CD Reviews

This Is What Bears Look Like Underwater 

14 tracks

On opening track “Little Things,” which sets the tone for much of what is to follow, it seems like Fred Boak, John Clark, Berke McKelvey, and Chandler Travis don’t so much rock out as commit acts of vaguely rock-like instrumental pop which are not quite like anything you’ve ever heard before, unless you happen to be inordinately fond of spacy ’70s jazz pianists, obscure late ’60s prog-rock, and even more obscure ’50s instrumental exotica—and maybe not even then. The closest comparison would involve a mellow, yawning Bizarro World version of the instrumental tracks on Pet Sounds. The introspectively whimsical and goofy exotica of “Camel, Passing Through The Eye of a Needle” is another prime example of this tendency, as are the instrumental tracks “Zoe” and “Stuck.” “January” (by Chandler Travis and David Greenberger) seems more like Harry Nilsson circa The Point, or maybe Robyn Hitchcock in the whimsical mode of “I Got a Message for You.” “Born to Disappear” is also reminiscent of a heartfelt Hitchcock number like “Globe of Frogs” or even Rod Stewart’s “Handbags and Gladrags.” “Take Me With You” (by Travis and Greenberger) is a spare, minimalistic love song; a mode which, by now, is a Travis Chandler specialty; ditto the inimitably sardonic “The Person You Deserve.” The goofy scatting vocal jazz of “One Step Forward” varies the pace, as do the NRBQ and Beatles covers. But it’s not all inimitably delicious Chandler Travis style weirdness: I point to the Best of Show: “Make the Small Things Pretty,” also by Travis and Greenberger. Here is a song which is very much in the laid-back but jangly pop mode of past Chandler Travis masterpieces (and I don’t use the word ironically). It’s a pop song with the damndest sense of dynamics I’ve ever heard, flowing along at an easygoing pace—so easygoing!—and with lush melodic breaks which slow the pace even further, yet somehow it works brilliantly, mostly due to the irresistibly chiming hook in the main guitar line. It’s a song every bit as risky and rewarding as a Brian Wilson confection like “The Little Girl I Once Knew.” Nearly as great is the inimitably loping, gorgeously melodic and impeccably constructed toe-tapper “Paper Roses.” The astonishing thing about this record is that the pace is mostly slowed way down, yet the melodic values are so strong that on the best numbers you can hardly bring yourself to stop tapping your feet all the same.           (Francis DiMenno)


Polk Records
Paternity Test

6 tracks

This EP starts off strong with the fast-paced ultra-melodic fuzz-boxed anthem “Shantytowns and Hoovervilles” and keeps up the momentum throughout the next five tracks. Their songs are driven by a rollicking rhythm section of spot-on drumming and tuneful plucked basslines roiling beneath loud and lively melodies cloaked in a grunged-out guitar tone that’s tough as coffin nails. The singer can’t sing and knows it. Does that stop him from belting out each tune with unrestrained punk-rock fervor? Hell no. He embraces it. His high-toned off-key whine, while disastrously out-of-place and utterly unforgivable anywhere else, is perfectly suited for the confines of a rowdy punk band likes this—or American Idol tryouts, but these guys have too much integrity for that. They play hard and fast. What they may lack in studio perfection and spit-polished production values, they more than make up for in attitude, ADHD-addled energy, and a lo-fi garage-rock spirit.    (Will Barry)



3 tracks

It is fitting that Tom Hauck has decided to call his new EP Insistent.  A synonym of the adjective “persistent,” the word is a perfect characterization of Hauck and everything his pop-rock-punk music stands for.  The former guitarist for New England bands the Atlantics and Ball & Pivot, Hauck presents listeners with three fierce, rocking tunes.  It is a sound all his own but one that is unmistakably influenced by the Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello, and Velvet Underground, to name a few.  Even the opener, “Flash,” has a B-52’s “Love Shack” flair, and Hauck’s vocal timbre sounds noticeably similar to that of Fred Schneider’s.  The one drawback is that the EP is entirely too short for a man of such great stature as Hauck.  Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too much longer for a new full-length, but until then, this definitely satisfies.           (Julia R. DeStefano)



