Energized: Live in Europe
Bernard Allison, son of bluesman Luther Allison, plays in a more contemporary style than his dad on his new record, Energized: Live in Europe. Most of the songs here are in a funk or rock style as opposed to a traditional blues groove. He also chooses to avoid any of the standard blues repertoire, all of which is to his credit. The problem is that he doesn't offer us much of an alternative -- most of the songs here are weak, and their performances don't make them stand out, either. His band is tight and energetic on the faster songs and they're obviously having fun, but they're mostly uninteresting. Allison's voice is also an acquired taste -- it sounds like he's constantly about to choke on something, and it's not particularly expressive.
On the good side, his guitar playing is decent. He takes some great solos, particularly on "Bad Love" and "A Woman Called Trouble," and he takes a really ripping one on "Snake Bit Again." His guitar riffs complement the vocals on "A Change Must Come" in a nice way. "The Walk" is a Bo Diddley-style stomp, which he uses basically as an excuse for soloing, and thankfully, it's some nice soloing. And on "The Way Love Was Meant To Be," the distorted guitar lines that he adds after each verse are cool and effective.
Allison's keyboard player, Mike Vlahakis, on the other hand, is less than effective. And since he's on every song as well, that's not a good thing. Ultimately, he just distracts us from Allison's playing. On "The Way Love Was Meant To Be," he goes through all of the different sounds on his keyboard and still finds nothing that works with the song. His solo on "A Change Must Come" is lame, and his part on "Too Cool" is just boring. And his keyboard sound helps make the slower songs ("Into My Life" and "The Way Love Was Meant To Be," in particular) way too smooth.
There are a few decent songs here -- "A Woman Called Trouble" and "Snake Bit Again" are both nice, and "A Change Must Come" works, too, despite that piano. But even that stuff is only good, rather than great. Bernard Allison may feel "Energized" about the record, but he's the only one.
Though songwriter Mark Matos was raised in central California, he now resides in San Francisco, and in between, he seems to have stopped in Tucson to make Goodbye, Oklahoma. His vehicle Campo Bravo owes debts to Calexico, in that it has a vaguely southwestern feel, and the Dirty Three, in that it's sometimes slow and noodly and sometimes employs a violin. This is particularly true of "Magic Carpet," a Zenonian dirge that subjects the listener to the exquisite torture of being put to sleep so slowly as to never actually reach oblivion. Campo Bravo's musicians are competent enough, in particular violinist Lady Vickie Brown, who provides the sole point of reference for the aforementioned "Carpet," but Matos's voice is barely sufficient and completely without distinction, as demonstrated, respectively, by his inability to hit a single note of "She Is You" consistently and the fact that it is impossible to say whether Matos is writing beyond his ability or is simply too lazy to sing in tune.
His lyrics fare no better; though they graciously avoid cliché, they also manage to avoid being interesting, settling mostly for just being there, except when they insist on being repeated to the point of meaninglessness, as does the line "heading towards a collision course," ("Collision Course") whose failure of diction would be much less frustrating if it was not so prominent. These failings could be forgiven if his music was not so enervatingly generic, but the most damning criticism of Goodbye, Oklahoma is that Matos has pursued a misguided commitment to a Southwestern musical idiom and mood to which he has no real connection, not to mention a songwriting tradition of which he has no real understanding.
Citizen Fish/Leftover Crack
One CD plus two great bands equals nothing but politics-filled punk/ska fun, doesn't it? Citizen Fish and Leftover Crack. Two great bands, one split album, expectations are high. 15 tracks with Citizen Fish covering Choking Victims' "Money" and Leftover Crack's "Clear Channel," whilst leftover crack covers Citizen Fish's "Supermarket Song" and the Subhumans classic "Reason for Existence."
