10 Random Reviews & Artless Critiques


Wise Intelligent, The Talented Timothy Taylor (Shaman Works Recordings)
New Jersey’s Wise Intelligent was the go-to MC for Poor Righteous Teachers’ black-Islamist hip-hop assault of the 90s (the harmless single “Rock Dis Funky Joint” was the apex of their fame), and they almost became the next Chuck D., a fact that won’t amount to a hill of bupkis if you didn’t come aboard until rap was all WalMart-approved call-outs and white chicks wearing stupid fedoras.  Even for you, though, Wise has hope – actually, scratch that, he probably doesn’t, but he’s once again ready to preach to the choir and stragglers alike, roping in the latter by dealing references to glocks and hos from the bottom of the deck. To some degree, TTTT is a case of Wise evicting his inner Shady; if he had “Another Chance @ Life,” he’d buy back all his people’s souls and not water down his rhymes to make the play lists (and even, evidently, resort to adding Alvin Chipmunk on catchy refrains if it’d get people to listen).  It’s always the ones who never really did anything wrong who end up blaming themselves for everything, isn’t it?  Many cool metal/reggae/old-school things to be discovered here, Wise’s trademark speed-rinse-syncopated flow beating at the doors incessantly.

Circus Diablo, Circus Diablo (Koch Records)
Ex-Cult guitarist Billy Duffy no longer has to answer to – or beat up, for that matter – Ian Astbury, hence he’s free nowadays to add a little English pomp to whichever bunch of LA scumbags strike his fancy.  Brett Scallions of Fuel and Buckcherry-like vocalist Billy Morrison should praise Allah every night for sending Duffy their way, as the crew is now in a very real position to give Velvet Revolver a run for the dollars of Harley-tee-shirted mamas and their recently paroled dates.  A few plucks from Duffy are enough to turn most of these songs completely around and make them palatable, for example the thoughtful flourish he adds to “Restless,” which otherwise couldn’t have cut it as Skid Row album-filler. The foursome just signed on to take the Second Stage at this year’s ; they must surely be psyched about all the stone-faced neglect they’ll be receiving from the moshing sides of beef there to see Hatebreed and Behemoth.

Jesse Harris, Feel (Velour Recordings)
Department of Info-Smog:  Anyone remember how the advertising industry was supposed to crack down on subliminal advertising? We all know how that idea slipped through the cracks and got stomped by Godzilla, and that there are 50-millisecond frames of hardcore porn in half the TV ads nowadays, right?  Well, another thing that’s snuck past the guards is the Paul Simon Clone Army.  Used to be that when a singer/songwriter who sounded exactly like Paul Simon sent out a review copy of their album, the music critic would Frisbee it off the head of the sports editor, then sit back and wait for a real Paul Simon album. With 50 billion albums being released every week in the MySpace era, though, it’s now a rubber-stamp process wherein the Rolling Stone writer might make brief, apologetic note of the Paul Simon-ness of the guy and make it an RS Top Pick just to be a jerk, whereas the Spin writer might miss the likeness entirely and swear it was God recorded live at Folkie Mountain.  Or vice-versa, it doesn’t matter. Jesse Harris is one of Norah Jones’ “favorite songwriters,” so perhaps there was a manufacturing snafu wherein I was sent a lesser-known Paul Simon Mini-Me who used the exact same hook in the exact same key for the first three songs, all of which sound like a slightly less exciting version of “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” that sort of vibe.  If necessary, a retraction on this business will be printed if Paul Simon wants to make a personal visit to our offices to straighten everything out, but he’ll have to bring cheese, of course, like tons of cheese.