6 tracks

The last few years have seen a resurgence in both the popularity of and the respect given to heavy metal. No longer is it something laughed at or admired only from an ironic distance.  Whether or not you view this as a good thing will certainly color your take on these indie rockers turned metalheads.  Rule definitely finds its inspiration from the more worthy bands of the genre.  Think Iron Maiden, Dio and Kill’em All era Metallica, not Steelheart and Wild Boyz.  The musicians are all impressive, particularly the increasingly versatile John Brookhouse on guitar, and lead singer Mike Soltoff deftly hits all the requisite high notes.  Listening to this album sent my two cats into an epic wrestling match that would put any of the classic Randy “Macho Man” Savage—Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat matches to shame.  That has to count for something.    (Kevin Finn)


Don’t Stand In My Sunshine 

12 tracks

Liz always entertains with her great hooks and metal/punk music and her latest release continues in the same fashion. Song after song the equation stays similar: she creates a good guitar hook and writes a melody around it. Her vocals preach, teach, tease, and scold and add a sense of urgency that is vital to all songs of meaning in the CBGB world. The opener, “Bang Bang,” is the hit with its great guitar riff and memorable bridge. Another radio-friendly cut is her version of John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” The gender switch in delivery makes Lizzie’s love song take on a whole new meaning and the quicker tempo makes it completely different from the original. “Sweet Pain” and “Moonlight & Whiskey” really rock and both feature the typical cool guitar riff with added volume 11 power chords. Even the ballad “Mystery” with Marnie Hall guesting on violin is a sweet rendition and is pure punk in its attitude alone. More good stuff from Liz Borden; check it out.             (A.J. Wachtel)


“Big Steam” (video)
An interesting, somewhat bluesy declamation. Miller himself points to the A-side as “a deliberate sonic referencing of Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” But it also reminds me, in an odd way, of the song “Warm Moving Bodies” by the ’70s San Francisco band the Units, who, though largely keyboard based, also specialized in a type of brutalist form of punk/post punk which was jarring in its tectonically shifting blocks of sound. The spiky guitar runs are a welcome highlight. Personnel: Miller (Mission of Burma) on vocals, guitar, and bass, and Larry Dersch (the Binary System) on drums, with superadded French horn by Brian Arnold. As for the video, it intercuts negative polarity effects added to live performance footage with intercuts from Buster Keaton’s The General as well as other train-oriented footage; no great shakes, but a workmanlike setting for the song.   (Francis DiMenno)


Muy Cansado

9 tracks

This trio couldn’t be more opposite than what their band name translates to (Muy Cansado is “very tired” in Spanish for those unfamiliar). On the contrary Muy Cansado’s music is bright, alert, rousing—so much so that listening now makes me want to jump up and dance around with a big smile on my face! I’m impressed with their dynamics and catchy indie pop flare. This super trio is Chris Mulvey, Lisa Libera, and Jon Ulman—a combination of musicians who create a beautifully layered sound that you would expect with a larger ensemble. For example, one of their tunes reminded me a bit of Arcade Fire—a seven-piece group as opposed to this three-piece. But it’s not about the quantity of performers but rather the songwriting and these songs are all stellar; plus Chris and Lisa’s harmonies are simply magical. I was going to call out the songs that I loved, but in all honesty I loved every track—and a special thank you to the band for their song “Let It Go,” which I happened to hear EXACTLY when I needed to. See—they’re magical. Muy Cansado you’ve got yourself another new fan!       (Debbie Catalano)


