SILVER CIRCLE REVIEWS: November 2007

 

FISHEYE BROTHERS
Fisheye Records
8-song preview
            There are three songs on this latest Willie Alexander project that defy ready description: The closing track, “Cruisin Boise,” is best: it’s a classic, like “White Light/White Heat” channeled through “Rock-a-Hula Baby”—yet another hypnosonic masterpiece from a local legend who has already given us so many. “Me and My Doppelganger” is another nonesuch: a combination of incantatory talking blues fronting an abstracted but discernable melody. The entertaining and easygoing “Barbara Reid” is the third: it hearkens back to some of Willie’s experimental honkytonk stylings circa “Tap Dancing On My Piano.” Alexander is backed on this release by the multitalented Steven Silbert (guitar, trumpet), Justin Chenevert (recorder), and is joined by Jim Doherty (drums, guitar) and Mark Chenevert (sax, clarinet) from the Persistence of Memory Orchestra. I hate to say that all of these songs are idiosyncratic. Because that describes just about every Willie Alexander project I have ever heard. They’re sometimes gritty and dynamic (“My 34”) and at other times unsprung and eerie (“Proximity”), and at other times odd, haunting and compelling (“When the Swan Was on the Boulevard”). So what’s new? Nothing, really. Hey, you don’t mess with a force of nature.   (Francis DiMenno)

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MISKATONIC
Let Us Entertain Us
11-song CD
            John, where are you? I need your help. I can’t place this. This, “Sno-Cone Girl,” sounds like late ’70s new wave synth pop.
The guitars are a little crunchier. It adds a little ’60s garage element.
The male vocals sound almost Talking Heads-ish. Now this next one, “The Fall,” begins with drums, guitar, and spoken female vocals. No synth.
It’s totally ’50s: the guitar sound, the spoken vocals.
Yeah, but she’s grittier than that. There’s lots of angst and power. I hear a lot of Blondie in this stuff. I hear a lot of influences but they don’t sound like anyone I know.
Echo & the Bunnymen. Miskatonic has a good guitar player. I like the solos. You know what else they sound like? Tribe.  Or almost Beatles-ish.
Well, that narrows it down. But there are lots of varying guitar sounds on this CD.
I like the way they place the guitars around the vocals. Like when they’re singing the guitars are in the background but are brought up front during the breaks.
It’s as if someone flipped a switch and all this power emanated from somewhere. It’s damn near perfect. What’s your verdict?
[in typical understatement] I like it.   (Robin Umbley/ John Hess)

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THE OUTLETS       Outlets Records
The Outlets Rock 1980      15-song CD
“Long before Green Day, there was The Outlets.”  That was it says on the CD.  My first reaction was, “What the fuck?  The Outlets were way better than Green Day!”  But some dedicated listening demonstrates that the two bands were coming from the same planet, the planet where punk and a strong sense of melody meet and do not diminish from each other.   I’ll admit that I’m a little confused, because the press release calls this “a brand new recording of a 1980 set.”  Well, I’d never have guessed that this was anything other than a 1980 set—if this is being played by the 2007 version of The Outlets, then time has been damn good to these punks.  The energy is uniformly high throughout, the playing is tighter than [insert profane phrase of your choice], and the songs all have “party mix/mosh pit” written all over them.  If you remember Gang Green in their heyday, or Jerry’s Kids, but a little less booze-soaked, you get the picture here.  And you can even understand the lyrics.  What were these guys thinking?   (Tim Emswiler)

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THE TIME BEINGS
Dino Records
Journey To Tyme
13-song CD
“Where I Come From” opens with thundering drums and an early Who-like build up in volume and intensity. When you think you might have The Time Beings pegged as British Invasion, wait until the swirling Middle Eastern sitar-style guitar riffs from Preston Wayne’s arsenal hit ya! Right from the start, Jay Martorano proves he has what fans call the ultimate garage voice: a snotty snarl that threatens to destroy whatever (whomever?) steps in his path.  Martorano (vocals, bass), Wayne (guitar), Aquino (guitar), and Kowalcek (drums) up the ante on “Journey To Tyme.” It’s Kenny & the Kasuals meets AC/DC in a Frisco Speedball-fueled rumble. My live fave, The Kinks’ “Time Will Tell,” is raw emotion. The Romancers’ “Love’s The Thing,” written by Max and Robert Uballez, is another smoker. These over the top guitar breaks were previously unheard of outside of East L.A. or on Boulders. Be it cover version or original, The Time Beings are gonna burn you up and down.   (Nancy Neon)

