LISTENING ROOM


 

PURE-DEKAM
Reqoil/Displaced/Peaceoff [Doc 005]

Designed as an installation fusing sound and visuals, Peter Votava (aka Pure) collaborates with video artist, Johnny Dekam, for an experimental exploration of mixed media. Votova (a Mego label artist) has a penchant for ambient-industrial and his atmospheric passages constantly morphs into pounding industrial noise. For Reqoil, Dekam provides a visual of an oil rig that is cut-up, overlaid and variously coloured. In Displaced, an animation consisting of specks and dots continuously swirl into the sonic maelstrom that Votova concocts. Like most installations, watching it intently may not be the point. And the DVD is programmed to loop continuously until it eats into your subconscious. (7) - Philip Cheah

 

THE THESSALONIAN DOPE GODS
High Idol Pulsation [Sin Klub Entertainment]

I shall start this review this review - Japanese-style:

Making the nice dancing puppies glow feverishly. Don't stepping around the bushes. Jolly belly metal with disco ball!

This two Ohioans Thessalonoian Dope Gods moved to the Chicago area. If you're painting with the big brush only, they'll be listed among the 'industrial metal' musical genre, High Idol Pulsation is a 10-song collection of tunes that are a little off-the-wall sounding. I like when bands can produce albums where each of the songs sound a little different from one another, but these songs are so extreme left and right that it's a little unsettling aurally. "12-Gauge Deed" has got a cool, mellow acoustic spine, but the vocals ruin it. This song would be much better if left instrumental. "Scarehead" has got some experimental fluctuations musically, but again the vocals turned me off, in this song sounding comically goth.

And "Rattle" sounds like a suicidal Robert Smith of The Cure. There are some highlights on the disc. "Only God is Meaner" - metal with groove and with a slight punk feel to it. And "Handful Of Stars, Mouthful of Retch" is thrashy yet catchy. With such varied sound even within the confines of one CD, I think The Thessalonian Dope Gods should try to define their musical personality a little better. ‘Industrial Metal’ is too simplistic of a title for this array of styles, and that's not a bad thing. But from a potential fan's perspective, a bit more musical consistency would do this band well. This CD should be listened by those waiting to be released from Tanah Merah and Queenstown remand centres. - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

THE HAPPINESS FACTOR
Avoid Danger [Paisley Pop]

Salim Nourallah makes no bones about being completely besotted with the British rock scene of the late '70s. And so it doesn't take a genius to divine Nourallah's reference points on this, The Happiness Factor's full-length debut - Elvis Costello, the Clash and the Jam figure prominently.

Well and good, one could argue that the Britpop movement of the mid-‘90s is now dead and buried (and others might even add - and it should remain so!) but as with all great bands, Nourallah and co never lets an inspiration be an end but only a means. So while there are the occasional lapses into formula, by and large, Avoid Danger contains premium power pop driven by a Lennonesque acerbic wit that gives the cutting edge needed for it to stand out from the crowd.

Thus songs like The In-Crowd, Insane Ledger and Use Radios! fairly bristle with Nourallah's angst and frustration, exemplified by Nourallah hollering "Getting old and going soft/ Cut them off/ Cut them off" over the grunge-lite quality of Soft or perhaps the hidden Mr. Critic where Nourallah's perfect Weller-isms poke fun at music reviewers everywhere. Nourallah contrasts the harshness with a lovelorn melancholy that recalls Crowded House at times - like in the reflective Proper Channels.

Overall, Avoid Danger is a good taster of Nourallah's potential to bring his talent to its logical conclusion. He's not there yet, but where he takes his muse should be worth keeping a lookout for. (7) - Kevin Mathews

 

THE ICARUS LINE
Penance Soiree [V2]

Splashed with reckless wild abandon! The band is made up of axe-bludgeoners. I suddenly found myself listening to the child of Sonic Youth and Led Zep. Yup! Led Zep would have sounded this way if their bodies were infested with drugs of today. This is indeed appetite for guitars and destruction.

These boys with the toys are one heckuva noisy post-punk brigade. But for the uninitiated, here's the Icarus Line's musical recipe: A twin guitar attack (Alvin DeGuzman and the aforementioned North) trowels on guitar skronk while frontman Joe Cardamone's vocals searches for cracks in the wall of sound and the jackhammer rhythm section of Don Devore (bass) and Jeff Watson (drums) beat any remaining smooth edges out of shape. Fans of such a sound will thrill to the band's, should I say intelligent sonic assault? Those who aren't will at least find a few moments of respite on the album, especially those social failures out there that need a little something before confronting their bosses.

