understands what it is that they're playing, but they know that they must play the song, that there is no question of their not playing. And the Sadies don't do anything to call your attention to "Milk and Scissors," the way the Handsome Family do -- they just lift the song up on their shoulders and sing it (partly to simply let everyone hear the song for itself, and partly in hopes that it will go away and stop pervading their dreams), and it sounds even more ancient and peculiar than the original (which is pretty ancient and peculiar itself). And there are plenty of other bands that deserve mention, besides.
There are two or three songs that don't quite come off, but even these have merit: Robbie Fulks' smarminess runs through his Leon Redbone impersonation on "Bloodshot's Turning 5" and makes the song work. The Supersuckers do the same thing with "The Least I Could Do," except that it probably should have been less so. And the Wacos' cover of "Baba O'Riley" isn't the best cover on the record (though it's not bad; for pure entertainment value, though, see Red Star Belgrade doing "Highway to Hell"). Like I implied above, the bands that you've heard of tend to be the least interesting ones.
When you listen to Down to the Promised Land, you can't believe that so much stuff on these two CDs is that good. So you play them again, trying to convince yourself, sure, there's a song here and there that isn't quite as good. But the more you listen to each song and say, this sounds like a ringer, by the time the song is done, you say, I really liked that one. And by the end of both CDs you're still sitting there, saying, hey, what happened to all the bad ones? (HM)
(Bloodshot Records -- 912 W. Addison, Chicago, IL. 60613; email@example.com; http://www.bloodshotrecords.com/)
Dublab Presents: Freeways
The truth is, I'm still getting into electronic music. I mostly listen to indie-rock, but I like electronic music; mostly, my exposure comes from my roommates playing their latest electro-dub-funk tracks or from what I hear on the latest Darla sampler. So, getting to review this Dublab comp is quite a treat. Freeways is a compilation of producers living in Los Angeles, CA., including both bedroom producers and professional veterans who operate their own labels. The variety of landscapes in Los Angeles is reflected in the scope of styles on this disc, from the African flavors of Adam Rudolph's "Nawa" to the combination of symphonic loops, typing, and Casio bleeps of Daedelus "A Mashnote." There is lots of good stuff here; some tracks meander a bit, like the aforementioned "Nawa," but it's still an interesting exploration. My favorite track may well be John Tejada's "I'll See You in a Place with Lights." It grooves with just the right amount of funky bleeps and synth pads to keep me interested and feeling chilly-chill. Dublab Presents: Freeways is a great starting point to exploring electronic music, if you haven't already begun to do so. If you have, this may reacquaint you with some old friends or introduce you to some new ones. (KM)
(Dublab.com -- 707 North Ridgewood #201, Los Angeles, CA. 90038; http://www.dublab.com/)
The Emo Diaries V: I Guess This Is Goodbye
So I'm listening to this, the latest (and arguably best) entry in a great series from Deep Elm, while I'm working out at the gym (don't ask me how I didn't create some sort of dimensional rift by listening to emo while lifting weights, that's another matter entirely). The first track, "Looking Past Sky" from The White Octave, made me want to get off of the treadmill and go home. It just tired me out by being almost really good... but there's still that something that keeps The White Octave from really connecting with me. Too all over the place, I guess.
After that, the disc hit its stride (as did I) with a great track from Dallas Slowride that totally made up for the ambiguous start of this collection. From then on, each track was choice, although it almost got questionable with the third track from Reuben's Accomplice, which starts off with plaintive cries of "calculus, geometry, calculus, geometry"; here would be the perfect ammo for emo-bashers if the song wasn't so damn catchy and well-constructed. H-town is even represented (sort of) with Eniac, which includes ex-Ventolator Mike McAloon on drums. The be-all and end-all on this album has to be Cast Aside's "Racecar Theory," which is an incendiary track featuring dual male and female vocal work that goes from quiet and melodic, from deadpan speech to screaming, spitting roars. The music on the track is the same, going from soft arpeggiated chords to metallic power chord bludgeoning. I think I hurt myself during that track. (MHo)
(Deep Elm Records -- P.O. Box 36939, Charlotte, NC 28236; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.deepelm.com/)
The Emo Diaries VI: The Silence In My Heart
Not exactly boring but hardly worthwhile nonetheless, the sixth volume of Deep Elm's The Emo Diaries holds the peculiar trait of more or less failing as a direct result of its success. After three listens, I still don't hear any of the twelve tracks as anything other than individual avatars of their genre. Which is to say that The Silence In My Heart is a great sampler of the style, except for the pesky problem that the songs are so busy standing up proudly for emo that they do almost nothing for themselves outside its formal confines. We're confronted, essentially, with the sound of a style playing twelve bands from around the world, rather than the other way around. That makes The Silence an ideal album for those who love emo, and also for those who hate it. Everyone else need not apply. (MH)
(Deep Elm Records -- P.O. Box 36939, Charlotte, NC 28236; email@example.com; http://www.deepelm.com/)
Josie and the Pussycats -- Music From the Motion Picture
The idea was incredibly simple, what folks in Hollywood call "high concept": girl band goes on adventures and solves mysteries between gigs. Josie and the Pussycats the movie, albeit compulsively watchable, so patently wastes the opportunities laid out in front of it that, get this, the writer-directors (also responsible for the smugly self-congratulatory Can't Hardly Wait) don't even use the source material given to them. The pointless plot has our bewhiskered heroines combating tastemakers, or the perils of fame, or Target, or something else stupid and wholly removed from the fundamental nature of the cartoon that had some of us absolutely transfixed at the tender age of 3. All this plus an Alexandra who is still a bitch (yay!) but is now utterly repulsive and unappealing (boo!). Thus, what should've been a gold mine instead sold out its prepackaged audience and failed to attract the expected new one. Can this project be saved?
