Talas - If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now... CD (Metal Blade Records)
Back when I lived in upstate New York, Talas was the pride of Buffalo. Even though they'd broken up, they were still the most prominent of Buffalo musicians (go ahead, just try to name a band from Buffalo other than the Goo Goo Dolls) because Talas bassist Billy Sheehan was on the top of his game, playing in David Lee Roth's backing band and appearing on the cover of Bass Player magazine every other month. Later Sheehan went on to form that wretched band Mr. Big, who, like every other metal act of the time, hit the top 40 with an acoustic ballad, theirs being "To Be With You" (uugggh…just typing that title gave me the shudders). Apparently there were two different versions of Talas, the original being the three-piece band that existed from 1974 to 1984, the second being a Sheehan-centered vehicle, but according to the press kit, "the original Talas held all the memories and promise of greatness". Uh…okay.
Even though I was living right near Buffalo, I don't recall ever hearing any of these songs before, which goes to show how supportive of local music Buffalo radio was (and probably still is, with the exception of reunions of bands long dead). The only Talas song I was familiar with was "Shy Boy", which appeared on the David Lee Roth album Eat 'Em And Smile--I recall Diamond Dave's version being soundly denounced by local metalheads as a weak ripoff of the reportedly clearly superior Talas version, but then fans of the old band would pretty much have to say that, wouldn't they? Anyway, If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now... is a seventy-minute live album documenting a November 29th, 1997 concert reuniting the three original Talas members before what sounds like an enthusiastic hometown Buffalo crowd. Mostly the songs sound like Deep Purple or Whitesnake, chugging along in a heinous bombastic 70's haze; the repertoire includes songs drawn from the first two Talas albums, two previously unreleased numbers, and covers of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" and Max Webster's (who?) "Battle Scar". I can't imagine anybody but burned-out fortysomething 70's metal freaks getting off on this, but have at it if it sounds intriguing to you. It wore on me pretty quickly--put it this way, I certainly didn't sit listening thinking how lucky those old fans were to have seen Talas back in the 70's in their prime or anything. -Aaron J. Poehle
Deniz Tek - Equinox CD (Citadel Records)
Deniz Tek was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, best known as the birthplace of the Stooges, but after getting a firsthand dose of Detroit grunge from witnessing the MC5 and Iggy's gang, he flew off to Sydney, Australia to study medicine--one wonders if his experience didn't help touch off the plethora of Stooges-obsessed bands down under. In any case, Deniz was on the scene for the beginnings of the Aussie punk rock movement spearheaded by the Saints, and though his first band, TV Jones, didn't get beyond Wollongong (which the press release describes as "an industrial town south of Sydney"), Radio Birdman, the band Tek formed with vocalist Rob Younger, secured an international distribution deal with Sire Records (looking for more product after doing well with the Saints' (I'm) Stranded) for their peculiar brand of Stooges/MC5 rock action mixed with Doors/Blue Öyster Cult pretension and drama. Birdman split up the next year after fortune failed to follow along, scattering members to bands such as the Screaming Tribesmen and the Lime Spiders, while Tek recorded a solo LP (Orphan Tracks) and participated in the New Race, the one-tour-only aggregation of three ex-Birdmen, Ron Asheton from the Stooges, and Dennis Thompson from the MC5.