"Noisy" vs. "noise" is as thin a line to walk as there is in post-punk, and they have their fingers hanging all over it. "Spit on It" 's guitars are fuzzed-out to near-comical levels and they swirl and divebomb out of the speakers; through headphones, the tune is flat-out disorienting. "Big Sleep" takes the speaker trickery one step further, with North and DeGuzman each playing a completely different tune through a speaker. They're not playing with each other, or even against each other -- they're just making a racket.

Literally flaying their guitars, there are the moments where the Icarus Line catch their breath. There’s a horn section to brighten up the album (But that soon mashes up into a cacophonic climax by the end.)  .

There’s a riff somewhere in there. Or is it something that was a riff before being beheaded by these sonic militias. Honestly, I couldn’t groove along to "Getting Brighter" because it’s like nine minutes of droning. Droning you say? It’s something you hear during your "alpha beta" state before being transformed into the Undead. - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

DEVENDRA BANHART
Rejoicing in the Hands [XL Recordings]

One of the more charming albums you will hear this year, Devendra Banhart's (a Texan, who was named by an Indian mystic his parents followed) second album, is a free-spirited folk album that could double up as a cosmic lullaby. The first track, This is the Way, is a gorgeous song, and Banhart's ability to write any which way, has resulted in an inverted lyric ending to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Carry On. Instead of the original "rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice…but to carry on", Banhart writes: "we know we know, we've had a choice, we chose rejoice." What's more remarkable is the presence of legendary folk singer, Vashti Bunyan (her early albums are very rare and valuable), who duets with Banhart on the title track. (8) - Philip Cheah

 

RICH WEST
Bedouin Hornbook [pfMentum]

Los Angeles new music drummer, Rich West, recruits a crew of similar-minded musicians to concoct the restless Bedouin Hornbook. Most spectacular is the arid 14-minute Twang, where the Australian aboriginal didjeridoo drone is evoked during passages of sparse instrumentation. But for lovers of experimental jazz, West will be noted for his melodic sense. Even during long atmospheric tracks such as Twang, West will conjure melodic outbursts courtesy of Jeremy Drake's electric lead guitar, Bruce Friedman's trumpet or Chris Heenan's sax and clarinet. Bedouin Hornbook will also be noted for its copious usage of the tuba, played by Scot Ray. The tuba adds a certain carnival air to the already exuberant group. West was formerly in the '80s band Box O'Laffs who featured many of the original members of Camper Van Beethoven. Bedouin Hornbook is the title of Nathaniel Mackey's avant-garde novel of the jazz world. Pleasantly provocative, the album would have benefited from a more focused intensity. (6.5) - Philip Cheah

 

PHILIP ZOELLNER
Philip Zoellner [Self-released]

So this is rock 'n' roll? Let's take this rock thang out of the garage shall we? I mean, it didn't take the Rolling Stones long to kick the blues habit and strap on a honky tonk six shooter did it? Zoellner is certainly cut from that same cloth where a rock 'n' roll education is limited to that magical era that is 1969 to 1974. Forget about getting your ya-yas out, this is rock 'n' roll with a dash of cosmic American music thrown in for good measure. Songs that boss like Taxi Cab Driver, State of Mind and Why Don't You Feel Like I Do? point the way. (6) - Kevin Mathews

 

POWDERFINGER
Vulture Street [V2]

Highly anticipated album from Queensland's Powderfinger has been built up with the first single 'On My Mind', which has the band going for the ballsy guitar rock sound, which is really the overall tone of this album. I haven't taken much interest in the band on previous releases but after one listen to this record you can tell why they are up there as one of the country's biggest bands, the tracks are mainly energetic straight up catchy rock with a few ballads thrown in for good measure. Its raison d'etre is free-running guitars with Darren Middleton and Ian Haug dominating in a way they haven't since their 1994 debut, Parables for Wooden Ears. . There are Diamond Dogs-era glammy struts (Don't Panic), Kiss-like pokes (the drolly named Rockin' Rocks), AC/DC meatiness (On My Mind), acoustic tumbling into weaving Zeppelin lines (Love Your Way) and what the Stooges' Ron Ashton might have sounded like if he had played with the Rolling Stones (Stumblin' and A Song Called Everything). Acoustic songs like Pockets provide a change of pace without sinking into indulgent radio-ballads, or destroying the flow of the album. - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

CHEAP COLOGNE
Double Black Album [Indie no label]

