Satan's Camaro CD (Bullsitter Records)
Okay, this one is a bit odd. The CD contains four versions of a track called "Satan's Camaro", which has the lyrics "She used to drive Satan's Camaro until she put a dent in it/Boy was Satan pissed!". The first version (which seems the definitive one) lasts only a minute and fifteen seconds, which isn't surprising considering the lyrics quoted above are the entirety of the song. The second version is a hip-hop remix, while the third is labeled "Satan's Soundtrack" and contains overlaid dialogue, most of which sounds like random conversation from a bar (The Simpsons theme can be briefly heard playing on a TV in the background) . The final track is "Satan's Soundtrack Instrumental", which is track three minus the incidental dialogue.
Turns out the music is the soundtrack to a multimedia "movie" which is contained on the non-audio portion of the disc. An elaborate booklet packaged with the CD shows stills and dialogue from the movie, which seems to be a sort of sub-Slacker thing shot in Atlanta. Unfortunately the video portion of the disc won't play in my computer (they never do) so I wasn't able to check it out. The movie seems like it'd be more interesting than the music, but it doesn't seem too groundbreaking or anything. What Satan or his car have to do with anything is beyond me. Still, it seems intriguing in a public-access kind of way; it's just that I feel like I'm missing out on the main point without having seen the video portion. Maybe they should issue it on videotape, since such a small percentage of the people with CD players have up-to-date CD-ROM equipment. I'll probably be able to hunt down a friend with the appropriate equipment and watch the 'movie' sometime, so I'll hold on to this disc for awhile, but I'm afraid the audio portion is going to go entirely unplayed during that time--it just doesn't stand up on its own. -Aaron J. Poehler
Whine--Invisible Records (PO Box 16008, Chicago, IL 60616)
Mick Harris first came to prominence as a member of the notorious grindcore outfit Napalm Death back in the eighties, but since forming Scorn in the early nineties with fellow ex-Napalm bassist Nick Bullen he's pursued a much less aggressive tack. After Bullen departed Scorn in 1995 it became Harris' project alone; and true to form Whine features eight tracks recorded live in Rome May 1997 with only Eraldo Bernocchi (who records as Interceptor for Harris' Possible label) on guitar accompanying Harris, presumably operating keyboards and mixing equipment. The concert doesn't sounds like it would have been a very raucous event--there's no audience track mixed in but it's hard to imagine doing much but sitting down and spacing out to this music: it's too slow for dancing, no vocals, and mostly comprised of slow, lazy loops overlaid with shimmering, ghostly textures that hover just out of reach. The disc is rounded out with four studio tracks from early '97 that fit right in with the live stuff (in fact, you might not even notice the transition if you weren't listening carefully); they differ mainly in being slightly less ambient and having a few more elements overlaid than the relatively minimalist live tracks. Overall Whine is a pretty sedate affair, but the deep spaces Harris incorporates into his music add a lot and the relative rarity of live albums among electronica devotees is testament enough to Harris' abilities--not to mention his fifteen years of experience.
Nature Film--Elektra Entertainment Group (75 Rockefeller Plaza, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10019)
Scrawl has never fit comfortably into any categories, or at least they've resisted categorization: they're indisputably female centered, being fronted by founders Marcy Mays and Sue Harshe and backed by drummer Dana Marshall (okay, that last one's a guy), but no one's ever had the effrontery to call them "riol grrls" or "foxcore" or any of the other idiotic names attached to (ahem) female rockers. They're not exactly mainstream, sort of 'alternative', a little bit 'college rock', perhaps a dab of 'modern rock' is applicable, but they also draw on more rural influences along with some drawn from Brit-rock albums. Mostly, though, they fit into the Elektra Records tradition of rock artists with literate, neo-traditional lyrics, from Love and the Doors up through Nick Cave. Nature Film is a hodgepodge album, containing six new songs, six rerecordings of songs that were originally recorded with founding Scrawl drummer Carolyn O'Leary and released on various independent records, and a cover of the debut single by John Lydon's PiL, "Public Image". The record doesn't exactly flow well, but given the variety of material that's not exactly surprising--it's more like an EP collection or a batch of alternate versions than an album; recording-wise, the sound is pretty good but kind of distant-sounding: I feel like the lyrics often demand a clearer, more intimate sound than is delivered. Regardless, there are some strong tunes here even if their context doesn't exactly cohere. The overall result is about as rewarding as a good Meat Puppets album: good for several listens, some solid rock band action, and lyrics that hold your attention for the length of the song, but it likely won't become one of your all-time favorites or change the way you think about music. Still, it's solid work from a unique band, and an interesting stopping point along the road.