Since then, Tek has moved back to the States, become a fully-licensed physician, participated in a couple of Radio Birdman reunion tours, recorded with ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, and formed the imaginatively named Deniz Tek Group, which released a couple of records before splitting. Now he's back on his own, with a new solo album, Equinox. It's a pretty schizophrenic endeavor, choogling along nicely with heavy guitar riffs here and there but frequently detouring into blind alleys, including dramatic recitations, clunky lyrics, overlaid tapes, and twiddly keyboard breaks. One minute it's vaguely threatening underground rock, then we're wandering into mainstream Seger/Mellencamp country, then pretentious singer/songwriterly stuff with prominent female vocals, then swooping keyboard gothika. It doesn't come together as an album particularly well as a result; it's often hard to tell what they were going for, if anything. I guess a full-time job as an M.D. probably doesn't leave a lot of extra time for polishing material, let alone formulating an aesthetic that all these disparate elements could conceivably fit into, but Equinox doesn't add up to much. A lot of it comes off slapdash, and surprisingly weak for a guy with an over twenty-year recording history. If records were graded on a curve, this one would get a low grade and a big "not working up to potential". -Aaron J. Poehler
Tactics For Evolution--Invisible (PO Box 16008, Chicago, IL 60616)
Test Dept. got going way back in 1981, starting off along the same lines as early Einstürzende Neubauten: making music with the sounds of power tools and discarded metal objects. People that heard this stuff back then had no words for it, no genre to assign it to, so they called it "industrial" music based on the tools of industry used to create the sounds on the records. Both Neubauten and Test Dept. are still going today; while Neubauten now makes more melodic, vocal-based music that still incorporates plenty of unexpected elements, Test Dept. is working the electronic angle, making multifaceted beat centered music with samples and sequencers. Tactics For Evolution, the group's latest album, contains ten tracks of stimulating electronica, built around percussion samples layered atop one another to produce a polyrhythmic effect while various more melodic ingredients drift around the beat, including the prerequisite swirling keyboards as well as less predictable elements like bagpipes, choir sounds, and orchestral bites (not too many jackhammers or drill presses, though) with an overall effect like a more insistent Orb. Another factor (besides the obvious commitment demonstrated) separating Test Dept. from the rest of the electronic pack is their live show, which regularly takes them away from their home base in London to bring their message to the masses; based on the contents of Tactics For Evolution I'd wager on Test Dept. to heat up the competition at any rave. Worth checking out.
They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles--Velvel/Fire
Television Personalities 'They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles was originally released in the UK back in 1982 by TVPs' leader Daniel Treacy's own label (then named Whaam! but renamed Dreamworld after George Michael's lawyers took an interest) and coincided with a temporary lapse in band activity; its contents are therefore a bit of a hodgepodge of previously released material, covers ("Painter Man" and "Making Time" by legendary British psychedelic pop band the Creation), singles, and remakes, totalling sixteen tracks of endearing lo-fi psychedelic Britpop. Liner note contributions by Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake aren't particularly illuminating ("Wow what about the Edinburgh show…remember the two naked boys who jumped onstage?") but the excerpt from Creation Records head Alan McGee's 'Diary Of A Young Man' contained herein is somewhat more helpful in placing this record contextually. Treacy's "The Boy In The Paisley Shirt" is easily the best track here, but "Three Wishes" and "King and Country" aren't far behind; all in all, the album makes a pretty good case for justifying its title, especially when you take into consideration all the excellent songs Treacy has issued since reactivating the TVPs with 1985's The Painted Word and continuing up through the present, sporadically issuing delightfully fractured records, each containing its allotment of wonderful tunes. The singles compilation Yes Darling, But Is It Art? might be a better introduction for the TVP-neophyte, but They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles is definitely a worthwhile purchase, even moreso when you take into account the savings produced by Velvel conveniently issuing a domestic version and the CD-length playing time of the album. A perfect gift for any former art student who ever had to give up their grandiose dreams and settle for bland reality--which means all of them.
