COMETS ON FIRE, "BLUE CATHEDRAL"
Though I enjoyed Comets on Fire's self-titled debut and its follow up, 2001's Field Recordings from the Sun, I could never have expected the pure, unadulterated rock perfection that is Blue Cathedral. It's the megalithic, all-cylinders-firing psych-rock masterpiece that the band only hinted at with their first two albums. Those albums had a somewhat immature approach characterized by overamped, echo-plexed riffs that combined into a fuzzy, undifferentiated storm of guitar noise, with kraut-inspired rhythms and MC5-ish vocal utterances. Their amorphous noise was often compelling, but perhaps shared too much in common with contemporaries like Acid Mothers Temple, pushing the reverbed-into-oblivion psych-rock sound to the absolute limits of taste. With Blue Cathedral, the band emerges as a tight, dynamic rock unit that fearlessly rivals the best of Hawkwind, MC5 and the rest of their musical forbears. Tracks like "The Bee and the Cracking Egg" rock so hard and so relentlessly that any other band is going to have to work awfully hard to convince me that Blue Cathedral isn't the rock album of the year. Lead guitarist and vocalist Ethan Miller pulls white-hot squalls out of his instrument, by turns rhythmic and melodic, or fuzzed-out, jagged and dissonant. His strangulated, throat-stripped vocals sound uncannily like a combination of Gary Burger of the Monks and Robert Calvert. Ben Flashman's bass and Utrillo Kushner's drums form a rhythm section of undeniable power and ferocity, reigning in the chaotic sprawl of guitar distortion. Noel Harmonson strikes a perfect balance between bombast and majesty, working the echoplex and playing keyboards, contributing that all-important galactic dimension to the band's rock proceedings. Guest second guitarist Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance), who also appeared on Field Recordings, contributes a level of acoustic complexity to Miller's debris-spewing riffage. All of this talent would be useless if the songs were weak, but Comets on Fire have worked out a brilliant set of monolithic tracks and brief interludes that never want for focus or intensity, and end long before they've worn out their welcome. "The Bee and the Cracking Egg" doesn't waste a moment in unveiling the combo in full interstellar overdrive, relentlessly pummeling forward on their own demented momentum. "Pussy Foot the Duke" is the album's most beautiful track, with Harmonson deftly underscoring the propulsive rhythms with piano and farfisa organ, Miller and Chasny juxtaposing acoustic and electric guitar to stunningly melodic effect. On "Whisky River" and "Antlers of the Midnight Sun" (love that song title), just to cinch the Hawkwind comparison, guest Tim Daly contributes some unhinged saxophone skronk to the planet-crushing rock. Ending with the dark, drug-damaged psychedelic dirge of "Blue Tomb," Blue Cathedral is an album of undeniable strength and focus. - Jonathan Dean
A celebration of the highly regarded Kompakt label's hundredth release, this decadent and incestuous affair spans two lengthy discs featuring their stable of artists remixing one another. Playing out like the aural equivalent of a hip party that you geeks never get invited to, the listener travels regularly between the main dancefloor and chillout room inside some strange yet enthralling post-rave environment. Electronic music pioneers The Orb, represented here as Dr. Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann presumably, open the first disc with a gentle reminder to Kompakt's stable of hungry young ambient producers: you'll never be as good at this as we are. In their dense rework of Ulf Lohmann's "Because Before," flowing soundscapes and hidden rhythms engage the ears, spending the final minute and a half with a subtly dubby feel. Tackling Reinhard Voigt's "Zu Dicht Dran," DJ Koze emerges victorious with an irresistable floorfiller with buzzing synth leads, dirty effects, and a hard steady techno beat. Following in that style, Sascha Funke's bleepy and, yes, funky version of Thomas Fehlmann's "Radeln" (known by fans of Kompakt's Total series) presents a radical and clubby take on the original's quiet head-nodding grooves. Moving along, Joachim Spieth's near-industrial remix of M. Mayer's "17&4" contrasts greatly with Japanese producer Kaito's melodic approach to the synthpop stylings of current scenester favorite Superpitcher. The CD closes with the Dettinger remix of Closer Musik's "One Two Three No Gravity", an overflowing cinematic cup of gorgeous pads, gentle guitar plucking, and