Random Stabbings & Artless Critique


Bitter Bitter Weeks, Peace is Burning Like a River (High Two Records)
In his third full-length LP, Philadelphia’s Brian McTear condenses his keep-it-simple 80s-indie formula, obsessing less on lonely-spotlight unpluggedness and more on full-band, edge-of-the-world 4-chord fluff-pomp.  His voice is of trademark caliber now, tempering the antsiness of Paul Westerberg with Ben Gibbard’s mousy lilt, microphone effects set to back-of-the-high-school-auditorium.  In further keeping with the inaccurate Paisley Underground comparisons that might have popped into your head by now, there’s a boozy feel to the tracks, but it evinces third-martini tipsiness, not tongue-lolling incapacitation.  These highly polished songs are compatible with listeners who don’t get much out of watching nervous songwriters exhausting themselves hucking fifty different genres against non-stick walls, which of course became all the rage in the current market after someone dumped a few too many barrels of Instant Moron in the Bowery Ballroom water supply.  Oooohs and oh-oh-ohs are placed just so, mostly nailing the fadeout-worthy grandeur they target; those and other facets are brought to life by representatives of several bands McTear’s helped to produce/engineer in the past, such as the A-Sides and Mazarin.

Ferry Corsten, Passport to the United States of America (Ultra Records)
During the early 90s, Dutch DJ Corsten was a gabber guy, spinning the heaviest of heavy industrial dance-core for ponytail-mulleted Rohypnol-poppers (that’s white punks on dope, for you folks at home, and yes, some things never change).  That was all well and good for a while, but, as with most million-alias DJs of the period who had epiphanies of conscience after watching famed nutcake Michael Alig’s star implode in spectacularly gory fashion, sexy trance music and more traditional orgying suddenly became massively appealing to Corsten.  I jolly won’t pretend to be a font of encyclopedic knowledge on every single Corsten “artistic endeavor” since 1991, and all that’d really give you is a wonderful excuse to check the personal ads, but being the quite happy owner of this particular laser-bagel does grant me the right to opine that this is a very agreeable collection of subtle, non-whooping trance-rooted electro, lighter than Tiesto, more aggressive than Astral Matrix.  On the plus side is the Corsten original “Beautiful,” which earns its place in the heart of the mix through the simple act of vocodering a hot breathy female singer, while on the not-so-great side is his stubborn insistence on hot breathy female singers and no other vocal sounds at all.

Tomahawk, Anonymous (Ipecac Recordings)
Were it not for the oxymoronic “interesting politics” and “good television” of these times, we might be in the midst of the first Native Americana frenzy since Val Kilmer spent all of Thunderheart hearing Graham Greene heckle his necktie.  Fast-wrinkling Boomers are busily occupied chanting to New Age-approved tom-toms, HBO recently thrust our collective face into the haunted dirt of Wounded Knee, and now there’s this highly accessible techno/metal/indie record, the apex (and, if they get it right, trilogy’s end) of the Tomahawk project.  The band’s first two albums were surprisingly coherent, serious attempts at seeing what would come if one stranded past members of Faith No More (Mike Patton), Jesus Lizard (Duane Denison) and Helmet (John Stanier, now with Battles) on the same island, but those previous efforts played no role whatsoever in realizing Denison’s vision of authentic Indian songs super-retro-jet-packed for Generation iPod.  Anonymous, however, is that reckoning, a flat-out terrific niche product that’s assured a lifetime of ren-fair/comic-con love at a minimum, not that any electro geek couldn’t pull this curveball out of the glove box and blow their friends’ minds.  “War Song” earns its title through doom-metal bliss, whereas “Ghost Dance” follows a more goth-electro path, but all the tunes benefit from Patton’s flamboyant interpretation of the lyrics, which were painstakingly researched during Teddy Roosevelt’s time.  Footnote: “Long, Long Weary Day” is a companion-piece “parlor song” culled from the same historical period and isn’t a Native American traditional.

Mocean Worker, Cinco de Mowo! (Hyena/Ryko)
Adam Dorn and his laptop make jazz-mash records by applying pink highlighter to the Forrest Gump instruction manual.  You never know what you’ll get, other than a few bars from Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the blind, long-dead multi-instrumentalist Dorn resurrects through careful sampling (Kirk played lead flute in Quincy Jones’ “Soul Bossa Nova,” the main theme from the Austin Powers movies). Jamming from beyond, Kirk throws in his lot with a techno/jazz idea whose time is way past due, something both danceable and tirelessly musical, a no-brainer genre-merger: picture Dizzy Gillespie and Jelly Roll Morton punching the clock on a fringe techno record and you’ve got the gist.  Dorn’s early recordings put him on the fast track to become an electro also-ran, but as of 2005’s Enter the Mowo, he’s parlayed the high-profile friendships he made in the jazz world into something too uniquely quaint for college radio to ignore.  Live contributors include Herb Alpert, Steven Bernstein and singer Alana Da Fonseca.

Dappled Cities, Granddance (Dangerbird Records)
Too bad indie labels don’t offer subscriptions, being that Dangerbird has developed into a one-stop shopping mecca for the species of music dweeb that subsists on strict diets of quirky alt-pop and nothing else.  According to recent interviews, Dappled Cities are still officially named Dappled Cities Fly; the forthcoming Senate subcommittee investigation into this renaming business should put that to rest once and for all.  I could tell from their accents and fetish for marching drums that their mother country had at one point found it annoyingly difficult to get the Brits out of its hair, and indeed it turns out this Granddaddy/Shins-worshipping (Jim Fairchild’s a co-producer) lot are from Australia, which explains the Decemberists-level sloth with which they deliver each non-sequitur line (“I will not dance in you, ‘cause you’re not a fire”).  Their modular songwriting approach is successful more often than not, and includes nervous-pompous Arcade Fire proclamations, environmentally unsound falsettos, loud catchy things that sneak up on you, 98-pound-weakling twee mewlings and Pavement table scraps.