Thee Impossibles - Who Invited These Guys Anyway? (X Records, 2484 Hamner Ave., Norco, CA 91760)
Take note that this band is THEE Impossibles, not THE Impossibles, which apparently is/was a ska-punk band. This Impossibles is a straight-ahead punk rock band--straight-ahead enough to steal "Rock & Roll Radio" and turn it into their band anthem, straight-ahead enough to write songs with titles like "Punk Rock Girlfriend", "Danny's Got A Headache", and "Checkstand Girl". So you get the idea: they like the Ramones, the Queers, Screeching Weasel, Mr. T Experience, etc. Too bad they don't go anywhere outside the lines already laid down by their idols, because it all just slots too neatly into the pop-punk template to have many distinguishing characteristics. I mean, the Groovie Ghoulies are a completely, 100% derivative band and they still manage to create an individual (if not unique) sound within their framework. Thee Impossibles just sound like a million other bands in this genre, though they do have enough enthusiasm and energy that you might be tempted to overlook it at a show and just jump up and down mindlessly--if you're prone to that kind of thing. If not, Who Invited These Guys Anyway? isn't going to convert you. –Aaron J. Poehler
Three Mile Pilot
Another Desert Another Sea--Cargo Music Inc. (4901-906 Morena Blvd., San Diego, CA 92117)
San Diego's Three Mile Pilot released their debut album Na Vucca Do Lupo on Cargo a few years ago, then got picked up by Geffen for their sophomore effort The Chief Assassin to the Sinister, but the band didn't move the kind of units necessary to maintain their high-level corporate attachment, so Geffen returned the tapes of their as-yet-unreleased third album to the band, who promptly reconnected with Cargo for their release as Another Desert Another Sea. Its eclectic, sprawling approach evokes the glory days of Camper Van Beethoven, the lyrics and vocals eerily recall Dinosaur's J. Mascis, and the keyboard sound inevitably brings Supertramp to mind for those of us 'lucky' enough to recall that band's FM heyday; actually, I hear elements from a lot of different 'alternative' bands coalesced into Another Desert Another Sea's mélange, including influences from Sebadoh, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M., Pavement, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam and Nick Cave's old band the Birthday Party blended into the basic Camper Van/Dinosaur Jr. sound, and though the brew's not quite blended into an original brand yet, at least there are enough different though derivative sounds to keep the listener relatively entertained. One thing I notice about most of Three Mile Pilot's influences is that they all had their heydays several years ago, during the peak popularity of 'alternative rock' in the late eighties and early nineties, so Three Mile Pilot may be a band a bit out of its time. The strained vocals get tiresome about halfway through and the ear yearns for a more melodic voice to carry the tunes, which seem to suffer as a result; one wonders if oversinging in the pursuit of a more rocking sound is the cause of the tunelessness, and if some restraint might produce better results. Another minor annoyance occurs in that the CD trails on for over a minute after the music has ended, seemingly in silence and without reason. Still, Another Desert Another Sea' remains a relatively accomplished work; nothing for the ages, mind you, but certainly nothing to be ashamed of, and perhaps a platform upon which to construct bigger and better things--in the meantime, they'd certainly make an excellent opening act for any of their predecessors that are still around and touring. A band to keep an eye on as they develop--or don't, depending on how things work out.
Sweet Merciful Crap! It's... 7" (Soda Jerk Records)
The Thumbs cram five quality tunes onto this 7-inch without even having to run the thing at 33 rpm. It helps the songs that they don't seem to be trying to do anybody else's 'thing'; instead, what they come up with is a more natural blend that doesn't immediately call to mind any other band. If pressed for a comparison I'd have to say that Sweet Merciful Crap! (a title swiped from The Simpsons) most closely resembles early Soul Asylum--really early Soul Asylum, before they were on any label besides Twin/Tone. It also helps that the Thumbs have put some thought, feeling, and insight into the lyrics without compromising the brutal drive of the music. An example, from "Homecoming": "Last night I went to the punk rock show. Can you guess what I saw?/Nothing new. Another elitist proving ground, where fashion's still the law...Just another hero quarterback with a silly prefab name/What's the difference? It might as well be homecoming." Another example, from "Fur": "The guy in the back seat dropped the dog out the door/A disposable toy they didn't want anymore...That's just the one I saw, I thank god I can't see what happens to them all/But when they say god watches everybody, it seems to me they lied". Hey, not too shabby for a punk-rock group that seems to be growing out of the cliquish punk rock scene. "Thumbs" up on this one. --Aaron J. Poehler
Battle Hymns for the Recluse Youth CD--Liquid Meat (PO Box 460692, Escondido, CA 92046)
Escondido, California punk rock band tiltWheel are apparently among the daily-diminishing group of vinyl loyalists--Battle Hymns for the Recluse Youth is also available on 12" vinyl with an extra track for the faithful. I think I'll stick to the CD, even though they don't make things easy for the newcomer--there are no song titles listed on the album, no band members' names are listed inside (instead there's an order form for expensive, out-of-print tiltWheel records, priced between $25 and $40) the band's name doesn't appear on the front cover, and the back cover is taken up by a huge UPC code. Maybe the words printed on the CD itself are song lyrics, but through a cruel twist of fate the CD is always in the player when I'm listening to the songs--what a coincidence. I guess either the band expects the titular 'recluse youth' to have a lot of free time on his or her hands, or perhaps they really want people to listen to their music to get into it (gasp!). I think I can handle that burden, as their music has me ready to forgive them their lack of manners: it's tight, melodic, and catchy, without sacrificing that crucial rock urge that makes the listener think they might really be able to turn a small club inside out It's that effect where the band in playing together so well that you don't hear the individual instruments so much as you just hear the song, and the music--a small thing perhaps, but always refreshing to hear. There are places here and there where the band will remind me of another group, perhaps one that might be an influence like Mudhoney or the Replacements, but for the most part, after a couple of listens Battle Hymns for the Recluse Youth just sounds like tiltWheel to me. Good show, lads.