bizarrely emotive yet meaningless vocal snippets. Disc Two features the guiltiest pleasure of the entire collection, a severely and dare-I-say embarassingly Auto-Tuned sing-song remix of Freiland called "Frei/Hot Love" done by Justus Kohncke featuring Meloboy. The track's grating quality is matched only by its unfortune catchiness, leaving it destined for the setlists of merciless and quirky DJs alike. Fortunately, Jurgen Paape and former Force Tracks' mainstays SCSI 9 and bring some order back to the dancefloor with their versions of Schaeben & Voss' "The World Is Crazy" and Lawrence's "Teaser" respectively. Jonas Bering, whose last album made my Top 10 list in 2003, offers a pleasant reworking of Dettinger's "Intershop" that clicks along dreamily, albeit repetitively, while Ulf Lohmann's entrancing take on the same track is far more minimal and droning. Hannes Teichmann wraps things up on an eerie note by remixing Markus Guenter's "In Moll," filling the speakers with over seven minutes of gurgling noises, degrading sounds, and a corroded somewhat buried melody. In summation, this double-disc compilation is REQUIRED LISTENING for anyone out there who considers themselves a fan of techno, house, or ambient music today. If The Orb thinks Kompakt is cool, then you should too. - Gary Suarez
"The Hidden City: Sound Portraits from Göteborg"
Sub Rosa has a habit of releasing highly conceptual compilations, where often times the ingenuity of a particular track or artist gets lost in the maintenance of vague thematics or some all-too-constrictive "grounds" for collection. The Hidden City is no exception, though the level field and loose connectivity of the featured artists seems actually to work in favor of the theme: a portrait of Göteborg, the complexity of a city that entered the modern era as one of Sweden's most established port cities, liberalized and globalized long before the rest of its country and much of Europe, only to be swiftly clouded over as Copenhagen and Oslo rose to meet the new century's demands. Göteborg's "enlightened," early-global status apparently outlived its economic promise, and the place has since become a haven for liberal thinkers, artists, and the odd manufacturing mogul (Volvo). There exists here a strange middle-ground between old world textbook civilizations and the alienating modernist upstarts; Göteborg survives with pieces of both, a diversity duly reflected in the city's musicians, poets, and sound-artists. These "sound portraits" are not simple inspiration pieces, but reflections and meditations on actual places within the city, often linked to particular addresses. They create an uneven mosaic of sound in which not one is allowed supremacy or any definite version of Göteborg's confused history. Pieces of the land's proud past and contemporary persistence come through in the orchestral work of composer Peter Hansen, whose "Winter Air" locates an elegance and Norse melancholy that feel like fixtures hovering oblivious to the city's shifting traditions. By contrast, local sound artist Johannes Heldén's contribution, aptly-titled "Bäckegatan 36," incorporates field captures and other incidental sounds in a gem of dirge-like bedroom electronics, challenging the authenticity of isolationism and the assumed consistencies connected with something as simple as a "fixed" address. Paul Bothén, another sound artist, creates "Oh Lord" through a collage of recordings from a Swedish barroom performance of a modified gospel tune from the American South. His layered cuts create a chilling, gothic atmosphere as much related to Göteborg's uniquely "informed" brand of nationalism as to the city's more recent financial anxiety ("Oh Lord, won't you buy me a color TV?"). Elsewhere, the new guard of stealthy, dub-infected German electronica gets represented by works from Mapstation and Göteborg resident Anders Ilar, each more subdued than the artist's usual, perhaps in reaction to Göteborg's own restless quiet. Christina Kubisch and Alva Noto come through with two of the more aurally pleasing contributions on the disc, both technically unimpressive pieces that do little more than add to the dreamy, lost city feel of the whole. The real pleasures of The Hidden City, though, come from watching these well known out-of-towners compete with the singular visions of local musicians, including works by Henrik Rylander and Sheriff, and the poets Anna Eriksson and Fredrik Nyberg. These are the artists that bring Göteborg to life, with a local color of innumerable shades, revealing the hidden treasure that such a compilation boasts.