Wide Awake! With Sea Monkeys 7" (Stiff Pole Records)
Four songs, one a cover of the Dave Clark Five's "Any Way You Want It" (yes, the same one the Ramones did) that's by far the catchiest thing here. Twin-guitar, wacky generic punk rock with overdubbed harmonies designed for local (in the Sea Monkeys' case, NYC) all-ages clubs. None of the originals did much for me, but then these guys don't seem to have a preponderance of ideas going for them--after all, as far as I know this is their debut release, and they waste a good chunk of it on "Here Comes The Fat Guy" (complete lyrics: "Here comes the fat guy") and a cover tune that was already punked-up by somebody else. They could have at least broken some new ground and found a different DC5 song or something! It would help if the 'funny' stuff was actually, you know, funny. The record's pressed on swirly gray vinyl, though, so I guess that counts for something. It's more interesting than the rest of the package. --Aaron J. Poehler
Second Coming - Second Coming CD (Capitol)
Second Coming? Of what, you may ask? The answer: Seattle-scene commercial grunge rock. Yes, the early 90's revival is here already. Ah, we were all so much younger then, back in those halcyon days--but y'know, even then these guys would have been pegged as Soundgarden-soundalikes (the singer's Chris Cornell impression is a dead giveaway), and reviled as major-label poster boys the way Candlebox were, because of their shared predilection for conforming the grunge to fit the commercial FM format--or rather, putting a grungy spin on blatantly careerist paint-by-numbers music. If you're gonna form a "Seattle grunge style band" (and the band is actually from Seattle apparently, lest you think they don't deserve the crown) I'd suggest stealing more from Nirvana and Mudhoney and less from Candlebox. More hooks, less sludge, that's the key. That's if you're gonna form a grunge band. Myself, I'm content to let the genre rest in pieces, at least until, say, 2012. In closing, here's a poser to ponder: if Sabbath and Zeppelin are to 70's metal as Soundgarden and Green River/Mudhoney are to Seattle grunge, who does that make Second Coming analogous to: Billy Squier? Loverboy? Ratt? Someone more obscure, like Fastway? Something for you trivia types to puzzle over. -Aaron J. Poehler
Raw--Music Club (Presto Public Relations, PO Box 89990, Tucson, AZ 85752)
It's always a little bit hard to lay out the cash for a Sex Pistols album that's not Never Mind The Bollocks, their one unassailable statement; quality tends to range from smashing to dismal, sometimes within the same release. For a fan, though, a quality release like say, No Future UK? or even Filthy Lucre Live can be like water in the desert, considering the band didn't even last four years (counting the reunion tour as well) and didn't approach spitting distance of a repertoire of even thirty songs. Raw gets the nod right away, at least partially because of the welcome budget pricing of the CD but also because of the relatively clear sound and powerful quality of the live set documented herein: the original, Glen Matlock-on-bass version of the band on Friday, September 24th 1976 at the 76 Club, Burton Upon Trent. The disc is filled to a total fifty-minute playing time with not-very-well-mastered dubs of four January 1977 demos that have appeared on many releases already, both bootleg and semi-legitimate alike, but less-stocked aficionados lacking this version of "Satellite" will be grateful as it's one of the best not-quite-official studio recordings. Liner notes by former Clash associate and man-on-the-scene Kosmo Vinyl evoke the setting in which the music was performed fairly successfully. All in all a welcome addition to the Pistols' slim canon.
Shaft - El Grüpo de Röck CD (Kokizz-y-que Records)
Shaft's CD El Grüpo de Röck is the debut release from Kokizz-y-que Records (you tell me how it's pronounced and what it means, 'cause I haven't a clue), who put together a decent looking package but evinced their inexperience by forgetting to assign the disc a catalog number anywhere on the disc. As implied by the album title, Shaft is on the Hispanic tip, though their lyrics all seem to be in English. The band is a pretty decent punk-pop-rock act with above average tunes, sprinkled liberally with hooks and thick layers of guitar--I know, they're not exactly the first band to tread that well-worn path, but they do it well if not so exceptionally as to bring me back time and again, or to convince me to recommend the album (10 tracks, thirty minutes) unconditionally. I'll plead the music reviewer's equivalent of 'no contest': people who like this type of thing will like this record, those who don't probably won't. Just like every other punk band, Shaft has to do the prerequisite 'funny' punked-up cover of a top 40 song: Prince's "When You Were Mine" closes out the album, and it's a testament to the group's nascent songcraft that it doesn't stick out as miles far and away a better song than their own. In any case, the band shows some promise, and with slightly more original material Shaft could develop into a real monster, but for now let's just call El Grüpo de Röck a decent start. -Aaron J. Poehle
Duncan Sheik - Humming CD (Atlantic)
No, it's not an hour of Mr. Sheik humming into the microphone. Duncan Sheik's a singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist in his late twenties who somehow garnered a four-star rating from Rolling Stone for his self-titled 1996 debut; Humming is therefore the oft-noted "difficult" second album. I've never heard any of Duncan's music before now, so I can't make any claims for the music on that first record, but after hearing Humming I can certainly understand why the critics at Rolling Stone would get into this stuff. It's middle of the road, multi-layered glossy studio music, supporting Duncan's self-consciously college-educated lyrics (the guy's got a degree in semiotics, say no more). Hell, in "That Says It All" he namechecks Mick Jagger, Dylan, Hendrix, Brian Wilson, Jimmy Page, Nick Drake and John Lennon--that practically defines Rolling Stone's target audience (Drake excepted), not to mention that the Dylan line works the name of the magazine in via a reference to "Like A Rolling Stone". How blatant can you get? It's as though he's acknowledging that the people he's hoping to sell to think there's no better music out there than the above-cited artists, so by saying their music "says it all" he caters to their ignorance and presents himself as no threat to the baby boomers' treasured false idols.
