Friday, February 17, 2012

RECORD REVIEWS - February 2012

There is quite a bit coming in this month and I needed to get it out early as there are some fun record release shows coming up (starting tonight). So here goes...

BOTTLE ROCKET  "The Wolf. The Snake. The Bear."
This four song ep is from a fine Philadelphia band that shares members with the excellent Disco Machine Gun. Since there are only four songs, we can cover them each. "Shake Shake Shake" is about as pure Bob Mould cirka Husker Du as I have heard in a while. It's not 'close your eyes and you'll swear it's them' close, but it shares the edge on the vocals with a catchy rock tune. "Smiling Wolf" goes another direction with a more audacious mix closer to what I recall from Disco Machine Gun. It's a very catchy song with a nice mix of acoustic and electric sounds. The lead vocals are sharp and the backing vocals are dreamy with the drums pounding away like those in the band Ride. But this is not shoegaze, it is gutsy rock music with very clever arrangements. "On the Floor" almost has a tough REM sound going on. This theme continues in a more creative manner in "Ashes" to close out the ep. The songwriting and vocal work are well above average here and the band rocks along smoothly. They can easily pull in the most cynical indie fan out there with this sort of quality. I look forward to their full length efforts.

DENISON WITMER  "The Ones Who Wait"
Denison Witmer is low-key. Not to say he is taking it easy as this is his ninth album in fifteen years. I have not heard enough of his earlier work, but I cannot imagine it being quite as mature as this work. Witmer sounds as if he has put both a lot of living and a lot of thiought into these songs. Playing quieter songs with little accompaniment will of course drill the focus on the songwriting and core melodies. And these melodies easily work their way into your head. Even more effective than the quality core melodies are the smart accompanying sounds. There is a light and airy feeling coupled with spacey strange sounds that keep listeners on edge. Witmer reminds me a bit more like a modern artist such as Alisdair Roberts than some of the folk-rock singer songwriters of old, although clearly the influences are also from that era. No matter the influence and comparisons, Denison Witmer has great command at expressing his music in captivating ways. I will be interested to see how he comes across live when he opens for William Fitzsimmons at the 6th and I Synagogue on February 23rd.

Songs to try out:

Brooklyn with the Highest Wall - Superb arrangements in this song.

Every Passing Day - This song has his usual laconic pace, but drums and the twang of an electric guitar build the tempo up a bit into a low-key Adam Franklin type sound. Lovely effort.

One More Day - This short voice and guitar song has a melody you can drift away with. The deft finger picking is lovely.

This local band has been under my radar until now. From the sounds on their new album, their fourth, it has clearly been my loss. I really like their approach. They use a lot of synthesizer to augment to basic rock band sounds and come up with a pop-rock balance that harkens back to previous eras, but easily fits in with modern listeners. Moira Annelin's lead vocals are excellent and the harmony vocals are carefully used. Their approach updates sixties garage-psyche-pop-rock just as what an excellent band like Circulus did with psyche-folk. In this case, I hear great psyche-pop melodies like many 60s bands did with vocals that remind me a bit of the Peanut Butter Conspiracy (a talented and oft overlooked 60s band). Sweet Interference also employs a progressive touch to their songs and if you are not careful, some thick nearly metal guitar chords will explode at you. When you have this kind of variety, you need the talent to bring it out and the songs to hold it together. Sweet Interference has all of that. The 12 songs on this album will be going on my regular rotation and I will make sure to catch the live show at Iota on March 12th.

Songs to try out:

Monday Morning Recital - The first song of an album usually has the hooks and sounds like a single. True enough here.

Damage Control - Nice catchy song with heavy moves and a duet that reminds me of the vocal work of Dengue Fever.

Minimum Wage - This starts simple and ends as complex as any prog-pop song you can think of. Great vocal work.
CAUSTIC CASANOVA "Someday You Will be Proven Correct"
Long one of my favorite local power trios, it is nice to see them realease this album. The live set has always impressed me with the eclectic manner they mix hard rock, psychedelic rock, alt-metal and quirky songwriting into an original and at times unpredictable set. They recorded this record with J. Robbins at the Board, which usually leads to good results. The results are not only good, but even better than I expected. The sound is strong with great clarity for all instruments. The guitar work is varied with plenty of psychedelic swirl mixed into thick power chords and mobil fingerwork. The bass playing is solid and even heads into John Entwistle territory at times as it thickly carries melodic lines. The drums are strong and hold it all together as you would expect. The vocal work is intense with a twisted sense of humor. At times, they channel one of my favorite hard rock art bands, MX-80 Sound. But there is an accessible quality at work as well that I also have seen in the Entrance Band, another fine modern psychedelic band. This is a highly successful effort that I have already played several times. The album flows well and there is not a bad note in the bunch.

Songs to try out:

Short Commute, Live Forever - This commute has a lot of ess curves, but it is a fun ride.

A Campfire of Your Own Awe - Quiet Sebadoh like head trip breaks up the heavy sounds.

17:59/The Unfathomable Heart - Around eight minutes of psychedelic jams lead into a an even longer song that floats over the landscape before settling into grounded fields of noise.

MOLEHILL "Equinox"
Fans of Muse, take note. Molehill offers some of the biggest pop rock on this side of the Atlantic. Hard to believe this band played the Red Palace stage as it seems designed for echoes in cavernous arenas (not entirely true as I have seen some big sounding pop bands at the Red Palace such as Crocodiles for example). But there are plenty of good indie pop moves  in these songs as well. This is appealing stuff and the ironic thing is how much this stands out from indie rock whereas when I was young, indie rock bands of today would be shocking next to the prog rock and dense pop music that held on to the airwaves. There were times when I cried out for some variety in addition to a couple of instrumental interludes, one appropriately titled "Interlude". But the for the most part this was a sumptuous meal with enough taste to keep me digging in.

Songs to try out:

No Reprieve - The big sound will hit you hard with gorgeous Matt Bellamy/Freddie Mercury style vocal work.

Almost Broken (Heroes) - Good classic rock beginning moving into epic territory as it continues.

Someone Better - I like this closer as it has some subtlety in the verses and a nice big chorus.

LENORABLE "The Prince" ep

I often find some bands remind me of Siouxsie and the Banshees and in particular, their great album "Kaleidoscope", but rarely has anything sounded like quality outtakes from that album. The vocals are a little bit edgier here, subtle but edge is there. The drums are heavy on an electronic high pitched snare, but that guitar and bass work dance around like McGeough and Severin did so well, so many years ago. But this is not merely a retro release by this DC duo. The sounds are fresh and the vocals chilling. The themes are Poe-based which is highly appropriate for their style. I liked "Ligeia" which manages to sound thick while keeping some distinct space between the instruments. over six and three quarters minutes. This three-song ep is out February 29th and is well worth a listen. And you can also see them live at the Black Cat on February 28th.

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