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REV. BOB AND THE DARKNESS
Coffee Stain Music
Gallows Hill
17-song CD
A mixed bag here that still deserves to be listened to from start to finish.  It’s self-described as “roots, rhythm and Gothic blues”—that ain’t far from the truth.  This seven-member band features a female singer who can belt or croon, as well as play violin, accordion, and upright bass.  The Rev. Bob has a killer voice of his own, and the harmonies here are damn near perfect, with just enough looseness to give the disc a live sound.  Most of the songs here are pretty haunting– “Left Me Hanging” is as creepy as any murder ballad you might choose, and all the instruments and singers work in such perfect sync that you can’t help think of times when emotion and song-construction and harmonies and intensity were the requisite factors for a Good Song.  (Not that this has changed, it is just largely ignored.)  If I were still in the habit of crying into my beer, you can bet your ass that I’d be at this band’s next show.  I may just do that anyway.   (Tim Emswiler)

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THE INDEFINITE ARTICLE
Things You Don’t Know
7-song CD
Spacehog and Ben Folds have gone hip-hop, or at least that’s what the Indefinite Article would have you believe. This EP, a little tease to prepare you for a full-length in ’08, is an uncanny blend of some of the coolest Britpop/soul mixed with some great hip-hop rhythms, gospel, R&B, and even a horn section.  There are more pop references in this EP than in a Shrek film. This CD will get things moving, shaking, pumping, and throbbing.  I’ll let you decide which body parts get to do those things, but once this CD starts burning up the speakers, you may find your body parts have their own ideas. The band loses major hip points for me with their Vegas-review rendition of EMF’s “Unbelievable.”  I would have hoped for something a little more imaginative and less obvious for a cover.   (Joel Simches)

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PAT SCANLON
CDFreedom
Blue State Liberal
12-song CD If you get past the hectoring tone of these progressive-liberal folk ditties, you might note the affinities here with stalwarts such as early Phil Ochs and Country Joe & the Fish. However, otherwise, I’m sorry to have to say that a good deal of this seems pro forma and almost mechanistic. It’s almost as if no agitprop cliché or everyday occurrence is too banal to be processed through Mr. Scanlon’s twang-o-matic. Only when Scanlon has something genuinely amusing to impart, as on “If I Only Played the Tuba,” do the proceedings rise above a sort of base-line earnestness which may be heartening for progressives, but which is somewhat inimical to aesthetic enjoyment.   (Francis DiMenno)

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BOVACHEVO
Maiden Voyage Records
Bovachevo
7-song CD
Bovachevo is a dark, brooding, and very interesting trio.  Its influences become clear with each and every listen.  Fans of Polvo, Slint, Black Flag, Minutemen, Rhys Chatham, and The Melvins will love this.  The best part of this recording is conveyed by the clenched fist tightness of the band.  I especially love how the lyrics intertwine so well with the swirling rhythm and mood changes.  The wordplay is extraordinary.  If the band had a vocalist, you could really hear this. They don’t.  It’s all-instrumental and it’s all pretty fantastic and heavy.  This record must be played loud and wearing underwear on your head.  I encourage everyone to do this now!   (Joel Simches)

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LIZ STAHLER
Stitches in My Sleeve
12-song CD
This is a pretty, pleasant affair that may not change your life, but will serve you well enough on a lazy, rainy Sunday morning.  This is strictly middle-of-the-road folk-pop, but the melodies are engaging enough. The very accomplished band keeps things at a lively enough pace, and the touches of distorted guitar and especially the cello provide some needed color.  Lyrically, Liz occasionally falls into some Folk 101 trappings, but for the most part, she proves to be quite adept at intimately painting scenes that reveal a little more each time, particularly on the opening “Wishing Well” and “Weather the Storm.”  There’s definitely some pokey padding at the end, though; I would have rather just seen this released as a tight EP than as a stretched-thin LP.  That said, there’s definitely more good than bad here, and hopefully, this is just the start of a solid career.   (Kevin Finn)

