In the Grips of the Light
There's something about the Midwest that slowly drives its denizens insane. The only place I've ever lived other than Texas was northern Indiana, and believe you me, those four years were enough. There's something about those yawning, vertiginous, desolate spaces that burns a hole in your soul, and naturally you've got to fill that lack with beer (or another drug of choice), fisticuffs, cutting doughnuts in the Dairy Queen parking lot, or completely unhinged balls-to-the-wall rock'n'roll, just as did the Stooges, Big Black, Pere Ubu, Electric Eels, MC5, and now, maybe, Racebannon.
I initially was going to dock them points for the inane name (why in the hell do Gen-X-and-Y kids automatically think that references to crappy cartoons are cool/amusing/relevant?), but that was before I actually put the record on, and it blew me away. A razor-sharp amalgam of mid-period Sonic Youth, Big Black, John Zorn's Naked City, and the Rockette-Morton-like vocals of Mike Anderson, Racebannon jackhammers its way through the eight meaty tracks of In the Grips of the Light, spewing geysers of noise as if there were no tomorrow; long stretches of near-ambient rustlings, steely guitar pinging, and primal drumming only serve to ratchet up the tension before they wallop you again. Highlights are the full-on raving of the opener,"Fox Boogie," the staggering, lunging, and bluesy "Clubber Lang" (which even has a section that quotes "Interstellar Overdrive," kinda), a slamming and brisk cover of Captain Beefheart's "Electricity," and the album's closer (and title track), "I'm Yr Egomaniac (In the Grips of the Light)," 12 minutes that's all slow-crawling post-free jazz menace, winding itself up and then leisurely uncoiling into an acid bath that eats the metal mother alive. It's been a long while since I heard a band this authoritative and powerful, and whatever muscle Racebannon needs to stay in the game, they've got it to spare. Suffice it to say that this was my favorite record of last year, and maybe even this year. If you haven't got this, you're missing out. (MA)
(Secretly Canadian Records -- 1499 West 2nd, Bloomington, IN. 47403;
http://www.secretlycanadian.com/; Racebannon -- http://www.racebannon.net/)
The Reunion Show
Kill Your Television
If there's anything preventing me from saying that the Reunion Show is nothing but the latest post-Weezer mating of Van Halen and the Cars, it's only the fact that I'm sure someone else has thought they've come up with the same idea since Kill Your Television hit the streets. They're loud, they're zippy, they've got what sounds like tons of energy, but there's a lot of music that sounds like this these days, and the Reunion Show doesn't have that one undeniable song that would make them stand out from the rest of the pack. The synth lines on songs like "New Rock Revolution" and "On A Scale Of One To Awesome (You're Pretty Great)" are about as perfunctory and uninspired as new wavey keyboards can get, as if the band knew that it just had to have a certain sound but had no idea why or what to do with it. What's worse, I think they're too busy trying to be clever that they don't quite realize what they're saying. I mean, it's one thing that the refrain of "Dedication" ("This goes out to anyone who claims to know something about nothing at all") sounds profound but means nothing. It's another to fail to realize that the title of "On A Scale Of One To Awesome (You're Pretty Great)" is actually a bit of an insult. (MH)
(Victory Records -- 346 N. Justine, Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/; The Reunion Show -- http://www.thereunionshow.com/)
River City Rebels
No Good No Time No Pride
The River City Rebels play pretty much straight-up pissed off, alienated, anti-capitalist, anti-everything hardcore. They're bored, pissed off, and hate everybody, which makes them exactly like every other 20-year old on the planet. They do occasionally have a sense of humor, which may be their saving grace, 'cause the songs without the sense of humor are for the most part banal. They've got a few decent melodies, but the lyrics drag a bunch of the songs down. Occasionally they try to flesh out the production with horns, but they generally don't add anything, and at worst they're just stupid.
"Aborted" is probably one of the better songs on the record, both in the music and the lyric. The band seems to be more inspired on this one, and how can you not laugh at a line like "I should have been aborted"? The rest of the song is more humor-less, but it gets by. "Pass the Basket" has a nice melody, is a good performance, and the horns actually add to the song(!); the lyrics, however, are toss-offs, and just aren't as interesting as they could be.
The best song on the record, where the whole thing works is "Rotten Brain" -- the vocals are tight, the chorus is cool, the lyrics are interesting, and the horn part is nice. The lyrics glorify the punk ideal, with lines like "Do your own dance and march to your own beat," which is all well and good, but they also manage to skewer it at the same time, asking "what is the result of all this freedom and independence?" "Forty years old you still live at home." If they just had a few more songs like this one, they'd be a lot more interesting. (HM)
(Victory Records -- 346 N. Justine, Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/; River City Rebels -- http://www.rivercityrebels.com/)
Odds and Ends
The main reason I took on this "reviewer" gig for Space City Rock was because I'd hoped that I would find that rare gem -- something fresh and extraordinary from a real talent. This five-song demo from Rhonda Roberts is it.
