This week’s CD Reviews are on:
>> Alien Ant Farm
>> Half Cocked
>> Natalie Merchant
>> Ming and FS
>> Orange Peels
>> Pressure 4-5
>> Professional Murder Music
>> The Verve Pipe
>> The Wontons
It takes something special to bring a previously dead song back to life, but Alien Ant Farm prove they have what it takes to even make Michael Jackson sound cool again in their cover of his ’80s hit, “Smooth Criminal.” By far the highlight of their major label debut, ANThology, “Smooth Criminal” is the guilty pleasure song that you’ll catch yourself listening to over and over again.
Dubbed the founders of “geek metal” because of their “not-so-cool” appearance, Alien Ant Farm is a SoCal quartet that serves up a sound pulsing with rock and punk beats backed by powerful, energetic vocals.
Led by Dryden Mitchell, the album opens with slamming guitar and drum work in “Courage.” The fast pace that revolves around Mitchell’s echoing vocals is continued in “Movies,” a song about the short-lived roles we all play in life.
While the rest of ANThology leaves much to be desired, it is the band’s hard edge work ethic combined with Mitchell’s energetic and intimidating vocals on “Stick N Stones” and “Wish” that prove these geeks are no joke.
— Chris Powell
Alien Ant Farm will play the TLA with Pressure 4-5 Nov. 13.
On their self-titled debut, CrashPalace gives a nod to grunge and industrial as they plug ahead with their taste for modern rock. Studded with lyrics of acceptance, disrespect, payback and general commentary on society’s flaws, CrashPalace is held together by an engaging vocal performance and just the right amount of musical diversity to make for an album written for success.
“What Ever Gets You Through,” a trippy song about what it takes to get through daily life, opens the album and is followed by their first single, “Perfect,” which sounds more like an anthem of acceptance and denial than anything positive.
“Two Kinds,” a beautifully crafted slower song, talks of the two different kinds of people in the world, while “Sit And Watch The Sky,” a soft song, is about searching for answers as life slips through your hands. “Come On,” depicts their taste for hard rock and soft melodies, while “Crop Circles,” a true melodic jewel, shows their love for the acoustic guitar.
Sensible in style and catchy when it comes to melodies and hooks, CrashPalace has a name that’s deceiving but a style that’s perfect for radio airplay. While not a bad album, it seems as if the band should rethink their name to match their unmistakably good sound and bright future.
— Chris Powell
“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are,” the insightful and optimistic Jimini Cricket sang, “Like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through.” Little could it be imagined that the tiny critter’s song in “Pinocchio” could be so easily related to the band Half Cocked.
With a list of wishes that never came true and down to their last star, Half Cocked made an attempt to break the lack of acceptance for women heavy metal acts on The Last Star. But where Drain S.T.H. and Kittie excelled, Half Cocked manages to fail miserably.
The failure is worsened by their attempt to incorporate a fetish for ’80s punk and hair metal into a new-age twist of rock. The result is a band that falls flat on its face while trying to do something new and tackle taboo subjects like sexual freedom (“Devil Shoes”) and sex toys (“Thanks For The Ride”).
“I Lied,” the album’s only truly raw track, is the highlight of a set that at times scarily resembles the early work of No Doubt. This resemblance is clearest on “Always,” a song about bitterness and giving up on your dreams.
Girls or not, the only way this Boston quintet is going to see their dreams come true is to stop trying to be a collaboration of bands they’re not and develop their own talents.
— Chris Powell
For her third solo release, Natalie Merchant has created a vast expanse of lush thoughts and themes, continuing in the eclectic direction of her past solo endeavors. Motherland is an expedition into new territory of personal reflection and political criticism.
Forging through 12 tracks of all new and original material, Merchant demonstrates her passions for other musical genres. She integrates North African pop, tango, flamenco, R&B and gospel with her own unique style.
Opening with a foreboding Arabic-influenced string and flute arrangement combined with a throbbing reggae rhythm, “This House is on Fire” begins the journey into Motherland. Merchant pulls from sundry experiences. “The Worst Thing,” echoes travels in Spain as she incorporates the language with Erik Della Penna’s guitar. In response to an exhibition on the history of lynching photography, Merchant, along with gospel legend Mavis Staples, sings the strident and soulful “Build A Levee.”
The singles from Motherland have the usual upbeat positive feel as Merchant’s previous radio offerings “These Are the Days” and “Kind and Generous.” Yet, as always, this is not a sound that pervades the entire album. Motherland exposes a variety of sounds and feelings held together by Merchant’s own artistic uniqueness.
