"Counterculture Wholesale"/"Work In Progress" 7" (Gitchaowndamnrecords)
Needle displays two distinctly different sides on this 7-inch: the A-side is a spirit-of-'77 style punk tune with lots of hard-to-understand ranting about the falsely rebellious nature of mass-marketed 'counterculture' consumer items, all breakneck beats and nonstop riffing. So it's a bit of a surprise to find the B-side lies in a much more mainstream vein--not that it's bad, in fact I think I liked the B better than the A--but it reminds me of nothing so much as Guns 'N Roses with Mike Ness singing instead of Axl. Makes me wonder which side better represents the band, or if a full-length album would sound totally different with each song. From repeated listenings I get the impression that the singer is probably leading the band in the more 'punk rock' direction (the punk tune is on the A-side, after all) while the guitarist (guitarists? There's no personnel info) is pushing more towards the metal angle since that genre allows for more squealy solos--somebody's obviously been practicing their stock lead guitar clichés from 'Licks 101'. Intriguing but far too brief a taste to go one way or the other, and either way it comes off unresolved; it's not bad, it's just not clear. –Aaron J. Poehler
NegativeHate - Earth Spirit Down (Piss Grey Sky Records, 160 N. Broadway, Nyack, NY 10960)
Breast-beating, overly dramatic electro-gothika. Like Skinny Puppy crossed with Nine Inch Nails using Ministry's vocal distortion. Much ado about nothing. Don't buy this record unless you only dress in black, have pale white skin, and consider your favorite hobby to be 'slitting your wrists'. I guess you could at least use this music to try to annoy your parents, but you'd probably get a headache in the process. I mean, come on, check the name of the group, the name of the record label, and the names of some of the tracks (like "Face Retrieve Sullen Drought") and you tell me: if that's stuff you consider cool then you and I have very different ideas about what's cool anyway. If that sounds good to you then by all means, go ahead, but to me it's like speed metal--without the humor factor. –Aaron J. Poehler
NEW END ORIGINAL: Thriller : CD
There’s an unmistakable Blink 182 feel to the first track on this disc, which frankly I hesitate to say as this is better than Blink 182 as the band branches off into other (softer, acoustic, complex) directions on the rest of this disc, while Blink 182 mines the same rut in song after song; nevertheless, there it is. New End Original makes the annoying mistake (or affectation) of putting the album title before band name, which is sort of disappointing as naming your album Thriller isn’t nearly as funny or ironic as naming your band Thriller. The variety of influences here hasn’t really coalesced into a ‘band’ sound yet, nor do any of the particular songs really strike me as particularly worthy or repeat play, but still, there’s something in the singer’s voice that suggests something coming beyond the reach of what the band is capable of at the time of this recording—maybe not a great great album, but at least one that would reward listening all the way through and invite you to put it on again sometime soon. Still, there are some niggling points that hang one up, preventing an unconditional recommendation...such as the need to point out that one too many songs named “Titanic” have been written already...plus the permeating tone of emo preciousness...and the fact that average person will never be able to remember this band’s name is different from New Found Glory...and the art direction that deliberately places the song names at the end of the lyrics instead of before, placing the track timings where you’d expect to find the song titles, and...hmm, what’s this?
