Quick Hits 1 | 03.06

Short reviews of Aberdeen City, Baby Teeth, Brandon Baker, Band of Horses, Eef Barzelay, Chris Brown, The Ladies, OK Paddy, Slow Runner, Jonny Sonic, Grandma’s Boy, Wolfmother

 

Aberdeen City | The Freezing Atlantic (Dovecoat)

The Freezing Atlantic, the first full-length from Boston’s Aberdeen City, is a solid contraption that nicely packages Bradley Parkers’ somber lyrics and his subtle, soft singing style. He—along with Ryan Heller, Rob McCaffrey, and Chris McLaughlin—makes music that can easily have you comparing them with Radiohead. Both flow from deep thoughts with otherworldly abilities that offer melancholy misunderstood as gloom. But the sound is swirling and delectable, and Parker shares Thom Yorke’s ability to craft an interesting song out of a pretty pedestrian idea. Songs like “Pretty Pet” and “Brighton” rely on slight, well-trod ideas, but they do so with authority and aplomb. The album, at its best, is sonic wallpaper. This is not a slight; well-crafted wallpaper is hard to find. The Freezing Atlantic is a gently drifting iceberg and sometimes you wish it would move faster. Listeners can almost picture the producer (in this case, Nic Hard who worked with the Bravery and the Church) begging for a little more speed. He gets it in the album’s standout track, “God Is Going to Get Sick of Ne.” The doldrums hop into a fast car on that one, and the band and the album benefit. |Jim Dunn

Baby Teeth | For The Heathers (Lujo)

First off, this isn’t those Heathers. Left-of-center indie dance-centric pop trio Baby Teeth’s EP For the Heathers is the result of a songwriting challenge: Each member would go off on their own to write and record their own versions of a song—no rules as to the song’s content, except that it must bear the title “Heather.” The results are a slice of homemade-ish ’80s dance-pop heaven. The first of the three, “Heather via PS,” is the most heartfelt, managing to keep from winking while belting the Prince-esque falsetto chorus “You don’t have to entertain me/Just feel better.” “Heather via JC” sounds like a mix between Frank Stallone’s awesomely terrible 1983 Staying Alive theme “Far From Over” and Madonna’s “Borderline,” with some fun ELO vocal harmonies and arrangement flourishes topping off an ecstatically bouncy, completely fucking hilarious piece of pop music. After that ’80s synth one-two punch, the galloping-but-laid-back offbeat acoustic vibe of “Heather via PA” is a welcome change of pace, complete with a tastefully oddball sax arrangement. The EP’s remaining two non-“Heather” tracks—the quirky, sad WWI-era shuffle “For the Wars” and a remix of “End of Actress” from their full-length The Baby Teeth Album—make for an eclectic 18.7 minutes of pop escapism. |Brian McClelland

Brandon Baker | The Child-Like Hymns Ep (Self-Released)

It’s a good time to be an unusual vocalist, so St. Louis native Brandon Baker may get noticed now in a way that could have been more difficult in previous years. Baker has a taut, emotional voice pitched somewhere between Devendra Banhart and Joan Armatrading, and his delivery also seems to reflect both genders equally. Add a pinch of Billie Holiday (one of his musical idols) and fine acoustic guitar playing that recalls both Nick Drake and early Bruce Cockburn, and you’ve got a pretty compelling sound. The five songs on Baker’s self-released EP are eminently listenable, if a tad on the tart side. There’s real heart and soul on display, with an occasional primal howl of angst that lets you know this is truly an emotionally self-aware artist. “The monster under my bed is the voice inside my head/Fried inside my mind/It’s a bit surreal, but it’s the self-inflicted kind,” sings Baker in a particularly startling moment. “Startling” is a good word for the edgy acoustic brew here, and it’s a good bet Baker has the sort of unique talent we’re gonna be hearing more from in the near future. | Kevin Renick

Band Of Horses | Everything All The Time (Sub Pop)

Even though Everything All the Time is their debut album, Band of Horses already has quite the resumé. Formed in 2004, they toured with their buddies Iron & Wine and Okkervil River in 2005, which complimented their easygoing acoustic plucks and gentle rock-outs. Everything All the Time is 36 minutes of full-sounding, smooth tunes that don’t exactly connect with the listener, but they don’t leave a bad sound in the ears, either. “The Great Salt Lake” and “Weed Party” both have a great heavy feel to them that sinks into the skin. | Katie Bordner

Eef Barzelay | Bitter Honey (Spinart)

Bitter Honey. Kinda like bittersweet without really saying it…or so you think. Little do you know that Bitter Honey is the name of Eef Barzelay’s tragic hero in “The Ballad of Bitter Honey.” This hero also happens to open the album singing, “That was my ass you saw bouncin’ next to Ludacris/It was only on screen for a second, but it’s kinda hard to miss.” Bitter, or sweet? Barzelay (of Clem Snide semi-fame) has long been known as king of pop-culture Dumpster diving, here veering from the hip-hop video vixen to the least joyous reworking of “Joy to the World” ever committed to tape. Somehow, I think I understand what he means: paradox and complexity, the girl on the video and the girl across the table, bitter honey (which is which?). In “N.M.A.” he wonders why some anonymous actress appears in his mind, singing, “I don’t know why I thought of it/It’s fine if you don’t give a shit/Because nothing means anything anymore,” following it with “What if we dipped you in gold?/Well, at least the outside would show/It’s hard to know what’s on your mind.” Now that’s bitter, honey. | James McAnally

Chris Brown | Now That You’re Fed (Self-Released)

