The Shotgun is monthly column of "shotgun" CD reviews by Glide contributor Eric Saeger
Bell X1, Blue Lights on the Runway (Yep Roc Records)
You know you’re in for a flurry of dishwasher-safe accountant-rock when an album’s first single ("The Great Defector") uses Doors organ as its major weapon, but this Irish crew do have bigger plans than stealing a few fans away from Broken Social Scene. Note that this band was the springboard for folkie wuss Damien Rice, whose stupefyingly mawkish "The Blowers Daughter" is a staple in professional pairs skating when the guy and girl aren’t up to trying any daredevil moves.
The band he abandoned does have a small patch of chest hair, not that you should strap yourself in too tightly for these guys, who, like Rice, are collectors of background-spots on "important" TV dramas (you should have the list memorized by now). "How Your Heart is Wired" dips a Coldplay-style groove in a bath of Wire-like synth-bassoon and 80s-new wave, ending in a coda that’s a lot more compelling than what you might expect, particularly keeping in mind that the band has suddenly added a lot of synth to their David Byrne-fronting-Van Morrison sound. "Amelia" is part 70s-chill and Postal Service ballad, while "Breastfed" throws some loosely conceived Brian Jonestown Massacre ideas against another Wire wall.
Luka Bloom, Eleven Songs (Bar None Records)
The easy route is to compare the latest album from Irish busker Bloom to lower-register Jeff Buckley, but what fun would that be, particularly when Bloom is more common-guy and old-school, nowhere near as interested in Zep as Buckley was. In fact, you probably have at least 3 guys living within your city limits who could keep up with Bloom, who takes aim at "My Sweet Lord" types of unplugged strummy rockouts that have a Doors-ish aftertaste ("Fire", which is okay) and roughly sketched post-grunge ballads ("When Your Love Comes"), but he admittedly does have a sort of James Taylor-reborn steez that’s most effective when 70s-rock sax is thrown in the mix ("See You Soon"). Also on board: above-average pub-busking ("Everyman") and a Bright Eyes showstopper ("Don’t Be Afraid of the Light That Shines in You").
Hugh Masekela, Phola (Times Square Records)
To get a rough bead on what South African trumpet icon Hugh Maswekela is about, it may help to think of the immortal "baby can you dig it" backing-vocal line from Friends of Distinction’s version of "Grazin’ in the Grass," the late-60s Philemon Hou-penned megahit whose first appearance was in instrumental form as interpreted by Maswekela (his fetish for sunshine-pop also threw open its raincoat in a roundly lauded cover of Fifth Dimension’s "Up Up and Away"). Nowadays a board member at the Woyome Foundation (a concern that helps provide anti-retroviral drugs to HIV-infected children around the world), the 69-year-old notches his 35th self-led album in Phola, as much a tribute to his voice (Belafonte meets Bob Marley channeled by Louis Armstrong) as to his horn. If you happen to get out of the house on occasion, chances are good that you’ve encountered hastily thrown-together Afrobeaten jazz bands, but this is what it’s supposed to sound like: vacation, pure and simple; upbeat, breezy, tropical and genial. Even within the depressingly serious subject of his homeland, Maswekela finds a ray of hope, as "Bring It Back Home" evinces.
Julien-K, Death to Analog (Metropolis Records)
This attempt by two former members of Orgy to compete with nu-metal hucksters by making hard-ass sounds with synths rather than guitars is an admirable effort, and now this comment.
If a band uses vocoder in a song, it should prompt PR and critics to type the phrase "they use vocoder," not "there’s definitely a post-electro whiff of Daft Punk’s underoos in this puppy, I’ll tell ya," see, because other artists have used vocoder, such as Skinny Puppy (in a lot cooler way than Daft Punk), Eiffel 55 (ditto) and Cher (who probably just calls it "that funny Mister Roboto-soundy thing"). The end.
