CD reviews

This week’s CD reviews are on:  >Tori Amos  >Brand New Immortals  >Call and Response  >Clan of Xymox  >Eltro  >Mercury Rev  >Mystic  >Nickelback  >Glenn Tilbrook Tori Amos Strange Little Girls (Atlantic) Grade: B For her sixth

This week’s CD reviews are on:
 >Tori Amos
 >Brand New Immortals
 >Call and Response
 >Clan of Xymox
 >Mercury Rev
 >Glenn Tilbrook

Tori Amos
Strange Little Girls
Grade: B
For her sixth album, Tori Amos decided to appropriate songs written and sung by males to tell 12 stories about “strange little girls.” Each song is represented by a character Amos had in mind when she heard the originals. Don’t think of Strange Little Girls as a run-of-the-mill covers album, however. Most covers albums are created to pay tribute to the originals, whereas Amos tries to understand each subject damned by the “male versions” of the songs. While some tracks are done with the original intentions in mind, most make definite arguments against the misogynistic pop/rock world, the best example being her version of Eminem’s “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” (if only she had done this one at last year’s Grammys). Amos makes each song her own, which designates Girls to be perhaps her strongest and best statement since her debut album.
—Maureen Walsh

Brand New Immortals
Tragic Show
Grade: F
Brand New Immortals make no bones about the fact that they feature alumni from better known bands, such as The Black Crowes. They seem to fancy themselves some sort of modern rock super group. A modern rock super mistake is more like it. Awkwardly slopping their way though cliché after cliché, Brand New Immortals have made one of the most boring albums in recent memory.

Tragic Show is indeed tragic. It’s a tragic waste of time. It’s an album full of lame accusing lyrics (“You teach/But you never learn”), overly chunky guitar riffs and just about nothing else.

Brand New Immortals try to emulate the cocksure swagger of the bands they grew up on, only they forgot the cockiness and the swagger. But if you like bands that refuse to do anything new, bands that are committed to rehashing bad ideas, then Tragic Show is the album for you. No kidding, it even has a song about Los Angeles. Why are second rate rock stars so determined to keep writing songs about that godforsaken city?
No energy, no inspiration, Brand New Immortals had best be immortal, because it should be a lifetime before they are permitted to make another album.
—Robert James Algeo

Call and Response
Call and Response
(Kindercore/Emperor Norton)
Grade: C+
Synths. Moogs. Farfisas. Sure they’re neat and vintage, but they can get damn annoying when a band overuses them. Case in point: Call and Response, a California quintet with Mamas and the Papas’ harmonies and Broadcast’s sensibilities.

The Studio 54 cheese of “All Night Long” is tolerable until the Lilith Fair out-of-thin-air vocals send the disco ball crashing to the floor. Luckily “Rollerskate” is a joyous, carefree number that will have you denouncing your rollerblades for something a bit more antique. Meanwhile, “Stars Have Eyes” and “Nightflight” are quintessential indie retro-pop.

But Call and Response’s sweetness is recommended in small doses. The original album (released last year on Kindercore) with two less songs could be a better bet for those watching their cavities.
—Neal Ramirez

Clan of Xymox
Notes From the Underground
Grade: B-
While listening to the dozen tracks that make up Notes From the Underground, you’ll feel like you’ve walked onto the set of a suspense-filled horror movie. Combining elements from the past, present and what they hope to be the future of goth, Clan of Xymox offers an album full of agony and anguish that draws heavily on disconnection from society.

“Innocent,” the first track, sets the pace for the album: slow and methodical. Each song is long and drawn out and entraps the listener into a gothic cobweb of trance-like songs. “I Want You Now” reflects this constant methodical ticking away of song crafting, while “Internal Dreams” sounds like a gloomy self-portrait backed by the soothing sounds of a piano being lightly played. “At Your Mercy” — a song about a broken heart — is as close to a pop song as this band can get, while “Into Her Web” is perhaps the closest comparison to a bright spot on an album full of darkness.

With atmospheric electronic lines filled with dark rhythms, forceful beats and lively instrumental craftsmanship, Notes From the Underground is not for the weak at heart. And with 12 long, soft electronic ballads, this album is not recommended for long car rides either.
—Chris Powell

(Absolutely Kosher)
Grade: C+
Eltro is a band bent on sonic experimentation. You won’t hear the same drum tone twice, even in the same song. Once you think you’ve pinpointed what instrument you are hearing, it goes away, and another, more distorted one takes its place. This creates a unique musical landscape, but alas, not always an interesting one.

