Mass music clearance: The leftovers
Some of the perks of being a writer for the entertainment section of a newspaper are all of the free CDs and concert trips (now you want to write for us, don’t you?). One of the downsides of being a writer for the entertainment section of a newspaper is that you have to wade through a lot of garbage — from local bands with little experience to pop icon sell-outs and cocky wannabes — to find the diamonds in the rough. Here we’ve cleared out our stacks and summed up the talents (or lack thereof) of some of the latest releases from famous artists, first releases of others, and attempts at artistry from still more. We’ve covered a little bit of everything, from rock to Christian rock to country to indie, and in the process hopefully saved you a bit of time and money. Read on for briefs on twelve CDs, and then go forth and buy or ignore.
Clear Static by Clear Static
Clear Static, the latest out of L.A.’s Viper Room and Key Club, offers an energy-driven emo-techno throwback to the ’80s on their self-titled debut album. Described by their distributors and Maverick Records label to be “like Prince in a knife fight with the Killers,” their track “Make-Up Sex” has already reached #16 on the Billboard Dance Chart. If you enjoy groups such as Depeche Mode, The Cure, and The Faint, then also check out their song “Tuesday on My Mind.” They toured with Duran Duran last year and kicked off a tour of their own last month. To show that Pittsburgh’s music scene is coming around, this band — whose CD will be released nationally on May 2 — played here Wednesday night at the Rex Theatre. Definitely procure a copy before The O.C. bastardizes it!
Carnegie Hall 4.9.02 by Ani DiFranco
When handed Carnegie Hall 4.9.02, Ani DiFranco’s latest live solo album on “Righteous Babe Records” (which is her own record label), another staff member remarked, “Ani DiFranco... still angry.” The statement was prophetic in that she definitely still is a punk folksinger delivering socio-political messages in her unique coffeehouse style. This CD consists of more of her hard-hitting, slightly raspy vocals and driving acoustic guitar, both of which are periodically interrupted by her interactions with the audience. The apex of the album comes when she recites her intense poem “Self-Evident” to a crowd of New Yorkers seven months after 9/11. If you enjoy her work, you can also look forward to her new studio album, Reprieve, to be released July 11.
Truth is Currency by Revelation Theory
Revelation Theory’s instrumentation on its Truth is Currency album is strongly reminiscent of Metallica. The CD is unmoving in its lack of creativity and painful redundancy. The musical inexperience of the band is obvious and, like every other group that insists on prolonging the head-banging, mosh-pit style of wailing lead guitars, heavy bass lines, shouting vocals, and forceful drumbeats, the overall effect is just not riveting. And, despite its amplified attempts, Revelation Theory’s hardcore sound cannot mask the fact that its lyrics are devoid of anything fresh that would interest audiences in any way.
The Sound of You and Me by Garrison Starr
From someone who does not listen to country music and initially groaned when I saw Garrison Starr’s album The Sound of You and Me, I found her CD released on Vanguard Records to be definitely palatable. Okay, perhaps I even liked it — just slightly — but in an I’ll-buy-it-for-someone-else-who-does-dig-country-music kind of way. Her studio sound is unlike most stereotypical country music, as it is not “twangy,” and instead highlights the clarity, gentleness, and smooth simplicity of her vocals and acoustic guitar strumming. Similar to the Dixie Chicks and the Indigo Girls, her lyrics depict an emotional life story that is well worth listening to.
Mockingbird by Derek Webb
Christian singer/songwriter Derek Webb’s fourth solo album on INO Records, Mockingbird, is as mellow-sounding a Christian CD as his previous releases. Mockingbird is being marketed as “a musically compelling look at God, politics, and social issues.” His gentle voice is similar to those of Vertical Horizon, and he has a guitar style like Jack Johnson. If you are interested in seeing him live, he will be performing in Elizabethtown, Pa., on April 28.
Get Steady by Jonny Lives!
Jonny Lives! is a group infused with NYC’s Lower East Side sound, a scene that takes its style from Brit-Pop and has produced other artists like The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. On their EP Get Steady, released on the indie label Eleven Seven Music, the songs hold up to expectations: They are energetic, funky, and infectious — and able to make even a prep school boy enthusiastically jump around, do a thrashing dance, and ecstatically execute the title track, “Get Steady,” on his air guitar while jiving alone in his bedroom (as one does, in fact, do in the music video for that song). Listening to this album feels a little like hearing every other band in this subgenre, though no less enjoyable because of it.
Show Your Bones by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Speaking of bands that sound like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O’s band followed their debut Fever to Tell with a “more mature” album, Show Your Bones. While SYB isn’t as wildly electric as its predecessor, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs rock just as hard as they have in the past. “Honeybear” and the single “Gold Lion” are probably the strongest tracks on the album, but Show Your Bones is one of those rare CDs where you don’t have to skip past half the tracks. All of the praise given to Fever to Tell is well deserved, but the band’s sophomore effort is pure indie-rock genius. Add this entire album to your next road trip soundtrack.
American Diary by Greg Joseph
The first solo album by Greg Joseph (of the Clarks) is essentially a cross between generic country music and the Barenaked Ladies. It is marketed as “an 11-song collection of life, death, desire and broken hearts told with Joseph’s cynicism and dry humor that bring his characters to life,” and while I’m a huge fan of cynicism and dry humor, this album lacks both originality and the “sinfully infectious melodies” that he promises us. Generic as hell, every track leaves you wondering where you’ve heard that song before. Take our advice and don’t waste your time or money on American Diary.
Was A Real Boy by Say Anything
I picked up this CD because track seven is named “I Will Never Write An Obligatory Song About Being On The Road And Missing Someone.” Sadly, this is the worst song on the album. The lyrics of the other six songs are hilarious and actually cynical, unlike whatever Greg Joseph thought he was doing. However, the album lacks the energy and flair needed to make this brand of emo work. I never thought I’d say this, but I’d rather listen to Fall Out Boy.
Footprints by David W. Jacobson
His chord progressions are cliched, and his voice has a peculiarly low quality to it. The lyrics are occasionally mildly amusing — see “Batteries,” in which all of his pickup lines are rejected by girls who would rather spend time with their vibrators (I’m not kidding) — but are far too melodramatic for the most part and not as “hilarious” as he and his label think. His self-described “melancholy, acoustic songwriting” is a weak attempt at the coffeehouse music he seems to admire. In short, if any generic high school band ever collaborated on an album with Phoebe Buffay, it would sound like Footprints.
Less and Less by the American Princes
The American Princes’ second album is a mishmash of classic-rock-ish and indie rock songs with the occasional acoustic ballad thrown in for variety. They’re too obscure to be destined for greatness and definitely won’t “bring rock and roll salvation,” despite what punk ’zine Punk Planet says. And yet, the band’s love for pure rock and roll is evident through all 13 tracks and makes listening to the album even more enjoyable. Its sole reviewer on iTunes gives it five stars out of five. I’d go with four and a half.
Business Up Front, Party in the Back by Family Force 5
Don’t be fooled by their hipster indie appearance: These guys are really... country? The reference to mullets in their album title should’ve been my first clue, but it took the lyrics “Watch what you say to my momma, she raised me in the dirty South,” to drive that concept home. Self-described as “crunk rock,” Family Force 5’s music is hard to classify but sounds like the Southern bastard offspring of Kid Rock and the Beastie Boys. The album isn’t really worth buying, but check out their MySpace profile if you’re curious.