So there's this band from Long Beach that melds ska, dub, rock, reggae, dancehall, and rap (among other things), and they do it with such brilliance and such a pop sensibility that you can't help but listen to the damn thing over and over again. You're probably thinking of that three-piece that exploded all over radio a few years ago (with the frontman that could "play the guitar like a motherfuckin' riot"?), but that's not the Long Beach band I'm talking about. Of course, at first listen, Bargain Music does sound a little similar to Sublime, but they manage to put their own spin on the "Long Beach" sound. Listening to this CD, I found myself also thinking of Jane's Addiction, Mama Said-era Kravitz, Common, Boogie Down Productions, and the Chris Dowd-penned songs from Fishbone's repertoire. These guys also have a talent for writing funny-ass lyrics...I swear, songs like "It's Called Fucking," "Black Eye," and "Colostomy Bag" had me laughing so hard I thought I was going to need a...uh, nevermind. Anyway, the album also sounds great, thanks to production by Mike Watt, who also guests on a couple of tracks (along with H.R. and Petra Hayden). Hey, they even cover a Meat Puppets song, and they have a song titled "Theme From An Imaginary Porno" -- though I can't really wrap my mind around exactly what pornographic activity this score would accompany...that Long Beach smut must be of a different breed. What are you waiting for? (MHo)
(Beatville Records -- P.O. Box 42462, Washington, DC. 20015; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.beatville.com/; Bargain Music -- http://www.bargainmusicbitch.com/)
With a singer who sounds as far removed again from Michael Penn as Michael Penn is from John Lennon and the ability to work in whatever style they choose so long as it's some unthreatening form of alt-rock, Be make it awfully hard to get enough of a bead on them to care about anything they do. Their sound changes so drastically from song to song on Thistupidream that the album falls apart, although the band itself remains unscathed; Be have a pretty good handle on just about everything they try. And they try everything: "Raincoat" sounds like the pre-throwdown sections of "Paranoid Android," "Confession" starts off like "Man In The Moon" before throwing damn near every other Sugar song into the mix and "Bargain" besides, "Driving To The Beach" is like a Nirvana song played by the Posies, and so on, and so forth. It's ultimately "The Night You Faked Your Own Death" that seems to reveal the band's true aspiration: to be the next Vertical Horizon. Like that band or Remy Zero, Be reside in that nebulous zone inhabited by perfectly capable musicians recording perfectly serviceable songs that have nothing really to recommend them regardless. (MH)
(Brother Yorick -- c/o Talley Summerlin, P.O. Box 3793, Fayetteville, AR. 72702-3793; http://be.befound.com/music.html; Be -- http://www.besongs.com/)
What would you expect from TKO? Well, this is it in spades: San Fran Punk sounds all the way from the musically historic city of Gainesville, Florida. What, you haven't recognized that Gainesville is and has been a musical hotbed? Well, get with the program. Since the early '60s Gainesville has been the emotional if not physical center of that southern rock/swamp boogie/funk groundswell that effects a great deal of music nationally. Must be the climate.
Now it's also the home of the re-located Beltones, and you can add punk to its list of musical styles. TKO says they are a mixture of rock, punk, rock-a-billy, and "mod" rock, what ever the hell that's supposed to be -- I don't know about that, but I do know that this disc contains some of the best lyrics I've heard in a long time. Coupled with propulsive guitars, thumping bass, and frantic drums, this makes one hell of a mixture.
On this disc there are some pissed-off broken hearts. And I mean pissed-off. Beer-spitting pissed off. Get the message? Just listen to the clever word games of the songwriting. These are well-crafted stories and moods by very competent and complex composers. Take "Shitty in Pink," for example. Yeah, "Shitty in Pink" as a song title is funny enough, but the lyrics seem to be about a guy who is getting over one hot number who wants him to be her puppy dog. He's having none of it and lets her know that he is the "alpha wolf" and not her puppy. Sounds, on the face of it, like a bunch of typical macho posing, right? Underlying this forceful presentation, however, is a vulnerability seldom seen in any music (much less punk). The narrator is hurting, and really would like to think he could be a puppy, but hates her for wishing that on him. It would have been so easy to simply hang with the macho crap and make it a typical "you are a bitch" song, but this adds several other dimensions and shows a real talent for moving beyond face value, clichés, and the "easy" song. In fact, many of the songs on this disc are of that depth and talent. Almost without exception, there's more than one side of the coin presented, and in very moving and real soul-baring ways. And I said this is a punk CD? Yup... Believe it -- punk grows up. The Beltones are not to be missed. (BW)
(TKO Records -- 3126 W. Cary St. #303, Richmond, VA. 23221; http://www.tkorecords.com/)
The Bicycle Thief
You Come and Go Like a Pop Song
The Bicycle Thief is the latest project of Thelonious Monster's Bob Forrest. I've just gotta say that I love this record. If TM's Beautiful Mess was about Bob in his twenties, this record is all about him in his thirties. Whereas BM told stories of Flea buying tickets for the gang to see Julio Iglesias, this record talks about having a 12-year-old kid who isn't learning anything at school. These days, Bob would just rather get stoned and watch TV. This record at times seems to be a chronicle of a relationship gone bad, but at other times it is more about a family in turmoil. In the world of this record, a couple is breaking up; a middle aged rock star gets up everyday, smokes a cigarette, drinks some coffee, and still has to mow the lawn in the midst of it all.
