Category Archives: Unpublished

Demolition String Band: Different Kinds of Love CD review (Harp)

[This was supposed to be in the May issue of Harp, but Harp went out of business. So, I’m posting it here.]

Demolition String Band
Different Kinds of Love
Breaking Records

Hearing a bluegrass song with lyrics about hills and trains is unremarkable. Hearing a bluegrass song about “the hills of Jersey City” and a train that’s probably a subway is remarkable indeed. If the cardinal rule of Americana is sing-about-what-you-know authenticity, then the Demolition String Band certainly scores on that qualification. The Hoboken quartet has strong musical roots in bluegrass traditions – leader Elena Skye studied mandolin with Jethro Burns – but those roots are shot through with plenty of rock ‘n’ roll electricity. Correlations could be drawn to towering roots/punk bands like Lone Justice and X, but Skye’s twang of a voice and the chugging, old-school instrumentation lands these guys firmly on the “roots” side of the equation. Subways and landfills aren’t the sole lyrical territory; there are also the requisite “drinking and thinking about you” lines. But the energetic and full-bodied approach the DSB takes keeps any of it from getting too precious or predictable.

Dead Child: Attack CD review (Harp)

[This was supposed to be in the May issue of Harp, but Harp went out of business. So, I’m posting it here.]

Dead Child
Attack
(Quarterstick)

Birthed by former members of Slint, Tortoise, and the Shipping News, Dead Child was to be an outlet for the members’ more visceral tendencies. A middling EP was released in early 2007, but with Dead Child’s full-length, Brad Wood-produced album, it’s made clear that the project is far from being a gag. From musicians so long engaged in experimentation and stylistic reconfigurations, the catholic incuriosity of Attack comes as something of a surprise. The utter familiarity of its elements instantly pegs Attack as a genre homage; Overkill (vocalist Dahm’s tight-throated melodicism) and Metallica (the pummeling grandiosity of longer cuts like “The Coldest Hands”) are obvious influences. The palm-muted power chords and flailing solos are ‘80s thrash metal staples, and Dead Child gloriously indulges in them throughout the album. There’s nothing revolutionary or ironic about Attack – other than the fact that it’s being released in 2008 – and that’s exactly the point.

Standout tracks: “Twitch of the Death Nerve,” “Eye to the Brain”

Buy this CD at Amazon.com.

Starofash: The Thread CD review (Reax)

[Due to … well, something, this did not appear as it was scheduled to in the April issue of Reax. There were several such instances in the April issue, so I’ve got a bunch of unpublished stuff I’m putting up.]

Starofash
The Thread
(Candlelight)
It would be something of a stretch to call The Thread a metal album, but it’s equally difficult to deny the metallic influences at play. As the wife of former Emperor guitarist Ihsahn, Norwegian keyboardist/vocalist Heidi S. Tveitan undoubtedly hears more than a little bit of heaviness around the house. But the blackness she pursues as Star of Ash is of a decidedly more atmospheric and decidedly less brutal type. The Thread is the second album Tveitan has released as Starofash, and the project flows quite nicely from the ambient experimentalism she pursued in tandem with her spouse in Peccatum. Here, though, things are comparatively more song-based, and with Tveitan singing lyrics provided by out-there Japanese author Kenji Siratori, the entire album takes on an artful, introspective flavor. Brooding and expansive, The Thread evokes the afterglow of black metal’s horror, with a post-apocalyptic frailty that eschews song-based compositions in favor of sweeping, cinematic motifs defined by Tveitan’s keyboard playing.

Buy this CD at Amazon.com.

