December 1, 2002, by Bill Ribas
December 2002 CD Reviews:
Red Jacket, Metaphors
Dead and Dreaming, Confined Here
Blow Up Hollywood, Blow Up Hollywood
Mambo Sons, Play Some Rock & Roll
Ariel Aparicio, All I Wanted
Basement 3, Rising
Dodd Michael Lede, Whatever Happened To You
Oh Jimmy, Free on Rails
Gregory Abbott, Eyes, Whispers, Rhythm, Sex...
Stuck, We're Stuck
Otto's Daughter, Renew
Red Jacket, Metaphors (© 2002 L. Bianco)
Our first disc this month finds me torn between loving it and deriding it, and I'll tell you why. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Lisa Bianco has a rock-n-roll look to her, reminiscent of a young Joan Jett, but it's her vocals that have me on the fence. She's angelic when she wants to be, a soft voice, not too powerful, but there are spots that waver, and I wonder, can she even sing? Now, without having heard her live, or having met her, I can't tell if it's an idiosyncratic thing (like, for example, the pixie voice that Jane Wiedlin has), or she just needs some practice.
Anyhoo, the songs (all five found here) have a dreamy, wafting quality to them, and that in part complements her pipes quite well. Oh, and she can play a mean guitar too. So I'm tempted to give her the benefit of the doubt (and blame anything bad I might have said so far to the onset of a cold grrr), and say young Bianco just might have something going on. A longer disc might have answered the question, but studio time ain't free, so we'll have to wait. A promising offering.
Swampbytche, Swampbytche (© Swampbytche)
Now here's a quandary this disc comes with no press, three songs that sound like they were recorded live in a club somewhere, and the website is, well, light on detail. So what do I say? Aside from the dream of leaving this writing job to own my own hot-dog cart someday, not too much. Swampbytche is fronted by Madame Venus (and thoughts of tele-psychics pop into my head). She seems to be a choreographer by trade, and has backed into singing somewhere along the way. So, when her voice wavers and shakes out of tune on the first song, my guess is that it's a live cut, and she's shaking her moneymaker, thus the warbles. The sound, however, is entrancing like funky, sweaty, dance-party music, and that's good. But it's the production here that's an issue, and if this isn't a live recording, then someone should explain how the faraway sound helps the band. Diagnosis: Good music, poor production.
Dead and Dreaming, Confined Here (© 2002 Dead and Dreaming)
You know, NY Rock gets a wide variety of stuff, from two-track demos to full-blown label discs, and this release is a mix of both. It's not a sloppy effort or anything, it's just listening to it, you can tell it's a low-budget affair. The sound quality just isn't there. Well, it's clean and all, but doesn't have that big sound. Yet there's nothing sloppy about the playing, as the quartet of twenty-somethings goes about its brand of heavy metal. The sound is dark and gloomy, contextually, but there are spots that show a maturity in both songwriting and arranging. Should they get their hands on more cash for a better studio, they would likely turn out a better disc. The best song here is "Waiting," a somber, dirge-like number that would be at home on a Metallica disc, beginning soft and acoustic, before fuzzy guitars eventually show up and cymbals crash like fireworks. A good start.
Blow Up Hollywood, Blow Up Hollywood (© 2002 Blow Up Hollywood)
Who is in the band? Don't know, can't say, the PR sheet that came with the CD mentioned that the artists wanted to keep their identities a secret, and it also notes "this is not about who did it, it's about the music." So fine, maybe it's Eddie Vedder singing, maybe it's Eddie Munster; who knows? The songs are slated to be a soundtrack to a movie, where the music drives the film. That said, the disc floats along effortlessly, kind of like if Pat Metheny made a rock album. Guitars are dripping with effects, and you get a sense of loving remorse.
Did I mention the film is about a young person's death and search for heaven? And it's interesting to note the images that pop into your mind as the songs pass. On a number like "Descend," where a squeaky violin moans and talks and sings, you get a sense of falling, of being out of place, of the unfamiliar. And in that respect, this disc is successful, in that the songs do create imagery (though I'm sure mine differs from the actual one). Both my thumbs are up. Good job, whoever you lads are.
Mambo Sons, Play Some Rock & Roll (© 2002 Casa Del Sol Productions)
You know, I reviewed these guys over a year ago, and I just reread that review, and it could easily apply to this disc. Straight-ahead rock in the Ian Hunter, early Rod Stewart vein, melodic rock with a slight Brit tinge to it. And I love this one as much as the last. One of the nice things about this disc is the guitar sounds clean with just a slight edge, very little in the effects department, and it's nice to hear the simplicity and how it just cuts right through. "Our Time Is Getting Closer" has a Byrds feel to it, helped along by a twelve-string electric, but for the most part it's rock and roll. All the guys are accomplished musicians, and everything here is done right. Some of the numbers have an updated blues feel to them, kind of like the Black Crowes. Again, it's all good, and I love hearing these guys. Enough said.
Ariel Aparicio, All I Wanted (© 2002 Bully Records)
Sounding at times like an early David Bowie, at times like a revival of "Hair," Aparicio plays a softer rock, which, for the most part, is successful. The times that aren't, however, can make you cringe somewhat. When he does a cover of the Pretenders "Kid," making it sound more like Bowie's "Space Oddity," the weakness in his pipes becomes apparent. I'm sure he wants to hit the right notes, but there are spots where, well, he doesn't. But it is an interesting take on the song, so that's worth something.
A song like "Neverland (The Lollipop Song)" begins with a Springsteen sheen to it, but then shifts more into groovy Bowie/'60s territory. And were it not for the shakiness of his voice, this would be a fun disc. The songs have a certain pep to them, and repeated listenings allow the tunes to get their hooks solidly planted in your head. But it's the occasional vocal gaffe that haunts me, something that could have been fixed in the studio. See for yourself ...
