Holding on to Hand Grenades
Ah, yes. This is what I find myself wishing rock sounded like all the time. Which says something about my musical tastes, I guess, because this album sounds like a long-lost gem from that fertile period of the mid '90s when indie-rock ruled college radio and bands like Superchunk, Poster Children, and Arcwelder held sway. The roaring guitars, the spoken/shouted vocals, the driving, not-quite-punk rhythms, it's all there, and I can't resist. Tracks like "A Responsible Person" and "Feel Good Ending" surge and churn, the guitar lines and chords weaving in and out of one another while vocalist/guitarists Eldridge Rodriguez and Tony Skalicky speak-shout wry, sarcastic, bitterly smart observations over the pummeling drums and bass; I can practically smell the stale beer and sweat-stained Fugazi t-shirts.
At the end of the day, what's most refreshing about Holding on to Hand Grenades is that, nostalgia aside, it's indie-rock stripped down to its purest form. There are no emo-ballads here, no pop-punk bursts, no garage-rock or nü-New Wave pretensions, no samples, no pretty-boy looks or moppish haircuts -- it's just full-on, we-don't-give-a-fuck-what-you-think rock that knows you don't have to sing sweetly to have melody. Take "Cointelpro," for example -- it's a wild, anxious track that still manages to sound angry and exuberant at the same time, marrying a gorgeously understated melodic line to frenzied, pounding rock the way Hüsker Dü did in their most sublime moments. It's nice to hear somebody do that frantic, desperate-sounding kind of rock but hang onto their sense of fun throughout. That's probably the biggest way in which The Beatings resemble DIY heroes Poster Children, actually -- no matter what they're doing, both bands sound like they're enjoying the hell out of it.
The music's dynamic as hell on the one hand, jumping in and out of the rock guitars and quiet vocals seemingly at a whim, but on the other hand, when the band grabs hold of a guitar line, they ride it for all its worth, churning along at a relentless, hypnotic pace. The songs shift and change direction, as on "Upstate Flashbacks," which starts off like a meandering Sonic Youth outtake but transmutes into something that sounds weirdly like a distorted cover of a Bee Thousand track, or "Stockholm Syndrome Relapse," which begins with breathy female vocals (courtesy of bassist Erin Dalbec) but morphs rapidly into a dead ringer for Vee Vee-era Archers of Loaf. "Scorched Earth Policy" does something similar, transforming in mid-stride from quirky, noodly stomping into speeding, urgent, Replacements-esque rock. And best of all, whatever twist or turn the Beatings take, they're able to make it come off as perfectly natural.
Not all of the specific tracks really stick in my head, I have to admit, but I'm finding that I don't mind, because I get that pleasant, head-bobbing-and-smiling feeling the whole way through Hand Grenades. I mean, if I get buzzed on Jameson's throughout the course of an evening, is it all a waste if I can't remember what each individual shot felt like? Of course not; sometimes the buzz (whether from alcohol or music, although I generally lean toward the latter) is the critical part.
Picture yourself down by the bayou: barefoot, sipping on some lemonade, eating fried gator, and listening to some serious slide guitar. Imagine that you are drifting down a gentle stream on a piece of wood with Tom Sawyer, straw dangling from your mouth. What about down in the salon where my man Bobby Brozman is jammin' hard on the twang-banger? Did I say salon? I meant forest.
Suddenly, a deep voice starts to croon you the blues -- often getting to a ridiculous point, which I was really feeling. Some songs made me feel like I was walking down to the water hole with a fishing pole made out of twigs and twine after a long day on the farm.
Brozman's eclectic collection of songs transports you through worlds, cultures, and time. One in a long list of the guy's albums, here Brozman shows that he is the man solo. Let's not forget, however, that he's played with many, including the popular Woody Mann and Djeli Moussa Diawara. The song "More Room at the Edge" is described on Brozman's Website as "Completely new all-acoustic music-hip-hop impressionism...Funky Bolero blues...Art music...Trippy chamber music... This track features Bob playing two Kona Hawaiian guitars, tricone, Baritone tricone, a tiny Greek baglama, Chinese temple blocks, and cajon, with Greg Graber on drums."