Oh no, stop the presses! I just discovered the drummer in this band used to be the drummer in Chamberlain, an insufferably awful band whose set I was subjected to a couple of times back when I was living in Indiana (where Chamberlain was from). It’s good to see that tedious band wasn’t totally useless, if their breakup eventually led to this band’s formation; not that New End Original is amazing, by any means, but the variety and melodicism in the music here indicates fertile ground, while Chamberlain was just a frontline of losers who posed like they were rock stars—their blatant, conformist grab at mainstream commerciality was distasteful at best and offensively condescending at worst. Ugh. Makes me nauseous just to think about it. I don’t want to tar this band with the brush meant for Chamberlain, though, so best to try to forget about it...just try to forget.... –Aaron J. Poehler (Jade Tree)
The New Morty Show
Mortyfied! CD--Slimstyle Records (3400 E. Speedway, Suite 118-272, Tucson, AZ 85716)
Morty Okin plays trumpet in and leads the New Morty Show, a San Francisco-based ten-piece ensemble with a lounge orientation and a big-band horn-based sound, although I'd bet cash money that when they play live most eyes in the audience are on the two lead vocalists, chanteuse Connie Champagne and the Fred Schneider-esque Vise Grip. The band swings pretty well, especially the well-oiled horn section (the band pictures look like the Commitments wearing suits); I can see downing a few mixed drinks with this stuff going in the background of a smoky club. Despite the more professional elements, I'm sure the promotional hook that piques most people's curiosity is the Morty Show's wacky lounge-style covers of tunes like Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and the Billy Idol medley of "White Wedding" and "Rebel Yell". It's a given that liquored-up clubgoers will be more drawn to the humorous elements of the New Morty Show than the relative rarity of a horn section that's not entirely comprised of college-age music-school students and dropouts (check your local ska act). Mortyfied! is good for a few chuckles but I get the feeling that the lack of the visual element in the at-home listening experience deprives the New Morty Show of an essential part of their appeal--that's probably why they went out of their way to include CD-ROM video clips on the CD, though as usual they don't work in my computer. The main problem, though, would seem to be the economic difficulty of keeping such a large band together without significant financial success--not to dis label Slimstyle, but I kind of doubt they can deliver the kind of widespread distribution required for a group like this to thrive on the road. Certainly Morty Okin isn't lacking in chutzpah, though, so I wouldn't put it past him to make it work somehow.
Nine Lives - Reignition CD [Mendit (PO Box 1096, New York, NY 10003)]
Bet these guys thought they had a cooler band name until Aerosmith put out an album called Nine Lives. Apparently this Nine Lives is the new incarnation of Roadrunner Records' (when they were vainly trying to expand their market beyond crappy metal--oh, sorry, they're still trying to expand their market beyond crappy metal) pop-punk band Black Train Jack, who got signed in the pop-punk feeding frenzy in the wake of Green Day selling a bucketload of copies of Dookie. The holdovers from Black Train Jack are vocalist Rob Vitale and bassist Brian Goldstein, joined in Nine Lives by Rich Ramirez and Andy Attanasio on drums and guitar respectively.
The music on Reignition is still rooted pretty firmly in the pop-punk camp, but makes several moves towards the mainstream as well, leading to a distasteful generic rock feel that pervades even the brisk toe-tapping numbers. This cheezmo classic FM-radio rock feel builds to an almost unbearable level during the power-ballad intro of "Peg" (not a punk-pop cover of the Steely Dan song, unfortunately), and solidifies in the vomit-inducing weepie "No More Tears" (similarly and unfortunately not a cover of the Ozzy song of the same name). If you're gonna aim for the mainstream go all out and don't dress it up in punk-pop clothes--the only people you're fooling are twelve-year-olds that don't know any better. The six songs on Reignition didn't leave me hungering to hear any more out of Nine Lives. -Aaron J. Poehle
9 Volt--Crash Records (102 S. River Dr., Suite 102, Tempe, AZ 85281)/Private I/Mercury Records
9 Volt is a Tempe, Arizona power trio led by guitarist/vocalist Andy Mitchell; their self-titled debut album is a twelve-track, forty-two minute chunk of lame guitar pop/rock that's not hooky enough to make it as pop and not moving enough to make it as rock. The songwriting is a weak regurgitation of clichéd riffs and classic-rock retreads, and any potential power the songs might have had is undercut by the drastic undermixing of the guitar by producer Gary Loizzo (it may be a hint that Loizzo's listed previous credits are Styx and REO Speedwagon), with the grunge-inflected vocals on top of everything--the result sounds a lot like Seven Mary Three and Candlebox (remember them?), or rejected Pearl Jam demos. It's not unique enough for underground acclaim, not slick enough for mainstream success, and basically just not good enough to cut it. Anybody who gets a charge from 9 Volt needs to get out more.
