Feat. Dropkick Murphys, HIM & Stars


Dropkick Murphys, The Meanest of Times (Born and Bred Records)
You’re one Dropkicks album late if you’re looking for “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” the bagpipe-punk ditty that colored Martin Scorsese’s The Departed so Irish-ly, but you’re in the same neighborhood.  Like 2005’s The Warrior’s Code, it’s a scrabbling, writhing pigpile of oafish yelling, name-drops of Beantown’s soul-sucking outskirts (“six long months I spent in Quincy/six long months doing nothing at all”), a lot of spiffily produced hardcore, more oafish oofs and a round of green grog for the house.  Meanwhile, atop Mount Crumpet, the band’s bigger/tougher new sound has earned it some haters, guys who honestly believe that punk bands who recorded their first few albums on half-busted two-track machines should forever live for such suffering and shrivel at the thought of warm studios with glass booths and fresh coffee.  Haters are so pliable, though, man – give them a little attention and a car ride and soon enough they’re donning Big Papi tee shirts and singing “Tessie” at the top of their little lungs, confessing their lust for Drew Barrymore during the guitar breaks.

HIM, Venus Doom (Warner Brothers Records)
Hot Topic – whose stock has been tanking like a lead rowboat since they decided to blow air-kisses at the Wu Tang crowd – may not offer sanctuary to mall-goths anymore, but gloom still burns in the collective belly of Finnish mope-glam zombies HIM.  The sweet irony of a band that leverages old-time Bauhaus to make arena-metal is simply irresistible, but what’s even cuter is how the crew hints that they once knew someone who grew up in the 1950s, evidenced by how the title track rips off Elvis’ “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”  Wait, shut up, they’ve got mad swindles too, making a mint off their evil-love “heartagram” symbol, seriously, part pentagram and part heart.  A modicum of redemption happens when they steal the riff from Thin Lizzy’s “Cold Sweat” on “Love in Cold Blood,” not that they aren’t stealthy about it; after all, the only real similarities are the word “Cold” in both songs and the fact that they sound the same.

Siouxsie, Mantaray (Decca Records)
First solo LP from Siouxsie Sioux, no Banshees or Creatures in the house.  This is of course the woman who arguably made the most hay out of post-punk, this by building the goggle-eyed goth-queen mystique from the ground up.  There’s an unsettling deja vu of leather-thong-era Cher in the way “Into a Swan” metal-izes the ghost of “Gun,” and “About to Happen” similarly sounds as though its guitar line was intended for demo use only.  Not much to complain about in other places, though, certainly not in “Here Comes That Day”’s circus-jazz, Siouxsie’s voice wrapping itself in the untouchable torchiness that’s distinctly hers.  The acidic “Loveless” catches Sioux enthralled by the shiny weapons of her descendants, decorating her bump and grind shtick with vocal distortion and a marimba to weird things up.  If you’re looking for vampires, swirly fog and irrepressible Englishness, there’s a little, but it’s usually drowned out by the Flying V throwing its weight around.

Mind in a Box, Crossroads (Metropolis Records)
It’s a shame that the folks who could most use this record simply aren’t going to know about it.  I may have mentioned before how Metropolis is branching out to other genres and sounds (Electric Six has a new one coming out, which we’ll get to in the coming weeks, Xmas deluge permitting) that have little to do with their goth-slam bread and butter, but such experimentation does require a bridge of the caliber Stefan Poiss has provided for three albums now.  More complex and methodical than VNV Nation but instantly accessible regardless, MIAB rely heavily on the high-pitched vocodered sound propounded by big-league europoppers Eiffel 65, an effect that works beautifully when surrounded by Poiss’ endless supply of flashy synth arpeggios.  Like his previous stuff, Crossroads is a concept album revolving around weird, nebulous cloak-and-dagger things, so there’s a goth element that’s dark, but not for the sake of being dark, lending a welcome maturity that’s lacking in the label’s more die-cut players.

Stars, In Our Bedroom After the War (Arts & Crafts Records)
There’s more to some wine-snob indie-pop bands than meets the exposed nerve.  Stars are a Montreal-based fivesome providing employment to three members of Broken Social Scene, the “indie supergroup” (ignore the oxymoron, folks, nothing to see here) that spends most of its offstage time writing Juno Award acceptance speeches and, more recently, murdering hundreds of trees in order that the new albums from Stars and Kevin Drew can have more superfluous paper jammed into them than an iPhone bill.  If you love Feist’s way with sexless balladry and quiet-to-quietly-loud you’ll find a lot to like about Amy Millan’s vocal contributions to this album, but it must be said that even if you’re the sort who bolts for the nearest set of Zack de la Roca lyrics when perpetual college-clique honkys start pulling out violins and trumpets, surgery may still be required to get some of the chunkier songs out of your head, notably “Take Me to the Riot” (Kaiser Chiefs on a Spandau Ballet bender) and the Millan-sung shoegaze indulgence “Window Bird.”

