Captain Tonic's original inspiration probably wasn't bad. His (the Captain's, that is) thought seems to have been to take everything that you don't hear in indie-rock, and do it. It worked for Tom Waits, and with a voice as deep as his, you couldn't blame Captain Tonic for thinking the same thing. He took the jazzy-soully-gospelly parts from Tom Waits, and sanded off all the good parts, and unfortunately, what comes out now sounds more like Leon Redbone. His vocals sound like he's doing a bad imitation of himself. And the schtick would be OK except that he doesn't carry it through with the subjects of his songs. If you're going to be funny, fine, be funny -- but then the material has to be funny, as well. Instead, this guy wants to be serious, and it all just comes out sounding confused. And what's weirder is that just about everything sounds like soft rock, which is what he sounds like even when rocking out. He'd get a lot farther if he dropped the schtick and sang like everyone else. Captain, in the spirit of all of your favorite clichés, I'll invoke another: walk on one side of the road or the other, but if you stay in the middle of the road, you're going to suck. (HM)
(Insulate Industries; Captain Tonic -- http://www.captaintonic.com/)
"Lost In The Air"/"Lift Off"
I like both versions of Cave In, and to some that may be blasphemy. I liked their earlier Beyond Hypothermia-era ultra-hardcore incarnation, and I wholeheartedly embraced their Jupiter-era transmogrification into melodic, spacey, progressive, post-hardcore-type rock. In fact, I'd venture to say that I like Cave-In v. 2.0 a little more than the older material, mainly because it's a better showcase for how talented and relevant these guys are.
Apparently the majors took notice of that fact, too, and earlier this year Cave In finished their major label debut (for RCA). As sort of a planned series of farewell gestures to erstwhile indie label Hydrahead, the band released this single, more or less a "warning shot" of what was to come on their major label debut. If this is what it sounds like, then frankly...I can't freakin' wait. First of all, I have to say that if you hated Cave In for changing their style, then you're going to continue to hate them -- but that's your loss, you narrow-minded scenester elitist. Continuing on the tack set by Jupiter, the two songs on here are, if nothing else, an even more refined version of that album's majestic yet rocking songcraft. Think U2 meets Handsome with a prog-rock jones and you're part of the way there. "Lost In The Air" even evokes Radiohead with its catchy, buoyant bassline. A nice appetizer for what promises to be a mind-blowing main course. (MHo)
(Hydra Head Records -- P.O. Box 291430, Los Angeles, CA. 90029; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.hydrahead.com/; Cave In -- http://www.cavein.net/)
One of my little quirks on listening to an album for the first time is that, if a lyric sheet is provided, I usually try to follow along. The reason for this is lost in the mists of my nascent-dork memory, but I'd guess that it has something to do with forcing me to focus on the vocals and words at least once, since left to my own devices, I wouldn't pay much attention to either unless they were so exemplary (or reprehensible) that they couldn't escape my notice. That's why the prospect of listening to Cherry Lane's 30 a second time depressed me so. The vocals, provided by bassist Mike Daab and guitarist Jared Grabb, are terrible; buried in the maelstrom of the Peoria emo band's anxious guitars and flailing drums and sounding almost as though they were dropped in as an afterthought, they're tuneless and lack a single attribute to suggest that they would stand out even if they weren't flanked by noise. Thank goodness for another little music-listening quirk of mine, which is that I don't even begin to finalize my judgement until I've listened to a CD all the way through at least twice. It turns out that when I'm not cringing at the awfulness of the words ("Time spent is now time lost, never to be forgot," etc.) and the dudes singing them, Cherry Lane reveals a degree of tunefulness and drive that had eluded me before. It certainly would've helped, though, if the already similar-sounding songs didn't bleed into one another. 30 is a decent enough start and is therefore let off with a warning. (MH)
(Thinker Thought Records -- 1002 Devonshire Road, Washington, IL. 61571; http://www.thinkerthoughtwrong.com/)
Richard Cholakian/Philip Gayle
Experimental music is not always my thing -- that's why I took a chance on Hud Pes. The two CDs of Hud Pes contain three songs: "OK" Parts I and II in the middle and "Sick Bones" and "Available Jones" as bookends.
