Ryan Bingham, Roadhouse Sun (Lost Highway Records)
If your girl were to run off with some musician jerk, you could do a lot worse than this simmering (and politely coiffed) volcano of hard-luck roadhouse life. He’s from Texas, but that don’t really matter; the bones he busies himself picking are from Wherever, a collective space that, for him, is ground zero for white-trash bottle-flinging bar-hicks unable to recognize that he grew up under the same hardscrabble po’-boy torture they’re soaking in now.
Like Dylan – and there are times Bingham does a karaoke of his vocal sound – he sounds decades older than his 28 years, and like Ryan Adams, there are clear signs of wear to his throat, but his hoarseness is clearly the result of just as many drunken howlings at the sky as marathon nights entertaining the shmoe-faced Stetsons down at Jake’s Grill and Suckerpunch – there’s a documentary-worthy realness to this dude. Musically, country-Americana, though liberally applied, isn’t the most suitable peg; opener “Day is Done” threatens to go gap-toothed bluegrass before a Zep-vs-Ryan-Adams thing happens, and the “Roadhouse Blues” here isn’t a cover but a Creedence-esque manure-hucker.
Crystal Method, Divided by Night (Ingrooves Records)
It may be relevant that the orb comprising the cover of Crystal Method’s reply to their platinum-selling 2007 album Vegas is more symmetrical and just plain interesting than the lava-cracked cookie on the cover of Hot Chip’s last record. After all, CM were an integral part of the rave sound the Chips and their associates are sort-of trying to revive. Here, not only have the LA duo schooled their descendants on making up a weird-looking circle, they’ve brought out the heavy guest-shot artillery in a half-successful attempt to make the music next-generational, ie more commercial. At album opening, the title track wastes itself with six degrees of Martian turntablism, a bold if unusable headphone idea that lends no clue to what’s coming next, that being New Order’s Peter Hook, tiredly microwaving his old outfit’s pliant bassy vibe for Jordan and Kirlkland to slap some dated game-show-electro and phoned-in Oakenfold around. And so it goes, hitting and missing: “Sine Language” and its too-cool electro (which seriously could have done without the doofus yammering from LMFAO), “Double Down Under” bringing the heaviest guitar sound since the discovery of electricity, and Matisyahu submitting a dubby call-to-prayer leading in to some breezy raps.
Dirtfedd, The American Nightmare (E1 Entertainment)
They grow ‘em big, beefy and bonkers out in the Midwest – not just the football nose tackles but the sounds of their anger-management crockpot-metal bands. Dirtfedd are from Lincoln, NE, close enough to Slipknot’s Des Moines that they were bestowed an opening slot and Slipknot’s clown dude as their producer. I-95 is littered with metal CDs I’ve flung out the window after identifying their creators as worshipful but unoriginal lunkheads trying to escape the machine shop, but this one’s a grabber, more melodically rounded than any brood of thrash-zoids in Metal Blade’s acre of inhumanely crowded chicken cages, but they’ve done their homework, too – “Salute” is mankind’s first double-jacking of GG Allin and Marilyn Manson. As fans, they would appear to be heavy consumers of jackboot-industrial, emo and Slipknot in equal measure, the vocals hence a cross of wifebeater-shirt bellowing, Fall Out Boy poppiness, and microphone-gargling. As a bonus, Sabbath-ized southern-rocker “Blues” includes actual solos, which will make the heads of your Disturbed friends explode.
The Gothsicles, Sega Lugosi’s Dead (WTII Records)
Sometimes the best things happen by accident, or by joke as in this instance. Not only are goth kids skewered in this obviously hurried one-off (okay, two-off; their EP can be downloaded for free at Vampirefreaks.com), but these guys are also out to get video gamers, arguably less soft of a target for the moment but just as worthy. The brain-repair tools Gothsicles employ are hardfloor and EBM routines, no different from or less danceable than what System Syn and their ilk use to preach to the pancake-makeup choir, but when you throw in an overcaffeinated vocal sound that owes the high-pitched dude from Sweet a few royalties, it’s endearing, hilarious and effective. Like any good group of punks with airplane-sized chips on their shoulders, their song titles are paragraph-length (“It Could Definitely at Least Be Argued That the Whole Video Game Thing is Getting Old”) but they have their loves and fetishes to represent as well, such as the Creature from the Black Lagoon (the 50s-UFO-blooping “Amphibious Trigonometry”).
Thisisashakedown, Love Kills (Reversed Image Unlimited)
This Cleveland aggro-electropop band didn’t endear itself to me at the offset by transparently paying fanboy tribute to She Wants Revenge in the title track (and “Radio,” but who’s counting), and there’s no shortage of bands looking for fast-track ways to nail goth chicks. With a few innovative tweaks of the ProTools, however, this lot could win over quite a few Wired All Wrong/God Lives Underwater fans by virtue of their carefully written refrains, which do have some ear-staying power. While you wait for their epiphany of vibe, the current blueprint of mall-industrial hard-coded with Last Goodnight-ish adult-emo is likeable enough, and there’s no doubt they could find themselves getting assigned the lovey-dovey number on some big-league zombie-vs-Predator-vs-Terminator thingamajig soundtrack. “Comeandcutmyheartout,” while overdoing the no-space-between-words gag already, does have its Haujobb side, and a spacey cover of jazz standard “My Funny Valentine” romances gothie moonbats.
