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NY Rock Street Beat: Reviews of Unsigned, Newly Signed and Independent Label Bands
April 22, 2001, by Bill Ribas

CD Reviews:
King, Time Move Over
Reese, Eclectic Soul
Modesty Blaze, What I Am Is Not
Vulgar Pigeons, Genetic Predisposition
Tera, Alien Lovers
Pontius Copilot, Madagascar
Michael Shelley, I Blame You
Electro Organic Sound System, Roots Wreck Remix
Levelnine, Moss
Endo, Evolve
Garageland, Do What You Want
Pete Diamond, Funny Cry Happy Gift
Reid Paley, Revival

King, Time Move Over  (© 2001 Grapeshot Media)

With the Perfect Storm subsiding from book charts and video reviews, there now comes another reason to look to Gloucester, Massachusetts – the band King and its latest release. Dan King's voice wavers between a grungy wail and an emotion-filled drone, a la Tom Waits or Little Steven, but he feels what he sings, and that makes him worth listening to. Though some songs have a sea-shanty lilt to them, overall, the feeling is rootsy, earthy rock – not too folky, not too electric. The tunes are as comfortable to slip into as that velvety pair of jeans you put on when you want to lay around the house all day. An energetic cover of the Beatles' "Good Morning" seems out of place, as the band's own songs are strong enough on their own, making this a near-perfect disc.

Reese, Eclectic Soul  (© 2001 Exile Records)

The Brooklyn born singer/guitarist makes a strong statement with his third release, a mix of soulful folk and rock that may remind some of Lenny Kravitz. It's a fair comparison too; both have strong voices, suitable for a variety of genres, and the sounds are similar as well. "Some Won't Have Tomorrow" is a solid, catchy tune, not in a poppy vein, but more in a songwriting sense of style and construction. "I Can't See You" uses a '60s psychedelic feel – think of the musical Hair – which showcases Reese's gravelly voice. If there's a drawback at all, it's that the production is muddy on some tracks, and the high end isn't there, just a lack of brightness. Then again, my copy was a burned pre-release, so that may not be the case. In any event, Reese will have Lenny looking over his shoulder.

Modesty Blaze, What I Am Is Not  (© Bill Hall)

As the opener, "About," gets to speed, singer Carole laments, "What's wrong here is all the usual bullshit." There's emphasis on that last word, and it's a bit of a shock to hear a pop record open that way. Where did all the love go? Anyway, the band goes back a few years, when guitarist/bassist Bill Hall was looking for a way to get his music out. And Hall can pen some decent pop tunes. Singer Carole has a powerful voice, no doubt about it, as she belts away on tunes like "August" or "Home." But at times, her pipes seem more suited for the theater, too big and bold for the pop-rock arena. It's not annoying, or something that can't be overcome, more like something that just sounds out of place, and you can't quite figure out what it is.

Vulgar Pigeons, Genetic Predisposition  (© 2000 Howling Bill America)

This San Fran outfit takes the cake for being the most bizarre hardcore group I've ever heard. The first four cuts sound essentially the same, with the fastest drumming in the West, senseless screaming vocals, and seriously distorted guitar and bass. This is the kind of stuff that kids wake up their dads with at two in the morning. The songs, a term used loosely, had me laughing, since they are so far off the norm. I had trouble imagining what band practice would be like, or what the creative process would be. I'm sure even death-metal or hardcore fans would put this at the far end of the spectrum. For the sheer sonic audacity alone, the Vulgar Pigeons get a gold star. This is definitely not for the meek or those who appreciate melody.

Tera, Alien Lovers  (© 2000 Lofish Music)

If you like jazz-rock of the Steely Dan variety, Tera might be a good pickup for you (for one, she's a lot better looking than Donald Fagen). The native Austrian has been singing since the tender age of six, and has recently graced some prime clubs in NY as well as appeared at jazz festivals here and abroad. The tunes are jazz influenced and Tera's voice is strong enough to keep pace. It's a bit lower in the register than you might imagine, but never gets lost in the mix. Kind of like Sade. Keyboards and production are by Walter Fischbacher, and a healthy tip of the hat to him and the band for a flawless performance. Both Tera and Fischbacher previously worked together on Perfect Roommates as a duo. The addition of a band should help them considerably.

Pontius Copilot, Madagascar  (© 2000 Hello Records)

Back when the term "indie music" wasn't applied so liberally and inferred some sort of meaning, it would have easily described Pontius Copilot. Going back to bands like the db's, the Pixies, Pavement and their ilk, Pontius Copilot blaze through a dozen tunes that are energetic, unpredictable, poppy, and a heck of a lot of fun. Sure, they've all adopted the same last name ("Pilot") like you-know-who first did. But they've got a wacky sense of humor (the album title has nothing to do whatsoever with anything, and it's called "In Madagascar" on the disc itself). Their lyrics are smart and snappy. They can play their instruments, though at times it sounds like they're losing control. Need more? Get the disc yourself.

