Ten Random Reviews and Artless Critiques


Black Elk, Black Elk (Crucial Blast Records)
A band that can’t decide whether to be Red Scare calc, Melvins fuzz-froth or Lake of Dracula no-wave, and the world is better off while they’re making up their minds.  Black Elk’s cacophony will probably end up getting lumped in the section of your record store that caters to sleep-deprived Nintendo kiddies earnestly trying to learn how to like math-metal, but they may not be able to wrap their heads around this without feeling guiltily pleasured over how ultimately musical it is.  There are snapshots of Ramones, snatches of Sex Pistols, and times where the band finds a groove they can actually agree on for one second, so in the end it’s avant-gard – so much so that they may someday wind up being more Residents-like than anything else should they ever try some way-out-there oddballness on for size.  But that’s up to them; as it stands, their debut shows a ton of promise, blowing open some forbidding doors and making hay out of it each time. 
 Order from Amazon.com

The Trucks, The Trucks (Clickpop Records)
A full basket of Fiona Apples occasionally trying Exene on for size, the all-female (calling all lonely male critics!) Trucks are powered by the same Casio keyboard upon which your mom practices the Titanic theme song while the cookies are baking; their sound would be oh-so mega-retro if it weren’t offered by a new crew of knobs every month. But here’s the catch, guaranteed to rope in any real-life Art Bruts out there:  they sing about their BOOBIES and it sounds desperately important!  Awright, snarkiness aside… ah, screw it, snarkiness intact.  If you couldn’t be 100% sure that this wasn’t a transparent attempt to revive the Slits (who are still around, by the way) for five seconds and rope a million-billion MySpace friends into the shows they’ll play at otherwise dead-empty joints in Bedrock while clawing their way to Alpha Centauri Super Rock Stardom, you’d admire their honesty, but a half-close look raises too many red flags to exclaim “Punk is alive, brothers and sisters!”
 Order from Amazon.com

Thomas Dolby, The Sole Inhabitant (Lost Toy People Inc.)
80s icon Thomas Dolby has now officially tired of creating ringtones (it’s actually a difficult skill to learn) and is readying himself to re-enter showbiz.  This set of live shows, taped and filmed at Martyrs in Chicago, is more a test of the waters than trying to knock one out of the park; he’s going back on tour to gauge his Rip van Winkle-ness by trying his newer material out on the masses.  “She Blinded Me with Science” is of course present and accounted for here, among a lot of other re-engineered electronica that mostly comes off as a bit dated – read Kraftwerkian – but sure to please Gen Xers wistful for the old days.  A signed DVD is also available from Dolby’s website.  Order from Thomas Dolby

Feu Follet, Toi et le Son (self-released)
One of the underground’s great treasures is one Tobias Fischer, proprietor of Mouvement Nouveau webzine and a die-hard supporter of classical and ambient music.  After meeting Irko Uhlig of Aalfang mit Pferdekopf, Fischer became inspired to try his hand at Nurse With Wound-style freeform ambient.  With the two songs that comprise Toi et le Son, he has succeeded in welding together inviting layers that whir, trill and fade gracefully, appearing to probe the listener’s consciousness for quality.  Its electronic nature is outdone by its organic feel, hovering like a target for third-eye concentration without corny dramatics ever barging in uninvited.
Order from Einzeleinheit (in English)

And One, Bodypop (Metropolis Records)
And so ends a rather unremarkable year for Metropolis – no fast-followup capitalization on their best hope, Birthday Massacre; no real what-the-hell-was-that entry from Wumpscut, but loads and loads of Depeche Mode second-bananas like these guys.  As dance-goth goes, it is, as always, state of the art, conjuring images of summer nights spent sucking the neck of your current hottie while watching Dark Shadows, but the hooks are too sparse, and dammit, there are a few songs sung in German, as if we desperately needed a reminder that Berlin is one cool place.  If these guys had really wanted American dollars lining their pockets, they should said screw the Fatherland and come at us with hooks so murderous that there was no place to hide.  Gratuitous samples of orgasming chicks isn’t enough anymore, and the whole genre requires an overhaul and a bit more Pro Tools experimentalism.  That said, I’ll be off now to watch Fright Night for the 1,753rd time, remaining a hopeful, loving fan of this great Philly label.  Order from Amazon.com

