Hall and Oates, Do It For Love (UWatch Records)
The state of music is in constant flux, and lately, it seems things are just getting back on track. Oh yeah, there was almost an overdose of saccharin-laced pop, all that Britney-type stuff, the pop solo artists and constructed groups, shelling out music with such a brittle sheen you could crack it with a hammer. Melodies and hooks that came as quickly as they went, inspiring the average shlubb to think maybe he or she could do it as well, and voila, you get "American Idol," where wannabees tell a potential producer he doesn't know what he's talking about. So why the rant? Well, in front of me is the new Hall and Oates disc, and while their audience might be similar to the Britney crowd (or maybe their parents), their approach to music is substantially different than those songs penned in a mill someplace.
Further, it's their execution of the songs that provides the listener a lesson in what to do and what not to do. Vocals are soulful, for example, and you don't find that "I can hit as many notes as possible" approach that the youngsters often employ when trying to sound like they feel emotion. Sincerity requires restraint; and when Daryl Hall sings on "Getaway Car," a mid-tempo ballad, "We can run away, Baby come as you are, You can look at my heart, As your getaway car," your ear might be tempted to expect the by now commonplace vocal histrionics (along with that idiotic hand gesture indicating placement of the notes). Instead, Hall teases the notes, approaching tones from a whisper, quivering slightly, employing breathy releases, and so on (and I'm guessing he doesn't do that hand thing).
A song like the title track is vintage Hall and Oates, featuring a nice chord progression culminating in a shimmering chorus, Hall's voice venturing into the brink of falsetto. The balance of the instrumentation is there as well; the prominent acoustic guitar strumming, an electric guitar running notes here and there, distorted but low chords in the chorus, the keyboard strings build, nothing overplayed, no wasted notes. The following number, "Someday We'll Know," is also reminiscent of their glory days in the '80s, vocal chores are split, but mesh seamlessly, and then, hey, surprise, a visit from Todd Rundgren on guitar, who still knows all the right notes, and manages to smoke in a limited space.
While not every song on the disc is a killer, and some tunes are a bit too light for my taste ("Intuition," for example, a tad too cheesy), the strengths of the duo continue to shine. The solid R&B sound, with its Philadelphia roots, provide a strong foundation, the arrangements of the songs, and in particular, the restraint involved and proper placement of kicks and fills, are a delight for the listener, and as always, the vocals and Hall's treatment of lyrics are always a pleasure to listen to. In a world where the popularity of the Britneys in the marketplace is just starting to fade, Hall and Oates may or may not find a public eager to buy their disc. If not, it would be a shame indeed. But for those who do seek the latest from an outfit that's been plugging away for a long time, the reward is subtle yet satisfying, knowing that substance still counts, at least in the world of Hall and Oates.
The Ravonettes, Whip It On (The Orchard Label)
For those of you who assume this album is a bunch of hot chicks singing about dildo sex, I hate to piss on your parade. The Ravonettes are Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo, a female-male duo from Denmark. They look like a real-life version of the Avengers, if the Avengers' territory were club land. Whip It On is more or less 21 minutes of the same song. Granted, the album is subtitled Recorded in Glorious B Minor, so similarity is expected. Thankfully, the song is pretty spiffy.
Primed for a Mitsubishi commercial with noirish, sexy undertones, the album coasts with understated bravado. Remember the music from Pulp Fiction when John Travolta drives while smacked out of his skull in his cool convertible to pick up Uma Thurman? The Ravonettes took that music and expounded on it. Industrial fuzz and treacherous riffing blanket the album, while the duo's deadpan vocals send a shiver through each track. "Attack of the Ghost Riders"(look for the video on MTV) coasts cleanly into "Veronica Fever" and picks up with a psychedelic cymbal shimmy on "Cops on Our Tail." There's a slight change of pace on "Bowels of the Beast" (unfortunately not a reference to Saddam's gastrointestinal plumbing), but overall there's not a lot of variety in tempo. The allure of Whip It On lies in a catatonic yet kinetic glaze over the music, like stoned go-go girls doing the frug.
Oleander, Joyride (Sanctuary Records)
Don't ask me why, but when the opener on the new Oleander disc starts playing, I hear Mickey Dolenz singing the theme song to the Monkees "Here we come, walking down the street, get the funniest looks from..." Of course, that's not what singer guitarist Thomas Flowers is singing at all, but it's the slow buildup and the kind of breathy, whispered introduction that sparks the similarities. And there isn't another moment like that for me on the rest of the disc, as the quartet plays some hard-charging, grunge-infused rock and roll. You can hear the West Coast influence, shades of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, that heavy yet dark melodic rock, not infected with hoarse screaming or profanities as other bands are wont to do.
And just as the current glut of punk bands share a certain generic sound, with a batch of up-tempo, over-produced, hyper-caffeinated tunes, so Oleander run a risk of losing their identity in the current rock market. On a song like "30 60 90," a rousing rocker that throbs with a good dose of funkiness, I can't help but think of Alice in Chains. And it's not the band's fault that they wrote a great song that rocks but happens to sound like someone else. Well, okay, maybe it is their fault, but I think they may get skewered a bit by the comparison. On "Rainy Day," the band uses dynamics, beginning with an acoustic guitar with some electric lines in the background, creating a laid-back, ethereal feel before unleashing a heavy chorus featuring distorted guitars, while keeping the vocals way out front. And though this may not be the band's favorite cut (I'm guessing here), it does more to distinguish them from the crowd than the heavier stuff.
But the heavy stuff is where they seem to enjoy hanging, and their songs are more melodic than many heavy hitters. "Better Luck Next Time" is a prime example, more pop based than heavy rock, with vocal layers in the chorus that shine brightly. And while the undercurrent is bubbly and serves to keep the beat moving forward, the number is almost too slickly produced. It makes me wonder what the band would sound like with a more straight-ahead, live-in-the-studio sound. Those feelings aside, if you can brush off thoughts about stylistic influences, the disc by Oleander is varied and engaging, and more than enough to get the blood flowing on a cold day. The guitar work of Flowers and Ric Ivanisevich is rock solid, and the rhythm section of bassist Doug Eldridge and drummer Scott Devours pounds with authority. There are indications that the band is capable of moving in various directions (the closing cut,
"Runaway Train," is a pleasing, mostly acoustic number, that eventually gets heavy), and the songwriting is solid enough to garner attention, and deservedly so. It's a solid disc that will probably grow on me as time goes by, and might do the same to you.
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