Tanked and Pogoed
With a fervor few have matched during the past twenty years, the appropriately-named BLANKS 77 kick out some serious jams with Tanked and Pogoed, the band’s latest disc. A potent collection of hardcore punk, these guys scream, spit and posture with the best of them, songs like “I Wanna Be A Punk,” “Losing My Brain” or “Crash & Burn” showing more attitude and angst, rock-hard rhythms and flailing guitars than any half-a-dozen flannel-clad Seattle types have managed to muster during the better part of this decade. If you prefer your punk rock to be fast and furious, relying on piss-and-vinegar and loudness rather than on radio-friendly sweetness and pop hooks, then BLANKS 77’s Tanked and Pogoed is just the musical tonic that you’ve been waiting for.
24 Hours A Day
There are many among the rock punditocracy who consider BOTTLE ROCKETS frontman BRIAN HENNEMAN to be one of the genre’s strongest lyricists; “No Depression” critics bow to the band as one of the leading lights of the alternative country scene. After more than a few spins of 24 Hours A Day, the band’s third effort, I’d heartily agree with both positions. The ease at which HENNEMAN spins tales and taps into the listener’s consciousness and emotions is on par with other populist scribes like BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN or JOHN FOGERTY. Like those artists, HENNEMAN isn’t afraid to mix up roots rock with country and folk flavoring, 24 Hours A Day a powerful collection of songs that runs the gamut of popular style and substance. Unlike a lot of bands mining the so-called “alt-country” vein these days, however, the BOTTLE ROCKETS deliver honest heartland rock with a razor-sharp artistic edge
BOY SETS FIRE
The Day The Sun Went Out
A few seconds into the album opener “Pure,” a sonic soundwave smacks the side of your head and The Day The Sun Went Out grabs you by the ears and bangs your pointy little noggin against BOY SETS FIRE’s wall-of-sound until the closing roar of “Hometown Report Card.” With a hybrid of socially-conscious lyrics and hardcore-based metallic K.O., BOY SETS FIRE gets down to the serious business of feeding your head even while bludgeoning you senseless. If you’re man enough to hang on through the album’s eventual wind-down and conclusion (or you just can’t get up off the floor), you’ll be treated to a tasty hidden track, a power blues anthem that, while providing little respite from the musical beating you’ve just experienced, is a pleasant departure nonetheless. No flabby hard rock wannabes here, BOY SETS FIRE delivering grade A musical muscle that’s all balls and no filler.
On the strength of a single radio-friendly rocker, “Drive Me Home,” the EVINRUDES have burned up the FM airwaves across the Southeast this summer. With the release of this self-titled indie EP, it’s just a matter of time until the band is grabbed up by a major label. What sets the EVINRUDES heads and shoulders above a thousand and one similar-sounding bands crisscrossing Dixieland, though, is the scorching vocals of singer Sherry Cothran and the unparalleled wit of lyricist Brian Reed. Cothran’s vocals will light a fire in the coldest of hearts, all hot breath and purring sensuality. Musically, Reed’s songs are tight, guitar-driven vehicles; his lyrics, however, are masterful pop art poetry, cheeky and intelligent. This duo – Cothran and Reed – are true rock & roll wunderkinds, waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to their level of musical excellence.
Forty Hour Sea
(Cash Monkey Records)
FRANKENFINGER is the band that POLVO wishes they could be, this five-song EP creating more experimental excitement on tape with its seventeen or so minutes than the aforementioned indie rock stalwarts have done over the course of several albums. Drew Watson’s fuzzy, feedback-ridden guitars create a massive buzz and howl, bassist Kathy Denton contributes some finely warped rhythm and drummer Brent McNeal kicks out some rambunctiously syncopated percussion. All three of the FRANKENFINGERs add discordant harmonies and various vocals, bathing the listener in a high-wattage mix of hauntingly beautiful melody and bone-crunching noise. Forty Hour Sea is a solid musical calling card, FRANKENFINGER as original and enticing an indie band as you’re liable to come across this year.
