Peter Rinnig of QRST’s, with help of fans via Kickstarter, has issued Live at the Rat, for the first time on CD. Originally released in 1977, Live at the Rat was Boston’s answer to Live at CBGB. Having visited Boston in July 1976, I saw three of these acts in my first few days in town—Willie Alexander, DMZ, and The Boize. Although it’s pushing four decades after the fact, my initial impressions have changed very little. Appropriately, the recording opens with Willie’s “At the Rat,” his take off on Danny & the Junior’s “At the Hop.”
Willie was already respected and loved from his contribution to the flawless singles of ’60s pop group, The Lost as well as his stint with the Velvet Underground. He merits three cuts here. There’s his yearning encomium, “Kerouac” from his premier Garage records single as well as “Pup Tune” which is patented Willie “Loco” erotic/comedic brilliance. It is easy to envision the Real Kids packing the Rat with their no-bullshit buzzsaw rock ’n’ roll—”Who Needs You” and “Better Be Good.” DMZ showed the world the sheer power of American punk with “Boy From Nowhere” and “Ball Me Out.”
The Boize offer the Billy Connors’ (now of Cadillac Heart) penned pop rockers, ”I Want Sex” and “Easy To Fall In Love.” Now that I’m a Hubba Hubba employee, the initial shock of Third Rail’s “Rondey Rush” has worn off. Susan’s “Right Away” still strikes me as prom/slow dance fodder. “Rockin’ the USA” from Sass is similarly mainstream. Marc Thor’s “Circling L.A.” isn’t as impressive as his Indy single, “Holiday Fire,” from the same period. The Infliktors and Thundertrain veer too far into guitar wank for my tastes. I wrote in 1977 that the Real Kids and DMZ had the most staying power of all the acts. Alas! Teenaged Neon was already master of the obvious! (Nancy Neon)
A Half Bubble Off Plumb 11 tracks
“Out On the Lam” is the true kick-off of this song suite, sounding like some bastard hybrid of Queen and some yet-unidentified strain of nouveau-vaudeville Americana. By turns graciously swoony (“Cocktails”), grandly theatrical (“Are We There Yet?”), thrillingly electric (“Kitty Jay”) and stately and melodic (“Geronimo”), this album offers up some quality goods courtesy of Mr. Curt. Kudos too to Clara Kebabian’s lovely vocals and creative string arrangements. (Francis DiMenno)
Exit 11 tracks
I’ve definitely heard better records this year, but I have certainly not heard one that makes me take a step back and marvel at an artist’s potential to the degree that this one does. At the album’s high points, of which there are many, Borrello is simply arresting. She possesses a huge, emotive voice that miraculously loses none of its clarity, even when at full throttle. Her vocal acrobatics aren’t just for show, either; there is a genuine, unhinged passion that makes me think of Fiona Apple or perhaps a weirder Nicole Atkins. The music itself isn’t easy to categorize, as Borrello has her hands in rock, blues, jazz, and folk. There is room for improvement in a couple areas, though. At times, I wish Borrello would cut back on the grandiose moments a bit. Doing so would heighten their impact. Also, the songwriting could be a little sharper, as not all the songs are memorable. That’s nitpicking, though. It’s rare that I am this intrigued by an artist. I can’t wait to see what she becomes. (Kevin Finn)
To Hell With You 12 tracks
A compelling fusion of house rhythms, power pop, rap (!) and thought-provoking lyrics, Bleu’s new album, To Hell With You, finds McAuley forging a tasty compilation.
The pure sound warrants comparisons to a Brandon Flowers (The Killers)/ Chad Wolf (Carolina Liar) lovechild. Yet with the similarities, Bleu leaves room for plenty of originality with a sort of doo-wop 2.0, most notably in “It’s Not Over.” The title track “To Hell With You” marries electronic beats and vocals in the vein of Swedish House Mafia’s hit, “Don’t You Worry Child.” But just as I’d thought I’d discerned a solid pattern to the song, a stunning, spacious bridge appears, in which Bleu sings through a tunnel-like vocal filter; echoes of Bon Iver. “In My Own Little World” purports to be a confection with its jouncy, poppy chorus but swipes hard at conventionalism and hypocrisy, and Bleu even raps a tad.