- Andrew Culler
THIGHPAULSANDRA, "RAPE SCENE"
The Gomco Clamp is a special medical device created to facilitate the circumcision of infant boys, a bell-shaped device over which the shaft skin of the penis is stretched before a circular incision is made. On the first track of Thighpaulsandra's new album, tastefully entitled Rape Scene, the eccentric Welshman hints at a joyful misuse of this medical device, and the mind reels at the sadomasochistic possibilities inherent in such a suggestion. I shouldn't be surprised at yet more perversion coming out of Tim Lewis' vividly transgressive imagination, and yet this image made me shudder. Rape Scene is about the pleasures of an impromptu homosexual menage a trois Thighpaulsandra, Martin Schellard and Siôn Orgon who together create three lengthy in-studio improvisations which comprise the album. Three seems to be the numerical key to the album three musicians, three tracks, and a photograph of three "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" toilets on the cover artwork. On Rape Scene, "he who rides astride the tundra in reindeer-skin thigh-length boots" treats the listener to 45 minutes of synthesizer abuse, psychedelic indulgence and analog chaos. This is deconstructed progressive rock in its most undisciplined form. At times its the sound of a circlejerk; Thighps has found a button on his synthesizer that feels good when he presses it, so he just keeps on pressing it again and again as Martin Schellard jams senselessly to a Steve Howe tune in his head and Siôn Orgon struggles to glue everything together with shambolic percussion. By their nature these three tracks are less focused than on Thighpaulsandra's previous albums and EPs, but when they gel, as in the middle section of "The Busy Jew," the effect is positively riveting. Like getting a peak inside the Inner Space studio where Can produced masterful albums from weeks of improvisation, Thighpaulsandra's merry band of perverts make beautiful noise out of the dynamic of group vs. individual thought. The songs teeter precariously between areas of dissonance, each member pursuing their own phantoms, and moments of perfect synergism, leading to a series of brilliant group climaxes. "His Lavish Showroom" starts off like a whimsical oriental symphony played on the bridge of the Enterprise, eventually exploding into a chaotic mess of buzzsaw guitar licks, jagged electronic arpeggiations and tubular bells. On the aforementioned "The Busy Jew," Schellard busies himself with high-lonesome slide-guitar, while Thighpaulsandra creates a dense mattress of thick, gooey electronics, and Siôn Orgon pushes the momentum forward with propulsive rhythms. It pays off at about the five-minute mark, transforming into a gloriously funky Kraut groove with the Welshman barking out stream-of-consciousness lyrical couplets about weeping vaginas and garden trestles. I seriously doubt I'll hear anything as joyously unrestrained and original as Rape Scene going under the heading of "improv" for the rest of the year. - Jonathan Dean
JAGA JAZZIST, "MAGAZINE"
As somewhat of an unofficial tenth anniversary celebration of the group, Jaga Jazzist have decided to reissued their pre-Ninja Tune 1998 mini-LP, which has quickened my completist heart. Previously available only within their native Norway, or as a hefty-priced import (if you could find it), the re-release of Magazine now has wider distribution thanks in part to the success of the group's North American releases and subsequent tour. The complexity of the compositions and musicianship on this disc blows my mind, knowing that the majority of the group were still in their late teens when it was recorded. Such compositions and performances sound like that of seasoned players at least a generation or two ahead. The crisp, live electro-styled dance bass and drums of "Jaga Ist Zu Hause" pulse along for soaring melodies handled by unison xylophone and soprano sax. Normally, I have an aversion to modern day soprano sax performances, but I'm willing to overlook and even embrace it in this context. The broken-up swing and shimmering Fender Rhodes on "Swedish Take Away (Live)" recalls the popular, yet subtle 70s action flick soundtrack style, with a brief and tasteful drum solo. The cheerful "Seems To Me" is the first track I've heard of any of Jaga Jazzist's stuff featuring vocals, which are accompanied by acoustic guitar and tastefully peppered with glockenspiel and smooth horns. For the bonus tracks, "Serafin I Jungelen" re-mixes source material from an even earlier release to an electronic dance pulse, while "Magazine Part I & II" messes with the said releases tracks in a very open format. Having garnered a fair amount of acclaim outside of their homeland, I'm looking forward to additional re-releases of earlier material, which will continue to have me thinking that I'm an old fart based on the musical chops that I've got. - Gord Fynes
SUNN O))), "WHITE 2"