Eltro manage to present a very engaging sound, but they accomplish this with constant drone or endless repetition, forcing the listener to pay attention. Better bands are able to get to the point faster and more effectively. There is a lack of genuinely captivating moments on Velodrome, The whole album comes across as though there is something just around the corner, but Eltro just doesn’t seem able to take you around the bend. They want listeners to lose themselves in a wall of sound. Unfortunately, the wall is weak enough to get through.

For all its flaws, Velodrome is far from a bad album. The root of the problem is the lack of actual song. Eltro are more concerned with sound than form. If they would just throw some song craft into the experimental mixture, they might just be able to make a great album.
—Robert James Algeo

Mercury Rev
All is Dream
Grade: C
I really do suspect that people like Mercury Rev because they think they are supposed to. My problem is that Jonathan Donahue’s voice has this flair of idiosyncrasy that many may be endeared to but I don’t especially like. Usually, I’m fine with people who sing out of range, but Donahue sounds like he’s just doing a bad impression of Neil Young. Maybe that’s a little harsh – I found that when I stopped getting so hung up on his vocals, All is Dream is listenable. Many of the songs have a Tin Pan Alley feel to them, which is obviously missing from most pop/rock music today. While I admire that quality about them, I still can’t recommend this album. Now I must live with the guilt of perhaps being the only college music critic on the planet who is dissing Mercury Rev.
—Maureen Walsh

Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom
Grade: B
Mystic’s debut album has earned her comparisons to the well-respected Lauryn Hill. And while the Oakland, Calif., resident does share certain traits with L-Boogie, her greatest quality is her uniqueness. Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom is an album with one vibe: mellow. Whether the song is as uplifting as “Neptune’s Jewels” or as morbid as “Fallen Angels,” the mood is consistent throughout the LP.

An extremely talented songwriter, Mystic shows off her versatility in a variety of ways. She alternates between rhyming and singing on the album, sometimes showcasing both talents on the same track.
While she is by no means a poor singer, her gritty rhymes hit harder than her soft melodies. On “W,” featuring fellow Bay Area native Planet Asia, she shows she can hold her own with top-notch rappers.

The video for Mystic’s first single, “The Life,” currently airs on both BET and MTV, but being signed to a small label, she may not be getting the push she needs. Even so, she goes to show that talent and originality still produce solid albums these days.
—Aggrey Sam

Mystic will perform at the Trocadero with Black Eyed Peas on Sept. 29.

Silver Side Up
Grade: B+
On a label filled with heavy metal stand outs, Nickelback could have easily become lost in the shuffle, but in two short years they’ve wormed their way into the heart of rock radio stations across the country in a fashion that is shrewd and quiet at best.

Fresh off a debut album that produced two Top-10 Rock hits (“Breathe” and “Leader of Men”), Nickelback is back with Silver Side Up.

Known for their serious melodic streak, this Canadian four-piece displays a real mastery of well-crafted and catchy songs. Frontman Chad Kroeger particularly shows great growth as a lyricist, and picks up the slack he left behind with the metaphorical songwriting of their debut. As a result, personal and insightful lyrics soar throughout the album as the band purges their inner demons.

“Too Bad” explores the desire to fix things beyond your control, and “Never Again” discusses broken homes and failing relationships. But the band’s latest hit, “How You Remind Me” carries the album. Similar in style to their first two hits, the emotional song has exploded and will take them to new heights. Overflowing with melodies, Silver Side Up is solid on all fronts and will definitely catch on with fans of Staind and Three Doors Down.
—Chris Powell

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The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook
(What Are)
Grade: C+
Since Glenn Tilbrook’s band Squeeze released Singles 45 and Up oh so many years ago, none of their subsequent releases would be worthy of such a compilation. Tilbrook and his songwriting partner Chris Difford have not only gotten to be middle-aged, but insist on pointing this out in nearly every song. Now should be Tilbrook’s chance to break away from that pattern with the release of a solo album, but no such luck.

Incomplete starts out with a couple of contenders that match the spark of the surprising later-years Squeeze album Some Fantastic Place, but mostly Incomplete is self-indulgent, boasting the typical “damn, I’m old now” sentiments. The only thing that saves the singer is his voice and sometimes-innovative storytelling, but nothing is up there with anything he and Difford penned before 1982 by a long shot.
—Maureen Walsh

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