As the first single in their comic-book themed "Super Heroes of Rock" series, Vital Cog starts it all off with the appropriate low-key indie rock pairing of My Dad Is Dead and Duochrome. Their approaches are a little different, but their styles are complementary and right at home on vinyl.
MDID's The Memory of Your Kiss is a melancholy tune that features a slow organ that moves in descending tones, backed by a fuzzy guitar line and a snappy snare beat. It's somewhat repetitive, which lends itself to the feel of a clock ticking--a very nice touch that reinforces the song's lyrical theme.
Duochrome pulls out all the stops with the unrelenting My Life As A Dumb Terminal. This is a droning, driving song that rides its main guitar riff into oblivion. It's noisy and fun garage punk, rambling around recklessly with no particular form or fashion.
Two great songs and some of the coolest cover art you'll ever find--you can't miss.
MISH MASH Mandate: Juke box heroes
If you had never heard Five Eight before, you might mistakenly call this stuff "emo." But, Mike Mantione and Five Eight have been playing woe-is-me rock a long time; they started back when most of today's emo-boys were still in grade school. Ever since the opening strains of Looking Up on their official debut album I Learned Shut Up in 1992, Five Eight has been all about putting psychological distress to music.
With The Good Nurse, Mantione and Five Eight have eschewed larger-than-life rock for a more sutle, tension-filled sound. It's a disturbing, frustrated feeling that ties this album together. There is a stark absence of hooks and riffs, and standard pop structures are thrown out the window. The result is a stream-of-consciousness "concept" album that puts us in the hospital ward with Mr. Mantione and his character's manic, unbalanced mind.
A reviewer friend of mine once remarked that in order to fully appreciate Five Eight, you must see them live; the studio somehow could not capture their magic. That could still ring true today, but I think that for the first time in their long career, the band has found their muse in the confines of the four walls of a recording studio. The genius is shining through.
MISH MASH Mandate: Man comes a knockin' with manic depression
This an album overflowing with dissonant indie pop, a warm and fuzzy sound which finds a perfect balance between the jangly overdriven guitars and strong-but-somehow-innocent voice of singer/guitarist Kara Lafty. The songs are just catchy enough to inspire a sing-along, but not pop enough to be sugary. They dance on this line throughout the record, keeping it on the edge, leaving the listener wishing for more.
They start the album off with the anxious Water It Down, a song that allows Lafty to juxtapose her smooth melody over noisy guitar lines. There's an unmistakable punk element present in Halo, while Blue Eye Shadow flirts with a roots rock feel. Calculated Guess burns with emotional instensity, beginning with an off-kilter drumbeat that leads into minor key guitar ramblings.
It says a lot about a band that can pique interest without giving it all away at once. The more I listen, the more I appreciate.
MISH MASH Mandate: Balancing act
Beachwood Sparks is about 30 years out of place, but I can't hold that against them. Their groovy mash of countrified psychedelia brings to mind some of the best music of the hippie era, from Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to the more country-flavored songs of the Grateful Dead (think Cumberland Blues and you'll get my drift). They do it right, and they do it well.
Side one begins with the western stomping sounds of Desert Skies, which is followed immediately by a short bit of psychedelic noise, replete with backwards loops. This is repeated through the next couple of tunes which lead up to the Beach Boys inspired chorus of This Is What It Feels Like. The flip side finds Something I Don't Recognize leading off with a droning, Byrds-like guitar topped off with atmospheric vocal harmonies. The Calming Seas and New County both have a folksy ring to them, brandishing Dylan-esque chord changes and harmonica.
It's a bold undertaking, but it works beautifully. I've never heard anyone quite capture the innocent spirit of the 60s like this. At least, not since the 60s.
MISH MASH Music: Groove is in the heart
With the retro craze finally beginning to wane, it is refreshing to hear a group that actually embodies the spirit of the past instead of simply rehashing an old sound. With Get a Load of This, Dave Stuckey has created a modern masterpiece of country-fried big band swing that could easily be more than half a century old. It's a down-home good time that never misses a beat.
There are plenty of old tunes covered here, like the take on Benny Goodman's Pick-A-Rib Pt.1 or Adolph Hofner's I'll Take My Old Guitar, but the Stuckey originals are the true highlights. (Ol' Daddy's Got A) Brand New Love is a rockabilly flavored swinger that beautifully ties together the fiddle with smooth jazz guitar lines. The catchy You Shoulda Thought Of That is a wild reel complete with a shout-it-out chorus.
They describe their sound as the place "where jazz and country music collide," and I don't think I could say it any better. Truly unforgettable.
MISH MASH Mandate: Country-fried swing thing
Earl Bland writes songs which bring to mind two great duos--Lennon/McCartney and Simon & Garfunkel. The ties to the Beatles are obvious, with a strong British Invasion sound and heavy emphasis on melody and catchy refrains, yet the album is full of the subtle and complex nuances of early Paul Simon.
Be Your Valentine is an agressive guitar driven tune with an uptempo chorus, with Bland providing the impassioned vocals. The quiet mood of Don't Listen to This Song feels like a skillful mix of Simon's Scarborough Fair and McCartney's Yesterday; it's a brilliant example of his songwriting ability. But, my favorite is the fun Pam, which has plenty of sharp harmonies and cool guitar lines that jangle over a rocking backbeat.
After a few spins, I found myself singing along with Earl.
MISH MASH Mandate: English accent
With a smooth blend of classic rock, blues, and a little country attitude, Sharon DiFronzo belts out twelve original tunes on this self-titled release. DiFronzo's voice is strong and bluesy, singing in a powerful, self-assured fashion. At times, she reminds me of Bonnie Raitt or Reba McIntire, fiery and full of passion without apology.
Through Space And Time follows a standard blues progression, but it allows DiFronzo to let loose with everything she's got, finding the soul of the song with her skillful delivery. The driving beat of Better Than Lonely belies its biting theme of the confusion of romantic relationships, while Goin' and Comin' takes a more humorous tone on the same subject with its country-styled refrain. Perhaps the most personal and moving song is I'll Think Of You That Way, which is dedicated to her brother who was lost to AIDS seven years ago.
Ripe with emotion and filled with the voice of the talented DiFronzo, this is an album that lovers of country-flavored blues can certainly appreciate.
MISH MASH Mandate: Something to Talk About
Brian Connelly's Lunatic Fringe at Muzikman.com
Shake It Up Power Pop