Saturday, February 28, 2009

and Angst

Up, self-

On their
long ges-
tating de-
but, this Kansas City trio cooks up
a propulsive funk-pop concoction. The press note allusions to Gnarls Barkley and Jamiroquai make perfect sense since they in-
vest their fast-paced, high-energy dance tunes with soul (to that list, I would add Michael Jackson, circa Off the Wall). When white boys overdo that kind of thing, they can end up sounding pastier than ever, but these crafty gentlemen, who formed their outfit seven years ago, know where to draw the line. Like the band's name, Antennas Up is silly at times, but always enjoyable.

Lucky Fonz III, Life Is Short, My Street Is Mine Records

With Life Is Short, Holland's
Lucky Fonz III (née Otto
Wichers) joins the ranks of
sensitive Northern European
singer/songwriters, like Swe-
den's Nicolai Dunger and
Norway's Sondre Lerche.

Because of his cutesy nom de music and goofy CD cover, I
wasn't expecting much, but his first record is almost Beatl-
esque in its delicately baroque approach to folk—the instrum-
entation includes harmonium, metallophone, french horn, doub-
le bass, and grand piano—and quite appealing for all that (and
also recalls sophisticated Yanks like Leonard Cohen and Harry
). Time will tell if Fonz'll outlast Dunger and Lerche
in the longevity sweepstakes, but he's off to a good start.

On Ensemble, Ume in the Middle, Turtlefield Music [5/5/09]

Instead of worldbeat, often a combination of different cultures,
you might call On Ensemble's unique club music taiko beat.
On Ume in the Middle, the Silverlake quartet fuses Japanese drumming with electronic loops and effects. The multi-ethnic outfit also incorporates throat singing, koto, and shinobue into their Eastern-tinged melange, resulting in melodies designed as much for meditation as for moving, i.e. the tempo is never slow enough for sleeping, nor so fast that dancing is the only option.

The Kokoon, We Didn't Go EP, New Average Records

Formed in 2000, Berlin duo Danyx Simone and Dirk Henry follow-up two full-lengths with a five-song release full of new wave-meets-disco anthems, kind of like a cross between Curve and "Peek-a-Boo"-era Siouxsie. Not bad, but too synthetic for my tastes.

Propagandhi, Supporting Caste, Small-
man/G7 Welcoming Committee Records

Pulled off his head/and made a spreadable head cheese.
-- "Human(e) Meat (The Flensing of Sandor Katz)"

A few weeks ago, I reviewed a quirky disc from Winnipeg's Hot
Panda (Volcano...Bloody Volcano). Somehow, I doubt they've
shared many bills with the super-powered Propagandhi. Nor do
I believe that dreamy-eyed Winnipeg director Guy Maddin will
be tapping either outfit to contribute their angsty sounds to any of his upcoming projects. Throughout their fifth full-length, these Canucks scream and pound with gusto. (Reminds me of Jonathan Richman's "I Eat with Gusto, Damn! You Bet.") Hardcore/prog-punk—Bad Religion and Voivod come to mind—isn't my bag,
but there's no doubt that these fellows bring the noise.

Aaron Thomas, Follow the Elephants, Everlasting Records

From the lead-off track, it seemed as if Aaron Thomas was
trying to fill the late Jeff Buckley's oversized shoes, but as Fol-
low the Elephants continues, he tends to conjure up the more
ornate, but less tortured tunes of Andrew Bird and Beirut's Zach
Condon, without ever ripping off any of those restless gents (and
swearing more than all of 'em put together). Born in Tasmania and
raised in Sydney, the Australian has lived in Los Angeles and Kiev
and now calls Madrid home. Throughout his debut, Thomas's vib-
rato-laden falsetto dances in and around sinuous sounds, land-
ing comfortably between folk-pop and alt-rock. Good stuff.

Tiny Animals, Sweet Sweetness, North Street Records [5/12/09]

Their publicist mentions this New York three-piece in the same breath as Weezer, and they're not off-base, but Tiny Animals offer a more layer-
ed sound. While harmony
vocals soften the edges of
Chris Howerton's adenoidal
pipes, bassist Anton Kreisl
and drummer Rita Maye How-
erton keep things moving.

As influences, the group cites the Foo Fighters and Radio-
head, and I can't say I hear either act on their first long-play-
er, but Sweet Sweetness goes down easy enough, and the
violin on "Avalanche" is an appealing touch. Bonus points for a
surprisingly good cover of "Freedom of Choice." Adenoids and
Devo are two not-so-bad tastes that taste pretty good together.

Endnote: For more information about Antennas Up,
please click here; for Lucky Fonz III, here or here; for
Kokoon, here or here; for On Ensemble, here; for Prop-
agandhi, here or here; for Aaron Thomas, here; and for
Tiny Animals, here or here. Images from Planetary Group.

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