The Sweet Vandals, Love Lite (Unique Records)
As world culture gets packed tighter and tighter in our up-to-the-nanosecond age, weird emulsions like this don’t have quite the what-the-hell-is-that value it might have had in the past. The notion of a dub chick fronting a band of guys from Madrid doing 60s/70s-style bar-funk may not be the commonest recipe, but it’s tummy-safe, especially when such care is taken in its rendering. In a nice switch from today’s Warp Records way of doing things, no synthesizers were harmed during the making of this, just a Hammond, a Peavey-driven guitar, and reeds and brass from guesting couch-squatters. “Thank You for You” slicks up “Cool Jerk” for latecomer use on an old James Bond soundtrack; “Good Thing” throws the hook from “Slow Hand” against a gospel-dub wall; “Take Me Now” is one hypothetical offspring of James Brown and Tina Turner.
Magnum, Into the Valley of the Moon King (SPV Records)
British hockey-rink hard-rock band Magnum have a lot in common with Saxon when it comes to breaking things big, a point that both bands probably wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies, unless said enemies would dig being big in Italy and remaining relatively obscure (compared to your Black Sabbaths, AC/DCs and whatnot) in America. For Magnum, who are more on the radio ball than Saxon, the years 1972 through 1995 were a wash save for decent Billboard rankings during the mid/late 80s, when any skinny Fabio with a Flying V could trip over a record contract. So they broke up, got back together in 2001 to join in on the reality-TV-inspired dead-cat-bounce of oldschool metal, and here, as they say, we are. I’m not sure where Magnum fits in the great scheme of today’s things, but they’re above reproach if your scene is Steely Dan (singer Bob Catley has Donald Fagan down to a science) in (discreet) power-chord hell. “All My Bridges” flashes back to Billboard-darling-era Foreigner, and, in their best move of the album, “The Moon King” isn’t nearly as mummified Rainbow as you’d think.
The Urgency, The Urgency (Mercury Records)
Singer Tyler Gurwicz has an odd-bedfellow set of genes in his pool of sound, most dominantly Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, followed closely by Colin Hay with Sting and, well, Ronnie James Dio hanging around in there somewhere. The Vermont foursome is big on 311, who threw them some opening gigs recently, and what that spells is a white-guy sense of reggae heavily polluted with emo, although 311’s idea of shrinkwrapped reggae-emo is more dubby and scatty in contrast to these dudes, who are more in line with early Police. The bullet version of all this could be stated as Maroon 5 Goes Emo But Not Always, and these boys do come out all crazy-ass ferocious out of the gate with “Fingertips,” a look at what might have happened if Andy Summers had grown up listening to Good Charlotte. Gurwicz’s muscle-bound lungs are far more enterprising than your average Joe Emo’s, successfully negotiating John Popper-like speed-scale inflections in “Hot Damn,” but his most pro-level chops appear in “Rooftops,” wherein he sticks to a slightly lower range to lure in younglings with natural predispositions to Sting’s sound.
The Milk & Honey Band, Dog Eared Moonlight (Ape Records)
If you’re keen on the notion of Sufjan Stevens being less jittery and more staidly British, this might do it for you, but since I’m more attuned to Zero 7 I sort of lean toward a Jose Gonzalez comparison as regards the vocal sound of Robert White, Milk & Honey’s driving force. There’s also Cat Stevens fused to Gordon Lightfoot, if you’ve ever heard of those guys.
Unlike Sufjan, this band doesn’t jump all over the place looking for the freakout; it’s mainly soft-spoken pop with a little waltz-time here, a bit of faraway slide guitar there. As such, it doesn’t require a high-end thinking-cap – you like it or hate it, simple. If it makes any difference, Andy Partridge of XTC, who’s suddenly in everybody’s face trying to get love for old Dukes of Stratosphear records, jumped at the chance to sign Milk & Honey and release this 4th LP.
KMFDM, Blitz (Metropolis Records)
On one hand, it’s not completely fair to dump into the public consciousness a lousy review of KMFDM based on the premise (fact, to be more precise) that there’s little difference between the songs here and the songs on their last very-not-great album Tohuvabohu. After all, they’re still Fighting the Power and whatnot, and they’ve been a cornerstone of any nutritious industrial-metal-goth breakfast since their Wax Trax adventures in the early 90s.
The rub is also this: any newly minted mall-goth who hasn’t been exposed to the million-billion bands that have done time at Metropolis or Dancing Ferret is going to hear this stuff and have their life’s trajectory permanently changed. The acclimated, however, will not be amused. Not as fierce as Hanzel und Gretyl nor anywhere near possessed of the inventiveness of Skinny Puppy, the band is nowadays a commercialized shell of itself open to any regular Joe who’ll have them, opening this set with the half-awake “Symbol” – copy-pasted straight from Front 242’s playbook – and then topping that off with plenty more ammo for the various bloggers and such who’ve been clamoring for the removal of second-banana singer Lucia Cifarelli, this through yet another unsightly begging for dance-pop radio-space in the ironically titled “Bait & Switch.” There’s probably some sane business or personal reason that these guys have resorted to nothing but microwave cooking, but, again, newbies will be all like, “wow.”
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