Citizen Fish has been around for awhile; if you didn't know, the band includes crust punk icons Dick and Phil from the Subhumans, so there was some massive hype created on this album due to the two well-known crustifying ska/punk band members. Citizen Fish continues its ska-core stylings on the first seven tracks, weighing in with the skanked-out sounds of British anarchic-punk. "Meltdown" and "Join the Dots" are essentially punk with horns, while "Working on the Inside" puts more emphasis on off-beat guitars, although both directions are simply a vehicle for the act's political discourse. Although their intentions are in the right place, it's nothing that we have already heard. "Join the Dots" rips on the CIA drug trade connections; "Working on the Inside" refute the notion of taking down the system by way of interior rot, and "Getting Used to It" is yet another diatribe against the corporate-run zombie lifestyle.
Leftover Crack hops in on track eight and picks up where Citizen Fish left off, with crusty ska-punk and a whole lot of righteous indignation. The intro, "Baby Punchers," kicks off with Dave Dictor of punk legends MDC and clumsily writes off everyone from the cops to rich kids, only to let Jello Biafra step in and rants against everything that isn't left of pure socialism. The World 4 peace punk message gets lost in a sea of confusing post-apocalyptic imagery, but the ecological warning in the "Life Causes Cancer" is straightforward enough not to lose the point.
Forget all the MTV-ish, poppy, kiddie-style mall punk that has taken over today; although Citizen Fish and Leftover Crack might have had better releases prior to this one, this split is a reminder that the underground still lives.
God Save The Clientele
I've had this record on rotation for weeks, mostly because I wanted to come up with something better than this:
"Yeah, it's okay, but it sounds a lot like the last record and not really in a surprisingly illuminating way or anything. It's more like, if you thought the last record was asking questions, well, now they're satisfied with those questions as answers. If sunlight, then sunlight. And more sunlight. And it is a decent record and it really does ooze blue light and barbeque and the smell of children and small plastic pools and a certain sensibility (or lack of one) that smacks even more strongly of '60s nostalgia, well-crafted, melodic, etc. This is a great pop record, it sounds like a great pop record. If exposed to oxygen, it behaves like a great pop record. Maybe it is a great fucking pop record. But that's all it is. And in an awfully non-specific away, as well. I mean, this could be nostalgia for just about anything pat or well-executed -- bee-hive hairdos, sand castles, etc. For a record of the now, it sure sounds like a record of the inexact then -- which these days is often considered an asset. Everything's been done, so let's take something that's been sonically run and do it well: all right. And go team. And again, that doesn't mean this record's hard to listen to (is honey hard to listen to? No, sister, it is not) or that it isn't seasonal (just don't play it after Labor Day) or even kind of resplendent in a fucked-up, borrowed glory sort of way. The thing is, it's limited. It's hard to really recommend this. You might, you could, in the same way that you might recommend a day at the beach or a night with a conversationally limited blonde. But you couldn't, in good faith, say this record will change your life. This band cannot be your life -- this band can't be more than a sort of sequined accessory to life. This band's too easy to be your life. And again, a lot of people are going to say what the fuck is wrong with that? And maybe they're right. Maybe I'm just cantankerous, just ulcerous, just lurching towards my 30th birthday with a head full of noise and a heart that loves sentiment, sure, but doesn't give a shit about sentimentality. Maybe I've gone wrong, critically. Maybe I've forgotten what music's all about. Maybe insisting upon ambition is an inevitably pretentious stance. But you know what? What the fuck. Maybe a shimmer, a certain lushness, and stylistic excess isn't enough. Maybe we don't need the merely pleasant. Maybe we've had more than enough, and it's starting to hurt."
Again, I've left the CD on the windowsill, to see if it would grow. I've listened to it in my car. I've listened to it with underage girls. And I've listened to it while trying to sleep through the sodden hangover of the Houston scene. Listened, sure, and actively, but I never found myself having much to say (this being the full extent). I never really needed to respond to the record. I never found a reason to talk back. Or ask questions. Or talk out of turn and get myself in trouble. And if you're spiritually exhausted, maybe that's exactly what you need: music that asks nothing of you. Music that insulates you from you. Music that is pretty but that does not launch ships. Music that is honeycomb and will not leave you greatly changed. There is no reason to be afraid.