Though not quite possessed of the ass-kick psi level as KMFDM, this one is as danceable, if your idea of dancing is pounding the floor with your gothie Frankenboots and trying to stay standing. Ask me, Depeche Mode sort of have a lock on the aesthetic of black-and-day-glo skeleton-dance – when there are more guitars than your typical DM tune you’re bordering on KMFDM, which means (when they do it right) crazed banshee wailing meant to incite anarchy, but, you know, in a good way. There are far heavier sounds than that in Death to Analog; think Trent Reznor when he was cool, but more aggressive than what you’re probably picturing given that scenario. For what it’s worth, any deviation from all the Slipknot-tards out there is always a good thing, so, salút, Julien-K, knock em dead and stuff.
Branford Marsalis, Metamorphosen (Marsalis Music)
Depending on your level of exploration in the jazz world, sax-player Branford is the second most popular Marsalis brother after Wynton. A studious, serious slab, Metamorphosen was minted to commemorate this quartet’s being a solid unit for 10 years straight without a single change in personnel, an anomaly of the genre that’s about as likely as your local Red Lobster having the same busboy for a decade. The recording is round and beautifully speaker-panned, sounding as though it was recorded in a high school gym by brainiacs from NASA, and from this foundation springs some instant-classic stuff, nothing at all like the chintzy Dave Sanborn piffle I somehow expected, being that I’m far from familiar with these cats. Newbies need to know that Branford was a major cog in the Spike Lee movies Do the Right Thing and School Daze (in which he played the role of Jordam), so any familiarity with those meandering soundtracks is good prep. Straight-on barnburner "The Return of the Jitney Man" tears the album open nicely, and later, a flurry of surgically precise 16th notes makes the opening of "Jabberwocky" a trip even the craziest jazz fan (okay, Mingus spastics excepted) would want to take to the end. "Abe Vigoda" is a slowbie that walks a Weather Report highwire.
Harlem Shakes, Technicolor Health (Gigantic Records)
Eh, nothing wrong here. On the strength of their debut EP, Harlem Shakes were tearing up the Brooklyn scene, hoping to steal Tokyo Police Club’s thunder, and then some medical stuff happened, etc., which is usually God’s way of saying “Say, your band sucks a little. I’d really like you to think about maybe going off and becoming accountants, or maybe [in the case of Pitchfork-fearing slaves like these dudes] metrosexual waiters.”
And blah-de-frappin’-blah, so here’s the long-overdue LP, which conjures scenes of the Shins having their feet shot at by a wild-rustlin’ cowboy hollering at them to play faster and happier. Some truly sing-along-able choruses do pop out from the muck of their Garden State-inspired people-are-losers lyrics and oddball polyrhythms (oddball, yes, but don’t start thinking Vampire Weekend), for instance the “This will be a better year” refrain from “Strictly Game,” spazzily sung to the tune of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” While all this is going on, if the idea of David Byrne mocking Bob Dylan appeals to you, you want to download “TFO.”
Kaskade, The Grand (Ultra Records)
San Francisco house DJ Kaskade plays it safe in this collection of sexy but not hugely subtle dance tunes, sticking with only one or two upper-mid-tempo beats. Toward this, I personally have come to feel ambivalent about his sum ouevre, being that last year’s Strobelite Seduction, his most recent full-length all-originals record, was (a little too) short and to the point, a little too much disco around diluting the more exquisite, laid-back, truly head-turning things, such as "Move For Me," the original Strobelite Seduction version of which bespoke sex and champagne-dipped strawberries in the morning (on this comp, Deadmau5 helps Kaskade ruin the whole idea on two overly busy re-rubs, set up back-to-back). This mix of stuff is professed to be a perfect example of a Kaskade gig, which, frankly folks, isn’t the greatest advertisement in history. It’s businesslike, afraid to delve into any diversity of beat (matter of fact, I counted basically two snare-bass progressions for the first 6 or 7 tunes), and the songs can get cookie-cutter: the glitterball deep-house of Mischa Daniels’ "Another Place" is neither inspiring, original nor anything approaching Daniels’ best stuff. On the other hand, Kaskade’s own remix of Haley’s sultry "This is How it Goes" is irresistable, while his rub of Jes’ "Imagination" provides a glimpse into a future wherein house music has taken its rightful place on the mass-market radio waves. A mixed bag if ever there were one.
