September 2, 2004, by Bill Ribas
September 2004 CD Reviews:
The Economy, The Economy
Barky, A Study in Rocking
Ten Pound Strike, Ten Pound Strike
Steve Frederic, Have We Met?
The Cringe, Scratch the Surface
Xisco Ponce Jr., The Existence of Tears
Mikel Paris, Guitar Drumming
Keith Thompson, Long Time Coming
Karli Bonne, Angel Without Wings
Chris White, Hideaway
Tom Kafafian, In Through the Outside
Kilgore Trout, Novocaine
The Economy, The Economy (© 2004 The Economy)
From Brooklyn comes a trio that sounds substantially bigger, more like a septet at times. Part of the bigness in sound comes from the well-crafted guitar parts; lushly chorused, alternating between single notes, thirds and chord work, with another guitar at a lower volume. The vocals are big as well, a melding of lazy syllables and reverb, a voice pining away, chockfull of emotional pain. The band's lineup is simple, with John Davis on vocals and bass, Aaron Nevezie on guitar, and Dave Mason on drums. Together, they make some of the most dreamy cool music since Radiohead came out with OK Computer.
Yet Davis has a bit more oomph in his voice than Thom Yorke, less nasal sneer and more projection. This may be due in part to multi-tracking, as on "Overrated," where his voice is doubled either electronically or the old-fashioned way. No matter as to the means, when he sings, "I believe, in just you and I," it's a great dynamic effect. The downer here is that the band only has five songs on this disc. The talent and the production are here, and hopefully they have a good backlog of material, enough for a full-fledged disc, because they're worthy of it. Hear for yourself at
Barky, A Study in Rocking (© 2004 Scott Barkan)
Another trio from the environs of NYC, this one more in the mold of a good old power trio, and a very versatile outfit as well. As I listen to the disc, I am reminded of the good old days, back when guitar slingers would toss out records packed with adventurous songs and sounds. It was never about the bass player, or the drummer; it was the guitar player out front, putting his chops on the line. Yeah. And while I wax nostalgic, the fluid lines of Scott Barkan are blaring out of my speakers. With him are Michael Lavalle on bass and Brook Martinez on drums (accomplished musicians, despite my bleating), and together, they have created a varied sonic landscape.
A number like "Ladies and Gentlemen" has a sleepy, almost cowboy feel to it, while the title track has more of a shimmer, interrupted by dynamic breaks. This is not guitar work like, say, Satriani or Vai, no ruthless flurry of notes here. Rather, a much more restrained and tasteful exploration of the fretboard. Another advantage of this instrumental disc is it flies in the face of the current crop of popular stuff, speed pop and overproduced chum that currently deadens the airwaves. Well worth hunting out.
Ten Pound Strike, Ten Pound Strike (© 2004 Ten Pound Strike)
We make it into quartet country with this band, though they also hail from the Big Apple, and they have a heavier sound. Much heavier, in fact, and it is best exemplified by "Pseudo-Friend," which starts off with some noodling of effects before crashing you solidly over the head. There's a bit of restraint as the vocals come in, yet the heaviness is never far out of your reach. The band has a darkness that might remind you of that Seattle sound, more in the music than the vocals. And the interesting thing about the vocals, while we're on the subject, is the lack of whining or screaming.
Given the nature of the music, you might expect a full-bore hoarseness to pervade, but most of the time, singer Mark Krasner is intelligible. He can be playful as well, like on "Shelf," where he toys with the lyrics, drawling and dragging words out. When the chorus comes in, he's yelling pretty well, though the background vocals are much calmer. Overall, the production is excellent, and credit goes to Joe Blaney (Clash, Ramones, Beastie Boys), for giving TPS a heavy, dark, yet clear sound. An energizing debut disc.
Steve Frederic, Have We Met? (© 2003 Swat Man Publishing)
From Phoenix, AZ comes Frederic with a 10-track debut. The music is pop oriented, on the soft side of things, and the first answer to the "who does he sound like" question is Al Stewart. Now he may not ring a bell, but those who are familiar with his work will know what I'm talking about (the rest of you can either guess, do some homework, or let the reference slide). There are moments, however, where Frederic sounds a bit like the Brit new-wave stuff of the '80s, as on "Then You Went Away," an up-tempo number that jiggles its way along. And there might be those who will take issue with Frederic's voice, which tends to approximate notes rather than hit them head on.
