Failure: Fantastic Planet

fantasticplanetPretty big let down here. You might recall I reviewed the band’s first album a couple of months ago and liked their second disc over at an old place. So I was pretty pumped to round out the band’s catalog (prior to this year’s reunion/comeback album, at least) with what seems to be regarded as their high point. I can say unequivocally that it is no such thing.

Things are much cleaner this time around. The grungy crunch and rip is gone and in its place is a very smooth, traditional sound. Another feature of grunge that’s left behind is drop-tuning with, again, the band taking a more traditional approach to harmony this time around. But worst of all is the combination of a lack of really great songs and the fact that the band seems to have been on sleeping pills for most of the record.

In typical 90’s fashion, this album is a ridiculous 17 tracks long, but, to be fair, three are those are “Segue” tracks where they’ve recorded some bumper sounds and riffs and use them as transitions or, heck, segues, if you will. But still, 14 songs. And the best stuff is all back loaded in the last eight tracks (seven songs). So the last five songs end things really strong, and, despite their traditional tunings, the band is still really good at weaving in novel sounds at various layers to keep your interest.

But of the first five tracks, three are Meh, and the two Likes are not at all fantastic, to which I call false advertising on the album’s title. So I’m kind of bored and the bar’s been lowered by the time I hit the next three tracks, which all garner Likes, but, again, bar is lowered and all that. Even the Really Likes, “Pitiful,” “Heliotropic,” and “The Nurse Who Loved Me,” are more like strong in parts rather than something that grab my attention throughout.

The production isn’t helping. I mentioned the clean sound, but everything’s super compressed and thus lacking dynamic range, which only heightens the same-key same-tempo problem the band is prone to fall into.

The most frustrating thing about all of this is that, again, this is the Failure album that I see getting the most cred in the community. Which makes me wonder if nobody’s heard the other two superior albums or if everybody else is just plain wrong. Either way it’s proof that everybody should just give up and start listening to me since it’s plainly obvious that I’m right and literally everybody else is wrong.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Pitiful,” “The Nurse Who Loved Me,” “Heliotropic”
Like: “Saturday Saviour,” “Sergeant Politeness,” “Blank,” “Segue 2,” “Dirty Blue Balloons,” “Segue 3,” “Another Space Song,” “Stuck On You,” “Daylight”
Meh: “Segue 1,” “Smoking Umbrellas,” “Pillowhead,” “Solaris,” “Leo”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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Lisa Germano: Excerpts From A Love Circus

excerptsfromalovecircusThis album is one of two in my current queue, both courtesy of Dig Me Out, where I’m first and foremost struck by the fact that the given artist has an artistic vision that is (i) fully formed, (ii) niche and often off-putting, and (iii) completely unique.Lisa Germano’s 1996 aptly- and greatly-titled release, Excerpts From A Love Circus, is the kind of thing that could have only seen wide distribution in the anything-goes ’90’s.It features, paradoxically, sparse instrumentation and lush arrangements with personal, expositional lyrics that are often more whispered than sung. There are strings, instruments I’ve never heard, and cats making cat noises for extended periods of time. The songs move ahead slowly and, again paradoxically, determinedly and faltering. It’s like a person wounded by love and life but moving forward putting one foot in front of the other, playing one chord after the other, because that’s all she knows how to do. There’s a song called “Baby On The Plane,” about exactly that and the trauma it causes in the nearby seats complete with screams that sound as if they were sampled from a roller coaster.

And then there’s the cats. There are three tracks with sub-tracks credited to what seems like could be Germano’s three(!) cats. And I’m sorry, but this whole woman singing about fucked up relationships and then giving a significant amount of time to her three (three!) cats, one of whom is named Miamo-Tutti(!)…it really plays into a stereotype and WHY THE HELL DO YOU HAVE THREE CATS?

I believe Germano’s most celebrated album is her 1994 release, Geek The Girl, because I think I’ve heard of that one. This seems like the phrase geek the girl ramped up to 11. I can get into some of this some of the time. But, try as I might, I can’t relate to it. At all. I can’t even relate to the guy(?) she’s singing about because she has three cats and, even beyond my allergies, that’s such a red flashing get-out-of-here light that I can’t even imagine getting to the point that I’m like going to have a relationship with this confessional songwriter. So this whole soap opera drama seems so distant and utterly avoidable that I just can’t even.

But honestly the way she takes these slow, determined, sparse songs and makes them sonic landscapes with what feels like minimal effort but obviously is very well thought out is kinda cool.