The answer to that question hinges on the soundtrack album, which stands up tall to declare, "Um, did we mention that we have Rachel Leigh Cook decked out in a spangly leotard and kitten ears?" (Answer: oh my, yes, duly noted and credit given.) Having distracted us thusly, the CD, in its way as trashily addictive as the movie, attempts a salvage job, another matter entirely. The soundtrack, like the movie, is too eager for the most part to frolic around in an attitude that it has no affinity for, often using material it hasn't earned and clearly doesn't understand. That's evident by the cover versions of familiar songs, which generally miss the point entirely. "Money" kicks off with the mindbogglingly misguided declaration, "This is for all you shoppers out there," which transforms a song about miserly greed into a manifesto for conspicuous consumption (possibly appropriate in a year in which it was decreed to be our patriotic duty to go out and spend like we've never spent before), delivering the exact opposite of the song's intent in the process. More sacrilegious than even that, the "Josie" theme song has been changed. Changed! That may, however, have been inevitable, since the initial inspiration was gutted from the get-go, making the old lyrics irrelevant; the new words play like a failed girl-power anthem. "Real Wild Child" manages to be merely inept, which is oddly comforting, considering.
Josie's original songs, on the other hand, operate as textbook examples of the pitfalls of creation by committee. With too many songwriters bouncing off of one another, there's no sure sense of direction or drive; once the sixth or seventh writer climbs aboard a single song ("You Don't See Me" lists 9 of them, while 10 people supposedly worked on "Come On"), it's time to wipe the board clean and start over. When not overburdened by a surfeit of composers, the songs just plain miss the mark more often than not. "Three Small Words" is a come-on disguised (poorly) as a kiss-off, not to mention "All The Small Things" disguised (poorly) as "Wannabe" and therefore a fourth-rate "Search and Destroy" ripoff. "You're A Star" sparks but never catches fire, the result of having a beginning and a middle but no ending. The two DuJour songs demonstrate the clearest consistency and character, although they're far from smartly done parodies of boy-band pop. Whatever it is that you could imagine doing with "Backdoor Lover" (about exactly what you think it's about) is far cleverer than what's actually done, I assure you. Both cuts are annoying and you'll never want to hear them again, making them, ironically, worse than what they're parodying.
Perhaps recognizing the above, the personnel who are actually heard on the album remain mostly anonymous. There are cross-label shout-outs to Bif Naked and Matthew Sweet (really? Matthew?) with no indication as to why (maybe that was a part of the agreement). As for the vocals, well, it seems to me that the obvious Josie would have been Juliana Hatfield (who, in fact, has already provided a superlative, not to mention faithful, version of the cartoon's theme song on 1995's Saturday Morning Cartoons' Greatest Hits), but I'm guessing that the folks behind the project wanted somebody far more anonymous. And hey, they plugged in former Letters To Cleo mewler Kay Hanley; good job. The problem is that what works wonders for the bratty punk manifestos leaves a black hole during the more plaintive moments, which pretty much consists of the not-quite-moving "You Don't See Me."
