Our Lady Peace, Gravity (Columbia)
OLP return to the scene with a new disc that, though one would classify as alternative, manages to stand somewhat apart from the mainstream alternative crowd. Oh, it's rock when you strip everything away, but the progressions are a bit more varied than your standard 1-4-5, and emotionally, there is a wider spectrum of feelings that come through. Yet there's something about the sound that gives it a quality unlike the peppy packaged tunes currently on the airwaves. Hard to pin down, but it's just slightly different, and after a bunch of listens I still can't figure out what makes me think that.
Anyway, the projected single for the disc is "Somewhere Out There," which has the guitars with that big, chunky, 4 x 12 cabinet guitar sound, and Raine Maida's voice has that whiny snarl, that teenage moan you get when a kid is told to mow the lawn and hits back with "Do I have to?" But there are also keyboard strings weaving about, acoustic guitar strumming, and other bits and pieces, so when the chorus flows in, it all fits together. The song has a Brit twinge to it, with shades of early Bush.
"Made of Steel" is another accessible song, and sounds like it was built for the radio more than the slated single. Right from the start, as a guitar lead plays the hook over the intro, you'll be nodding your head in time as the chords crash like waves on a beach. And as they work toward the chorus, the music swells, and, bam, there's that guitar hook again, before breaking it down for a quick quiet part and heading back to the verses.
Now that I'm thinking, it's probably the keyboards that give it a different sound than the bulk of the alternative stuff out there now. By using the keys in an ethereal fashion, hovering around a few notes in verses, the band can minimize the guitar work, so that when choruses come along and everyone plays, there's a heavier dynamic. Such is the case on "Not Enough," which follows that formula, and proves its effectiveness on the listener. Oh, those crafty Canadians.
The ten songs here may not have you racing north across the border and switching your citizenship, but the band does manage to serve up much better than average rock with an alternative slant. Vocals are edgy without being annoying, the guitars are heavy, yet restrained, the rhythm section holds its own, and the band really knows how to work the dynamics. What else do you need?
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Jerry Cantrell, Degradation Trip (Roadrunner)
There's an ominous feeling one gets after listening to Cantrell's latest. The 14 numbers are heavy, weighted pieces that exude a gloominess almost to the point of being oppressive. And sure, the recent death of Layne Staley, former Alice in Chains singer, will most likely cast a shadow on the release of this disc, and will doubtless be mentioned by all reviewers (hey, I just did). And similar to Lynyrd Skynyrd's final album where they all stood enveloped in flames shortly before the plane crash, the cover of this disc finds a hand with guitar strings going back into the forearm where you'd use a needle to give yourself drugs. It was probably meant to imply that guitar playing is Cantrell's drug of choice, but you can't help thinking about the weirdness of it all. And I'm not even mentioning the body shots that resemble morgue photos and serve as a backdrop to the song titles and lyrics in the liner. Suffice it to say, it's a bit creepy.
And creepiness, or darkness, that Seattle sound, call it what you want, is pervasive here. You won't find a song you'll be humming on a spring day as you walk along the street. The material is better suited for a rainy day in the fall, or for those lonely wee hours of desperation. Joining Cantrell on this trip are bassist Robert Trujillo and drummer Mike Bordin, both veterans of Ozzy's band.
With the opener, "Psychotic Break," the dreariness begins, as Cantrell sings, "Feel like a psychotic break comin' on, chalking up my dead friends, and loved ones long gone." The song is slow paced, with a repetitive or looped guitar riff that marches on, and the vocals, like AIC were often wont to do, are harmonized with a heavy fifth sound.
By "Anger Rising," you can feel the darkness closing in. Cantrell closes the first verse with, "By the way, father, could you please beat me some more," and it doesn't get much happier. The song, which starts off with an acoustic guitar, soon gives way to a chunky electric riff. When the lead break comes, I would have expected a more psychotic explosion of notes, given the disc and Cantrell's history, but the fretboard flurry is more reserved.
Perhaps the most balanced and peppy tune on the disc is "Give It a Name," with acoustic guitars getting more airtime than the electrics. Also, this tune finds Cantrell deftly using a wah pedal during the first half of the lead. With all these elements and some vocal doubling at work, the song is not so much of a downer.
It's hard to tell if Cantrell is continuing the AIC thing on his own, or if that's all he knows or wants. Fans of his former band will certainly be at ease with the disc, as the territory is familiar ground. Most band members, when they head out on their own, chart new courses. Cantrell's tack, however, seems to be to remain close to the old stuff. Keep in mind though, in this case, that's not a bad thing.
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The Breeders, Title TK (Elektra)
"I'm leaking pure white noise," sings Kim Deal on the Breeders new Title TK. But the noise isn't so noisy, despite the fact that producer Steve Albini is back at the helm, as he was for their 1990 debut Pod. With guitarist Richard Presley, bassist Mando Lopez, drummer Jose Medeles, and Kim's twin sister Kelley on guitars and backing vocals, Kim Deal's third offering is full of simple, vigorous strumming and paced beats that sound ripped open and stitched back together.
Title TK is far from spitting in a wishing well or suing saints, but it is closer to the spirit of Deal than anything from among the Pixies years, the Amps' Pacer, or old Breeders stuff. This is a convoluted album, no matter how stripped and basic it initially sounds. "Little Fury," "London Song," and "Too Alive" latch onto the high frequency, idiosyncratic energy that teemed from Last Splash. The guitars crinkle and buzz, and harmonies are hurled side to side. "Huffer" is pure Kim-and-Kelley-Deal frivolity, packed with da-da's and ah-ah's that'll have your eyes swimming in your head. The shared vocals by the twins mirror a kind of conscious-meets-subconscious tension. Title TK's lyrics are more personal the pronoun "I" is all over the place in almost-revealing contexts.
But all you have to do to absorb the manic charm of this songwriter is listen to Deal sing "The She" or "Off You," a droopy, tender, sigh-inducing song, the kind that makes you want to throw your arms around it.
Nashville Pussy, Say Something Nasty (Artemis)
They've been on tour non-stop since 1996. That's six years. Six effing years. Maybe that's partially to blame for the lackluster sound of the raunchy southern rock on Nashville Pussy's third album, Say Something Nasty. No longer channeling the speed metal of Motorhead, this new album just doesn't explode out of the starting gate like you'd expect. Nashville Pussy's filthy humor will keep that shit-eating grin on your face, but the music simply doesn't dethrone the frantic energy of their debut Let Them Eat Pussy. Singer/guitarist Blaine Cartwright's voice is, at times, painful to listen to. His gravelly vocals are so strained and curdled that I found myself trying to clear my throat while listening to him sing. These new songs don't scorch. They'll just give you rug burn.
That's not to say the band Cartwright, lead guitarist Ruyter Suys, bassist Tracy Almazan (recent line-up change has Katie Lynn Campbell on bass), and drummer Jeremy Thompson didn't carve out some songs that'll kick you in the nuts. The wily guitars on "The Bitch Just Kicked Me Out" and "Jack Shack" cut shit up and down, and "Here's to Your Destruction" has some ass-spankin' country-jiggy riffs (or something like that). Speaking of jiggy, there's a spirited cover of "Rock 'n' Roll Hoochie Coo" by Johnny Winter and Rick Derringer that (sorta) borders on funky. Wicked and funny though they are, the chant-along porn anthems like the title track and the charming "Keep on Fucking" are probably much more effective when performed live.
Nashville Pussy have the potential to be much craftier than Say Something Nasty would have you believe. There's rock 'n' roll, and then there's rock 'n' effing roll.
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