Cirkestra Music
The Hairless Woman             

10 tracks

You might not expect much musical diversity from an album’s worth of circus music, but there is a great deal of historically interesting Americana embedded in these delightful instrumentals. “Klezmer’s Charivari” is weirdly antic with an undertone of eerie sadness. The galumphing tempos of “Chair Balance” are delightfully humorous, like watching a rhino trying to eat a cupcake. “Little Holy Circus” is delicately revenant; thoughtful tuba and clarinet arrangements mark “Consuela’s Box Car Blues” as more Dixieland than blues. Equally delightful are the stately, gently melodic “Lilia the Human Cannonball,” the whimsical “The Un-Funny Clown,” and “A Pie in the Face,” oddly reminiscent of the TV theme “Mr. Terrific.” The pick tracks are the lively, circumambulatory “German Wheel,” and the gently nostalgic Tin Pan Alley reverie feel of the title and concluding track.    (Francis DiMenno)


Youth Companion  
10 tracks

This is a great indie/college rock disc. This disc left me reminiscing of the days when Talking Heads, REM, and U2 were still fresh, raw, and new. The biggest compliment I can give is I never once looked to see how much longer I had until the album was done. The songs flowed beautifully, the album is well balanced, and the singer had just enough angst without being melodramatic. This was my first taste of Mean Creek, but I really wouldn’t be surprised if in 20 years another reviewer is reminded of this great disc while listening to something new. I highly recommend this.   (Melvin O)


Now Tom. Now!!

10  tracks

Celebrating their first full-length release, the Hideout has refined the concept of post-punk pop to something resembling an art form. Not content to merely bash and bop away, the Hideout writes songs with darker subject matter, punctuated with a slightly more sophisticated chord structures and more adventurous arrangements than your typical punk-pop band weaned on a generic dose of your everyday Green Day, Social Distortion, and Dropkick Murphys wannabes. This music still has pomp and attitude, snarl and bite, but isn’t afraid to read a book, or drink some shelf whiskey.  This is post-punk with more than three chords, and definitely more than one idea.   (Joel Simches)


The Brighton Beat LP              

6 tracks

Interesting jazz fusion with elements of Latin music and Afropop. The orchestration throughout is agreeably eclectic without often being overtly showy; the improvisational passages tend to lead somewhere rather than merely meander; say what you will, but, overall, these guys have good taste. The production on this nearly hour-long outing is somewhat restrained; it seems to only intimate the dynamism of the live experience. To a certain extent the music may sound somewhat studied and designed to appeal to genre connoisseurs, but it is also listenable and seems like it might be accessible to non-jazz devotees. The opening track, “Pinball,” features daring interpolated snippets of free jazz, fusion, and what have you. Most notably, I hear snippets of late-period John Coltrane, certainly not the most accessible jazz, but perhaps more tolerable when offered up in sample-sized snippets within the context of a rhythmic framework with hooky leitmotifs and an occasional dollop of psychedelic keyboard.  A track such as “Changing Elevators” seems somewhat flashy and yet is whipsaw sharp, with a bevy of pleasing electric guitar solos to leaven the somewhat strenuous virtuosities of the horn section. “Giraffe” is vaguely reminiscent of “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc, but wanders through a soundscape more funk-laden than avant-jazzy, with some almost gospel-tinged keyboards emerging midway through. “The Paradox” is a picture perfect take on late 60s/early 70s jazz-rock fusion with a decidedly hard edge in its guitar/bass interplay—almost like “Layla”-era Clapton or the Allman Brothers. Only two tracks fall short: the perky, percolating motifs of “Capture the Flag” do not, alas, always rise above the status of jazzy background music. And thankfully, the band reserves their hardcore experimentation for the final track, “Indian Summer,” a woozy, psychedelicized ’80s-era Miles Davis-like mood piece. But overall, this is a solid and gratifying outing.                      (Francis DiMenno)


Wrenches and Rags 

12 tracks

Darlene Bailey has crafted a homespun and heartfelt CD based on her observations about life. The subject matter covers a variety of topics from a tune about an old bureau passed down through generations of her family, to broken relationships, to giving birth late in life, lobstermen, ancestors and love songs. Darlene nails the country genre with a tribute to “her Nascar stud—Ricky Rudd.” I think she has a country hit with that one. Darlene’s voice has an accessible, warm presence, she picks a crisp guitar and the arrangements are folksy and friendly.

