Clutch – Earth Rocker album review

Touring with solid stoner-rock bands like Thin Lizzie and Motorhead would give anyone aspirations to become the World’s Best Rock Band. Surrounded by lots and lots of buzzing bass, furious drum and searing guitar work, lead man Neil Fallon has only to supply anthem-capable vocals, which he does in spades on this tenth album. They may have altered the genre they can currently fit into, but their music is pretty solidly rock.

Even though you know what you’re getting when you sign up for a listen, there is nothing stale or ho-hum about Clutch. Perhaps it’s their near-constant touring that keeps them in front of their fans, always hyped for the next show, but their studio work is as near to a live performance in terms of the energy and sheer driving sounds that leap off the tracklist.

Fallon’s southern accent comes through in a marvelous growley blues number, Gone Cold. Perhaps it was added to give listeners a break from the grinding of tracks like Unto The Breach, Crucial Velocity, and the title track  Earth Rocker, but oddly enough it fits together well with the body of the album.

Boogie also makes a playful appearance, though its boogie with an attitude. Cyborg Bette rollicks through verses and races over the chorus; I doubt if drummer Jean-Paul Gaster would stop for anything. And Dan Maines, the bassist, states that they wanted to pick up the pace of this album ‘a little’. That is an accomplishment box they can check.

Of all of the selections, Oh, Isabella is the one I least liked, if only because it seems like the lyrics belong in a slower song and the music wants to rev up and go. The closer, The Wolfman Kindly Requests… is a blast to listen to: blistering riffs, courtesy of Tim Sult, heavy double-bass drums and a relentless bassline, it’s what all rock-n-roll songs should be. Just Rock. And roll.

She & Him – Never Wanted Your Love review

Never Wanted Your Love is a preview of She & Him’s third album appropriately titled Volume 3.

Zooey Deschanel’s collaboration with M.Ward is poppy and restrained, sophisticated and simple. It could be an updated Lemmon Sisters ditty, without the other two sisters. If you could feel good about a romance gone bad, this would be the song for it. Deschanel has been busy elsewhere, in TV and advertising, but her music has not seemed to mind. A little Katy Perry (without the oversaturation), a little Bette Middler and a little Katrina and the Waves all rolled into one dynamic package,  the duo is earnest in its retro sincerity and hip references. Ward handles the musical arranging, skillfully so that his partner’s vocals are in the perfect pitch range to allow the feel-goodness to shine through.

She & Him are past the novelty phase and well into a sophomore career (Christmas albums don’t really count), with enough decent material to be eligible for station playlists and, if not a concert headliner yet, surely not still an opening act.

Merge Records is promoting a music video for this single and the whole album drops on May 7th. It will be a mix of covers and guest artists with original work.

Chant show review

Chant, a project group hailing from Austin, TX, was asked to join KMFDM for the rest of  their 2013, 23 cities-in-23-days I<3YOU  tour.

I saw them at the Showbox in Seattle, being the second of 4 opening acts.

Bradley Bills is the main engine of this industrial/aggro rock percussion group. Much like NIN, he is the singular constant, with guest artists from groups such as The Butthole Surfers, Pigface and  The Razorblade Dolls sitting in studio. His talent ranges far beyond a single onstage kit: he has two and a half custom drum sets in racks, garbage cans, various buckets, satellite dishes, bongos…anything that makes a resonant sound is likely to be pounded upon in a rhythmic fashion. Bills and his partner (for this tour) Chris Telkes showed no road fatigue, no evidence of this being their last stop on hat must have been a very demanding tour schedule.  Telkes slings a laptop station around from which all manner of backing synth tracks issue and takes over various drumming duties when Bills is hammering on something else. The LEd light show, keyed to the music, only adds to the frenetic  atmosphere.

When I saw Combichrist at the Rammstein reunification a couple of years ago, I thought there was nothing that could top Joe Letz’s percussion work.

Scratch that.