Masters of the stomach-churning, intestine-voiding, subharmonic frequencies, Steven O'Malley and Greg Anderson return for a sequel to last year's impressive White 1, not surprisingly entitled White 2. Much has been made of Anderson and O'Malley's transmogrification and mutation of their Nordic black metal influences into the slow-motion, doom-laden minimalism of their recordings as Sunn O))). Never mind that it isn't a very original idea, having previously been put forth by Seattle ambient sludge-core band Earth. Listen to the track "Ripped on Fascist Ideas" from Earth's live album Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars for the origin of Sunn O)))'s sonic palette. To their credit, however, Sunn O))) have relentlessly pursued this aesthetic, going several steps further with their use of variable-speed tape mutations and other synthetic technology to create the lowest low-end feasible, with the possible exception of that lowrider that cruises through my neighborhood in the middle of the night blasting bone-rattling Miami bass. On White 2, they choose not to repeat the guest-vocalist tactics of the first White album, in favor of creating three lengthy, horror movie soundscapes that willfully test the limits of the stereo playback system, even as they revel in fascinatingly tangible textures. Although they approach their compositions from a completely different perspective, Sunn O))) arrive in the same general "dark ambient" territory as Lustmord or Lull, spinning vaguely cinematic post-industrial abstractions in which mood is the primary attraction. The fourteen doom-laden minutes of "Hell-O)))-Ween" are the most prototypical of the band: a series of brutally plodding riffs that are allowed to reverberate, slowly building up compounding layers distortion and bass rumble like slowly coagulating amber dripping down a prehistoric tree. It's crushing and dowtrodden, but it's nothing compared to the next two epic tracks of desolation and fear. "bassAliens" explores the lonely, claustrophobic corners just out of sight on Ridley Scott's Nostromo, haunted by the faint specter of menace, distorted subharmonic rumbles that sputter and mutate, spewing foul plumes of hydrochloric acid. What's remarkable about this track is the effective usage of higher-frequency tones and midrange atmospheric guitar plonks, which, juxtaposed with the jarring bass rumbles, create a vivid sound environment unmatched on Sunn O)))'s previous records. The album concludes with the 25-minute epic "Decay 2 (Nihil's Maw)," where Anderson and O'Malley are joined by legendary Mayhem vocalist Attila Csihar for a frightening peak into the void. Listening to this track on an expensive pair of headphones is like staring into the empty, yawning chasm of oblivion, a screaming hole that sucks up sound and life itself. Dislocated from any recognizable sound source other than Csihar's multi-layered growls, shrieks and Odinic chants, a listener has no choice but to float towards the soul-shredding epicenter of the black hole, where ancient demonic forces gather and align to prepare for the final descent to zero. - Jonathan Dean
"Futurism and Dada Reviewed"
Released by LTM in 2000, Futurism & Dada Reviewed documents the sonic experiments of these two respective art movements. While the Dadaists were primarily concerned with visual art and the Futurists with politics and literature, both groups were interested in the burgeoning technology of audio reproduction and the possibilities it offered for revolutionary artistic creation. This compilation of archival recordings presents a wide variety of the Dada and Futrist audio projects, from sound poems and avant-garde compositions to recordings of interviews and manifestoes by major proponents of both movements. Unfortunately, due to the primitive recording technology available during the first half of the 20th century, the poor quality of these recordings is a constant reminder of the "avant-garde" nature of the work. As far as Futurist compositions on the compilation, all of the tracks on Futurism & Dada Reviewed can be found in remastered form on the recent Musica Futuristica, with the exception of Luigi Grandi's "Cavalli + Acciaio." On the Dada side, the disc presents recordings of poems by Appolinaire, Tristan Tzara and Jean Cocteau, along with two compositions written by Kurt Schwitters and Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp, known as one of the most influential poets of the last century, was also an accomplished composer and his composition "La Mariée mise a nu par ses Celibataires, même" shares its title with one of his most famous paintings. The method of composition employed by Duchamp foreshadows those to be used later by artists such as John Cage in their use of indeterminate compositional techniques. Duchamp took numerous balls, assigning each of them various notes, poured them into a funnel, and then allowed them to drop into the open trucks of a toy train in order to determine the tonal sequence of the composition. While the original version of this composition was originally intended for piano, a new version is included on this compilation where the hammers of a piano are replaced with a small rotary disc that vibrates the strings instead of striking them. Kurt Schwitter's composition "Die Sonata In Urlauten" employs the voice in a variety in nonsensical utterances, song, and child-speak. Listening to Schwitters, it is easy to hear the influence of works like this on Mike Patton and other contemporary vocal performers. While the quality of the recordings leaves a bit to offer, this compilation is still of interest to anyone interested in art and music history and offers a glimpse at groundbreaking compositions that opened up the possibilities still being explored by contemporary composers and performers. - Carter Adams