Anthrax did one song collaboration with Public Enemy... Faith No More Epic album, The Judgement Night Soundtrack, Beasties with Licensed to Ill... Listen to those classics! Limp Bizkit and Linkin and thousands more... no comment.... Yeah while at it... why not put Tone Loc with Slayer on one track, that'll be a scream! Listening to repetitive Metallica riffs with mono Jay Z Raps... boring. Watching Spongebob the cartoon - AAhhhh! Masterpiece! - Adam Mohd Yusop

[Editor's Note: You can download and listen to the JayZ and Metallica mix tape of the Double Black album at http://www.bannedmusic.org]

 

ZEENA PARKINS/ IKUE MORI
Phantom Orchard [Mego]

As you step into Zeena Parkins' and Ikue Mori's Phantom Orchard, an air of mystery envelops you. Jezebel, a soothing cool electronic track has Parkins' trademark electric harp and Mori's multi-layered electronics. It feels like being back in Eden and being tempted all over again. The aggressive avant-garde squeals and screeches shatter the silence on the third track, Miura. That's before you find the shimmering Ghostlake, with its trilling bird voices or the softly sensuous Transparent Things. Parkins has released countless recordings and has played with John Zorn, Jim O'Rourke, Thurston Moore and Yoko Ono. Mori is equally established on the improv scene, beginning on drums and percussion before evolving to electronics. She formed the seminal no wave band, DNA, with Arto Lindsay and has played with Dave Douglas, DJ Olive and Fred Frith. Phantom Orchard seems like an outcome of a lot of film scores that they have both done. It's intensely visual music and thankfully, the mystery doesn't recede. (7.5) - Philip Cheah

 

SONIC YOUTH
Sonic Nurse [Geffen]

There’s a certain comfort to be had when listening to Sonic Youth’s 19th studio album. It’s the type of comfort that you get from a long time older friend, or a cool uncle or elder sibling. Sonic Nurse is Sonic Youth - the discordant notes, the twin, sometimes triple, guitar attacks, the glorious marriage between tone and feedback and the insistent Kim Gordon vocals versus the laidback singing of her better half, Thurston Moore. Avant-garde rock like only the New Yorkers can do it.

So does this mean they’ve gone complacent and predictable? Not likely. The Band’s got its loyal core of followers, the kinda folks who got tagged with the label alternative when it was ironic in the ‘90s and it’s probably from these people that the full enjoyment of the album can be truly appreciated. The sense of familiarity that the 10 tracks elicit stems from the fact that they take after many styles and periods in the band’s 20-year career. You get bits from Daydream Nation, from EVOL, from Dirty and Goo and recent outings like NYC Ghost & Flowers and Murray Street.

For the more contemporary or juvenile alternative music fan, Sonic Nurse might come across as Adult-Rock (relatively of course) but give it a chance and they might realize that old fogeys can still rock, albeit a little slower. Long live the Youth. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

 

PILOT TO GUNNER
Get Saved [Arena Rock]

I really hate writer’s block. Does it really exist?  I’ve given Pilot to Gunner plenty of listens. It’s not that I don’t like the music; in fact, it was quite good, but somehow, something keeps blocking me from putting my thoughts down onto the Microsoft Word. See, much like good Thai food, Pilot to Gunner’s new album has a great taste, but it’s missing something that the Thai food has… that spicy tingling taste, there is a notable feeling that I get after listening to them. And I like Pilot to Gunner’s new effort, but there’s no aftertaste. Like Thai food, PTG rocks hard and isn’t afraid to let you know about it (that’s a cliché isn’t it?).

The key to what makes this album likeable stems from the meshing of the lead vocal with the tone and groove of the percussion and guitars. The way the lead singer matches the tone of his voice to the tone of the music, creating a very interesting texture to the overall body of each song. The very smooth grooves provided by bassist Martin McLoughlin and guitarist Patrick Hegarty instead carry through the more downbeat songs in the second half of the album. And YES! A rock band that is not afraid of using pink coloured fonts on the front cover!!!! Aahaa! - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

THE GET UP KIDS
Guilt Show [Vagrant]

Talk about feeling guilty... even before I listened to this latest album from the Get Up Kids, I'd already dismissed it as either overblown emo or over-rated old-school punk. WRONG!

The moment, track 2 "The One You Want" opens with its inventive blend of guitar crunch and soft keyboards, you'll realize you're no longer in Kansas, Toto as The Kids deliver what can only be described accurately as primo power pop! Yes, boys and girls, you read that absolutely right - power pop! And it only gets better...

