Quick Hits 1 | 07.06

an albatross
(ace fu)

Philadelphia’s An Albatross have unleashed a sonic eggbeater on their second long player Blessphemy (Of the Peace-Beast Feastgiver and the Bear-Warp Kumite). Filled with 18 lightning-fast cuts of howling, screaming no wave, Blessphemy opens appropriately—trust me on this one—with the introductory regal melodies of “In the Court of the Bear King.” This ironic counterpoint of pageantry quickly gives way to a 27-minute blitz of screaming vocals and instruments. With each track averaging around 90 seconds, An Albatross knows that you can only milk this kind of wonderfulness for so long before it annoys even its most ardent supporters. Blessphemy does not contain a bushel of standout tracks, yet it has plenty consistency and good spirited anarchy. You have to love this shit. | David Lichius

frank black
fastman raiderman

Fastman Raiderman is the product of Frank Black tooling around in the studio for two years with a rotating cast of musicians that included the Band’s Levon Helm, Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick, and the same renowned session players with whom Black worked on 2005’s Honeycomb. Like Honeycomb, Black’s new double-disc effort finds him coasting his way through 27 laidback tunes. It’s melodic, relaxing stuff—in short, it couldn’t be much farther from the sort of music that made the Pixies frontman a genre-bending icon. Fortunately, he still has a knack for twisting a phrase that sets him apart. | Daniel O’Malley

the chapters
distant ep

If I were to check this Texas foursome’s CD collections, I would expect to find plenty of Bauhaus and Joy Division. You know, the dark, gloomy stuff, further heightened by haunting keyboards. Still, Distant manages to avoid sounding derivative or overly depressive, thanks to upbeat, probing guitar work and. Following the alluring opening track “Disconnected,” “Bleeding for the Blind” is more Modest Mouse than British gloom, thanks to near-recited lyrics and echoed backing vocals. “The Absence of Decency” is will get those indie kids out on the dance floor, while “Inevitable Doubt” brings the tempo down a thoughtful notch with a song that is catchy and beguiling, perfect for multiple spins (or even, dare I say, indie radio). You’ll move more than just a pinkie toe on the final track, “Lend Me Your Prayers”; good stuff, indeed These five tasty songs go by far too quickly; let’s hope for a longer course soon. | Laura Hamlett

r. luke dubois

It seems logical to ask what an average #1 hit sounds like. In his highly conceptual piece “Billboard,” composer R. Luke DuBois revises the question: What does the average of a #1 hit sound like? Using his invented technique of “time-lapse phonography,” DuBois has quite literally compressed every #1 Billboard single from 1958 to 1999 into the sonic equivalent of a Rothko painting. The three-minute pop song becomes a single-second memory, heard not in a dream, but with the ears of a machine for whom a day is a thousand years. Perhaps in no other musical piece has time so directly been altered. The process is repeated using Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier” and the audio of Casablanca, both of which work better as musical pieces apart from their theoretical value. Music as math doesn’t always sound like either. | James McAnally

fatboy slim | the greatest hits:
why try harder

Dropping beats like a madman juiced up on tainted O.J., Fatboy Slim changed the way dance music was done. Norman Cook defined a new genre and influenced DJing to the point where DJs became the main attraction, not just the warm up for some rock band. By moving the music from the dance clubs in the cities to house parties in mainstream America, Fatboy Slim slowly slid into a worldwide music consciousness.

This greatest-hits album showcases just how influential his music has become. Why Try Harder features about every song you would put into a playlist, and two new songs—the hip-hop rhythms of “Champion of Sound” and the soulful “That Old Pair of Jeans.” Listeners will enjoy reliving many of these songs and appreciate the latest tunes from our ole friend. We praise you, Mr. Cook! | Mary Beth Hascall

david ford | i sincerely apologize for all the trouble I’ve caused (columbia/red ink)

Thank god for a switch from all the saccharine-sweet male singer-songwriters plaguing the radio these days. That’s not to say that the James Blunts and Daniel Powters of the world are bad, but it’s time for a breath of fresh air. David Ford leaves sentimental garbage to the MTV boys and delves right into reality. This music is the soundtrack for every guy who’s been dumped or dumped on. “Cheer Up (You Miserable F***)” is Ford’s answer to Powter’s “Bad Day.” And I think every guy out there will stand behind his message. Ford is honest, and we could all use a dose of that. | Janelle Greenwood

the grates | gravity won’t get
you high
(dew process/universal music)

Gravity Won’t Get You High is a bit of a hit-and-miss recording but it’s not lacking in originality. The Grates are an Australian trio that writes upbeat pop songs with simple guitar melodies and catchy lyrics. Patience Hodgson has an appealing voice and delivers the songs well throughout the entire recording. Ultimately, it’s her voice that really sets this band apart from others and makes for an original sound. She somehow manages to sing at a frantic, fast pace throughout most of the disc, hitting all the notes perfectly. Her voice alone is almost enough of a reason to buy this disc, but some of the songs are stronger than others. Songs like “I Am Siam,” “Trampoline,” and “Lies Are Much More Fun” are a delight, energetic and catchy and demanding to be played over and over again. Other tracks like “I Won’t Survive” and “Howl” just aren’t as memorable and fail to deliver any strong melodies or likable hooks. | John Kujawski

mason jennings
(epic/glacial pace)