Various Artists: Controversy: A Tribute to Prince (Reax)

Controversy is not the first tribute to the music of Prince. In this era of every artist imaginable being “honored” with lullabye albums, goth reworkings and symphonic renditions of their works, it would be amazing if there weren’t a dozen such albums taking on the man’s prodigious output. However, while Controversy isn’t the first Prince tribute disc, it’s also not the first Prince tribute disc to feature the versions contained within. Back in 2002, XL released a comp that featured the likes of Broadway Project, 7 Hurtz, Hefner and Blue States reworking a well-curated selection of Prince cuts. That disc emphatically restated the out-there electronics, odd phrasings and general stylistic derring-do that has always been a hallmark of Prince’s music. And, most of the songs on that disc re-appear on Controversy. And, unsurprisingly, those cuts stand out as highlights. 7 Hurtz (with Peaches) turn “Sexy Dancer” into an electroclash Vanity 6 number, Hefner makes “Controversy” into a mellow bit of ambience and the version of “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” dialed up by the Broadway Project (with Jeb Loy Nichols) is a fantastic bit of electro-symphonic bombast. Yet, while Controversy may lose a few points on the originality front (the much-revered D’Angelo version of “She’s Always In My Hair” starts the disc off), the numbers not found on its predecessor – most notably the sparse and emotional takes on “Purple Rain” (by Stina Nordenstam) and “Condition of the Heart” (by Susanna & the Magical Orchestra) – are worth the price of admission … and repetition.

Finally appeared May 8, 2008 in Reax.

Various Artists: Pagan Fire CD review (Reax)

Various Artists
Pagan Fire
(Nuclear Blast)
There has always been a certain “you can’t handle this” element when it comes to metal fans defending their genre from interlopers. Speed/thrash metal got most of its momentum in the mid ‘80s partially in response to the waves of new Priest/Maiden fans crowding metalheads out of their front-row seats; the growing popularity (and notoriety) of seriously extreme black metal in the ‘90s could be seen as a reaction to the stadium-size audiences Metallica was packing in. Now, with indie hipsters worshipping bands who are willing to go super-heavy and/or super-extreme, and the masses flocking to post-hardcore bands who are both fast and brutal, what are the flag-bearers of True Metal to do? Go back to the roots, of course. Looking backward beyond Metallica, Maiden, Sabbath … hell, looking backward beyond the Industrial Age, the artists on Pagan Fire can be roughly categorized into three genres: Viking Metal, Pagan Metal, and Folk Metal. Lest you think the latter is the Indigo-Girls-with-distortion-pedals, the Finnish folklore assault of bands like Finntroll and Korpiklaani has vintage instrumentation alongside blast beats and death-metal vocals. The pre-Christian lyrical (and musical) approach is, admittedly, something of a gimmick, since most of these bands fit loosely into the sonic parameters of contemporary death/thrash metal, albeit with the occasional accordion. While some are heavier (Amon Amarth, Bathory) and some are more forthrightly evocative of the past (Eluveitie’s “Your Gaulish War” feels like a Braveheart battle cry), it’s nonetheless encouraging to see a compilation like this codify a movement that’s been long-gestating.

First appeared May 8, 2008 in Reax.

Buy this CD at Amazon.com.

Nadja: Skin Turns To Glass CD review

[This was supposed to run in Houston Press, but it didn’t. So I’m running it here because it’s a great record.]

Originally released as an obscenely-limited-edition CD-R in 2003 (120 copies were pressed by Belgian label Nothingness), Skin Turns To Glass is one of several early, out-of-print recordings by Montreal ambient-doom duo Nadja that has been re-recorded and reissued over the past couple of years. With so many metal-leaning doom and drone artists exploring the power of heavy simplicity, Nadja nonetheless stands out as an exceptional act. With shimmering keyboard washes glinting off the crashing low-end churn, the mood that Nadja evokes is much less that of an emotional holocaust than it is a transcendent majesty. The three main tracks on Skin are relentlessly heavy, gelatinously revealing their structural complexities over the course of 50 continuous minutes. (An untitled bonus track clocks in at nearly a half-hour, and is mostly unrelated sonically to the rest of the disc.) Vocals are buried in a curious way that splits the difference between black metal and shoegazing, leaving the cyclical, low-octave bass-and-guitar dirge to slowly – very slowly – drive the proceedings. As usual, Nadja proves that it’s possible for doom-metal to be beautiful and effective without losing any of its gut-wrenching power.

Buy this CD at Amazon.com.