Where The Wild Things Are, The Black Hollies, Monsters of Folk, Tiesto

Karen O, Where the Wild Things Are [soundtrack] (Interscope Records)
Moe Sendak’s children’s book sure is a timely slice of culture for Generation Video Game and their parents: kid misbehaves and gets “no supper!” and a time-out, has a good old time with some imaginary monsters, then gets hot supper.  You’ve most likely seen the Arcade Fire-soundtracked trailer for the film, and what Yeah Yeah Yeahs front-lady Karen O has done for the soundtrack proper (in tandem with a group of boisterous, a-bit-too-eager kids, rejects from an Annie cast would be my guess and I can’t be arsed to find out) is similar, ie hayloft-indie but more on the primal side; woozy, overacted vocals (Karen really tries too hard here) and a lot of found-object kinds of sounds.  In a nutshell, then, world music for people afraid of really venturing out into the world, music that should make conscientious reviewers recommend instead albums like Tribal Dance from East Africa, if you get my drift.  Certainly fitting aural bric-a-brac for the movie, what with its stuffed-animals-as-predators Calvin-and-Hobbes-ness, I’ll give it that. Grade: B-

The Antikaroshi, Crushed Neocons (Fonatana Universal Records)
Bordering the three musical states of Black Sabbath, Kings of Leon and Lou Reed, this German trio threaten math rock nonsense at the beginning (“Downtown”) before settling in to a found groove that weds the Paranoid guitar sound to an addictive little figure that would have fit in fine on Because of the Times.  Follow this up with mononymed male singer Thea filibustering in laconic sing-speak like an urchin bumming change in “Fistful” and you see the “Walk On the Wild Side” angle, and that’d be that. Would that my job reporting on this were that simple – these guys, with their odd, intricate, delicate-loud-delicate (and fricking fast) progressive riffs, also want to meet the need of art to have a really angry Vampire Weekend out there somewhere on the planet, this accomplished with the use of jazz arpeggios disguised as hard-rock otherworldliness and weird chords that don’t grate on the nerves.  When Dillinger Escape Plan grow up, they could easily become this.
Grade: A

Monsters of Folk, Monsters of Folk (Shangri-La Records)
We’ll dispense with any (very likely redundant) introduction, as that would go on forever – the hot debate is whether or not this supergroup of Bonnaroo gods is the next Crosby Stills Nash & Young.  The short answer is a resounding yes, as far as the perfect meshing of the individuals’ styles, the greatness of the songwriting, that sort.  But is it right to assume that Generation iPod should even be allowed to whisper such comparisons?  Jeez man, CSNY’s 1960s were a scary time, and the kids (sort of) moved political mountains, not like this bunch, their formative years spent in the shadow of September 11th under the iron thumb of the Cheney junta until they were able to fight through the jingoistic dogma, face down their Limbaugh-concocted fears and make a black man their first president. 
Musically tremendous, this is quite literally Conor Oberst to the power of four, My Morning Jacket squared. Curious and quirky as its generation, it nevertheless evidences that with agreement, selflessness and cooperation, major things can get done.  The basic CSI, since I’ve no more room to urge you to buy this thing: a Moby/Air/Gnarls three-way (“Dear God”); ELO covering a Beatles song, or vice versa (“Say Please”); Everly Brothers reborn (“The Right Place”) and, well, CSNY harmonies (“Map of the World”).
Grade: A+

Baroness, Blue Record (Relapse Records)
It only took Savannah, GA-based Baroness one album to find their destined niche, fitting in somewhere between mid-career Ministry and the Sony-approved, less-technical incarnation of Mastodon.  This ain’t the new Motley Crue album, don’t get me wrong; there’s technical stuff, mostly in the form of several fascinating, unique experimental solos by new guitarist Pete Adams (when he’s not occupied posting up a fine imitation of Queen guitarist Brian May’s floaty cotton-candy sound), and there are a few Mars Volta nods.  These are the big-ass beefcake guys with the blowtorches, though, not the skinny death-metal kids with the jackhammers, and that enables a few snipes from weenies squeaking things about the band “now being metal,” funny little comments like that, insults best ignored by those looking for something a little bit riffy – much more than your basic Cro-Mags clones, to be sure – but carnivorous enough to dissuade radio from even thinking about it.
Grade: A

Imaad Wasif, The Voidist (Tee Pee Records)
Tee Pee Records spends all its life living in a stoner’s paradise, so this, by journeyman sidekick (for Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a host of Jack White-related people) Wasif, is a touchstone for the label as the millennium slogs along, even coming off his unbelievably lame 2006 acoustic album (honest to God, I almost quit this racket after finding myself forced to review the thing). Like any assembly-line Tee Pee release, Pink Floyd (with Syd, mind you – don’t be lame or whatever) is slathered all over the joint, but this kid’s really for real, sounding as though he really does nothing but listen to Zep and scrape his bong.  Jangle-metal kickoff song “Redeemer,” over and above heralding a collection of song titles Judas Priest would envy, is right in line with what Jack White and his posse of 70s-ghouls are about, say, Donovan fronting Deerhoof, or maybe first-album Deep Purple trying to out-sketch Strawberry Alarm Clock.  And so on: groovy Cream vocals wading through Queens of the Stone Age mud in “Priestess,” Warlocks vs. Jefferson Starship in “Fangs,” Spacemen 3 psychedelics paired with Neil Young-style hard-rock guitar in “Our Skulls,” all of this executed a lot more effectively than what you’re assuming.
Grade: A-