That gives you an idea of the types of instruments on this CD. Percussion adds more rhythm to some of the songs, but it isn't necessary in others because of the rhythmic, percussive sounds of a baritone tricone. I doubt I'll ever listen to this CD again, but I can appreciate it for what it is. Blues Reflex is a quality mix of the blues and worldly influences.
The Sunny Side of the Moon: The Best of Richard Cheese
There was a time when Las Vegas lounge music was taken seriously -- back then, the immortal Rat Pack took audiences by storm and reigned supreme, and even their lounge singer hangers-on got some respect. Then along came Saturday Night Live; they created Bill Murray's lounge lizard sketch and kicked off the popular satirical view of the genre. The lampooning's thrived through the years and has most recently given birth to artist Richard Cheese.
If you haven't heard of him, he's the Weird Al Yankovic of the lounge world; he rearranges popular rock and rap songs into lounge acts. The Sunny Side of the Moon collects classic tracks from his past albums, where he covers all kinds of artists, from Slipknot to Pink Floyd. Some songs are more serious and sound like legitimate covers (covers of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and Radiohead's "Creep" come off pretty straight), but other songs are played strictly for humor. It doesn't get much better than hearing him sing "Open up your hate / And let it flow into me" on his cover of "Down with the Sickness" by Disturbed. Another high moment is at the album's start, during the sing-song-y cover of Nirvana's "Rape Me." Cheese ices the musical cake with his occasional comments to the audience or his bandmembers: "Seriously, folks, we do weddings!"
Wacky banter aside, the music is rather good. Most of it is typical lounge-jazz (piano, guitar, bass, drums, and a few horns), but some of the songs are labeled the "big band versions," and those songs have obviously more expansive instrumentation. In a nutshell, Richard Cheese's music is his namesake: it's cheesy faux lounge-jazz, but it's fun. Recommended for all music fans with senses of humor, and general jazz fans should give it a listen, too.
On their second EP, UFO Stories, Forest Giants lure you in with a simple and very narcotic musical recipe. Nothing is overdone, nothing is forced, and the end result sounds like they just put a microphone up in their living room and tried to write songs for the first time. The six songs contained here make you want to close your eyes and daydream about whatever makes you feel good. The sound is very bare-bones and has a kind of weird early '90s feel, one that'll remind you of bands that you haven't thought of in years. Which makes sense, by the way, since the band is made up of musicians with some pretty serious cred to their names: bassist Ruth Cochrane played in the Blue Aeroplanes in their early days and later toured with the Mekons and drummer Tim Rippington and guitarist Tom Adams played in the Beatnik Filmstars, who toured with the Flaming Lips, Superchunk, and The Wedding Present.
"Beards" starts things off with a pleading melody and instantly draws you in. It's not complicated and it doesn't try too hard to impress, which gives it a little charm right away. The band immediately shifts gears on the second song, "Oh No," which sounds like a lost, just-discovered Jesus and Mary Chain track. It's my favorite cut on the EP and maintains the band's compact, intriguing songwriting approach.
The third song, "Peculiar Feeling," is a stark and stripped-down acoustic number that paints a beautiful picture by barely moving an inch. It's the beginning of a slow but purposeful descent into the heart of the recording, which is the group's tribute to Elliott Smith, who died while they were making this EP. While there are only a few songs on this effort, they clearly crafted each one to have a point, and I think the listener benefits from the concept. The recording eases down to a whisper on the last few songs, which are more like sculpted AM radio static than anything else. Transmissions from another planet, anyone? Whatever the music's source, this is a solid offering from a band that couldn't care less about what all the other bands from England are doing right now.
I've found my new guilty pleasure. An album saturated with so much indie-pop goodness it makes your tummy hurt from the sweetness. Kid Theodore's seven-song debut EP, goodnight...goodnight, is a pop lover's dream, especially if that pop lover is surreptitiously recovering from a bout of boy-band lovin'.
No, I'm not a closet boy-band fan; I'm not even an out of the closet boy-band fan. But I know a solid pop record when I hear it, and and that's more or less what Kid Theodore is dishing out. Sure, some of their songs (well, two of them) could convincingly be belted out by the likes of N'Sync, but the album is so likeable that you can't help but love the band anyway.
