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SARAH RABDAU & SELF-EMPLOYED ASSASSINS
Say it With Scissors Records
Sarah Rabdau & Self-Employed Assassins
Well, I suppose a lazy reviewer might listen to the magisterial track twelve and trot out the usual references to Dead Can Dance and the like, but there’s something more than world-beat slash goth overkill happening here. First of all, Ms. Rabdau is a meticulous vocalist whose delivery seems controlled yet feels ecstatic. I am convinced that it is in this very unity of opposites that the defining essence of her artistry lies. Secondly, the instrumentation is less world beat than subtle art rock drawing upon a variety of eclectic influences, including (I assume) modern classical composers. Third, Peter Moore’s production on his nine songs is superb; under a less practiced hand these songs might have been reduced to seeming superficially like merely pallid and opaque sentimentality. As it happens, I find myself caring less about the lyrics or even individual songs, and focusing more upon the vocal phrasing and the textural innovations across all twelve songs. That said, Ms. Rabdau’s vocal theatrics on “Queen of the Castle” are truly remarkable, and Matt Graber’s percussive moves on “Riots and Revolutions” render it a true piano-and-drum showpiece. And the quiescent tempo of the keyboards, the percussion, and the gorgeous vocal line on “Man Child” could hardly be improved upon. (Francis DiMenno)
Also in this issue:
Christmas CD Reviews
I was surprised to find that this band is actually pretty cool, despite the Noise Board personas and the middle-aged, tie-dye-shirt-wearing band members pictured on the inner album cover. All at once, they’re kind of a jam band (think Phish) and kind of a rock ’n’ roll band (think the White Stripes or Queens of the Stone Age), but they also have a futuristic vibe (think Campaign For Real-Time). The strange combination of styles works though. My favorite song is “The Great Space Coaster,” a pretty sweet rock song that is strangely reminiscent of “I Am the Unknown” by the Aliens. All the songs are fun and catchy—though none of them are especially memorable, and they all sound like a patchwork of several other bands, but they’re all songs I could dance to if I had to see this band play live, so for that I give “Landlocked Nation” a six out ten. It probably would have been higher but I just found the cheesy instrumental interludes too annoying to forgive. (Emsterly)
This is a band that has never ceased to impress or amaze me since day one. With the departure of lead singer Kara Trott, rather than try to find someone else that fits the mold, this band has broken that mold and completely reinvented itself in a bold way. Though I miss the overt progressive elements that first endeared me to the band, Fluttr Effect has redefined its sound and approach entirely by writing intensely powerful and intelligent songs that smack the listner into focusing on the band as a whole, rather than providing a backdrop. There are hooks, musically and vocally. The vocals duties, handled mostly by Troy Kidwell are also split between Midi-Mallet percussionist Vessela Stoyanova and cellist Valerie Thompson. The call and response approach provides a unique interplay between the singers in the band, presenting an additional counterpoint hitherto unexplored. Fluttr Effect has made that transition from group to band. This is more than worth a listen. (Joel Simches)
THREE DAY THRESHOLD
Lost in Belgium
Three Day Threshold is not quite the archetypal American rock band (is there such a beast?). But they are a model of what rock is (forgive me) all about. It actually took me quite a while to realize that, just as businessmen pretend to be kind to improve their business prospects, so rock musicians act loutish, and for much the same reason. Because rock musicians aren’t about affirming death (well, most of them aren’t)—they’re all about laughing at its significance. Now, recording a live album of intrinsically American songs before an audience of Belgians and Dutchmen may seem like a bonehead move, but it’s actually brilliant, and I’m sure the Russian Formalist Yury Tynyanov would concur. Old Yuri laid down some boss riffs of his own, including this gem: namely, that an art form evolves by exploring and then exploding “the principles underlying the relationship between the individual utterance and a prevailing complex of norms.” Translated into non-gibberish, this means that a good rock band would be content with a faithful impersonation of “Folsom Prison Blues,” but a great one would personify the whole genre of prison ditties in one idiosyncratic performance of a classic. Listen to the Bobby Fuller Four, to Johnny Cash, to Lou Reed, and then to Three Day Threshold, and you can almost literally see the lines of connection. Or just listen to “Gone Part 2” and you’ll hear the throbbing pulse of rock ’n’ roll and be able to read there an entire rulebook of the form. (Francis DiMenno)
Ah, yes, Mrs. Slimedog here, the best music reviewer in the galaxy. Well, maybe next to Zortar, but I know way more music stuff than him! These tramps are a three-piece Japanese band—one gal, two guys—that was formed by Satoru Nakagawa while attending Berklee School of Music which, I believe, is a famous Japanese music school in Japan.