Rating:
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Like: “Small Heads,” “We Suck,” “Lovesick,” “Singing To The Birds”
Meh: “Baby On The Plane,” “A Beautiful Schizophrenic/’Where’s Miamo-Tutti?’ by Dorothy,” “Bruises,” “I Love A Snot,” “Forget It, It’s A Mystery,” “Victoria’s Secret/’Just a Bad Dream’ by Miamo-Tutti,” “Messages From Sophia/’There’s More Kitties in the World than Just Miamo-Tutti’ by Lisa and Dorothy,” “Big, Big World”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

New Bomb Turks: Scared Straight

scaredstraightIt wouldn’t be quite accurate to say I always got these guys mixed up with Afghan Whigs. I knew pretty well who Afghan Whigs were, didn’t care for them, and had a bunch of friends who loved them. But both bands’ names reference a Middle Eastern country or demonym and somewhere along the line I must have ingested the fact that New Bomb Turks are also from Ohio, and so it’s not too far a leap to just them assume that New Bomb Turks are probably exactly like Afghan Whigs.

But I’m happy to say they’re not. With a super revved tempo and a care-free fun-loving attitude that is evident in the hillbilly punk style of the music as well as the celebratory, this-is-who-I-am lyrics, New Bomb Turks are way too fun and happy to ever have to suffer the indignity of being compared to Afghan Whigs. Add a cocksure groove and sped-up, dirty hair metal solos that ape the song’s vocal melody, and you’ve got a rip roaring party that pushes along at a consistent 80 miles an hour from start to finish, with a slight, welcome slow down for the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”-esque final track, “Wrest Your Hands.”

The closest band I can think of like these guys is Reverend Horton Heat, but New Bomb Turks can really write songs and don’t rely on gimmicks so much. There’s a bluesy, honky tonk feel throughout, most notably in that last track and in the piano of “Professional Againster,” but I also hear nods to Faster Pussycat’s “Bathroom Wall” in “Telephone Number,” not just in the reference to a phone number, but also in the story being told from one stranger to another (or many) in a phone conversation as well as the mix of self-love and self-hate in the call recipient.

Due to the relentless speed and heavy mix of the drums, this isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. Most will want just a sample. Even I get a bit tired by the end, but thankfully their sequencing ends with the best song followed by the slowest. This could be stronger if they’d lightened the load by taking off the tracks they buried in the middle of the second half. But hey, if you need an adrenaline burst over the course of an entire album, give this a try.

[LATE UPDATE] You know this has a lot of horns on it, which seems like something worth mentioning, and also makes them sound a lot like Rocket From The Crypt, which also seems like something I should have mentioned.

Rating:
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Mix: “Telephone Numbrrr”
Really Like: “Bachelor’s High,” “Professional Againster,” “Cultural Elite Sign-Up Sheet,” “Jukebox Lean,” “Jeers Of A Clown,” “Look Alive Jive,” “Drop What You’re Doin'”
Like: “Hammerless Nail,” “Staring Down The Gift Horse,” “Shoot The Offshoot,” “Wrest Your Hands”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Chavez: Better Days Will Haunt You

betterdayswillhauntyouFrom the opening minute of their very first single, with a high-pitched dissonant melodic interval in the guitar that makes a 3:00 AM car siren sound appealing, Chavez lets you know they are not going to be an easily digested band. Math rock, angular, dissonant, abrasive…pick your favorite term, Chavez are basically right there in your face with it all. Well, maybe not as fast as what I usually think of as math rock, but everything else, yeah.

I’d never heard of these guys until a few months ago, but apparently they were pretty big during their brief, mid-90’s career. I don’t feel like re-finding the reference, but I swear I read that they sold more than any other Matador artist, which is huge on its own, but especially so for a band I hadn’t heard of.

But those dueling alternate realities, one where Chavez was mega huge and another where there existence hardly registered a blip, converge into this universe where all of their recorded material is out of print and yet survives in a single, two-CD collection released a decade after their last new release was issued. It’s all here, that debut 7-inch, both of their LPs, the two songs from their EP that aren’t also on one of the LP’s, and some outtakes and contributions to compilations. It’s 28 tracks of odd time signatures, quiet-loud distorted guitars and vocals, and abstruse lyrics. It’s great, but if that opening fire alarm makes you think you can’t make it through 28 tracks, my advice is to start with track 14, a wonderful cover of Schoolhouse Rock‘s “Little 12 Toes” and then go on to tracks 15-26, which constitute their 1996 album Ride The Fader, which is easily the crown jewel of their discography.

I generally like everything else here, but Ride The Fader is where everything came together for these guys, where their great riffs became incredible sections and their tracks became honest-to-goodness songs that you want to hear over and over and can’t get out of your head. Some of the tracks would even be rated higher if they hadn’t included non-sequitur sound effects at their beginnings and ends, but, fine, in 1996 bands were still going for that start-to-finish album thing. I get it. And I’m really glad I finally heard of these guys, even if it was 20 years too late.

(Oh, also, Shudder To Think. There are places where they are very reminiscent of that band, though I’m not sure reminiscent is the right word since they were contemporaries.)

