The Golden Republic
There's nothing special or outstanding about The Golden Republic on their People EP. In today's music market, there's simply too much competition for songs with no "hook," and the songs on this EP are middle-of-the-road, bland indie-rock tunes. Sure, there are hints at credible influences (glam, garage, new wave), but one has to seriously question the label's mindset in throwing out this lackluster EP (the full-length was released earlier this spring). (DAC)
(Astralwerks Records -- 104 W. 29th St. 4th Floor, New York, NY. 10001; http://www.astralwerks.com/; The Golden Republic -- http://www.thegoldenrepublic.com/)
Josh Goode Band
Fact of the Matter
On the initial listen to the Josh Goode Band's Fact of the Matter, I was faced with a dilemma: how do you reconcile loving a band's music and not really digging the lead singer's voice? I'm not sure what it is about this album, but the vocals on it rubbed me the wrong way at first, so much so that I'm struggling to put into words just exactly why that is. Fortunately, I realized that as the CD progressed I actually started enjoying not just the music and words, but the vocals, as well; for this MILF, at least, the Josh Goode Band's vocals were apparently an acquired taste. (The MILF fanbase, of course, being one that they are committed to showing their love to, going so far as having upcoming shows in the -- gasp! -- suburbs.)
With love being the pervasive theme in their lyrics, one might expect wilting guitars or less-than-present drums and bass, but fortunately, that assumption is entirely wrong. The Josh Goode Band incorporates a rockabilly sensibility with a driving funk sound, and also somehow allows for guitar solos in the midst of those aforementioned love songs without coming across as some '80s hair band. In that vein, "Room to Breathe" serves as their ballad-ish song for this EP, but it's closer to a John Mayer-esque blues-influenced track than anything slow and lilting. For the record, "Just the Thought" is my favorite song on the CD, with "Life Less Lost" coming in as a close second. Overall, it's a good CD, but if you are like me and don't dig the first track, give it a chance anyway -- you might change your mind. (JR)
(Two Dupes Records -- 184 Kent Avenue, Suite 306, New York, NY. 11211; http://www.twodupes.com/; Josh Goode Band -- http://www.joshgoodeband.com/)
Boy In A Box
I recently got my hands on an advance copy of Johnny Goudie's Boy In A Box, which should be out by the time you read this review (Goudie, formerly a member of Endochine, is also producing the upcoming Canvas release due out this spring). My first glimpse of Johnny was at his SideCar Pub show here in Houston many months ago, and I've been following him and catching his shows in town ever since.
Goudie's music has a retro feel, but not so much of one that you can peg it easily. The seamless blend of guitar, organ/synthesizer, and percussion and the slightly '50s quality to Goudie's voice is what gives it that flavor. Every song has a beautiful melodic quality, even "Back of a Magazine," which is much more rock than pop with its fast, driving guitar. A lot of people have a serious hate on for pop music, but pop music is a genre that can actually be done well; it's just frequently not "good" pop that ends up on the radio. Boy In A Box is good pop-rock music.
There is serious musicianship in every track, the lyrics are edgy and real, and the vocals are cutting and stick with you. I have woken up several mornings this week with Goudie singing in my head -- most often it's been "Standard Issue Pistol," with its foot-tapping, almost cheery beat and stinging lyrics: "You fire out your words like a standard issue pistol / You hit me in the heart and watch me fall." Several tracks have acoustic guitar and a more melancholy sound; "Leave it Alone" is one example. Unlike other CDs I've heard where the musicians slide through various types of music and it comes off choppy and disjointed, Boy In A Box is cohesive, balanced, and flat-out addictive. (JR)
(F + M Records; Johnny Goudie -- http://www.iloveelke.com/)
What the hell happened? Where did all the female rappers go? It wasn't all that long ago that Queen Latifah was a rapper, not an actress, Missy Elliott was all over the charts, and Sister Souljah was bringing down the wrath of presidential candidates. Since then, though, the hip-hop world's been overrun by the likes of the Wu-Tang, Tupac, Puffy, and lately, 50 Cent and Kanye West, and there's nary a woman in sight. The best you're likely to get if you're listening to hip-hop radio is Lil' Kim, and man, she's just plain scary. What happened to people like Mary J. Blige? MC Lyte? Hell, Salt-N-Pepa? Mainstream hip-hop is a man's world, no two ways about it.
