Gauge: Hustler on the Move (Aqua Boogie Records)

Brian

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Texas rapper Gauge knows how to compact syllables, but that won’t separate anyone from the current pack, especially given all the dried-up roto-tom-filled beats on this docket, the worst of which is Beat It Up, an Usher-blingy makeout number with a feat. by Miss Myke. Chicago-house (and tenuously Tupac-connected) producer Mr. Lee handled this stuff, and he adds a few phoned-in lines to two tracks Slim Thug got roped into as well, but despite any ambivalence he made sure his name was all over Shake It (Make It Bounce), being that its rumbly EBM sound has the strongest pulse of anything here. Basically it’s what you’d expect from a hiphop assembly line, which has resulted in little more than Gauge having to explain away scumbaggish booty-bagger lines, things of that sort; if you live and die for this kind of stuff there’s no reason at all to stay away from it, but pardon my snoring. Lots of B-list guests – in the widest clash of speeds, fellow Houstonian Scarface adds his mouf-fulla-hamburgers drawl to Gauge’s full-auto flame-spitting for the ballroom-twinkletoe soul of Hot Love.

Grade: B

Kiyomi: Child in Me (self-released)

Kiyomi

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Interesting little vanity release here in that it stars a Japanese-American chick from New Yawk doing an unintentional Forrest Gump routine. I’d expected jazz, but this is straight piano pop, open-hearted, almost like something you’d hear during lovey-dovey scenes in an anime cartoon, ie, believe it or not, there’s a market for it. Her voice is like Aimee Mann after taking a few Pat Benatar lessons, unadorned, doing it for the heck of it. The melodies are church-social in their limited but adamant joy, and overall, as a songwriter, she’s not bad at all, really – she kicks Rebecca Black’s ass if that helps any.

Grade: B-

Reverse The Curse: Hither and Yon (Paper+Plastic Records)

Reverse the Curse

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Take a bunch of Cleveland-burb kids who wish they were in either Airborne Toxic Event, Unsane or Thursday, let them yell, holler and flog themselves in a studio and it’d sound like this. If I’m reading their blurb sheet right they’re moving away from the indie-punk that was their original formative glue and fumbling for their inner pop stars, and that approach works for the first song (Bell Book & Candle). But this maturity gets quickly lost, as they gradually and visibly become possessed by their favorite Seether videos, and by the sixth song it’s a contest to see how ragged the singer can sound – okay, whatever, “ragged and powerful simultaneously.” It’s an admirable attempt, really; I suppose if I were in the miserable position of being 21 again and trying to add a little hard-ass credibility to my emo-pop I’d be sold on this angle (To Dig A Hole is particularly cool). And there you’d have it, integrity maintained, rock-star dreams invariably crushed.

Grade: A-

Benji Kaplan: Meditacoes no Violao (Circo Mistico Productions)

Benji Kaplan

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

New York-bred Brazil-o-phile Kaplan provides a sort of life-travelogue here, soloing nonchalantly throughout the entire album on his nylon-stringed unplugged guitar. It’s so relaxed and unhurried that it can come off as improv, and reading some of the blurbage here I believe that’s the case with some of it. No matter, of course, if you’re lazing in a hammock trying to visualize your last time on an uncrowded beach or whatever; this record’s perfect for that, asking nothing of its listenership other than to put its brains on screensaver. Slow purposeful strumming ending in speedy fractal flourishes is the core formula, little deviation to be found aside from the bouncy up-and-down Baiao rhythm in Baiao For Gershwin, the title of which hints at what Kaplan would like to be thought of, a sort of oldschool-jazz-meister with advanced knowledge of world music, but it’s perhaps best viewed as an exotic form of baroque.

Grade: A

Abyssal Creatures: Social Awkwardness (Independent Records)

Abyssal Creatures

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

A vanity release in more than one sense. Colorado kid Ian Garrett Fellerman is a lonely geek with a score to settle with jocks, chicks who read Dostoevsky, pretty much everyone of his generation, so he’s attached his own Hoobastank emo bleating to his own Postal Service-like cheese, beat it with his own out-of-place stun-guitar lines and now hopes for the best, which would be me saying that I feel his pain but kindly either take out the whiny/cheesy guitars or fix their mix levels. Obviously a bedroom project, but that doesn’t mean anything negative nowadays with bands like Salem and whatnot around; we pause to honor Fellerman’s reckoning of his place in the world (there isn’t one, nor is there one for anybody else who blindly questions the world’s constant roiling tide of BS) and hope that next time he’ll replace the Flying V with more subtle ProTools or whatever he’s using to make his Atari-techno.