The longing "Never Be Alone," - to these ears - sound uncannily like Squeeze for the modern rock era, with singer Matthew Pryor a dead-ringer for Glenn Tilbrook! I kid you not! The Squeeze evocation continues with the marvelous "Wouldn't Believe It," as its jauntiness and playful mellifluous makes a significant impact. The strident "Holy Roman" is perhaps the album's finest achievement as Pryor waxes political but almost in frustration - "will you save us?"

The rest of Guilt Show keeps the momentum going as the catchy "Martyr Me," the punchy "How Long Is Too Long," the synth-pop new wavy "Sick In Her Skin," the jolly (the very antithesis of emo-punk) "In Your Sea," the hyperactive "Sympathy," the powerful "The Dark Night of the Soul" declare the Kids' arrival as premier pop artists of considerable power and significance. By demonstrating the ability to transcend the genre in which they made their reputations, the Kids have secured themselves a place in pop legend, with Guilt Show being easily their proverbial "Sgt. Pepper" - this might very well be the album of the year. Believe it! (9) - Kevin Mathews

 

ATIVIN
Night Mute [Secretly Canadian]

Night Mute is more of an expression of rock with distorted guitars and pounding drums. Controlled cleverly by guitarists and songwriters, Dan Burton and Chris Carothers, this release still held a lot of the rock ideology but experimented more with restraint and melodrama. Summing the Approach saw more of an attempt at longer song structures and a more subtle intensity. Spacey, turning almost jazz-like metal grooves before crouching and crawling like a sloth. A creation of an atmosphere that is laced with stark beauty and a melancholy restraint, a perfect soundtrack for those lunch hour zombies at Raffles Place. Two guitars, one drummer. Brilliant Chaos! - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

POSTER CHILDREN
No More Songs About Sleep and Fire [Parasol]

I'm sorry but I just can't seem to conjure the image of the Talking Heads when I listen to the Poster Children's new album, No More Songs About Sleep and Fire. Well, for starters, the title recalls the Heads' own Songs About Building and Food, the sleeve has a very strong late '70s/ early '80s vibe about it and the Children have a woman (Rose) playing bass as well! Listening to Rick's approximation of David Byrne's larynx is a little too creepy for this reviewer at times BUT the redeeming feature of great post-punk material here certainly keeps me listening, whatever the reservations. (7.5) - Kevin Mathews

 

LENNY KRAVITZ
Baptism [Virgin Records]

I want you to forget about the musical essence of the man! Sure! He’s talented (but not as great as Prince) from the ultimate peace and love anthem of "Let Love Rule", to the techno-futurism of "Black Velveteen". There are the ones you'll think of right away, like "Are You Gonna Go My Way?", the desperate love song "It Ain't Over Til It's Over", and his cover of the Guess Who's "American Woman", originally done for the Austin Powers soundtrack, "Always On The Run" featuring a guitar solo from former Guns 'N Roses lead guitarist Slash, whom Kravitz went to high school with, the emotionally powerful song of self-belief "Believe"; the anti-racism message of "Mr. Cabdriver", and the commentary on the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle, "Rock and Roll Is Dead". The then hit single "Again", while not as musically and lyrically powerful as his previous work, it is a good song with a catchy chorus. Ok! Just forget all that.

This new one here, is… maybe I'm missing the message he's sending or maybe it is just a mess that each listener is supposed to harvest their own ideas from. I have discovered this: Lenny Kravitz has some brilliant musical moments but has a little problem holding a whole album together. I love his dreadlocks with his afro, but his new Bon Jovi hair is really getting on my nerves. You want Soul music? It ain’t here. Buy Prince’s Musicology. - Adam Mohd Yusop



JOHNNY CASH
Unearthed [American]

CLICK HERE for the review by Philip Cheah

 

CALIFONE
Heron King Blues [Thrill Jockey]

After last year's Quicksand/Cradlesnakes, which made BigO's Top 20 critics' list, Califone's re-processed blues-folk still blows off the hype from The White Stripes. Their layered roots sound is a fresco of finely-plucked instruments, mind-boggling percussion and cooling electronics. Based on a dream and a legend, Califone's guitarist/songwriter, Tim Rutili, has dedicated the new album to the fearful half-man, half-bird Heron King, who terrified the English during ancient times during the Roman invasion. Wingbone and Trick Bird are filled with fearful images of "bed of nails," and faces being peeled off.

Considering that the songs were recorded while being written, the eight tracks here sound amazingly arranged. Tightly-strung guitars with pure, pristine sounds ring into your ears from both speakers and, even though the melodies are not obvious after three listens, you are lulled into the song's musical mysteries. Trick Bird, for instance, features an intriguing Japanese-sounding string instrument (is it the Shinai reed listed in the credit?) which only begins when the refrain is sung. The refrain is catchy and will play in your mind for days. A buzzing feedback-drenched guitar counterpoints the subtler instruments.