Then there's Jean Grae. On her second full-length, This Week (the followup to the brilliantly-titled Attack of the Attacking Things; I hear there're a couple of bootleg EPs floating around out there besides), the South Africa-born, Brooklyn-bred rapper steps into the spotlight to prove that no, intelligent, tough women have not left hip-hop behind. Not only that, but she flows with the best of 'em, so fast and technically good on tracks like "A-Alikes" that it takes a while for the real meaning behind the lyrics sinks in -- and yeah, there is meaning there, which is a nice change from the days of super-speedy vocal tricks that sound cool but say jack shit. Oh, and to top it all off, This Week is a concept album, a day-by-day chronicle of the trials and tribulations Jean goes through in the course of a week, complete with little skits to tie it all together. It's an album that begs to be listened to not for the single, but all the way through and in the right order; seriously, every time I try to shuffle it on the 'pod, I feel like I'm missing something.
Maybe I've been looking at this the wrong way, actually. Who cares if Jean's a "female rapper"? Is her variety of hip-hop somehow "feminine"? Nope. It is different, though, and that's a good thing; girl or boy, Jean Grae's just a damn good rapper, period. So why isn't she famous and making magazine covers all across the country? Well, it's partly because she's hard to pigeonhole. She's not rapping about coke deals and respect, there's no Jamaican dancehall thing going on here, and she's no Big Willie out cruising in the ragtop with lots of Kristal on ice. Heck, despite the notebook she's writing her lyrics in on the cover of the album, Jean doesn't even really fit in with the too-smart-for-their-own-good indie-hop crew. She's intelligent, yes, but she knows better than to get too wrapped up in conceptual artistry (does anybody actually enjoy listening to cLOUDDEAD?), and she thankfully avoids the comic book geekisms (although her stage name hints at 'em) and Dennis Miller-on-speed pop-culture references (Barman, I love ya, but y'know...).
In fact, the only people Jean really has much in common with at all are "fringers" like Black Star trailblazers Mos Def and Talib Kweli, Blackalicious, and The Roots (and maybe Atmosphere's Slug, but that's mostly in the way she raps). They're smart, interested in being authentic artists and not just at making it onto high school kids' bedroom walls (although I'm sure that'd be a nice side benefit), not about beefs with anybody, and eschew the mannerisms and lyrical topics most of the scene seems to go for. They all -- Jean included -- hark back to the days when hip-hop tried to stay positive and not focus on all the bad shit going on around it, and unfortunately, they've all also suffered from a lack of mainstream success. While Talib, Mos, Gift of Gab, and the rest get plenty of respect from critics and their peers, the big bucks don't seem to hit 'em real often -- while he certainly does okay with record sales, I'd be willing to bet that Mos, like Queen Latifah, makes the bulk of his cash from movies these days.
The above is obviously a crying shame, but all is not lost. Jean's brought new life to the under-appreciated "positive hip-hop" side of the scene -- all in all, This Week is a breath of fresh air. Jean's tough, smart, and sarcastic as hell, an oddity because she's not afraid of showing both sides of her personality; she throws down the battle raps, sure, but on tracks like "Supa Luv" she's vulnerable and desperate, searching the clubs for her one true love. There's also "Give It Up," with its honest, warts-and-all depiction of the way a relationship works its way from being friendship to being something else, which makes a heck of a lot more sense than the love-'em-and-leave-'em bragging of the glut of wannabe ballers and players dominating the airwaves. It's funny, but even though the track pretty much admits its immaturity, it's still a hell of a lot more adult than all those too-tough posers. Even when she's got her fists in the air, ready to brawl, as on "Whatever," Jean's smirking like it's all a private joke. She doesn't take herself too seriously, on "Don't Rush Me" slipping into a Color Purple-style pleading voice and saying "Mama...mama...," while explaining why she doesn't want to have to kill somebody and then get thrown in jail.
