CD Reviews

Pirates Press Records/ Panic State Records                                                   Illuminator 
10 tracks

Landing somewhere musically between the raucousness of Darkbuster and the country leanings of the Piss Poor Boys, Lashley delivers his most affecting set of songs to date.  Those who have focused only on the humor while missing the pathos in his previous work will find that impossible to do here as the sense of loss, displacement, anger, and despair permeating this record is overwhelming.  When on “Happily,” the album’s high point, Lashley sings the words: “I just can’t stand to see you living happily.” They are delivered not with spite but with a matter-of-fact sadness that is so effective that you sincerely wish the song never had to be written.  Even rockers like “Hooligans” that seem fun on the surface, carry a palpable longing for a simpler time.  Lashley’s gang, which includes members of the Bouncing Souls, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Slapshot, is excellent and versatile throughout.  This might be the most moving record you hear all year.       (Kevin Finn)


Mr. Bones
8 tracks

I was going to say guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Doug MacDonald has a creative knack for capturing blue collar characters and situations, but “blue collar” may be shooting too high. We’re talking about the underbelly of life—real, everyday people—real experiences, on the most basic level. Combine that with Doug and drummer Patty Short’s natural knack for musicality. Their combined musicianship matches their subjects in gritty charm—no fancy/flashy guitar or triple whipwops on the drums—it’s all real—like an excellent ’60s garage band. All the songs are fun to take in, and when the disc ends, I’m quick to hit replay. “Mr. Bones” is the coolest of the stories here—Johnny Rods (Mr. Bones) is a nasty guy who works in a meat room. Within the song, things get scary when Mr. Bones grabs Doug by the neck!  In “Complicated Girl,” Doug squeezes out his feelings of desire with a cool musical build up to the simple, but soothing, chorus of “Girl, closer to you girl.” The production by Tom Hamilton is noteworthy with well-placed hand claps, finger snaps, digital damaged repeats, early fade outs, and a woman’s automated voice starting the disc, repeating: “Honk your horn if you like what you see.” This outstanding, innovative, creative, and original disc is worth honking your horn about—all the way through the summer of 2013. Oh yeah, the tag ending of Doug’s dad crooning over a wobbly organ is touching.  This CD will be played a lot around here.                    (T Max)


Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
10 tracks

I had a problem with this collection from the very get-go. “It Could Happen to You” is a smart (if derivitive) piece of uptempo blues, but the self-help message seems overtly personal, almost gratuituously shoehorned in, and serves to impose a somewhat strident point of view which mars any putative enjoyment. Message songs should be subtle, not preachy. Few artists have the gravitas, let alone the authority, to bludgeon listeners with didactic pronouncements from on high. Unfortunately, this trend continues with the gorgeous, but clunkily worded ballad “Lonely Being Lonely.” Sometimes it serves an artist best to look at the words to a song and ask whether its message is being expressed in the most appropriate way. There are few artists who can pull off self-pity without sounding, in some degree, themselves pitiable. In spite of these reservations, however, I find myself enraptured by the singer’s obvious melodic, as well as compositional gifts, as evidenced on songs such as “Hard Times,” “Open Arms,” and the splendiferous closing track, “Florida.”   (Francis DiMenno)


13 tracks

I wouldn’t really go as far as to call them punk, but then again, I wouldn’t not call them punk either. The gritty tone of the guitars, the flurries of Mick Jones-style guitar leads, low-fi aesthetic, and heavy-duty drum style certainly fit the bill. However, the highly melodic flow of the songs and the generally relaxed tempos coupled with the heavy nostalgia of the lyrics and the yearning petal-soft female vocals speak to something else entirely. It’s hard to pigeonhole a band that can glide so easily between the fragile elegance of a tune like “The One Thing,” with its interlocking guitar chimes and bass melodies, to the stirring cacophony and understated breadth of “Black Coffee, Young Merzbow!” Futile, really. The name “Elephants” seems to be an apt descriptor of their style: a massive sound but a sound that’s devoid of doom, gloom, and aggression. A gentle giant, this band, with catchy hooks you’ll never forget.     (Will Barry)