Tiesto, Kaleidoscope (Ultra Records)
Things are really lousy when a new Tiesto record – and an all-originals full-length at that – barely raises the pulse.  It’s not a deck of losers, mind you; there are good things here, and the world’s biggest DJ has tinkered with his sound, exploring noisy air-raid-siren synth-blasts that play to the cheap seats at arenas of the world.  Tegan and Sara’s guest spot in “Feel It in My Bones” is feel-good super-dance, and mononymed chick singer Jonsi becomes exquisitely fourth-dimensional in the futuristic title track.  Tiesto is best when he plays to his unique arena strengths, however, which does not include cheap Oakenfold impersonations, as found in “Escape Me” – in fact, Oakenfold himself is nowadays moving beyond his oldfangled LA-metal guitars decorated by nasty bimbos vibe, thus it’s even more puzzling why Tiesto would indulge in such well-covered ground.  But he does, and that’s not the only misstep; he seems soft in the belly and uninspired, best evidenced by the appropriately named “Bend It Like You Don’t Care,” a phoned-in disaster area of EBM, electro-house and childish bangings.
Grade: C

Noiseshaper, Satellite City (Groove Attack Records)
Like any intelligent business in this disastrous economy, Austrian-bred electro duo Noiseshaper is diversifying its focus and output.  They’re laptop guys to begin with, thus there’s no possible fricking way they could be completely oblivious to what’s going on, or lack thereof, in the house scene, a fact that manifested itself in the past with the King Britt-tinged deep house of “Demons” on the Rough Out There album, a tune that finds a sequel in this album in “We Rock It,” runway-model-techno making odd but compelling bedfellows with Sammy Dread’s monumentally stoned Rastafarian flow.  Forget the dumb-cluck remix of “Kung Fu Fighting,” too – the pair are sounding big, as in huge, now, throwing haymakers at dub’s heavy hitters (“Big Shot” hasn’t got the crossover slam-dunkedness of Elan’s “Feel My Pressure,” but that was a special case anyway).  Best of all, everything about this is big-label, from the sound to the songwriting to the guest vocal shots – it’s Teddybears possessed by Bob Marley.
Grade: A

Bowling For Soup, Sorry For Partyin’ (Jive Records)
One of the uncountable problems with this generation of major-label bands is on the joke-band side.  Veteran Texas emo foursome Bowling For Soup gradually found themselves with a massive following after their jump to the big leagues, and are nowadays faced with somewhat of a pickle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a blah blah blah:  they’re floor-shakingly fat guys who could karaoke Hoobastank all night, a sound that was made for joke bands in the first place, but at the same time these guys are actually capable of writing better songs than their serious-band brethren, and that includes Good Charlotte.  And so we have a mixed, two-minded bag, opening with “A Really Cool Dance Song,” a rather limp attempt at beating Weird Al at his own game, failing in the end due to their beating the gag into the ground and not throwing in enough house beats to identify their intended target (if there even is one).  Ugly Kid Joe reminiscences like “No Hablo Ingles” (a swipe at parents, not immigrants, thank God) and “My Wena” (self explanatory) are okay, but what are we to make of a Yellowcard-destroyer like “Only Young,” fitted with a hook bigger than the last meal these guys shared?  I mean, geez, if this band aims to become successful, they’ve got to cease writing good songs this instant.
Grade: B

The Black Hollies, Softly Towards the Light (Ernest Jenning Record Co.)
Where the Raveonettes are possessed by the Everly Brothers, New Jersey’s Black Hollies raise the specter of Strawberry Alarm Clock and take it out for drinks at the hipster bar.  You know what, actually, scratch that – the only modern thing that goes on here is the laconic, featherweight LCD Soundsystem-like vocal sound, which isn’t too different from what was going on just before MLK and RFK were assassinated, that fun period, and taking into account the band’s Columbia House-inspired photo sessions, and Austin Powers organ, and Norman Greenbaum-like hornet-in-a-paper-cup guitar, and lo-fi recording values – well, truth is it’s the same kind of thing as those guys who like dressing up as Lobsterbacks and Yankee Doodles around Fourth of July.  More effective and loud, perhaps, in opening tune “Run with Me Run,” but overall it’s little more than the best, strongest case to allow the nu-mod thing to live, if it’s even alive anymore, and I’m too tired to check.  “Hard Day’s Night” gets unashamedly ripped off in “Lead Me to Your Fire,” maybe on purpose, which would actually be cool, wouldn’t it?
Grade: A-

The Cinematics, Love and Terror (Orchard Records)
Well hell, Generation Xers, look at you, getting old, so old that the kids look back on your 80s as though you were all Molly Ringwalds and Duckies and people rode triceratopses to work – so cute!  Cinematics are totally “digging that hepcat scene,” like you used to say when Grover Cleveland was president, and so the Scottish foursome intro their newest (and first for Orchard, which assimilated the recently bankrupted TVT Records, the band’s last label) with two interchangeable but quite danceable tunes that fuse Franz Ferdinand to XTC, which isn’t the craziest stretch, come to think about it.  New Order worship comes next, with “New Mexico,” authenticity dripping off Scott Rinning’s Vicks Vapo-Rubbed baritone, and then bang on cue, it’s a Depeche Mode/Wire/INXS crockpot repping the title track.  More INXS, this time inflected with Kings of Leon, at the INXS-ishly titled “Lips Taste Like Tears,” followed later by the Simple Minds-inspired “Hospital Bills.”  As you can see, this reads less like an album from the heart than a term paper for Rock History 101, but it does dare all the Mollys and Duckies to say for sure it didn’t come out in ’84.
Grade: A-


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