Really, after giving the consolation prize to Anna Waronker (for providing the riff in "I Wish You Well" and what I suspect is the keenness of "You're A Star"), the only contributor who unequivocally comes out smelling like a rose is Adam Schlesinger, clearly on a hot streak these days. Producing the lion's share of the songs, he's more attuned to the sensibility of blaring guitar pop than Babyface, who takes the first five. As a writer, meanwhile, he delivers the only unqualified gem in the batch; so obviously was "Pretend To Be Nice" the best song in the movie that, knowing that he wrote exactly one song all by his lonesome, I pegged it as his immediately. The part where Josie's lax beau "falls asleep on the living room couch/With his sunglasses on and his tongue hanging out" creates a more vivid, and truer, and funnier, mental image than anything the movie itself can be bothered with. When the dust settles (or when the fur stops flying, to use the feline metaphors that they're practically begging us to make), Josie the soundtrack is just like Josie the movie: a moment of brilliance stranded in the middle of a vast ocean of acceptable mediocrity, with a few islands of sheer crap thrown in. In both cases, I'm astonished at how clearly not-good the results are, but I'm occasionally compelled to dive in yet again to see just what went wrong. What a waste. (MH)
(Play-Tone/Epic/Sony Music Soundtrax; Josie and the Pussycats -- http://www.josiethemovie.com/)
Live at the Hootenanny Vol. 1
The cover says it all -- the first thing that you notice on the cover is a big flaming car. Sure, there's a guitar, and a bikini-clad female, but they're off to the side. 'Cause it's not about women, and it's not about music: its about cars. Energy. Not stopping to think, just going. And the ones that aren't singing about cars named the band after one car or another. Mike Ness pretty much sums it all up: "I'm In Love With My Car!" And that's what this record is about, going fast and going hard, and not trying to escape the consequences.
Listen to Deke Dickerson's version of "Muleskinner Blues" a couple of times, and it's a perfect choice; the way he does it, the nonsense syllables are the best part of the song. 'Cause it's not about singing in order to say something, it's about doing it cause you can't help it, just 'cause it feels so good to do. It makes the Cadillac Tramps' "Everybody" sink under its own weight.
Most of the bands here just want to have a good time. The Royal Crown Revue, who play a mysterious "Walkin' Like Brando," manage to turn horn-punched swing into great rave-up rockabilly through sheer energy. The Amazing Crowns' "Haloes and Horns" has them singing a melody that wouldn't be out of place on a Wilco record. Hot Rod Lincoln play "You Sure Never Loved Me" with their grins barely suppressed, and it comes off like a long-lost sibling of "You Never Even Called Me By My Name."
At its peak, this can be disquieting. Obscured by the energy of his band, Dave Alvin's "Out in California" breaks down the go-fast mythology of his peers and takes it to its logical extreme. After following the blues form for the verses, the chorus doesn't seem merely tacked on -- it jars you because it only seems to happen when you least expect it. And when he quiets down the band, you realize that something is going to happen between the people he sings about. And it's nothing you can change; you can only accept that will happen, but you hate having to accept such a terrible thing. (HM)
(Time Bomb Recordings -- firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.timebombrecordings.com/)
Living tomorrow today: a benefit for ty cambra
Ty Cambra is a cute kid who suffers from a disease called Adrenoleukodystrophy, also known as "Lorenzo's Oil Disease." Without getting too far into it, Ty is eleven years old, and his nervous system is deteriorating. In 1999, he underwent a $350,000 bone marrow transplant as a last chance shot at stopping the progression of the disease, but unfortunately, the transplant was unsuccessful, and Ty continues to get worse. The proceeds from this CD will help Ty's family pay their medical bills.
Now that I've explained all that, go buy this CD! In this review, you won't see how cute Ty is, or read about his interest in basketball and boogieboarding. You won't hear how he's a funny kid who used to love to joke with his brothers, but is now too sick to play ball or joke around. All you'll get from me is the recommendation that this CD has a ton of great bands and good songs. Here are my favorites: Reggie and the Full Effect; Hot Water Music; Saves the Day; Face to Face; Home Grown; Alkaline Trio; and New Found Glory, among others. Most of these bands donated rare or unreleased songs, so if you like these bands and have a shred of compassion in you, you'll get this CD. You can also just send a donation to Asian Man Records, Attn: Ty Cambra, P.O. Box 35585, Monte Sereno, CA. 95030 and learn more about this disease at http://www.myelin.org/. (KM)
(Asian Man Records -- P.O. Box 35585, Monte Sereno, CA. 95030-5585; email@example.com; http://www.asianmanrecords.com/)
Magnetic Curses: A Chicago Punk Rock Compilation
Probably the nicest thing I can say about this comp, right off the bat, is that it makes me jealous of all those lucky bastards living up in the Windy City. Sure, I know it snows all winter, and it's cold as hell most of the rest of the time, but how cool would it be to walk down the block and see The Nerves or the Alkaline Trio play a show? How does Chicago spawn so damn many cool bands? Maybe its the urban-industrial environment; the first time I put this CD in the Discman, I was making the evening hike across Houston's downtown to catch the bus to my house, and the raw rock showcased on Magnetic Curses seemed to fit the city squalor like a well-crafted movie score.