Fever Ray, Fever Ray (Mute Records)
Put on your floppy art-clown shoes and meet Karin Dreijer Andersson, sister of Olof Dreijer, who together comprise Swedish-Grammy-winning techno act The Knife, which, when hers is the spotlight voice, is an odd but hypnotizing concoction of Bjork, Cranberries and incidental rave noises. She’s on a jungle-tribal new-wave jag in this one, which fits her quite well, especially if she’s tacking toward the Bjork side of things. Pressing her inner Yoko and throwing in some Tangerine Dream, she’s put together a collection of sometimes sorrowful, often reverent, always alien statements that would fit comfortably in the New Age category. The synth vibration of "Dry and Dusty," for example, raises images of a bushman toying with a didgeroo, and there’s a Saharan feel to the break of "Seven." American yogis don’t appear to be the intended target, however, as the lyrics are more rooted in modern, material subjects; close scrutiny reveals a simple but clever eye for the general market, perhaps coming in under the radar for the betterment of maturing fans of Goldfrapp or Air.
Jeremy Jay, Slow Dance (K Records)
With all the smelly emo whale-dung and whatever else that washes up flopping and gasping for air on this desk, it’s always such a fricking treat to get a violent noogie from some "unpredictable" art-knob, in this case Jeremy Jay, a total ass-pain hipster. Now, musically, he might sound as though he’d been raised by someone from The Mamas and the Papas, and at some point he fell out of a ’68 VW Bus and dashed his brains all over the street and ended up putting them back in his skull with the help of day-glo orange duct tape, but the reality is even worse: he grew up in LA and only spoke French. This means, of course, that he’s really important to the Pitchforkers and whatever lonely dweeb gets stuck with the super-hipster albums at All Music Guide, but dammit, he’s important to me, too, since I’d rather face down an album like this (or hear a symphony of rhino-fart samples, same diff) than have to experience another Hot Chip ripoff or whatever. It’s a different animal, this album: picture a Catskills resort done up in fake wood paneling, but instead of retired sales managers and their wives gumming early bird specials there’s nothing but hipsters everywhere, entertainment provided by a 98-pound man singing in a drugged baritone about horsies and ice skating, accompanying himself on a Casio keyboard from 1983. Other critics want you to believe that there’s something sinister afoot here — modern Mo Jo Risin poetry, maybe — but they’re lying, because Jay couldn’t care less if people bought this thing (if he does, then this is the most incredible rock breakthrough since Elvis).
Burn Halo, Burn Halo (Alternative Distribution Alliance)
Keep in mind that we’re in a crazy financial depression when I declare that this is candlelight-dinner music for Harley-jacket 40somethings and further propose that that doesn’t automatically mean anything bad anymore. Such a thing – Warrant meets Papa Roach at the Guns n Roses ham-sandwich deli – might just survive in today’s environment, since the heavy metal revival train ain’t never late, particularly when our spoiled teenagers suddenly have to surrender their material privileges and live in Maytag boxes with mom and unemployed dad, and besides, the songs here are written for maximum leg-humping heartthrob effect: you’re such a hot smokin Kate Beckinsdale-in-do-me boots babe, I adore you, yadda yadda (actually the second example is real, rockers is so mawkish). The principal here is James Hart, who slogged out frontman duties for 20 years with Orange County band 18 Visions, and he’s abetted here by ex-Janes Addiciton bassplayer Chris Chaney, Nickelback drummer Daniel Adair and Avenged Sevenfold’s stupidly-named guitarist Smedley Whatsisname on "Dirty Little Girl". A cursory CSI unmasks "Here With Me" as a streamlined "Sweet Child o’ Mine" and finds "So Addicted" doing a nice balancing act between Stone Temple Pilots and GNR.
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