Granted, goodnight...goodnight starts off a bit weak. "Fashion-Able" begins strong, but the off-key attempt at harmonizing quickly becomes off-putting for me. I'm not sure if the unevenness of the vocalists was intentional, but I feel like it took a great deal away from the potential of the song. Perhaps I'm getting older and don't get the indie-pop kids these days? "Lonely Angel," on the other hand, is super cheesy, Velveeta-like, but it's got a good melody and the lyrics aren't so tragic that it prevents you from getting the gist of the song's overall intent (e.g., this guy is "digging you like a grave").
"Diagnosis: You're in Love" -- the song title pretty much gives away the song. You know it's going to be one of those tunes you hate yourself a little for loving so much. The lyrics are sung in such a heartfelt manner that I almost feel bad for laughing as I listen (note that I said "almost"). I love it, but laughing at it makes me feel a little less like a preteen.
Thankfully, Kid Theodore's later musical merit completely offsets the album's earlier lack of lyrical integrity. The music and the genuineness of the lead vocalist gently nudge the listener to move onward with the rest of the record. The progression of the album is fantastic. "The End Is Near" is one of the best songs I've heard in quite some time; it has the perfect combination for a truly memorable indie-pop song, with subtle lyrics, shoe-gazing music with just a hint of trumpet, and the beautifully melodic accompaniment of a mystery songstress. It's exactly what Kid Theodore needed to seal the deal.
While goodnight...goodnight sometimes falters lyrically, it makes up for it with musical integrity, passion, and good times. The band sounds like they know what they're doing, and they seem to be having a freaking great time executing their collective vision. Diagnosis: I'm hooked. (Come on, don't pretend like you didn't see that coming...)
On Heavy Hands, Ladyfinger (ne) borrows from the last 30 years or so of heavy metal. Singer Chris Machmuller sounds like a cross between Robert Plant and Perry Farrell (which should also result in an ego large enough to damage small European countries). Ladyfinger (ne) has done something amazing on this record -- the band takes a contemporary take on hardcore/metal and still manages to make it sound clichéd. It's certainly an achievement, though undoubtedly not the kind these guys wanted.
The band shows range in their songs, too -- they don't just write the same song over and over. "Cause of Shame" sounds like Jane's Addiction, "Too Cool for School" is their big '80s hair-metal anthem, and "Diet Smoke" is a droning thrash song. Weirdly enough, there are a few moments that sound like the Constantines, too ("Don't Lose Your Shadow"). But their songs suck, so it doesn't help. Machmuller's voice is extremely annoying, and the melodies range from boring to banal to irritating (more proof of their range?).
Their Website is ladyfingersucks.com, which may be the best example of truth-in-advertising I've ever seen. In line with that idea, here's a slogan for their marketing campaign: "Ladyfinger (ne) -- putting the 'hair' back in 'hair metal'." They can have that one for free!
The Pat McGee Band
The Pat McGee Band's latest album, Save Me, plays like a real rock n' roll album should. It goes right in the CD player, spins around really fast, and some kind of laser picks up some kind of digital information, and...other stuff happens...anyway, as I was saying, this is a total rock n' roll album. It's just like the Goo Goo Dolls, and thank God for that, because Bon Jovi haven't released an album in too long, and I started to feel like real rock n' roll wasn't going to be played anymore. But along comes Pat McGee (and his Band, too!), and boy oh boy, do they put the "guitar" in "guitar rock." They have drums too, and a bass! Sometimes, they even include sensitive orchestration, which is so cool, because strings aren't just for guitars, and people who play violins shouldn't have to be gay just because they don't play guitar. But most important is Pat himself, because he plays rhythm guitar, and that means that he can sing also with that golden throat, which coats his bittersweet lyrics with rock n' roll. Pure rock n' roll. The fact that they even look like Bon Jovi and the Goo Goo Dolls placates my ultra-desire for lover-boys that like to play music, but that never matters unless the band actually plays real fashionable radio rock, and this band does that, too. Thank you, Pat McGee, for all that unoriginality.
The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower
If this single for "INRI" is any indication of who The Plot to Blow up the Eiffel Tower is, and if this is an example of what Art Fag records is going to put out, then I am confident in saying that nobody is going to care about either.
