As if to shrug off all pretension, The Wee Turtles send their studio tunes to the back of the line and begin their album with a noisy, lo-fi four-track tune by the name of Theme Song. The logic perhaps being that if you can appreciate it, then the rest of the record will be a piece of cake. Which it is.
The Wee Turtles are experts in silly noise pop--this stuff sticks to you like glue, with plenty of upbeat rhythms and jangly guitar riffs. Collide bops along carelessly, with the vocals delivered in the fashion of someone barely able to hit the high notes, and the chorus made up of a simple line of "do-do-do-do..." Humor is definitely the key, as Roofing Men delivers the unforgettable lyric: Redneck men aren't afraid of falling...Whatever happens, roofing men like rock and roll. A distorted image of the Beach Boys surfaces in Summer Song, and they lean into garage punk territory on Shin Splints and Why the Bombers. And, we go back to the four-track noise to close out the disc, with the hilarious Playtime at Castle Greyskull.
This is what alternative music used to be--nerdy music for the fun of it, in the spirit of the Dead Milkmen and the early lo-fi stuff from They Might Be Giants. This one is perfectly goofy, with emphasis on the perfect.
MISH MASH Mandate: Up on the roof.
Filled with intense rhythms and soulful vocals, Kharma Zhu delivers an exciting, dramatic, and fresh sound on this self-produced CD. Excellent songwriting and musicianship make this one of the strongest releases I've heard this year.
The key is the clever mix of traditional Latin rhythms and guitar lines along with catchy rock phrasings. The result is a tough and powerful sound that relies more on intricate dynamics instead of volume. Music In My World sets the mood with a driving, upbeat groove that has an anxious undercurrent. More of the same is found in Where I Go, which shows off KZ's songwriting skills in the smooth pop harmonies in the refrain. Guitarist Jade Rahmani and drummer Dhu show off their tight chemistry on the quick-stepping Tomorrow. It all comes together nicely on Tell Me Why, an edgy, grooving tune that combines everything that is great about this band.
You want unique? How many rock bands can boast about their flamenco guitarist? Don't miss out on this one.
MISH MASH Mandate: Chemical engineering.
This is the kind of album that John Mellencamp should've been making for the past 10 years. Ramiro Medina shows up Mr. Cougar with an excellent showcase of great singing/songwriting that's rough around the edges, with plenty of honesty built right in.
Bad Weather is a bluesy, acoustic guitar-based tune that settles into a cool groove. The album takes a cynical turn with the folksy My Ridiculous Life, while Staring at the Wall is a deep roots rock tune that combines the best songwriting elements of Daniel Lanois and Jeffrey Gaines: Woke up this morning / with your name on my mind / tried to associate your face / tried to recall the way / your voice sounded to me / found myself staring at the wall... When this song finally kicks in, I can do nothing but turn it up--loud.
This one is heartfelt and stripped to the essence. An indie classic.
MISH MASH Mandate: Roughing it.
Living up to their name sake, the Don't Quit Your Day Job Players (DQYDJP) specialize in no-frills bar blues that you'd find in your favorite roadhouse. They won't be getting world famous, but they're right on target during happy hour.
The band gets right down to business with the title track, an upbeat blues strut that invites you to come on in / take your coat off / and leave your troubles at the door / sit down at the bar / we know what you're here for. The band shows off a little road humor in the barn-burning Another Saturday Night In Lubbock, and the rocking blues of Brown-Haired Woman has a distinct Dire Straits flavor about it.
The only thing that strikes me is that this album could probably reach its full potential if it was recorded in a live setting. Down and dirty blooze needs to be in a smoke-filled bar, not confined to the sterile studio. That observation aside, this is a rocking good time.
MISH MASH Mandate: One more Saturday night.
An experiment in ambient techno/electronica, Arthur Loves Plastic is the brainchild of sample fanatic Bev Stanton. Klondyke 5 is the fifth collection of her work, with this installment featuring the atmospheric vocals of Lisa Moscatiello floating in and out of Stanton's aural collage.
The album draws its sound from many different aspects of dance-oriented techno, the main focus of course being the ever-present beat. The title track begins the CD with a barrage of rhythms, media soundbites, and keyboard sweeps, with Moscatiello complementing with soulful, non-lyrical melody lines. It gets a little more aggressive in Betrayed, with its harsh, metallic percussive beats that strike hard and quick. Revolution has a funkier dance groove that combines elements of new age and world music in the refrain. A slightly more traditional approach can be found in Love Is An Affliction, which is held together with a catchy pop structure.
There's a lot going on with all these layers of sound--each listen has brought a new surprise. It's always nice to hear electronic music that digs a little deeper.
MISH MASH Music: Wrapped in plastic.
Self-assured with her heart on her sleeve, folksy singer/songwriter Caren Armstrong packs a punch with the folksy and evocative Independent Girl. Skillfully blending the sounds and styles of Sheryl Crow, the Indigo Girls, and Natalie Merchant, Armstrong may in fact be independent, but she's strong enough to hold her own with the best of mainstream women rockers.
The title track is an ode to freedom, facing the fears of the unknown: Packing boxes, burning bridges / Stacking reasons why she stayed...And in the night / Maybe she cry / But she's alright / Independent Girl. The thought provoking Don't Go To Sleep warns of the dangers of ignorance in an ironic lullaby fashion, and Maybe I Did eases along with a bluesy shuffle, in the vein of the aforementioned Ms. Crow. It's a Long Way has more of a country twang, and Pound of Flesh walks along with cool jazzy bass lines.