Mr Bills is an amazing compilation of rage and style, passion and noise and love, and  if you are lucky enough to be in the first three rows (or in front of the floor amp, as I was ), you’ll feel the waves of all of that roll through you. Chant promised they would warm up the audience, and they were the perfect opener for KMFDM.  Though not a new group (near continuous touring for the last 8 years), Chant has only had time to release three albums, the latest titled “Strong Words For Strong People.”  Bills has plans to work on new material for a new release, bu also mentioned touring again. I don’t know which I would prefer: seeing Chant live again (and again) or hearing more new stuff.  Whatever is decided, Saturday’s performance was proof that anything Bills comes up with is gonna be good.

Kate Nash – Girl Talk album review

Nash has been likened to fellow Brit Lily Allen, although Allen has a polished lyrical style, intentionally airy and in full command of her range. Nash has a ways to go on both counts.

The opener, Part Heart is agonizingly slow and initially musically bare, almost an acoustic arrangement. Feeling more like Nash is in her bedroom musing about her broken heart than a breakup song, it grows in intensity and added snarly instruments until the crescendo end.

A punk-pop sound as only an all-girl band can achieve, Nash hits back hard at all the boys who screwed her over, or at least didn’t call her back. Death Proof has fabulous electric surfer riffs and a stylish tempo, with Nash’s spunky vocals. The bridge, “I don’t have time to die” is memorable.

Though she has released two previous albums, with some selections very well-received, she does not have the vocal caliber of a Chrissy Hines or Sleeper. Sister shows her straining at the raw edges of power choruses and she is off key in the following verses because of it. This is not her best song by a longshot and the album could have stood to be released without it.

Rap For Rejection is a British-themed bad-girl rap, rather ho-hum. Eminem has the talent to throw a bunch of swear-words and graphic phrases in a hat and pull out a decent story in rap form, but Ms. Nash needs to not do that. Her forte is saber-sharp sarcasms gilded in peppy, artificially-bright melodies and for those tracks where she puts that effort forth, she does prevail. Conventional Girl is a perfect example of this, though she tends to try to dump some scream-o style in there which clashes with the pop-alt genre.

Track commentaries are included, which is novel. Perhaps some editorial review before they are published to reduce the “um’s” and trailing off sentences. It’s cute in a thoughtful way once or twice, but nearly every sentence on each commentary is annoying to the point of being whiny.

This crowd-funded album is aimed squarely at her current fan base, magnifying her audacious personality and hinting at personal sorrows. If she nailed down those parts of her songs that need strong, clear notes, she would be a powerfully fun live act. As it stands now, her fans are going to love her no matter what, but they can only buy so many albums.

Foals – Holy Fire album review

Foal’s third studio album, Holy Fire, dropped February 11, 2013.

Techno-beat with northern U.K. club influences, the opening track and single-release My Number is a no-nonsense entrée with a side of rhythmic guitar and open bass percussion. Appealing to fans of US bands such as Foster The People, Foals’ melodies are energizing and distinct, the harmonies are genuine and most selections are ready-made for radio play without sounding like they all have the same hook.

Love and uncomplicated relationships are the centerpiece themes and (thankfully) don’t spend a lot of lyric space trying to analyze them. Bad Habit is perhaps the least sophisticated of them:

“Cause I’m a bad habit.
One you cannot shake.
And I hope that I change.
Don’t follow me.
Don’t follow me.”

I can relate to simple imagery and sometimes that is just what an album needs; just a simple song.

Milk & Black Spiders – besides having a delicious title – could be the trademark sound of this British quintet; several layers of vocal harmony, double-time guitar riffs and building volume to Temper Trap-like bridge.  It’s an intricate arrangement, a style that will hopefully show up more frequently.  Providence is a wonderful diversion; more driving double-bass, more reverb and a thin metallic guitar imbue a 90’s arena-rock feel.

The closer, Inhaler, is all sharp and technically executed. Produced by Flood and Alan Moulder (a la Smashing Pumpkins), it starts out bold and only grows louder and more determined. It’s tailor-made for full volume listening.

It does seem that a lot of alternative bands – whatever their sub-genre or influence – put out one or two really great songs and then fall back on filler or extra material they didn’t really know what to do with for their second and third albums, almost as if they are biding their time finding a name act to tour with. Not so with Foals. Their first production was met with critical and popular approval and the followup to that, Total Life Forever, introduced completely new material and a disciplined sound. On Holy Fire, the band opens their lyrical arms to everyone within listening distance: it’s not only for die-hard fans. They want the whole musical world to know them and to love them. Easy to do with a release like this.

