Hello again, from the land of the recall elections. We’re still fighting the good fight against our tyrannical governor, Weasel Walker, and all his legislative lackeys. We’ve been working on an anti-union busting Public Service Announcement on behalf of Wisconsin’s working families, and we’re hoping to snag the talented Mr. Mark Metcalf, if his schedule permits. Mark is, for those who don’t know, the actor who played Doug Neidermeyer in Animal House, and he was also “the Maestro” on Seinfeld, among many other notable performances (Twisted Sister video). It will be a blast to work with him, if we can pull it off. Things in the labor movement are slower than molasses in January, but we’ll keep on keepin’ on… This installment of Black Orchid takes us from New York to Los Angeles to Leeds, and includes a classically-trained composer and one of the best underground female vocalists we’re likely to hear anywhere right now. There may also be a 1990s reference or two. Enjoy.
Cassettes Won’t Listen, EVINSPACEY (CWL)
CWL is L.A.-based songwriter Jason Drake. He wrote and produced this album himself, and it’s a more than respectable take on neo-synth/dance-pop, running the gamut from the light, airy “Perfect Day” to the coolness and distance of “The Night Shines.” He creates an atmosphere with the channel separation and the “filtered” vocal parts, and “Runtime” has a neo-new wavey kind of thing going on. The album is interspersed with several instrumental songs, but there’s enough happening at any given time to keep it from flagging, and only a few tracks are too synthetic or over-processed (“The Echoes”). Think a slightly more electro Ultra Vivid Scene and you’re in the right area code.
Kissing Cousins, Unfortunate End (Velvet Blue)
This is a four-song EP by Heather, Beth, Amanda and Alexis. It’s emotive and engaging, and “You Bring Me Down” has some gritty, nervy charm. “Throw Her Body in the River” serves up a simple keyboard part with percussion and vox, and is effectively off-beat. “Granny Get Your Gun” sounds sort of like Jealous Girlfriends, especially the Holly Miranda-esque vocals. The neo-psych “Pale White” is the darkest, moodiest song, capturing a microdot or two of The Black Angels in its wake. Good work.
Magnuson, Crash Of Cassini (magnusband.com)
This is a boy/girl duo (Greg and Kyrsten Magnuson), and right out of the gate they remind me of the boy/girl duo called The Medea Connection. “Dark Reality” is proggy, with a decent fuzzy guitar buzz. “Real Control” is obtusely akin to 70s hard rock, but it doesn’t do anything new, and the vocals falter slightly. “Blame” appealing energy but the m/f vocals don’t gel. On “Somewhere” the potential is there, but something is holding it back. I’ve seen comparisons to Porcupine Tree and The Smiths, and I’d love to say that was even remotely true, but that’s really stretching it, in both directions. Mildly amusing, but never brings the house down. They could have trimmed the 14 track to 10, just for the sake of economy.
The One AM Radio, Heaven Is Attached By A Slender Thread (Dangerbird)
Without being too judgmental, the first song, “Sunlight” slides out of the speakers like a low- energy New Order mock-up, with a slurry vocal that is not exactly drunk, but mildly under the influence, perhaps. It’s kind of flat for an album opener. The vocal deliver of Hrishikesh Hirway can’t help but make one mindful of 90s synth-pop, as well, but they pull out of most of these songs better than they went in. What helps is the introduction of Fontaine Cole on vocals on “In A City Without Seasons,” where she extends their reach across the pond, and all the way back to the 80s. When they introduce a more throbbing rhythm on “Tricking Heart” they find another side of themselves they maybe didn’t know was there. The beats tend to be a little similar, but the song terrain is fairly diverse: “The Heat,” for example, has a skewed Human League element, until the violin of guest Daniel Hart enters and takes it somewhere else in the chamber pop universe. The closer, “Weathering,” actually invokes some brief St. Etienne worship, so at least they end it all on a high note. Sometimes you take what you can get.
Son Lux, We Are Rising (Anticon)
Son Lux is classically-trained composer/producer/New Yorker, Ryan Lott, and We Are Rising, his second album, was recorded in a month as part of an NPR series called “All Songs Considered” for the annual RPM Challenge, which is an open call to create an album in 28 days. Given that, I should qualify some of what I’m about to say by prefacing with, job well done, especially considering the time constraints. The first song, “Flickers,” is plodding and suitably creepy in a Xiu Xiu kind of way, with an arrangement that includes woodwinds and strings, but it also presents some I Like Trains spookiness in the overtones, or undertones, as the case may be, and then there’s the queasy, female warble that comes from out of nowhere. This bodes well for the rest of the album. A lot of the musical backing to these verbal tone-poems is fragmented and fractured, and could be really interesting, but sometimes it’s just too artificial-sounding (“Claws”). Lott’s a good singer, but the songs want to meander around so much melodically that they lose themselves. There’s a nausea-inducing drifty quality that Sartre would surely appreciate. The best song on the album, “Rising,” really puts it all together and it demonstrates the possibilities. Unfortunately, the overall narrow dynamic range of the music detracts from the vocal strengths. It’s too unvaried in tone and a little too robotic to be all it could be. Next go round, when he’s not being watched everyday by NPR and on a one-month schedule, he can stretch things out and take his time. That may provide more room to breathe and grow.
Vessels, Helioscope (Cuckundoo)
Although the running time is only 48:22, there’s a lot happening in these nine tracks and it requires some patience to sit through it all without fidgeting, and some consciousness-altering substances probably wouldn’t hurt. This is the second album by this challenging quintet from Leeds, and they do a stylistic 180 from the first record. These songs mostly build toward static explosions of dense “digital noise,” with disorienting mash-ups of instruments and rapid-fire drum fills and rolls. There’s some M83 buried in there, and “Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute” sounds like a quasi-industrial Radiohead. The vocals are strong throughout (“Recur”), but a lot of this ends up sounding alike, and as patience wears thin the concussive blasts of noise eventually become akin to a pummeling of the skull.