The title song, “Wrenches and Rags,” is the story of Darlene’s parents—hard working folks who ran a service station and raised a family with wholesome ethics. For all you country music lovers especially, this is a nice mellow album to pop in the CD player while making dinner or driving. Ms. Bailey sounds as if she has been playing music all her life with loved ones, friends and neighbors. I can imagine her performing at local festivals and family events. Her lyrics rhyme and the melodies are pleasant but this isn’t a confessional album spilling all the dirt about life’s dramas. It’s a sweet compilation of gratitude and appreciation for the little things in life. With all the complaining and rage in this world it’s nice to find a musician who is celebrating simple pleasures. This CD is a little time capsule of love.       (Kimmy Sophia Brown)


Ruby Rose Fox

5 tracks

I love this! I love that Ruby Rose Fox describes the genre on Facebook as “old-fashioned” and I love that it has, what I would call a theatrical modern heyday sound. But that description of mine is inspired by the overall stylings. Ruby’s voice has so much character that she creates a piece of art in each song. Now I have five songs only in which to get the feel for Ruby Rose Fox but those five songs are enough to take a trip into a little magical time-traveling world—from cabaret to garage to soul. Ruby Rose Fox’s supporting band is terrific and this EP recording is full and super warm. Overall, I’d say it’s marvelous!        (Debbie Catalano)


Love & Dirt

10 tracks

The latest effort by these stalwarts starts off with “Down to You,” a languorously sweet-natured MOR declamation followed by a wanna-be wistful duet, “Love Changes Everything,” which gratifyingly transmogrifies into a stomping hoedown. “Barbed Wire” is a catchy early ’70s country-rock pastiche ala Jackson Browne. The appealing “Making Hay” is a familiarly minimalistic bluesy romp not unlike Treat Her Right. The closing track, “So Far From Your Door,” is a soulful and entertaining bit of melodic patter. “Easier” is the standout oddity, an evincing lament, with instrumentation which is a cross between drum & bass and exotica, it points to a versatility and willingness to experiment. But ultimately? The production and mixing are impeccable, the musicianship is of a very high professional standard indeed, as you might expect from stellar local performers like Jim Ryan and Jim Fitting, but many of the compositions just don’t seem to measure up. The songs are well crafted, but seem more like down-to-earth finger exercises than fully realized works of art. It all seems somehow second-hand. Not so much derivative as simply pallid. I’m simply not hearing much that is truly earth-shaking or even memorable.      (Francis DiMenno)


Bluntface Records  

8 tracks

Virus Cycle’s third release is another brilliant dark masterpiece which skillfully combines all the best (and silliest) aspects of goth, metal, industrial, and low budget horror movies, to create the ultimate soundtrack to eat human flesh and brains by. Throw in a little dose of religious cynicism and a twisted sense of humor and this album becomes the perfect expression for the Theatre of the Demented.  Having been a fan of releases on this label, I am impressed by the production and quality of this.  Listen on headphones in a sensory deprivation tank on mushrooms at your own risk and whatever you do, don’t look at yourself in the mirror.  It won’t be pretty. Everyday really is Halloween.               (Joel Simches)


Ed Romanoff

11 tracks

Achingly beautiful. I’m moved by Ed Romanoff’s musical storytelling and whether the stories he tells are deeply personal or observations on moments in life, they are told with such utter sincerity and truth of the heart. Rich, warm vocals with an emotionally textured feel, Ed shares his songs in a vein best described as low-key Americana—singer/songwriter with a folksy twangy root vibe. I rather prefer to say he’s a poet—a la Leonard Cohen. The self-titled CD opens with one of those aforementioned personal songs (and I encourage you to read more about the inspirations on his site or CD cover) “St. Vincent de Paul”—one of my favorites but honestly I was entranced by every song in this recording including the one cover, “I Fall To Pieces”—a rendition of which I felt every broken piece that Ed so genuinely relays. I’m compelled to name some of the contributors to this wonderful CD: producer Crit Harmon and background vocalists Mary Gauthier, Josh Ritter, Josh Kaufman, Tift Merritt, and Meg Hutchinson. Truly sublime.   (Debbie Catalano)