This record begins with the thunderous "Song for a Kevin Spacey Movie," a passionate love song stating that Bob would, "give up everything I've got just to be with you." On the next track, "Stoned," we learn more about the family and the realities of daily life, a theme continues in the next track, "Max, Jill Called." Next is the reggae-infused "Tennis Shoes"; Bob is regretful here, and his fragile voice gathers all the resolve it can in the chorus, where he declares that he has "to walk around in my own tennis shoes." There are some sadder tracks, like "Off Street Parking," "Hurt," and "Rainin' (4 am)," where our father comes home late, can't sleep, and listens over and over to the same song. Bob keeps thinking about his life, his own mistakes, and those of others. After the marriage has gone bad, we hear how things are going a year later in "Everyone Asks" -- Bob is still thinking about his ex. Things start to look up from this point in the album, as if Bob is starting to feel a bit better about things. He still has his regrets, but his future finally has a silver lining -- the final track, "Boy at a Bus Stop," concludes this journey well, as Bob takes a moment to reflect on everything that has happened. He's tired and laments, "everything is closing in and I don't have one single friend."
There is just something honest about Bob Forrest's voice and songwriting. You believe that he has lived the words he's singing. There aren't any complex metaphors or ideas; he sticks to simple things, kid's soccer games and houses with a view and hardwood floors. You feel the sadness of dreams not quite turning out the way they were planned. You Come and Go Like a Pop Song feels like a buddy down on his luck telling you his tale of woe. There are moments of light and dark, and in the end, you just aren't sure how things are going to turn out for him. (KM)
(Artemis Records -- 130 Fifth Avenue, Seventh Floor, New York, NY. 10011; http://www.artemisrecords.com/)
The Blood Brothers
March On Electric Children
I'm not really sure what to make of this album. I don't normally like stuff like this -- some guy who sounds like he's been lit on fire and is pissed off about it shrieking over a bed of jagged, buzzsaw-noisy guitars usually isn't my cup of tea, to say the least. For some reason, though, The Blood Brothers' March On Electric Children calls out to me every time I spy it in the to-be-reviewed pile. I give in and listen, although not for very long -- just quick, controlled exposures, like I'm afraid of being irradiated by something, I dunno. And when I take off the headphones, I don't dislike the album; I don't love it, either, but it still holds my interest, and I'm not sure why.
To be fair, not all of the music on here makes you want to carve out your eardrums; just when I think I've had enough and need to go listen to some cheery Mates of State or something, some good stuff peeks out from behind the disjointed noise. "Kiss of the Octopi" is one of the high points, its sound spanning that heretofore unexplored chasm between Jon Spencer's sneering neo-blues swagger and the angry, tongue-in-cheek sarcastic noise of The Locust. A lot of the tracks remind me of Refused (especially "Siamese Gun"), but with less of those grim Scandinavians' political theory and more good old-fashioned American boogie. "Mr. Electric Ocean" brings to mind Steel Pole Bathtub, one of the few other bands I can think of who really manage to craft freaky, scary music like this, while "Junkard J. vs. the Skin Army Girlz / High Fives, L.A. Hives" takes me back to the glory days of NYC heroes Barkmarket. The closer, "American Vultures," takes things to an even weirder level, melding terrifying shrieking and rollicking barroom piano to form a musical number (no, really) that sounds like it could've been penned by Meatloaf songwriter Jim Steinman on some seriously bad heroin. It's insane, and yet here I am, still listening.
I guess the truth is that in its own weird, headache-inducing way, Electric Children is at heart a catchy album. The music charges on, simultaneously relentless, tightly-wound, and chaotic, unaware of whatever else is going on, and the band's two vocalists spit acid-trippy nonsense rhymes about sugar foam-hissing roses, grinning aerial octopi, and some far more grotesque imagery than I'm willing to go into here...and it works, somehow. The whole thing hangs together. In fact, the repetition of images (the Siamese gun, Mr. Electric Ocean, etc.) leads me to wonder that maybe this whole mess is some kind of nouveau-prog-rock concept album, sort of The Wall for the noisecore set. (And yeah, the fact that the liner notes credit the band with "short story" kind of gives it away, too.)
Does it make sense? Nope, not even remotely -- heck, it's barely intelligible even when you read along while listening to the music. But hey, making sense is sometimes overrated; just ask any Daniel Johnston fan. The lyrics here have the same feel as Robert Pollard's, or maybe Jeff Mangum's, in that they all sound like the sputterings of a raving loon but seem to imply, nevertheless, that the words would make sense in some fractured alternate universe us mere mortals can't reach. While Polland is the pop princeling of that bizarre realm, happily crafting wonderful melodies high in his ivory tower, the Blood Brothers are the angry agit-punks down in the street writing manifestos, lighting torches and preparing to bring down the king. (JH)
(Three.One.G -- Post Office Box 178262, San Diego, CA. 92177; http://www.threeoneg.com/; The Blood Brothers -- http://www.thebloodbrothers.com/)
Byron the Bulb
The Ottoman Empire EP
Lo-fi. Kinda Clean-like. Not bad. Don't bother. (MH)
(Apotheosis Records -- 2017 N. 55 St., Omaha, NE. 68104; http://www.geocities.com/apotheosisrecs/)