If you're a speed metal fan, you'll like Reno-based Fall Silent's latest offering, Drunken Violence. The entire album is balls-out thrash that will make you grab a Gatorade after the final fade-out. The album is reminiscent of Paul Bostaph-era Slayer -- each song is loud and aggressive, with lightning-fast guitar accompanied by superhuman-quick drums. Even the bass has a presence, which makes me feel good, because all too often the bass is all but ignored.
Not being a speed fan myself, I do find it hard to understand how people, including the members themselves, keep the songs straight. Each song -- forgive the traditional non-metal fan complaint -- sounds the same. It seems that the riffs all run together, but on the other hand, if someone errs, say, during a show, no one would know.
The highlight of the CD is the cover of Heart's "Barracuda". Since this is one of the most annoying songs on KLOL's roster, I find it interesting that I enjoy Fall Silent's rendition. Levi Watson even attempts to sing the vocal melodies correctly. Lots of people knock cover songs; I like them in general, but tend to despise new artists and one-hit wonders who release cover songs as their initial offerings to the world. Cover tunes allow the listener a glimpse into who influenced the covering band, who the members listen to frequently, who they grew up with, and this, oftentimes, is different than what is expected. Take Pat Boone's In a Metal Mood, for example. Granted, this was probably recorded somewhat as a joke, but you have to think that Mr. Boone and his backup singers probably listened to Rainbow, Zeppelin, Guns 'N Roses, and Metallica for hours in preparation. Can you picture what this would have looked like?
Fall Silent's Drunken Violence strikes me as a pretty good speed metal CD. It hits hard in the beginning and doesn't let up. In my opinion, it's worth having just for the cover song. (CM)
(Revelation Records -- P.O. Box 5232, Huntington Beach, CA. 92615-5232; http://www.revelationrecords.com/home/)
When your press kit draws comparisons to Nirvana, the Foo Fighters, and old-school Everclear, you've got my interest for sure. Upon listening to the Hovercraft LP, however, the bands that kept coming to mind were those of Ken Andrews (both Failure and Year Of The Rabbit) and Weezer. The Weezer influence isn't that hard to spot, with a song called "Hats Off To Rivers Cuomo" and lyrics that request the singer's ex to return his gaffled Pinkerton album -- but it's the Andrews-ish spacey stuff that kept me involved. There's lots of that to be found here -- catchy melodies backed by churning guitar work in nice little three- to four-minute pop songs. Singer Tony Parks even uses the same disaffected delivery style that our buddy Ken is so fond of. It works, though, and while Firetrucs never innovates or transcends, they definitely entertain. (MHo)
Proof of Impact
There must be something about the Chicago area -- the pie (and by "pie," I mean pizza), the El train fumes, the Bears -- that causes these rockin' melodic bands to keep springing up. Having not read the press release, I popped in Proof of Impact and immediately thought of Smashing Pumpkins (you know, before Billy cut his hair, and much like Samson, lost his strength and began to suck). Not only that, but Braid and Hum also popped unbidden into my head. Creepy. Anyway, The Forecast prove themselves to be a pretty good band on this EP, running the gamut from full-on rocking out ("Water Makes The Weeds Grow Tall") to lush balladry ("Bad Reception"), and they do it all pretty well. I especially like the use of bassist Marsha Satterfield's backing vocals; they provide a good counterpoint to the frenetic lead vocals, but they aren't all willowy and ethereal like most clichéd female bassist backing vocals. Nice touch. There's also a song titled "Freebird 2: This Time It's Personal". That's comedy, ladies and gentlemen. (MHo)
(Thinker Thought Records -- 1002 Devonshire Road, Washington, IL. 61571; http://www.thinkerthoughtwrong.com/; The Forecast -- http://www.the-forecast.net/)
Forest Giants' music reminds me of that late '80s/early '90s Britrock -- fuzzy, guitar-driven rock fused with smooth tones and distorted vocals. There's nothing new being done here, but then again, not many bands are still trying to do this type of sound. It's good that Forest Giants have stepped up to claim the spots vacated by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, The Verve, and even Joy Division (and no, no matter what the mainstream press might say, Interpol is not quite there yet). Ask yourself what would have happened if William and Jim Reid had joined New Order instead of forming The Jesus & Mary Chain -- Forest Giants' sound would have likely been the result.
In Sequence is a stripped-down album recorded on an 8-track, which is apparent but which works to create a unique sound for the band. This low-key effort produces a mood that is part melancholy, part drugged-out bliss. "Postcards" (also released as a 3-song EP) is the best of the bunch, a song that mixes New Order-style vocals with a more modern acoustic guitar lead and distortion heavy chords. "F.W.L." should be the band's next single -- no other band is making songs like this today.
Not all of the tracks are winners; "Do You Know What I've Been Through?" leaves you asking the same question, and "Jello," while showing great potential, is overall pretty boring. "Baby" is the track you'll skip as soon as he starts pretending he's Lou Reed. A sad attempt at homage. Very sad.
Formerly known as the Beatnik Filmstars, which recorded seven albums, five John Peel sessions, and toured the U.S. with the Flaming Lips before giving up because they could never find a suitable record label, Forest Giants are hoping that this time In Sequence gets them the U.K. attention they'd never received before. And here I thought all bands from the U.K. were rock stars. (DAC)
(Invisible Hands Music -- 15 Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AG, ENGLAND; http://www.invisiblehands.co.uk/)
Fountains of Wayne
Welcome Interstate Managers
The thing that pisses me off about Fountains of Wayne is that they're so clearly capable of greatness that their continued failure to achieve it seems less like thwarted potential than some sort of perverse death wish on the parts of band leaders Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger. For the first half of Welcome Interstate Managers, they pretty much nail the wry guitar pop that they've been promising since their 1996 self-titled debut before loading up the second half with the same self-congratulatory cleverness that they've been doling out instead.