Daphne Loves Derby
Good Night, Witness Light
The music industry loves to stumble upon bands like Daphne Loves Derby. This Seattle-based trio churn out the kind of polished, amphitheater-ready indie-rock that would appeal to the Death Cab for Cutie set. Lead singer Kenny Choi is easy on the eyes, and in the band's press photo, pays homage to his Northwestern locale by posing solemnly yet attractively in front of some deer taxidermy at a lodge.
On Good Night, Witness Light, recorded at the home studio of Panic! At the Disco producer Matt Squire, the band mines familiar power-pop territory, offering clean riffs and let's-hold-hands lyics. With pitch-perfect harmonies, the boys of Daphne Loves Derby deliver lyrics like "I want to run / I want to run / but you've got a gun pointed right at me" with a straight face. The lyrics are repetitive enough to stick, but sufficiently nuanced to stand up after a second or third listen.
It would be grossly unfair to say that this band appropriates and then sanitizes the kind of indie rock that blew out of the Midwest in the late '90s (Braid, Sarge, Promise Ring, et al). Daphne Loves Derby have made the effort to diversify Good Night, delving curiously into marching band tunes and disco. (The press kit said they were inspired by the film Drumline.) The experimental numbers are hit or miss, but overall, this album consists largely of solid and very listenable mainstream indie rock.
How Far Our Bodies Go
Fake Problems' comparisons to fellow Floridian musicians Against Me! are too obvious, so I'll do my best to avoid comparing them to each other. But think Against Me! without a political slant and with fewer exclamation points. The songs on How Far Our Bodies Go aren't too catchy, which is a good thing because today's music overdoes catchiness to try and sell more records. Said catchy music becomes too temporary and superficial. You can only hear "Hey Miss Murder, Can I?" so many times before your coworkers start to look less like potential social interactions and more like potential victims. But let's change the subject.
The album sounds to me like kids who got bored and decided to start a band and one of them sings just like the guy from Against Me!... Whoops, sorry, won't happen again. How Far Our Bodies Go is full of non-sappy love songs with angry, defiant lyrics that give the band a charming vulnerability. The title track is the standout on the album, being the catchy sing-along drunk song it is. It's simply too short, like most songs on the album. The main offender there, actually, is "Para Tu," which sounds like it's going to turn into this great epic love song but ends just when the horns swell. The band has amazing potential but they're really holding back here, especially lyrically. The lyrics are straightforward and honest to a fault. There's not really any mystery or tact to them.
Fake Problems has a refreshing Southern influence and the band doesn't really sound like what I'd think Florida would sound like. The band members know how to use uneven tempos to keep the album interesting, and there's a nice assortment of quirky instruments like a banjo or a harpsichord. So it's a fun and eclectic album, but that's about it. Sadly, the over-gravelly vocals kill it for me. They give the band this odd incongruency that doesn't mesh well. But maybe that's part of their charm, because it doesn't really take away from their sound, young and clean as it is. Now if they can just polish everything up a bit.
500 Megatons of Boogie
500 Megatons of Boogie
Drummer Jason Tortorice, guitarist Erik Westfall, and bassist Johnny Todd made some of Houston's most ambitious and endearingly wacky hard rock as the Slurpees, and then as the Squishees after being threatened with legal action by 7-11. The ubiquitous ice vendor also recently began selling a drink called a Squishee, in a long-overdue act of reverse product placement, but Westfall and Todd need not worry, having put the Squishees on hiatus to make room for 500 Megatons of Boogie.