Having never heard of the group before, this single did not make me in any way interested to check out either of their previous full-lengths. The song "INRI" is a boring midtempo tune with lame wannabe Blood Brothers vocals and lyrics. The group's press kit quotes Blender as saying, "The Plot has more tempo changes and snotty attitude than most punk bands can fit into a career."
I find this extremely farfetched, considering that the song "INRI" does not contain a single tempo change. When I think of tempo changes, I think of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge, and the aforementioned Blood Brothers. This band wishes it could play like those bands. The only thing I could think of is that maybe the live performance that Blender witnessed at SXSW boasted a bunch of flailing about and talking shit to the crowd like they know something.
I could check out some of The Plot's other material to see if it is any better, but any band that puts out a single of a boring song like this deserves to go unnoticed. The press kit also claims that Alternative Press referred to the band as "one of the top 100 bands to know in 2005." I'm surprised that the magazine was able to put together 100 bands to know last year; does anyone open that magazine anymore? Cause I don't.
Maybe I'm being a little hard on The Plot, but I really thought that it was a terrible song, and I haven't even mentioned the second track, "Boys Keep Swinging," which is a failed attempt at covering a David Bowie classic. Bowie is probably rolling over in his grave -- oh, wait, he's not dead... The third track on the single is a remix of the title track, and is also my favorite cut because of the breakbeat...until it doesn't change for the whole song and gets boring.
That's enough; this band is garbage, and their Website is, too. Hell, they've even affected my game -- I had the disc on repeat while playing NBA Ballers, and I kept losing.
Chad Rex and the Victorstands
gravity works fire burns
I really no idea what to expect from Chad Rex and the Victorstands' debut, gravity works fire burns -- a grainy, black-and-gray cover pic with two plastic cowboys facing off, a weird band name (what the hell is a "Victorstand"?), and an emo-sounding album title. So it was an even more welcome surprise when gravity works fire burns unfolded to reveal itself as a warm, heartfelt, honest-as-the-day-is-long bit of classic-sounding roots rock. There's a lot of Son Volt on here, particularly in the jangly buzz of the guitars, the understated pedal steel, and gentle-yet-propulsive momentum of the tracks, but while there's nothing wrong at all with a little Uncle Tupelo-ness ("Not Arounded" being a good example here), it would be a mistake to write Chad Rex and crew off as yet another alt-country act.
The better bits step out of the "y'allternative" ghetto to evoke the best Springsteen songs ("That Way Girl," in particular, with that great organ, but also "Andrea Again" and "Postcarded"), Tom Waits' more romantic moments ("Mile Marker Town"), post-Replacements Paul Westerberg (yes, the excellent, aptly-named "Song for Paul Westerberg to Sing," which could be straight off of the Singles soundtrack), and even countryish Elvis Costello pop (the incredible "Cities By Hotels"), combining all those influences fluidly into a convincing whole. The result is a rough-edged yet still sweet and nostalgic-sounding collection of songs that bring to mind quiet nights on a front porch in Middle of Nowhere America, thinking about good times past and pining for that true love that got away.
Now You Are Gone
A lot of good things have come out of Australia: Paul Hogan, boomerangs, shrimp on the barbie, The Living End, and now Matt Roberts, just to name a few. Roberts is on an indie label half a world away, so I will assume that like me, you're not too familiar with his music. Apparently, Matt Roberts practices medicine, and when he gets some free time he tours the Australian countryside. The music he puts out has been compared favorably to Rufus Wainwright, The Postal Service, and Badly Drawn Boy. I would also add Phil Collins, although I might only compare the two because of the thick accent in the singing and the soft textures of the songs (I really don't want to drag Matt Roberts into the purgatory that is Phil Collins -- really, I don't).
Now You Are Gone is a soft rock/pop album that spills over at the brim with hooks and groovy beats. The first song on the album, "Tiger Ballad," slowly builds using the soft sounds of an organ as well as the singer's willowy voice. Roberts croons in a cool, relaxed style like a guy who regularly wears a smoking jacket. "Tiger Ballad" is a quiet melancholy song involving heartache -- a theme omnipresent throughout the album. The lyrics were poignant and heartfelt without becoming mawkish and overbearing. The following song, "Binary," probably my favorite, shows off Roberts' talent for creating bouncy hooks on the piano. The dancing piano creates the groove and the drum digs it deeper, while the electro-acoustic guitar maintains the bounce and lightness of "Binary."