Boneclouds is the first official release from Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock’s new label Glacial Pace. On it, singer-songwriter Mason Jennings is searching for peaceful enlightenment, particularly with the opening track “Be Here Now.” Chanting aside, this album delves deep into a meditative state in which one must ask the questions of humanity, existence, and the inevitable, “What does it all mean?” “Jesus Are You Real” and “Moon Sailing on the Water” are climactic highlights of these ideas, while “Where the Sun Had Been” sounds new wave, an odd departure from Jennings’ normally folk-friendly sound. Jennings’ potential is evident, especially now flying under Brock’s label. | Janelle Greenwood

the dividing island

Lansing-Dreiden sounds like the name of a shoddy law firm. Officially, Lansing-Dreiden is a multimedia business, with their hands in film, publishing, music, and visual art. They would have you believe that they were an enterprise rather than a band, a faceless conglomerate with unnamed members making music for the mind and money clip. The music is sleek, with a lingering haze left from the smokescreen they have created. Content-wise, however, The Dividing Island is a return to the faux-decadence of early new wave, sometimes wandering into glam rock postures. It is intelligent, but sometimes overcomes this handicap by being enjoyable. Mystery usually exists to create gravity, but The Dividing Island as a whole simply isn’t compelling enough to excavate. | James McAnally

cameron mcgill & what army

The Chicago singer-songwriter/folk troubadour is back, and he’s brought his rock band—and the results serve to well whet your appetite for more. A too-short guitar-and-keys intro begins “XO Hurts,” which itself turns into a full-fledged rocker, culminating in McGill wailing, “When you’re in love, you know you won’t listen.” Mellotron-like keyboards begin “She’s a Killer”; when McGill’s voice joins in to admit “Oh, I’ve always had death in my sides, hooked in my brain” over a simple piano, the result is reminiscent of the ’70s-inspired greats.

Last year’s Web site download “Depression Glass” is just as lovely reworked, the perfect example of what McGill and Co. are capable of: simple piano or guitar with vocal accompaniment, contrasted with the full band in all its glory—all in a single song. “Got a secret? Honey tell me, tell me,” McGill begs as the pianos, drums, and guitars swell into the refrain. Strings and falsetto on the bridge are an especially nice touch. Pianos are the foundation of “Ready as I’ll Never Be,” a highlight of both McGill’s musical chops and vocal ability; listening, I can easily visualize his hair flopping across his face as he pounds the keys. The disc ends too soon with the sexy rocker, “Betsy Wrote to Me.” McGill’s voice drops an octave as he dares, “Mmm, crack a smile.” Truly, this is What Army in all its glory, McGill at his very finest. | Laura Hamlett

murder by death
in bocca al lupo
(east west)

Like the black sheep brother to Calexico, Murder by Death revisits the West as in a terrible vision. Reportedly inspired by Dante’s Inferno, In Bocca al Lupo pauses at the scene of violence, orchestrating the fearful recollection of past wrongs. Life is solemn in this corner of history, but it certainly isn’t boring. Within its saloon-soaked template, the songs are surprisingly varied, moving from twisting minor waltzes to stately acoustic flourishes. Taken together, the 12 tracks overlap like an epic murder ballad, a journey from sin and regret into bittersweet redemption. In particular, “Boy Decide,” “Dynamite Mine,” and show-stopping closer “The Devil Drives” fold all the elements of a breakout band together. Whenever quick-draw gunfights on main streets become the Saturday afternoon routine again, Murder by Death will become the biggest band in the world. Until then, they will live in a niche, the crowd coming to watch a Western spectacle unfold. | James McAnally

alexi murdoch | time without
(zero summer)

Alexi Murdoch’s first offering, Four Songs, is CD Baby’s all-time best seller. Therefore, the most natural and satisfying progression for this independent hero would be, of course, a self-produced full length from his own label. The interesting part is that this comes four years later. Unsurprisingly, the qualities that made him so appealing the first time—his extremely rich and warm pillow of a voice and his simple yet refined, spacious arrangements—are alive and, well, practically undeniable. The rolling and expansive qualities of “All My Days,” “Breathe,” and, of course, “Orange Sky” (the original version from the EP was Garden State–soundtrack worthy) are gems. It’s so hard to resist his quandaries and observational subtleties, as they stir such a significantly defined mood: a somber yet comforting space. For foggy-day singer/songwriter lovers, it is really hard to imagine a better 21st century artist. | Nate Dewart

chaotic resolve

Plumb is no a stranger to the music scene. Although not necessarily successful on mainstream radio, Tiffany Arbuckle Lee, nicknamed Plumb, has found a respectable home on many film and TV soundtracks. Chaotic Resolve, Plumb’s fourth studio album, further highlights her songwriting talents. “Motion” and “Better” are classic examples of tying her strong vocals with almost edgy pop rock. Although labeled as a Christian artist, Plumb doesn’t waver from tapping into her own soul to bringing out emotions to which people from all backgrounds can relate. Her songs tell great stories, ones worth listening to. | Janelle Greenwood

the sammies
the sammies

A combination of post-punk, garage, and southern rock, the debut album by Charlotte, N.C.’s the Sammies is a combination of heavy, infectious hooks and crisp rock riffs that showcase the band’s potential to come to the fore of the college rock genre. Lyrically, this eponymous debut borders on cliché; musically, the band marries hard rock guitars, new wave bass, and almost incomprehensible vocals. That is not to say that there are not some stellar moments on The Sammies. “Coming Out Wild” may well be the party anthem of the summer, while “Caretaker” features a down and dirty riff and raucous vocals worthy of the Cult. However, The Sammies marks the debut of a band that has yet to hit its stride. | Tracy M. Rogers


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About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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