Musically, I hear some XTC here, some Bruce Cockburn there, a large puddle of Elvis Costello all over the floor, some Sting over in the corner, a dollop of Seal garnishing the whole dish, none of which excites me. The mix favors Duncan's voice throughout--apparently mixer Bob Clearmountain thinks a lot more of Sheik's voice than I do. I find it kind of smarmy and thin, and when Duncan goes for the falsetto on "Rubbed Out" his voice flattens out unattractively and induces cringes. Duncan's not half as clever as he seems to think he is, and some more inventive tunesmithing and arrangements might have helped cover up some of the record's many flaws. The strings are so syrupy and corny in "Alibi" I nearly groaned aloud. There are all kinds of instruments all over this disc trying to add drama to songs much too flimsy to carry the weight. Still, the root problem here isn't the presentation, it's the recipe, or rather, the chef cooking this stuff up. I appreciate Billy Joel a lot more after being exposed to music like this--even "We Didn't Start The Fire" sounds like a relatively subtle way to kiss boomer ass compared to "That Says It All". Leave this one to the overpaid yuppies, and should you happen to run into any, don't bother explaining that this isn't actually very good music. They won't understand you anyway. -Aaron J. Poehler
"February" CD (Man's Ruin Records)
Seven songs, eighteen minutes. No packaging, no information, no presskit, no history, no nothing included so consequently there's not much to say. Maybe you can get away with that if everybody already knows who you are, but for an unknown band I think it's better to give a little frame of reference--I mean, who buys a record without knowing anything about it? And even if someone did, once they got burned doing that wouldn't they stop? In any case, Shyster's shtick is churning out average loud fast punky rock with off-key singing. They only lyrics that stuck out at me were "And I love her/Yes I love her." They used to call this kind of thing 'alternative rock'. I'd compare it to watered-down Mercyland if I thought enough people had heard a Mercyland record (it was ex-Sugar bassist Dave Barbe's original band). "February" was not too striking overall. You've probably seen a band just like this in a local club, but you probably can't remember their name because they probably didn't make any impression unless you happened to know somebody in the band. Basically a lot of racket for no good reason. I could do with the lead guitar and the bass turned up and the singing and drums (especially the cymbals) mixed down, but truthfully that wouldn't really do a lot to fix it either. Better songwriting might. I don't want to give the impression that this band is terrible or incompetent by any means, but their CD is just so hopelessly average that it's hard to give a shit one way or the other. --Aaron J. Poehler
"i think im in love"--Johann's Face Records (PO Box 479164, Chicago IL 60647)
Chicago's Sidekick Kato is a very collegiate looking and sounding rock band, based on the evidence contained in their second record, "i think im in love" anyway. The main reference points here are Fugazi and Girls Against Boys: lots of noisy distorted guitar riffing that takes unexpected jumps and turns, straining vocals, and a lunging rhythm section. There's certainly not a lot new here, but there's something comfortingly familiar about four young white upper/middle class college hipster guys kicking up a cloud of noise on their passage to maturity, even down to the indecipherable scientific diagrams and homemade paintings of what look like aliens plastered all over the packaging: every generation has its cycle of them, and each time the wheel is reinvented is sounds a bit different. Sidekick Kato (name derived, of course, from the Green Hornet's partner, a role played by young-guy icon Bruce Lee) certainly adds a few of their own twists to the formula and makes a good case for their ability to fill a club with sound. Not an essential purchase except for fans of collegiate guitar noise, but certainly an accomplished effort and an interesting if not exactly compelling listen.
The Silos - Heater CD (Checkered Past Records)
The Silos originally came to public attention way back in 1985 with the release of their debut album About Her Steps ; back then, the band was among the retro-Americana "rootsy" acts being touted as the next big thing (a manufactured movement spearheaded by the doomed-before-they-began Lone Justice), and the Silos were a NYC-based group based around the partnership between singer/guitarists Walter Salas-Humara and Bob Rupe (though even before the Silos' formation, Salas-Humara had formed the original Vulgar Boatmen in Gainesville, Florida). By 1990, RCA thought they might be ripe for the big time, and took a chance with the eponymous album The Silos, pushing it at least enough to get that all-important Rolling Stone review and taking out enough ads to get the record noticed by buyers. Unfortunately for the band, the promotion didn't pay off (in fairness, RCA's record division has never shown any signs of having the slightest idea how to promote new music, since they make their bucks off Elvis reissues) and Rupe left The Silos to Salas-Humara, who's operated under the name since then (Rupe has most recently played bass on the last two Cracker albums). Salas-Humara has continued on with an ever-shifting array of colleagues, sporadically releasing albums under his own name, as the Silos, and with side projects such as the Setters (with Alejandro Escovedo) and Tango Project. In that mid-period he relocated from NYC to Austin, Texas, but now he seems to be based in LA.
Which brings us up to the present day and Heater. Roots-rock is still the bedrock of Salas-Humara's work, but now it's set against metronome-solid studio beats. As usual, a guest star cast of a dozen comprises 'The Silos', including former Green On Red guitarist Chuck Prophet this time around. It seems impossible that Salas-Humara wouldn't have built up some sort of following by now--not that his work's that great, but he has been putting records out for well over a decade now, and his stuff's as good as any of the Uncle Tupelo spinoffs or wannabes, to pick a comparison up the same alley. It doesn't make any particular impression on me, but then neither did the supposedly more carefully crafted The Silos--a former bassist in my band had the cassette about three years ago, and I borrowed it and checked it out, having never heard the 'band' before. I think one of the first two or three songs was somewhat memorable (though I don't remember it now), and the rest just sounded like the same old same old. Heater doesn't even seem as good as I recall The Silos being, and since I didn't like The Silos enough to dub the tape or even the one decent song, it follows that Heater's not up to the task of winning me over. It reminds me of weak Alejandro Escovedo, and I'm not totally enthralled with Alejandro's work. I mean, seriously, John Mellencamp is a lot better than this (both as an artist and a craftsman), and I couldn't care less about Mellencamp's work. Heater just seems altogether too tepid and lacking in direction to get excited at all over, and the whole idea of this type of roots-rock now seems quaint and naïve in the aftermath of the crashing and burning of (koff koff) alternative country/no depression music. I guess what I'm saying is that it seems possible, even likely, that there's someone out there who'd really enjoy this record--but I've never met him, I've only read his reviews in yuppie magazines and free weekly rags, and I think he has shitty taste. -Aaron J. Poehle
This The Trip CD (Arista/Austin)
Sister 7 sounds a lot like 4 Non Blondes. It's a faux-bluesy female singer who obviously thinks she sounds great (and who's shoved way in the front of all the pictures so you know she's the star) with three guys backing her up. They're from Dallas. Their album was produced by Don Henley's guitar player/co-producer/songwriter Danny Kortchmar. Despite being very clearly recorded and carefully mixed, it's not very good. They sound like an opening band for Melissa Etheridge. In fact I think I'm going to get up right now and take the CD off. -Aaron J. Poehle
Slak - Another Disaster 7" (Sonic Swirl Records)
On the cover of Another Disaster, we see Slak playing in front of an American flag, the singer is flipping us the bird, and the 'A' in 'Slak' is the familiar circle-A anarchy symbol--so at least we know what we're dealing with here. Like the best (American) punk bands, they come across like they just discovered the style after running across copies of Never Mind The Bollocks and Black Flag's Damaged at their local mall, then adapted it to fit their own concerns--not that those concerns are so different from any other punk rock band, as evidenced by song titles such as "Democracy", "Wide Awake", and "Glass In My Face". Like their heroes, the musical strength of Slak lies in the muscular guitar tying the songs together--Dan (no last names) lifts more than a few Steve Jones licks, but considering that Jones lifted them himself from Chuck Berry, the Stooges, and the NY Dolls, that's right in line with 'tradition' (isn't it sad that punk has so many traditions and standards now?). Better to steal from the best than sit in your room ripping off Phish or Dave Matthews or something else equally wretched.