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VARIOUS ARTISTS
Demographic Records
The Commonwealth Mixtape 2006 Vol. I
25-song CD
I think I should quote from the label’s website here (edited for length, typos verbatim):

“On this site you will be able to freely download, beatz written and produced by SDotTaylor. The main purpose is to allow all lyricists to audition with D.R. To qualify you will need to download one of these beats above and record your own version of our song, then send it back to us. Not all demo’s turned in will make the cut, if you sound similar or better then the artists you hear, GET INVOLVED! Most artists do at least 2 trackz to assure them a slot on the [next] mixtape. Sometimes we use the same beat 3 times if all the trackz come out tight other times the track gets thrown into the dungeon for an unreleased mix. Once the process above is completed, we toss your song on our mixtape and press up to 10,000 copies. Of course if the cd comes out swag we won’t make that marker but that is what we are aiming for. You as the artist will finally receive the exposure you deserve! The basic idea in all this is free cross promotion, We’ll cover the cost to press the commonwealth mixtape and we’ll also allow you to buy the album at cost so you can push it too.”

A novel enough idea on paper, and I bet the producer means well (even if his name does appear in the credits 20 times), but the music is pedestrian hip-hop with some skits thrown in. If anyone actually does get famous from this, I’ll fuck your toaster.   (Joe Coughlin)

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US VERSUS THEM
UVT Records
We Will Expire
16-song CD
I like to listen to the music first, and then the vocals affect me later… even if the vocals come in a couple seconds after the music. Upon hearing the first track (in what an album I suppose belongs to the thrash genre) I fondly recalled my days listening to Metallica’s And Justice For All… when it was new. Us Versus Them (from Winthrop) has tight arrangements as heavy, dense and cold as the barren broken seawalls on Short Beach. The “vocalisms” are good, with actual Hetfield-ish singing mixed in with the screamo timbres I first heard when discovering Cannibal Corpse back in 1993. I’ll put on a favoritism that could only be gotten from growing up in and around Boston (I’m from Revere originally); I always thought that the North Shore guys had better taste and delivery in any kinds of “metal.” The South Shore was more of a girl-band, wimped out scene. Take sides!   (Mike Loce)

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MAGIC PEOPLE
Mister Records
Oh Decay!
10-song CD
Congratulations to Magic People for making only the second album to cause my cat to recoil in terror.  It would be kind of cool if it had that effect on me as well, but mostly I just got bored.  This is an alternately droning and trippy affair, with no guitars, two spooky keyboards and allegedly a flute, but the flute is too often buried or disguised.  Then again, who really wants to hear a flute?   Combined with the beat poet-esque semi-spoken vocals, this makes for a very strange album, but it mostly seems strange just for the sake of being pretentiously strange instead of finding its weirdness organically.  The vocal style also has the effect of causing the songs to sound like one drawn out, easy to ignore conversation.  But in this case, I guess should probably be thankful for that.   (Kevin Finn)

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CLEAR THE WAY
Clear the Way
11-song CD
These stout fellows from Hudson, Massachusetts have presumably gotten back from their tour of exotic Portugal and are now settling back for a long hibernation where they will without a doubt continue to work on their chops like a good rock band and avoid the truly serious mind-rotting debaucheries that are standard fare in those parts and elsewhere. Now, it’s certainly not for me to say whether this band of catchy hook-mongers are going to hit the big time beyond the 508, but, at their best, they do have this way of making The Ramones sound like The Cars, and vice versa. And there’s nothing subtle or pretentious going on here. And I don’t know if that’s what the market wants, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with it. You see, it’s kind of like this homemade beef stroganoff I’m eating—I like it; I wouldn’t force it on all my friends as the best dish ever because, quite frankly, it ain’t, but all my meat-n-potatoes buddies would probably scarf it down without a word needing to be said. Pick lyric: “I hate to break it to you Dave, but your wife is a whore.”   (Francis DiMenno)