Two In The Piñata CD--Mute Records (140 W. 22nd St. #10A, NY NY 10011)
If nothing else, Atlanta art-rock ensemble Toenut have created a unique blend with their album Two In The Piñata--the CD combines thin, high-pitched female vocals (I'm guessing the singer has several Cocteau Twins albums) with off-kilter guitar riffing and unpredictable elements ranging from answering machine messages to unidentifiable sounds. They're certainly different, but it doesn't make a lot of sense, as though they're incorporating a bunch of surreal touches to cover up their innate sameness or lack of actual musical ideas--it plays like a thesis or a theory for music rather than a collection of songs or even musical pieces. Two In The Piñata is divided into four sections of four or five songs each but any thematic point to this is lost on me. Something about Toenut just screams "college rock!" only with more emphasis on the 'college' than the 'rock'. In the end the overwhelming pretentiousness without musical muscle or interesting ideas to back it up just blends into a mire that sounds something like the singer from Lush replacing Bjork in a reformed Sugarcubes playing Wire covers on the college circuit. Not a particularly appetizing confection, and I'm guessing it won't be a particularly long-lived one.
The Ton Ups - "Tune Down" CD (Man's Ruin)
Bluesy garage rock from the Lower East Side of NYC, pretty much along the lines of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with a bassist. If you can't get enough of that JSBE thing, this might be your thing. It sounds like a shtick to me, and the Ton Ups come off that much less convincing than Spencer's crew (not the most convincing to begin with) because you've heard it all before if you've heard any Spencer records. Look, I know a lot of white boys are self-conscious and feel like their culture is lacking, but shouting "Yeah!" or "wahoo!" every two seconds and trying to get funky is generally not the answer. Not that trying to be the Beastie Boys (or actually being the Beastie Boys) is any better, but this lies somewhere along the axis of G. Love and Special Sauce in terms of credibility. Still, if you were drunk enough, bored enough, and lonely enough in a shitty enough bar and these guys were onstage, I can see how it might work for awhile. But boy, does it get boring fast when you're at home listening to the stereo writing a review. -Aaron J. Poehler
transister CD (Interscope Records)
I really didn't know what to expect with this one, seeing as the packaging encases the CD in a superfluous slipcase and both the outside and inside of the CD box as well as the slipcase simply repeat shots of a fluorescent lighting fixture. The point? Beats me. They probably thought it was cool because New Order did it (the repeated images thing) back in the '80's. Before listening, my first guess on the music was dance electronica, my second was pretentious art-school rock. It turns out that the music is quite similar to Garbage in that way of being pop/rock tunes with a crooning female singer that are 'electronica'd up' in post-production, although probably the band that's most comparable in sound to transister is post-computerization U2--the echoed, ringing guitars layered over mechanized beats synched to drum machines, in service to repetitive, anthemic singalong songs that aim straight for the pop market. There's definitely a heavy New Order influence and a little Laurie Anderson in the mix as well, plus some Yaz, Depeche Mode, Massive Attack, and late-period Wire. In all fairness transister isn't really half bad even if the whole thing is pretty transparent and obviously derivative; its very formulaicism (quiet verses, loud choruses, folky rock song structures with oh-so-90s drum loops) could be its strength in the mass market. I can see how this might be quite popular. It's true that the album thins out and becomes boring fairly quickly (all the songs sound pretty much alike) and the singsongy, simplistic nature of the lyrics doesn't allow much room for interpretation, but this type of music rises and falls on hit singles and marketing alone. They need to aim for the little girls who are growing out of the Spice Girls and looking for something a hair less crass, as well as anybody who actually paid money for a Cranberries album. If transister's promotion men can get enough money into the right pockets at the right time and finagle a top ten single and a striking, appropriately slutty-looking video, you might see and hear enough of this group to drive you insane. Otherwise don't worry about it. --Aaron J. Poehler