Little Bit of Blue
13 tracks

Brian King and his menagerie of musical misfits seem to cover just about every style and mood that you could possibly think of, from soul and gospel, jazz and lounge pop, to cabaret, R&B and the great American Songbook.  Brian King at once channels Al Green, Boy George, Tony Hadley, Freddie Mercury, Marc Almond, and Shirley Bassey. There are lush string arrangements, a children’s choir and a five piece backing vocal section, majestic organ swells, and even a singing saw. The production and recording is impeccable.  What Time Is It Mr. Fox? has grown by leaps and bounds from its humble beginnings, constantly adding more artists and musicians to the mix to a point where Mr. Fox is no longer just a great band but a lifestyle, and a very cinematic, larger than life one at that.  If you need an album to lift you up and feel something, anything, with a heavy heart and warm glow, there are thirteen reasons why this is that album.  I couldn’t recommend this album more highly.  (Joel Simches)


Precious Little Things            
6 tracks

I came across Sarah Blacker’s music around three years ago and, instantly, I was hooked. She has got an ever-changing style which takes the best of any number of genres and seamlessly weaves them together. The final result is a sound that always has something new to offer. Precious Little Things is an album with a lot to share, each song possessing a distinct style and structure. Sarah brings a lot of her own experiences to her songwriting, and, in listening to this album, it’s like I’m hearing different parts of her personality, each with its own story to tell. “Shiver” has a quiet, almost melancholy tone to it, telling the story of one who moves on from the dark parts of their life, while “Revelry of Heart” brings the party, delighting in the freedom to make your own choices.

Fellow musicians Chuck Fisher (lead acoustic and electric guitars), Eran Shaysh (drums/ percussion/ harmonies), Erik White (lead electric guitars/ harmonies), and Sean Mc-Laughlin (bass), complement Sarah’s style with their own, reinforcing and strengthening the songs with their contributions. Sarah’s voice is a rich, fluid instrument all its own, which effortlessly shifts from one note to the next. This album brings to mind a packed audience at Club Passim, or an evening at a house concert, filled with friends and fans. Count me among that crowd.                  (Max Bowen)


The Same Way Down
9 tracks

One listen to this record and it becomes quite clear that Annalivia’s brand of Celtic-Americana is an acquired taste—relatable to some and completely foreign to others.  For starters, consider the fiddle instrumental, “Up in Smoke” and the band’s interpretation of the classic “Turtle Dove.”  However, regardless of whichever musical “camp” you happen to align yourself with, one thing is for certain: The Same Way Down is a record deserving of repeated listens and therefore, one worth taking a chance on.  Annalivia is the embodiment of heritage pride, so steeped is the band in the history of traditional American roots music, including bluegrass, Irish, Scottish, Norwegian, and Old Time.  The charm lies in their seemingly effortless ability to fuse the aforementioned sounds of yesteryear to create something entirely new with an energy that can only be described as contagious (“Bright Sunny South”).  In a word: charming.    (Julia R. DeStefano)


75 or Less Records
Love Songs and Isolation
6 tracks

This is what happens when two locally acclaimed singer/songwriter types decide to record some songs and collaborate in a barn over coffee and pastries.  Both are very talented writers, infusing all kinds of influences in a low key DIY, semi lo-fi vibe but with clever instrumentation and arrangements that will remind you simultaneously of Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Harry Nilsson, and early ’70s Eno. The songs are charming and melodic, with themes ranging from loves lost to lip-gloss.  Both play all the instruments, which include electric and acoustic guitars as well as basic piano, organ, and minimal drums and percussion. The collaboration seems easy and natural.  They compliment each other well, giving space and contributing without crowding. The tragedy is that there are only six songs.  Make more music soon!   (Joel Simches)


Low Budget Records
Um…Whaddup, Doc? 
12 songs

I suppose if T. Rex and acid rock had remained in vogue for far longer than they actually did, this style of music would be a more prominent part of our sonic heritage. As it is, I find their take on the Yardbirds and all the other usual acid-rock influences to be impeccable—”Washed Away in the Flood” is picture perfect 1967 garage punk and if you like that genre as much as I do, that can only be a good thing. Their closing track, “Misfits,” shows a softer side of the psyche equation—melodic and trippy but also gritty in the mode of late-’60s Pink Floyd and Blue Cheer acolytes. Their original High Life/reggae composition “This Life” is a surprisingly convincing genre pastiche. The bluesy reinterpretations of songs like “Oh! Darling,” and the strangely uptempo rendition of “That’s Entertainment” (with changed lyrics, no less) are aesthetic missteps. But the best tracks are highly recommended.   (Francis DiMenno)


