April 1, 2002, by Bill Ribas
April 2002 CD Reviews:
Ultrapull, From All Directions
Snowdogs, Animal Farm
Mike Fillius, Mike Fillius
Eamon O'Tuama, Behind Every Life
Linea 77, Ketchup Suicide
The Maroons, You're Gonna Ruin Everything
Five Pointe O, Untitled
AntiProduct, This Is How We Buy the Van E.P.
Danielle Howle and the Tantrums, Skorborealis
Moodroom, Hung Up on Breathing
The Dragons, Rock 'n' Roll Kamikaze
The Gadjits, Today Is My Day
Human Factor, Human Factor
Schatzi, Fifty Reasons to Explode
Knievel, The Name Rings a Bell That Drowns Out Your Voice
The Wobblies, Padron
Pure 13, Numb
Ultrapull, From All Directions (© 2002 Gold Circle Records)
Though pop/rock/punk bands like Blink-182 saturate the radio waves with essentially a few songs (well, let's just say there's not a lot of variety in their catalog), bands are starting to surface that have more versatility, and hell, more intelligence. Ultrapull are one example. They rock, sure, and they also play big, orchestrated ballads, with guitar hooks running rampant, and vocals as smooth as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Frontman Dale Everett has a voice that doesn't whine or scream, emotes the pain, and yet is sweet when necessary. Guitarist Gerard Garcia plays solid and stellar, rhythm or lead. Bassist Pete Griffin and drummer Harry Meguerdichian complete the lineup. The result is a strong pop rock effort that's silky smooth and a blast to listen to.
Hedder, Ventilate (© 2002 Gold Circle Records)
First off, for a trio, these guys really kick. The band blitzes through 11 tunes based on '70s rock with a good dosage of funk tossed in. Together for ten years, Hedder are finally slicing their way into the big-time, and with their sound they should hang on for awhile. Initially based in Illinois, they wound up cutting their teeth in Austin, and the move seems to have paid off. On a driving song like "Too Many Holes," a wicked sustaining guitar floats in the background before the chorus crashes in. It's not all funk rock though, more like rock with an edge, and there's a dark, Alice-in-Chains feel way in the back. The boys can write a radio-friendly rocker too, as "Save Your Face" shows. Sometimes it's hard to believe there are just three guys at work, the sound is so huge, and that's a compliment.
Luna, Romantica (© 2002 JetSet Records)
You know, when you get a disc for review and you don't get any press or bio, or they say check the web for more info, it's frustrating. I'd say it really pisses me off, but I'm listening to Luna's latest, and though I'll need to check the web for info about the band, the music is, well, like a good buzz. Nothing overindulgent, kind of like that giddy feeling when you're about two sips into your second beer, and everything is just fine. To label it, you might call it indie art rock. It's a smart piece of work, as songs waft like a Bahama breeze, lyrics can be intelligent or funny, like on the title cut: "I'm in a jam, you're in a pickle, we're in a stew." You get a sense that the band is smart, and dedicated. They're good players; the production is great, just a wonderful disc from top to bottom. And, oh, check the website for info.
Snowdogs, Animal Farm (© 2002 Victory Records)
What we have here is a stateside re-release of a disc that originally saw the light of day across the pond a few years back. The good news is that it's not stale the trio of Benjy Reid and brothers Ville and Mat Leppanen write up-tempo, pop-punk numbers that whiz by. Though the production sounds a bit flat in spots, uneven here and there, there's a ton of energy coming out from the speakers, and there's enough of a twist on the sound to make it interesting. In that I mean it's not just
1-4-5's barreling past in two minutes, there's an outside influence that tweaks the music. Could be the brothers' Finnish lineage, or perhaps their classical training on piano that they're rebelling against. Ville's voice isn't your typical frontman's pipes, and though he sounds like he's reaching for notes, it's kind of quirky and endearing. "Neverfade," clocking in at almost six minutes, is a big ballad-type number that's memorable.