The first six songs on Now You Are Gone are the strongest -- the album's catchiest hooks and most memorable tracks start off the album. The latter half isn't bad, but an ebb occurs after the overwhelming flow of the first few tracks. "Paris, January" was the first song that completely lost me. It's a track that alternates from French to English and is so sweet and sappy you might get diabetes just by listening to it. The song is sultry and seductive in a way that I'm guessing the opposite sex might appreciate more than the guys. I'm not saying you have to be a female to like this song, but "You know how I know you're gay?"
All in all, Matt Roberts has put out a good pop-rock album. There's nothing too avant garde on here, but it's a CD with a strong heartbeat. The singer/songwriter gives his well-crafted grooves and piano riffs a strong pulse and lays down lyrics that come across as genuine. After repeated listenings, the album reminds me a little more of Iron & Wine with an Aussie accent.
In Their Time They Are Magnificent
Michael Napolitano doesn't want to go, that much we know. How do we know it? Because "I don't want to go" is the first line of the record. "Retreasion" (really spelled that way, btw) repeats the denial several times, with varying degrees of apprehension, before letting the vocal dissolve into the swell of piano around it. The verses that follow are made of the same twilight stuff, though the accompanying organic (as in, "from an organ") menace is offset by newly crystalline playing, via a piano line that sounds like teeth being polished.
This is music that's easy to describe but it's a little bit more difficult to qualify; i.e., it seems easy enough (even fair) to describe the album as soft, blue, and pallid, but deciding whether or not that's a good thing? That's a little tough. Why? Because more than anything, this album is vague, vaguely sad (arguably, vague and sad), vaguely uneasy, but more than anything, vague. Napolitano doesn't want to go, obviously, but the why of it, the where to which he doesn't want to go, remain unclear. Stories start and stop, images emerge from the mist and as quickly evanesce; the narrative never really comes together. What we're left with are lines tossed off in the relative dark of the album ("I know you're in there / Somewhere") and a can't-quite-place-it sense of mourning. Something's been lost, something's gone missing, something unspecified, sure, but something. In a less than generous moment, one could dismiss the album as adult contemporary, but that would ignore its dirge-like sensibility and lushness.
Slow Learner sounds like a watered down Black Heart Procession or even a confident, baritone version of The Eels, said version of course being inferior to the original but not so inferior as to be dismissed solely for being so. The musicianship, at least, is beyond reproach; Napolitano, the frontman, the sole songwriter, and, largely, the sole performer on this record, thinks big and deep and dark. Think granite-hard folk music draped with a black carpet of electronic shimmer. But though In Their Time They Are Magnificent lacks nothing in ambition, completion itself eludes. Individual songs resemble nothing so much as grand yet already crumbling staircases that lead to nothing and nowhere. Magnificent is not a palace -- it's barely a place, a series of loosely connected ruins, an assemblage of fragments that do not make a whole.
Drunken, lurching lullabies ("Martyr" and "Ringing in the New Year") alternately skitter and crescendo; their music-box moments are pretty but on edge, manic, even. Clean pop songs weave walls of sound around themselves, but it's all more ornamental than not. Nothing seems out of place, but nothing, really , ever seems necessary. "Holding on to Yourself" moves from campfire tearjerker (complete with an almost gushy slide guitar) to something melodic but not much more than that, the whole of it (whatever it is) indistinct. The lyrics, opaque throughout ("The work is never done"), are occasionally and simply bad (for example: "I'd like to leave smiles / Down at your feet / To make you look / At your shoes"). The nervous first half of "Minister of Magicians and Whores" gives way to a cymbal-ridden din, a sort of nightmare version of a marching band. "East River Blues" cuts itself into ribbons, not ending but rather erasing itself. The first two minutes of "White Walls" sound like someone waiting silently for high tide. The tide's sprawl, pale and loud, sweeping over the rest of the song, has nothing to with the waiting.