Only one of the six tunes wallows in 'girlfriend hell', fortunately (I've had about enough of dorks complaining about their relationships in punk rock songs), and of the six brief numbers onto this 33 1/3 rpm disc not one shows a trace of pop, ska, of any other bastardization of the form--this is straight up punk, punk. It's about time. -Aaron J. Poehler
Burn Out CD (Tooth & Nail)
In a recent issue of Tail Spins, someone with an illegible signature had a letter printed in which the writer excoriated a Tail Spins reviewer for calling Tooth & Nail a "christian"(sic) label, and then recommends he read some kind of statement on that issue the label has apparently issued. How like the indoctrinated--"If you disagree with us, here, read some of our literature". Well, I'm not interested in going out of my way to find this 'statement'--I figure if it was important, they'd print it in the CD booklet or press kit--and the fact is, every single release I've heard on Tooth & Nail has Christian-oriented lyrics, which makes them a Christian music label in my book no matter how you want to twist it around (if the majority of releases on a label had gangsta lyrics, it'd be a gangsta label whether they want to think of it as such or not). Case in point: the second full-length album by So. Cal (Orange County) pop-punk band Slick Shoes. They sound just like every other So. Cal pop-punk band in every way except that their annoying singer's in his teens and the lyrics herald the band's religious beliefs; choice illustrative tidbits include "Only God knows what he has in store for us", "Just have faith and God will show you grace", "I need your strength to guide me, so show me how to trust and to know faith." The lyrics are vague enough in places that they could refer either to their Lord or to a relationship partner (that's how U2 justifies it to themselves and their God) but the irrefutable point I'm making here is that this is a Christian pop-punk band, and nothing but. The aforementioned letter writer also claimed "Believe me, there is bad propagandistic Christian music out there. But it's not being put out by Tooth & Nail." Yes it is. Slick Shoes' Burn Out is bad, it's propagandistic, and it's Christian. Question: if Tooth & Nail isn't a Christian label, what would happen if one of their bands turned in an anti-Jesus record? I'm betting it wouldn't get pressed or distributed. Am I wrong? Prove it--it's put up or shut up. After listening to Burn Out, I'm hoping it's shut up. --Aaron J. Poehler
Dead Air To Deaf Ear 7"--What Else? Records (PO Box 3411, Dayton, OH 45401)
The music on Bloomington (IN)'s Slingshot Episode's 3-song 7" Dead Air To Deaf Ear is centered around the powerful vocals of Sylvia Gubatan (probably the most powerful female voice currently in evidence on the Bloomington stage) and the melodic, crunching guitar lines; the songs inhabit their own space, combining influences from a variety of sources but synthesizing a relatively unique sound from them. The record company compares them to Jawbreaker and Tilt but the only real comparison that springs to my mind is X-Ray Spex (probably the best female-fronted punk rock band of the British punk explosion of the late '70s) filtered through the driving post-hardcore beat of DC bands like Fugazi or Jawbox. Despite the aggressive, distorted feel of the music the band never edges into all-out abrasiveness or strays too far from conveying the melodies--quite a feat when trying to convey English-major lyrics like "Subjected to unfair tabulation of the intricacies of my devotion/Two lines merging then over-correcting/The point at which you'd be vanishing". The wordiness of the lyrics doesn't hurt the songs, though: as you listen and get swept up into the rush of the band, the amazing number of words crammed into these three songs washes over the listener as the vocals play off of the pulse of the music. The only downers are the somewhat muffled quality of the recording (it's nice that they included a lyric sheet because otherwise deciphering some of the lines would be very difficult) and the consistent habit the drummer has of going for slick tom fills that he can't quite pull off without dropping the beat and breaking up the flow of the music. The occasionally barely audible basslines are adequate though hardly integral to the songs; I suspect the songs were recorded with only the guitar and drums, with the bass overdubbed later--possibly partially explaining the occasional rhythmic inconsistencies in the drumming. Other that those minor points, though, Dead Air To Deaf Ear is a good starting point and a crucial contribution to the recorded history of the Bloomington music scene for anybody who's got a turntable and a couple of bucks to spend. The strong showing Slingshot Episode presents with this 7" makes the debut album one to watch for; this band is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Sloppy Seconds/the Vindictives
"Why Don't Lesbians Love Me"/"Pervert At Large" split 7" (V.M.L. Records)
I've never been a big fan of the Sloppy Seconds; their shtick (porn-obsessed punkeros) never seemed deep enough to hold my attention. I always figured they were about as good as a punk band from Indianapolis could be though, and they've stuck around for so long now I guess they deserve a little credit for that, though it does seem like they might have improved a bit more in the past several years. The band is still only as enjoyable as the listener finds the jokes, though, and the only one of their tracks that ever made me chuckle was "I Don't Wanna Be A Homosexual"; the title of their track here, "Why Don't Lesbians Love Me", pretty much explains the joke this time around, so whether or not you think that's a funny concept for a song ought to tell you how likely you are to like the tune. On the flip side, the Vindictives (best known for being the band that covered the Ramones' Rocket To Russia in its entirety after Screeching Weasel and the Queers did the first two albums, though I guess Vindictives have done Leave Home now too so I guess they're the bigger Ramones ripoff--woohoo) do Ben Weasel's "Pervert At Large". It's tighter than the Seconds' tune but I might have a better idea of whether or not this band is any good if I ever heard an original tune--they seem like a decent second-tier act, going along with the crowd. Nonetheless these two songs make an exceedingly appropriate pairing for a 7" (especially one with the catalog number VML-069), and anybody reading this magazine with one hand and yanking their pud with the other ought to enjoy it. -Aaron J. Poehler