Despite the humor, I think that track's the key to what makes this album so appealing. Jean lays it out right there in the lyrics: "I know / I'm wrong and right / At the same time / Both dark and light." Who out there doesn't feel like that at some point or another? That's reality, folks -- reality isn't listening to Fitty in your mom's Ford Explorer and pretending you and your boys are out to bust some caps and build your street cred. Please; that's no more "real" than a bunch of high school kids pretending they're anime characters. This is real hip-hop, and it blows all that guns-and-money fantasy bullshit out of the water. Welcome to real life. (JH)
(Babygrande Records -- Suite 1038, 8033 W. Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, CA. 90046; http://www.babygrande.com/; Jean Grae -- http://www.jean-grae.com/)
It seems as if nary an issue of Space City Rock goes by that I don't find some reason to lavish fanboy giggity-giggities on Jonah Matranga. This issue is no different, actually. I can't help it if the guy keeps turning out quality music, man -- I just wish that guitar I bought from him would transfer some of that mojo to me. Anyway, this time around, Jonah has a partner in crime in the form of Mark Weinberg (former guitarist of Crumb). As it was told to me, Mark wrote most of the songs here with the intention of having Jonah sing them, they made a bedroom demo together, and Atlantic Records gave them a deal based on the demoed songs. Somewhere in there, Gratitude became a full five-piece band (which includes Jeremy Tappero from Jonah's Onelinedrawing and New End Original incarnations). It doesn't surprise me that a major deal came down the pipe so quickly; Mark's songwriting and Jonah's vocals make for a killer combo. Gratitude traffics in loud and catchy pop songs -- not unlike those of Crumb, actually -- and fans of that project or any of Jonah's past projects should approve (as well as fans of Jimmy Eat World or Superdrag, for that matter). You can sense the fact that Jonah has been waiting a while to lend his considerable pipes to big songs like these, and the end result is pretty awesome, to say the least. Conversely, it also seems that at times Mark has been waiting for the opportunity to write for a voice like Jonah's, so it all works out rather nicely. If you're not hooked by the second verse of album opener "Drive Away," well, you must be dead inside. Look for Gratitude on select dates of this summer's Warped Tour -- I highly recommend their album, but I recommend seeing them live even more. Here's to another satisfying chapter in The Musical Journey of Jonah Matranga. (MHo)
(Atlantic Records -- ; http://www.atlanticrecords.com/; Gratitude -- http://www.gratitudemusic.com/)
Discord For The Dead Kid
While perusing Greyscale's label's Website I came across this news item: "Gillette has chosen a track from Greyscale's Discord for the Dead Kid for their in-store advertising campaign at Wal-Mart. 'The Fold' will be featured in an upcoming Right Guard promotional video for Wal-Mart." That pretty much sums up this album better than any review would, but I'll do it anyway (and no, I'm not going to make some lame "stinks" joke referencing the deodorant commercial). Greyscale pretty much play the kind of music that you would expect a group of tattooed, broadly "ethnic," hip-hop-cum-hardcore dudes to play. The kind of music that Wal-Mart sells by the truckload (albeit only the "edited version"). The kind of "rap-metal," or "pimp-rock," or "new-metal" (I think the press release made a reference to "jazz-fusion" as well, but don't let that fool you) that seems so calculated and watered-down that you'd think a machine had to have churned this out. But that might be your thing -- the genre is wildly popular; someone out there is buying it -- so let me offer up some positives. There isn't much of that annoying Linkin Park dual-vocal crap. New metallers take note: It works for Fugazi, but not for you, so bravo to Greyscale for eschewing that right off the bat. By the same token, the vocals do veer close to interesting at times, so I definitely think that frontman Kristian Raimo has potential, as it seems that he can actually sing. Maybe the rest of the band has potential as well, but Discord For The Dead Kid makes them sound like just another flash in the pan. (MHo)
(Battle Born Records -- P.O. Box 10679, Reno, NV. 89510-0679; http://www.battlebornrecords.com/; Greyscale -- http://www.greyscale.tv/)
There is only one word that describes Fresno-based Gryp's Left Behind EP: cool. The quartet has assembled a collection of tunes that reflect the versatility of its abilities, as well as add a level of emotion not often found in today's bands.
Curtis Shamlin's vocals demonstrate a surprisingly wide range. Often reminiscent of Korn's Jonathan Davis and Fear Factory's Burton C. Bell, Shamlin sings with a fierce intensity that adds feeling and depth to each track. He is able to evoke different moods, based on the direction that each song takes.
Jason Garcia, Jeremy Davis, and Mike Sharp, the band's guitarist, bassist, and drummer, respectively, are all quite talented in their own right. Each seems to have a sound that he has honed over the years, which results in music that goes places. This is not straightforward metal; this is metal that has highs and lows, softer parts juxtaposed with harder parts. Peacefulness adjacent to restlessness. Joy followed by anger. The guys are not concerned with being the loudest and the fastest. They seem to, instead, have the desire to take the listener places, which results in dynamic arrangements and changing moods and provides a re-listenability not present in much of today's music.
Usually, I have a laundry list of gripes, but this time I'm fresh out. I wish I had more of Gryp to listen to, as I only have this 5-track EP (which, coincidentally, is really only 4 tracks, since Track 1 is the album version of "Left Behind" and Track 2 is the edited version). It's been several months since I've reviewed anything I haven't heard before, but my verdict after two listens is this: check out Gryp if you get a chance. I don't think you will be disappointed. (CM)
(W Recordings; Gryp -- http://www.gryp.com/)