Live @ WMFO

3 tracks

The first track, “Pickin’ Bones,”is a nice, low-key bluesy effort with mysterioso vocals by Judith Arc; the second “Keep Away,” is a primitive blues more in the incantatory vein of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” while the post-apocalyptic third track “Long Ride,” is the standout, with its exotica-tinged guitar.    (Francis DiMenno)


Endless Forms Most Beautiful

10 tracks

Thanks to Bandcamp, I was able to hear this CD in its entirety as the CD itself had some issues—or perhaps my player did. Nonetheless, it’s always good to offer that alternative access to music. On to the music: the Difference Engine fuse a sometimes-’80s feel with present-day electronic music. Notice I did not say “electronica”—is there a difference? I don’t know but electronica didn’t feel right. What it comes down to the Difference Engine captivated me with their original sound. I really dig the dreamy grooves and how the band meld that quality with some pulsing rhythms. I appreciate that the Difference Engine stays consistent with their style throughout but avoids sounding like one super long song—which can happen with this genre. There are several tracks I really like on this CD, some with the ’80s vibe like “The Still” and “In Medias Res” and others with more of that independent vibe like “Happy Together” and “In the Dim Lights of 3A” (probably the one with the most radio potential). Good job.                    (Debbie Catalano)


Flatbubba Records

11 tracks

Amaral and company play the type of music you can take home to Mom or play over the loudspeakers at Whole Foods.  It’s pleasant, affable, tuneful, and completely bland. Amaral takes every groove-oriented, black-identified genre of music and whitens the living crap out of it.  He’s a 21st century Pat Boone.  There’s neutered jazz, neutered funk, neutered R&B, and even a little neutered hip hop (in the form of a laughably out-of-nowhere cameo from a rapper).  At its best, the band comes off as a sexless Maroon 5, and, to be fair, there is clearly a market for that. What saves this record from being absolutely terrible is that the musicianship is tight, and Amaral has a warm, expressive voice that drips with earnestness.  He sells the music well; I just wish he’d be willing to get a little dirt under his nails.      (Kevin Finn)


Hello Weekend 

10 tracks

This debut LP from Biscuits and Gravy starts out with a smooth, mellow R&B groove about the joy of making it to the end of the dreaded nine-to-five. It’s the perfect tune to wake up to on Saturday morning and start the two days we always look forward to, with some kicking rap lyrics to add a little spice to the mix. “Blind” serves up a full band ensemble with a powerful horn section that dares you not to dance.

I’ve heard this band ranges in size from the core seven members to around 15, and it sounds like they’ve brought the whole shooting match to this album. The vocals of David Huddleston are energetic, at home with a smooth jazz tune or a pulsating big band beat, and other members of the band, Sam R-P (guitar), Mark Steinert, AKA Ghost, (keys), Evan Coniglio (bass), Mark Ward (drums), Paul Jefferson (alto sax) and Eric Tait (trumpet) craft a beautiful symphony of sound that energizes the soul.

This album’s been three years in the making and it’s been well worth the wait. Contained within these 10 tracks are a boatload of desire, drive, and a love for the music. This is not a CD to relax to: if you can last three songs without being struck by the urge to get up and move around the room, you’re a better person than I.    (Max Bowen)


