Reviews: CFCF, John Singer Sergeant, Frank Lenz

Anthony Mark Happel

Age/Sex/Occupation,This Side Of The Fence (Self-released )

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Daniel Weiskopf is the CEO and chief songwriter of Age/Sex/Occupation (their friends probably refer to them as ASO). He plies his trade on vocals and keyboards as part of a post-urban-dance/art rock trio that aspires to be 70s/80s throwback white soul, and actually winds up being more than that. Although “Dirty Isn’t Dirty” is a little forced and comes across as slightly pandering, they immediately redeem themselves with the next song: “The Day I Ignored Street Signs.” They bust out the keyboards big time on “Hide And Seek” and there’s some strong female vocal action by Nicole Berke on this bouncy anti-love song. “Zombie” is quality work and energetic for a song named after the undead, and “Volcano” is pretty damn good as well. I’m not wild about their funny name, but who the hell am I? Disregard that. They got it going on. As you were.

CFCF, Exercises (Paper Bag)

Is this Montreal’s 21st century answer to Philip Glass? Not sure about all that hype, but this album does wander into the big back yard where composers like Glass, Ryuichi Sakamoto, as well as Sigur Rós and the post-Japan David Sylvian ponder and play. The songs are part of a suite, with the cold, uniform titles “Exercises #1-#8”. However they also have not-so-clandestine sub-titles: “Entry”; “Spirit”; “Loss”. “Entry” offers a downhearted acoustic piano venture as an opener and is very good, morose, and simpering but also chilly like a fox, and when “School” begins the moans become more electronic. “September” has mysterious vocals buried underneath accordion-like keyboards, and “December” delivers with what sounds like a harmonium playing off of a treated acoustic piano. On “Loss” the piano sound morphs into a strange synth sound and then zooms off into another dimension. Despite the depressive nature of some of this, tonally speaking, it’ll draw you back in after one dark pass. Freaky shit here, amigo.

Forty Nineteens, No Expiration Date (Heyday)

They start off with a bang on “I’m The One,” a rollicking opener that calls out to the world right away, but the whole shebang suddenly degenerates into flat, generic dud rock on the second track, “Trucker’s Song”. It's essentially four minutes of “eh…”, leaving one with an “is-this-all-there-is?” emptiness. Then they, surprisingly, bounce back on the strong, catchy jangle-pop of “Only the Skies Are Blue,” built on what sounds like a Greg Kihn riff. Weird. There’s also a similar power-pop immediacy to “”Turn It Around.” The southern-boiled “Magnolia Mississippi” has a decent melodic hook and feel, and vocalist/ bassist John Pozza has a warbly trill in his baritone. Last but not least, “Take Me to Vegas” dances itself off of the roof with some roiling, driving voodoo rhythms coming from the floor tom. There’s a looseness that they should employ more often. I won’t waste everyone’s time reviewing a song called “Bad Tattoo.” Sorry.

Frank Lenz, Holy Rollers: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Velvet Blue)

“A dreamer, a stoner, a lover of life.” The versatile Frank Lenz has a respected pedigree, with time spent as a member of three great bands, amongst others: The Weepies, Everest and Pedro The Lion. He dives into film scoring in a rather left-handed way here, and turns in a well-crafted piece of extended music that can actually be enjoyed separate from its source film. “Holy Rollers” smashes together all sorts of post-indie coolness, and “Carrying Cash” is frisky post-new wave. “Fired Two” gives off the odor of disembodied electro-waves, and “Snoqualmie” indirectly references Twin Peaks, carrying the name of the Washington mountain hamlet the fictitious town is based on. 18 tracks total, with some under a minute, and it’s more than passable as electro-rock designed as a film score, with waves of acoustic guitar and keyboards holding it all together. Some call it “yacht rock,” but I don’t think this stuff qualifies as that as much as some other detritus I can think of.

John Singer Sergeant, The Music and Songs of John Dufilho (Kirtland)

This “compilation” is a tricky proposition with fourteen quirky and sub-tonal songs that feature some widely different guest vocalists on each track. John Dufilho is now John Singer Sergeant performing the songs of John Dufilho. Centro-matic’s Will Johnson does a dignified, so-so turn on “Big Distortion” to kick it all off, and Apples In Stereo’s Robert Schneider does his nasally best to overload “Jinxed” like it’s an Apples In Stereo song on helium and pixie sticks. But Old 97’s leader Rhett Miller just shuffles in and barely shows up on “My Own Worst Critic” as he drops a weak lower-end whimper. (Rhett Miller is sounding more bored and disconnected with all of his projects lately, so that song is not necessarily a reflection on the comp.) As an album, it certainly has its pickled-pop moments and its tuneful tumbles down the treble clef, but it doesn’t always satisfy vocally. Chris Walla and Rachel Demy sound way too queasy on “Normal Sounds Weird,” for example. I’d say, in this particular case “normal” is nowhere near weird enough. Too much of this collection holds back musically and doesn’t ever fall off the chair out of sheer exuberance. Where’s the emotional-pyrotechnics that could emerge out of some of this material? I don’t really hear it. As a concept album, it holds water, but that’s about as kindhearted as I can be.

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