"Musica Futuristica: The Art of Noises"
With the release of Musica Futuristica, LTM introduces their new sub-label Salon and presents a companion volume to Futurism & Dada Reviewed. This compilation includes all but one of the of Futurist tracks on the above-mentioned CD and adds a variety of others from both major and minor players in the Futurist movement. As the result of a thorough remastering of the archived originals, the quality of the recordings on Musica Futuristica is much better than on Futurism & Dada Reviewed. The disc opens with F.T. Marinetti reading the "Definition of Futurism" and calling for the use of sound and noise as weapons against traditionalism. For Marinetti and other Futurists, the roar of a car was more beautiful than anything by Mozart or Beethoven. This desire for noise can be found in "The Awakening of a City" by Luigi Russolo. In this composition, Russolo attempts to portray the dawning of a new city, complete with its industrial sirens and abundant factory whistles. Performance of the piece was initially banned in Italy for fear that it would "likely trigger a public disturbance." The droning nature of the work recalls the compositions of Pierre Henry and other practitioners of musique concrète, except for the fact that it predates Henry by a few decades. The most interesting piece on the album is Marinetti's "Five Radio Sintesi," a series of five pieces that incorporate found sound and make extensive use of silence. Dating from 1933, the juxtaposition of disparate sound elements such as American folk music, the sound of a stadium crowd, the hum of a car, and an operatic vocal solo highlight the Futurists' desire to point out the beauty to be find in the banal nature of quotidian existence. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the Futurist movement faded as more pressing issues came to play in European society and the sonic experiments of Marinetti, Russolo and others were not allowed to be further explored. However, as Musica Futuristica demonstrates, the influence of these works can be seen across multiple genres, from modern composition to avant-rock and electronica. - Carter Adams
Patrik Torsson, "Gästhamnar"
This 3" CD release is a nice idea that contains seven short and sweet songs made for a summer in Sweden. The word "gästhamnar" translates into English as "guest harbours" and though I'm not quite sure what the difference between a normal harbor and a guest harbor is, the image of water, boats, and people having fun certainly runs through every song on this disc. Each song uses a palette that is, in some ways, borrowed from each of the other songs. The synthesizers throughout these 18 minutes of music always buzz in a very affecting way and the drums have that lovely drum-stick-hitting-pillows sound that never allows the percussion to become an intruder on the melody (no matter how driving the rhythms are). The songs always lilt along at a medium pace before surrendering to the next song and, with that surrendering, passing on a new variation that was inherent in the previous track. Patrik Torsson's compositions remind me of childlike simplicity and, for the most part, they're never very busy. At the most there are three or four instruments at time, each interacting with the other to establish a current that swells and receeds naturally. With this in mind, I have to say that I get bored very easily and that because much of this sounds familiar to me, I'm not over-impressed with Gästhamnar. The brevity of these recordings, however, kept boredom from becoming a problem and I was able to appreciate these miniatures as being pretty songs meant for pretty days. A bit more variation would be key in making this more enjoyable. Eighteen minutes is plenty of time to add in extras here and there that would cure the redundancy blues. Torsson's music is innocent, sweet, and despite some monotonous qualities, enjoyable overall. I just wish he would've shaken things up a bit. Perhaps a good producer could improve the variety of sound without ruining Torsson's knack for decent songwriting.- Lucas Schleicher
ANTIBALAS, "WHO IS THIS AMERICA"
When the message is primarily about breaking down social and political barriers, it's only natural that the musical ones should be overstepped as well. For their third full-length release, the first for Ropeadope, the Brooklyn soldiers of Afrobeat open with the loaded question of "Who is This America Dem Speak of Today?" The response is their typical high energy musical interventions of monstrous bass lines and fragmented horns with more syncopation than you can shake a rainstick at, aided by lead vocalist Amayo's clever take on the nation's history when it comes its culture. The nearly over-extended jams of "Elephant" and "Sister" are a lot more laid back in the shake-your-body department, although there is more of a heartfelt touch as traditional Yoruba chants and sincere, soulful vocals are brought in on their respective tracks. The grinding dirge of "Pay Back Africa" takes on a foreboding overtone of uprising which becomes more uplifting with the middle