500 Megatons' music departs radically from the complexity and ambition of the Squishees' recent work, replacing demented prog with down-home rock-and-roll. Well, not as down-home as all that; part of the greatness of Westfall and Todd's bands has always been Westfall's clever and hilariously weird vocals, and 500 Megatons are no exception. A particular standout is "Asleep in the Plastic Boudoir": "Asleep in the plastic boudoir / Dreaming of a Disney Xanadu / Living in a G-rated pleasure dome / Feasting on tofu caviar." Another is "James Brown Song," which features a refrain that sounds suspiciously like "something something something," but which is obscured by Westfall's unhinged screech. He sounds for all the world like a mental patient channeling the Godfather of Soul.
500 Megatons of Boogie often sounds something like the early Slurpees records, which combined the acid wit of the Dead Kennedys with the head-snapping punk-funk of the Minutemen, but here Westfall and Todd are reaching for something more primal and muscular. They are aided by Kent Hassinger, who has replaced Tortorice on drums. To say that Hassinger's drumming is not as fluid, agile and expressive as Tortorice's would be a massive understatement, but he substitutes an almost unbelievable physical strength. It is an integral part of this brutal, stomping, goofy record, which retains the peculiar charm that has marked Westfall and Todd's music since the beginning: that of witnessing the power of rock and roll to turn three average guys into complete raving lunatics.
The Inevitable Backlash
Sex For Safety EP
I'm trying to cut these guys some slack, honest. The Inevitable Backlash's new Sex For Safety EP bears a sticker that says "Featuring Members of Rollins Band + Saccharine Trust," and technically, that's true. Kinda. Drummer Jason Mackenroth used to be in Rollins-produced Mother Superior, who backed Rollins on the Get Some Go Again tour, but to me that's a teeny bit different from actually being in the jazzbo-heavy Rollins Band, which was a whole other animal. Similarly, bassist Chris Stein apparently joined SST oldtimers Saccharine Trust, but that was only fairly recently, for one of the band's decidedly non-classic albums. (Okay, I haven't heard 'em, I'll admit; hell, I didn't even realize they were still together...)
At any rate, regardless of how kosher the Backlash's punk cred is, they pull off a decent retro-sounding punk roar, unsurprisingly reminiscent of Black Flag or the Trust, with maybe some back-in-the-day/pre-rockabilly Social Distortion slathered on top. Where the band falls down, though, is when guitarist/songwriter/singer John Renton opens his mouth. The lyrics, to put it bluntly, are godawful. From "He Never Left" (which is about Jesus? Maybe? I dunno...) on through to the closing title track, I find myself cringing when I realize what the heck Renton is singing.
It's not even the guy's voice, really, although the quasi-sinister Lou Reed thing gets old after a song or two. It's the words to tracks like the EP's lone acoustic number, "Snowstorms," that make me shake my head in bewilderment. It's fine to want to pay homage to the SST bands of yore, but keep in mind that they were half-assed and experimental, blazing new trails where none existed before. So yeah, some of the lyrics on those early albums sucked, too. But here's the thing: that was 20-plus years ago. I'll take progression over homage any day of the week.
Machine Go Boom
Music For Parents
Sometimes, little children, prayers do get answered. A while back, we at SCR had a weird-looking little CD in our mailbox from an Ohio-based one-man-band of sorts who called himself Machine Go Boom (okay, so apparently there were other people involved, but it sure didn't sound like it to me). The album, Thank You Captain Obvious, very nearly bowled me over as soon as I pressed "Play," careening in like a ten-year-old pumped full of sugar and armed with several cans of spraypaint. The songs were frighteningly addictive, mostly nonsensical, and utterly great, and I had the depressing feeling that I'd never hear a thing from Machine Go Boom (or semi-eponymous frontman/lone band member Mikey Machine) ever again.
