Saturday, May 12, 2007

Six for the Road

Various Artists,
CrystalTop Music Presents,
CrystalTop Music

I'd never heard of CrystalTop Music or any of the artists on this compilation, but the entire package comes as a nice surprise. Most of the acts assay some form of electronica or jazz-oriented pop, which means plenty of stand-up bass and Fender Rhodes. I can imagine their music playing in small bistros and funky boutiques—and I don't mean that as a putdown. (I do, after all, like to eat, shop...and listen to music.)

Though the names may be new to me, several have notable collaborations in
their past. Trumpeter Dion Tucker of Oddlogik, for instance, has worked with Mos Def and Rhodes scholar Herbie Hancock, while Martín Perna of Ocote Soul Sounds founded Antibalas and is described as a "frequent collaborator with TV on the Radio."

As a bonus, the well designed gatefold incorporates the band names in multiple typefaces. It reminds
me of Bruce Licher's letterpress work (the Savage Republic co-founder has also provided art for Camper Van Beethoven and REM). Recommended to fans of Low, Feist, and the Eels.

Boys Like Girls, Boys Like Girls, Columbia

I can only assume I received this CD because I've reviewed a lot
of teenybopper fare lately, like Gym Class Heroes and Hellogoodbye (who show up in this Boston's band's list of thanks).

This quartet probably puts on a fun show, but their debut is the usual over-produced major label version of punk-pop. No doubt many of these groups grew up with Green Day, but few have as much to say, and by the time they emerge from the corporate wringer, they all sound alike. Boys Like Girls are no exception.

The Ghost Is Dancing, The Darkest Spark,
Sonic Unyon Recordings [6/19/07]

Just as I know I'm gonna dislike some records within the first few seconds, I take to others straight away. Then there are those I need to listen to a few times to determine what I think. The Darkest Spark doesn't fall into that category. I liked it immediately.

The press notes sum up the appeal succinctly, i.e. "trumpets collide with theremin and hundred-year old pump organs mingle with toys and bells..." On their first full-length, this Toronto collective comes on like a cross between the Polyphonic Spree
and Arcade Fire, but more earthy and less, um, self-important.

The Hanslick Rebellion, The Deli of Life, Eschatone Records

Musically, this New York four-piece occupies the middle
ground between classic rock and alternative. Lyrically, their
EP occupies the middle ground between punk and hard rock.

In "Pop," they lament, "You sold me out." In "You Are Boring the Shit Out of Me," they exclaim, "Jesus fucking Christ / fuck off." The Hanslick Rebellion may be angry, but they aren't punk. (Though anger has come to be seen
as the exclusive province of punk, it's always been just as symptomatic of strange bedfellows folk and metal.)

Sometimes they sound pub-glammy, like Mott the Hoople [above], sometimes pop-metallic, like Alice in Chains. I like Mott, I don't like Alice, and I feel the same about The Deli of Life: mixed.

Silver Daggers, New High & Ord, Load Records

Like their name, Los Angeles quintet Silver Daggers aim to assault...your eardrums. The shouting and bashing is fine for what it is, but it's the odd little post-punk touches that make New High & Ord work: the frequent blasts of brass, odd tempo changes, and moments of unexpected calm amidst the chaos.

Personally, I like more structure to my noise, but fans of saxophone player Jenna Thornhill's Mika Miko should give
this disc a listen. Featuring frenetic artwork by Gary Panter
(Pee-Wee's Playhouse), who has also designed album covers
for Yo La Tengo and first-wave LA punks the Screamers.

Adam Zwig, Cast Iron Letters, Conscious Records

On this third effort, this Dylan acolyte serves up folk-rock with country trimmings. Cast Iron Letters isn't without merit, but my tolerance for po-faced folk is pretty low. (My tolerance for fanciful folk, like Lavender Diamond, on the other hand, is pretty high.)

Like his forebears, the Portland singer/songwriter has a limited range, which works fine on songs like opening track "Castaways," but less so on protest numbers like "Who Killed Michael Vaughn," where he strains the entire time (ouch). Also, he uses Zimmy's famous phrase "Masters of War" not once—but twice.

Endnote: Images from CrystalTop Music, Sonic Unyon Recordings, Load Records, Psycho Daisies, and Creative Refuge (SavRep art). Incidentally, Silver Daggers take their moniker
from the folk song of the same name. And a heartfelt thanks to labels who make hi-res images available—everybody wins!

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