Michael Shelley, I Blame You  (© 2001 Bar/None Records)

A splendid, if quirky, mixture of British-styled pop and They Might Be Giants American-style wackiness. For the dozen tunes presented here, you get a feeling of too much fun, a mirthful blend of humor and solid songwriting. Part of the attraction is the clean sound, along with those vintage keyboards like a Farfisa organ and Mellotron, among others. Shelley knows how to craft a good song, and is quite adept at layering instruments and voices. When things build up, it's often the simple addition of backing vocals that help the swell. The disc features drummer Dennis Diken (Smithereens) and bassist Jon Lee (Mercybuckets) as the rhythm section. The production shines, which is impressive, considering Shelley did a lot of it in his Brooklyn apartment. Smart and fun, through and through.

Electro Organic Sound System, Roots Wreck Remix  (© 2000 Bliss Recordings)

EOSS is Jake Trussel, a drummer/keyboardist with a knack for sampling. The electronica here is cut into three parts – the "Roots" section pays tribute to his influences and predecessors, the "Wreck" portion embraces a lo-fi approach, and the "Remix" part consists of two remixes, one by Tube, the other by Hrvatski. This is not your run-of-the-mill rave-club dance mix, as EOSS ventures into intelligent directions, veering more towards John Cage at times than a cell-phone commercial soundtrack. The tunes do get trance-like, and, personally, the lo-fi drums that clip and distort bother me, but then I'm not an ecstasy-popping mad-rave dancer. Cool stuff, but not for everyone.

Levelnine, Moss  (© 2001 Levelnine)

Levelnine sound creepy and cryptic enough to be a heavy-metal force, if it weren't for the restraint put on the guitars. Most bands in a similar vein record the guitar and bass all distorted and upfront, way upfront, but Levelnine take a different tack, and seem to have put leashes on everyone except for vocalist Chris Charlton. The result is that you're not being bashed around the ears relentlessly, and the minor-key music has a chance to seep its way into your head. Sounding a bit like Tool, the Cincinnati outfit has made a respectable disc. Plusses to guitarist Chris McGhee for his introspective fretboard work, and Marc Sherlock for some nice rhythmic drumming and fills. Bassist Steve Streit is no slouch either.

Endo, Evolve  (© 2001 Sony Music Ent.)

If you're looking for some energetic, heavy, hard-ass rock, well, Endo are like a cup of coffee thrown in your face. Given the current heavy-metal environment, where so much is sounding alike these days, it's perhaps a difficult path to go down, what with all the screaming vocals and fast, thick power chords on detuned seven-string guitars. And there's a lot of that in Endo, although they do break it up enough, with the vocals alternating between primal screams and rapping. Likewise, the band entertains some funky breaks, as on the opener, "Mindset." These stylistic variations work in their favor, setting them apart from the many one-dimensional bands out there. The result is a heavy and unforgiving offering for the metal-inclined set.

Garageland, Do What You Want  (© 2000 Foodchain Records)

With "Love Song," you'll undoubtedly have visions of the Pixies dancing in your head, and that's good news for fans of the musical styling of the latter group. "Love Song" mixes beautiful, bright, poppy beats with a scathing and distorted chaos in the form of frenetic choruses. For "Trashcans," clean, chorused guitars jangle their way into your heart, disturbed only by a fuzzed guitar solo near the end. And so on. The guitars seem to wash over you as they come out of the speakers. The sound is big, but not muddy. An interesting side note for the New Zealand band is that their US label,, is selling their disc for just $6.99 via the website, or $4.99 for downloading. The band and the label split the cash 50/50. That strategy, like the band's music, is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Pete Diamond, Funny Cry Happy Gift  (© 2000 Red Delicious Records)

Here's another welcome collection of solid pop songs. Diamond was formerly with Red Betty, and has lifted former bandmates Ed Matthiak (bass) and Paul Kane (drums) for his solo effort. At times, as on "A for Apple," his voice resonates a bit like Tom Petty, but the music is more pop, more hook-filled, without that classic rock sound. You can hear influences in his songs – like Petty or George Harrison – but they don't overshadow his songwriting. "Feel My Way Through" is a rootsy rocker that may remind you of the Replacements, but stands on its own nicely, and probably sounds better live and loud. And, hey, if you're ever trawling down 14th Street, look for the awning over a gift shop from which Diamond copped the title. Really.

Reid Paley, Revival  (© 2000 EMusic)

When you think of honesty in music, and whiskey, Tom Waits comes to mind. If you add guitar playing, you're talking Brooklyn's Reid Paley, who bashes his Gretsch and barrels through vocals with all the restraint of a deranged homeless man barking for change during rush hour. The songs are direct, like a punch to the gut, and sure, a lot of them deal with drinking, but despite being raw and alcohol-fueled, Paley is a poetic figure, sad and tragic, yet loveable. If Bukowski ever strapped on a guitar, he'd pound out something like this. Produced by Frank Black of the Pixies, the sound is straight ahead, as if Paley were sitting right in front of you with a bottle of whiskey, playing just for you. Good news is you don't have to pick up his tab.

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