But if this is a bad thing, it isn't only a bad thing. There are no connections here, but there is always the faint glimmer of possibility. Flawed though it may be, the record is also unsettling, beautifully unsettling. The unresolved problems, the stories that abstract themselves from meaning, the images that adhere to nothing... This waking dream of half-built bridges and small, porcelain melodies has a somnolent appeal. Nowhere isn't much of a destination. But who hasn't wanted go there, even if only for a little while?
Back in fall of 2005, when I first heard Vancouver-dweller Chad VanGaalen's peculiar brand of indie-art-pop genius, on Infiniheart, his "debut" disc of two-year-old recordings, I found myself being pretty critical. It was great stuff when it worked, sure, but at the same time it felt half-assed, lazy. Songs would meander in and out, cut off unexpectedly, or linger on long past their expiration date, and that gave the whole affair a sort of blasé, who-gives-a-shit? feel. Which is fine, on occasion, but I thought it dragged down what could have been a genuinely classic album with just a little judicious editing.
New year, new (for real, this time) album, and with his first proper full-length, Skelliconnection, VanGaalen is finally playing for keeps. Where Infiniheart was unformed and disconnected, with all the great ideas of a Bob Pollard album and about as much follow-through, Skelliconnection feels well-thought-out and tightly constructed. There's no emptying-out-the-junk-drawer lack of focus forcing the songs apart; this is definitely an album, a solid, cohesive whole. Songs begin and end when they're supposed to and get their business done in the space in-between. And best of all, what happens in the middle is absolutely enthralling.
I'll admit that I was a little nervous when opener "Flower Gardens" started off with crunches and bleeps, but when the buzzing, bassy guitars come crashing in, all my misgivings were blown away before the propulsive, driving rock. The track's got a frantic urgency to it, heightened by the stuttering, near-panic vocals and the break midway through that squeezes in a blast of radio static. I've got no idea if VanGaalen's got a single out yet for this album, but if he's still trying to pick one, "Gardens" is a surefire winner for the trophy. Of course, that's a little unfair to the rest of the disc, because it's damned difficult to pick one solitary standout song. "Burn 2 Ash," for one, makes me smile goofily while my head bobs in time to the clicking, breakneck drums; the song's quieter and less manic, but it's got this joyous sound to it that brings to mind fellow Canucks the New Pornographers.
Then there's "Red Hit Drops," which just seems to get better (and stranger) every time I hear it. It's beautiful and understated, the combination of electronic beats, synths, and pretty guitar-pop making me think of the Postal Service's best moments, and that beauty and sweetness makes the lyrics about, um, drinking blood even creepier. Having now heard both this album and Infiniheart, by the way, I'm thinking that VanGaalen's a bit obsessed with bodily fluids, and body parts in general -- "Blood Machine" and "Red Blood" off the last disc and this track and the '70s rock-ish "See-Thru-Skin" off this new one being prime examples. Not that being obsessed with blood is anything new, mind you; human beings have been fascinated with stuff since long before we figured out what the hell it was, after all. And given that VanGaalen's also an artist (he did all the cover art, as well as the two videos on the CD, which I'll get to in a minute), an interest in the body seems pretty appropriate. What's really surprising, though, is how well he makes it work for his songs. Beyond the Pixies or Neutral Milk Hotel, I honestly can't think of anybody who can sing like this about fluids and skin and make it catchy and cool.
The fascination with the body ties into another aspect of Skelliconnection, as well, and that's a kind of recurring motif about death (and sleep, too, which has been connected in our brains since the dawn of time). The most overt track is "Graveyard," which also happens to be the most straightforward country-folk bit on here, but there's also "Sing Me 2 Sleep," all quiet guitars, strings, flutes, and muted drums. It comes off like a Mark Kozelek song, depressive and sweet, at the same time. "Gubbbish" grabs hold of the sleep theme, too, and when VanGaalen sings "I'm never going to sleep," it sounds more like a threat than a complaint or a promise. "Dead Ends" starts off delicate and measured, but once the murky, stomping bass comes in, it's clear that the song's darker than that (something that's borne out when VanGaalen wonders if beating the fight against a disease ruins the surprise of death). By the time it eventually explodes into bombastic, The Bends-worthy arena rock, roaring and surging like storm-driven waves, it's become a triumphant elegy for loved ones who've passed on. There's a more earthy feel to this album than there was to Infiniheart -- there's no swooping alien mini-epics, but rather a set of delicate meditations on the nature of our bodies, of dying, and of life itself.
