Exile On Coldharbour Lane--Geffen Records (9130 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069-6197)
Exile On Coldharbour Lane by UK outfit A3 (Alabama 3 outside the U.S.) is one of those concept deals where I feel like no one's let me in on the concept. A bewildering agglomeration of American country emulation, soul backing vocals, techno production methods, and Rocket From The Crypt/Devo style image manipulation, Exile On Coldharbour Lane is utterly unique, at least among major-label product, in its combination of influences and fully-formed presentation packaging-wise, but I'm left wondering what the point was of going to so much trouble. I just don't see how the pieces fit together: why the Marxist slant to the lyrics? Is the world waiting with baited breath for a country-electronica album? How else can Geffen possibly sell enough copies of this thing to make their profit margins? Why Alabama 3 (there are seven band member musicians listed along with four other members of indeterminate contribution [well, how would you interpret a credit for 'D. Wayne's Ladies' or 'Socialism in the Mainline'?], not to mention twenty other people credited for musical contributions)? Why the additional bonus disc of tediously repetitive beat-centered remixes? Does this mean they expect it catch on in the dance club culture if it catches on anywhere at all? If so, why didn't they just use a couple of these mixes on the regular album? It's a mystifying array of elements, and I'm left unmoved by it all despite moments that briefly seem to break through the bullshit. In the end I'm left with the feeling that what I'm listening to is not the authentic product of a group or subculture but an attempt to create a sub-subculture group via the content of the record, as though the minds behind A3 (whoever they may be: all band members are credited pseudonymously, even in songwriting credits) think it would be a cooler or more interesting world if teenagers were into this particular group of stuff, and hope to bring it into being with Exile On Coldharbour Lane. I'm reminded of Negativland, and Public Enemy, a little, but minus either group's (convincing) political fervor. For some reason the strongest association rising to mind is the Goats, the (quite good) rap group that debuted on Columbia in '92 as a ten-member troupe with a sprawling 70-minute album combining music and skits, toured the U.S. with a frenetic live show and low attendance figures, then returned in '94 as a slimmed-down group, minus their best rapper, with a slimmed down 50 minute CD (including a long filler low-fi collage). Then they broke up.
Right On! CD
No, TV’s Batman hasn’t cut an album, a DC garage-punk-rock band has just borrowed his name. Press kit sez they’ve opened for Electric Frankenstein, which sounds about right—this disc is only a little ways away from EF’s Right Now in more than just one letter of the title. Just mentally block out EF’s horror-rock trappings and replace them with pictures cut out of ‘70s biker magazines and you’re basically there. Not at all bad and probably destined for a spot on one of EF Sal’s Fistful Of Rock compilations if they haven’t made it already, but honestly if I was in the mood to listen to this I’d just put in an EF album instead, most likely. Might be worth your time and money if you’ve worn out your EF through constant play and are jonesing for something real close to it, otherwise I’d just wait for the next EF. (The Telegraph Company, www.thetelegraphcompany.com) – Aaron J. Poehler
A Day For Honey
A Day For Honey CD--TVT Records (23 E. 4th St., NY, NY 10003)
Small-town New York state quintet A Day For Honey blend two genres of music that most people would place at opposing ends of the musical spectrum: Brit-influenced shoegazer pop and NY precision prog-metal. Their self-titled debut album, the product of their experimentation, stakes a claim to ground lying somewhere between the two extremes, usually placing vocalist Tracy Jorg's ethereal melodies atop the hard-riffing twin guitar attack of Ed Ciappa and Frank Michael but occasionally switching it up and giving Tracy more aggressive lines while the instruments create the kind of reverbed tremelo wash for which My Bloody Valentine became briefly well-known. They've got their sound down perfectly and the instrumentation is sterling, but the songs aren't as memorable as the sound (often a weak point for bands falling into either of A Day For Honey's source genres); the whole thing is a bit pretentious as the music they come up with doesn't strike me as too mind-blowing except maybe for Helmet fans or shoegazing freaks. The clumsy band name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, either. Still, the band would make an exceptionally appropriate opener for Garbage, and if they can come up with material that's a few notches catchier that the material on this record they could easily be a Next Big Thing.
What The Hell Was I Thinking--Fat Possum Records (PO Box 1923, Oxford, MS 38655)/Epitaph
Sadly, the ever-derivative music scene contains few true originals--it seems like every season brings its new bands and trends, but so few are anything other than a weak imitation of somebody else's work. This month it may be ska, or rockabilly, or electronica, next month it'll be back to Led Zeppelin and Stones clones. In a universe of copycats and ripoff artists, Hasil Adkins may be the most unique musical creator around--he defines his own genre, his music carves out its own category. Hasil's performances have been described (favorably) as "It's like watching somebody's drunk dad sing at a party"; his picture should be in the dictionary next to 'cult artist'. If you had to put a label on his style, you'd use a lot of commas, hyphens, and slashes, and still not approach the ragged, primal howl of the best of Adkins' work. This one-man band has been playing his mutant brand of rockabilly/country in the coal-mining hills of Oklahoma since the 50's, recording sporadically but always raw, live, and rockin'--and a little (or a lot) out of tune. What The Hell Was I Thinking is no exception, containing 13 tracks featuring only Adkins' voice, guitar, and foot-controlled percussion accompaniment. It may look like a gimmick or a shuck on paper, but when you hear it, it all makes sense--Hasil does it this way because he has to, because it's the only way he knows, because the Nashville establishment has forgotten what the word 'country' means and because they'd never let this uncontrollable rebel-for-life into the country club. Their loss, our gain.