Hoodoo Gurus, Stoneage Romeos (self-released)
The 80s resurgence couldn’t get more timely reinforcement than this remastered album from one of the undisputed rulers of garage rock.  Part Buzzcoks, part T-Rex, and part Velveeta cheese on a surfboard, the Hoodoos are making a run for it with both this CD and a live DVD, which, unfortunately, didn’t end up in my hands.   “I Want You Back” was their giant college-mixer hit, and it’s here sounding pretty much as Aquanet as it did back then, albeit a bit cleaned up, which of course is the story of this decade’s life. 
 Order from Amazon.com

Teddybears, Soft Machine (Big Beat/Atlantic Records)
You’ve heard parts of this record on just about every US TV commercial, selling Cadillacs to Intel’s new Core processor.   It’s so timely and good it’s scary, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for clubbers jonesing for hundred-proof dance-crack that kicks harder than Arctic Monkeys while thumbing its nose at Black Eyed Peas at the same time.  A foursome of Dead Kennedys pogoers in a past life, Teddybears have long been laying waste to their native Stockholm and are at last ready to hook-bomb the States with the aid of big-deal vocal collaborators like Nenah Cherry (gone delightfully nuevo-ABBA-pop), Elephant Man (fomenting a slap-headed crossbreed of voodoo crunk-rock in “Are You Feelin It”) and Iggy Pop (simultaneously addressing society’s need for a useful Cars song and Iggy’s need to remind people that “I’m a Punkrocker, yes I am” – yes, the song from the Cadillac commercial).  These fruitcakes are able to take the no-brainiest of no-brain-techno sounds and make them unhealthily addictive, and this isn’t even counting Mad Cobra droning his reggae-prattle over what amounts to a guitar and synth-kazoo roughhousing of “Cool Jerk” (the humbly titled “Cobrastyle”).
Order from Amazon.com

Jacob Varmus, All the Things we Still Can Be (Crows Kin Records)
The byproduct of trumpeter Jacob Varmus’ at last leading his own outfit is a warm, exquisite drivetime jazz record that cuts across all lines and simply gives the newbie what he or she wants.  There’s almost no one  over the age of 18 who wouldn’t answer yes to the question “how’d you like to own a good jazz record,” but the monumental array of choices (not to mention human-encyclopedia reviewers who rely on obscure comparisons and unreadable allegori-meta-similes to describe sounds) can at times seem forbidding, so most of us have to do the trial and error thing:  buy it for the cover and banish the CD to the attic if it’s too weird or antiquey or proggy or Arthur Murray or piano-lounge-lazy or loud or poorly mixed or ethnic-without-a-clue and so on.  So, regular plain-old folks, picture yourself at that perfect jazz bar in the big city with the perfect amount of smoke floating in the air and the perfect amount of perfect drink swishing around your mouth.  What’s the band playing?  This.  Varmus’ quartet isn’t out to pummel you with their pro-league chops but you know they’re there, every cut smiling and swooning like an invisible companion, the way mellow-out background is supposed to be.  Miles-like tangents here as you’d expect, but guitar and keys also get plenty of airtime.  Order from CD Baby

Karma, Latenight Daydreaming (Compost Records/Caroline)
Captivating, silky smooth nu-soul and jazz.  This bunch had a fair amount of success way back in 1993 with the club hit “High Priestess,” which was picked up by such DJsas David Mancuso.  Tuneage runs the chill gauntlet from the near-Gnarls experience “All I Ever Wanted” to the melancholy Hammond-driven orchestral maneuver “Requiem,” but the big news here is “Fly,” a dolphin-hide-slick, Sade-like instant hit featuring the vocals of Oezlem Cetin sliding along with a groove that will end up near the top of many regular-Joemix burns.
 Order from Amazon.com

Mindy Smith, Long Island Shores (Vanguard Records)
Although Mindy Smith’s voice is most comfortable sounding like Amy Grant’s around the time of her first demo, not everything about this chick is pigtails and braces.  The songs pretend to putter around aimlessly at first, swaddling the listener in a patchwork quilt of Shawn Colvin C&W and gently grungy alt for what seems like too long, when all at once her gift for Sheryl Crow hookage hits with all the joyfulness of a winning scratch ticket.  It’s that holding-back part that rounds out her duality of youth and maturity and instantly excuses her scantily concealed bible-thumper talk (happily she’s learned from her first album not to band titles like “Come to Jesus” about willy-nilly and scare off the straights).  Grant would appear to be her true savior anyway; the fuzz applied to the Flying V on “Little Devil” – put away the spitballs, it refers to a hot guy, sort of, in a hot-guys-are-really-Lucifer way – is more meant to reality-check with her age group than threaten PJ Harvey’s bailiwick. Order from Amazon.com

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

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