Parts Of My Bicycle Are Made of Chrome
Taggart is your paradigmatic drums-bass-guitar punky foursome who ping-pongs between grand anthemic gestures, smart, butt-smacking pop songs, and outright emo-ish misery. I normally don't go in for this kind of thing -- I really had my fill of this about 8 years ago -- but Taggart, though indefatigably earnest (sample lyric, from "Bufferless": "I can't fashion these clumsy bits of passion into words / Love is cruel, like a child"), attack their sturdy, well-constructed songs with energy and verve and make it virtually impossible for a sourpuss like me to count 'em out.
And there's a lot to like: the Anglophilic new wave ditties "Chelsea" and "California," the joyous full-blast jangle-rock of "Finders," the slow build and open-throated crescendoes of "Deferent" and "Weekend Politics," the rocket-sled rides of "Little Builder" and the album's opener, "Lifeboat." Some nice piano and organ touches distinguish these guys from most everybody else who's mined this territory; Taggart's a real band, and the whole CD is just swell. The stumbling last song "Final Chapter," a Replacements-style countryesque number ("Well I'm four drinks deep and I'm thinkin' of growin' up / and I'd finally have somethin' to say"), only adds to their considerable charm. (MA)
(Face Down Records -- P.O. Box 1733, Burlington, NJ. 08016; http://www.facedown.net/; Taggart -- http://www.taggartrocks.com/)
The Teen Idols/Squirtgun
The Dysfunctional Shadowman EP
Ripped-off name (which I just unconsciously mistyped as "Idles" three times) notwithstanding, I like the Teen Idols' self-titled record, and they were pretty good live. These two songs have a different singer, however, and while they're still fast, still tuneful (more or less), and still rockin', they're missing the sense of humor, which is a pretty crucial element of this particular brand of punk rock. With it they came off as snotty, tough, and carefree; without it, they're closer to formulaic and calculated. Pop-punkers, let this be a warning: if you aren't laughing, then people are going to treat you like you think your music matters.
Squirtgun is mainly remarkable for the fact that bassist Mass Giorgini recorded the Queers, Screeching Weasel, Anti-Flag, and 88 Fingers Louie. Which is to say, they aren't. (DM)
(Asian Man Records -- P.O. Box 35585, Monte Sereno, CA. 95030; http://www.asianmanrecords.com/; The Teen Idols -- http://www.teenidols.net/; Squirtgun -- http://www.squirtgun.net/)
Rustic Living for Urbanites
Okay, so Pete Teo is apparently a fairly big up-and-comer in the singer-songwriter scene in Kuala Lumpur. To the geographically-challenged: yes, that's in Malaysia. According to his little blog (which is pretty fascinating, really), he's been up for a ton of awards and such across Asia, and yet with all that, I'd imagine he's having a hard time breaking into the U.S. market.
Which is a damn shame, really, because his latest effort, Rustic Living for Urbanites, is fairly impressive. I'll be frank: in general, this isn't really my thing. Parts of it are a little "soft" for me, a little too nonthreatening, like that Adult Contemporary station one of my coworkers loves to play in the office at a volume she apparently thinks doesn't carry outside her cubicle (see the apparent single, "Arms of Marianne," which is okay but a little on the fluff-y side). But even still, the story-songs grab me, pulling me along for the ride on what seems to be an episodic story about the narrator and a long-lost love named Marianne (who, in a grim turn, ends up dead).
The whole thing's like an intricate song-cycle, a perfectly put together dark little universe of its own, somewhat like Tom Waits' best work ("Budapest," in fact, reminds me of Waits' more melodic moments). Teo sings in English, and yeah, you can kind of tell it's not his mother tongue (although hey, he does very well for that), but his high-pitched, world-weary, Cat Stevens-ish voice quavers nicely, whispers hauntingly, and soars when it needs to. The songs do make sense, too, even if the language stumbles occasionally. Teo's like some kind of alternate-universe troubadour, Bob Dylan roaming across the wilds of Asia rather than hitching across the Midwest.
The overall sound of Rustic Living is intriguing, as well. Teo succeeds at marrying the very Western sounds of gentle, jangly guitar-pop with what I'm guessing are more traditional Malaysian instruments (the di-zi and sheng are apparently kinds of Chinese flutes, and a gambus is basically an Arabian oud). The end result is something that's all its own, nestled in between two worlds. "Jesselton Tonight," for example, is a jaunty, almost Springsteen-ish tune about kids in love, dancing all night long to Van Morrison, but it subtly takes apart the Western pop blueprint and incorporates some beautiful flute sounds, all without feeling a paste-up of two different styles.
Unfortunately, that seamless blending of cultures is probably partly why Teo's not likely to make much of a dent here in the States -- we Americans can be an insular, isolationist bunch in general, and we're no different when it comes to music. But hey, who knows? Maybe some record exec or label distributor will hear this album and realize they've got something pretty damn good on their hands, whatever country it comes from. (JH)
(Redbag Music; Pete Teo -- http://www.peteteo.com/)
One thing you should know about TwinStar: the singer cannot sing. Completely out of tune for the majority of the songs on the record, and not in the indie way that's become acceptable over most of the past 10 or so years, frontman Jim Hanke whines and shrieks his way through most of Dovetailing.
While the music on the album isn't half-bad (indie power-pop with halfway thoughtful lyrics at times), it is very tough -- actually, impossible -- to get over his voice. While singers like Morrissey and Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie might have voices that take a while to adjust to and are definitely not for everyone, there's just no way to get around Hanke's voice.
Apparently others must have felt the same as me -- the band is no longer together. I'd say that's no big loss. (DAC)
(Jet Black Records -- 1712 Dixie Highway #114, Crete, IL 60417; http://www.jetblackrecords.com/; http://www.twinstarband.com/)