Office, A Night at the Ritz (New Line Records)
Take the nu-mod out of OK Go and what have you got?  More to remove until the band’s completely gone, perhaps, but a more civil answer would be Chicago coed outfit Office, who slow down the typical Pavlovian indie jump-up vibe to speeds appropriate for wedding receptions, thereby making a play for reality-TV-watching couch potatoes.  One comparison would be the Killers moonlighting as a Raspberries tribute band, not that all the songs sound like the Raspberries; there are splashes of Franz Ferdinand, Duran Duran and ELO too.  Thus, as you can probably tell if you’ve ever accidentally been around a radio, Office’s songs aren’t disposable and are in fact finely polished, although it’s the public’s fault that of all the non-disposable songs on the album, the one that they’ll have to bank on is “Wound Up,” since it was an iTunes Single of the Week last year.  The song isn’t terrible, really, but crooning the line “let’s go to the beach tonight/with a bottle of wine” with a straight face is really asking for it, please say you agree. 

Harptallica, A Tribute (self-released)
Department of Weird Art School Tales: if there’s anything that’s always welcome around here, it’s a CD whose review writes itself.  It all began one dark night at Rochester, NY’s Eastman School of Music when one of those frustrated hippy-dippy rocker-professor types shirked his responsibility to the public-at-large and force-fed his music theory class a nice tall glass of Metallica.  As the professor’s fanboyish blabbing went on and on, thoughts grew like stinky mushrooms in the brain of Louisiana harp player Ashley Toman, who found herself wanting to be part of all this sleep-monsters-riding-lighting-in-the-sanitarium nonsense somehow… oh, at this point we should probably mention we’re talking about harps, like angels, not harmonicas like Magic Dick.  So anyway, right, Toman tries to rope a fellow harpist from Massachusetts, the I’ll-freelance-anything Patricia Kline, into jamming some Metallica on harps.  At first, Patricia’s like, “Fine print: I’ll freelance anything but that,” but in the end she’s mesmerized by Ashley’s newswoman-like glare and agrees to participate and even design a logo.  So what this is is a bunch of Metallica songs played on angel harps without singing, like (hummed to sound like a harp) “Master of puppets I’m pulling your strings – blingdindindinDINGGG…”

Dragons of Zynth, Coronation Thieves (Gigantic Music)
To get this, the band had to put Hendrix, Sunn0))) and Flaming Lips in a Ronco particle accelerator and leave it running after everything had already been pureed – the white noise factor is 10 _ out of 10.  One thing these dadaists apparently did while taping one song was place a snare drum next to one of the guitar amps and set up a mike right underneath to catch the sizzle of the chains.  So yes, there’s noisiness, but the songs, which cater to hard rock sensibilities, are actually decent; if you can handle Boris in the slightest you may be very impressed.  Spook-house monkeyshines show up early on, first on the David Essex-like druggie dirge “Get Off” (which sounds like it was played entirely backwards and recorded forwards), and then on “Who Rize above,” which prostrates itself in front of the three chords of Black Sabbath’s eponymous song before a reggae dub-head starts goofing over Hendrix runs.  Open-minded admirers of stoner metal could easily end up on board this critic’s pet.

Ben Jelen, Ex-Sensitive (Custard Records)
The thing that stinks about most of the Ben Kwellers and Ben Swifts that hit this desk is that they’re such Bens, ie you’d never mistake their full-band-backed buskings for songs from full bands.  That’s not to pooh-pooh the better-run dictatorships in music; when you think of “Bruce Springsteen” it’s impossible to picture him without Clarence Clemons or Sil from the Sopranos.  In welcome contrast to the other Bens (and Jesses and Noahs and whatnot) of the world, this Ben writes as though he’s got to convince a whole band, not just himself.  Here’s one for the drummer who digs VNV Nation ballads (“Pulse”); here’s something for the Guster-head guitarist (“Where Do We Go”), and so on.  Even more formidable is Jelen’s writings for his own personal hockey-arena fantasies, which is where the songs have hooks of titanium (“Just a Little”) and you can actually smell the Grammy or blockbuster soundtrack gig.  Meantime his filler is on par with Jack Johnson’s or, jeez, Paul McCartney’s. A little coyly placed Queen guitar doesn’t kill the buzz either (“Vulnerable”).

The Most Serene Republic, Population (Arts & Crafts Records)

Last-ever Arts & Crafts release to be reviewed in this space for the year, I swear, although I’d be even happier to tell you that the Eskimos have invaded Canada and we’ll never have to hear another note of marginally captivating crypto-sympho-alt posturing ever again.  Unlike all the other Arts & Crafts bands, TMSR aren’t moonlighters from Broken Social Scene, and that’s nice, but I literally went into demonic-possession convulsions upon hearing intro song “Humble Pleasanta” (and what the hell does that mean, and will art school PhD 30somethings ever cease trying to be rock n roll?) rip off the violin outro from Arcade Fire’s “RebellionLies.”  There’s scattered hope here for the future, though, if they can overcome all the peer pressure – the thing with this bunch is that they sort of want to be Yes, judging by all their Yes-like prog-rock and mind-blowing Yes-like arpeggios and Yes-like singing, but because they’re financed by indie-tards they hold back and make it messy, like side one of Close to the Edge splattered with globs of Gerber brand strained carrots.

Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome.  Email [email protected]

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