What can you say about a recording of improvisational music? At times it is wonderful, like when guitarist Philip Gayle plays like a Middle Eastern oud or when the random thumps of percussionist Richard Cholakian accent the guitar at just the right moment. Then it truly shows the best of what this type of music can bring. At other times, though, it sounds like the two players are barely in the same room, much less listening to each other. Random noises for minutes on end start to blend into white noise, and perhaps that's what the two intended. Even then there can sometimes be beauty in the chaos. Notes cascade through your ears in a kaleidoscope of colors.
This double album is over two hours long and ,as you would expect, has high points and low. You owe it to yourself to listen and decide for yourself where they are. (KM)
(Yabyum Productions -- P.O. Box 70012, Houston, TX. 77270; Philip Gayle -- http://www.philipgayle.com/)
One Zillion Guitars
Oh, my. It lifts, soars, spills, climbs, pushes, and pulls you. It's hard, soft, edgy, and gentle all at once. It forces you to F-E-E-L. And it's all achieved with music, no vocals. If you thought you already knew why you liked the guitar, listen to this and you will have to expand your reasons. Daniel Christopherson is on par with Carlos Santana, and Santana is in a class of his own.
It's hard to believe that Chistopherson produced most of the tracks in his home studio with less than cutting edge equipment. He must be a genius, or else he is utterly and completely tuned in. This sound could only come from the soul.
Just beautiful. (CPl)
(Daniel Christopherson -- http://www.zillionguitars.com/)
Coheed and Cambria
The Second Stage Turbine Blade
Rarely does a band blow me away sight unseen with a live show. Chalk it up to cynicism, my impending 30s, or the fact that a lot of bands that are good on record don't seem to be able to deliver. I was fortunate enough to see Coheed, one of the few exceptions, open up for Thursday last year, and it was love at first sight. I immediately picked up The Second Stage Turbine Blade, and I've been listening to it pretty heavily ever since. You'd think a band that was equal parts Thursday, pre-black album Metallica, Rush, and Jimmy Eat World (plus a whole bunch of other stuff brought to mind throughout the whole album) might sound a little disjointed, but it gels so perfectly here that you wonder why you haven't heard this particular amalgam before. Sometimes one song stays pretty set within a indie rock substrate, like "33," which is a pretty straightforward (and very good) uptempo rave-up with a big chorus. Other times ("Everything Evil" and "Hearshot Kid Disaster") Coheed take you all over the place and back, going from screamo to pop to metal and back again in reverse. I don't know how many individual riffs are on this album, but one thing's for sure -- it kicks major ass. The only complaint some may have is with lead singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez's high (almost feminine) register, at times reminiscent of Geddy Lee. Personally, I think it adds a lot to the band, and the guy's got some serious range (he can scream bloody murder, too). This is the ...And Justice For All of indie rock. (MHo)
(Equal Vision Records -- P.O. Box 14, Hudson, NY. 12534; http://www.equalvision.com/; Coheed and Cambria -- http://www.coheedandcambria.com/)
I don't entirely get the "movement" part of this; I'll admit that up front. The liner note manifestos on modernism and "A New Cinema" don't really hold much significance to me except as a design statement, adding philosophical weight to the stark black-and-white photos on the sleeve (mostly grainy '60s shots of hipsters smoking cigarettes and what look like French film stars). It all cries out "this is deep thinking, too deep for you to comprehend," which tends to raise my hackles a bit in general. "This is Art," it seems to say, "with the capital 'A'" -- or at least, that's the outward message at a first glance.