It Shows In Your Face 7"--Intensive Scare Records (PO Box 640338, San Jose, CA 95164-0338)/Rocketdog Records (PO Box 70397, 1007 KJ Amsterdam, Netherlands, Europe)
The Nitwitz are a Dutch punk rock band that play like the Ramones on speed while singer Czar Eric Peters screams, wails, and screeches over the top--his singing is most reminiscent of that guy from the Laughing Hyenas. Guitarist Tony 'Slug' Leeuwenburgh seems to be the driving force behind the Nitwitz, though, as he wrote the songs and his hypersonic guitar lines are at the heart of the music (oddly, though he's credited with 'Mosrite guitar'--just like the Ramones--the live pics inside show him playing a Gibson Les Paul). The bassist and drummer are no slouches, though, keeping the rhythm up without dropping the beat--these four songs blast by so quickly you'll barely get a chance to sit down after dropping the needle on the record! The white vinyl 7-inch It Shows In Your Face is an exhilarating four tracks of pure punk that cries out for an album-length context, if only because it's over so quickly.
SO Long And Thanks For All The Shoes--Epitaph (2798 Sunset Blvd., LA, CA 90026)
NOFX is a South California punk rock band in the classic Descendents/All mold: breakneck beats, high-pitched vocals with plenty of harmonies, one- and two-minute songs bathroom humor, and the occasional skank break. What sets NOFX apart from the other eight million bands plowing this particular piece of ground right now is that they've been doing this since the mid-eighties and are much tighter and more accomplished than the average punk. Of course, you know NOFX is a real punk band because half their songs are about the punk rock scene, including swipes at Maximum RockNRoll head honcho Tim Yohannon in "I'm Telling Tim" ("You better watch out, you better not cry/You better put out records DIY/'Cause it's not what you've done it's what you've been/If you fuck up I'm telling Tim") and Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna ("'Kill the rockstars' how ironic Kathleen/You've been crowned the newest queen…Just 'cause I don't know the reason you're so pissed/Don't dare tag me misogynist"). The 16 track SO Long And Thanks For All The Shoes clocks in at 41 minutes, though the actual listed contents of the album only occupy half an hour--the remainder presents an elaborate joke that begins with an aircheck tape from the Howard Stern radio show where some hapless production assistant chose a NOFX track to lead back in from a commercial break, much to Howard's vocal displeasure: "Who was that? NOFX? More like no talent--that's the name of that band." "This music is just not rockin'." This is followed by a seemingly endless parodic heavy-metal jam which I imagine is the NOFX'ers idea of the kind of music Howard would like better with samples of Howard's verdict sprinkled in for effect, then a concluding "joke's on you jack" couplet: "Congratulations, you made it through this song/I bet you never thought anyone could play something so long." Actually, I've heard Hawkwind and Can so I wasn't too shocked--actually what it calls to mind is Nirvana's "Endless, Nameless" at the end of Nevermind. One thing I'd like cleared up is how NOFX managed to place on Zine Guide's list of the '100 Most Interviewed Bands' if their punk rock policy is supposedly 'no radio, no video, and no interviews?' Methinks something is rotten in punkdom.
