Ten Random Reviews & Artless Critiques


Combichrist, What the F—k Is Wrong With You People (Metropolis Records)

More like What the F—k is Wrong With Combichrist, which we’ll discuss in just a sec, because I think I know.  Combichrist is a
super-techno-noise-punk project from Norway’s Andy LaPlegua, WTF  his second effort after the astounding Everybody Hates You from 2005.  Now, EHY was a tour-de-freak electro beating, the beats not consistently violent but always hard-boiled and brimming with rage.  The reason WTF fails is its hackneyed unadventurousness in comparison to EHY, but – and here’s the “I think I know” part – my guess is that the guy underwent some culture shock during his last visit to the States, and yelling “WTF” to everyone comes less from his quasi-Nazi persona (lots of nervous looks at the show I attended in response to that stuff) as his for-real disappointment in not turning every night into a crazed fishnets-and-latex goth orgy.  His English is better than pidgin, but he’s no Chalmers Johnson, and going by the apparently real tongue lashing left on his voice mail from some American bimbo and featured in the new record’s intro, his advances may have been a little too Euro-slut for the States.  Sure, I may be reading too much into this, but meeting this quiet guy and then watching him beg the crowd to party hearty while dressed up as a Satanic Gestapo guy didn’t quite take.  Regardless, what’s pointed out in the music – Angelspit’s debut from Dancing Ferret is about this speed – is a serious need for this cat to get back to basics in his noise experimentation, perhaps take a month off and woek in a lead foundry or something.  Too bad, all this.

Theo Ross, Cut the Chord (Voice Waves Productions)
Jeez, now this is like a silk picnic blanket, I reckon.  Theo Ross is a flautist/vocalist hawking a distinctly 80s brand of smooth-jazz, the unassuming, air-light type purveyed in the past by Ramsey Lewis and Ronnie Laws.  His innocuous vocals come from way back in the throat, evoking Ed Ames and Mel Torme in this too-short 4-songer of his own material, much of it sounding tip-of-the-tongue familiar.  His flute work is squeaky clean, utterly free of flubs without sacrificing nuance.  Prescribed usage: long solo drives, light lunches, pretty much anytime you need a psychic pick-me-up.

This Is Me Smiling, This Is Me Smiling (Red Ink Records)

Unpredictable but not disagreeable ride of emo, nu-jazz and quirk-pop.  Intro piece “Ephemera” leads off with the trifling faux-mellotron and plodding beat combination you’d generally associate with earlier Air albums, when all of a sudden, boom, it’s Thursday making a sweep-and-clear bombing raid.  Once that flare-up is contained, piano takes precedence in the mix, which in turn gets tamped down with 70s compression.  “Feelin the Time Pass By” downshifts to mid-tempo rawk gear, combining Jeff Buckley with spare parts from a Supertramp fire sale.  By track 4, “A Better Way To Fall in Love,” the band’s fallen back to Hoobastank bunkers (think the Shins after getting dumped by mall chicks), occasionally popping their heads out to lob other scattered ideas, the retail-jazz of “For When You Don’t Hear It Right” being one of relative note. 

Laibach, Volk (Mute Records)

A quartet of industrial performance-art pain-mongers hailing from Slovenia (the former Yugoslavia), Laibach live, eat and breathe subversion and anarchic polemics.  At one point during the 80s, the Yugoslavian government legally banned any utterance of their very name, which of course only served to get their fans frothing more rabidly (particularly at their live shows, which are generally described as transformative experiences).  With Volk they’ve out-Laibached themselves, creating a reusable template laid against national anthems of the world, traced with slashes of bilious but well-intentioned advice for each country.  This leads to plenty of tsk-tsks pointed at America, Russia and Germany, all done more or less Rammstein-style, while later, over the enchanting phrases of China’s national anthem, Milan Fras’ heavily accented baritone exhorts the billions of exploited poor to “rise rise rise.”  Past the armchair nation-building it’s a unique and definitive musical work, its only serious competition coming from Skinny Puppy so far this year.

Dave Koz, At the Movies (Capitol Records)

Remember how you felt at that wedding reception last summer, when Kenny G was playing in the background and everyone was so pretty and handsome and starched?  Sort of like how you felt in Walmart this past Saturday afternoon, when the Kenny G clone was playing in the background and everyone was so pale and woozy from lack of oxygen, wasn’t it?  Yes, there’s a time and place for nuance-free, emotionally stunted, flighty saxophones, but this one’s ganged up with Barry Manilow, Vanessa Williams and a few other faded glories trapped in bad-agent Vegas hell to mount a hugely successful effort to stupidize hits from legendary movies. Nothing’s safe from the mawkish onslaught, not “Moon River,” Stephen Bishop’s Tootsie song, nor the already plenty despicable “Pink Panther Theme” (which does, admittedly, get a near-interesting ballroom treatment).  Kind of surprising, really; Koz isn’t some expendable plank of Hollywood woodwork, unless you count the fact that he graduated from UCLA, didn’t come out until he was asked point-blank by The Advocate, and, you know, played in Arsenio Hall’s TV-show house band.