The CD starts off with Bitchy doing "Assimilation," a short, violent burst of scream-y punk, and it doesn't slow down much 'til it stops spinning. Wedged in-between more standard punk fare like Mary Tyler Morphine's Oi!-fest "Iron City" and Oblivion's basic, old-school "South Side Story" is a truly varied chunk of the "punk" spectrum, from Deals Gone Bad's smooth, Hepcat-style ska on "I'm Sorry" to the Gaza Strippers' incredibly odd "Brainwasher" and The Strike's strident Stiff Little Fingers punk on "Three Steps Forward." Add in "The Crutch," The Tossers' Irish-by-way-of-Chicago punk-folk drinking song, the nicely-done punk-pop of Chicago stalwarts Pegboy's "Chutes and Ladders," Muchacha's poppy, speedy "Transmission Suicide," and the chugging garage rock of Traitor's "White Belts and Cocksuckers," and... well, let's just say that the comp covers a lot of ground.
And somehow, it all fits together, in a way I can't really explain. I can't say that there's really a Chicago "sound," cause there isn't (at least, not if this is a credible cross-section of the musical population), but there is a common thread joining the bands here, in the raw, who-gives-a-fuck energy that runs through each track. Every band on here plays like their lives depend on it, but simultaneously sounds like they could give a shit if anybody hears them but their friends; a good thing, if you ask me.
Now, all that said, if you're already a fan of the bands featured here, you can probably skip this disc; I know for a fact that the tracks by The Tossers and The Strike are right off their latest (and, in The Strike's case, final) albums, and I'd be willing to bet the same's the case for a lot of the rest. But at $5.98, the price Thick suggests on the back of the CD, how the hell can you go wrong? It's a bargain any way you look at it, trust me. (JH)
(Thick Records -- 409 N. Wolcott Ave., Chicago, IL. 60622; http://www.thickrecords.com/)
The Molemen Presents: Chicago City Limits Vol. 1
Chicago City Limits Vol. 1 is a compilation put together by the Molemen, and like most compilations, there's some good stuff and some not-so-good stuff -- the stuff that's good, though, is pretty cool. Some pretty thoughtful MCs on this record -- some of these guys deserve a lot more than what they're getting. Like the name implies, it's very local at times, but not exclusionary about it, just proud. The city itself seems to be a minor theme, which is a welcome respite from some of the more traditional posturing.
O-Type Star ("Onion Rings") sounds like he wants to be a Studs Terkel for the new millennium. What he raps about is universal, yet very specifically a product of the city of Chicago. "For sure it's Chicago when I represent," he repeats at the end, and he's right, you can see the city skyline rising right through his words, all of the different neighborhoods where you watch him go. A jazzily percussive poetic portrait in four minutes -- he manages to cover himself on his off-time, the state of the city, former girlfriends, capitalism, and sociology (often in the same breath), and his flow makes it sound like a throwaway. This one goes all the way out of Wrigley Field.
Offwhyte's "Conjugation of a Woman's Name" has a mildly cheesy backing track, but it actually matches Offwhyte's distinctive voice -- he sounds like Marvin Gaye holding his nose while delivering Aceyalone raps. When he gets excited, you can tell, cause his raps go absolutely everywhere. This rap is meant to be a slow-jam in the metaphysical sense, a love poem about the city. Half of the time you can't tell what the hell he's talking about, but he'd have no problem going on telling more 'til you get it.
There's plenty here that covers other topics as well. On "Family Ties," Family Tree points out that anyone who'll stick up for you should be considered family, even if they're not your father and mother -- the importance is in the act. Early on, Cap D, on a track called "Redemption," talks about growing up (as in maturing, not just getting old) and trying to make sense of what you're doing. Redemption, he says, can come from God, but you have to do something about it -- redemption is your own problem, you have to do it yourself. (HM)
(Molemen Inc. -- http://www.molemen.com/)
Right In The Nuts: A Tribute to Aerosmith
The bands on here are all for the most part of the "Stoner Rock" variety, and the singers (also for the most part) seem to be having a good time trying to ape the cock-rock strut of Mr. Steven Tyler. The resulting double CD has more cohesion than most comps or tribute albums I've heard. There are no monster hits, really -- no "Dream On," no "Walk This Way," and certainly no acknowledgement of Aerosmith's post-drug-haze, Alicia Silverstone-aided career.