Blackie & The Oohoos – Song For Two Sisters album review

Lovely harmonies and  delicate guitar riffs exemplify the second album from the sibling duo of Loesje and Martha Maieu out of Belgium. As a Scandinavian-based group, they are refreshingly understandable, but they are not for everyone. Sweet and mysterious, like a hard-core Olof Arnalds, there were several tracks that I would have liked to hear a faster tempo. Instead, they wove a thread of dreamy vocal interludes and almost-love songs. Unfortunately, there are a few bands already in this niche genre who are aggressively pursuing fans with EP releases and crazy touring schedules.

This release  has only nine standard-length tracks and the title song is not the standout.

When Lights Fall stirs up interest with a samba beat and twin vocals and Young Running Wild Ones has striking high notes, although the organ track is a little overworked and a little on the Lawrence Welk-ish side. Most songs start out in the same key and tempo and if anything interesting is going to happen, it isn’t until the middle, so listeners who are on the fence about this group might not have the patience to wait it out.

The album closes with Misty Boys and is technically complex with a lo-fi keyboard buzz and deft bassline. The sisters speak-sing for 3:46, interlacing an understory and an appealing wistfulness.

It doesn’t feel like their best effort and since they have not toured yet, it hard to measure any creative growth, the kind that is generated by contact with concert goers and other artists. They do have a good foundation though and hopefully they can hop onto at least a European series and get some road experience behind them before they go back to the studio.

Late Night Tales – Friendly Fires album review

A yearly compilation of eclectic artists and tracks, the 2012 release marks the 30th anniversary.

If only that was something to celebrate.

Occasionally tuneless (Stereolab’s The Black Arts), sometimes evocative (Change Your Style – Renee) but mostly boring overall, it does not appear as though there was any criteria for inclusion on what is ostensibly the best of folk and indie artists.

Sure, there are some tracks like Grouper’s Invisible that you could put on and dream the day away,  but you could do that with better artists who have a record full of great dreamscapes, like Gold Leaves.  Alas, nothing so sophisticated or refined here. For the shoegazer crowd, there is lots of buzzy reverb and wandering high vocals on the contribution from Melody’s Echo Chamber, Endless Shore and Nils Frahm has some nice solo piano on Over There, It’s Raining, but it is only 1:52. Most of the tracks meander wimpily around, lost and half-hearted as though this was a scratch studio disc, never meant to be released to the paying public. Friendly Fires tries to sound important and edgy on their Why Don’t You Answer? and end up annoying the listener with their sole, repeated verse.

The very best part is the spoken word at the end, a really lovely passage read with just the right amount of pause and expectation. If they released the 6:25 soliloquy as an intro to an audiobook, I would probably download chapter one, at least.

Hopefully they wouldn’t include any of the tracks here as background.

Calexico – Algiers album review

I grew up with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass playing in my house. Alpert’s soulful trumpet (still going strong today, by the way) cut to the heart and painted such landscapes.  So any band that hints of border-town jangle, brassy  horns and acoustical guitar riffs brings back some great memories.

Calexico’s newest album, Algiers has not disappointed in this effort. The opening track, Epic, has a hint of plaintive solo trumpet and bassy six-string thumps. Founding members Joey Burns and John Covertino share vocals that blend perfectly with the image of indie-desert classical tunes.

Sinners in the Sea is a beautiful, rumba-paced ballad that uses a haunting chorus with off-key instrumentals to build tension, but for more modern tastes, Fortune Teller harkens  an influence The Shins and Kris Orlowski, backed by low-key snare.

The title track, Algiers is just lovely. All instrumental, smooth and tejano-jazzy. A showcase of talent from each band member. I can see this going on for ten or fifteen minutes, easily at a live show and I think I would be sorry when it ended. For lovers of romantic Spanish songs, No Te Vayas will be the standout: trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela wrote this song and teases in some beautiful solos.