FUTURE BIBLE HEROES
Memories of Love
(Slow River Records)
Dark-tinged atmospheric pop with the ambient feel of any one of many 4AD label bands is what you’ll find on FUTURE BIBLE HEROES’ Memories of Love. Evoking memories of early-eighties synth bands, this collaboration between THE MAGNETIC FIELDS’ Stephin Merritt and Claudia Gonson and FIGURES ON A BEACH’s Chris Ewan recreates the sound of a kinder, gentler age. What sets Memories Of Love above other such retro-oriented bands, though, is the wonderful interplay between Gonson’s lofty, heavenly vocals and Merritt’s stark baritone. Swapping vocal chores from song to song while the highly textured tapestry of sound shimmers behind them, the resulting material is, at times, breath-taking. With Memories of Love art-rock returns with a vengeance, FUTURE BIBLE HEROES providing the genre a well-timed kick in the pants.
That’s What Daddy Wants
(Ark 21 Records)
You can hear it in the clubs down on Lower Broad, but you’d never know it by walking down Nashville’s famous “Music Row” – there’s a wind of change that’s beginning to blow in country music, and it’s bringing with it a new wave of talent. WAYNE “THE TRAIN” HANCOCK is symbolic of this change, a Texas-bred, stone cold country singer with one foot in the honky-tonk and a twang in his heart. That’s What Daddy Wants, the much-anticipated follow-up to HANCOCK’s critically-acclaimed indie debut is everything his fans have been waiting for and more. Recorded live and mixed down in just three days, the thirteen cuts on That’s What Daddy Wants bristle with electricity and reckless country soul, HANCOCK mixing equal parts traditional country and western swing with a dash of raucous rockabilly. Call up the ghosts of HANK WILLIAMS and ERNEST TUBB to watch over the entire affair and you have That’s What Daddy Wants, the best country album that won’t be made in Nashville this year.
Ten Day Potato
After a long dry spell during which just about any group that knew three chords and could put up an “alternative” image was awarded a major label deal we’ve finally spun things around where there are some bands out there who don’t sound like NIRVANA or SMASHING PUMPKINS. Nashville’s IGMO is one of these welcome departures from the mainstream fare, a talented conglomeration of some of the Southeast’s finest musicians brought together under one roof to make some honest rock & roll music. Vocalist Mark Pfaff, one of the legendary WILL & THE BUSHMEN, is the ringleader on Ten Day Potato, fronting a superb collection of pop, rock, country and psychedelia that borrows shamelessly from every decade from the dawn of time until today. IGMO present a new twist on the musical lessons they’ve learned so well, however, Ten Day Potato proving to be as refreshingly familiar as it is oddly original. In an era where many of today’s “superbands” have to be taught how to play their instruments, IGMO is creating music that is as intelligent as it is invigorating.
The Uncertainty Principle
(Boiled Hippo Records)
Over the course of two albums, D.C. MOON has done more to honor the legacy of the MISFITS than even that band, reformed, has done, cranking out three-chord, metal-tinged, ass-kickin’ punk rock like nobody’s business. With The Uncertainty Principle, MOON’s second indie release, he’s successfully beat the dreaded sophomore jinx, delivering a set that is tighter and more musically mature than The Meteor Titanic, his acclaimed debut. MOON shows a marked improvement in both his sharp-edged six string work and in his songwriting, creating material that is at once both more raucous and better thought out. The sky’s the limit for lyrical content on The Uncertainty Principle, MOON straying far and wide across his favorite territory, which includes such measured insanity as aliens and U.F.O.s, conspiracy theory, pop culture, technology, quantum physics and rock music. There’s a method to his madness, however, and the dedicated listener will discover, beneath the surface, a socially conscious songwriter tackling controversial issues while having a hell of a lot of fun. Additional kudos for two excellent songs co-written with novelist/rocker John Shirley, whose own band, THE PANTHER MODERNS, are no slouches, either. In an art form lacking visionaries, D.C. MOON sits tall in the saddle and shoots for the stars. The Reverend sez “check it out!”
SCARED OF CHAKA
Scared of Chaka
Punk’s not dead, but I wish somebody would shoot it and put it out of our misery. Punk bands are a fuckin’ dime a dozen these days, and I’m looking for the twit supplying the dimes. All of the self-righteous, snot-nosed punkzines and fly-by-night indie labels won’t change the fact that 90% of everything is shit. An exception to this rule, however, are SCARED OF CHAKA, a punk trio who have been around long enough to have made their bones and earned a fair degree of respect from this humble scribe. Their new self-titled disc is a rollicking collection of toons that rock with the speed of a cheetah and hits the listener between the ears like a policeman’s billy. SCARED OF CHAKA deliver the real goods: old-fashioned, fast ‘n’ furious punk rock that’s about nothing and everything at once, leaving a pleasant ringing in your ears long after the disc is done playing.