Throwawayyourstereo CD (One Ton Records)
Chunky local metal straight outta Dallas. The vocalist does his singing through a megaphone. Short on songwriting, heavy on the riffs. Not particularly striking or exceptional. It gets tedious fast, lots of the same old thing: the band gets a riff going, the singer bellows over it. There's one track (not really a "song") in the middle with Slinty leanings where the singer does a whispery/then scream thing over just drums, then it's right back to the wannabe Rage Against The Machine stuff. If you miss Soundgarden this might sate your cravings. I always hated it when my band would get stuck playing with a band like this--the one around here was called Myrllen's Coat and their best song was a RageATM cover. They were the kind of guys who act all aggressive and manly onstage but the singer was completely kissing everybody's ass during soundcheck, and they had a soundman called Snake who was utterly useless so our sound was completely fucked up--too much bass, not enough drums, no one could hear themselves or each other. That was probably our worst gig ever. Slow Roosevelt sounds too much like Myrllen's Coat for my comfort, dredges up bad memories. At least Slow Roosevelt is marginally a better name than Myrllen's Coat, but when I see a band name like that I always wonder what the rejected names on the list were. Anyway, I'm certainly not gonna take the band's titular advice and "Throwaway" my stereo; it's tempting to end this review by saying I'd rather ThrowawaySlowRoosevelt's "Throwawayyourstereo " instead, but you know--it's just too easy. --Aaron J. Poehler
The Smashing Pumpkins
Adore--Virgin Records America (338 N. Foothill Rd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210)
Look, in case you haven't gotten the word yet, the Smashing Pumpkins are over. If you attended their embarrassing performance at Lollapalooza up at Deer Creek a few years ago, you got to see most of the crowd walk out on their set, including many people who walked in wearing Pumpkins T-shirts; but I guess if you were suckered into laying out cash for their recent five-disc singles boxed set, you're too far gone to care. Adore is the first Pumpkins release in a long, long time that anyone but the hooked fan might actually be convinced to pay for, consisting of a single 16-track, 75-minute disc; their last three were the aforementioned boxed blunder, the pricey two-disc Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (most people don't have the money for double albums with dumbass titles unless they really, really like the band), and a B-sides collection.
Coming off the p.r. disaster of the band's hired-gun keyboardist dying shooting heroin with the band's original drummer (consequently fired), the band is in a position where they need a comeback, but Adore was reportedly plagued with problems from the firing of producer Brad Wood to squabbles with the record company over contract renegotiation. The result is a single disc comprised entirely of Billy Corgan-penned tunes--James Iha's contributions to the double album being eliminated this time around and relegated to his lightweight solo album Let It Come Down, while bassist D'Arcy's main contribution seems to be standing around with her elbows sticking out like wings and her nipples hanging out for the booklet photos. Corgan seems to have acknowledged the death of 'alternative' as a commercially viable genre, leaning more towards his classic-rock roots with acoustic textures (the album-opener "To Sheila" cops shamelessly from the Doors' "You Make Me Real"; track 3 "Perfect" derives from Bowie's "Strangers When We Meet"), while simultaneously copping to the magazine-fostered trend towards electronic music--one presumes partially due to the absence of a full-time drummer in the Pumpkins lineup, the drum machines and mechanical rhythms are all over this album, and there's precious little guitar rock on this album. What alternative influence does show up is derived primarily from the Cure (although "Appels & Oranjes" is a near-exact replication of New Order's sound)--I guess Billy takes solace in the mirroring figure he sees in the transparently show-biz centered Robert Smith (no, all the members of the Cure coincidentally have just wanted to wear that hair and makeup), another millionaire who sings thinly from his throat, swathes everything in reverb, and writes less and less convincing 'depressing' songs because that's what his audience demands; the pointless Cure-fan in-joke "17" (a fragment of piano that lasts 17 seconds, just like the title of the Cure's second album) ends the album on an unappetizingly contrived note. The major flaw, as always, is Corgan's whiny, unappealing voice; on much of Adore it stands out as badly against the electronic backing as it does against the more acoustic tracks, sounding in some cases like it's been badly damaged by the screaming Corgan's put it through in the past. The blending effect which used to be achieved via their former distorted, overdriven guitar-band sound tended to offset's Corgan's singing much more naturally and provide the few moments of exhilaration to be found on Smashing Pumpkins albums of the past, but apparently those days are over. The fortunes of Smashing Pumpkins have always risen and fallen with their singles (and paralleling the singles, their videos), though, and the fact is that there are no hooky, memorable tracks here: a lot of this album is just boring, the songs forgotten as soon as they're over. The sound of Adore is the sound of a few people in a room one at a time trying to sound like a band--if you could go back in time and play this album for a teenager who'd just bought the now-prehistoric but much more powerful Gish, I bet he'd be horrified by what horrors the future had to bring, a mere three 'real' albums down the road.