Superevil CD (TMC The Music Cartel)
Swedish metal that's like a cross between Led Zeppelin and the Laughing Hyenas--more 'evil' sore-throat antics than Zeppelin and more guitar solos and overdubs than the Hyenas. Ex B-Thong vocalist Tony Jelencovich leads Transport League (gee, catchy name--sounds like a bus driver's union) and writes almost all the material, but his compatriots provide a convincingly heavy backdrop for his histrionics. This album is actually a few notches better than most of the 'evil' heavy metal floating around out there--I bet this stuff would sound crushing in its natural environment, it's just that the natural environment for this kind of stuff is at a European metal festival at a castle with thousands of speedfreak headbangers jumping around like lunatics. Those faithful few who still worship at the altar of heavy metal won't be let down by Superevil--it's like what might happen if Rollins quit feeling sorry for himself and behaved like the cartoon superhero his audience would prefer to his tortured artist act. It helps that Jelencovich has a vocal range similar to Mike Patton (Faith No More/Mr. Bungle) and isn't afraid to rock out in the most obvious ways. It gets pretty wearisome by the end of the record and strikes me as more than a bit one-note and formulaic, but then I'm not exactly champing at the bit for new heavy metal and seemingly every single element on this album is subordinate to making it as HEAVY as possible, so if heavy's what you crave then this may be what you need. --Aaron J. Poehler
The Abby Travis Foundation
The Abby Travis Foundation CD (You Seem Like A Nice, Well-Adjusted Person Records)
Abby Travis really gets around--she's described in the presskit as a "longtime L.A. scenester" (a review of an X reunion show notes that Travis attended wearing "an angora crocheted halter dress") who got started playing out with the (Desperate Teenage) Love Dolls and the Rails. She's probably best known as the woman in the nurse's uniform in recent KMFDM pictures and on tour with the band, but she's also lined up gigs playing bass backing Beck and Elastica. No doubt her social connections helped.
The Abby Travis Foundation is her debut release as a solo artist and doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to any of the abovementioned music. Instead what we have is a heinous blend of Melissa Etheridge, Concrete Blonde, and Sheryl Crow, rocked up a bit but mostly just a bunch of wailing and weak classic-rock riffs--one even rips off "All the Young Dudes", and the only thing more classic-rock than that is probably "We're An American Band". Her accompanists are other scene vets and studio pros--the only name worth mentioning is Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood, who plays guitar on four tracks. Actually the Sheryl Crow comparison seems more and more relevant, since Crow came to the attention of label execs through singing backup for Michael Jackson then reaped the benefits of a total image overhaul to 'reposition' her for the yuppie market, not to mention the professional song doctors called in to fix her tunes. Travis is gonna need all that if she's ever going anywhere as a solo artist, because this is really bad music, and truthfully she's not even a very good bass player. Better keep those connections up. --Aaron J. Poehler
Treiops Treyfid - Reach The Explosion! CD (Deep Reverb)
Treiops Treyfid's old band, Pitchblende, turned out three albums of fractured Pavement-influenced pop/rock songs filtered through Sonic Youth's jagged palette and the environmental noise floating around their Washington DC hometown, all released on Fistpuppet/Cargo between '93 and '96. For his solo debut full-length, Treiops has assembled a varied cast of friends to assist him in the completion of his record: contributing bass, drums, and other instruments are various members and ex-members of Air Miami, New Wet Kojak, Eggs, Atari Kid, and Tsunami, not to mention Treyfid's old Pitchblende crony Scott DeSimon laying bass down on "Bank Clock Controlled The Weather". The man of the hour ties it all together with his distinctively dissonant vocals and guitarwork, plus a few bass and synth parts.