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
The aural equivalent of an acid trip, SPIRITUALIZED’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space is a mesmerizing 70 minutes of wildly manic guitars, musical cacophony, obscured lyrics and vocals and techno-inspired rhythms that, while drawing heavily from the spirit of rave and electronica styles, have as much to do with the wigged-out psychedelia of BEVIS FROND as it does with, say, THE ORB or MOBY. A couple of spins and you’re hooked, SPIRITUALIZED spinning a truly addictive sound and mind-altering ambiance with a healthy mix of instrumentation and lyricism. Layer by layer the songs unfold with each subsequent listen, and even if you still don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, the trip there is half the fun. For a musical sojourn to the heart of the psyche, this musical mental health practitioner suggests SPIRITUALIZED’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space...take one and call me in the morning.
(Big Deal Records)
Call it “turbo-bubblegum,” if you will, the second album from SPLITSVILLE successfully combining punkish energy and enthusiasm with goofy seventies-styled lyricism and a garage-band sound. Originally begun as a side project for THE GREENBERRY WOODS’ Matt and Brandt Huseman, SPLITSVILLE took on a life of its own after the 1996 release of their erstwhile debut, Splitsville U.S.A. The band’s sophomore effort doesn’t stray far from the thematic and aesthetic playground of its predecessor, Ultrasound combining the best elements of three decades of low culture in creating a sound that is as satisfyingly fresh as it is ultimately familiar. Strains of every great pop/rock band from the early WHO to REDD KROSS infects SPLITSVILLE, who take their musical cues from the one-hit wonders, cult TV and B-movies that make American culture the envy of the entire globe.
(Pangea/Ark 21 Records)
What is surprising about this first tentative recorded grouping of Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers isn’t that it’s a pretty decent collection of demos, but rather that these sides took so long to reach the light of day. Originally a project of former GONG member Mike Howlett, STRONTIUM 90 was truly primordial POLICE, with a lot of the musical ideas that would be fleshed out by that successful trio first shown on the studio tracks included here. Although the live songs offered by Police Academy have been previously bootlegged as the POLICE’s first show...and in a manner, it was....taken as a whole, STRONTIUM 90 was the antecedent on which the Police’s success was based, Police Academy a valuable look at the roots of one of the eighties greatest bands.
With Timing, his fourth release, MAX VAGUE has pulled a few new musical twists out of the seemingly endless bag of tricks of his, mixing healthy portions of Britpop influence with his usual ethereal progressive fare. With more melodies and livelier song structure added to his trademark musical marksmanship, VAGUE has developed into a world class tunesmith. The title track, however, might well be his finest moment. With its sneering throwaway line “you’ve come this far, you might as well swallow,” the song is a near-perfect accounting of the struggle an artist faces in retaining their integrity as well as a wickedly satirical look at an industry that devours lives and creativity alike. Originally conceived as an eight song EP, VAGUE and bassist Ross Smith flew off the deep end into insanity, ending Timing with a twenty-eight minute instrumental opus. Dark, eerie, provocative and deceptively mesmerizing, “Crack In the Sky” serves as an excellent bookend to Timing, carrying the listener beyond the dreams spun with the preceding songs, sojourning into the dreamland from whence they came.
(Ark 21 Records)
It probably sounded like a great idea at the time – take the songs of the POLICE, arguably the musical popularizers of “reggatta de blanc” or “white reggae,” and get a bunch of authentic Jamaican artists to record them as a tribute to the band. The result is Reggatta Mondatta, a hit-or-miss collection of, yes, classic Police cuts interpreted by the artists who originally influenced the band’s sound. When Reggatta Mondatta shoots straight, like with SHINEHEAD’s amazing reading of “Jamaican In New York” or ZIGGY MARLEY’s “One World (Not Three),” the disc hits a bull’s-eye every time. Other efforts, such as those from ASWAD or MAXI PRIEST, are lost on these ears. If you’re a fan of the POLICE, you’ll probably find Reggatta Mondatta a fitting nod to the band’s legacy; otherwise, proceed with caution.