North - 7" (MindWalk Recording Label)
There's a very Slinty, art-project feel to this one. No name, no title, no nothing on the cover: just an arcane-looking compass circle pointing north, embossed on a rather nice light blue cardboard stock. Similarly, the record itself lists no song titles, only a '+' to indicate the A-side and a '-' for the B. The music itself is repetitive, atmospheric, and mostly instrumental, excepting brief portions of the A-side that shift into Spiderland-style dynamic declamations, translated on the insert as "take it by the neck just to kill it/you're on the highway before noon/who gives a shit". I could have done with a bit more musical development; the music sounds nice in places but doesn't ever really go anywhere, especially the B-side, which just does the same little bit over and over. Intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying. -Aaron J. Poehler
The Starry Wisdom--Invisible (PO Box 16008, Chicago, IL 60616)/Caroline (104 W. 29th St., NY, NY 10001)
Not Breathing's The Starry Wisdom is two discs packed full of beat-centered, repetitious electronica highly reminiscent of the Orb, though this is a more domestic brand of dancy techno music: the face behind the keyboards and samplers is Tucson, Arizona's Dave Wright. If I was a DJ looking for some high-beats-per-minute tracks to keep the dance floor or the ravers moving I might be really turned on by The Starry Wisdom; however, since I'm listening at home it doesn't really seem to do the trick for me. The pinging keyboards and beat loops don't seem to change often enough to hold my attention the way prime Orb material does (and even there I don't find myself putting UFOrb in the CD player too often anymore). Disc a ("nuclear") seems to hold the more dance-oriented material, and especially here the problem for me as a listener is that the beat doesn't change once a track gets going and I inevitably find myself tuning out; there's just not enough going on to listen to. Disc b ("ABYSS") contains more ambient, layered sampled and found-sound material but it's still more than a bit slow-moving. The changes and new layers of samples just don't come quickly enough; I might have preferred The Starry Wisdom with the 'nuclear' and 'ABYSS' tracks edited and interspersed across a single seventy-minute disc. There simply aren't enough ideas here to sustain all but the more devoted electronica devotee listeners over two hours and twenty minutes, although within its genre this certainly isn't bad: Wright has a rich palette of effects and creates successfully deep spaces with them, at times creating an impressive, sweeping sound that would be more than adequate if it didn't go on for so long.
Frustration No. 10--Velvel/Fire
My expectations here were pretty clear: four Welsh guys doing Nirvana. Maybe the logo on their scheduled debut album was what did it; it's the identical typeface used for the Nirvana logo. The ghost of Cobain does hang a little heavy over the proceedings here, but there's a freshness about Novocaine NP9's debut 8-song EP Frustration No. 10, a joy in playing their own music that Kurt doesn't seem to have been able to feel--Novocaine NP9 sound like they're thrilled to have a shot at all and are going to work it for all it's worth. Frustration No. 10 looks and sounds like a D.I.Y. indie job from the rough cut-&-paste cover to the one-day session sound (the EP is essentially comprised of the indie singles that landed them their deal) but those aspects add to the charm of their record rather than being faults. The whole thing comes off brash, energetic, and spirited, although not very wide-ranging: Novocaine NP9 do their one thing and seldom vary from it, at least based on the evidence here. I have to wonder if Novocaine NP9 won't just end up like the Gin Blossoms or Offspring when they get slicked up and spend months in the studio or just get disillusioned like their idol Cobain after being battered about by hard realities for a few years, but Novocaine NP9 has started off on the right foot--I just don't know yet if they can keep up the pace. A good bet as an opener for Bush.
NRG Ensemble--Bejazzo Gets A Facelift/The Vandermark Five--Target Or Flag
Atavistic (PO Box 578266, Chicago, IL 60657-8266)
The membership of these two ongoing projects is substantially overlapping: Mars Williams, Ken Vandermark, and Kent Kessler form the nucleus of the two bands, with Brian Sandstrom and Steve Hunt filling out the NRG Ensemble and Tim Mulvenna and Jeb Bishop completing the Vandermark Five. NRG was originally founded by the late Hal Russell in 1977, but is now led by Williams, whose résumé is extensive enough to include stints with the Psychedelic Furs and Ministry as well as his other groups Liquid Soul, Slam, and Witches and Devils, along with the two presently under consideration. Bejazzo Gets A Facelift balances concerted squalling improvisational jazz blasts from saxophone and clarinet men Vandermark and Williams with the rumbling rhythms of the other three, resulting in an exhilarating set of avant-jazz filled with interplay and instrumental fire.
As leader of his own group the Vandermark Five, Ken Vandermark pays tribute to some musicians whose work he has admired in the past by dedicating each track on Target Or Flag to a different person, ranging from killer funk guitarists Eddie Hazel and "Catfish" Collins to improvisational music terrors Derek Bailey and Peter Brotzmann. The Vandermark Five's renditions of Ken's tunes are more laid back than the barreling attack of NRG, but not too laid back for a good hearty dose of rock-derived guitar to leaven the jazzbo trappings. Either Bejazzo Gets A Facelift or Target Or Flag should provide a reliable jolt of improvisational energy and well-oiled playing for modern jazz lovers frustrated with the increasingly stultified output of the major-label controlled jazz companies.