March 22, 2001, by Bill Ribas
The Sheila Divine, Where Have My Countrymen Gone
Liz Skillman and Joaquim, In the Middle
Edible Red, Edible Red
Drums and Tuba, Vinyl Killer
Wolfpac, Evil Is...
Flybanger, Headtrip to Nowhere
Professor and Maryann, Professor and Maryann
Greg Howard Band, Lift
Various Artists, Aware 8 The Compliation
Club d'Elf, As Above: Live at the Lizard Lounge
The Sheila Divine, Where Have My Countrymen Gone (© 2001 The Sheila Divine)
Here's a must-have disc for fans of moody, haunting, yet charged rock. Think early U2 gets together with the Smashing Pumpkins to record Radiohead's OK Computer, and you'll have an idea. The sound is big, lush, and the songs are so inviting that it's hard to get to some of the latter tracks on the disc, since you just keep playing them over and over. The Boston quartet's sophomore effort features vocalist/guitarist Aaron Perrino, bassist Jim Gilbert, drummer Shawn Sears, and newly added guitarist Colin Decker. Perrino's vocals have that big emotional sound, like the world just dumped on him (but he still has his songs, damn it!), and there's even that classic mumbling/unintelligible wailing a la early Michael Stipe/Thom Yorke. Sonically, it's got the grab and punch of U2's first effort, and if you were around for that one, you'll know what I'm talking about. If not, get this disc now.
Liz Skillman and Joaquim, In the Middle (© 2001 Hermione Records)
The music is light in a sense clean electric guitar, drums, bass, all sparingly open yet filling, a kind of Joni Mitchell looseness. Skillman's vocals, however, resemble that of a young Marianne Faithful, without the carton-of-cigarettes edge to it. Don't worry though, there's enough of a growl to give it the needed toughness. And yet on a song like "Leave," her voice seems to struggle to be heard. The tune is heavier, with some nice lead guitar work by Adrian Henke. Skillman's lyrics and pacing seem troubled on this song as well, pausing in spots, sounding somewhat awkward. "House of the Rising Sun" follows, and I thought, man, not this tired tune again. But here she shines, putting her voice to good work, singing so sadly that you want to call the suicide hotline for her. It's a low-key and quirky disc overall, and if you like that faithful voice, you know what to do.
Edible Red, Edible Red (© 2000 Size Thirteen Records)
Singer Collette's voice seems to change more than that national debt clock going from playful and coy to whispering to screeching, often in the same verse. While the vocal variety may drive some people nuts, others will fall in love with her capriciousness. Me? I'm on the fence with this one. When she does get gritty, as on "Stay Down," her voice seems a bit thin, and she loses me. On "California," though, she raps (sort of) and ahhs and oohs her way into my heart, at times sounding so flirtatious she drives you nuts. The boys in the band do a good job of backing her up, with Tom Papadatos on drums, Roberto Ruiz on bass, and Brian Zipin on guitar. The songs are more poetic than hooky, which of course forces you to listen to her voice, and thus you'll have to make up your own mind about her.
Miro, Subtidal (© 2001 Varunee Recording Group)
You know, just the other day I was thinking about a Moog synthesizer I had way back when, and now here's Miro with a subdued disc using a Moog in spots. Miro is Joon Hong and Chokdee Rutirasiri, and they took their time (two years) to get this disc together. The result is a strange, at times sparse, electronic junket. With not much in the way of vocals, and a variety of beeps, glitches, and other random sounds, it kind of begs the question, "Is this music?" And even though it's not laden with "Yeah, yeah, yeah" choruses, you'll find your mood altered by the nine cuts here, and that's one of its qualities. Nothing ground-breaking here, but if you like moody, sparse, electronic stuff, you're in luck.
Drums and Tuba, Vinyl Killer (© 2001 Righteous Babe Records)
Drums and Tuba (and guitar actually). Toss in a trumpet and trombone too. In its essence, the band is Brian Wolff on the horns, Tony Nozero on drums, and Neal McKeeby on guitars. What they play is a bit hard to describe, a mix of jazz, rock, and funk, but quite unlike anything I've heard before, with the emphasis on quite. As the songs start, Wolff may lay down a line, then sample it, play on top of it, and run his horns through a variety of pedals. The three play off each other well, the dynamics rise and fall, and all the time you're thinking, drums and tuba and guitar? No way. I say, yes way. Produced and mixed by Andrew "Goat Boy" Gilchrist and Ani DiFranco on the latter's Righteous Babe label. This has to be heard to be believed.
Unloco, Healing (© 2001 Maverick Records)
Hey, rock-and-roll dreams really do come true. Four days after guitarist Brian Arthur tossed a demo CD to a band whose singer turned out to be an A&R guy, Unloco was signed. And before they even got down to recording the disc, they cut a tune for the Little Nicky soundtrack. As for the music, it's dark and heavy, kind of like Alice in Chains or Tool, but not horribly overproduced and murky. Vocalist Joey Duenas doesn't scream all the time, like so many metal bands of late feel obliged to do. And that's what seems to set this Austin band apart from the crowd. They can play it heavy, but they can also bring it down, and don't have to blast away on all the tunes all the time. That's refreshing.