Mike Fillius, Mike Fillius (© 2001 Mike Fillius)
Fans of guitar slingers like Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, et al, will rejoice at the release from Mike Fillius. He's a shredder like them, though his fingers may not blaze quite as fast, and stylistically he seems like he needs to grow a bit. But those are minor points. Fillius rips his way through ten tunes, including a cover of "Pipeline," (though if it ain't Johnny Thunders, it ain't "Pipeline" to me), and he can pull the notes all right. A song like "Bad Wiring" is a quick tune, and "Fingers" Fillius is all over the fretboard, wah pedal waving, distortion abundant. It's not all pyrotechnics, as "Spillway Jam" provides some country feel, but the overall sound is heavy, and that's what you'd expect. My only knock after several listens is his fingers just don't dance. That is, he seems too moody, and not like he's having fun.
With metal gods like Eddie Van and Vai, when they play, they're having fun, and with Fillius, I don't get that impression.
Eamon O'Tuama, Behind Every Life (© 2001 Eamon O'Tuama)
The first song of the disc cuts in right away, like someone has just pushed you into the street. Once you get over that, it's fairly straight-ahead Irish rock, for lack of a better appellation. All the trademark sounds are there a lot of echo, a twelve-string acoustic or dueling chorused guitars mixed low and weaving back and forth, lush backing vocals, and a swaying feel like a misty rain coming down. And the songs tell the tales of, well, struggling individuals for whom life is not rosy. There is a bit of unevenness in the production, and I played the disc on several different players just to be sure. It's not too terrible, but enough to make you notice in spots. Aside from that, if you're in the market for better than average rock with a Celtic bent, O'Tuama is worth investigating.
Linea 77, Ketchup Suicide (© 2001 Down Root)
From across the pond comes the hard-edged songs of Linea 77, complete with
dueling vocalists in addition to the standard trio of bass, drums, and guitar. And if you had to suggest a similar sounding band, you might say the Deftones, as Linea 77 rage and rock their way out of the speakers. The vocalists, Nitto and Emo, belt out a mix of singing, raging vocals, talking into the mic, and even whispering (well, loudly) in spots. It's an interesting approach, as the singing weaves in and out against the screams, and the band rocks away. It's a heavy sound, but melodic enough that you don't feel like taking an axe to someone's head by the time the disc is over. Though the lyrics may be a bit strange (and tiny enough on the liner to make your eyes hurt trying to read them), it could be a translation thing, or just too many drugs. Who knows?
The Maroons, You're Gonna Ruin Everything (© 2002 In Music We Trust)
Ahhh, another disc of well-thought-out, melodic pop rock. But then again, it's no surprise, given the lineup of the Maroons. Guitarist/singer John Moen has played with the likes of Elliot Smith as a drummer, and also currently drums for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Keyman Mike Clark also plays with Malkmus, while guitarist Jim Talstra played with Minus 5, and bassist John Cox can be seen with Satan's Pilgrims. And on and on. But forget about that stuff. When you hear a cut like "Ruin Everything," that oozes pop fun all over the place, you just sit back and smile. It's the kind of tune that immediately gets you in that affected emotional state, where your mind starts drifting, and you think about old times, what you should have done, and if you had only.… And like a true pop hit, it clocks in under three minutes. This disc is a keeper.
Five Pointe O, Untitled (© 2002 Roadrunner Records)
At first I wasn't sure if this was just an advance disc where the band had yet to decide on a title, but inside there's a song called "Untitled," and the press kit also set me straight. Naming aside, this hardcore outfit from the Windy City rages, yet unlike other hardcore outfits of this ilk, they also have an operatic quality. Sure, there's enough bloody-throat-screaming vocals to go around, but there are also spots where vocalist Daniel Struble spirals his notes like a barber in Seville. Okay, he's no Pavarotti, but when you listen you'll go, "oh, yeah," and understand what I mean. Guitars Sharon Grzelinski and Eric Wood each have an identifiable style,
and when you hear the wall of sound, at least there's a bit of variety, and drummer Tony Starcevich can double kick like a mule on crystal meth. Maybe it's the keyboard strings of Casey Mejia that give this band an edge, maybe it's the lotus flower in the liner, or maybe I'm slowly becoming a hardcore convert, but this disc is okay by me.
AntiProduct, This Is How We Buy the Van E.P. (© AntiProduct)
Insane. Pure and simple. This disc is insane. And fun. Hilarious. Difficult to describe. About the wackiest thing I can compare it to is old albums by the Tubes, but even that doesn't come close. There are vocal harmonies like nothing I've heard recently, big, fat, all over the place. There's a definite oddity to the band, with songs like "Love Song to a Cigarette" and "Psychedelic Girlfriend." Things get even funnier when you pay a visit to their website and find in addition to the usual t-shirts and discs and videos, the band sells bodily fluids, like vomit (you can choose what gets vomited), or even sperm from frontman Alex Kane. Kane is American, and the rest are all Brits (if you're keeping score), but musically, they're all over the place. Part rock opera, part Iggy and the Stooges, part Abba, parts unknown. If you really want a treat, something totally off the scale yet way fun to listen to, I'm only going to say it once get this disc.