"Before I'm Gone"/"Pasted" 7" (Johann's Face Records)
I thought the Smoking Popes might have broken up or gotten dropped by their major label since Capitol didn't seem to do anything with their records. I guess they're still kicking, though, since this 7" notes that they appear courtesy of Capitol. Practically every review of this band compares them to a midtempo punky cross between the Smithereens and the Smiths and notes the fact that there are three Caterer brothers in the band: singer/songwriter/guitarist/the-one-who'll-go-on-to-a-solo-career Josh, Eli on bass, and Matt on the other guitar, plus buddy Mike Felumlee on drums. Once they were supposed to play with us and the long-demised Smears at a benefit for "reproductive rights" but their dad or some other close relative died so they couldn't make it. That's really about all I have to say about this band; I saw their video once and the song made no impression on me at all, and neither did the songs on this record. Midtempo power punky pop that sounded like the Smithereens with a Morrissey-esque singer. --Aaron J. Poehler
The Smooths - No Brakes CD (Dummy Recordings)
Yet another ska band, this one from Baltimore. The Smooths play the typical ska/rock mix combining horns and guitar riffs; No Brakes is their second album and debut national release, following one self-released record (Very Own Vegas) which was mainly sold at shows until Dummy picked them up. The band is tight and fluid, and they live up to their name by focusing more on the 'smooth' soul side of the music rather than the punk/hardcore elements American ska bands tend to introduce into the mix. The album was produced by Bosstones bassist Joe Gittleman and sounds clear and punchy for the most part, excepting a rather hollow snare sound that pops up more than once. It's fine and all, but it's hard to escape the feeling that the band's a bunch of ex-college students playing music they have only secondary experience of, probably because that's what they are: the band convened as Loyola College students. The problem with ex-college student musicians is that they all have degrees to fall back on, and fall back is what they tend to do when the going gets rough--and the going will inevitably get rough when you're trying to support an eight-person band on road earnings. I get the sense that the clock is ticking here unless the Smooths should miraculously hit the big payday. I'm sure the band members' parents are bitching at them left and right to put their educations to use. Still, they don't have anything to be ashamed of in No Brakes , and ska fans should consider themselves prompted to pick the disc up and dance themselves silly. Hey, if nothing else, it's something the band members can show their kids once they get real jobs and breed: "Look, Daddy used to be in a band." -Aaron J. Poehler
"Zero Sum"/"Karmageddon" 7" (Turnbuckle Records)
Two brief chunks of thick guitar-rock with the bass carrying the melodies. One assumes the presence of clever (or at least "clever") lyrics based on the song titles, but they're mostly incomprehensible and no lyric sheet is provided so I guess the listener is on his own. The A-side throws in a few too many "interesting" key changes for its own good, but there's a catchy, chant-along moshpit number buried under all that fuzz somewhere. The B-side is more like what might happen if you played an old vinyl copy of the psychedelic 60's singles compilation Nuggets on 45 instead of 33, then transcribed what came out and played it at breakneck speed. Kinda like Fugazi with a lust for fuzz and less 'moral' content. These guys should do a hyperspeed cover of the 13th Floor Elevators' "Roller Coaster" as "Solar Coaster". --Aaron J. Poehler
A Thousand Leaves--DGC (9130 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069-6197)
The longer Sonic Youth goes, the more individual and unique they become--that much is indisputable. It used to be that they slotted easily into a succession of scenes, whether it was alongside Swans in the early New York Noise movement, between Dinosaur Jr. and Mudhoney in the resurgence of American rock as the eighties became the nineties, or chronologically right ahead of and financially behind Nirvana and Hole in the Geffen major-label mainstreaming of alternative/punk rock. These days, though…who can tell? They issue more records more often than ever with the advent of their SYR record label, apparently designated as an outlet for experimental projects with identical covers and packaging, and they continue to attempt mainstream success (or at least publicity) on a regular basis as evidenced by the number of magazine covers they have popped up on lately. But no one seems as ready to claim Sonic Youth as a band or music of their own as they might once have been. They're not an alternative-rock band; hell, they barely even seem to be a rock band anymore. The power of past Sonic Youth records like Sister and Daydream Nation seems to have been abandoned entirely: the band is now given over to an experimental/improvisational art-rock aesthetic that results in 'pieces' more than it does in songs. A Thousand Leaves strikes me as a calculated attempt to regain the band some much-needed credibility and publicity as an obtuse experimental art band, perhaps thus regaining some of the obscurantist-leaning, lonely college male crowd that buys those type of records. It certainly doesn't seem like a serious attempt to make music that justifies the wide distribution it receives or capture the attention of the mainstream market that makes major-label albums profitable. As always seems to be the case with latter-day SY albums, the rare tracks where Lee Ranaldo opens his mouth are the peak points, Thurston Moore gets in a couple of decent shots and the best tune on the album ("Sunday") but tends to go on a bit long on a few of the others, and the Kim Gordon-sung/talked/screeched tracks are boring, self-obsessed, and uninteresting. Her shtick has really gotten old and I just wish she'd shut up a lot of the time, but she's not solely to blame for the uniformly weak band performances to be found here. I look back on a time when her tracks were among the strongest, especially within the context of the sustained peak of Daydream Nation. Despite the attempt at a return to the DIY method, the group doesn't come up with anything they haven't already done better before. There's noise, but it's not interesting noise; there are songs, but not interesting songs--the best thing they get going is an interesting drone here and there, and those almost always go on and on until I'm thoroughly bored of them. I get the feeling that the band doesn't think this music justifies release on the basis of its merit--it merits release because it was recorded by Sonic Youth, and it's time for a new album. This once-promisingly creative band is turning into Phish for the art-rock crowd--a relatively reliable touring act that churns out lame material so it has something new to play within its particular aesthetic. Maybe if all the best ideas they produce could be concentrated into one record instead of splayed out over three or four releases a year the results would be more enjoyable. Maybe it's just time to call it a day--the last SY-related project I enjoyed was Thurston's solo album, though that too was admittedly a little thin. Or just maybe it's time to quit expecting relevant, serious, rewarding work from this band. A Thousand Leaves sure isn't it.
Little Scratches CD (Swarf Finger Records)
The face behind Spleen is Rob Ellis, best known for playing drums on PJ Harvey albums like Dry; he's previously released one other UK-only album under this alias. It doesn't seem a very appropriate name to me simply because it seems like Ellis is less venting his spleen than just randomly trying some things out in the studio and seeing what arises from it. Little Scratches is like a soundtrack to a movie never made: lots of atmospherics, very European in tone, most of the vocals take the form of seemingly narrative voiceovers that nevertheless don't add up to a lot, as if the picture is needed for comprehension. It's different, but unfocused--a lot more style than substance. I'll never understand why so many drummers that make solo albums stick a load of drum machines on, from Don Henley and Phil Collins right on down to our buddy Rob here. Little Scratches is the kind of record that puts an 'unlisted' long, boring bonus track after ten minutes of silence following the seeming end of the album, but right on the back of the disc box gives credits and a title ("Our wedding night in Jericho") for what they call "The Secret Track". What's the point of that? If they'd just moved the listing up half an inch and cut out the ten minutes of blank space the track would be considered a 'listed' track and you wouldn't have to get up and scan the disc forward in the middle of listening to it before you're done. You know this gimmick has run its course when you have 'listed unlisted tracks'. I think people just do this so the disc looks like it has more music on it than it really does when you put it in the CD player. Really, who's ever said to themselves "You know what would make this disc better? A bunch of blank space right in the middle of the record!" The first time you get a disc like that it's a little surprising--after that it's just a gimmick. --Aaron J. Poehler
Iliteratti.--Allied Recordings (PO Box 460683, San Francisco, CA 94146-0683)
Des Moines, Iowa's Squidboy whip up an indie-rock guitar stew that recalls Dinosaur Jr. and Soul Asylum as much as more punk and hardcore influences; imagine taking the two bands named above, stripping out the mainstream elements and upping the tempo a few notches and you'll be pretty close to the Squidboy sound as presented on Iliteratti. Of course, neither of those bands started out as mainstream as they ended up, either--their respective debut albums were both a lot more punk rock than the sounds they hit MTV with. So I guess the relevant question for Squidboy is "where do they go from here?"