Filled with treated piano, Turkish violin, wurlitzer, Casio and banjo, each track is an ear-opening exercise of interweaving sounds. More percussion follows on Apple, a track seemingly built from a chant. Rutili's lyrics are fragmented. They deliver tiny snapshots, not full frames. The long Sawtooth Sung A Cheater's Song has a bluesy beginning and, while the song seems to end in the fifth minute, the band jams on for another three minutes, adding on more percussion, electronics and even an ethnic chant. The title track has the band in their element, a 15-minute instrumental jam.

With Rutili and Ben Massarella, as the core group, Jim Becker and Joe Adamik round up the current quartet. Everyone plays almost everything. The members interchange as much as the music interweaves. It's a sonic tapestry which we once called the blues. (7.5) - Philip Cheah

 

VARIOUS
Porky's Revenge: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [Columbia/Legacy]

Long out of print (original pressings were going for US$100 and up on halfdotcom) the soundtrack to the underrated 1985 sex comedy finds producer/artist Dave Edmunds bringing out the best in performers like Jeff Beck ("Sleepwalk") and Clarence Clemons (a tough "Peter Gunn Theme"). Elsewhere, Carl Perkins revisits his Sun classics "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Honey Don't" with a vengeance, George Harrison contributes a rare Bob Dylan tune, "l Don't Want to Do It" (it could be the ex-Beatle's best track of the '80s).

The Robert Plant-led Crawling King Snakes, attacking Charlie Rich's "Philadelphia Baby," tops anything on his Honeydrippers album. Willie Nelson's "Love Me Tender" is even more poignant without movie footage of Beulah Ballbricker and her true love reuniting on Angel Beach. Then there's the title track, sort of an Edmunds take on the "Miami Vice" theme with a little more guitar and a lot more energy. Best of all is the should've-been hit single "High School Nights," an ageless celebration of exactly what its title implies, on a par with Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby" as an anthem for horny teenagers. — Chris Manson [via Rock & Rap Confidential]

 

JACKSON BROWNE
The Very Best of Jackson Browne [Elektra/Rhino]

Whether it's a quiet village of notes or blazing rock 'n' roll, Browne's consistent sonic vision - craft indivisible from emotion - allows his magnificent wordplay to take effect. "The Load-Out" is one of the greatest songs ever about work, but it's also a hymn to America the beautiful and its technology and all the genres of music given birth here, all while insisting that being able to play music is more important than any of that. "Lawless Avenues," with its loving embrace of the streets, is the exact opposite of Hollywood radical chic and "Looking East" condemns poverty while showing more love of country than Toby Keith will ever know. "Somebody's Baby" often trivialized as just a horny fantasy, is actually about the hot babe in question's yearning too, making lust echo with solidarity and giving hope to us all. Album after album, Jackson Browne provides words and sounds to live by - 32 years and counting. Liner notes by RRC's Dave Marsh. - Rock & Rap Confidential

 

TODD RUNDGREN
Liars [Sanctuary]

"All of these songs are about a paucity of truth."

Touted as Rundgren's comeback album, Liars is being regarded by many critics as Rundgren's first serious recording since the end of the '80s. In my mind, what is perhaps more significant is the sheer vitriol that drips from the 14 excellent tracks on show here.

So what has Rundgren to be angry about, anyway?

How about the breakdown of marital relations? On "Happy Anniversary," Rundgren portrays the opposite perspectives encountered in such relationships - "Men are stupid/Women are evil" - too close for comfort, methinks.

Or how about the whoring of the music business? "Soul Brother" pulls no punches - "and if you want to be a star/Just grab your crotch and squeeze it hard" - he doesn't need to spell it out does he?

Or how about greed disguised as religious piety? "Faith in your father, holy faith/In the dollar almighty and the tithing plate" goes the diatribe that is "Mammon." Or maybe religious fanaticism? "And you will kill in my name and heaven knows what else/When you can't prove I exist, so get over yourself," Rundgren intones on "God Said."

So yeah, the lyrics are pretty heavy going and also a tad preachy and one-dimensional perhaps as Rundgren's own preferred targets. After all, it's dangerous to lecture people about truth when there's an assumption that the 'truth' exists in your own protestations.

Musically, there is no faulting Liars as Rundgren pulls out all the stops to evoke the strengths associated with his illustrious past. Memorable melodies, sophisticated arrangements and fervent performances all mark Liars as a milestone in Rundgren's recent repertoire.