If no track on this album tantalizes your musical “sweet tooth,” then you may need to have your ears checked out, because Bleu has conjured something enjoyable for (almost) everyone. (Daniel Hentz)
Buying the Field 13 tracks
I am drawn in by Jim’s emotional and handsome voice—he sounds a lot like Lyle Lovett and looks a bit like Elvis Costello! The arrangements are beautiful, the lyrics are original, and the songs have a flying feeling. It has a soft, country/rock sound, likeable melodies and hooks, and an expansive feeling of love.
My favorite song is “Lucky Enough.” I bet Lyle Lovett would want to record it: “I live in my truck ’cause I like it that way/ I throw old bread on the roof of my truck and I can hear the birds when they take it away.” This is a spare song, just Jim’s voice, an acoustic guitar, and a national steel guitar.
These are message songs, reflecting a life of thought and prayer. I suspect Jim is a man of faith, but he doesn’t clobber the listener with the message. He hints though, especially in the song, “Hold Onto Hope.” He sings a line from the old song, “We Are One in the Spirit”: “…and they’ll know we are Christians by our love..” I believe him. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)
No More Masterpieces 19 tracks
Sucker-punching guitar chords, roiling basslines, frenetic synthesizer, stream-of-conscious drum rhythms—sound perplexing? Well, it’s just business as usual for Ho-Ag. For those that don’t know, these fellas have been melting faces, blowing minds, exploding eardrums, and offending the delicate sensibilities of grandmothers in the Boston area for over a decade now. Their style lies somewhere between Fugazi, Sonic Youth, and smashing an electric guitar against an arcade game. No More Masterpieces, their final album, is a collection clumped together from the various b-sides, studio leftovers, and whatnot that they’ve accrued over the course of their twelve-year career. It’s a musical montage of sorts that showcases the evolution of one of Boston’s freak flag flyingest groups. The only real fault I can find in this album is that it’s their last. (Will Barry)
Night Animals 10 tracks
Until now, it has been my humble opinion that the chiptune micro-genre is an entirely soulless affair. It’s musical output haunted by socially awkward tech-geeks that couldn’t possibly be counted on to create music with more than an ounce of passion.
Enter Br1ght Pr1mate… James Therrien creates utterly throbbing dance beats on his Nintendo Gameboy, while vocalist Lydia Marsala absolutely slays with her 21st century take on Alison Moyet.
Track-by-track my awe grows. How Therrien makes the limiting 8-bit format sound fresh time and time again is a mystery, but all the while the familiar blips and bleeps most associated with Zelda and Pac-Man percolate to the fore, leaving a familiar, nostalgic glow. (George Dow)
No Time to Be Tender 10 tracks
For opener, “Something to Remember Me By,” high-quality impressionistic
and inspirational lyrics are yoked to vocals vaguely reminiscent in sound to both Dylan and Johnny Cash. If this were the sole attraction of this collection, then it might be little more than an ephemeral novelty. but Fitzgerald has a knack for an evocative melody, as evidenced on the soothing “Let’s Go Down to Memphis,” the lilting duet “Melinda Down the Line,” and the strikingly magisterial “The Devil You Know.” The lyrics are often transcendent, as on “Walks Like Tussaud,” which is evocative of Leonard Cohen. Fitzgerald is a talent to be reckoned with. Highly recommended. (Francis DiMenno)
Sugar 8 tracks
This is a joyous little collection of traditional and contemporary tunes with crisply executed arrangements. The first track, “Ol’ Cook Pot,” reminds me of Maria Muldaur when she was with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. I especially like their version of “Killing the Blues,” which was a home-run a couple of years ago for Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Their version of Robert Earle Keen’s tune, “Ride,” has a real Peter, Paul, and Mary feel to it. “Leaving Friday Harbor” calls in the spirit of Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. They got it all here, a wholesome folk album to warm a winter’s night. Fill the cook pot, light a fire, and put on your shearling slippers. Then cuddle with your baby under grandma’s homemade quilt while listening to this in the waning light. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)
Victoria 10 tracks
I always cringe just a little when T Max drops by with a dusty, sepia-toned CD complete with a brooding girl and acoustic guitar on the sleeve. I always suck it up though and put on my best sure-I’d-love-to-review-another-countrified-folk record.