Basement 3, Rising (© 2002 MerryMoleMusic)
Imagine a mix of Frank Zappa, King Crimson, and Weird Al Yankovic. Though they all kind of fit together in some weird cosmic way, they're also worlds apart. But weirdness is the glue for many on the fringe, and Kenny Schick, whose project this is, must have jars of the stuff lying around. But as wacky as this is, it's also a serious piece of music, conceptually presented in two acts. Schick, or the merry mole as he calls himself, has a ton of guest talent appearing on the disc, and musically speaking, the disc is sharper than a tack. And lest the serious side gets to be too much for you, there's the moleman's vocals, which if nothing else will remind you of Weird Al, and that's enough to give you a chuckle. This is definitely not for everyone, but you owe it to yourself to check it out and see if it might be for you. I like it, but I'm prone to liking the weird. Check it out at
Dodd Michael Lede, Whatever Happened To You (© 2002 Generic Joe Music)
The disc opens with "Blue Sky Feeling," a mid-tempo, folky, rock-pop number that is quickly accessible. Lede's voice has a nasal tinge like early Bowie or Dylan, one that borders on the whiny, but never gets in the way. The second cut, "Here Til Tomorrow" has a southwestern feel to it, with big reverb guitar lines running in and out, rocking the chorus. A song like "Remember the Day" has a Don Henley feel to it, a ballad that gets a bit too big in the chorus for my tastes. The overall feel is one of an acoustic disc that's been juiced up, and, what a coincidence, that's what Lede set out to do. Well, he went in to make a demo, polished it up with friends and former bandmates, and ended up with what you have here. The songs are agreeable, nothing cutting edge or anything, but radio friendly, hooky enough, and Lede should have no trouble marketing the disc.
Oh Jimmy, Free on Rails (© 2002 Oh! Jimmy Music)
Now here's a real surprise. Though hard to classify the style of music (well, a nod to Wilco wouldn't hurt), the band runs through just five tracks here, and frankly, I feel cheated. I wanted more. The band plays upbeat, guitar-driven pop rock, but even that doesn't really give justice to the sound. You'll hear influences from REM to the Kinks, shades of the Rolling Stones, maybe some Tom Petty. It's a rootsy sound, and it fits together great, and my ears are loving it with a capital L.
If production credits mean something to you (and they should), former Whiskeytown man Mike Daly had his hand in things, and the mix on this disc is splendid. There's a lazy feel to songs like "Song for Skip," as an organ provides a nice backdrop to the primarily acoustic number. "Anybody" begins with a few "whoo hoo hoo's" sounding Stones-ish, before pulling back to a quieter approach. Again, words don't do justice here, but the band can explain themselves nicely if you listen.
Gregory Abbott, Eyes, Whispers, Rhythm, Sex... (© 2002 Musik International Records)
You may not remember Abbott's last big hit "Shake You Down," way back in '86, which was notable for being the fastest song to reach one-million plays since BMI starting keeping track. And if you do remember Abbott from back then, then you'll be familiar with his silky smooth voice, part Al Green, part Marvin Gaye, part Al Jarreau, party on. And though I may sound silly, there's nothing silly about his pipes, which glide so smoothly and effortlessly through the 15 numbers here that you tend to get lost in it all. For the most part, it's mid-tempo stuff, nothing too heady, with a jazzy, Caribbean feel.
The fact that all the songs are close in speed does hurt the disc somewhat, but the funky fresh sound, top-notch production, and his voice seem to push aside any criticism. And, okay, it's not heavy metal or punk, but man, if you need a break from the heavy stuff (and we all do from time to time), then Abbott's disc is a good place to start.
Stuck, We're Stuck (© 2002 Sticky Mess Music)
Sheaah, what is this I'm listening to? Jazz? Rock? Performance art? Don't bother trying to nail down the sound, because if you do succeed in labeling them, they'd probably change their sound. Vocalist Chisa sings much in the way Bjork does, coyly, with a heavy dose of sexuality at work, as her voice veers all over the place, toying with the lyrics, infusing humor, and pretty much doing what she damn well pleases. As for Pat Cahill, hat's off to anyone who can play a Chapman stick (a monster of a string instrument for those unfamiliar), and he can play one.
Oh, and a trumpet at the same time. The music is chaotic, but not in the sense of a roller coaster with bad brakes. More like the initial buzz and head rush of a good martini (shaken, not stirred), where a confluence of the normal-and-alcohol-fueled senses provide a new means of viewing your environment. And, yeah, I'll call them quirky, you got a problem with that? Sorry, I've been tense lately. Adventurous stuff, and well worth the trip.
Otto's Daughter, Renew (© 2002 Otto's Daughter)
Closing this month's column finds us with the sophomore release from Otto's Daughter, and first off I'd like to thank Otto for raising such a fine girl. The sound is Goth, with a hint of industrial, and though I'm not crazy about the genre, I did find myself spellbound for the duration of the disc. In part it's the production, a good job across the board, enough technological surprises and distorted guitars to make you think of NIN. Mostly, though, it's due to the pipes of Jacqueline van Bierk, a sultry temptress if ever there were one, and whose delicious voice reminds me of Siouxsie (and that's going way back).
But the more I listen to the disc, the more I like it.
There's an aggressive feel to the sound, not in the sense of angry songs, but more like these guys (and girl) aren't fooling around. Most of the numbers here would sound just fine coming out of the radio, including the title track, which begins ever so softly, then violently shifts to an aggressive mode, enough so to make you take a step back from the speakers. That's right, they're dangerous, and they want you.
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