This band does many styles of music—pop, rock, country and Slimedog says, though executed well, it’s pretty much run up the hill commercial stuff that would have fit better on ’70s radio. But what I think is exciting, is that they do a new style of music called blues music. I guess it’s an older, original form of music developed in Japan and the band plays this style so well that you can tell that that’s were it’s from, very authentic. I think this blue music could go big over here and I eagerly look forward to the much anticipated purple music, surely coming soon. (Mrs. Slimedog)
Tell Me Something Honey 14-song CD
What succeeds in this album is Nathan’s awareness and use of particular elements of songwriting, arrangements, and orchestration. Those three elements really gel on this disc. Upon first listen, one may simply assume we have a folkie guy doing his melancholy thing with an acoustic guitar. As soon as you might reach the edge of yawning, the intensity, for lack of a better term, increases. His voice may change to a timbre you didn’t think he could do; the band suddenly expands within the song to include a bitchin’ horn section, string section, and more. Nathan always resets each song’s style to his own specifications, meaning he has his own sound. As a storyteller who can really put his words to music (or is music to words? I can never figure that one out.), this disc is well worth repeated listenings, each one growing more colorful than the last. (Mike Loce)
THE FATAL FLAW
We Are What We Pretend to Be
Though I’d heard of this band before, I’d never actually heard their music, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Joel Reader’s vocals are classic and are the shining jewel of the band. “Lord, I’m Bored” is my favorite song on the album—it’s so catchy and has a killer bass line. “Shake Like Tremelo” is another really remarkable one—I can imagine its fun guitar line and captivating chorus will inspire some enthusiastic sing-alongs at shows. “Old Baby” is a standout too—it reminds me of As Tall As Lions. Overall, I like this album a whole lot—it’s infectious but not poppy, unique but not weird, easy to listen to but not overly mellow, indie but not boring. And last but not least, I loved the octopus-inspired album art. This is, by far, my favorite album that a Boston band has released this year. (Emsterly)
MERCYJAMES & THE MICROBATZ
“Echolocation” b/w “Upside Down (Side Two) in Love”
Pretty nice stuff for a self-designated side project. “Echolocation” has a bizarre and inimitably Bostonian early-’80s avant ambiance, what with its ooky compressed feel and unapologetic pulsing bass line and affiliated high weirdness. Think the Girls smashing headlong into the B-52s. “Upside Down (Side Two) In Love” has distorted helium vocals, like the Chipmunks essaying a hands-on desecration of Buddy Holly. Are they serious? Probably not. But who cares? (Francis DiMenno)
Silent Spirit Records
Beyond The Law
Greetings, Zortar here, alien from another planet once again inhabiting the festering, lice encrusted body known as Slimedog. I believe this was assigned me because this Desar character seems to be a time traveler from the 18th century, and possibly a “highway man,” a thief on a horse. This CD came with old parchment, a box, gold bouillons and such. He well could be an alien and while the music is not as strange as the package it is a bit eccentric. First song emitted is a German oompah song that maybe Weill-Brecht could’ve written and is good fun. Most of the CD is vocals with classically influenced solo piano and occasionally drums. Along the way is the cover of a perfect song by a perfect artist, Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” done imperfectly. Alas, this CD does not melt an inch of my cold alien soul but fans of the Dresden Dolls might find this enchanting. (Slimedog)
Skull Hammer Music
Fear The Truth EP
My first impression from hearing the opening riff was that it sounds like Aerosmith played backwards under the influence of Thunderbird wine. Then a thrash fest begins. A short, intense blast of a 4-slice habanero metal pizza is this disc’s sonic essence. It’s actually quite good. This trio from Millis, MA delivers a sound that may be (distantly) influenced by Motorhead at points. A little Metallica at times, but all in all, it’s a distillation of these and similar styles that are really cool when you’re driving over the bushes as you exit the CVS parking lot in your 1989 Oldsmobile Delta 88. Rock on Skull Hammer! (Mike Loce)
THE FATAL FLAW
Stab the Speakers
2-song vinyl 7 inch
A cut from their fabulously flamboyant, impressive new album, We Are What We Pretend To Be, “Stab the Speakers” is a powerfully relentless hit single. The verses will remind you of Depeche Mode on steroids while the choruses will remind you of the Cure’s Fascination Street, while someone takes a bat labeled Human League and smacks you in the back of the head.
Are they being tongue in cheek? Is this a pastiche on dance floor pretense? Who cares. This is an amazing tune! The B-side is a Daft Punk cover. Who the hell covers Daft Punk? No one (except the Fatal Flaw). Their version of “Digital Love” is a bombastic, rockin’ homage to the original. The Fatal Flaw is clearly poised on the runway, now who will watch them take off? (Joel Simches)
I’ve listened to this album repeatedly and just can’t get into it. Most of the songs are good, but no matter how hard I try to listen closely so that I can have something to say in this review, I end up getting distracted and forget to pay attention. I think that’s the problem—it’s just background music. It’s easy to tune out, even when you’re actively trying to listen. I certainly can’t give them a negative review, because the songs are all well-written and show an obviously high level of musicianship; I want to like them, and I want to listen, I just can’t. The quiet, unobtrusive vocals combined with monotonous guitar picking just fade into the background too easily. The one exception is the eighth track, right in the middle of the album—“Vaquero,” a mellow acoustic song in the vein of American Football, almost makes the whole album worth it. (Emsterly)
Hi, the bluebird that hops outside Slimedog’s apartment here. You know the term free as a bird? That’s because we defecate while floating through the sky. It’s a wonderful feeling and I’ve convinced Slimedog to try it.
Now, this is very much in the folk-rock genre, which normally would entice me as much as a cat under a bush. But this is very lo-fi recorded and at times brings to mind the more mellow tunes of the Velvet Underground, a band I truly love. They sound more like a ’60s band from San Francisco but still there’s a late night, ominous feeling that hangs over the songs nicely. And “Such A Beautiful Heaven” with its sitar and Indian rhythm works great, so, two wings up for this one.
Now it’s time to take to the skies, evacuating my bowels and covering spots with drops along my way. Hooray! (Slimedog)