Lordi, The Arockalypse (The End Records)

Monster-masked Fins wanting to be the next Kiss posting up an album that wants to be the next Destroyer.  Like most info-addicts, you probably gave the media blitz of these bean counters a sideways glance, took a quick educated guess at what it’d sound like (if you said “Prong meets Motley Crue, but, you know, Finnish,” you’ve won a year’s supply of Hamburger Helper) and promptly surfed back to whatever train wreck of a MySpace page had your attention that particular minute, but wait, there’s more.  OK, psych, there isn’t, unless you’re descended from someone who actually got something out of listening to Ratt’s Invasion of Your Privacy (wait, “You’re in Love” was a groovy song) (and not that Lordi sounds like Ratt, but just saying) (and if you’re still reading this it means there’s no puff of smoke where you just were, meaning you didn’t peel out to buy this record, meaning you never will) (probably because you’re too old, man).  The Arockalypse descends first with a (count-em) 4-minute news report delivered by a fellow who sounds like reality-TV-star Gene Simmons, all about how the dead have suddenly come to life and started eating people, and then the Prong/Motley Crue power-chords and growling come bashing in like a bunch of bashing bashers out to bash and smash.

Skinny Puppy, Mythmaker (Synthetic Symphony/SPV Records)
From its verist, stomach-turning album-cover paintings to its condemnatory visions of lard-bodied Cheney war pigs wallowing in their own fear-mongering, 2004’s Greater Wrong of the Right was a brilliant grotesquerie that literally took me months of getting used to.  If there were one review I could have back in this life it’d be that one, written while I was still squeamish about treading its more claustrophobic mirror-walled corridors. This year Ogre’s beefs are personal as well as political – through the performance art of the GWOTW tour he made his point about how everybody was responsible for 9/11, and he’s still beyond all measure of disgusted with politics, but SP’s MySpace page alludes to his getting the shaft from people close to him, a lot of signs pointing to Bill Leeb as far as that goes, but that’s base speculation, and… oh, the tunes, yes.  You can start by throwing out every darkwave/goth-electro precept you’ve ever absorbed (save for the Too Dark Park percolation found in the anti-media diatribe “Politikil”) and readying yourself for demon-possessed laptops churning out a Wizard of Oz-like theatre piece, like Last Rights washed out with phase-shifted vocoder.  While not doling out any simple “Past Present” trances or polyrhythmic “I’mmortal” slam-dunks to the breakdancers, Mythmaker greases other art-joints of the body, as always with the band’s grim stoicism and psychic clarity pegged to the floor.

Foreign Islands, Restart Now (Deaf Dumb + Blind Recordings)

Not quite as mentally spent-sounding as God Lives Underwater or hyper as Mindless Self Indulgence, Foreign Islands bend it new-rave with a post-punk twist, a Klaxons for the broke kids.  Metrosexuals with a penchant for day-glo accessorizing are potential victims of this dance floor blitz as well; it’s a tie-loosening, hands-in-the-air affair that sounds underground enough to be an affront to the Man, and will until everybody wakes up one morning to the rent-a-cop from Sony kicking them out on the street.  But there are worse fates than that, really; we’re already up to our scalps in electro dittoheadedness and alt-rock done in yellow and orange crayon, so it was only a matter of time before the two forces joined together.  And even though NME was the first to coin the phrase, the new-rave movement does have undeniable potential, mass antipathy toward a re-branding of crystal meth all that stands in its way.

!!!, Myth Takes (Warp Records)
!!!, or chik chik chik, however you choose to do the onomatopoeia, nowadays have their disco-punk muse on speed dial, which isn’t a bad thing at all, especially when they’re chasing LCD Soundsystem.  There are plenty of differences, as you know (or don’t, it’s all good), LCD laying claim to the glitchy wooziness and engineered-for-radio in-your-face-ness that !!! usually turns their noses up at (apart from the Norman Greenbaum channeling in “Yadnus”).  When they’re not doing their Pete Doherty Croons Funk Raveups thing, Myth Takes’s is the type of groove you get from the more infectiously jammy parts of latter-day alt-rock albums.  The record’s eponymous track, for instance, is essentially a tuned-down, cruise-control re-futzing of Yo La Tengo’s “Pass The Hatchet I Think I’m Goodkind” as interpreted by Johnny Cash.  “All My Heroes are Weirdos” bootlegs some Talking Heads roll-and-grind, “Must Be the Moon” countering with one of the year’s baddest party-up funk-jam singalongs.  A drivetime keeper you’ll come back to on a regular basis.

The View, Hats Off to the Buskers (Columbia Records)
Yikes, what a mess.  Not that anyone couldn’t guess after the first four songs, The View are a gone-original cover band from Dundee, Scotland, where set lists have to pacify footballers, yuppies and weekend-warrior punks alike.  Copy bands thinking about making such a transition could learn a lot from this botched game of Genre Twister, as it’s essentially their set list in total-ripoff form.  Aside from acknowledging the eyebrow-raising presence of Oasis/Verve producer Owen Morris at this shaky helm, a tick-tock should suffice for our purposes:  “Comin Down” starts with some Jet-like bluster, then becomes Robin Trower in a Spencer Davis mood; “Superstar Tradesman” is Paul McCartney fronting the Ramones; “Same Jeans” is Glengarry Bhoys beating the lunch money out of John Cougar; “Don’t Tell Ma” is embarrassingly obvious Oasis filler (there’s even a cough at one otherwise quiet interval, for cripes sake); “Skag Trendy” is a popgun fired at PIL.  No no, seriously.

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

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