Fortunately, I was mistaken. A year or two on down the line, and here's Machine Go Boom's followup, Music For Parents, sitting on my doorstep. And it's...well, different, at least at first. This time out it feels like MGB are actually a band in more than just name, especially on tracks like "Niagara Falls," where they amp what could've been just a melancholy little pop song into a Bob Mould-worthy raveup with awesomely roaring guitars and keys. And hey, I'm perfectly fine with that -- they sound great, and the other folks in the band filter Machine's creative genius a bit and weed out a lot of what would otherwise be filler.
More surprising is songwriter/guitarist/etc. Mike Machine's shift away from the high-pitched, crazed-sounding vocals that were everywhere on Captain Obvious, not to mention his slowing the pace a bit and trying to get a little more thoughtful on some of the songs. Take the opener, "Small," for instance -- rather than kicking in the door with gleeful abandon, the first track on Music For Parents ambles in pleasantly, sits down, and plays it somber/sweet, musing on the way things look bigger when you're a kid. The distant drums and backing vocals and Machine's melancholy, expressive, nearly delivery find the song in some middle ground between Shearwater and The Polyphonic Spree, and that's quite a surprise given the guy's past work.
Of course, it doesn't last. "Build Me a Ladder" slams in like The Dead Milkmen covering a Buzzcocks song you've never heard, all frantic, pounding pop with insistent, half-insane vocals, and we're right back in Captain Obvious territory. The feel continues through "All the Way to PA," which is a fun as hell road song, syncopated and fast and cheerily incorporating Machine's signature yowl. With "800 lb. Gorilla," though, things switch up again, getting quieter and more languid, just Machine, his guitar, and some friends in the background providing much-needed handclaps.
And on it goes, skirting between the silly, slap-happy shtick Machine's mined before and some more straightforward, often downright beautiful power-pop. And it's awesome. Music For Parents has so many damn high points that it's impossible to keep up. Beyond the aforementioned "Niagara Falls," "Build Me a Ladder," and "All the Way to PA," there's also "M.I.A.," a cheery-but-embarassed, lurching, foot-stomping anthem that plays like The Veils, the great, Belly-/Sebadoh-ish drone of "Circle of Dust," the frenzied, burning-hot "Elmer's Glue," and closer "Lazy Weekend," which starts gentle and acoustic but mutates into a complex, gorgeously Beatlesque pop song that Teenage Fanclub would envy.
Along the way, I find myself reading the lyrics a heck of a lot more than I did for Captain Obvious, in part because, well, they seem to make somewhat more sense than those on the previous album did. And it hits me that damn, this Machine character is one heck of a songwriter. For one thing, while I'd first assumed the album's title was either a bald-faced joke or maybe some sort of underhanded stab at Adult Alternative airplay, I've started to wonder if maybe it's not accurate after all.
Maybe Music For Parents doesn't mean that this album's actually Manilow's greatest hits, but that it's a collection of songs about how kids feel, written from a kid's (or at least, a young person's) viewpoint. There're tales of public teenage shame ("Oh My"), childhood perceptions ("Small"), escape from the family ("Parents"), and the like scattered throughout the album, and it's not hard to think that maybe some people would better understand the pain, fear, uncertainty, and joy their kids feel on a daily basis.
Okay, so I may be reading quite a bit into what is merely an innocent, message-unfilled collection of songs; the fact remains, though, that with Music For Parents the men and women of Machine Go Boom have crafted sixteen of the catchiest, smartest, quirkiest pop songs you're likely to ever hear. Don't miss your chance.
"Johnny Depp has a band?"
I've heard that question a lot lately. He doesn't really have a band anymore, no, but he did have one. In fact, he's had a few bands. I won't go into their details, but a quick Google search will return a slew of results. Music is Johnny's first love, apparently -- he only got into acting after a band or two of his never got their big break, although P is a slight exception. I remember watching 21 Jumpstreet as a kid; it was a family event, eating around the TV and watching that show. Edward Scissorhands is pretty high up on my list of the greatest films ever made and you can't deny the power of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I've never met anyone who didn't love the guy, pretty-boy hair and all. There's got to be someone who hates the guy, though.
