CD Reviews

freevolt-CD-webFREEVOLT

Once You Say

7 tracks

This North Shore band’s music is roots rock/ Americana/ pop with a strong reggae foundation, and dread locked acoustic guitarist/gruffy vocalist Michael Bernier is the motivational muse behind this great groove band.  I really dig “Bump Bump Bump” and “Bring The Humans Back” with the nice horn arrangements, “We Never Knew” with its cool piano opening, and the real radio-friendly opening cut “Once You Say” with the enjoyable guitar and horn tracks. Songs with only a hint of Jamaica are the electronic and jazzier “The Helm” and the poppy “Without A Plan (Whoa Nah Nah).” Both are moody ballads with good playing. In all the melodies Bernier writes messages of triumph, freedom, love and pursuit, and all of the music is uplifting and relaxing. The closing cut, the funky reggae tune “Mighty Leader” has a neat break in the song where the music halts when the vocals implore “STOP!… We won’t take it no more” and then continues after the sentence is completed. An effective arrangement for sure. Spark up a blunt and listen to da music mon!   (A.J. Wachtel)

Club Bohemia D-BannerShell

BLACK CHEERS

Sick Gun

9 tracks

Its been a while since I’ve heard a band in this town as authentically seedy as the Black Cheers. They sound like they’re ten days late for the rent and haven’t been to the dentist in a decade. Sick Gun (gross spoiler alert: it’s a diseased penis) is a greasy wallop of street rock with whiffs of glam and hardcore, not unlike The Black Halos, if you remember those dudes, or (really) early Replacements. It’s catchy and rip-snorting and feels like the real deal, always. You will wanna hang out with these dudes after listening to this but only for a couple hours because after that it’s just gonna be puking and crying.   (Sleazegrinder)

THE LINCOLN TUNNEL

75 Or Less Records

Today 2.0

10 tracks

Christian Calderone is a smart songwriter and lyricist; one of the best around, judging from this debut effort. “Damn, I Wear It Well” begins this epic collection of brilliant songs with a circus-like romp, replete with a bass played like a trombone, an attenuated oompah rhythm, and some scorching guitar. “Big Decision” has a preening and brittle punk guitar rhythm and world-weary trailing vocals. “All Together Wrong” is lively, frantic indie rock bravado in the vein of the DBs; eminently hit-worthy. “Friend of the Roses” is a tuneful romp with an electrifying guitar-bass-drum hook and wistful trumpet filigrees courtesy of Ellen Block. “Makin’ Cents and Takin’ Vows” features liquescent guitar and is otherwise an inoffensive ballad. “Elemental Sun” features slapping drums and ingenious harmony vocals in the lead-up to the chorus. “Our Mother’s Sons” combines twangy guitar and echoey glad-making vocals with a lonesome trumpet melody. A surprisingly touching song, and Best of Show. “Ordinary Sky” is elevated psyche interspersed with an irresistible cascading guitar riff; it comes to a climax which is short and sweet. “Memphis” is a straight-ahead, paint-peeling, numinously buzzing rocker. “Line My Pockets” is a mysterious and spacy yet upbeat and surly love song. This is mostly excellent all the way through; the songs are smart and the band uses instrumentals like a good painter mixes colors for effect. Definitely a band to watch.  (Francis DiMenno)

RADIO CARBON

Caveman Ballads

7 tracks

75orless Records

There are no ballads on this record, although there might be some cavemen. The Troggs have influenced all punk and rock in a way, but that’s about it. This Providence band can destroy you, literally, if they want to. (The singer is a big man.) Based on my experience of seeing Radio Carbon live a few times, the only thing they want to hurt is your ears. The volume and energy is intense, and the songs and musicianship are polished but gritty. A solid release with one good song after another. It’s punk with elements of stoner and noise rock, and all that’s still good in this world.    (Eric Baylies)

MATT YORK

Boston, Texas

9 tracks

This one comes in shrieking out of the gate with “Big Fan of Why,” some straightforwardly raucous rock ’n’ roll that would melt a stone gargoyle. The rackety rock continues with the ostinado-insistent “Let’s Go to the Beach.” What is most striking about the best of these songs is their energy and brevity, even on a country-flavored romp like “Saw You On Friday,” replete with a soaring fiddle solo by Katy Boc. Less successful is the ballad “Losing Streak” which is taken at too brisk a tempo for the vocalist to sound convincing. “New to You” is a somewhat over-frantic hook-filled riff-a-thon with keening telegraphic guitars in the middle eight and some intriguing tempo shifts in the instrumentals. “Tomorrows” is a winsome, country-inflected barn-burner; “I’m Back” features smoldering, ominous Johnny Cash style vocals, and a dynamic bass and fiddle rhythm section. “In “Love You the Same” the vocalist sings above his range, although the underlying melody is gorgeous. This is a mostly dynamic, briskly-paced solo outing with several quality tunes. (Francis DiMenno)