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IAN JAMES
Blue FX Records
Volume 2
14-song CD
Having recognized Ian’s name from the punk band S.W.A.G.G., this electronica-heavy disc caught me off-guard.  According to his press release, Ian’s work has appeared in a number of movies and television shows, which makes sense to me, as these songs certainly seem like they would be better served as the accompaniment to something else than standing on their own.  That’s not to say that this is a poor effort by any means, as Ian proves to be a versatile performer by handling essentially all the instruments, with his bass playing particularly standing out.  The majority of the instrumental songs, though, too often fall into a mid-tempo drone.  The few songs with vocals generally add a nice diversion, as Ian’s Jim-Morrison-meets-Vincent-Price vocals provide an appealing ghoulish quality.  More of his voice on Volume 3 would be smart move.   (Kevin Finn)

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HANDS IN
Against the Storm
8-song CD
I’ve listened to Hands In’s album a few times through now, and to be honest, I’m having a hard time finding anything constructive to say about them. They’re basically your average, run-of-the-mill local hardcore band: their songs aren’t particularly memorable, the vocals are grating, and every now and then there’s a cheesy metal riff thrown in for good (well, in this case, bad) measure. The breakdowns in these songs are borderline tedious; I can’t imagine anyone getting pumped up at a show to this stuff. I love hardcore and I’m all about supporting the local hardcore scene, but this band just doesn’t get my blood pumping like a good hardcore band should.   (Emsterly)

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WATTS
One Below The All Time Low
14-song CD
Watts is a band whose sound exemplifies what I like to call “mom-rock.” You know, rock ’n’ roll that isn’t bad, just really cliché in a typical-music-that-my-mom-listens-to kind of way. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This album, “One Below the All Time Low,” actually has quite a few impressive tracks on it. All the songs are fast, catchy, and fun. “20 to 12” is one of my favorite tracks on the disc with its energetic guitar line and  catchy chorus. And I’m not going to lie; I’ve been listening to the last track on the disc, “Radio,” on my iPod to get pumped up at the gym. So though I think Watts’ sound has been done before, I really can’t help but like it. Don’t tell my mom.   (Emsterly)

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SINGUYA
Beat it Seagulls
8-song CD
I couldn’t expect more from a bluesy bar band from Hudson.  The smell of 40 ounces and brown swag weed permeates the tunes on this record.  This is some well-recorded, good time music with little bits of jazz, blues and reggae thrown in to make the barflies flash their floppy breasts as they chug along.  Brian “Big Time” Boomhowa’s tuneless nasal drone gets a bit much after the first song, but the music is tight and well played.  A trip to a real city would sharpen their edge.  This band could use just a little edge and more cowbell.    (Joel Simches)

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THE GILDED SPLINTERS
January
10-song CD
            January is an addictive CD. It is textbook rock ’n’ roll with the added dimension of soulful organ and prominent bright piano. I’ve played this four times already. The song structure on “Lisa Jack” sounds very Rolling Stones-ish. It’s three-chord rock with some organ and piano. The vocals sound like The Black Crowes.
It’s more like Steve Marriott.  No. It IS more like the Black Crowes. It’s American sounding, not British.
The third song, “Tag,” starts with piano and vocals.
Sounds like The Band. [John, all the while, is playing his Gibson SG, unplugged, along to this CD]
“Stranger’s Song” has a very Bono-ish vocal quality, very plaintive and lonely, like some early U2 song. You can hear all the musical parts distinctly. And “Another Dying Day” is totally the blues.
[John counts the 12 bars and verifies.] Yeah. This CD has a ’70s California/Eagles/Leon Russell thing happening. Maybe a little Texas, too.
“Show Me the Green” sounds a lot like John Lennon on “Twist and Shout.” I really like this CD except for one thing…
The vocals need to be up front.
Exactly. I should be able to understand every word with music like this, and I don’t.  But overall, this is a fantastic CD.   (Robin Umbley/ John Hess)

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SUGARBOWL
RawKim Records
Sugarbowl
13-song CD
Heartfelt. That’s the first adjective that appeared in my mind regarding Kim’s musical work, direct from the Vineyard (Martha’s Vineyard for you cretins). I know, it’s a rock mag and that word is too flaccid to start out a review. Some excellent guitar work heats up this album, and the balance of the instrumentation is right on. I’m a sucker for good guitar work. Kim’s vocals have a sexy, sultry quality that at times reminds one of Kim Gordon. There’s also an element of a Breeders’ type affirmative languidity (say that phrase five time quickly) within some of the denser song structures. “Motorcycle” is a raring, ripping ’50s Link Wrayish rave up that makes one want to turn away the latte and grab the whiskey (if that’s your thing). I can understand how a certified massage therapist would want to let it rock out after awhile; I’m sure rubbing down all those bodies creates a buildup of energy that needs to be channeled in a positive way.   (Mike Loce)