Danielle Howle and the Tantrums, Skorborealis (© 2002 Daemon Records)
The first track, "Could Be Here," has an acoustic shimmer with electric guitar ramblings behind it, and Howle's voice is pleasant, and I'm thinking, okay, kind of like 10,000 Maniacs, but with straighter vocals. Then, further down the song list comes "Camaro Power," a raucous, heavy rocker that almost veers toward L7. "Dark Like the Coat," ends the disc and you'd swear you were in a dark, smoky jazz joint somewhere at two in the morning. Does the word versatility come to mind? Well, it did to me. And while some artists try to do everything and end up swerving all over the place like a drunk driver, surprisingly, Howle and crew succeed. Production is spot on; Howle's voice is equally at home on rockers as on the jazzier stuff, and the mix of styles doesn't work against the group. Another good pick this month.
Moodroom, Hung Up on Breathing (© 2002 Moodroom)
If Garbage minimalized the keyboards and slowed the pace down a bit, they'd
sound like Moodroom, or maybe that's the other way around. This outfit from
DC pumps out likeable melodic pop rock tunes, with the guitars on the heavy
distorted side, while singer/guitarist Stef Magro's smoky voice at times
doubled or layered hangs out in front. The weird thing about the music is
that even on the quicker songs, the band sounds as if it's collectively
caught in a Valium haze. Maybe it's the contrast of the music and Magro's
voice, but there's a somewhat dark overcast to the tunes. And it's not a bad
thing, but at times I did feel like I was listening in slow motion, if that
makes any sense. "E-song" sounds like a radio-friendly hit, albeit a
Euro-rock influenced one. It's peppy, with a hook that's familiar and catchy,
and is the best cut on the disc.
The Dragons, Rock 'n' Roll Kamikaze (© 2001 Junk Records)
Imagine, if you will, a cross between Motorhead and the Dictators, with a healthy dose of Johnny Thunders tossed in. Rock and roll heaven for the ears? Oh yeah. And that's what I've been listening to, over and over. The Dragons score big in my book for their straight ahead, no b.s. rock and roll. With fat guitar sounds like you get when you plug a Gibson into a Marshall and turn most of the knobs all the way to the right (easy on the reverb), the only thing missing from this disc is a beer buzz and some chick leering (but I can take care of that). They race through ten songs, and as the disc plays I keep thinking back to the days of the Dolls, because I bet you dollars to donuts that's also an influence of the band. On "Three Steps From the Bar," you'd swear the ghost of JT had risen, with simple yet cutting rock riffs. I'd gush more, but I have to get back and listen.
The Gadjits, Today Is My Day (© 2001 Thick Records)
The core of the band, the brothers Phillips (Brandon, Zach, and Adam), began their career early, much like pop stars, the Hansons. At ages 14, 11, and 9 (respectively), they played their first gig in Kansas City. They've evolved since those heady days, and instead of playing punk they now play a blues-based rock. Sounding somewhere between a modern day Guess Who and Steppenwolf, they would sound fresh if you had never heard, say, "Magic Carpet Ride" a million times. But, you know, even having endured such, they still manage to capture my attention, as songs slide stylistically from genre to genre. What starts as a rock number may drift into gospel territory, touch base lightly with Zydeco or Cajun blues, before bouncing back. Part of the shifting is due to the Hammond organ playing of Hilary Allen, as it's a powerful instrument to control, and she does it well. Interesting stuff indeed.
Human Factor, Human Factor (© 2001 Human Factor)
This debut disc from a DC-area duo is both impressive and distracting, in that there are elements that are successful, and those that just take you right out of the moment. Blake Althen is the guitarist/studio whiz behind the project, and vocalist Paula Benoit is his partner in crime. When the mix is on, and the instruments layered beautifully, you'll think of production work on par with, say, a Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush disc. Then all of a sudden, a song will feature some keyboard scratching or rapping, and at least from this perspective, it kills it all the energy, the movement of the song, and rain falls on the parade. Althen and Benoit have enough talent it seems that they need not rely on gimmicks like scratching, but perhaps they want a mod feel to their music. Hopefully, they'll get it right, as some of the songs show much promise.