The wavering may sound amateurish, or perhaps independent and quirky, depending on your take. For example, on "Spellbound," a song which sounds a bit like Van Morrison's "Moondance," Frederic sounds more like a timid, first-time Karaoke singer than someone with a good deal of experience in music (which he has, and you can check his bio). Though the songs are good, personally I would prefer a different treatment, a little harder edge. But, hey, I'm typing, and he's got a CD. You can check it out at
The Cringe, Scratch the Surface (© 2003 John Cusimano)
It's funny, at times you listen to the radio and so much of the stuff sounds alike, pseudo punk bands bashing chords, quasi-emotional vocals, everything pro-tooled all together in one package, and then you get a CD like this one. Guitars doing more than just playing fast chords. Fills and leads using a variety of sounds, and not that tired full stack with everything dialed up like you always hear at Guitar Center. There's a singer who sounds like a singer. Go figure. I kept waiting for the energy to die off, which usually happens at about the third or fourth song, but here, it doesn't even get close until "Grave," the sixth tune, which sounds like a good Metallica number that Metallica never did, as it kicks into gear about midway.
So who are these guys? Well, John Cusimano handles vocals and guitar work, Rob Levin cooks on lead guitar, Matt Powers pounds the bass, and Shawn Pelton (drummer for the SNL band), well, suffice it to say is a monster. And, yes, by the eighth track, things do slow down a bit, enough for you to take a breath. This is high-energy, indie rock at its best. A band like this gives you hope, despite what you might hear on the airwaves.
Xisco Ponce Jr., The Existence of Tears (© 2004 Lasting Ink)
Ah yes, more groovy electronica fare. And much as it is low on my enjoyment list,
I had a good time with this disc. Not just a collection of songs, but a suite
(you can check his website, www.xiscoponcejr.com, for a definition), the four songs here are purposely constructed to mesh together. The first, "A Thin Line," is a medium-tempo number, which bleeds right into the next song, "Tribal Hymn." As a matter of fact, all the songs bleed into each other, which I am assuming is intentional, though a bit off putting. So you can think of the disc as one 11-minute-and-change song, or as four songs in which you really can't tell the endings or beginnings.
How is the music? Well, the first track reminds me of Sade, and though Xisco may not like being compared to a female singer, I stand by my ears. Again, despite my indifference to the electronica genre, I didn't mind it at all when the disc was playing. There are moments that remind me of Bowie, more the instrumental interludes than the verses, but it's there, and easy on the ears. You can download the whole suite for just $3.98 at the address above, and that's a bargain.
Mikel Paris, Guitar Drumming (© 2004 Pichael Maris Music)
The press kit remarks on his approach to guitar -- an old injury prevented him from playing like most people -- an approach that he calls "drumming." Though I suppose it is a percussive approach with the guitar laid out flat in front of him, what I hear on the disc is no great shakes. Well, I don't mean to be derogatory or anything, but I was thinking stuff along the lines of Stanley Jordan or something, and what I hear is more like Richie Havens, and to me, anyway, that's not such a big deal. On a song like "Fortunately," which the press kit refers to sounding like James Taylor and Sting, I hear more Jethro Tull and Jesus Christ Superstar.
I make note of this because if you do hear along the lines of what the press says, then you know I'm nuts, or going nuts. Paris does show more of what his approach can do on "Move It," although it's only a minute-and-a-half long, and a further exploration of the technique might have provided more interest. He does have percussive abilities, having been an original cast member of Stomp. It's just they don't come across too well on the five songs here. Maybe he has more chops, and is just holding back, but there's no way of telling.
Keith Thompson, Long Time Coming (© 2003 Jamlure International)
Not being too familiar with the genre of house music (my dancing days are behind me, and that's probably a good thing), I can't fairly comment on what is good or bad. I can, however, speak generally on the musicality of Keith Thompson's latest offering, adding that, were I to get up and shake a leg, this disc would easily get me on the floor. How do you qualify the music? By the quality of the electronic drummer ("that Roland guy can really snap those beats")? By the interpolation of musical bits and pieces? Who knows. There are undoubtedly many more DJ types more qualified to discuss the merits of this music than me. But what's at stake?
If the sole motive of the music is to get you up and moving, then it's a success, for as each song plays, I feel like rising from behind this dreaded keyboard and shaking my upper body like a 20-something, doing all those gelatinous moves you see in Gap commercials. And chances are, if I were 20 again, or 21, and in a bar with this music pounding from the walls, I'd be all sweaty, and looking for some hoochie mama to dance with, and then some. So maybe you don't need a healthy education to understand the music; if it makes you want to dance, it works, and this disc definitely works.
Karli Bonne, Angel Without Wings (© 2003 Karli Bonne)
People who know me know I have a certain disdain for Christian rock, which probably has more to due with many bands' cheesy attire than the message (they remind me all too often of '80s hair bands, and I never get the connection). In any event, Karli Bonne may fall for the trappings of out-of-style wardrobes (the cover photo has her in a long red dress with big sleeves), but her pipes certainly command your attention. Her voice is heavy, and at times dark, but she sings with authority, and can belt it out with the best of them. Stylistically, the songs on this disc are all over the place, from the techno-slash-Euro disco title track that opens the disc, to a more traditional gospel-sounding ballad ("My Serenade of Love").