P's self-titled CD is incredibly hip and it feels like a time capsule of a simpler time for party-hard celebrities. It was produced before the Internet and DUIs and rehab stints and sex tapes, originally released way back in 1995. If Gus Van Sant made a film about a drug-infused post-grunge, pre-"alternative" '90s band, this would be the soundtrack. It's comparable to quirky, seemingly novelty acts such as King Missile or Marcy Playground or even the Butthole Surfers. One could also compare it to Primus or Green Jelly. There was a nice chunk of '90s bands with a slightly unique sound and only one big hit to speak of.
P was one of them, I think, only their sole album was well ahead of its time. I can imagine it being released today to a lot of acclaim. It's a bunch of talented men who recorded a jam session to show everyone how it's done. The band is Johnny Depp, Gibby Haynes (of Butthole Surfers fame), Sal Jenco, and Bill Carter, who wrote most of the album with his wife. I have no idea who he is except that he's a friend of Johnny Depp and a fucking weirdo. Flea helps them out a bit; Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols contributes to the effort, too. P was the house band at Johnny Depp's Viper Room, the club most famous for River Phoenix's rockstar overdose on the front stoop and P's timeless death behind the dumpster in the back. P is a snapshot of the death of grunge and a vision of whatever that was that came after grunge, only it's much more interesting.
So P is an album you'd probably expect musically from Mr. Depp, bluesy and southern. Lyrically, however, this thing is a real surprise. "I Saved Cigarettes" sounds like a Bob Dylan homage or maybe a parody; it's hard to tell with this band. The vocals on "Zing Splash" are psychedelic and jumbled so the lyrics are incomprehensible, but they seem to mention something about Jimmy Carter and JFK and Marilyn Monroe doing something with Gibby Haynes's penis. Then there's "Michael Stipe," a catchy song full of name-drops like River Phoenix and Sofia Coppola, before anyone knew who she was. The songs are well-written, with clever, intelligent lyrics. And if the lyrics aren't clever and intelligent, they have a wonderful and vague stream-of-consciousness feel to them. "Deal" is the standout track on P, with the most interesting lyrics. "The Cheeto loogies had attracted worms" and "The mites on Trigger's Face had killed a cop" are a couple of lines from that one. There's always "What about the trip that day to the grocery store / What about the lipstick on the dog / What about the retard on the bridge that night / What about the headlights in the fog." Judging by the lyrics, it's pretty obvious that Gibby Haynes had something to do with the album.
Each song is weirder and more fascinating than the last. "Mr. Officer" sounds like something the Old 97s would do after smoking a lot of really good pot. "John Glenn" is a dub-stoner song with echoing drums and warped vocals. "Die Anne" is the sole ballad on P, and it reminds me of that "rock a bye" song from a few years back; Shawn Mullins sang it. There's a cover of "Dancing Queen," and it would be hilarious if it weren't such a good song. Gibby's slurred vocals make me think of him swaggering on a stage with a stiff drink and a cigarette. The cover probably stemmed from a night of drunken karaoke with Johhny Depp and Sofia Coppola or something. Mandolins are scattered throughout the album, and that can never be a bad thing (just ask Shawn Colvin, who doesn't appear anywhere on the album). "Scraping From Ring" sounds like it was written after a night passed out next to the toilet.
Sadly, P was the only album released by P. Everyone went their separate ways, to the Butthole Surfers and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and to Caribbean pirates and claymation. Johnny has mentioned that there was always a possibility that P would reunite for a second outing, but this was a goof, just a fun project from a few weird dudes. The fact that it was even being recorded was somewhere in the background. Today's celebrities, with their sex tapes and constant media coverage, could only wish to produce something as interesting and artistic as the total madness this album was. Honestly, I don't even remember 1995. I was probably calling radio stations requesting Weezer and Hootie and the Blowfish and trying to find my first girlfriend. I can only imagine this album helping me.