JETS CAN’T LAND

You Can’t Linger On

6 tracks

Some tasty retro ’9’s alt-pop from Rhode Island that you could probably seduce middle-aged chicks with, especially if you were slumming it in Providence. Very lightly psychedelic and jangly (in a non-’80s way), You Can’t Linger On will remind you of whatever obscure local indie-rock sensation you were into in 1994. Plus the lyrics are good, with MASH and ELO references and bummer lines like “Here I am watching things go bad again.” I’m not sure that I would personally listen to this regularly – I hate the ’90s except for that one song by Matthew Sweet – but if you’re still laboring under the delusion that everything was swell back when we were young and eating ramen for dinner six times a week, then this is your new favorite band.  (Sleazegrinder)

TIM MANN

Chasing Dreams

11 tracks

The acoustic folk/ rock sound on this release is unique, interesting, and very good. Check out the artists and their instruments in the credits: Greg Allison – acoustic guitar/baritone uke, Greg Hawkes (The Cars/ The Greg Hawkes Ukulele Trio) – uke, Zacharia Hickman – bass/euphorium, Lawrence Scudder – viola, Craig Robertson – harmonies and Tim Mann on all other instruments and vocals. Mann also plays the ukulele with Hawkes in Greg’s own string uke trio. Very interesting reading on the cover. Even more interesting listening to the disc. Mann wrote all the ballads and there are lush harmonies all over the place. Listen to “In My Arms,” “Days Go By,” and “The Maybe Song” to hear the angels sing. I also like the more rocking “You Can’t Go Home Again,” the mellow “Longing” with the soulful viola, and the cool uke/viola playing on “Another Moment.” Sorta like the youthful optimism of John Denver meets the storytelling soul and delivery of Donovan. Great stuff. Check it out.  (A.J. Wachtel)

BENT SHAPES 

Feels Weird

11 tracks

This is dreamy like Chris Isaak (his guitar playing, not his cheekbones) but looking more to the future than the past. The softer side of the Velvet Underground is evoked, but faster tunes like “Brat Poison” take on a dreamlife of their own. Boston’s Bent Shapes have been transmogrifying rock and pop for a few years now and are really crushing it. They have a new album due for release this spring and I cannot wait to hear it. The album Feels Weird feels great! (Eric Baylies)

POSITIVE NEGATIVE MAN 

Broken

10 tracks

Let’s file this review under “Tough Love.”

Allow me to get my bias out of the way up front, as I have to heavily criticize this album. I am a music snob. To me, music is about artistic expression more than random entertainment. Many music lovers feel like I do, while many others don’t care about anything other than whether they like it or not. Both are fair outlooks.  For instance, when one singer in this band sounds like he’s imitating Iggy Pop (which is often), that pisses me off, because I like artists to express themselves, not someone else. I don’t like bands that sound like their favorite bands. I like originality. It’s a form of honesty. (It means you are not going to steal your ideas or sound or look from someone else.)

Meanwhile… many people would say “I love that he sounds like Iggy Pop.” Fair enough. I still enjoy bands that ape Pink Floyd. I just don’t respect them. I think bands should aim to both entertain us and innovate for us, just as all the greats were able to do. Aim higher, musicians!

I also like to review an entire album, not just the music, and I like constructive criticism, since most bands aren’t going to get the truth from friends or family. Broken is a bland name for an album (sorry), and the album cover is not too good either. (I don’t mind that it’s all crappy and low-budget… but, if you’re going to save money and time, then really commit to it and make it wild-and-crazy-crappy, instead of like you wish you could’ve afforded less-pixelated album packaging. But couldn’t.)

A good band is going to have interesting song titles. (Smart people hate cliches.) This band has an interesting name (although I think “Negative Positive Man” rolls off the tongue better), but do any of these song titles portend a thrilling listening experience? “Gasoline.” “Keep It Together.” “Newport Beach.” “Just Don’t Think.” Interesting song titles not only make things more fun, they invite the listener to care more. Postitve Negative Man has a few interesting song titles, like “The Ice Queen of Space,” so we know they can be fun when they want to be, so it’s yet again simple laziness. (That’s the top cancer in all fields of entertainment and art, I’ve found.)

From what I gather, the band is a duo of one male singer on bass, and one male singer on guitar, with a drum machine. (Very little detective work suggests Pete is the melody singer on bass, and Mike is the Iggy Popper on guitar.) Sort of a post-pop-punk rock band.  I like the scuzz guitar sounds and the drum machine is fine too but the dude with the “prettier” voice needs to practice more, because his going off-pitch a lot really doesn’t work in this context. (“With No Machine” is the most glaring.) Yet his voice works great on “Keep It Together” (which they surprisingly make a damn-catchy chorus out of) – it’s sort of a Queen of the Stone Age thing. Pretty great. (The dude on Iggy Pop vocals doesn’t need to sing in pitch for his type of vocal.)