Grade: B-

The Chocolate Horse: Beasts (Stable Records)

The Chocolate Horse

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Specializing in the wispy, sparse and non-commital zen that defined 70s chill-folk-rock, this Cincy band makes elevator music for bongpackers old and young. They rarely deviate from a formula that nestles Blind Melon between Mountain and Belle & Sebastian – wait, I’m lying, there’s some Warlocks fuzz-rock in there too. What I’m trying to say, and failing miserably, is that the band is perfectly named: it’s strong and lithe, a little too sweet, blocky and chunky but simultaneously graceful. One thing you’ll walk away knowing for sure is that this is historically accurate acid folk-rock; there’s no way you won’t think things along the lines of “Jesus, did they have to chase the singer around with a butterfly net to get him to show up in the studio or what?” Reason for that is singer Jason Snell’s half-there-ness; it’s like early 70s Ozzy in ballad mode jamming with Canned Heat in endless variations on Going Up the Country, in other words about 70% of your basic Bonnaroo crowd would take to it like magpies to a roll of Reynolds Wrap.

Grade: B-

Regurgitator: SuperHappyFunTimesFriends (Valve Records)

Regurgitator

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Their seventh full-length finds these anti-Wiggles Aussie punks floating an endless supply of quite listenable joke tunes powered by (very appropriate) bones to pick. All Fake Everything is just awesome, singer Quan Yeomans taking aim at modern rap with a grenade launcher, the first half a poetic apology from an interchangeable Jay-Z sung over a cheese version of Whiter Shade of Pale, after which Yeomans’ character boasts his uselessness from the rooftop (“you’d be bored if you were me!”) over a guitar line that’s a thinly disguised (what else) 99 Problems. Punk Mum is straight-edger stuff about sandwiches and things, which is always important, let’s face it; Be Still My Noisy Mind puts Duran Duran in a leglock for a skewering of Rio. Like an aural Mad magazine with swears, the way you fricking kids are supposed to be doing it.

Grade: A

Lowe: Evolver (WTII Records)

Lowe

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

The rate at which Chicago indie WTII has been wailing on Metropolis Records in the fight for the goth dollar has been noticeable lately, and now it’s even happening in the 80s-pop sideshow that’s becoming more and more a part of the action. The third album from this Swedish band is short on volume but long on content, featuring some super-catchy ideas in the vein of Depeche Mode and New Order (the hypnotic, mission-critical bass lines are handled by the son of ABBA’s old bassplayer), the perfect amount of subterranean noise loopage – I dunno, it’s what I’d do if I were in band like this, thus your own mileage may vary. The one downside is that the sound itself is derivative, but that’s the least of people’s worries when they’re hunting for good neo-80s vampire music. But song-wise, where things are made or broken, it’s a flawless victory, most notably Adorable and Half the Double Speed, which allude to Sisters of Mercy without being at all clone-like.

Grade: A

Freddy V: Easier Than It Looks (Watersign Productions)

Freddy V

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Okay, okay, about four songs in I get where this is going, basic Weatherscan background jazz à la Kenny G, born from Freddy’s artistic turpitude developed during hack stints with Average White Band, Michael McDonald, need I say more. The ideas, though lovingly rendered by Freddy and co-producer Mo Pleasure (am I supposed to know who that is?) are budgeted for Vegas soul outings, like demos for Anita Baker’s backup band, that sort of thing. Klyde Jones’s singing on Let’s Go Round Again reads like a male Vonda Shepard – the squeaky-cleanliness is as devout as you’d ever want if this is your bag, up to and including the pensively amused glamor shots that fill the CD cover, the artist reposing in facial expressions that tell you someone just told him a polite joke they recently printed in Huffington Post or somesuch.

Grade: B-

Ghost Knife: Kill Shelter Yes (End Sounds)

Ghost Knife

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

There may be much unfortunate confusion when people buy this LP expecting “pop-punk,” one of the main categories into which this stuff’s been lumped. This stuff has nothing to do with the oversaturated emo market, as fans of Austin-based singer Mike Weibe (on leave from Riverboat Gamblers) would instinctively know. But the rest of us don’t, and so their sound – close to Redd Kross or half the bands that came out on the SST label in the 80s – may come as a letdown to people whose tastes are in their feet. It’s a lost art they’re indulging in here, echoes of Replacements/Thermals/Spits garage with hooks that are simultaneously upbeat and vaguely edgy, Clash guitars, reverb pegged up, no budget, you get the drift. It’s a seminal post-punk moment in Weibe’s career, speed reduced but not completely booted out of the picture; a good move that flies in the face of conventional indie-rock wisdom simply because it’s truly indie-sounding.