And when Rundgren allows himself to get off that high (moral) horse, he delivers with stunning effect. Case in point - the poignant "Past," where Rundgren pulls the heartstrings with a ballad that sits with some of his finest, and sings - "And my todays are gray, the seconds tick away/But if I close my eyes it's only yesterday/And I see rainbows surrounding you and me/But that was in the past/I know it was in the past," real lump in throat stuff.

Overall, Liars is an album fans of Todd Rundgren's legend cannot ignore. - (8) Kevin Mathews

 

NICHOLAS RODNEY DRAKE
Time Has Told Me

Released late last year without a label, and very hard to find, Nicholas Rodney Drake is billed as the mother of all Nick Drake bootlegs. Already, the 1,000 unit vinyl edition is sold out. This double CD collects 44 unreleased tracks transferred from original copies of Drake's home recordings, all EQed and mastered. In effect, you can put aside most of your other muddy Drake bootlegs.

Disc One features early 1967/68 recordings and reveals Drake's firm blues and folk leanings. Covers range from Luke Jordan's Cocaine Blues to Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice It's Alright. In the darkly prophetic Here Come the Blues, he sings: "Cos no bottle of pills could ever kill this pain." This was ironically just how he ended his life.

Disc Two is revelatory. Here we find the much-rumoured Richard-Hewson (remember him from the soundtrack of Melody, the film which the Bee Gees contributed songs to?) string arrangements for two demos for Drake's debut Five Leaves Left. Both Thoughts of Mary Jane and Day Is Done sound prettier and romantic but Drake chose his Cambridge schoolmate, Robert Kirby, instead as arranger, for a more personal vision. It also includes the much sought-after Brian Wells tape, which has early takes of Parasite. The album ends with a final John Woods session in 1974, which proves that Drake was still in fine playing form at the end of his life.

Time Has Told Me is obviously a labour of love and only fans will want to track this down. Meanwhile, Island will release another Drake album this month with his final just-discovered song, Tow the Line. Nick Drake lives. (8) - Philip Cheah

 

CALAMITY POP
Pop Friction [pi2]

At first brush, the music of Calamity Pop (consisting of singer Zuq Iruall and writer/producer Englishman Paul Russell) appears to be so stridently ‘80s in terms of production values and instrumentation that it can be initially rather disconcerting. But that's an unfair assessment.

Fact is, Russell is a solid, competent and at times, inspired songwriter who underneath the sophisticated AOR sheen, has delivered song of substance and timeless quality.

Case in point, the opening "Rollercoaster," which for all its dancefloor predilections, possesses a melodic pop heart - you just need to scratch beneath the surface - hard! But it is with the reggae-infused "Better the Devil" that Russell and Iruall begin to get into their stride, with a kicking chorus that will definitely leave an impression.

The rest of Calamity Pop doesn't stray too far off this high - the throbbing "Rain," the blissful "Heaven," the poignant "Someone I Don't Know" and the driving "Game."

Not everyone's cup of tea, I'd wager - Calamity Pop's over-reliance on ballads and reggae (not to mention the dreaded synth horns!) - can seem monotonous, but if you're a fan of well-written and well-constructed pop songs and (especially) ‘80s-styled pop, then you need to check out Calamity Pop. (7) - Kevin Mathews

 

ROB MAZUREK
Sweet and Vicious Like Frankenstein [Mego]

OK, OK, these aren't songs, they are sounds. Avant-jazz cornetist, Rob Mazurek (of Chicago Underground Duo and Trio) puts on his other hat, that of minimalist electronics experimenter (as heard on his other outfit, Isotope 217).  Austrian label, Mego, is a haven for out-there experiments. Sonic Youth's Jim O'Rourke masters Mazurek's computer, minidisc and tone generator manipulations. No, no, there's no jazz here, there's just two long tracks. Body Parts (Spectral White) are several ambient sound ideas broken up by discrete silences. If you follow the Frankenstein imagery, then you can imagine the track as a hunt for Frank's body. Electric Eels (in Half Light) is a denser, noisier piece that calls for layered bursts of white noise, sort of like Frank coming to life. But one gets the feeling that Merzbow already has the entire vocabulary on noise manipulation. So there you go, one track that is sweet and the other vicious. Recommended only for Mazurek devotees. (6) - Philip Cheah

 

DISAGREE
At The End Of The Day [Universal]