Iliteratti. is thick with crunchy guitar, gritty vocals, and piledriver drums, and the band has obviously spent a lot of time practicing in some Iowa basement or garage because they can stop on a dime and they also toss in a few tempo and time changes that might even throw a math-rock band without making a big deal about it--they just naturally blend into the music. On the downside, the tunes are somewhat undistinguished. They often sound like a heavy blend of CCR/Stones classic rock influences and the Dino Jr./Soul Asylum axis; the band aims for hummable without compromising the riffing rock action and the results sound kinda Seattle-ish which is okay when it resembles hard-driving early Mudhoney but not so great when it edges near Pearl Jam territory. I bet this band could tear shit up live, though--which might be the best place to check 'em out if they come to a tavern near you--and if they come up with a set of slightly more memorable songs there'll be no stopping them.
The Stone Coyotes -- Born To Howl (Red Cat Records, www.stonecoyotes.com)
Pleased to see the Stone Coyotes pop back up with a new one just in time for me to get this review in. Basically the name of the game here is Songwriting with a capital S—okay, sure sure they’ve got this ‘family’ hook, seeing as the band’s comprised of wife/guitarist Barbara Keith, husband/drummer Doug Tibbles, and bassist/Doug’s son John Tibbles, which makes for some different media coverage and attracted novelist Elmore Leonard’s attention, but I don’t listen to records just because a family made them, y’know? Maybe people who buy Danielson Family discs or Hanson do, I don’t know. The Dylan-in-his-prime-quality lyrics Barbara writes kept me coming back to their last disc Situation Out Of Control, and after two or three listens to this one I’m already grinning at lines like “Some of these new boys/They say they want to fight/But it takes them three days/To get the drum sound right”. Ha HA! Sound like anyone you know? The music does the job of conveying the tunes properly—sure, Doug’s not going to be replacing John Bonham anytime soon, but he gets the job done and he’s certainly established a style, one that’s refreshing in its Ringoesque simplicity. Hell, at this point I’m just glad to hear something this unique (without that desperate, tattooed-and-pierced-and-dyed bullshit look-at-me-I’m-oh-so-unique fakery every new rock band seems to ooze), listenable, well-crafted, and solid. Who gives a shit if it doesn’t fit into any marketable categories? Here’s to hoping someone like Joan Jett or Sheryl Crow or Chrissie Hynde picks up on “First Lady of Rock” (Mommy said to Daddy, “Did you hear what she said? She said ‘I like Black Sabbath and Motorhead’”) and makes the Coyotes some hit royalty cash to finance more great Barb tunes. --Aaron J. Poehler
Stranded - Longwaydown CD (Stone Entertainment, PO Box 3663, Newport Beach, CA 92659)
Anyone remember a few years ago when the mainstream hard-rock pendulum began swinging from metal to punk? You got all these weird crossover moves like Guns 'N Roses doing Misfits and Damned songs and Metallica cutting off their long lovely locks as the metalmongers desperately tried to hold on to their audience. Now that mainstream punk has moved on to the pop market (cf: the Offspring's hit rewrite of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"--wonder if McCartney gets royalties), the metalheads are starting to resurface, but their numbers are (as always) limited.
The predictable result is seen in bands like Stranded, who use the same racing hardcore polka beat as dozens of punk-pop bands but then lace their tunes with twin-lead Iron Maiden riffs and lightweight chukka-chukka rhythms that are intended to sound "heavy" but instead just tell us that at least one Stranded member has a subscription to Guitar Player magazine. The singer seems to vacillate between the Rollins roar, the Korn grunt, and the All bleat (thankfully staying mostly clear of Axl territory) and overall the band puts up a good show of commitment to their style (no band pictures, so I can't tell you if they have long hair or short--I'd bet on a mix: short hair on the singer and drummer, long hair on the guitarists), but ultimately Longwaydown is lacking the type of quality tunes that will draw listeners to your band irrespective of genre. The next Junkyard? –Aaron J. Poehler
We Care, So You Don't Have To--Scat Records (6226 Southwood #3E, St. Louis, MO 63105-3232)
After hearing Scat Records' Styrenes/Mirrors/Electric Eels Those Were Different Times compilation, I thought Styrenes' section of the disc was the least interesting of the three bands, possessing neither the raw nihilistic aggression of the Eels nor the primitive do-it-yourself Velvet Underground garage vibe of the Mirrors, but after hearing the material on the new Styrenes album We Care, So You Don't Have To I'm all turned around on the subject. The shifting Styrenes lineup has shifted for the better with former Pagans vocalist Mike Hudson added to the lineup; his gravel-throated singing, screaming, and recitations anchor most of these songs. The combination of Hudson's street-level alcohol-soaked point of view along with Styrenes founder Paul Marotta's sweeping piano fills makes for a probably unintentional underground-music answer to Bruce Springsteen--in any case it makes a much more convincing statement for the 'economically disadvantaged' than Bruce's pronouncements from on high in his mansion on the hill. The only clunker is a fairly pointless cover of the Velvets' classic "Venus In Furs" that seems to be here mainly for Marotta to indulge his pretensions, but the rest of We Care, So You Don't Have To is strikingly consistent, including a few real standout tracks like "He Was A Loser", "Thanks For Coming Home", and "Hour Of The Gun" that hook in and don't let go. Solid music from diehard underground musicians.
