Keep Me Up All Night
In these days of inexpensive digital recording technology, when everyone can be an artist to their significant other (or at least, to their ProTools rig), it's heartening to hear somebody who clearly isn't trying to get their basement to sound like Muscle Shoals. "Keep Me Up All Night" sounds like earthquakebang's sole member Greg Herald may actually have added noise to it -- unfortunately, however, that's about as distinctive as the record gets. The album is completely instrumental, of the quiet and pleasant variety, but it's all a little too quiet and pleasant. It doesn't help that while most of the pieces have a number of instruments on them (strummed guitar chords, another guitar playing droning eighth notes, keyboards, and otherelectronic sounds), mostly what you hear is the acoustic guitar strumming away, making it all sound the same. Even towards the end, when there are a couple of keyboard-oriented pieces (even a whole 58 seconds of funk!), it still sounds the same, and that way is: "pleasant."
The other problem is that the melodies are pretty functional and interchangeable. They're not ultimately all that interesting; in fact, they're hardly there. Compounding the lack of melodies is the fact that the strummed guitar is so loud, it's hard to pick out the guitar melodies, so even if there were nice melodies, you'd barely be able to hear them. The most entertaining moment may be about midway through "australia is key (to the game)," which sounds like
a bunch of grade-school kids practicing to a level-one Jamey Ebersold bluegrass CD, but it's not even consistently amusing in that way, either. (HM)
(Photon Records -- 4725 Prince Street, Downers Grove, IL. 60515)
Emma La Reina
Dopamine and Sunshine
The simple silver disc, printed with plain black text, didn't tell me much about what this band would sound like. With a name like "Emma La Reina," I was expecting music from another singer-songwriter, something folky and delicate, perhaps. What I wasn't expecting was the solemn and stately guitar line that opened the song "Just Another Texas Sunday."
Emma La Reina are guitarists Chris Barrey and Peter Janovsky, vocalist/songwriter Alina Simone, drummer Oliver Rivera-Drew and bassist Marta DeLeon. They named their indie rock band after Emma La Reina, a Tejano singer who ran her own label in the 1950s and was the guitarist's grandmother; she recorded some of the first "Tejano" or Mariachi music in Southern Arizona and was famous for the big bouffant hairstyle that was her trademark. The band Emma La Reina itself, though, has little or nothing to do with Tejano music. Emma La Reina the band plays the kind of rock that you would come to expect these days from a band based out of Brooklyn -- art-rock that's a little detached, yet studiously energetic.
The band recorded this EP with engineer/producer Steve Revitte (The Liars, John Spencer Blues Explosion, and Panthers). The title track, "Dopamine and Sunshine" opens with a somber, delicate guitar riff that undulates against the beat of a simple bass drum; juxtapose this quiet introduction with the raw, distorted guitars that enter the song a few moments later. We can't hear much of what Simone is singing over the noise, and as a Texas resident, I still can't figure out what this song has to do with Texas, but really, who cares? A song like this could be a brooding ode to the Alamo or to Sundays at the local dive bar in Austin. It's ponderous, ominous and menacing, without being pretentious.
Unfortunately, track one of the CD is the only song that has more in common with Blonde Redhead than candy pop-punk. The dichotomy between the first song and the rest of the CD almost leads me to believe that the rest of the CD was recorded by a different band. Pop-punk is no sin, especially when it's as danceable as it is on this record, but I believe that Emma La Reina is capable of more subtletly than the hooks they offer on the rest of the disc. The album ends with a Björk-meets-Cat Power wail from Simone, whose unusual voice reminds that the band aspires toward difficult, poignant rock, despite the occasional dance beats. (AL)
(self-released; Emma La Reina -- http://www.emmalareina.com/)
I'll admit that Ester Drang's Infinite Keys isn't an album I would typically listen to and actually like, but I found it a very pleasant experience when I gave it a chance. The vocals are sort of a two-thirds Interpol, one-third Radiohead combo, while the music gives off this Massive Attack-ish sort of vibe. No particular track stands out above the others, and the overall album is very soothing and very dreamy. It's a great listen if you just want something in the background that won't distract you from your task at hand -- it's the kind of album a sensitive soul would listen to while laying in a dimly lit room trying to write poetry. Others might prefer it as music to make out to. Either way, the music is very unobtrusive and is completely complimentary to relaxation. If you enjoy music that makes you feel melancholy, then Ester Drang is for you. (NK)
(Jade Tree Records -- 2310 Kennwynn Rd., Wilmington, DE. 19810; http://www.jadetree.com/; Ester Drang -- http://www.esterdrang.com/)