The album is quite schizo. The influences of Pete and Mike haven’t gelled into a whole, yet. (You can hear like 30 bands overall. Here’s the Buzzcocks thing. Here’s one that sounds like a bad Foo Fighters leftover.) One minute I’m enjoying it, and then the next I’m not. Even in the same songs. (Generally, I’m not a fan of standard punk rock riffing, or predictable rhymes, for instance.) Whoa, there’s a bridge that sounds like Cheap Trick a bit.

Ironically, if some of Mike’s tunes were actually on a new Iggy Pop album, I’d think it was pretty good stuff. I’ve listened to the CD a few times and it’s interesting how the first listen I found it to be awful, and how much it grew on me. It’s like a strange mix of good and bad, and both Pete and Mike take turns on being great and sucking. Weird. 

Mostly, it sounds like they need to play more and get more comfortable with what they’re doing. Turn the laziness down, and this album could’ve been killer.  (Shauna Erlbaum)

WHIRLPOOLS

E.P.

8 tracks

This debut and swan song release by Whirlpools opens with a heartfelt throbbing acid garage declamatory (“Song In A”), proceeds to showcase emergency-siren-urgent spacy psychedelia ala the Three O’Clock (“Outside Looking In”), and then messes up our minds with some warbling and warped quasi-Beach Boys balladry (“Summer Sun”). The ominous “Fire Alarm” is a Pebbles-ready murky recitation replete with shimmering and spooky organ atmospherics. “Sur La Plage” is a snazzy flute-raddled persnickety instrumental. “Boundaries” has the feel of a backwards composition, albeit with a chiming instrumental hook and a sing-songy vocal that bursts into a fiery climax. “Detritus” changes the pace: it’s clamorous slurpy Buzzcocks-tinged punk rock with a Pixies-like dynamism. “Waiting” is a cracked-voiced and nearly bottomless lament a la The Only Ones. This is quality goods, despite the somewhat muffled production values.  (Francis DiMenno)

JOCELYN ARDNT

Strangers in Fairyland

7 tracks

With the intense, punchy, “Cinderella,” this album is off to a killer start. This sibling-led rock band brings a great blend of tunes, riding some interesting highs and lows. “Nevermind” takes a slower beat, giving Jocelyn Ardnt a chance to let her vocal skills shine. From the epic rock tunes like “Cinderalla” to the mellow, jazzy “Gaslight,” she shifts her sound smoothly, showing a good range of abilities on the mic. Fellow band members Chris Arndt (lead guitar), Kate Sgroi (bass guitar), and David Bourgeois (drums) help create a beautiful landscape of sound that gives listeners an ever-changing scenery as they journey from the first track to the last.

What I like best about this album is how easily I run through it multiple times while on the road. At about 25 minutes I can finish it a few times going to and from work, and never feel bored or looking for another CD. That’s what tells me that this one is a keeper. (Max Bowen)

LADY BONES

Dying

10 tracks

Boston’s Lady Bones deliver an exciting collection of songs, despite the non uplifting title of the album. This record will lift you out of the abyss and into the Elysian Fields. Too noisy and abstract to be the Killers, too polished to be And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, this record exists on a plane of it’s own. Lady Bones are here to save you, Allston, Rock City! (Eric Baylies)

B11 (two CDs)

B11     15 tracks

Surf My Spy    3 tracks

B11 is a Brighton band led by Bulgarian born guitarist extraordinaire Boyan Hristov. They are a pro jazz trio that puts an attitude in surf, r&b, soul, funk, reggae, and Latin – and all their music is instrumental with no vocals. The  self-titled CD showcases this Berklee grad’s great technique, creative repertoire, and soaring leads, backed by bassist Tom Appleman and drummer Mike Levesque. Hriston covers Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme,” “The Pink Panther,” and “Moon River.” They also do a very sweet version of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.” These are all straight ahead versions focusing on his guitar virtuosity. In fact, changing “The Pink Panther” from a horn tune to a guitar tune gives a tres chic and different perspective on this classic.  His nice guitar work is all over the original compositions too. “Waltz in A,” “The Gospel Of Me” and the bluesier songs “The One Note Piano” and “Boyan’s New Tune” are impressive and well thought out. The second release, Surf My Spy, is sorta like The Ventures meet The Surfaris meet Dick Dale, who once said “real surf music is instrumental.”  The three cuts, “Space Age Tragedy,” “Spooky Soca Surf,” and the title cut “Surf My Spy” are short nicely arranged trips with the whammy bar leading the way. Great chops. Great tone. Great music. This cat can play!   (A.J. Wachtel)