Hmm. What is wrong with this CD? Nice arrangements, dense, spacey & killer guitar hooks, a pretty good recording and a very thick CD sleeve. When the vocalist sings the first lines of Scarecrow Adams, then I knew it! I played this to a couple of my friends, and they asked me, "Woah! That's a great PEARL JAM song!!!" It's ok for a band to stick to their guns and play whatever they want but to voice-cloned Eddie Vedder is wrong. Stone Temple Pilots received a huge flak of shit for their debut album. I hope they can drop the Eddie phase and deliver a good second album. A pity, songs are deliciously good but the Vedder syndrome turned me off! Dammit! Oh! There's even an instrumental hidden track- that has the bass lines eerily similar to Metallica's Orion (Master Of Puppets). Aww c'mon guys. - Adam Md Yusop




ZIRCON GOV. PAWN STARZ
Follywood [XY/Universal]

CLICK HERE for the review by Philip Cheah

 

TRANS AM
Liberation [Thrill Jockey]

Like the cottage industry of anti-George Bush books, there is a growing movement of protest albums against

the war on Iraq. Washington DC band, Trans Am, joins the global anti-war forum. On Liberation's opening track, Outmoder, the band reportedly left their studio window open to record helicopter and police siren sounds to capture the fearful mood today. The album's title is, of course, irony. The picture is a multiple cut-up of
marching US troops plus faces of the Bush administration. The anger is apparent in Uninvited Guest, a cut-up sample of Bush talking, saying what he would never admit, - "commitment to weapons of mass destruction is America's tradition," and "in the battle of Iraq, we destroyed hospitals and schools." With a darker and heavier synth-pop sound (Idea Machine) and a healthy dose of irony (Music For Dogs), Liberation sounds like New Order meets the Pet Shop Boys. After seven albums, Trans Am have created a curious shiny surface with a menacing undertone. (7) - Philip Cheah

 

JOHN FRUSCIANTE
When Shadows Collide With People [Warner Music]

This album can be split into two sections. Mostly it's radio-friendly rock songs and power ballads that wouldn't sound out of place pumping out of one of those van/truck combos you see on TV, driven by drunk halfwits in baseball caps - and then there's the more experimental musings of a musician who hopes to be taken seriously. The melodious moans of "Regret" and "Ricky" are equally RHCP, "Second Walk" a two-minute surge of modest vox, cocky (sock) strut, and a piercing guitar solo. Tracks like '-00Ghost27' and 'Failure33Object' are a welcome distraction, though they sit rather strange with the American rock/AOR numbers.

The more commercial songs are great in a commercial kind of way, as you'd expect from someone who plays in the world's biggest rock band. 'Carvel', 'Omisson', 'Wednesday's Song' and especially closing number 'The Slaughter' could all be vintage moments from the RHCP’s Californication catalogue - clearly constructed by somebody who does this for a living. Nothing fancy, but enjoyable nonetheless. Helped out by Chili bandmates Chad, Flea and friend Josh Klinghoffer, Frusciante offers a melodious and lively spread of rock styles (even Air seems to be an influence on the misty vocodered closer The Slaughter) concentrating on conventional tunes bolstered by organ, Moog and splatters of electronics and pulse which colour the songs without crowding them.

Frusciante's voice is a surprise. It is something weird. He's obviously been listening to his band mate Anthony Keidis, but there's a hint of Ritchie Sambora too, but it's a bit of a shock when he starts belting it out ala Sammy Hagar. Where so many vanity projects go horribly wrong, Frusciante has mostly played it safe. - Adam Md Yusop

 

ALEXANDER KNIAZEV
JS Bach Cello Suites [Warner Classics]

Kniazev’s playing appeals from the first note. He mesmerises with sounds from his cello that are sonorous and smooth. His playing is emotionally relaxed, and he does not aim to impress with performing speeds or stunning virtuosity. Instead, his music speaks of passion and sheer sensitivity. He deals with the pretty melodic lines with utmost care for every detail so that they are delicate and flirtatious. His sustained notes are strong and shaped with emotional life. His bass notes are meticulously executed and every note is unhurried and resonating, providing harmonic support for the top strands. Melancholy juxtaposed with lilting rhythm pervades throughout.

Complete with all the expected traditional dances of the Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue, these pieces are in order of difficulty and intensity and Kniazev’s performance follows suite. This is a very fine collection and will be a delight for those with an ear for the finest of sounds. - Sarah Tan

 

BLINDSIDE
About A Burning Fire [Elektra]

Their second album under a major, Blindside reinvent themselves. After being tucked under the Christian underground scene for a number of years, gaining a loyal fan base, latest offering, About a Burning Fire, is somewhat of a departure from the consistent straightforward rock of Silence without completely doing away with the formula.