Rasputina, Oh Perilous World (Filthy Bonnet Records)
Back on Jupiter, word of Dubya Bush’s using the US Constitution as a wad of Charmin appears to have reached kooky cellist Melora Creager, and she is not amused.  Deviating from the usual beyond-goth trip that won her opening slots for Marilyn Manson and Porno For Pyros, Oh Perilous World finds Creager in a didactic state of mind, stuffing as many historical tidbits as possible into her narratives, which include a study of the summer-less year 1816 and a translated manifesto from Osama bin Laden.  An impressive range of sound emanates from the trio of Creager, drummer Jonathan TeBeest and second cellist Sarah Bowman, most admirably on the opening track – the 1816 thingie – where open-string cellos are strummed like Western guitars.  As well, “In Old Yellowcake” is no slouch, with Creager affecting Lisa Loeb affecting Jack White over a groove that’d be unadulterated Melvins if Melvins made their living with cellos.

Just Jack, Overtones (TVT Records)
At a minimum, Jack Allsop’s preference of ingredients should have your typical fan of chill-electro drooling like a NASCAR blob at a Pabst factory, but it’s his seamless application of same that puts Overtones up there as one of this summer’s must-hear LPs.  Grime, funk-tinged chill-techno and bright pastel trip-hop literally could not come together better than this, so naturally the British press is fainting into their stinky fishcakes over it, but for once they’re on to something.  Allsop’s two-prong vocal approach wavers between a disaffected stoner caricature and Davy Jones from the Monkees, and he uses it to dish a lyrical beaut that covers some interesting subjects, one being a British TV-talent-show winner who fell to earth after a set of unflattering bikini photos of her in all her chubby glory hit the press (“Starz in their Eyes”).  Recent competition here would sort of include Whitey, but he and all other comers are left buried under clean-spirited honesty and sparkly rave-dust.

Jean-Luc Ponty, The Acatama Experience (Koch Records)
From Zappa to Al DiMeola to Herbie Hancock and back again, acoustic/electric violinist Jean-Luc Ponty’s past accomplices are legion and legend.  Coming on the heels of his TRIO! fusion-supergroup project with Bela Fleck and Stanley Clarke, Ponty’s first Ponty-centric album in several years is studiously relaxed. “Parisian Throroughfare” is everything you’d want out of chill-down fusion, as it sports an easy but busy hook, Ponty’s tightly knitted blurs of 64th notes serving to remind old-timer Kansas fans who was whose daddy.  The electric violin passages melt the boundaries of stringed instruments, emulating virtuoso synthesizer lines with laser-guidance, and when fusion-guitar monument Allan Holdsworth pops in to add his two cents to “Point of No Return” you may as well be listening to Mozart futzing around with Pro Tools.  Ponty’s touring band is steady and well-mannered, rarely if ever lent much running room, but all hands are undoubtedly fine with simply being there for the ride.  A few R&B-hop moments do surface as advertised, but don’t take the accompanying hype too seriously.

UDO, Mastercuter (Candlelight Records)
Former Accept frontman Udo Dirkschneider may be short, doughy and a habitual gargler of broken glass, but that doesn’t mean you should let him near your girlfriend, because he’ll steal her, word.  His Judas Priest-vs-AC/DC formula hasn’t changed since his “Balls to the Wall” days, but what’s special is how in the grand scheme of things it’s now officially back in underground fashion, sort of, maybe.  The thrash-metal brigade had its big party and left the truck parked in the front window after much singing about blood-spurty mayhem and witch-hunting of “poseurs” (unless the poses in question involved sounding exactly like Slayer and donning black tee-shirts advertising punk bands they didn’t understand), but that thing’s over.  Sure, there’s that math-metal nonsense uttering a few self-conscious bleats on MySpace, but do you really expect the kids who buy that lumpy sewage to survive the lethal levels of X their parents dumped into their blood?  Don’t be silly.  You know what, too?  Some of these UDO songs are good, a lot better than the last album.  And Lordi thinks Udo’s awesome, which is like getting the personal endorsement of God, if you’re heavily into Lordi.

3 Inches of Blood, Fire Up the Blades (Roadtunner Records)
Somewhere in cyberspace, a 14-year-old is skipping the spellcheck part of writing a glowing Amazon review of 3 Inches of Blood.  Like their paid 30something counterparts – litter-pawing New Music Guide moonlighters practicing their English Comp 101 grammar rules after listening to exactly 10 seconds of Fire Up the Blades – the only comparisons they’re able to shake out of their brains are Priest and Maiden, because to their knowledge those two acts are the only bands in rock history who ever did fast melodic metal with a screamy singer.  Besides, 3IOB’s first album ripped off Nazareth’s No Mean City for the cover art, so just how wildly original could this be?  Well, not that much; only the era’s been changed to protect the innocent, a vague sloppiness added to the production for the benefit of In Flames lovers.  Caffeine-blooded completists will get a kick out of 3IOB’s attempt to bring back the late-80s power-metal days of Savatage and Nuclear Assault, which is precisely what this is: cigarette-torn shrieks laid over Flying V guitars dugga-dugging along at slightly above middle-gear speed.

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

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