Incunabula--Hostage Records (PO Box 13369, Sacramento, CA 95813-3369)
The Aesthetics are a three-piece brother act (down to the matching jackets) consisting of guitarist/vocalist Rich Giannone along with Joe Giannone on bass and vocals and Paul Giannone on drums; unfortunately their debut CD Incunabula goes heavy on the packaging and posing and light on musical content. The mainstream classic-rock derivative songs tend to have pseudophilosophical lyrics about people named Jackie, Jimmy, Little Johnny, and Debbie and sometimes seem to go on forever--the word that springs to mind is 'self-indulgence'. Rich's guitar is easily the best feature here, but even when his melodic embellishment comes together it's undercut by the determinedly unrhythmic performances from the rhythm section. Blood ties may do wonders for band unity but it's crippling here. From the looks of the photos, the Giannones seem to be early-middle-aged and from the look and sound of the CD have comfortable day jobs that apparently provide enough cash to finance this extremely professional-looking package for what is essentially a hobby release--I mean, they can't seriously expect this stuff to go over big unless they have real problems with objectivity, which I suppose is possible. Nevertheless, this heavily slicked up, polished, overdubbed, and harmonized record remains a lump of coal rather than the hoped-for one-in-a-million diamond.
Shut Your Mouth & Open Your Eyes--Nitro Records (7071 Warner Ave. Suite F-736, Huntington Beach, CA 92647)
AFI is a strident punk-rock band, the kind with screamed lyrics about personal validation by vocalist Davey Havok as well as the kind that had to borrow a bass player to do this album, but the live, powerful sound of this album doesn't suffer for the part-timer in their midst. Released on the Offspring's label, Shut Your Mouth & Open Your Eyes is a half-hour of solid, shouted music delivered convincingly and without pause, with few of the leavening pop hooks that helped their 'parent' band leapfrog into the big time--pure riffing, breakneck beats, and abrasion, and the clear recording quality doesn't hurt either. The initials AFI seems to stand for either Asking For It or A Fire Inside; a shame, really--I was hoping for Any Fucking Initials. Anyone in the market for new punk rock heroes could do a lot worse than to check AFI out.
For All Those Left Behind CD
Pop-punk songs about girlfriends. Christ, as if there isn’t enough of this music around. Bands like this today are like bands who still had big hair and leather codpieces when Nirvana hit—they just looked like stupid posers. Okay, you bought a bottle of blue hair dye and used Mom’s gel to spike your hair up, that doesn’t make you punk. It makes you a loser who writes songs about your ex-girlfriend and has a band that no one could possibly tell apart from the other fifty thousand pop-punk girlfriend-song bands. This is tedious shit, guys, get something to make your band stand out from the pack or go away. (AVD Records, 8370 W. Cheyenne Box 109-22, Las Vegas NV 89129) – Aaron J. Poehler
Eyedazzler 1992-1996 CD (Burnt Hair Records)
Since the Brits have given up the pursuit of shoegazing alternative rock and moved on to newer flavors, it naturally falls to American indie bands to keep the stylistic flame alive. Alison's Halo, a Tempe, Arizona quartet in this vein, recorded their debut disc Eyedazzler 1992-1996 on "amateur" analog-cassette portastudio equipment, which you might think a detriment for this specific genre of music since it relies so intrinsically on effects and emphasizes texture over clarity. The thick walls of reverbed guitars that permeate the CD put the lie to that notion, though--this disc sounds better than many (ahem) "professionally" recorded albums. The thin vocals of Catherine Cooper (so heavily effected that trying to make out the lyrics is pretty much futile, but she's not big on enunciation, anyway) recall the Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser and Lush while presumed husband-or-brother (I'm guessing husband) Adam Cooper's melodic guitar lines bring to mind the hooky melodic lines of the Cure's best work and the roaring waves of noise that were hallmarks of My Bloody Valentine and early Ride. A worthwhile addition to the genre and highly recommended for members of the shoegazing cult; it probably helps that a few years' worth of work went into the album rather than a few days' worth. The disc also includes a couple of decent live numbers as bonus tracks--I often think more independent bands should include some representation of their live sound on their debut album, since the live thing tends to be a lot more important to the development of a band's sound at that time than at any other: it's the only time you'll ever have more people hearing your music live onstage than at home on a stereo. –Aaron J. Poehler
another sevenfold CD (Motherbox Records)
It's a good thing they printed the lyrics in this one because I literally could not make out a single word of them listening to the disc--it's all just a bunch of screamy noises. I mean, even when it's quiet it's still delivered in that screamy voice. It's gotta suck when your voice is permanently blown at 18. As written the words aren't too bad (they even quote Jack Kerouac--okay, it's from On The Road, but still) so I'd think their authors might want to put them across a bit more clearly. The band is a power trio from Elizabethtown, North Carolina, comprising will, joey, and daniel (affecting the lowercase both for themselves and their band--I wonder if they realize that doing so was meant to be a signal that the person in question is a bastard child of royalty). Their sound is time-signature shifting post-hardcore (math-core?), so maybe they feel if they don't scream the audience won't consider them hard enough--maybe they're just afraid of the college-rock band lurking inside them. A few times the instruments seemed to get out of sync with one another, though this might have been an intentional effect. Either way it was kinda choppy. I found another sevenfold pretty rough going--if I'd been in a club I would have walked out and stayed out until their set was over. By far, the best part of the CD was the two minutes of ambient bird sounds that end it. Not the worst thing I've ever heard by any means, but certainly nothing I'd want to hear again. —Aaron J. Poehler
The Anti-Nowhere League - Scum CD (Impact Records/Pavement Music)
The Anti-Nowhere League has been around in one form or another since originally forming in Tunbridge Wells, England back in 1980, with a break or two: during the lean years for punk in the mid eighties, they existed only as a more pedestrian rock band called The League, and upon their initial reformation they released only a couple of 'best-of' discs and an 'old favorites' live album. So despite their lengthy history, the new-for-'98 Scum is only the Anti-Nowhere League's second studio album.