"Rolling Thunder" allows VanGaalen to quiet down and let his voice go a bit, soaring and warbling eerily and stepping beyond even Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg for atmospheric ghostliness. "Wing Finger" does something similar, focusing on gentle banjo-plucking and ending up haunting and melancholy, while "Mini T.V.'s" takes another tack, going for loopy, sloppy slacker-rock -- think Wayne Coyne fronting Pavement. I love the way it ends, with the line "Mixtapes / Try to stay awake / Ride my rusty bicycle / into the lake" all set to plinking bells. Even the little throwaway instrumentals ("Dandrufff," "Systemic Heart," "Viking Rainbow") seem to fit perfectly, serving less to distract from the "real" songs than to break up the proceedings a bit. And hey, how can you get bored when you cram 15 songs into just under 40 minutes?
I should note that I watched the videos, too -- and whoo, boy, are they as trippy as you'd pretty much expect from the music. I can't tell you what the hell the video for "Red Hot Drops" is about, but there're weirdly-shaped birds, drops of blood and water that morph into people, and mounds of mobile vegetation, and that goes double for the video for "Flower Gardens," which starts with malevolent wolf-headed cars trying to run down what looks like a Star Wars character and then flashes to scratchy drawings of a guy playing and eating his guitar (before he evolves into a bat). Oh, and then there's the bit with the squid dragging the boat to the bottom of the ocean, and the psychedelic toilet, and the swirly, smiling ghosts, and...okay, you get the idea. Remember that strange kid who sat at the back of the class and seemed to spend his time either frantically drawing or methodically carving his name into his arm with a mechanical pencil? Well, this is akin to watching his drug-addled doodlings come to life and spiral around on the page, set to music that's pouring out of his gifted-yet-confused brain and straight into the ether.
In the end, I have to congratulate Mr. VanGaalen for not just defeating this reviewer's expectations but beating them to a bloody pulp, chaining them to something heavy, and dropping 'em in a lake so they don't ever make it back to the surface. Way back when, I declared that I hoped Infiniheart would be the shot across the bow -- this one's the direct hit.
Drum Nation, Volume 3
"How do you know when a stage at a rock concert is level? Drool is coming out of both sides of the drummer's mouth!"
"What's the last thing a drummer says before he/she is kicked out of a band? 'Hey guys, let's try one of my songs!'"
Drummers have it hard. They spend most of their time in the background, and then they get made fun of and labeled as less than musically-talented. Luckily, Magna Carta Records feels their pain and has faith in their abilities. To make this known and hopefully advance the appreciation of heavy metal drummers, they have created the Drum Nation series. Currently in its third volume, Drum Nation collects drummers from different bands and labels, allows them to write and produce their own instrumental songs and puts them together on a compilation disc. Most tracks feature the highlighted drummer on drums with guest musicians on guitars and bass, but some of the most interesting ones have the drummer playing all instruments. Whether those other instruments are live or programmed, they collectively accomplish two tasks: 1) They provide the listener with a headbangin' good time, and 2) They give the listener a much better appreciation of drummers in general.
As a whole, Drum Nation, Volume 3 is a collection of technical instrumental metal in the similar realm of groups such as Dysrhythmia and Don Caballero. Track highlights include Chris Adler's (Lamb Of God) "The Near Dominance of 4 Against 5," Jeremy Colson's (Steve Vai, Apartment 26) "Fluoxetine," and Justin Foley's (Killswitch Engage) "Up and Atom." The album's most unique moment, however, lies in Chris Pennie's (The Dillinger Escape Plan) "YMCA or TCBY." Almost entirely electronic, the tune combines technical drumming with synth beats and samples to create an anthem that rides the border between industrial and techno. Some fans may not find this as too big of a surprise when they consider the innate experimentalism of the man's main band, but it still stands out as an amazing anomaly on the disc.
In a nutshell, Drum Nation, Volume 3 excels as a metal album. It's packed with intelligently-done tunes that fill listeners with the urge to rock out and perhaps even think. Metal fans should love it, and non-metal fans should enjoy it even if they're not converted by it. Music afficionados of all stripes should definitely check it out.