Various Artists, “From L.A. With Love“ (Milan Records)
You think Northampton, MA and Ogunquit, ME are full of slack-jawed liberal traitors, just imagine Los Angeles.  They’re so artsy they can’t even bring themselves to call compilation albums compilation albums, like this record is actually a “joint art collective project” or something.  Gotta love a nice tall glass of obfuscation, and if you’re willing to play along there are good tunes aplenty here, if from none of the participating small-timer names in particular, really.  The collection ranges from disembodied laptop fluff to Kraftwerk blip-bloop to techno-jazz, all melding together nicely with no track coming at a particularly bad time.  From Leaf to Feather’s Pacman-ditty “Midnight Sun” incorporates some bashful drum n bass, giving way to Blank Blue’s meeting of shoegaze and Portishead in “All the Shallow Deep.”  Lots of these chilly pieces are influenced by Moby, Gnarls, Air, take your genre-defying pick, and every song has a corresponding photo or painting somewhere in the thick insert, which wasn’t really necessary; the music alone evokes a mythic place where an Armani-suited Danny DeVito strolls the sidewalks with a Toucan Sam-tee-shirted George Clooney complaining about how they shoulda traded Kobe instead of Shaq, both guys oblivious to an 8-foot-tall mound of Fredericks mannequins awaiting the garbage truck.

Big Shug, Street Champ (Babygrande Records)
You’ll know Gang Starr DJ Premier from his work on every hip-hop record produced this century, thus it’s sort of warm-and-fuzzies-worthy that he was able to put aside his dreams of doing nothing but Christina Aguilera tracks and get all hood for a spell with Mattapan native and former Walpole inmate Big Shug.  The flowchart outlining the beefs all the rappers (KRS-One, Jay-Z, everyone but Vince McMahon) may or may not have with Premier has grown more complex than the blueprints for the Space Shuttle, and no one remembers why they’re angry anymore, thus we can actually do a quick drive-by on what this underground joint from Shug sounds like: take one part sluggish MF Doom rhythm-lessness (as in for real, as in he loses the beat completely during one song, possibly expecting it to be fixed by the engineer), add some Barry White (Shug’s smoky baritone would work at weddings, honest) and throw a bag of Doritos at it to quell its bottomless case of the munchies. 

Gore Gore Girls, Get the Gore (Bloodshot Records)
Detroit-based Gore Gore Girls are Amy Surdu and whatever two hotties she can tolerate that week. On her new LP Surdu’s voice has lost its brattiness and gone Grace Slick, appearing to have lost an octave from all the yelling at girls to get the hell out of her band while dangerous objects flew around the rehearsal dump.  Nothing new here otherwise, particularly if you’re a chick guitarist looking for a ray of hope for your gender; none of the radio-hit-length songs point to anything beyond “Oh look, there’s girls up there playing surf punk.  I have to pee.”  Not to single anything out in particular, but “Casino” is naught but a hardened inversion of Sleater Kinney’s “Oh,” which, along with hooker boots, will get you slobbery reviews from male critics and a two-figure royalty check.  Regardless of Playboy’s nibbles of interest in the band the solution doesn’t have to be “take it ALL off,” but it’s up to Surdu to figure out on her own that she needs to stick with one lineup for a couple of albums.  Another option: Guitar God synching to Alex Lifeson solos. Just trying to help.

Yellowcard, Paper Walls (Capitol Records)
For too long now the very thought of emo has conjured images of lonesome MySpace teenboys marooned in suburban sprawl examining random My Chemical Romance verses over the interweb and actually being able to tell one song from another, let alone My Chemical Romance from any of their peers.  Palms have been greased of late, else there’s no rational explanation for the hushed reverence alternative writers have been paying to Good Charlotte, whose last album contained only one decent song, and they needed the help of Snidely Razornose or whoever from Avenged Sevenfold to get even that done.  Yellowcard’s what-you-talkin-bout-Willis is a violin, and as of Paper Walls it’s still not being used effectively, ie all it accomplishes is providing newbie emo kids an easily identifiable trademark sound, a cheat to help them fit in with other Axe-gel-reeking emo-ites by appearing to know stuff about all those same-sounding bands.  These guys are aware that the great rock n roll Reebok is soon going to crush every clone that doesn’t evolve, so they experiment with some Shins vibe in the crazy-beautiful “Light Up the Sky” and the title track, then work a few other angles that might have furrowed some brows if singer Ryan Key wasn’t physically addicted to Taking Back Sunday karaoke.