To my great joy and more than a little surprise when the opening lines of “Bad Boy” from Victoria Smith’s debut, Victoria, spilled from my speakers, I was introduced to the lovechild of Julianna Hatfield and Aimee Mann. All my preconceived notions evaporated in an instant and I settled in for 45 minutes worth of exceptional singer/songwriter-based indie rock. I was suddenly teleported back to the ’90s and reminded of everything I loved about the Lilith Fair decade.
With her thoughtful lyrics and indie bent, Victoria Smith is poised to join the pantheon of Boston’s best singer/songwriters. (George Dow)
I Was Awake 5 tracks
Do you ever find yourself missing late ’90s WBCN when they played nothing but “alternative” bands that took the worst parts of grunge, metal, and hard rock and mixed them in to one intolerable mess? Yes, you say? Well, I Was Awake will be right up your alley! The quintet isn’t hurting for technical ability, but they seem to lack even the slightest propensity for creating memorable melodies. The five songs approach a half an hour in total, but the lack of anything resembling a hook makes this EP seem at least twice as long. I’m sure someone with a degree from Berklee would love to argue I Was Awake’s merits, but I’d probably get bored listening to that, to. (Kevin Finn)
Wandering Feet 10 tracks
This is an array of wistful, feminine songs, artfully produced and lovingly created. The expressive Vance Gilbert appears singing backup on the song, “Smiles and Polaroids.”
I like the line, “Wonder bread ain’t supposed to last this long” from the song “Juliette.” Ringelheim has a sweet voice, and tells her stories in an intimate, expressive way. She is observant, poetic, and gentle-hearted – an optimistic soul in a weary world.
I like the song, “Moon.” It has a lovely emotional feeling. First she says, “There’s nobody watching but the moon…words come from dust/ they come from, they’re gone with the wind/ they’re far away bombs whistling…” She ends by saying, “I’m listening.”
The final song, “Winding Roots” has a beautiful piano intro. I like the deeper presence of the standard piano a lot more than the Wurlitzer that she uses on many of the songs. This song has a minor key and conveys a longing heart. It’s a lovely conclusion to this collection. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)
There’s Shag on Jupiter 10 tracks
This 2011 release opens with “Rollerskaters,” featuring some extra-good-natured jazz piano and accompanied by a collage of creative samples, which then evolves into an extended fusion-jazz romp. Many of the remaining tracks are cut from a similar cloth—from the luminescent, percussion-driven title track, to the vaguely funky “Stop Drop and Roll,” to the Bitches Brew-style opening turmoil of “Jody Takes the Hit,” with its superlatively funky piano runs. “Boots at the Bottom” features a soaring keyboard line broken up by a naggingly insistent classic ’70s jazz-rock guitar riff; a high quality production. The percolating, oddly syncopated guitar line of “The Freezer” is another standout. “Garden of Good” is mellow and sedate, a best of show in a collection filled with accomplished instrumentals. (Francis DiMenno)
Deep Down Damned 11 tracks
If Christie Leigh intended to sound like a slickly-produced country-pop crossover artist, she has succeeded. Deep Down Damned sounds radio-ready with its tight musicianship and exquisite production. Casey Desmond even sings backup. Unlike most country-pop crossover artists, though, Emerson grad and Franklin native Christie Leigh writes her own material—which is the weak link in this collection of songs. I listened to this CD several times and tried to discern exactly why it falls flat for me. When I listened again and followed along with the lyrics, I realized that there are too many lyrics crammed into the song structures. She tries to include so many images, ideas, and references that the songs ramble and seem forced. The words don’t fit the melodies. These songs, which deal with growing up (“Graduation Day”), traveling (“East Coast Girl”), and relationships (“Might Say I Do” and “Easier With You”) seem promising at first but don’t live up to their potential. If Christie Leigh were to tighten up the lyrics to fit the music, this CD would be much more memorable. (Robin Umbley)
Come Inside 10 tracks