Grade: A-

Intensus: Intensus (Metal Blade Records)

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

IntensusJourneyman multi-instrumentalist Eli Litwin is from Philly, where he latched on to the extreme-metal scene at first before growing to dig math-metal and basically anything else that makes guitars sound utterly nuts. Even an eclectic snob like me can appreciate this project, which, simplistically enough, comprises a collection of off-the-cuff drum tracks Litwin made himself, which were then fortified with zoom-crash Dillinger Escape Plan ideas and state-of-the-art black-metal. Several guests are on here, so the vocal sound ranges from Cookie Monster to Toilet Monster to Quorthon to Animal, as in the drummer from the Muppets. Just calling it like I hear it, so walk it off, but meanwhile I’ll mention that when I first put this on – without knowing it was improvised noise – my honest-to-gawd first thought was “Maybe death-metal ain’t dead after all.”

Grade: A

Martin Moretto: Martin Moretto Quintet (self-released)

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Martin Moretto QuintetSometimes you’re just looking for a little dinner-jazz and lots of subtlety. Moretto, an Argentine jazz guitarist based in New York, explores the sublime in his debut LP as a leader, pulling off some barely-there genius (the runs toward the end of ‘Imagenes’ almost sound electronically altered). His agility in the more traditionally bop-centric ‘Iguazo’ is another standout, full of friendly melodic banter that sax player Bill McHenry enhances with some wispy runs of his own. As a whole, the record – entirely written by Moretto – more than serves its purpose as a most companionable ally in getting through the commute or just having a pleasant damn day for yourself.

Grade: A

Keb Mo: The Reflection (Yolabelle International Records)

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Keb Mo: The ReflectionVery few people have the right musical DNA to pull off bedroom-soul the way this guy does. Most attempts fall a little short, either too sexed-up, or not chill enough, though mostly it’s a problem with cartoonish vocals, not at issue here. ‘Unadorned’ is the most common adjective used to describe Mo’s voice, which, yes, sounds like someone’s dad with an disdain for throaty shtick and enough training to be dangerous. As a guitarist-singer, then, he’s BB King (who has covered Mo’s Grammy-winning stuff in the past) with a friendly baritone, and this time out he explores the depths of soul-chill, tabling a ‘What’s Love Got To Do with It’ vibe in the title track, harnessing gospel elsewhere (‘All the Way,’ the wah-wah-decorated ‘The Whole Enchilada’). Nothing wrong here, obviously.

Grade: A

Boba Flex: Hell in My Heart (Megaforce Records)

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Boba Flex: Hell in My HeartIn some-things-never-change news, Megaforce continues its domination over all uber-tight speed-metal bands with this one, which fits in perfectly with what Al Jourgensen and Ministry have been doing within the confines of the label. Like Ministry, the deal here is a southern-fried Texas Chainsaw death-punk approach, although these West Virginian guys (suuuure, they’re descendants of the original McCoys, as in Hatfields and the McCoys, absolutely, and I’m seriously considering buying a bridge in one of the New York boroughs) tack more toward nu-metal (‘Vampire’ is just basically Papa Roach’s ‘Getting Away With Murder’ in a fake moustache). But don’t take that as a reason to hate on these guys, as their change-ups are pretty hilarious, intentional or not (‘Playing Dead’ sounds like a zombie-fied Strawberry Alarm Clock, while ‘Empty Man’ could have been on any of the first three Kiss albums), and their real stock-in-trade is kick-assage that competes with and absolutely surpasses Staind et al in the areas of both personality and hardness.

Grade: A

The Devil Wears Prada: Dead Throne (Ferret Music)

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

The Devil Wears Prada: Dead ThroneThis Dayton-based six-some never sounded much like the Christian band they are, and now that they’ve decided they hate screamo (save for ‘My Questions’ here) they sound even more… what am I supposed to say, ferocious. They readily admit that their earlier stuff was kind of stupid, and they’re right; nothing new was coming out of these guys, that’s for sure. Same for now, but their intensified service in the name of the muscle-bound Jesus of the Book of Revelations will be duly appreciated by the young hillbillies who blare this in their buds while shooting up schools in Afghanistan or wherever, semper fi and all that. Just the basics here – Cookie Monster vs. a hoarse Sam Kinison; stubborn, thrumming low-end a la Meshuggah, other stuff that nine million other bands are doing.