Schatzi, Fifty Reasons to Explode (© 2002 Mammoth Records)
Enthusiastic and energetic power pop with a punk edge from a band that traces
its roots to Oklahoma. Their sound is not unfamiliar in today's arena, where hooky songs are blasted by guitar duos, bass and drums. The big question is, what sets them apart from all the other pop acts? And I can't answer that. The guitar sounds, as mentioned, are heavy, and single-note riffs or octave runs are common, vocals are beefed up through doubling, and the snare drum snaps like a pistol shot. What else can I say? There's a good possibility bands like this will just get lost over time, much like the corporate rock bands of the '70s, the big-hair metal bands of the '80s, and so on. But it won't be Schatzi's fault their sound is likeable, the tunes easy on the ears, but memorable? Hmmm. Tough call. Give them a listen and let me know what you think.
Knievel, The Name Rings a Bell That Drowns Out Your Voice (© 2002 In Music We Trust)
From down under comes the indie rock of Knievel, with if nothing else, a great title for a disc. Knievel are clever producers of moody pop, which is good news for the listener. If we play an association game, the sound would be like a fall season, as there's a sadness, a feeling of pensive introspection, a muted joy to the music. And being the sucker I am for beautiful, almost bittersweet songs that put you on the verge of weeping, I listen over and over, on the verge of bawling my brains out. A song like "I Keep on Waiting" typifies the band's sound, clean guitars that float, a wandering bass, vocals that sound like a wise 20-something grappling with the anguish of letting go. At disc's end, you feel refreshed, like you've come out of a 45-minute meditation session. Cool, huh?
The Wobblies, Padron (© 2002 The Wobblies)
You know, with most trios consisting of guitar, bass, and drums, you can pretty much imagine what the sound will be like. Such is not the case with the Wobblies. Though the name might conjure up a wooly little creature found in Australia, there's nothing cute about their sound. It can be brutal, and sonically chaotic, like a heavily medicated Sonic Youth whose prescriptions expired and they're on a raging bender. A tune like "Acknowledgements" is a fairly conventional rocker, but if you compare it to the opener, "Glue Traps" where all hell breaks loose like a harmonic shotgun is splaying the landscape you'll see that the band can live on the fringe and succeed quite well. And more or less, the disc tends to alternate between the more mundane and the far out, though I was happiest when they were way out. Definitely a band to keep your eyes and ears on.
Deadman, Paramour (© 2001 Wildcat Sky Music/Lakeshore Records)
The disc opens with "The Ballad of Padre Miguel," a song with a lazy, wistful
feel, and an eerie, southwestern flavor on hand. There are country-western sounds that blend with modern influences, such as the Cowboy
Junkies or Mazzy Star. It's a curious yet intriguing mix, with neither sound
ever taking charge over the other. The result yields a dreamy quality to the
music, with the feeling of a postmodern cowboy singing songs into the sunset.
The songs tell stories as well, and are more of the ballad variety than
"Happy Trails" type tunes. One wonders if the movie of the same name as
the band (with Johnny Depp in it) was any influence, as these songs possess
a similar detachment from the mainstream. Yet, for all the moodiness, the disc
succeeds in taking country and western-based songs to a place that had yet
to be visited.
Pure 13, Numb (© 2001 Gig Records)
If I only heard the song "Alone" from this band, I'd be happy. It's a funky, heavy rock number, distortion and guitar harmonics all over, with a wicked chorus. Good news is there are ten other tunes on the disc (well, there's also a radio remix of "Alone," if you're keeping score). The band features bassist/vocalist Anthony Espositio (Lynch Mob), guitarist Johnny Ricco (Warrior Soul), and drummer Bobby Rae (Killing Joke). "Alone" is the kind of song that gets its hooks in right away, the kind of song you play endlessly and don't get sick of. But move on we must. "Forever After" follows, and its distortion-heavy intro gives way to somewhat quieter verses, before exploding back into the chorus. At times, there's a Euro feel to some of the tunes, predominantly in the chorus, where things get big and blurry. Heavy and hooky rock, what more do you need?
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