Bonne even tosses in her take of Psalm 93, though the sounds of the surf (whether taped or electronically produced) had me chuckling. Sure, the sea is referenced quite a bit, but for some reason it sounded cheesy and out of place. But who knows -- Christian-rock enthusiasts may get all weepy and dig it. To her credit, Bonne covers a lot of ground musically, venturing into techno-sounding songs, and such. Using a scattered approach may just attract a larger fan base. Yours for the taking at
Teedo, Luvatomic (© 2001 & 2004 ICBM Records, Inc.)
The first track, "Too Far," has a kind of lo-fi sound, distorted vocals, the band is playing fast, and it almost sounds like an ad for an Ipod or a groovy Gap commercial. But the song is a hard-driving number, clocking in at just over two minutes, with a wicked garage feel to it. The second number, "Nature Lover," is again a rocker, but reminds me of Iggy Pop in the '80s. The title track follows, with a funkadelic feel. Who are these guys, and where do they come from?
Short answer is Teedo Bilecky on guitars and lead vocals, Saeko Terano on keys/vocals and Oweinama Biu on bass/vocals, and oh, NYC.
The songs seem to alternate between outrageous rock numbers and softer (well, relatively),
funkier stuff, almost like Bowie at times. In fact, a lot of the songs impart a late '70s
rock feel, where funk and rock were mixed in a way that led to sharp, riff-driven songs. This is most evident on "Zoaron," clocking in at over six minutes, and a song that begins with some keyboard noodling reminiscent of Clockwork Orange, before bursting out and going through a few changes until its demise. An intelligent and thoroughly satisfying disc.
Chris White, Hideaway (© 2004 Chris White)
Okay, so a smooth-jazz CD found its way into the mix this month, and though the genre is
another one that's low on my list of listening priorities, it is a well-done disc.
My disaffection of smooth jazz is probably rooted in the structure of the songs --
the doubling up of melodic instruments, the obtrusive breaks, the lack of chaos --
and if it is performed by characters as John Tesh and Yanni, then, well, count me out.
Smooth jazz always sounds anti-intellectual to me, and I was about to go on a rant, but
I will reign myself in. As for the disc, the production is spot on, you'd be hard
pressed to find an error in playing, and Chris White's guitar has that effortless,
fluid sound that reminds me of Pat Metheny many moons ago. Instrumentals are
interspersed with vocal numbers, though there is not too much variety in the song selection.
There is a bit of funkiness, however, here and there, but nothing really rips, and I suppose that is the smooth jazz way. Ironically, the fact that I can't find any problems or annoyances (i.e., mistakes, flubs, bad compositions) most likely means the disc is successful. It would be easy to lampoon a half-hearted attempt, poking fun at the players (like, say, John Tesh or Yanni), but White's abilities on his instrument and in his songwriting will take no flak from me. For those searching for some excellent smooth jazz, White's Hideaway is a good place to start.
Tom Kafafian, In Through The Outside (© 2004 Great Escape Records)
You open up the CD and see a few pics of a kid that looks like he's 15 (he's actually 19), and you think, oh boy, here comes another disc to suffer through. Yet the opener, "Nebula," starts off brusquely, and you think maybe there is something here. Yeah, sure, his voice seems young, because it is, but cut the kid some slack. Then the chorus comes crashing in, and I do mean crashing, and there's a hoarseness and rage in his voice that comes from who knows where, and as the song fades back to the verse, I begin to think I might like this disc.
The third track, "Geronimo," has a real Weezer lilt to it, and now he's playful with his vocals, and now I envy this kid, and wonder if he keeps writing songs like this what he'll sound like with a bit of the road behind him. By the disc's end, I've put aside my preconceived notions about youth (though it is wasted on the young), and realize that this disc is quite an accomplishment -- good production, great songs, a toe-tapping ride from start to finish.
Kilgore Trout, Novocaine (© 2004 Melancholy Madman Music)
Sadly, this is just a three-song EP. Sad, because the three songs here indicate a band that has a ton of talent, writes catchy pop tunes, and plays them with all the angst and drive needed to pummel the songs into your skull so that's all you think about. The opener, "Beautiful," starts off plainly enough, as if it's going to be your average run-of-the-mill indie number, open chords playing over a thumping bass. Yet when the chorus comes in, and the vocals get big, the chord changes remind one of the Pixies. Then there's a kind of funky break in the middle of the song, at once chaotic and melodic, before the chorus enters again, big guitars, huge vocals, pounding out to the end of the tune.
"I Make You Mine" starts off a bit harder, with vocal wailing, and the band cutting loose before settling down to the verse. Oh sure, they get down to business, but they also seem as if they are on the edge of going nuts. There is a hint of Radiohead in spots during this number, but nothing overpowering. The title track veers a bit too much toward the current emo punk stuff for my tastes, but is still dynamically better that the bulk of the songs out there. My only question regards a full CD -- as in where is it? Great stuff, and you can hear it at
Email columnist Bill Ribas
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