The casual consumer examining the back of Reach The Explosion! might be alarmed to note that a few of the track numbers appear to be missing, but not to worry: where Pitchblende chose to label their incidental, between-song tracks by their running times on their '93 debut Kill Atom Smasher, for Reach The Explosion! Treiops has apparently decided not to mention them at all and let the listener puzzle it out for him- or herself. The 'hidden' track three is a hilarious snippet of two guys on a college radio station discussing a 'music revolution' with anticipatory glee, as though it's going to come before the term is out; track eight is a circular bass riff that (suffice to say) wouldn't have fit in the Seinfeld soundtrack; and track eleven is a 22-second home tape excerpt featuring acoustic guitar, furiously clicking metronome, and the chant "Where is my tape recorder?". The tracks that he actually deigned to list are interesting too, if comprised of more predictable elements: guitar, bass, drums...you know, the usual. The way they're arranged is wholly nontraditional, though, so they don't add up in predictable ways. Treyfid's snaky lead lines twist through the center of the songs' composition; the guests contributions don't lock with him the way a regular band might, but the variety of personalities participating in each song gives the album an unpredictable quality. If Reach The Explosion! whets your whistle and you simply must have more of Treiops' work, there are three solo 7-inches out as well, none of which seem to be on the album. Happy hunting. -Aaron J. Poehler
Okay, it’s rap-metal. Yeah, I know, but I figured I’d give it a chance—don’t want to condemn them based solely on genre and all that. After all, I love Faith No More and they basically started off the whole rap-metal thing with ‘The Real Thing’, even if they had the sense to abandon it totally with their next album. Well, Trik Turner ain’t no Faith No More, that’s for sure. More like Creed with Sugar Ray beats and raps; i..e. formulaic music designed to appeal to frustrated teenage boys. There isn’t an element on this element that hasn’t been totally beaten to death already over the last ten years, from the beats to the rap style to the singing style. I gave it a chance, but it’s not worth the time. (RCA) – Aaron J. Poehler
The Derek Trucks Band
self-titled--Landslide Records (1800 Peachtree St. (333), Atlanta, GA 30309)
Being the offspring of prominent musical parents is always a mixed blessing for a musician. On one hand, it can mean a step up in the music business or a potential built-in audience for your work--just ask Julian Lennon or Ziggy Marley. On the other hand, that audience just wants you to sound as much as possible like the parent in question--just ask Julian Lennon or Ziggy Marley. The Derek Trucks Band's leader is the guitar-playing son of the Allman Brothers Band's stalwart drummer (one of them, anyway) Butch Trucks, and the Derek Trucks Band's self-titled debut certainly shows some inevitable familiarity with the parent band's music: that warm, southern-fried tone, that bluesy jamming sensibility, spiraling guitar licks over Hammond organ tones. Where the Trucks Band deviates is in upping the jazz quotient; the album features two tracks by John Coltrane, one by Miles Davis, and one by Wayne Shorter in among the more Allmanesque original numbers (including one vocal sung by keyboardist Bill McKay--shades of Gregg). Young Trucks' hyper-schooled guitar style is appropriate for the music and his playing is certainly fluid, although very familiar sounding--it's hard to avoid the fact that he sounds almost exactly like a cross between prime Allman axes Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, but, y'know, that's not such a terrible thing. It's not particularly surprising or original, but it's certainly not bad. Butch's bag of tricks is a little limited and most of his licks are right out of the book, but he strings them together appealingly if a tad unadventurously. But hey, it's the kid's first record and he's got nothing to be ashamed of here; for better and for worse, the Derek Trucks Band's debut is a professional piece of work that should certainly please any Allman-obsessive purchasers or guitar-instrumental fans.
Maybe I’m risking my punk rock credentials by admitting this (oh no! Don’t let the punk police take my punk rock passcard away!), but I’ve never heard a full TSOL album up until now. I always got the impression that they’re one of those bands that’s a lot better-known in California, like Love and, um, well, no one else springs to mind, probably because I’ve never lived in California. I know they’ve had a lot of instability in the past, including some kind of legal problem that temporarily prevented a reunited lineup of the founding members of the band from performing as ‘TSOL’—shades of Moby Grape (or Yes, if you want to be unkind). Disappear is doin’ it for me, though—lots of screeching punk rock guitar and nonstop rhythms. They’ve got the shit down—just sitting here listening gives me that long-absent desire to crash into people and pump my fist in the air and shout along with the choruses, and goddamnit, isn’t that what punk rock is supposed to do? This is the kind of music that comes to my mind when I hear people refer to ‘California punk rock’, though these days they more often seem to mean some collegiate punk-pop band that has more tattoos than talent. No radio-friendly bullshit here as far I can hear, thank god. The need to include radio-ready singles on albums has nearly destroyed the credibility of punk rock the same way it did metal and hard rock, and here TSOL manages to keep the hooky catchiness of the songs without some idiot trying to slick it up to sound like Blink 182.