eight-styled key change. Subsequent cycles of the tune are heard with more mindfulness and awareness, which is likely the point based on its title. The would-be gospel according to Antibalas track "Indictment" should have been longer than its five minutes and change. This heavy handed, tongue-in-cheek track of linear beats and distorted horns, which ring out some heavy power chords and tight stabs, takes on a rowdy courtroom setting (the honorable Judge Reinhold presiding) where members of Dubya's office are indicted with a near "can I get a fuck yeah" styled chorus from the peanut gallery. Paced with the irate, high energy numbers early on, Who is This America? gradually settles into, at times, near trance-inducing repetitive choruses and grooves which melt away some of the tension. A glimpse of the shell's underside reminds that it's not just about finger pointing, but of hope as well. - Gord Fynes
Had the promise of the first track on this record carried through, I'd be ranting and raving about an extraordinary work of sound manipulation and minimal composition right now. Unfortunately the first track does feel like a standout on this Shimmer and puts the remaining seven songs to shame. Jasch has a great ear that allows him to do more than just slap sounds together in a creative way; he gets into sounds and recognizes their beginning and end and chooses, from the perspective, how to organize a piece of music. The result is a broad spectrum of stuttering sounds, whining strings, deep bass growls, and static rushes that never quite leave the world of organization and dive into the realm of the subconscious world. Despite this aptitude towards organization, Jasch's pieces are sometimes a bit too simple or they sound too busy. The sounds all fit together well, but no matter how harmonious they are, too much of a good thing can be ruinous. "Morphogeneis" is that opening piece that had me thinking this record was going to be absolutely stunning. It's a twelve minute extravaganza of boiling noise, winding chainsaws, and ominous moans blurring the line between the forest and the trees. Strange machines float overhead with their anonymous engines and some kind of hospital machine beeps slowly in a hidden place nearby. The precision of the composition (the way it ebbs and flows, the way the tension builds and receeds) crafts a kind of noble stability out of broken and shattered parts. It's a twelve minute stasis full of haunted ideas and unsure footing. "Shimmer" follows in a similar fashion but somehow feels repetitive, as though it were a remix of the first track with a small group of new sounds added for good measure. The album slowly fades away as the structure of Jasch's songs reach a kind of predictability. There's always a "solo instrument" wandering about in front of the noises that compose the background. There's always some hint of a musical instrument at work and it usually pulses or flows with a distinct rhythm or timing. If I were less picky, these facts would be minor distractions, but I dislike knowing where sound collage is going to go and I really wanted this record to move someplace it just wasn't moving. There's a ton of potential in Jasch's work and I'd love to see something a little less predictable come my way. If he's going to insist on that heavy, pulsing, repetitive sound, then he needs to do more with it and learn how to compose a piece that increases its heaviness as it unfolds. If he's intent on doing something more subconscious and wants to throw the listener off, he needs to do more than add strange, disco-esque sounds into the middle of an extremely moody piece (see the otherwise excellent "Levity's Rainbow"). Establishing a kind of aura that is working through a constant change of sound is one thing, changing the sound so drastically that it makes me forget how great the past six minutes were is another. There's a lot good going on here, but I find these small points sticking to me and forcing me to acknowledge this as a spotty album with both very excellent and only mediocre moments. - Lucas Schleicher
Sluts of Trust, "We Are All Sluts of Trust"
Some bands seem like they have it all figured out ahead of time, like some grand plan or marketing package that can get them into the right clubs or buyer segments. At first glance, Sluts of Trust had that feel to me: raunchy name for just enough controversy; odd publicity photos with bygone era stylings; all the right indie rock credentials, like coming from the right city with the right backing and having very few members like the current band the kids are crazy for. As soon as the music is heard, though, these appearance melt right away in the realization that Sluts of Trust are the real deal, a rock act with fire, talent, and a lot of moxy. The album opens with ferocity, a tight sound, and both laidback Scottish delivery and whooping with occasional wails. The vocals tend to be faded in the mix a bit, like they were delivered with a megaphone across the room from the microphone in the studio, but they can still be understood. Then, inexplicably, at the beginning of the second track, an explosive hair metal guitar lick gives way to an almost funk feel on "Piece of You." The song soars higher and higher as the action builds, only to relax into the same groove. John McFarlane's delivery is almost strained, like he's barely holding it all in, and the instruments sound taxed by the forces that drive them. Sure, there's some comedy afoot ("Tighter Than the Night" is a great example), and the accent is almost purely indecipherable at times or just thickly lathered on for effect. But even when McFarlane screams "Might is right" or "I don't want pain, I want pleasure/We all take the pain if it makes the pleasure better" it sounds sincere enough. "Dominoes" is a definite highlight, with plaintive vocals and gentle guitar breaking into a nice roll that approaches beauty although it never quite gets there. This is a band to watch with anticipation, for sure, and the niche they have found will easily provide them fodder for years to come. - Rob Devlin