Wolfpac, Evil Is... (© 2000 Megaforce Records)
For all the stink over Eminem and his gay-bashing, misogynist lyrics, Wolfpac makes him seem like a good little altar boy in comparison. The five MCs and one DJ have tremendous grooves and the rapping really kicks. What most people will have trouble with, however, is the lyrics, as in the opener, "Something Wicked This Way Comes," "One quick slice to her soft chest/ Daddy always knows best/ One quick slice to her supple breast/ Fuck it, we're chopping up the rest." And that's some of the tamer stuff. Shakespeare, it ain't. Other songs deal with necrophelia, senseless violence, and some general nasty misogynist ramblings. Are they serious, or is it all a put-on? Not sure, but if it is a joke, I don't get it. East Coast angst? Can't say. Too many horror movies? Maybe. It's a shame too, since these guys can really lay down a groove. Don't forget to check the liner to order your "It ain't rape if it's dead" T-shirt.
Flybanger, Headtrip to Nowhere (© 2000 Sony Music)
While lately most metal bands veer toward hardcore, or use DJs to inject hip-hop life into breaks, Flybanger chooses to interject melody and hooks. Sure, they're still kind of angry, as vocalist Garth screams at times, in a gruff, standard metal-belching delivery, but they seem more intent on rocking than threatening the listener. Maybe it's a Canadian thing, since the band hails from Vancouver. Guitarist Bryan Fratesi rips some solid leads, and can chunk out the power rhythm chords, while Rob Wade on drums and Tom McDonald on bass keep the low and steady groove happening. Produced by Matt Wallace (Faith No More, Deftones) with a guest appearance by Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin on two cuts, the dozen songs here are a sound addition to your metal collection. Party on guys.
Professor and Maryann, Professor and Maryann (© 2000 Ken Rockwood)
Undoubtedly, the time they spent stranded on the island helped this duo hone their minimalist sound. Seriously though, Ken Rockwood covers the guitar parts and sings backup, while Danielle Brancaccio sings lead, and the sparseness grabs your attention. After all the overproduced stuff I've been hearing lately, this disc is kind of like going from a seven course meal to a cup of tea. But, in this case, the cup of tea is refreshing and elegant. Rockwood's guitar work is simple, often just chord arpeggios, yet it works well, since the lyrics are poetic and thoughtful, telling of New York stories, bank heists and more. Brancaccio's voice is breathy with an edge, often with an attitude, as if she's been hurt or knows more about the story she's singing than she's letting on. Songs range from folky to a Gershwin-like swing to Latin influenced, and then some. Clean and simple, and a well done effort.
Greg Howard Band, Lift (© 2000 Demitasse Music)
Howard plays the Chapman Stick, and before you start thinking of some goofy sexual euphemism, the Stick is a ten-string instrument that sounds like a guitar or bass or keyboard, depending on the strings being plucked, tapped, or whatever. Howard has paid his dues with the Stick, put out half a dozen discs or so, recorded with the Dave Matthews Band, heck, even written a book on how to play the thing. With his new lineup of Jan Wolfkamp on drums, Hubert Heeringa on saxes, violin, and synth, and Jan van Olffen on bass, Howard steps boldly into the jazz-fusion arena, where rock meets jazz meets Latin meets Eastern, and it all pulls together somehow. About half the songs are on the short side, around three minutes, while the long ones average seven-and-a-half. The shorter stuff gets to the point quickly, while the longer tunes build and jam more, letting the instruments build off each other. Cool in a beat-poet kind of way.
Various Artists, Aware 8 The Compilation (© 2000 Aware)
In 1993, Gregg Latterman started up Aware Records. He figured he'd find unsigned talent (good unsigned talent, that is), and spread the word by putting them all on a compilation CD. Since over half the bands (well, through number six) have gone on to sign with major labels, seems Latterman must know what he's doing. I'll just talk about the flavor on this disc (rather than single out an artist or two): It's melodic, hook-driven, and rootsy rock and roll. Songs that grab you, songs you can sing along with, songs that get stuck in your head. Music you can play over and over and not get tired of. Get the picture? Yeah, well, uneven as some compilations can be, there's not a bad song out of the 15 here, and enough variety to keep you interested the whole way through. So there.
Club d'Elf, As Above: Live at the Lizard Lounge (© 2000 Grapeshot Media/Micro Music)
If you watched the Ken Burn's Jazz special on PBS, you might have thought jazz was headed for the graveyard after ailing for the last 30 or 40 years. But dry your eyes, and don't believe everything you see or hear. Club d'Elf went public in 1998 at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, and has slowly and steadily built a following, both on and off stage. Bassist Mike Rivard is the frontman for this free-flowing group, a sort of jazz/trance groove open jam that attracts some major players. You'll hear the pros who've played with Bowie, the Stones, Miles Davis, Sting, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and Ornette Coleman (just to name a few) sitting in and going wild. There's sampling, scratching, and all sorts of aural fireworks across the two CDs here. You tend to lose track of time while listening. And that's way cool.
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