The swoony, mind-manifesting tracks like “Could Be the Start,” and “She Goes Out Dancing With the Girls,” set a standard of sorts—willfully strange, like the most radical synth-driven rock of the early ’80s (e.g., OMD) yet also decidedly (pre)modern. “The Drugs…” continues in the same swoony vein with more of an early Pink Floyd ambiance but is otherwise incomparable. “Twice” is more conventional–less unmoored; more melodramatic, depending for its effects on a more conventional structure yoked to a recurrent oddball (yet strangely affable) riff. Album standout “The State of Things” is more in a Magnetic Fields vein, but is nonetheless full of drone and ambient noise which also brings Eno to mind. Heaven-rock, some might call it; ecstatic, repetitive, and effects-driven, yet undeniably appealing; this one is best of show. What we have her might very well prove a cult band in the making. (Francis DiMenno)
THE BIG SWAY
Goddamn! 4 tracks
This Allston trio plays garage punk with a bit of electronic/techno rock influences. The four cuts, “Suitcase,” “Join Us,” “Sprung A Leak,” and my favorite “So Sorry” each showcase jazzy high energy recordings that are guitar focused. The vocals are suitable for this and there is more going on in the songs than just high volume. The last tune has a nice duel guitar intro too. Tim Zucco on guitars and vocals, Joe Mac Fadzen on bass and singing and Tim Brault on drums are a young, solid band and worth a listen. (A.J. Wachtel)
The Friends Of Trusty Sidekick 15 tracks
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this was a compilation album featuring a bunch of different bands rather than a single album by a single band. These guys are all over the place stylistically, cavorting from the bolero-tinged opener to the balladic sea shanty to straight-up blues-rock romps to honky-tonk and beyond. Trusty Sidekick’s blatant disregard for easy classification is impressive to say the least. However, the true strength of this band lies not in their ability to successfully wear these many musical masks nor is it in the passion and gusto with which they do so. No, their true strength lies in their ability—whether it be through country, blues, folk, or what have you—to still always sound uniquely like Trusty Sidekick. This is not an easy task given the wide stylistic scope of this album. The delicate weaving of yearning fiddle and soaring pedal steel definitely becomes one of these unifying elements, as do the bedrock foundation of acoustic guitar and vintage lead guitar licks. Most of all, though, it is the singer’s distinctive half-sung, half-spoken vocal delivery that really becomes the band’s anchor throughout this album’s schizo stylistic progression. (Will Barry)
Feeding Tube Records
In Real Life 8 tracks
Home Body’s debut album In Real Life is the greatest Björk album that Björk never made. Home Body delivers all the theatrical, art-pop glitch without the unnecessary weirdness that so often makes Björk unlistenable. Lest I understate Home Body’s weirdness, let me be clear–there’s plenty of it to be found across the eight tracks that comprise In Real Life. Listen closely and you’ll find healthy doses of Amanda Palmer and Kate Bush–both queens of weirdness in their own rights.
Glitchy electronics abound while live bass and drums round out the sound on many tracks. The sparse instrumentation on many tracks brings to mind a dubstep version of early Devo, a combination that one would never have guessed would sound so refreshing. (George Dow)
ZAZU JAY PETTYPAH
Zazu Jay Pettypah 10 tracks
The lo-fi production gives these eccentrically vocalized songs a homey feel that slicker studio tricks would have utterly effaced. Is the production and the eccentric approach a bug–or a feature? Who can say? I suspect the latter. The singer is clearly heartfelt, and his guitar playing is adequately versatile without coming across as overly flashy. However, this project gives off an air of an amateur production in which purposefulness is yoked to an unfortunate diffusion of focus, which creates an almost schizophrenic effect, as on the somewhat murky “What’s It All About.” “Is That the Way the Story Goes” is the oddest anthem I’ve heard in a good long while; the piano-driven “Warhorse” provides a radically weird interlude; “The Turning Point” is a Springsteenesque love song. Fans of Biff Rose and other eccentric singer-songwriters might find much to ponder here. (Francis DiMenno)
If you, or your band, is based in New England and you would like The Noise to review your songs, send the in hard copy to T Max, PO Box 353, Gloucester, MA 01931, or send digital releases to firstname.lastname@example.org.