Rory Records
Golden Rules for Golden People
11 tracks

Well, so much for my usual evening routine of scotch and self-pity. At the moment, I’ve got the sprightly sounds of Pretty & Nice’s latest release practically dervishing from my speakers–an impressive work to say the least. Each track shimmers with giddy synth and jubilant guitars, sugar-high tempos, and octave-jumping vocals. Their attention-deficit arrangements are absolutely astounding with their sudden rhapsodic shifts in rhythm and feel, and adventurous modulations. Yet, even with the intimidating technical prowess of their compositions and the sometimes-disorientating musical shifts, the tunes are still accessible. The melodies and hooks are still so damn catchy they’re practically contagious, so candied I think I got a couple cavities after the first listen. Think Queen, think ELO, think Yes, think the Zombies and you’ve got a good idea of the scope of this band’s sound, and I’m not exaggerating when I say Pretty & Nice could hold their own with the likes of them.   (Will Barry)



Top Girl Records
Live for It
10 tracks

This record sounds like something you would hear on the Sunset Strip just as Guns N’ Roses was knocking the stupid out of hair metal but before grunge had sent sleazy rock ’n’ roll to the sideline.  Girl on Top plays catchy hard rock with an edge and, for the most part, the band’s infectious energy makes this a fun listen.  Karen DeBiasse has a clear and clean voice but one that has more than a hint of danger to it, and the instrumentation, particularly Peter Zicko’s bass playing, is solid throughout.  The one caveat is that certain parts of the record are best enjoyed by turning off your brain and focusing on the feet and hips. Then again, as rock in many places has become over brainy, is that such a bad thing?        (Kevin Finn)


Big Ol’ Dirty Bucket
11 songs

Call me a sentimentalist, but I can’t help regarding this project–which in places approaches the status of a blaxploitation soundtrack—with great fondness. Okay, they throw in some rap to appease the kiddies—particularly on the opening track, “Photonic People,”—and they toss in some calculated vulgarity to spice up “Chuck Norris.” But many of these songs are picture-perfect funk that exploits and gloriously revels in all the genre’s most vital tropes– bizarre, cultic invented words; irresistable rhythmic impetus; goofy wordplay; polyrhythmic foo-fo-raw; interpolated nonsense sounds; wild, one-off guitar solos, and kitchen-sink aesthetics. It’s not pure funk all the way through, but by mixing it up with some genre change-ups like soul and Latin music, the funk shines through loud and clear, most notably on closing track “All Night Long and Once in the Morning.” Highly recommended.          (Francis DiMenno)


Seraphim House
11 tracks
The Nightside
4 tracks

1476 combines elements of classic English folk, ’70s prog, metal, and goth to create a dark, cinematic, and mystical image of the occult aspects of northern New England of days passed.  At times, the band can be heavy and anthemic, like a good Alice Cooper, or Blue Oyster Cult record but without any of the irony.  At other times, this could be the soundtrack to a vampire film set in the 15th century but with sparkling pale meade guzzling goths riding white horses, with swords and chainmail amour and everything.  This is Rennaissance Faire fare with some major attitude and lush production values. Both these releases came out together at the end of last year as companion pieces.  Wildwood is more of a high concept art album with a cohesive narrative and cinematic flow, whereas The Nightside is a collection of slightly poppier songs, the type of which could have easily found itself on a The The or Lloyd Cole album.  The latter EP seems to flow better as a collection of songs that can stand on their own and as such is a more satisfying listen.  Wildwood could have benefited from some editing.  Listen to both by candlelight with some homemade incense, while wearing a leather mask.    (Joel Simches)


Grand Delusions
10 tracks

It would be fitting to describe Lowell native Ian James as an anti-conformist in that he is going to do what he wants to do, however exotic to listeners, a characteristic that is hugely commendable.  The self-proclaimed “bastard child of Jimi Hendrix and Boba Fett” is experimentation personified, and Grand Delusions finds James coming out from behind the curtain of his instrumental work to further push the musical boundaries while challenging our preconceived notions, one track at a time. It is here that the one-man-band and producer showcases a voice and guitar full of personality and grit amid a gripping, raw arrangement of sound and effect that is at times reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand and Interpol (“In Your Spell,” “Alone and Grey,” “Living High and Running Fast”).  This is a record that screams confidence, and it is refreshing to witness an artist creating purely for the sake of creating.                 (Julia R. DeStefano)


Pool Party 
18 tracks

If Sonic Youth recorded on crappy equipment, would they sound bril-liant? Maybe. If the Taxidermists recorded on decent equipment, would they sound brilliant? The jury is out.