-Aaron J. Poehler
Separation Songs EP--Big Top Records (955 Massachusetts Avenue, Suite 115, Cambridge MA 02139)
This EP by formed-in-Buffalo now-in-Boston four-piece Tugboat Annie is a little suite of songs written while on tour--hence the title. Separation Songs contains six tracks--five listed, one unlisted bonus track (maybe it didn't fit into the 'tour songs' concept), totaling about 21 minutes running time of emotional guitar rock, with some strikingly melodic lead lines. The band fits cleanly into a relatively mainstream rock sound without coming off careerist or overtly commercial, an effect that's helped along by the well-recorded sound by Matthew Ellard at Fort Apache: Tugboat Annie's sound is built around the distorted, intertwining guitars and the vocals, and the production never fails to clearly convey both elements as well as the sparkling melodies. The songs are well-written--the lyrics make sense, and the tunes sound like they'd stand up even if stripped down to just vocals and an acoustic guitar, though the contributions of all four band members blend to help support the songs. Plus, thanks to the convenience of a member of the band being a graphic designer during his day job hours, the packaging of this EP is exceptionally attractive and even relates to the subject matter of the songs. I certainly wouldn't mind hearing more from this foursome--hopefully their sound is as appealing over the timespan of a full-length album as it is on this relatively brief EP.
Turning Of The Gears
Sensory Obliteration CD EP (The Quadrivium Label)
With song titles like "Age Of Descent" and "Complete Sole Destruction" you just know this 5-track EP is gonna be crunchy death metal, and you'd be right. Guitarist Juan Soriano leads Turning Of The Gears through compositions that sound like they've been slowed down. It's all pretty cartoonish stuff--when the vocalist switches from the low growly death metal voice to what I guess is supposed to be a screechy voice, he sounds just like Donald Duck fronting some satanic duck death metal band. Apparently the band has personnel problems anyway, with both a vocalist and a drummer coming and leaving during the time of the EP's recording, so maybe they can find someone who won't infringe on any Disney copyrights. Soriano's guitar work is definitely the best thing here, and there are a couple of little sections with dubbed female vocals over a bed of effected wash and music that are more interesting than the rest of the CD combined; maybe that would be a more interesting (and more tolerable) direction for future work. --Aaron J. Poehler
In Punk We Trust--Watergate Records (42145 Lyndie Lane #200, Temecula CA 92591)
Twisted Nixon's self-released debut CD In Punk We Trust is straight-ahead punk rock right down the line, just as you might expect from any album with the word 'punk' in the title. All the prerequisites are here: a lead vocalist named 'Johnny Punish', a reverent cover of Clash classic "Somebody Got Murdered", irreverent covers of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and Buddy Holly's "Oh Boy!", stomping three-chord originals with lyrics complaining about the government and American society, and a not-quite-stable lineup--this half-hour, eleven track CD has two additional guitarists and another drummer credited for contributions to the recordings. It's all quite successful at fitting into a classic punk vein but not exceptional enough to listen to at home unless you're a devotee of the genre; this is the kind of music that's better experienced in person with a few beers in you and another one in your hand (the concluding live track "Kissinger Is Dead" has more fire than the rest of the CD put together). I would have preferred a few more of the band's original tunes and the deletion of the not-funny-or-irreverent enough covers, which really grate after a few listens, especially contrasted with the more-or-less straight and serious (occasionally sermonizing) "take responsibility for your own life" lyrical content of the originals--it seems that the message gets diluted when interspersed with the wackiness, and the tracks don't sit easily next to one another, breaking up what flow there is here. Twisted Nixon obviously trusts in the punk spirit to carry them through, and they certainly have the spirit in abundance; now if they can kick out a solid hour's worth of good original songs for their second CD they might really have something to put them up a step from "just another decent punk rock band" to "one of the really good punk rock bands".