This sound isn’t ‘just’ for the indie crowd, or TexMex or  world music aficionados. There are plenty of songs for every category and some reviewers have actually complained that this album (Calexico’s  seventh) is too commercial. Bah. Fifteen tracks long, Algiers is about five tracks longer than most but probably short by this band’s previous works. If I had to pick a single for radio play, Hush would fit in most every market. OK, maybe not hip hop.  But overall, this album is a perfect choice for long-time fans and brand new ones. Hint, hint: Christmas is coming.

Ringo Deathstarr – Mauve album review

The second release this year, ‘Mauve’ follows two of Ringo Deathstarr’s LP’s in 2011 and

Punky and fuzzy, most of the songs are brief trips into tracks and tracks of dynamic sound overlaid with bassist Alex Gehring’s vocals. Harmonizing with Elliot Frazier with lyrics that are (thankfully) distinguishable, the Austin-based trio has learned a lot production-wise since their debut EP. Whatever critics may say about the group not being all that current with their sound, there is still a large alternative audience who are discovering that cool music doesn’t have to mean screaming, out-of-control guitar work or repetitive sounds that are supposed to pass for melodies.

The energy of feedback-infused bass and heavy percussion gets this album up and going right from the start, with the single-release Rip. Some nice screech introduces Waste, but it it’s only the accent and then the minor key vocals jump in, which is a perfect offset to some buzzy riffs. The showpiece of the album, Brightest Star, sits in the top third and slows the tempo down for nearly six minutes. It’s lovely and wistful, nourishing the soul as it winds its way through the anguish of love (You were the brightest star/You were the only one), ending with scratchy electric chords and a fade out to keyboard musings.

Some of the tracks have bits of studio sound at the end, which only adds interest. The band gets pretty good live-concert reviews, (touring most recently with The Smashing Pumpkins) and most of these tracks would lend themselves very well to extended, crowd-pleasing interludes. I’d love to see them open up for The Silverspun Pickups, another band that completely gets the 90’s shoegaze-is-dead-but-we-are-doing-it-our-way style.

Mauve is a recommended download as an album, but if you have to only pick a few songs, get Rip, Brightest Star and Do You Wanna.

Love The Lost Interview

Nathan Temple Vocals, Ben Evans Guitar, Cody Hilliker Guitar/vocals, Kyle Edwards Bass, Shane Rutledge Drums

Bands come and go, especially in Seattle. It’s a tough gig surviving the work that goes into getting a group together, practicing and trying to get club dates. It’s a lot easier if there is talent to back up all the idealism, such is the case with Love The Lost. A band of five musicians, young but very focused, their music resonates with metalheads as much for the energy and volume as the lyrics.

Formed in 2012, Love The Lost is a Seattle-area post hardcore/metalcore band who performed at Studio Seven’s Battle of the Bands In July 2012. Coming in second place to a more experienced band, the group graciously agreed to an interview after their set.

LTL:        This was our first show together and we’ve been practicing hard. We loved seeing the audience getting involved, especially all the bouncing up and down during ‘Monstrosity’.

What are your influences and who does the writing?

We do our own writing. Each person writes their past and then when we come together, we fine tune it and blend it. One of our influences is Armada; they have a lot of fun when they write and perform. We want to give our fans the same kind of satisfaction and we like the high energy we get back from them. We all come from metal backgrounds (Cody Hilliker: “I’m from a Christian metal band”), so we all bring in something a little different from the same genre.”

What’s your favorite song? And what about CD release dates?

Our favorite group song has to be “Arrogance”.  We have an EP recording session August 7th with the release later this year and then have about 9 more song ready to go for a CD. We are working on making a download available from the web site.

What’s the meaning behind the name?

We are not a death metal band. We want to reach out to people and love them through the music; we think we can reach a lot of people who otherwise don’t get enough love. We have a humble approach to what we do. We love to meet other musician and their fans, we appreciate those who come out to support the music and we’d meet and shake hands with every single fan if we could.”

Love The Lost has a variety of club gigs scheduled in and around Seattle/Tacoma. Expect to hear more from this group and watch for more music to be released later this year.