Alabama Thunderpussy does a decent job with "Sweet Emotion", and Roadsaw pummels through "Toys In the Attic," but mostly what you get here are many of Aerosmith's solid album tracks, full of hard-rocking guitars, bluesy wailing and pseudo-southern boogie. Joe Tyler could certainly come up with some tasty riffs and in the hands of these Iommi-worshipping Stoner Rock boys, these riffs get over-amped to monstrous, Sabbath-like proportions. Every track rocks, and the simplicity of old-school '70s rock lends itself well to the energy and aggression of the post-garage band outfits. An odd highlight is The Want and their super-rocked-out cover of the '80s cut "Let The Music Do The Talking" -- possibly the last great Aerosmith tune before their MTV resurrection.
Other bands on here include Raging Slab, possibly the first retro-'70s hard rockers of the '80s, Five Horse Johnson, Electric Frankenstein, Natas, Fireball Ministry, Scissorfight, Atomic Bitchwax, and other bands you can always count on for some killer fuzzed-out riffs. An added plus is the cool cover drawing by Mark Dancey, of Big Chief and Motorbooty magazine fame. The variation on Aerosmith's classic logo would look great painted on the side of somebody's van. (CPz)
(Small Stone Recordings -- P.O. Box 02007, Detroit, MI. 48202; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.smallstone.com/)
sound spit fury fire: sampler no. 3
What is it that I love about compilation CDs? Well, part of it's the value: usually compilations are full of music and low-priced. Some of my favorites have 20-odd tracks and only cost five bucks. Mostly for me, though, its the adventure; you never know what you'll discover. A compilation CD is like going to see an hour-long festival where bands have one song to win you over with their best material. Usually I buy at least a couple of albums for every compilation I buy. So, if you are value-conscious and an avid music fan like me, get out there and buy those comps!
Deep Elm has put together yet another great comp CD with sound spirit fury fire. Contained within its cardboard sleeve is a 19-song introduction to the Deep Elm label, a universe where distorted guitars and harmony vocals abound. Starting with the amazing post-punk of Appleseed Cast, the CD runs the gauntlet of indie from the intimate acoustic rock of David Singer to the melodic hardcore of Planes Mistaken for Stars.
Since I've listened to this CD a few times now, you might be wondering what albums I plan to buy. Last Days of April is first; their song, "Will the violins be playing?," has a wonderful arrangement, where something new happens on every verse. I am reminded of Beck a little, but mostly I just love that it is a pop song within an indie context. I already have the new Brandtson EP, Trying to Figure Each Other Out, and let me tell you, it is really tight. If you love hooky melodic rock with harmony vocals, do not miss this album. I've been looking forward to the new Appleseed Cast records, and judging by the opening track, "steps and numbers," it will not disappoint. There is more of what I liked previously, and yet it's still a step forward in terms of songwriting and performance. Slowride and Cross My Heart also get high marks, and will be on my list of bands to keep an eye on.
One of the first comps I bought when I started listening to indie-rock was Deep Elm's Records for the Working Class sampler. Here I learned about the melodic rock of Brandtson, the post-punk of Appleseed Cast, and the hardcore of Planes Mistaken for Stars. I had a place to start learning about a label who almost define the now out-of-date term "emo." I think that Deep Elm is the little label that could, and it continues to do so. Get a copy of sound spirit fury fire and find out for yourself. (KM)
(Deep Elm Records -- P.O. Box 36939, Charlotte, NC 28236; email@example.com; http://www.deepelm.com/)
With Literacy and Justice For All: A Benefit for the DC Area Books to Prisons Project
The DC Books to Prisons project is a non-profit organization in Washington, DC, that distributes donated reading material to prisoners. They also strive to educate the public about issues relating to prisoner education and literacy. The proceeds from the compilation go towards funding the Books to Prisons project, so on that level, the CD's worth purchasing purely as a way of supporting a good cause. The CD features 15 bands from different places.
One of the most interesting bands, Marion Delgado, performs a song called "Project Pythagoras." They've got an an interesting sound that at times incorporates elements from a lot of your favorite emo and hardcore bands. "Project Pythagoras" sounds like three or four songs crammed together to make one well-crafted song. The song takes many twists and turns before building into a great pop song near the end, just before it turns into something else.
Today closes out the album with "Mass As Shadows," a moody rocker with bad balance that keeps interrupting itself with sheets of loud guitar noise just when you thought they'd shed all of those unfortunate tendencies. They have some beautiful moments when they let themselves, and they only do it often enough to keep it interesting. Worth checking out. (HM)
(Exotic Fever Records)