Not that they don't threaten to give us more of the same from the start. The opening "Mexican Wine" is about nothing in particular, mostly because Collingwood is more interested in coming up with clever rhymes than in creating meaningful images; alas, all he can think up are "apartment," "department" and "glove compartment." Two songs later, "Stacy's Mom" amuses itself with thoughts of lusting after an older woman, but there's nothing really at stake for the teenager telling the tale. "Maggie Mae" told us that this particular topic can work in a pop song (and Outkast's recent "Pink & Blue" proved there's still some mileage left in it), but the difference is that Rod Stewart really explored the situation and expressed what the narrator's feelings really meant to him and what they cost. The closest FoW come to Stewart's achievement is to cast his ex Rachel Hunter in the video.
But if those two songs don't bug me nearly as much as they should, that's probably because (for a while, anyway) they're anomalies which are followed up immediately by songs that make good on their intentions in spades. The Nazz-powered pounder "Bright Future In Sales" relies on the same sort of lyrical randomness of "Mexican Wine" but instead of trying to show us how smart they are, they go for fucked up and dorky. And fucked up and dorky win out every time, simply because they fuel the how-the-hell-did-I-get-here subtext of the story, so that the cleverness of the rhymes adds up to more than the inevitable conclusion to a couplet (extra points for the liner notes' recognition that the words "Yeah, yeah" are an integral part of the chorus). "Little Red Light," meanwhile, showcases Collingwood trying to blaze his way through traffic jams both literal and emotional, identifying a nail in the chorus ("It's not right, it's not fair / I'm still a mess and you still don't care") and hitting it squarely on the head.
Those songs simply take the band's preexisting strengths and capitalize on them, but the real turning point of FoW's evolution is in their acknowledgement that they've never really been able to expand their worldview beyond the tri-state area. They still can't leave, to be sure, but they've begun to notice that others are making it out. The dude singing "No Better Place," in fact, can't even fathom why his friend would split, despite every indication that sticking around's not doing him any good, either. The album's best song is "Hackensack," which is built around an equally eye-rolling idea to that of "Stacy's Mom" and stumbles face-first into sincerity. It paints a picture of a New Jersey nobody who expects a former classmate (probably a girl, definitely a stranger) who made it big to come back to him, and it does so with such clarity and economy that there's no room to try to be funny. As a result, the chorus tag ("If you ever get back to Hackensack / I'll be here for you") is chilling, even as it's unclear if the narrator's predicting the other person's crash back to obscurity or simply waiting for a salvation of his own that's obviously never coming. In either case, the band is finally invested in the words it's delivering.
It's a shame, then, that all the work that FoW have put in wiping the smirks off of their faces is almost undone once the second half of the album starts. "Halley's Waitress" is a sarcastic paean that's essentially about nothing more than waiting for the check to arrive, and it's what sister band Ivy would sound like if the latter traded their romantic fatalism for pointless minutiae. It's followed up by the unconvincing country lament "Hung Up On You," a silly joke based around a low-grade pun (which nonetheless demonstrates that Collingwood's voice is actually astonishingly well-suited to Gram Parsons-styled Americana when he stops singing through his nose and opens up the back of his throat); "Fire Island," which is like a rewrite of Utopia Parkway's "Prom Theme" but a lot less poignant; and "Peace and Love," which reiterates the loathing for hippiedom shown by the band in the past.
By the end of "Bought For A Song," which has the virtue of rocking as forthrightly as "Mexican Wine" and the misfortune of possessing an equally insignificant lyric, any hopes that FoW have learned anything from the album's first half have faded almost completely. But then comes "Supercollider," which is gorgeous and the most atmospheric thing the band's ever done. It works in part because I don't know what they're going on about, though the references to bongs and Pink Floyd suggest that it may well just be another satire on psychedelia (or possibly "Champagne Supernova"). But it fucking works, is the thing, and if they absolutely insist on pulling this kind of shit, then this better by God be the way that they do it. I think they know it, too; they've got nothing left afterwards except for the straightforward "Yours And Mine" (essentially "I'm In Love With A Girl" with props). It's not the first time that Fountains of Wayne trip over simple honesty on Welcome Interstate Managers. But by now it looks like they're finally thinking of picking it up. (MH)
(S-Curve Records -- http://www.s-curverecords.com/; Fountains of Wayne -- http://www.fountainsofwayne.com/)
Whatever else can be said about Nik Freitas, his instincts as a musician and an arranger are kind of impeccable. Heavy Mellow is a remarkably economic one-and-a-half-man pop album (producer Aaron Estes contributed some guitar); it may be that once the nifty but mildly chaotic opener "Be Honest" runs its course, there's not a single superfluous note on the rest of the disc. That doesn't mean that Heavy Mellow is spare and skeletal, though, just that even when the riff of "Careful What You Choose" is played on harmony guitars and "Cheaters" builds to a multi-layered pop symphony (with a theme played on what sounds like a piano/glockenspiel combo), Freitas avoids a lot of the frilleries that characterize even quality popsters like Matthew Sweet and Jonny Polonsky, to say nothing of Jason Falkner. The best songs, like the unbitter romantic farewell "Penny," benefit from each instrument playing nothing more than just what needs to be played, while Freitas sings in a voice that has the timbre of Bob Dylan with none of the affectation (though the Highway 61 feeder road "Nursery Street" comes awfully close). Heavy Mellow's a modest pleasure, to be sure, but it's canny enough to remember that modesty's a virtue. (MH)
(Future Farmer Recordings -- P.O. Box 225128, San Francisco, CA. 94122-5029; http://www.futurefarmer.com/; Nik Freitas -- http://www.nikfreitas.com/)