Grade: B-

Evidence: Cats and Dogs (Rhymesayer Records)

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Evidence: Cats and DogsI can definitely sort-of recommend this with a hearty “Eh, this is, you know, OK.” A real-life graffiti artist who’s been around the block enough to be convincing, Evidence is pure LA hiphop, boasting whatever level of cred comes with being part of the Dilated Peoples collective. I’d hate to be a local LA hack trying to squeeze out superlatives about this thing, though; between Evidence’s ‘patented’ slow flow and a near-complete lack of beats that go anywhere, it can’t be said that this is essential listening for undergrounders with two brain cells to rub together. There’s sparkly ballroom bling here and there, added more as a culturally essential touchstone than anything else – yeah, yeah, we get it, Snoop Junior.

Grade: C

Jmaxx: Born To Be Famous (Jmaxx Records)

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Jmaxx: Born To Be FamousIt’s not just the self-release aspect of this annoying little bling-house record that screams vanity from the mountaintop. Judging by the lyrics, this Situation-lookalike is all about boning one Kardashian or the other, and matter of fact, if Kim put out something this disposable she might never live it down. It’s not the worst CD ever to land in this office by any means, no, but its intent – and epic album-title fail – pretty much relay to the Martians all they need to know about this ruined empire. It’s like this guy took a few online associate degree classes in 80s-ology: a gimpy, humble cover of A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’; enough George Michael to choke a men’s bath-house. And my fricking God already with the “you’re so sexy” platitudes all over the place, why not just Sharpie “I Have Genitalia” on your forehead.

Grade: C-

Uh Huh Her: Nocturnes (Plaid Records)

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Uh Huh Her: NocturnesI can’t imagine why anyone would have actually disliked this LA chick-electropop band’s first album Common Reaction. But by the same token, it almost seemed a second-thought vanity vehicle for Leisha Hailey, who’s been a little too flighty flipping between music and acting – the latter career’s most notable bullet her joining the cast of The L-Word. Common Reaction was mildly irritating owing to a bit too much, I don’t know, LA-ness; Camila Grey’s voice is and was too Faith Hill-like to gel with the She Wants Revenge-ish 80s-bar-rock rumble underfoot. This album, however, reveals the pair to be real contenders in the not-overly populated space between dream pop/shoegaze and mall-indie. Frankly, this more cathartic listenable-ness may have sprung from their (probably staged) outing as a lesbian couple, but whatever the case, it’s a huge sound with drop-dead hookage – you’re almost guaranteed to like this a lot if your taste swings somewhere between classic rock, Gwen Stefani, and (obviously) PJ Harvey.

Grade: A

Polar Bear Club: Clash Battle Guilt Pride (Bridge Nine Records)

Polar Bear Club: Clash Battle Guilt Pride

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Lots of start-stop goes on here, nullifying the adrenaline effect an all-out barnburner song might have accomplished, but that’s really the only negative, if you want to call it that. This Rochester punk-pop crew flirts with ’70s-arena ideas, their emo angst given a steroid boost from the vocals of Jimmy Stadt, who may – no kidding around – be the most balls-out new singer since Chris Cornell. It can get a little gimmicky, that voice, but it’s a raw, imperative monster, and quite original in its own way; not a death-metal thing, a real rock thing. The production is clean, airy, massive when it’s needed, which is often, really – these guys are to Good Charlotte what Mastodon is to Papa Roach, if you can feel that, next-gen punk with an eye toward much bigger things than the Warped Tour.

Grade: A

Neil Leonard: Marcel’s Window (self-released)

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Neil Leonard: Marcel’s WindowLeonard is a jazz sax player out of Philly, bragging a list of associated acts and commissions that numbers in the many dozens, including Boston Ballet and the BBC. He can afford to be generous to a fault with his quintet: after some dinner-patter formalities are out of the way (‘Uritorco’), the overriding standout slot here is the piano of Tom Lawton, who seems to fire wild darts at all 88 keys hitting the mark every time within these modal schematics, all of them written by Leonard with a mathematician’s eye for structure. Tempos and time-signatures drop down and out without warning, art imitating life, sometimes Mingus-like, sometimes (OK, rarely) boppy, and in the main, the spotlights remain on Markowitz and Leonard equally. Leonard’s work here ranges from skronky burn (‘Alex in the Atrium’) to genius-level gimmickry (French-café-accordion emulation on ‘Resounding Arc’).