On the inside, however, it's a different story. Comet Gain's most recent album, Réalistes, is far more human and down-to-earth than the arty designs indicate. These are indeed songs of rebellion of an intellectual kind -- not the punk rawk variety ("don't believe the Blank Generation," vocalist/guitarist David Feck warns in the final title track), but far closer to the English Mod variety, and mixed with a hint of Billy Bragg's political folk stylings -- but the album still has a youthful, earthy working-man soul feel to it. Things kick off nicely with the lo-fi dancefloor rave-up "The Kids at the Club," but it's the second track, the brilliantly-titled "Why I Try to Look So Bad," that really hammers home; it's like the missing love child of all those incredible Stax singles and Mod bands like The Kinks or The Faces. The guitars have that warm, crackly hum that has to come from tubes and not circuitry, the drums are huge and booming, and then, when the organ-sounding keyboards come in...I just can't explain it. It's like the sound of a rainy, late-night walk home through the darkened London streets put to plastic.
I can't call this "retro," though. The easy pigeonhole just wouldn't do this justice. While the overall sound does point back towards the '60s, the songs here are so damn good they can't be tied to any age or era. They're universal songs of rebellion, from the angry, stuttering rhythm of "My Defiance" to singer Rachel E.'s bowed-but-not-broken solo vocal on "Carry On Living" and the anti-love anthem "Don't Fall in Love If You Want to Die in Peace." Of the whole CD, the one track I ever skip is "Ripped-Up Suit!," a noisy, chugging mess of guitars and drums where Feck trades vocal duties with Kathleen Hanna -- and that's mostly because the bare-bones, lo-fi nature of the recording makes her voice nearly capable of stripping paint off the walls.
Past that, and a haunting cover of "She Never Understood" brings things back on track, followed up by the minimal "Movies" (which somewhat explains the whole "A New Cinema" thing I mentioned earlier), and shifting into the horn-tinged swing of "Labour," the aforementioned "Don't Fall in Love...," and finally, a pseudo-explanation of the band's ethos with "Réalistes." Through it all, Comet Gain balances heart-on-their-sleeves sentimentality with angry, intelligent defiance, forging music of the old days and the new into some kind of hybrid that could very well outlast all of the leaders of our world. This is immortal, timeless music...and I really can't think of a better compliment. (JH)
(Kill Rock Stars -- 120 NE State Ave. PMB 418, Olympia, WA. 98501; http://www.killrockstars.com/; Comet Gain -- http://www.killrockstars.com/bands/cometgain/index.html)
High Uinta High
Remember when "country" wasn't a dirty word? When it was about good songwriting, not pop posturing? Before it became a parody of itself? Jeremy Chatelain does. Most of you know Jeremy from his bass duties in Jets To Brazil, but I've been a fan of his since even before that, when he was the frontman for the criminally underrated post-hardcore supergroup Handsome. I knew back then Jeremy had a good voice (unfortunately underused in the Jets, but hey, that's Blake's baby), but his Cub Country incarnation proves that he's got one of the best voices in rock today, in my opinion. The singing's not the only great thing about High Uinta High, of course; the music is pretty damn good, as well. Cub Country (which is Chatelain with assorted friends from JTB, Helmet, Lunachicks, J Majesty, and Rival Schools) operates in a context that isn't full-on twangy...the (mostly acoustic) music gravitates more towards the rootsy-rock side of things, bringing to mind early Wilco, Old 97's, and Mark Lanegan's solo stuff. The compositions are simple, subtle, and wholly engrossing, especially when you add Jeremy's warm vocal melodies to the mix. Favorites of mine are the opener, "Could Be The Moon," "St. Louis," and the title track, but seriously, it's all great. The band even turns it up a notch for "Butterfly," a fluid, Delta-ish blues rocker that features slightly distorted vocals -- which of course reminds me of Jeremy's Handsome days. High Uinta High is really good stuff, perfect for driving, camping, cleaning the house, singing to a girl you love, or a place you miss. Definitely on my year's best list. (That rhymed! Look, the songwriting talent is contagious!) (MHo)
(Jade Tree Records -- 2310 Kennwynn Rd., Wilmington, DE. 19810; email@example.com; http://www.jadetree.com/)