The album continues the band's antisocial streak in fine form: the 'Nowhere' in their name refers to 'normals' who are locked into their nine-to-five, straight, boring lives, and thus the album's title appears in dripping blood letters above a smiling dad playing with his kids, a picture that could be straight out of an insurance ad. The band is probably best known for Metallica's cover of their first single, "So What", a fact which they mention on the inside front cover of the booklet, but it's hard to know what Metallica fans (isn't there a collective noun for them? Metallicunts?--sorry, I couldn't resist) will think of Scum--they have the growled vocal thing in common, set against aggressive double-kick drum rhythms and cutting guitar riffs, but that's about it. This comes a lot closer to Oi than metal, but then Metallica isn't exactly a metal band anymore either, based on what I've heard of their last two or three albums. Either way what we have here is basically spirit-of-'77 British punk rock--no punk-pop, no hardcore, no ska--that sounds like it could have been done at any time after Never Mind The Bollocks. That may sound a bit limited, and it's true that the band's shtick is kind of narrow, but it's also the band's strength: each track on Scum reliably provides the same raise-yer-glass charge and revives the feeling of old-school punk rock--with the solitary exception of their cover of the Cher song "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves". That I could have done without. -Aaron J. Poehler
Assorted Jelly Beans - What's Really Going On?!? CD (Kung Fu)
Unlike ten million other bands, Assorted Jelly Beans has doped out one of the secrets of punk rock: witness track two, which testifies "It's all about the rhythm, it's all about the rhythm, it's all about the rhythm, it's all about the rhythm." Well, decently-crafted songs help too, but the rhythm is enough for Assorted Jelly Beans to get by on since they do it so well. They don't use anything here that other pop/punk acts haven't used before, drawing from a familiar selection of riffs, beats, and chords, but their exuberance and devotion to (yes) the rhythm puts them ahead of the pack. Drummer Ricky (no last names) seems to be the key member, as his supple beats and spot-on timing anchor the band, but all three play in near-perfect unison--this is one band that seems to have actually practiced their material before recording it (horror of horrors!). The result is one punk/pop/ska band with a relatively unique sound; despite being right along the punk/skank axis, they make it their own and don't come off as slavish imitators or fashion claim-jumpers trying to impress dorks with Operation Ivy covers. Imagine Sublime (if they were still around and, you know, better) crossed with the Presidents of the U.S.A. (ditto) and you'll be in the right area. I know that may not sound like promising territory, but as long as you don't expect too much from What's Really Going On?!? in the way of originality or deep thoughts, you'll have a peppy platter to jump around your room to. And sometimes that's all you need to get by. -Aaron J. Poehler
The Angel Pool--Risk Records (7080 Hollywood Blvd. Suite 302, Hollywood CA 90028)
The faux Vaughn Williams/v23 style-cover is a dead giveaway here: since this record looks like a British shoegazer record from the late 80's, it must be an American band of Anglophiles--the British discard their recent history too quickly for anyone there to even remember this type of music now. The music recalls the glimmering haze conjured by bands like Ride, the Verve, and Slowdive quite effectively; layers of shifting, heavily digitally-reverbed guitars lie over a meandering rhythm section that never sounds too motivated to rock and vocals that lament romantic misfortune. It must be said that the Autumns are completely successful within their limited aim of recreating the shoegazer-pop genre, but no unique group characteristics distinguish them from their source material and even within the constraints of the genre they don't cut a unique identity like shoegazer heroes My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins. If you, like the Autumns, long for the halcyon days of shoegazer pop and need a fix, The Angel Pool may be the CD for you, but the rest of us will probably want to wait for the band to develop some unique characteristics of their own before wading into their waters--certainly nothing here is too offensive, but neither is it particularly necessary for any but the most ardent fans of this type of music.