Rhonda Roberts has one hell of a sexy voice, perhaps the sexiest voice I've ever heard -- you almost have to hear it to believe me. She has an effortless vocal style full of inflection and content that seem to defy her years. Usually when I hear an emotive singer, I'm able to hear the "work" involved; that is to say, you can hear the emotional effect they're trying to instill in the listener through their vocal manipulations. Some are better at this than others. The worst end of that scale are those singers who become all technique over substance -- I'd put Celine Dion and that bunch in this category. Great chops, but I can't stand to listen to the emptiness. At the other end are vocalists who some call "stylists," which at times can mean they aren't really good singers but have developed a style that is attractive. Rhonda Roberts has both sides of the spectrum. She has a style that's fluid and controlled without being rigid, so much that it's almost otherworldly. I was fortunate enough to hear her sing in person, just her and her ukulele, and I was so taken by the experience that I jumped at the chance to have a copy of her demo.
She currently plays uke in the exotica/Tiki group Clouseaux, but her solo demo contains songs from the Tin Pan Alley genre. These songs are not a slavish homage to the style, mind you, but rather advance the genre with a depth and sensitivity seldom seen in any form. A couple of the songs fit the "novelty" category popular in that era, and two songs are heartfelt ballads that defy categorization, except as nearly perfect classic american pop standards.
This young woman has a lush voice, writes clever lyrics, and uses phrasing steeped with emotional content so deep it demands your attention. Her vocal mastery is demonstrated clearly on the second cut, as she nearly whispers the complex lyric and melody in a close-miked intimacy that would surely betray any weaknesses in her instrument. She not only hits every note with surety and sexy brattiness, but she does so with an ease that makes it sound effortless.
"Honolulu Cuckoo," the first cut, is a rug-cutting Charleston number stuffed with patter lyrics about her boy flirting with hula girls in Hawaii. A very cute song, and it reflects the era's fascination with Hawaii. "Simple Love," on the other hand, is a classic pop love song and a breathy, seductive confession that ends with a coy question expressed with so much sexy confidence it's almost embarrassing. The listener gets the feeling that they're eavesdropping, and Roberts seduces into listening further.
Rhonda is known about town as an A-1 ukulele player, and that she is. Her compositions and her voice, however, are truly amazing. Contact her for a copy of this demo and get a good lesson in superb composition and vocal talent. (BW)
(Rhonda Roberts -- email@example.com)
Los Angeles-based quartet Rosemary's Billygoat released their respectable sophomore CD, Evilution, back in 2002, and while there are several aspects of the disc that make it worth a listen, there are also unfortunately several inherent downfalls.
Musically, I wanted more from the band. Guitarist Neal Gargantua is obviously quite talented, and many of the riffs are catchy and well composed. The solos are generally good, too, as far as guitar solos go; the problem is that Neal controls every song. I think there's too much guitar, and it should be used more wisely. Because of the amount of guitar, Paul Bearer's drums play with it instead of the bass, and Pat Trick's bass is virtually nonexistent because it ends up playing with the guitar as well. Also, Gargantua fills spaces unnecessarily with his guitar, very often with "chugging," and in my opinion, when chugging is necessary, you're better off taking out the guitar and throwing the bass in. It's much more effective, because the bass can be used more subtly to create depth by playing in the background with the drums.
On the good side, I was fairly impressed by Bearer's drumming skills. In "I Plead the 5th," he plays off-beat, but makes it work; the only other drummer I've seen that has this skill is Lars Ulrich of Metallica. Some attempt it and fail miserably. Take the track "Wading Through the Darkness" from Flotsam and Jetsam's Cuatro -- the drummer tries to be slick, but instead the song makes me cringe and yell at him through the stereo each time I hear it.
Lyrically, I think the band needs to outsource or something, because this is the area that needs the most work. They need to show more depth, be more multidimensional, and be way less repetitive. Often the songs have a one-line chant that gets repeated over and over. For instance: "I'm the carnivore / You're the herbivore / Don't you know the score?" Need I say more? The track "Electrocution" deals with, surprisingly, a man in the electric chair. I would think this to be a reflective place, a philosophical place, and yet the first person narrator in the story, the man in the chair, starts thinking about his head exploding and his guts running all over the floor, which I would think would be the last thing on my mind. The idea is good, but I'll stick with the title track off Metallica's Ride the Lightning.
Let's get off the CD contents for a bit, though, and discuss a couple of bigger issues:
Image -- These guys like to dress up. Sadly, I think that in 2004, it's not too cool to go onstage with elaborate costumes and flaming pentagrams and crucify your vocalist. Alice Cooper, KISS, even White/Rob Zombie pulled this off effectively, but unfortunately, the members of Rosemary's Billygoat look more like leftover extras from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom than formidable devil worshippers.
Hidden Track -- Hidden tracks are a big pet peeve of mine; I hate them. You wait for at least a full minute after the last song, only to get rewarded with some throwaway garbage track. Evilution makes you wait for five minutes before you hear some disorganized techno-chanting noise-through-vox discordant piece of something that was only put on the disc to be "cool." Ugh.
I know the guys in Rosemary's Billygoat can play, and I actually dig their "Satanic Corrosion of Conformity" vibe. They have talent that just needs to be reorganized and lyrics that need replacing. I would advise previewing this album, if possible, before laying down the coin. (CM)
(Porterhouse Records -- P.O. Box 3597, Hollywood, CA. 90078; http://www.porterhouserecords.com/; Rosemary's Billygoat -- http://www.rosemarysbillygoat.com/)