Curl Up And Die
Unfortunately We're Not Robots
Are you a metal hybrid or an amalgam? Is there such a thing as "grind prog"? Curl Up and Die's Unfortunately We're Not Robots leads me to a number of these kinds of questions. This is a passionate album full of dark beauty and mystery, with elements of hardcore, prog rock, and pop all rolled up into one hell of an album. The first four tracks are only five seconds long, while later tracks run almost ten minutes; drums are consistently pounding, guitars are always shredding, and the vocals will split your skull wide open again and again. Every track on this record exists in a world of both dark and light, from the short and sweet "Ted Nugent Goes AOL" to the epic "You'd Be Cuter if I Shot You in the Face." If you like music that hits you equally hard in the head, heart, and balls, this is it. (KM)
(Revelation Records -- P.O. Box 5232, Huntington Beach, CA. 92615-5232; http://revelationrecords.com/; Curl Up and Die -- http://www.copmuter.com/curlupanddie/index.asp)
Curse of the Golden Vampire
Damn. I really, really wanted to like this album. I'd heard about the Curse of the Golden Vampire collab between Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick of the destructo-hip hop outfit Techno Animal (and formerly of God and Godflesh, respectively, as well as a good dozen other projects in between) and Atari Teenage Riot mastermind Alec Empire, and it almost seemed too good to be true. Techno Animal's last release, The Brotherhood of the Bomb, was a jaw-dropping combination of grindcore guitars, earth-shattering beats, and hardcore rap vocals, and I'm a longtime fan of Empire's high-speed, anarchic electronics -- how could I possibly go wrong?
Well, I apparently went pretty far wrong from the very start. It turns out that Empire's not in the mix this time out, with Martin and Broadrick opting to go it alone as The Curse of the Golden Vampire for this latest CD, Mass Destruction -- Empire did collaborate with the duo on a previous CD entitled The Curse of the Golden Vampire (which I've never been able to find in stores, sadly), but this incarnation is just the Techno Animal guys doing their own take. And unfortunately, it doesn't live up to its promise.
Instead of combining Techno Animal's brutal hip-hop flavor with Atari Teenage Riot's gabber-style noise, Martin and Broadrick take a step further back in time, to their earlier T.A. work, which apparently had a lot more grindcore than gangsta. The result? Well, about half of the tracks on Mass Destruction basically meld Slayer-heavy guitar noise with hyperspeed beats and muffled bellowing that makes Cookie Monster sound intelligible. If that's your thing -- and if you're an old-school Godflesh fan, hey, it may well be -- that's fine, but it's definitely not mine. I kept waiting for something different, something more characteristic of the ATR side of the equation beyond the amped-up breakbeats, but nothing came.
I can't say the whole disc's a waste, of course -- there are indeed some decent tracks, and they usually happen to be those that lay off on the Mëtal Göd vocals. The music's actually better than it could be, really, even on the tracks where the guitars sound like nothing more than a demonic army on the march; it's the voice that kills a lot of this for me (there's a reason I don't listen to much death metal). "United Snakes of America" is interesting, at least (and more intelligible than most), with some odd samples and less-distorted vocals, and "Mind vs. Body" focuses more on the gabber than on the sludgy guitars, which is a nice change of pace. "State Rape" has a great pounding rhythm, but even that's derailed by the godawful vocals, and "Oil Money" runs the same route -- it starts out very promisingly as odd, disturbing political hip-hop with super-distorted guitars subbing in for turntables...and then it devolves into yet more screaming and noise just as it's starting to get good. Argh.
In the end, I found myself wishing Alec Empire had stuck around -- I'd have gladly traded Cookie Monster here for Empire ranting in half-sensical English about the evils of the world. This album may indeed be what Armageddon sounds like...I don't think, however, that I'm going to feel a need to hear it again 'til then. (JH)
(Ipecac Records -- P.O. Box 1197, Alameda, CA. 94501; http://www.ipecac.com/; Curse of the Golden Vampire -- http://www.avalancheinc.co.uk/curse.html)