Pool Party is a mish-mash of lo-fi tracks that bounce between the dissonant art-noise of Sonic Youth, the boom-box-recorded bashing of early Sebadoh, and the atonal punk noise of Flipper. Each of these reference points holds the possibility of brilliance along with the opportunity for complete failure. Track for track, Pool Party falls 50/50 in each category.         (George Dow)


No Loitering
12 tracks

This is competent of its sort—in the school of punk and glam (less so psychobilly). I suppose it’s unreasonable to expect anything radically new and different from a band which practically bills itself as a revivalist project. What else can you say? This sort of act was old when the Damned were new and much water has flowed under the bridge since those hallowed days. Furthermore, the affect seems flat—none of the songs—with the possible exception of “Crazy for You”—manage to evoke a sense of genuine danger or even excitement—so they come across to me as little more than rote, paint-by-the-numbers genre exercises.     (Francis DiMenno)


3 Parts Dead 
5 tracks

The 5 tracks that comprise 3 Parts Dead’s debut EP pick up exactly where these former members of Pretty Little Suicide left off. They deliver a heavier, groovier take on the late-’80s hair metal classics of Mötley Crüe and Guns ‘N Roses.

Over the course of 5 tracks, 3 Parts Dead hit up all the genre tropes—party-’til-you-drop anthem in “Party Never Ends,” hold-up-your-lighter power ballet in “So Long Girl,” and vaguely mysoginistic-hot-girl-worship in “Tattoo’d Toy.”

If hair metal is your thing, 3 Parts Dead is right up your alley.      (George Dow)


16 tracks

As this reviewer learned while listening to FoxFire, one must be in the right mindset in order to fully appreciate it.  Even so, right around “Movement 1, Part 4,” it becomes quite clear that this style is not to everybody’s liking and rightfully so, as the blend of bluegrass, classical, and progressive jazz elements has a tendency to become repetitive as the record progresses.  However, if you can manage to quiet your mind long enough to make it through to “Movement 2, Part 8,” the closing track, you will undoubtedly come to the realization that Mulroy is immensely talented and commend him for creating such a cohesive piece of work—even if it is an acquired taste and you find yourself getting lost amongst the song titles of “Movement 1, Part __” and “Movement 2, Part __.”  On the whole, FoxFire is promising, with a vibrancy that makes it best suited for inclusion in a television or film soundtrack.  (Julia R. DeStefano)


Draw Some Monsters
8 tracks

Thick with dredging bass and slick greaser guitar lines, bolstered with the clang of piano and dirge of drums, Tik Tok foster a sound that’s dark, dismal, and completely irresistible. The tunes are prone to manic-depressive shifts in tone and tempo, as well as theatrical build-ups and breakdowns. The feisty female vocals, too, are intriguingly unpredictable, cooing like a dove one minute, then spitting hellfire the next. Even the production impresses, incorporating subtle studio magic, like the crackle of vinyl or the ominous ticking of a clock. With its bawdy burlesques, klezmer-tinged waltzes, and soul-crushing ballads, Tik Tok’s Draw Some Monsters sculpts a diverse and dark-toned cabaret that’s dripping with pathos. Their Sturm und Drang style cannot be ignored.     (Will Barry)


Listen Close
8 tracks

The newest release from Northampton, Massachusetts’, guitar and bass duo, the Demographic, is a noisy conglomeration garage-rock and Neil Young-esque guitar work mixed with proto-grunge and alt-country. Yes—an odd mix but delivered perfectly.

Maybe most interesting are Tom Pappalardo’s vocals. At one moment, on the most rocking tracks like “Building Buildings” and “Ghosts of the Lower Barometrics,” he sounds like the bastard child of Kiss’ Ace Frehley and Naked Raygun’s Jeff Pezzati. In the next moment, when they take the volume down, “Letter” and “When I’m Dead,” he’s a dead ringer for the Drive-by Truckers’ Mike Cooley.      (George Dow)