Grade: A

Ponykiller: The Wilderness (Housecore Records)

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

PonykillerA for-dummies compaction of King Crimson, Doors and Amboy Dukes, oddly enough from New Orleans. What I mean by “for-dummies” is that the meandering experimentation has been largely removed from the prog aspects, a point that won’t set the world on fire. King Crimson was enough of a drag to listen to in the first place, but at least they thought they liked classical. No, what this ends up sounding like is the band Witch, whom you’ve never heard of either. So basically what I’m saying is laws should be passed preventing any further historical re-enactments of 60s acid-rock, unless some glitch or other tech is added to it, thereby rendering it relevant to this century. Come now, three billion Strawberry Alarm Clocks have surfaced in just the last five years, and the only ones who’ve made a (small) dent are guys like the Warlocks, who at least drown that crap in feedback skronk. OK, melodically these dudes are clued in, but jeez, who isn’t nowadays?

Grade: B-

Patrizio Buanne: Patrizio (Concord Jazz)

Patrizio Buanne: Patrizio

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

With millions of units sold, this Naples, Italy-born baritone is at a crossroads, crooning in English on his fifth album after relocating to LA in what would appear to be a logical career move. This release has been widely flogged, mostly for a perceived lack of passion that was inherent when he sang in his own language, but come on, there’s Passion with a capital P and passion as defined by Vegas, by your basic American Idol fourth runner-up. Yes, the busted accent is pronounced, betraying a very tentative grip on the language, but that’s made up for by precise tonality and, best of all, a generous lack of over-the-top orchestration, whether he’s cozying up with Bryan Adams’s shlocky ‘Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman’, calling out the Arthur Murray crowd (‘Mambo Italiano’) or exploding into a swing track fit for Brian Setzer (‘Americano’). Sure, there’s a generic sheen to all this stuff, but what were his fans expecting, some sort of god-like transformative experience?

Grade: B-

The Veda Rays: Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays (Alleged Records)

The Veda Rays: Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

It’s nice when your average everyday rock band doesn’t just patch together some influences but actually demonstrates shared ground between sounds. These Brooklynites, when not time-sharing between Hives and Kaiser Chiefs, are shoegazers with purpose and obvious deep reserves of listening experience – perhaps the proudest achievement here is when they intersect the essences of Donovan and New Order on opening track ‘All Your Pretty Fates’. As the references above suggest, though, there’s much straightforwardness going on here: guitars, drums, a polite amount of anger, like Gang of Four with too much reverb (and better songs, if I may). There’s an industrial tinge to it, also, a post-something-or-other that convinces you they’re not a bunch of upper-middle-class dicks with hair and varying levels of daddy envy (that’s a really important thing, if you’re not sure).

Grade: A

Pallers: The Sea of Memories (Labrador Records)

Pallers: The Sea of Memories

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Johan Angergård may run Labrador Records, but this project, comprised of him as half of an electronica duo, isn’t a sloppy vanity release. I don’t know if I agree with other critics that this is all that “blissed out”, since after some shoegazey rinsing-down in opener ‘Another Heaven’, the pair settles into a series of sub-aquatic throbbings demarked by Pet Shop Boys style prettiness and prog-house chill. ‘Come Rain Come Sunshine’, for example, is precisely what PSB is doing these days, agreeable fractals underneath pie-in-the-sky twee baritone vocals. ‘Years Go Days Pass’ is similarly airy/lofty but swirled in a rainy, sad void, like what Sigur Ros might do, covered in glitch, some Ovation open strings, and tambourine syncopation. ‘The Kiss’ then proceeds to put the LP back on track nicely with yet more bedroom techno. All very euro, for sure, some grooves that M83, for example, could make real hay out of.

Grade: A

Greenland is Melting: Where Were We (Paper + Plastick Records)

Greenland Is Melting

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

This Gainsville-based unplugged-punk unit would be a perfect warm-up for Mumford & Sons, from their banjo-banging hillbilly depravity to their raspy, drunken vocals, which reveal these fellers as heavy users of Kings of Leon (there are dead-on imitations of Caleb Followill, most prominently on ‘Always’, which will undoubtedly pose problems in the grand scheme of things). For the most part it’s banjo, fiddle, suggestions of poor dentistry, all with one eye toward mixing things up a little with Reel Big Fish. Along with this, though, is an odd flavor of Grateful Dead, a vanilla-pop sort of thing that helps a little to separate this band from the formidable scrum of contenders reading from the same rudimentary blueprint. I don’t believe there’s a lot of spare room for this type of approach in Bonnaroo land, not without a bit of glitch sampling or something else that might really brand them, so their workload is pretty deep.

Grade: C+