Cobra Killer, "76/77"
Writing good music is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Knowing this and considering how easy it has become to make music in a home basement, I shouldn't be surprised that seriously bad songwriting is rearing its ugly head more frequently. Cobra Killer's punkish attitude and total disregard for anything truly igneous creates the kind of sterile environment that could kill any erection and hurl any optimistic, music-loving, passionate human being into the kind of depression that usually ends up stinking of alcohol and all-night country music binges. 76/77 opens up with "Let's Have a Problem," a rhythm-centered exercise in monotone vocals, monotonous loops, and melodies that Paul Oakenfold might've had something to do with. Fortunately this is not an indication of all of what is to come. "Mund Auf - Augen Zu (Stecker Raus, Ich Dreh' Durch)" contains one part catchiness, two parts half-awake vocals, and just a hint of personal satisfaction. It is a simple track that succeeds by sticking to what works... over and over again. It's not the greatest song in the world, but it sticks out like a zit on the face of a Hollywood actress. "Chemie Des Alltags" returns the album to the state of mediocrity that "Let's Have a Problem" made so painfully obvious and, with one exception, the album never really strays away from that blandness. How in the hell "High is the Pine" made it onto this record might as well be one of the nation's greatest mysteries. For just 3 minutes and 14 seconds, Cobra Killer puts away their super-trendy, wanna-be punk 'tude and sings an amazingly gorgeous song with a popping guitar line and swooping strings backed in grandeur by the (gasp!) vocals that actually hint at a melody that doesn't rely on just three tones. The problem with something like this has to be that its all glam and no substance. Regardless of how under MTV's radar it might be, that doesn't change the fact that it's a painful blend of bland writing and fake fucking personality. I'm sick of the posing, I'm sick of the flashy sound effects and "groundbreaking" song structures: these songs (with one exception) have no soul! And, in addition, there's nothing new or surprising here. It's not as though Cobra Killer was trying something new and just failed, 76/77 doesn't do anything that can't be done by any band who has material available at the local mall. - Lucas Schleicher
The Plastic Constellations, "Mazatlan"
It's utterly unfortunate when I can listen to a band and tell either their influences or what band they're trying to sound like on almost every track. Especially when said band shows musicianship and skill that could very well spawn a truly unique and powerful sound. Sadly, this album is not the record that reveals this untapped talent for The Plastic Constellations. A band almost tailor-made to pander to college crowds, the Constellations rely on a humorous outlook and an seemingly endless supply of energy to pound out their mostly derivative rock. The songs never reach past some desire to show off how clever or great the band is, and it falls firmly on its face. Opening track "We Came to Play" is an anthem and a call to arms at the same time, as the band gets "laced up" to face more crowds after facing some level of adversity. The rhymes are tired and weak, and all the song ends up as is self-aggrandizing wordplay. Most of the lyrics, in fact, are written from the band's perspective on a myriad of subjects, some specific and some vague. Sticking by friends, how hard it is to grow up and move on, being away from home, and the urbane desire to show off some gangsta vibe are all discussed, and, truth be told, it's almost no surprise that the band is made up of 22-year-old males. It's typical subject matter for the college crowd, all bravado and little substance, and it comes off like a bad English paper written by someone from Rhode Island who wants to talk about "keeping it real" and being "from the streets." Even the song titles suggest this: "Beats Like You Stole Something," "Evil Groove," and "Keep it Live" are a few examples. Truth be told, the band does have some solid playing, and there are sections of songs that show what potential exists in this group. But it remains aloof, and these songs pose and preen but don't become anything other than vain caricatures. With time, perhaps they'll mature into a solid rock outfit. Until then I'll keep it live elsewhere. - Rob Devlin
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