THE INSTINCT

Mostly Awake

14 tracks

Hook-infested rock with that late seventies/early eighties jittery punk rock feel. Highlights include the sputtering guitar on “Sleeping”; the gnarly guitar fragment “Flutter”; and the telegraphic guitar and drums on “Going,” replete with frantic sax by new band member Frank Freedman and a full-bore rocking coda by Mssrs. Bowie, Bowie, Landry and Jordan. Other highlights include the snazzy guitar and affectless vocals on “Over It”; the ingenious backward bass line on “Long I Walk, ” and, on “Lone Gun,” the dynamic bass thrum and jittery insistence of the instrumentals. Overall, this is a decent meat-and-potatoes punk outfit with an added dimension in the sax and keyboards. (Francis DiMenno)

GAVAGE

POP records

Gavage

10 tracks

Gavage is a Providence punk rock group. There are catchy parts, heavy parts, and sax from Adrienne from one of the town’s best bands Downtown Boys that adds a slight undercurrent of avant garde to the rock ’n’ roll. I like that the CD comes with a lyric sheet, not many bands bother with this anymore. This is a good album to listen to as you stroll drunkenly down a dark alley, just before something crazy happens. If you make it out of that alley, you’ll want to listen to this album over and over again. (Eric Baylies)

 

Comments

CD Reviews — 3 Comments

  1. Hello Shauna Erlbaum, of the 16 reviews on this page you write the lengthiest, and it is a huge hatchet job on one of the many great bands who play Club Bohemia, the Cantab Downstairs. This writer is publicist for both nightclubs, so let’s put that front and center. All due respect, Ms. Erlbaum, you seem to be trying to write a review rather than giving readers an objective opinion about the Broken CD. In the first two paragraphs you reference yourself 10 times. A Marie Osmond autobiography had her averaging “I” about 26 times per page. Marie can be forgiven for splashing “autobiography” on the cover of her book. This should be about the artist and the music. I respectfully request that T Max give this disc another listen. Positive Negative Man is one of the many great bands at Club Bohemia/Cantab and my opinion is that the review is unfair, biased and not helpful to the readers. Thank you.

    • I thought it was pretty clear that I was explaining MY biases in the review, hence all the ‘i’s. (Um, i even say that explicitly, so it’s curious you missed it.)

      I think that’s critical (ha): a review means almost absolutely nothing.

      It’s ONE person’s opinion.

      The reader needs to know if the reviewer who slams the metal album happens to HATE metal, or the person who LOVES the ska album loves ALL ska (with no discernment). Maybe the reviewer is in an angry mood because they just had a fight with their roommate.

      Most reviews I find nearly useless, unless you know if the reviewer is Very Knowledgeable about Music. Or perhaps they’re a teenager new to music who will write for Rolling Stone for dirt cheap, so their “opinion” is more meaningless than an older (pricier) writer.

      Those BIASES need to be disclosed, I think.

      I’m actually surprised at your review of my review, because I think I was not only pretty FAIR, but I even praised a lot of it!

      Some people think criticism is bad and want to live on Planet Kumbaya, but that’s not healthy for anyone, is it?

      Criticism is how we GROW. How we IMPROVE.

      Obviously, a band’s friends and family are going to pull punches and try not to hurt their friend’s feelings. That’s bad for everyone. It’s immature and dishonest, and ultimately hurts the band as well, no?

      It’s a tightrope we all must walk: if we tell little sally that she’s a great singer (but we all think she’s wretched) are we HELPING her or HURTING her?

      (She dedicates herself to music — based on a cowardly lie — and encounters rejection her whole life. Is THAT better than hurting her feelings to be honest with her? It’s a tough call.)

      It’s called “life”.

      If YOU love the band and that CD and the pixelated credits, that’s not my business. That’s your business.

      If you don’t want a professional opinion, then maybe we should fire all critics and all music and movie reviews can just describe the product.

      “The Force Awakens features a story of good versus evil [you don’t say!] with many of the trademarks of star wars including light sabers, favorite characters from the original trilogy [um, the trailer already told us this], and I won’t spoil the ending, so you don’t know if our heroes succeed or not [yeah right].”

      “Metallica’s new album features ten songs that have distorted guitar all over them, with some acoustic or clean intros. The lead singer barks his vocals [can’t give an opinion if I like that or not!] and occasionally broods his vocals. Most songs are fast while a few are mid-tempo.”

      IS THAT WHAT THE NOISE and other critics should write?

      NO professional critique? What use is that?

      I don’t think readers care how many songs there are, or the instrumentation — unless there’s something unique or notable about the instrumentation.

      I also find that negative criticism makes artists be LESS LAZY.

      But, to each his or her own!

      hugs and kisses,
      Shauna

  2. Pingback: Boston’s The Noise reviews The Lincoln Tunnel, Jets Can’t Land, Radio Carbon, and Gavage | 75ORLESS RECORDS