The advent of affordable home recording technology has produced many wonderful things—the career of Robert Pollard, for example—but in the wrong hands, it can be easily abused. Case in point: indie filmmaker Chris Brown, who stuffs everything ProTools has to offer into each of the dozen songs on his debut album Now That You’re Fed. Brown worships at the altar of power pop, and he’s crafted a fine set of catchy gems here, but the overbearing, overdubbed vocals deaden the impact of the songs’ melodies. The songs themselves are mostly enjoyable, low-key acoustic pop, with a few more experimental arrangements thrown in for good measure, but Brown isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel here, and for the most part the songs are far too similar to stand out. Now That You’re Fed is a pleasant diversion, but that’s about it. | Jason Green

The Ladies | They Mean Us (Temporary Residence)

Hella’s Zach Hill and Pinback’s Rob Crow—known here as the Ladies—might not seem like a duo that would collaborate. However, on their debut LP They Mean Us, the Ladies show that two distinctive sounds can combine and produce a record that contains attributes of both mother bands and not be an aural train wreck. While Crow throws in melodies and vocals that any Pinback fan will surely recognize, the songs on They Mean Us are accompanied, and at times interrupted, by Hill’s herky-jerky, unconventional drumming style.

On the lead track “Black Caeser/Red Sonja,” Crow chirps in with his distinctive vocals and a melody that could have been found on a Pinback B-side. However, around 40 seconds in, the melody stops and Hill takes over for the next 35 seconds, only for the song to shift back to Crow and the air that commenced the track. In addition to the Hella/Pinback interplay, the Ladies throw in a tad of Storm and Stress’s schizophrenic improvised vibe (see “Mandatory Psycho Freakout”). In the end, They Mean Us honestly sounds equal parts Hella and equal parts Pinback. With that combination, you have a winner of a record that should appeal to fans of both outfits and even those curiously looking over the fence. | David Lichius

Okay Paddy | The Cactus Has A Point (Prison Jazz)

Okay Paddy’s songs tend to straddle the line between “effortless pop” and “pop with zero effort.” The distinction between the two is minute, but critical. Either it sounds like the group is offhandedly tossing off stunning musical gems (see the future lost classic “Oo-man, La-world”), or it sounds like the members just collectively rolled out of bed. This sort of borderline laziness has always been essential to indie music, for better or for worse. Okay Paddy carry this banner proudly, and in a mere 28 minutes whisk through a pleasant, eminently hummable song cycle. Despite those nagging slacker roots, the band’s strong melodic sensibilities win the day on this release. | Jeremy Goldmeier

Slow Runner | No Disassemble (Red Ink)

Their Web site bio sums it up better than any reviewer ever could: “If you took out the depressing lyrics and substituted educational stuff about sharing with others and states and capitals, you could sit down at a classroom piano and have kids singing along in minutes.” Call it pop music from Mars. With their surreal sound and synthesized beeps and blips, Slow Runner seem to borrow equal parts Pink Floyd and Vangelis, who scored the soundtrack to Chariots of Fire. “Break Your Mama’s Back” is the album’s strongest song—no doubt the reason it was picked for a recent episode of the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. As for the rest of the bunch, I could swear “The Sea Is Never Full” is the same musical score from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Unpredictable, if nothing else. | Brian Jarvis

Jonny Sonic | Coop Resident (Hand-Picked Ent.)

The press kit labels it “the groundbreaking sound of the new eclecticism.” No doubt an ambitious moniker, but Mr. Sonic (neé Rick Kowal) does his damnedest to live up to the hype. To find his mojo, he implements a steady stream of horn-driven funk riffs, a dash of hip-hop, and a vocal lineup that never sits still. The musical homage paid to the Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime” is priceless, while “Pesos y Euros” could easily be a theme song of the new millennium. Call it jazz for people who don’t like jazz, perched a funkdafied nook somewhere between Herbie Hancock and the Roots. If you like one song on this album, you’ll like them all. A near flawless effort. | Brian Jarvis

Various Artists | Grandma’s Boy Soundtrack (Sony)

The soundtrack for Grandma’s Boy couldn’t be more of a perfect fit for the subject matter featured in the movie. The collection of songs arranged by producers William Derella and Michael Dilbeck probably makes perfect sense to those who imbibe in a big ol’ bong hit. All over the map, the artists on this soundtrack run the musical rainbow from electro-pop to hip-hop. Highlights from the album are Bloc Party’s “Helicopter,” Ima Robot’s “STD Dance,” and always fun the Mooney Suzuki’s “Alive & Amplified.” The thing that makes this movie soundtrack stand out is not how well these songs work together on the disc, but the fact that they actually included the funniest dialogue from the movie. The whole collection makes for a nice buzz. | Jim Campbell

Wolfmother | Dimensions (Modular Recordings)

I was all set to dismiss this EP as another boring, formulaic heavy rock disc, my finger hovering above the “skip” button on my CD player as the loud opening chords commenced. Then a funny thing happened. I pulled my finger away and listened as this Australian power trio blasted through these four tracks with a memorable sort of stylistic glee. Vocalist/guitarist Andrew Stockdale sounds more than a little like Black Sabbath–era Ozzy Osbourne at times, and the band—rounded out by drummer Myles Heskett and bassist/keyboardist Chris Ross—clearly have a love for ’70s-era metal. The Zeppelinesque slow burn of “Mind’s Eye” made me grin, and I love how the band nailed the essence of a whole era and scene in only three minutes on the catchy, chord-o-riffic “Love Train.” And they even had the good taste to close the disc with a nifty instrumental. Thumbs up, you lupine Aussies. Finger of scorn withdrawn. | Kevin Renick

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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