Armstrong wears a lot of musical hats, and that makes it all the more interesting. With diversity and plenty of talent, Independent Girl is a truly memorable release.
MISH MASH Mandate: Independent and loving it.
Any time I hear a sentence along the lines of "described as alt-rock or emocore" I feel this involuntary cringe creep up on me. I can't help it. It's just a little mental tweaking that tempts me to flip to any random track, scoff and toss it in the one-word band name bin that has become my growing emo collection (which is headed for a landfill in the Outer Banks if some emohead doesn't buy them soon). Call it affliction of the personal bias, but I seem to have found that the terms "emo" and "alt" have become catch all phrases for what is becoming bland, formulaic rock music with nondescript, gushy choice word lyrics and vocals, as well as a limited and ritualistic capacity for song structure. I've become fairly selective in regards to these genres of music, which I suppose boils down to age, so I have some definitive criteria for judging any music that merely mentions those words in its liner notes, much less its band bio, like Velvet has done. All too often it seems bands who cling heatedly to those E and G chords or who find a few pretty notes on the high octave scale immediately slap the label emo onto their repertoire, don somber looks, cut their hair and assume they have something genuine.
I will grant Velvet this before anything else: they have their shit together. Every song is heavily laden with melody and intricate string and/or guitar arrangements, even affording a well placed, enticing violin on Cheer Up, but never to the point of overdosing. Falling Out and Bullets, though nothing more than highly charged power-and-raw-emotion-over-content pieces of work, come as a welcome refreshers from the pool of emo sound that Velvet has you tread but never quite drown in. They seem to know just how far in one can dip before feeling engulfed and, quite frankly, nauseous.
Outside of the vocals, which are quite reminiscent of old school emocore bands, and the final track which seems to linger a little too long (like a final session in a recording studio would be, I imagine), I really can't complain about this album. I'm just a picky critic when it comes to vocals; I prefer the more sweet and sensitive altos, a la Jeremy Enigk and Jeff Buckley. What can I say, I'm touchy-feely like that. As for what I like about the album beautifully coordinated guitar and bass riffs coagulating in time, giving equal attention to each other, just to give way to small bouts of energized chords conveying raw emotion and feeling. The lyrics and vocals are simple and sparse but purposeful. They pull it off well on Vice Versa, easily my favorite track.
All in all, I could not honestly say this is a groundbreaking band, or a band set to explode any moment, but I must confess: they have something real, something genuine. Their efforts have produced a sound well worth regarding and listening to, and, in fact, commending. I certainly wish them well, and though I will not be waiting with baited breath, I will be keeping an eye out for anything new these boys come up with. I wish them and their record label much success.
Visible Shivers, besides having a great band name, have a great grasp on that whole new alt-country, folk-inspired sound. Or as they like to call it, Americana. Whether it be strong armed acoustic guitars accompanying sturdy Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen-inspired vocals (Little Noises, Shooting Star) or mellowed out Lou Reed-meets Joe Cocker reminiscing (The Fear Inside, Flow), these guys have that sound nailed down pat. Hell, if that scene was as big as Hollywood, I'd say give them their own plaque in the walkway. And variety is the spice of life, and a tasty seasoning for this band. Patti Smith influenced tunes, both depressing and sweet(Firetown, Chill in the Air) offset feet stomping, upbeat tracks (Southern Hospitality, Jaded) which sound like Billy Joel with a ten gallon hat or Randy Travis thumping a piano, possessed with Little Richard's soul. Not to mention the lyrics read like they were written with TS Eliot hanging over their shoulders. I'm not even going to give a sample of their symbolic brilliance… just listen up.
I can find very few flaws with this album, outside of their sound being a bit mellow for most expectant alternative, country, "roots rock", or "Y'alternative" fans. But these guys are seriously talented; they swelter all their tracks with loving and sweet atmosphere, they are great mood setters, and never over-indulgent, knowing just how much emotion and passion to put into a song before it boils over into cheap shots. It's plain to see, as they say in their bio notes, "The Visible Shivers were playing this kind of music long before it had a name." Any one of these songs would suffice as the perfect soundtrack to any romantic drama you've ever seen or ever will see. These pieces are timeless, not only as love songs, but as renditions of the heart. If you can't sense any of the wonderful musicianship and feeling that went into this album, just keep numbing yourself to Fear Factory or Atari Teenage Riot and leave the rest of us with some warmth in our heart to enjoy something real.
Visible Shivers Website
If you can picture J Mascis on harmonica doing country tunes or Les Claypool going acoustic, then you have a fair grasp of what Harbison Farms is all about. But oh no, dear reader, you still don't know him. This is some great, blues-inspired, kicking folk-rock we got here. Stuff I'll be playing long after I get sick of the ego of the Black Crowes and Blues Traveler all die of heart attacks and Jon Spencer goes metal. Since I can't bitch about this stuff, I'll just share the blessings of it all. Pack My Bags is a great upbeat ditty accompanied by a swinging harmonica, followed by Limousine, a touching and intricate track rife with lyrical symbolism, followed by a nice little treat in Treat You Well, a feel-good acoustic piece. So if you like that scraggly voice softened by a pretty acoustic guitar, this is definitely for you.
Harbison Farms Website