Rating:
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Mix: “Little 12 Toes,” “The Guard Attacks”
Love: “You Must Be Stopped”
Really Like: “Repeat The Ending,” “Break Up Your Band,” “The Ghost By The Sea,” “You Faded,” “Top Pocket Man,” “Unreal Is Here,” “New Room,” “Our Boys Will Shine Tonight,” “Memorize This Face,” “Cold Joys,” “Flight 96,” “Ever Overpsyched,” “White Jeans”
Like: “Hack Away The Sides,” “Nailed To The Blank Spot,” “Laugh Track,” “Pentagram Ring,” “Peeled Out Too Late,” “The Flaming Gong,” “Wakeman’s Air,” “Relaxed Fit,” “Tight Around The Jaws,” “Lions”
Meh: “The Nerve,” “Theme From ‘For Russ'”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Animal Chin: The Ins & Outs Of Terrorism!

theinsandoutsofterrorism

I went to high school with vocalist/guitarist Jamie Woolford, and another high school friend, Josh Steinbauer, gets writing credit, so no review, just the song notes and song ratings.

  1. Seven – ska influence
  2. Heir To The X-Fortune – hardcore. fast.
  3. Have You Seen Him? – instrumental
  4. Time-Out – probably the Animal Chin song
  5. The Top Contender – almost reggae in parts
  6. Not Like You

Mix: “Have You Seen Him?,” “Time-Out”
Really Like: “Heir To The X-Fortune,” “The Top Contender,” “Not Like You”
Like: “Seven”
Filed Between: Tori Amos (Abnormally Attracted To Sin) and Animal Chin’s All The Kids Agree

King’s X: Ear Candy

earcandyI’ve been building up to this review with my recent run through the King’s X discography. This was the point where I left the band because I was incredibly disappointed with the album. Upon hearing that my good friend KEN thought this was a great album, I gave it another try many years after it came out, but my disappointment didn’t change. Now that Dig Me Out reviewed it, I’m giving it another chance.

I’m glad I did. Not because it’s great (it’s not), but because I can at least now hear what is good about it. First, though, here’s what I got right so many years ago. Everything’s quiet, muffled, and restrained on this album. It’s got one gear, and that’s kicked back. It ends up being very same-y. Laid back and monochromatic are not the reasons I go to King’s X. Now I can hear that a lot of this trouble lies in the production. There’s a spot in the middle of the third track, “Something,” where the guitars get more distorted and things crank up a notch, but only in timbre. There’s no corresponding crescendo, no speed up in the pace, and, worst of all, just no fullness of sound. Likewise, there’s a slew of relatively heavy tracks in the middle of the album, from “Looking For Love” to “67,” and while the songs are good, they just don’t rawk.

Once you get past those problems, though, you find there are some good songs. They’ve still got songwriting and performance chops, they’re just going with a bluesier, more roots-rock feel here. That’s a fine choice, and not an accident, but the choice to make the production reflect that choice, even for the parts of the songs that don’t call for that treatment, that’s just flat out a mistake. Furthermore, to enjoy this, you’ve got to overlook the silly song titles “(Thinking And Wondering) What I’m Gonna Do,” “Looking For Love,” “Life Goes By”) as well as things like the trudging repetitiveness of “A Box” and “Lies In The Sand (The Ballad Of…)” and enjoy what those songs can bring you. So, in an unusual twist for a roots album, this rewards closer listening far more than background listening. And as long as you don’t let the obvious flaws color your impression of the rest of the album, it’s pretty good.

Rating:
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Mix: “Picture”
– “The Train,” “(Thinking And Wondering) What I’m Gonna Do,” “Sometime,” “Looking For Love,” “Mississippi Moon,” “67,” “American Cheese (Jerry’s Pianto),” “Life Goes By”
– “A Box,” “Lies In The Sand (The Ballad Of…),” “Run,” “Fathers”
Filed Between: King’s X’s Dogman and KISW Rock 99.9 FM HFL4 sampler
Song Notes: After the jump
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The Sugarplastic: Bang, The Earth Is Round

bangtheearthisroundThe Sugarplastic, at least on Bang, The Earth Is Round, is like a mix between They Might Be Giants and “Weird Al” Yankovic. They’re a bit of a gag band, kind of light-hearted with some cutesie melodies and silly, often too-cute lyrics. They’re not smart enough to be TMBG musically, or lyrically to be “Weird Al.” Really the best comparison is that they’re a lighter Presidents of the United States of America.

The thing they do best is in the production, the way certain, often off-beat or unconventional, sounds come and go just underneath the surface and add a lot of color to what is otherwise pretty plain instrumentation and timbres. It’s these little accents they make to their straightforward, almost nursery rhyme songs that makes it bearable. And I’ve still got to be in just the right mood to not have the silliness of the songs drive me nuts.

They teeter on the edge of annoyingness for the whole album, tipping over into it too often. The songs are well-crafted and only rarely too indulgent. I can’t find a whole lot to outright hate, but this is definitely not my style. I never want to listen to it again, but if I do I won’t be upset…just cringe a little.

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