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PG DISASTER
Rollin with Golan Music
Bomb Bomb Mastaplan
10-song CD
I find this music slightly offensive but many might be very impressed. The band’s sound blends Van Halen guitar work with a Queens of the Stone Age type melody resulting in an LP worth of generically performed and perfectly recorded music. You are what you eat and their meals have been force fed to them since the mid ’80s. I am slightly offended by their cover of Maurice Star’s (boy band producer and songwriter who was highly influential to thousands of pre-teen fanatics in the ’80s) hit song he wrote for the New Kids on the Block called “Hanging Tough.” This ultimately ruins their reputation even if it was done as a joke. There is nothing about their music that has not been done before or that stands out. They may seem impressive—especially the lead guitarist who has perfected the art—to the untrained ear but the simplicity of their songwriting does not slip past me. If you’re a Van Halen enthusiast waiting for a band that can imitate them then Pig Disaster is right up your alley. If you’re looking for something original, you won’t find it here.   (Leonid)

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THE BIG BIG BUCKS
Rabbit Rabbit
5-song CD
            With a CD cover that looks like an invitation to an elegant aristocratic rabbit hunt, The Big Big Buck’s latest EP is a sonic joyride into the perils of indie pop.  Their raw DIY sound is an off kilter mélange of emo angst and twisted imagery.  Their previous releases seem to be about a band finding their sound, and with the Rabbit Rabbit, it seems like The Big Big Bucks have found something unique.  I love the little touches of mellotron provided by Jack Younger’s magnificent Basement 247 Studios. I am sooooo jealous, Jack!  I wish more bands could be this intense and creative. Cool.   (Joel Simches)

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COROLLA DeVILLE
DeVillicious
3-song CD
Corolla DeVille, a five-piece all-girl band, in effect plays tribute to every classic Boston band. These girls draw from the Boston rock tradition and cover two songs by Phil Haynen (The Dawgs), “Price I’ve Paid” and “Heartbeat,” with simultaneous reverence and originality. Lisa Connolly’s vocals evoke Chrissy Hynde, and the musicianship is tight yet raw and perfectly rock ’n’ roll. They have an original, “Lady Kenmore,” which has the most clever lyrics that I’ve heard in quite some time from any band—they compare a boy toy to a vacuum cleaner—and Patsy Bugden’s songwriting is quite catchy. You’d never guess that they’ve only been at this two years or so. Sir David Minehan had his hand in this recording, which means it must be half-decent. The caveat: the vocals need to be much more prominent in the mix.   (Robin Umbley)

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CRESPO
Crespo
3-song CD
Dave Crespo is a talented and prolific songwriter who, in just a few short years, has become something of a ubiquitous presence in clubland, having put together some great shows with his friends and opening the doors to a lot of new talent.
This three-song nugget is a bubble bath of pop hooks and recalls the halcyon days of pop, glam, and space rock.  Although Crespo’s vocals have sounded much better live than on this recording, the arrangement and sonic trappings of each of these songs are more than enough to make your ears smile.  The melodies are fresh and memorable and in the hands of the right producer, these songs could become the stuff of legend.   (Joel Simches)

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HIGHFIRE SKYLINE
Highfire Skyline
4-song CD
Hailing from a land where hardcore and nu-metal seem to prevail, Highfire Skyline seems like an anomalous gem in a pool of watered down, tired licks.  Highfire Skyline is an onslaught of high energy rock, with angular pop hooks and a soaring vocal floating high above the chaos, oblivious to the bar line, yet tightly woven into the fabric of the music.  The harmonies are lush and unconventional and the band sounds like a blazing firestorm of guitar texture and wizardry.  If you only listen to one CD all year, you really need to get out more.  This band is truly amazing.  Check it!   (Joel Simches)

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