Silverchair, Young Modern (Eleven/EMI Records)
From ripping off Pearl Jam in their 1995 debut to using Muse as a rough template today, Australia’s Silverchair continue to demonstrate their ability to survive any musical craze.  The 5-year gap between 2002’s Diorama and Young Modern was filled getting Daniel Johns’ brain to function again, or so we’re led to believe – the arthritis and the eating disorder probably took a back seat to his catching up with all the girls he was too young to take out on dates back in the Frogstomp days.  Eh?  Well yes, it’s the same Silverchair that sang “Tomorrow” back in 1992 when they were 15-year-olds, but they’re no longer grunge’s answer to the Hardy Boys, they’re an alt-rock behemoth that tops the Australian charts whenever they burp loud enough to be caught on mike.  Whatever mysterious overseer writes their songs is mad into Tom Waits, Muse and Arcade Fire of late, but there are other well-put-together, cockeyed little 70s/nu-70s aspects that are harder to identify, not that US radio would kick them out of bed.  One song’s unintentionally funny in a Wacko Jacko kind of way – “Young Modern Station” sounds like Versus doing a cover of the Sesame Street theme song (somebody lose a childhood over here?).  Mostly, though, the writing is fine, erecting an album that regular mall-alt joes would stack next to their Maroon 5 CDs.  

Portugal the Man, Church Mouth (Fearless Records)
On face, PTM are like a lousy customer at a hotel, demanding that people get the name right (it’s “Portugal. The Man,” and don’t leave out the period because it’s significant ‘n’ stuff).  Once you’re done roundfiling that suggestion faster than a Tomahawk missile, however, you won’t be able to help but like this Wolfmother in Wilco’s clothing.  Okay maybe not on the title track, which is sort of like Flaming Lips trying to be Kaiser Chiefs, with all the painful lack of tastiness you’re picturing.  Oh, and not “Sugar Cinnamon” and its Wolfmother-level forgettability either.  Here, man, you want this one, “Telling Tellers Tell Me,” a dino-rock rake-fight between White Stripes and Kiss’ “All Hell’s Breakin Loose,” wherein one of the vocal tracks is vocodered to make singer John Baldwin Gourley sound like Kenny from South Park.  “Bellies Are Full” yoinks its 70s-ness from Argent, its stomp from Physical Graffiti; there’s screamy Robert Plant lurking around every corner, bordering on eat-your-Wheaties 80s-metal shrieking that nicks Slaughter at times, if you can believe it.  The very minute these Alaskans settle down and write just a hair more coherently they’ll be on par with Queens of the Stone Age, not that they aren’t pretty fricking close as it is.

Recoil, Subhuman (Mute Records)
In 1995, keyboardist Alan Wilder muttered some polite euphemisms for the sentence “I hate this place because David Gahan is a hopeless druggie” and left Depeche Mode.  By then he was three albums into his Recoil side project, an avant garde house of soundscape ideas, and that’s largely where he’s stayed since, throwing honest session work to people like Nitzer Ebb’s Douglas McCarthy and Depeche candy-girl Hildia Campbell.  Subhuman pronounces Wilder’s liking for slow, eerie, sub-Saharan ringouts and reverbed church bells alive and well after a six-year hiatus while expanding upon the chicken-rattle deep-South vocal sounds he wrung out of Diamanda Galas in “Strange Hours,” the latter accomplished by utilizing blues guy Joe Richardson’s three-sandwiches-short Muddy Waters caricature.   Richardson gets the mike for most of the album, which was a bright move considering the job he does with “99 to Life,” a clangy, desolate celebration of suppertime in the hole whose sample-cluster dirge sounds like it’s trying to parrot “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”  British songbird Carla Trevaskis rounds out the package nicely by adding some brittle Yoko Ono-ness to a couple of rich, melodic, more positive textures. 

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

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