About a Burning Fire contains 12 tracks of surprises, Shekina opens with a didgeridoo and folk yodeling, which is followed by verses in Swedish and a string section. All of Us is the first single and is a melodic song about the virtue of Christian humility. Hooray, It’s LA, a fast paced anthem that features Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins and Zwan fame adding an extra guitar. Where the Sun Never Dies is sure to be a live favorite, while also pushing the creative envelope by fading out into a techno-drum loop.

Experimentation is risky business for rock groups. There is a huge gamble of alienating long time fans and failing to gain new ones, or simply being labeled a “sell-out”. Throwing away old formulas in favor of trying something new can lead to failure (like the Garth Brooks/ Chris Gains fiasco), or catapult a band to mega-band status (U2’s Achtung Baby). Blindside’s experimentation is a success because they merge daring creativity while still keeping the foundation it had built itself on. Rock is that foundation. At the end of the day it is a testament to a maturing band that it is able to defy genre and gain the freedom to write music they want to. - Adam Md Yusop



PATTY GRIFFIN
Impossible Dream [ATO]

Her darkest set of songs yet – Useless Desires might be Thunder Road turned inside out; Mother Of God makes despair seductive; When It Don’t Come Easy makes keeping true love going sound as difficult as it actually is. Top Of The World blows away the Dixie Chicks version. Standing wants to be covered by Mavis Staples, but ‘til then, what makes it beautiful is Griffin’s amazing voice and the best rock arrangements she’s ever had for it. - Rock & Rap Confidential



BEATALLICA
(Online release only)

So what are these guys on anyway, to risk the wrath of two of the most litigious bands in rock history? Yes, the basic premise behind Beatallica, is to imagine Metallica performing Beatle songs in their own inimitable fashion. This 27-minute EP follows on from A Garage Dayz Nite (2001) with songs like Blackened in the USSR (Back in the USSR), Sandman (Taxman), Got To Get You Trapped Under Ice (Got To Get You Into My Life), Leper Madonna (Lady Madonna) etc. While the joke lasts, two truths become evident - James Hetfield's singing style grows old fast and Metallica doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the Fab Four. Strictly for the curious only. - Kevin Mathews

Note: Visit www.beatallica.org for a free download.

 

CHICAGO UNDERGROUND TRIO
Slon [Thrill Jockey]

I did a blindfold test on my jazz-fanatic friend and he was pleasantly surprised that he had never heard of trumpeter Rob Mazurek (leader of the Chicago Underground Trio), whom he favourably compared to the sweet tones of Don Cherry.

But he was pleased that the trio was spawned from the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), a '60s free jazz collective who gave their time to teach music in its freest spirit.
This is why Mazurek's trio has been fusing jazz with electronics for the last three albums. Titled after the Slovenian word for elephant, Slon is a full-on anti-war record. Recorded and mixed in one day, the urgency was felt by the band when the war on Iraq began a few days into their European tour.

Hence, the soulful melody of Zagreb, with its subtle touches of electronics, is felt in its full elegiac dimensions. Contrast that against the opening Protest, which Mazurek says is "a protest in which many people are marching for the betterment and dignity of human existence (then) all hell breaks loose as the politicians send in the dogs and billy clubs to knock some heads." The post-bop blowing of Mazurek is layered over separate lines until it reaches a frenetic climax and the song quietly ends. More electronics follow on Kite and Palermo while the trio resurrects the bop spirit on Sevens.

The album is dedicated to those "who lost their lives at the hands of US imperialism." Put this next to Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite. (8.5) - Philip Cheah

 

NOWHERE MAN
Considered To Tears [I Like Red]

Nowhere Man, hails from Tucson, Arizona - now, how many Beatle references do you need? More than that, boys and girls, the Nowhere Man is from Singapore!

Yes, really! Nowhere Man is Vikas Pawas, born of Indian heritage in Bangkok and raised in Singapore before leaving for better climes (ummm the US of A) at age 16.

This debut album is unique, as Vikas played everything and it sounds fine. Steeped in ‘80s alt-rock tradition (eg Pixies, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, the Dream Syndicate, Long Ryders), Considered To Tears is a veritable feast as Vikas melds his influences well without too obvious nods to deliver a work that is distinctly his own - no mean feat!

Songs like the wistful "I Am Forgetful," the dynamic "100 Lies," the anthemic "Wait" betray a psychedelic bias that informs Vikas' fundamental alt-rock leanings. A great debut that promises much for the future. (8) - Kevin Mathews

Visit www.ilikered.com/nowhereman


FOR MORE REVIEWS...


For more... email singbigo@singnet.com.sg with the message, "Put me on your mailing list."