Night of the Furies
Departing partly (but not entirely) from previous breezy and sunny sounds of earlier albums Birds Make Good Neighbors and Make Out, The Rosebuds pleasantly surprise us with their new and third full length album, the dark and synth-fueled Night of the Furies. The Rosebuds (Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp) have encompassed a different, but enchanting new sound by channeling Greek mythology about vengeful chicks, jamming out a few bass lines, and delivering some tight dance grooves. This is all due to producing their new album themselves, allowing for new creative opportunities and exciting sounds that they see fit. Earlier albums have been about light topics -- blue birds, lovers holding hands, and kissing -- but now it's all about blood, cemeteries, land of deceased relatives, and draining someone's youth.
Despite the upbeat songs, Howard's deep and rich vocals effectively ignite a total feeling of despair, while Crisp's ghostly vocals are haunting. Those both things give the album a gloomy feel from beginning to end. Their songs are catchy yet not lyrically mindless and analytically deep yet not enough to lose you in the process. Their catchiest song by far (and the highlight of the album) is the thoughtful and danceable "Get Up, Get Out," where they successfully mix dark undertones with an unstoppable pop hook. "Silence from the Lakeside" is their sedated anthem; with howling "oohs" and the jingling of sleigh bells, the song definitely personifies anguish and pain.
With Furies, The Rosebuds are distinctively themselves whilst constantly reinventing their art and relating to those melancholy hearts that want to dance.
Crown of Creation
Tired of the modern metal scene? Do bands like P.O.D. and Hoobastank make you yearn for the power metal days of the '80s? Look no further; Space City Rock has got a band for you! Meet German metallers Sencirow, who've produced some ultra-melodic power metal tunes on their album Crown of Creation.
When the disc first started playing, the vibes were completely Iron Maiden. The music was full of fast drum beats and intricate guitar melodies and solos. Each song was an epic tale about one of four things: a beast; the paranormal; the apocalypse; or the dark side of human nature. All of this was accompanied by a mid-range, gravelly singing voice with a German accent. The latter's unusual for power metal, but it was a nice change; the normal high-octave vocals get boring sometimes. One of the standout tracks, "Last Day of Eden" also veers from the norm, sounding quite similar to Bad Religion. Another standout track is "Vampire," in which the singer exclaims with confidence, "I am a creature of the night!"
Sencirow can be described as a near-hybrid of '90s punk rock and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal...even though they're actually from Germany. Their music is talented, engaging and pleasant. Old-school metalheads fed up with the young wannabes should definitely check this album out.
The 69 Eyes
"Helsinki Vampires are ready to take over the world with a sleazy blend of post- apocalyptic rock'n'roll ... and they're out for YOUR blood, baby." Such is the claim found on the website for Helsinki's gothic glam-metal supergroup The 69 Eyes.
On first listen, I hated this record. I'm not talking overzealous, "not my cup of tea"-type hatred. I'm talking the sonic equivalent of spitting out the piece of dog shit you accidentally mistook for a candy bar kind of hatred. Still, to give you, the good readers of Space City Rock, a fair shake, I gave it another listen. Make that 300 more listens. I loaded the whole album on my iPod and listened to it, exclusively, for over a month. If I was intentionally listening to music, it was Angels.
After subjecting myself to The 69 Eyes' influence for that long, I'm not entirely ready to dismiss the band's claims of vampirism. Much like the way the hypnotic hematophages of the silver screen incapacitate their victims, the damn thing drew me in; despite the fact that my rational brain knew if for the evil it is, I was powerless to resist. Maybe it's the seductive crooning of Jyrki 69's Alan Vega rip-off vocals; maybe there are sub-vocalized Wiccan enchantments running throughout; or maybe it's that the record is, aside from its many faults, really damned catchy -- sometimes.