The Shapes

11 tracks

I don’t know much about the Shapes other than it’s a project by Jeff Reynolds and that the CD cover seems to be its own bio with a simple “modern traditional fusion.” But it is a self-described demo of instrumental music that I would say accurately falls into that description above. Keeping that in mind, the Shapes’ CD consists of 11 very pleasant keyboard-led tunes that in Jeff’s own words “are not intended for public consumption or for an album.” I enjoy the majority of the songs and appreciated how they each convey a mood. My ears perk in particular with the more distinct jazz numbers like “Fly High” and the reggae-tinged “Vice Versa.” Along with those tracks, “Work It” convey a nice cheerfulness while “No Sale” is lovely. This collection is a nice showcase for Jeff’s keyboard talents. Easygoing, easy-listening music. Thanks for sharing, Jeff.     (Debbie Catalano)



9 tracks

If you’re a fan at all of the electronic realm or even Harmonix video game titles (AmplitudeKaraoke Revolution, the Guitar Hero series, and the Rock Band series), then you have no doubt heard of the band Freezepop—a saccharine concoction of music its members appropriately describe as “sweet and cold and fruity and plastic-y.”  Although the band has several releases under its belt, has enjoyed critical acclaim, and was even a semifinalist in the 2001 WBCN Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble, this reviewer cannot help acknowledging the mundanity of the Doppelganger EP.  It is without a doubt that Freezepop has creative ideas, as is seen throughout “Doppelganger,” the opening track and only original song on the record; however, the release is, on the whole, lengthy and repetitive.  Even when the tracks are remixed by a variety of different artists, there is a definite lack in exploration of textures, resulting in the EP being tedious.  With this being said, Freezepop would have been better off if they had written and developed an entirely new record as opposed to rehashing older songs through mixes.         (Julia R. DeStefano)


The Plan

This is one of those albums that I would play at a party in the background, or if I were driving around looking for trouble. The second song, “Nobody Better,” sounds like a sped up “Hot for Teacher,” which I really didn’t mind hearing. These guys rock out, and this is a fun album. It doesn’t deliver much substance, but sometimes just kicking back and having fun is far better than being brought down with a dose of reality.         (Melvin O)


The Absence of Everything

12 tracks

With song titles like “Machete” and “49 Maggots,” there is not a lot of sunshine and lollipops to be found on this record. Endnation plays a brand of pummeling post-hardcore influenced hard rock, clearly influenced by Fugazi and Jawbox, but more willing to explore quiet spaces than either of those bands.  At its best, this record provides a guttural and welcome blast of catharsis, and it’s an excellent showcase for the dexterous power of drummer Matt Graber.  Too often, though, the dramatics are overbearing, particularly with regard to Anthony Conley’s pained (and sometimes painful) wailing.  That and the lack of discernible melodies make the album feel a lot longer than its thirty minute running time.              (Kevin Finn)


ADAM & EVE                                                                     
“(You Don’t Know) Much About Me”
1 track

This is the first taste of Adam & Eve, a new project featuring Boston luminaries Lenny Shea, Linda Viens, Jon Macey, Lynn Shipley, and Rich Lamphear.  The result is rich textural slice of Americana, with lush vocal harmonies, thoughtful lyrics, and the easy pace of a leisurely walk through the park on an autumnal afternoon with that special someone.  While it’s hard to judge a band project solely on one single song, the caliber of this combination of Boston rock royalty almost guarantees that Adam & Eve have some brilliant songwriting in their future.              (Joel Simches)


Sister Death
12 tracks

This album is very psychedelic with a Middle Eastern flair to it. The whole album feels like one long story, each song is a chapter pushing us further along. You can listen to each track separately, but I found that it lost the intensity that way. This is one of those albums that needs time to be absorbed fully. If you’re a fan of the commercialized Top 40 music played on most radio stations, this album probably isn’t for you.  It is aimed at that type of music fan that likes to absorb the music, and enjoy the experince. I’m sure musicians will admire the technical side of Sister Death.                          (Melvin O)


CD Reviews — 2 Comments

  1. I’d just like to thank the Noise and Debbie Catalano for reviewing my album. Debbie gave it a positive review,which is cool, but, even if it had been a negative one and sucked, I still would’ve been happy such an awesome freakin’ magazine like the Noise and it’s peeps was there to review it!

  2. Pingback: the noise : The Difference Engine