Subincision--Beach Recordings (1230 Market St. Suite 135, San Francisco, CA 94102)
Subincision is one of the morass of So. Cal punk rock bands, the kind so reverent for the late 70's/early 80's that they went all the way and got the mohawks, the boots, the neck chains and studs, and the leather jacket with the Subincision logo painted on the back. To their credit, their self-titled album is packed with energy, dense with guitar and bass riffing and shouted lyrics, somewhat along the lines of a poppier, more melodic Dead Kennedys ("No Molesta" says "No need to tell you to FUCK OFF!!! Cuz JELLO did") with a touch of early Suicidal Tendencies. As a group Subincision sound driven and committed, but it's hard to take this shtick seriously at this point--it's just like those guys who slick their hair back with lard, wear their old high school letter jackets, and act like it's the 50's: it's a cartoon. It's not hurting anybody, and it's certainly enjoyable for what it is, but it's not very original, individual, or creative. My reaction to Subincision is the same as it is when I pass similarly mohawked, leather-jacketed dudes in the street: I smile to myself and wonder how long it'll be before they look just like their fathers and get accounting jobs, or move on to the next fashion trend and grow dreadlocks. Then I go home and listen to Raw Power.
Nikki Sudden – The Last Bandit (Alive/Total Energy, PO Box 7112 Burbank CA 91510, http://alive-totalenergy.com/)
So Nikki’s finally gotten to the point in his career where a ‘best-of’ or more appropriately, ‘an introduction to’-type compilation is de rigeur, a necessity concentrating some peaks down into one convenient package for those too cheap and lazy to go out and buy every rare single and import CD they can find, like, well, me. I’ve always enjoyed whatever of Nikki’s work has floated my way, from the first time I heard his version of Neil Young’s “Captain Kennedy” on the Bridge tribute album (one of the only tribute albums that rewarded more than one listen), to his more recent album with the Jacobites that’s spent a good amount of time in the player—oh fine, I’ll get up and find out the title…it’s God Save Us Poor Sinners, happy now? Bomp also sent along a comp of Nikki’s first band, Swell Maps, which I haven’t had time to really get into yet, to be honest, seeing as it’s not up the same Keith Richards meets Alex Chilton alley as Nikki’s solo work, but it sounded okay—intruiging indie-noise from the early eighties, which is always an area worthy of investigation for me. Regardless of the Swell Maps disc, Nikki’s The Last Bandit comp’s pretty damn solid until the end, where it sort of peters out a bit—I assume these tracks are included due to their rarity and not their overarching quality—but the bonus solo acoustic disc makes up for it with seven sparse but haunting cuts. But what the kids really want to know, Nikki…is where the hell did you find that priceless gold-lame (how do I do an accent-aigu on this computer?) suit you’re wearing on the cover? That’s picture’s fucking worth the cost of the album right there. I totally want that suit. --Aaron J. Poehler
The Girl That God Forgot CD (Restless)
Hmmm. The press release for Suncatcher's The Girl That God Forgot claims the CD was held back because "There was so much potential...the label wanted to make sure they were through with their growing pains before releasing the Suncatcher debut." But the xeroxed articles in the press kit note that Suncatcher's debut was originally scheduled to be released as Owflower in mid-1996 until attorneys noticed that "Little Stevie Wonder/Strawberry Fields Forever" re-created (as opposed to directly sampled) the opening "Let me take you down" bit from the Beatles' recording. It was a cease-and-desist order and a lawsuit that delayed the album, not any band development bullshit. Either way, it's not too surprising that Suncatcher leader Doug Holland got tagged for being excessively derivative because everything on the retooled-for-legality and retitled The Girl That God Forgot sounds like someone else's work, whether it be the Beatles, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Sebadoh, or Pavement. Holland's compositional technique seems to be that he takes small bits from other people's songs and repeats them over and over until he's 'created' a new song. He doesn't even seem to combine his influences much in the same song: each tune pretty much sounds like one specific type of thing, then the next is on to a different source. It all fits into a very narrow niche and gets mechanical and tedious very fast. --Aaron J. Poehler
Playing The Part--Playing Field Recordings (PO Box 851, Urbana IL 61803)
Independent college rock from Elk Grove Illinois--lots of time changes, unexpected twists and turns, more-or-less nonsensical lyrics (maybe they make sense on a theoretical level) and faux-arty instrumental passages that modestly hint at King Crimson, but were probably derived from Slint. Singer/guitarist Steven T. Zydek seems to be the driving creative force at the center Supporting Actress but the fluid, supple rhythm section makes his disjointed ramblings and guitar stabbings flow; the band is tight without seeming like show-offs, aggressive without being excessively loud or testosterone-fuelled. In fact, the band's impressive command of volume may be their strongest point. If they can bridge the gap between arcane obscurantism and melodic songwriting that seems their failing at present, they may develop from a promising local/regional group to one genuinely worthy of wider attention.
Wrongville CD--Gypsy Records/Velvel Records LLC (740 Broadway, New York, NY 10003)
Country-inflected distorted mainstream guitar rock with punkish overtones. These guys would make an appropriate opening band for Pearl Jam or Soul Asylum, but I don't think too many people would be paying any attention to Sweet Diesel--they'd be up buying T-shirts and beer, and going to the bathroom. In any case, what they sound like is an opening act because it's hard to imagine anyone thinking this was striking music in any sense. Wrongville is reminiscent of Drivin 'N Cryin' at some points, Guns 'N Roses at others; think of the Rollins Band gone country. The songs all sound the same, the drummer doesn't seem to know too many different beats, the guitar could be anybody. Some of these songs don't even sound like they were done, like the songs still had parts that needed to be written, or the final mixdown session got cancelled. I get the impression their songwriting process consists of sticking various clichéd riffs together and hoping that somehow a song emerges. In the final analysis: not ready for prime time.