The overwhelming impression I get from this disc, the one I just can't shake, is how well these songs would fit on the soundtrack to some cheesy 1980s horror film. It seemed very appropriate to find that movies like 1987's The Lost Boys are some of the band's major influences. It's not just that the songs have an '80s goth feel to them; I actually see credits rolling in my mind's eye while listening to Angels. If you listen to the record in the same way you might watch a movie like The Lost Boys: there is definitely some fun to be had; it's just dumb fun, that's all.
The titular opener kicks things off with a driving beat and Iron Maiden-style organ. Jyrki 69's affected crooning plays amusingly against lyrics like "Angels, flying over the land of blood / Angels, warriors that heaven forgot." The production here is Hollywood-slick, as it is throughout the rest of these dozen songs. It comes as no surprise that the last few 69 Eyes records have been produced by Johnny Lee Michaels, a Finnish filmmaker and composer of soundtracks.
"Rocker," the idiotic power-punch of the set, finds the band at the height of their riffing prowess, centered on two premises. The first is a marginally interesting guitar hook. The second is a riff on the classic "deal with the devil" motif, declaring "I made a deal with the devil that I can't change." The chorus shoves your nose in the stupidity of it all: "I'm a rocker, yeah / Baby, I'm a rocker, that's right / I'm a rocker, yeah / A god-damn rocker, that's right."
"Ghost" is a strange mix of influences. The keyboards would feel at home on David Bowie's Labyrinth soundtrack, but the guitars are begging to be mixed into a crappy rap-metal album. There's even a moment of almost orchestral metal, a frantic interplay of strings and guitar. The whole thing reminds me of Darling Violetta's theme song for the late TV series, Angel, especially the melancholy strings that close the track.
"Perfect Skin," the first single from Angels, has widely touted as a clever, scathing indictment of modern society's disturbing preoccupation with physical perfection. I'm not sure I'd go that far. For the most part, it comes off more like a Guns 'N Roses-style power ballad, filled with grit and lust. The only social indictment comes in the chorus, with its background-vocal admonition of "first sin," and a litany of female sex-object icons rattled off at the end. Even then, the impression left is one of frustrated desire, not disapproval.
While I haven't come completely full circle about this record (the acrid taste of dog shit hasn't returned, thankfully), I have managed to break free of its hold, mostly. I don't think Angels is going to make it into my regular rotation, but if a song or two turn up when I dance the iPod shuffle, I don't necessarily know that I'd skip them -- at least not every time. The mix of Bowie-esque glam, Bauhaus goth, and Guns 'N Roses rock bombast is not without its place.
[The 69 Eyes are playing 7/3/07 at The Meridian, with Wednesday 13 & Fair To Midland.]
Karate Summer Camp
The quintet Spraydog, comprising of Steve Robson (vocals, guitar), Maria Fontana (vocals), Phil Tyler (guitar), Cath Tyler (bass), and Chris Lanigan (drums), hail from across the pond, specifically Newcastle, to drop their new quirkily-titled album, Karate Summer Camp, upon our Yankee shores. With eleven albums under their belt, you'd think they'd be musical pros, but that's not necessarily the case. When you think of Spraydog, not just one sound or style comes to mind -- the band channels from Sonic Youth's punk drone amidst disorganization, The Pixies' sluggish guy/girl vocals, and My Bloody Valentine's heedless indifference, but Spraydog doesn't display any distinct musical style. The band sounds like a sped up version of indie New Yorkers La Pieta, whose sound works for them, but their musical recipe spells inevitable disaster for Spraydog. Their schizophrenic melding of different bands is illogical, confusing, and uncreative.
The one and only highlight track of the album is "One Big So-So," where Marie's vocals sound a bit like those of Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The instrumentation and vocals equal each other in energetic velocity, which makes for a precious lo-fi gem in a pile of relatively nothing. Despite their borrowing, it seems they can't develop a style all their own. Their drone is boring and predictable, their vocals are lethargic and discordant, and their indifference is anything but different -- but perhaps that's part of the charm? You decide.