— Michael Hood
Are you itchin’ for some truly exceptional electronica? If so, the new album by Ming and FS is a must.
The Brooklyn duo formed in the mid-90s and their sample-riffic tunes recall both disco pioneers like Chic and more recent movers and shakers such as Propellerheads and Lo-Fidelity Allstars.
Much of the album has a very sexual feel. The standout track, “Freak,” boasts the phrase “You a Freak / Look at what you done did” and a sample that sounds suspiciously like “Shake your vagina at me.”
The Human Condition highlights both Ming and FS as not only fine turntablists, but also skilled multi-instrumentalists, playing everything from guitar and electric bass to Moog and Fender Rhodes. Splicing seriously phat beats with a new-school flavor, Ming and FS’ funky, booty-shaking music is a sure thing. Take a bite.
— Neal Ramirez
Allan Clapp is pretty obsessed with Burt Bacharach. It shows in all his melodies. Luckily, he can craft a great pop song, preventing what could have been a shameful scene (see Scott Brookman’s For Those Who Like Pop).
A brief history of the Orange Peels: Clapp released a fine 1994 solo album, 100% Chance of Rain, that faded in and out of obscurity. Next he formed a quartet branded the Orange Peels and made the rich if sometimes prosaic, Square.
So Far is the culmination of Clapp’s years of striving for the perfect pop song. He’s found it, not once, but several times on this album.
The title track is a rocking tune that could get any indie pop fan out of his/her chair. “You’re So Clever” and “Girl of All Seasons” recall the best aspects of ’60s sunshine pop. The irritating “Lost in You/I Can See the Planets” and indulgent “Every Single Thing” are the only bad oranges in the bunch.
— Neal Ramirez
Just picture hard nasal-like vocals with aggressive guitars that sound like they’re whining more than they are crushing. Picture a kid crying to their parents for a toy in the middle of K-Mart. Now add in a little bit of Southern California, and you’ve got Pressure 4-5.
Laid over a bed of insightful lyrics about learning and trying to figure things out, the Burning The Process is more about themes of nonconformity, personal loss and spirituality than dwelling on things that bring you down.
On “Enough” frontman Adam Rich sings in frustration, “If I could you know that I would turn it around / But the things that pick me up bring me down.” While on “Beat the World” they sound like a typical Southern California band: pissed off at the world and using music as their outlet.
“Stares” reflects a bunch of soft guys licking their wounds and trying to be hard edge rockers, whereas “New Wave” shows a calmness and clarity on life as Rich sings, “In a clearing of conscience / A wave to take us there / `Cause We’re drowning in creation.”
While Burning The Process is an upbeat album, its pitfalls are due to the overkill of Papa Roach in making the Southern California hard-rock sound seem so stale and non-exciting.
— Chris Powell
After gaining wide spread exposure in the movie, End Of Days with the song, “Slow,” much was expected from Professional Murder Music. But when their debut album hit the shelves, the end product left many wondering what happened.
With grinding guitars mixed with growling vocals and thumping percussions, “Slow” was more about creation and moving away from industrial rock and new metal than imitation, but of all of the possibilities that “Slow” offered for PMM, none appear on their first album.
Combining heavy, electronic, and organic elements for an overall chaotic atmosphere of melody, PMM manage effective tracks despite the let down. “Does It Dream,” poses questions and searches for answers across ballad-like vocals and blasting guitars, while “Darker,” is an overall spooky song backed by deep-raspy vocals and a twisted style of guitar playing.
The soaring guitars on “Fall Again” pay homage to industrial rock as frontman Roman Marisak winces in pain while falling to the place where dreams are his only comfort. Sounding like it could be a stolen track from Antichrist Superstar, “Of Unknown Origin” showcases Marisak’s strong vocal resemblance to Marilyn Manson, whereas “Sleep Deprivation” sounds like they’re mimicking Powerman 5000.
Their debut is definitely listenable, but had the band kept with the originality of “Slow” on the other 11 tracks their future might be a bit brighter.
— Chris Powell
For those who were first introduced to the Verve Pipe through their hit single, “Freshman,” Underneath may come as a surprise. Gone are the dark, melancholy lyrics that underlie their first mainstream single, and the album can be summed up in one word: catchy.
The Michigan foursome tackle issues of love and relationships through ballads and appealing pop tracks. The album is endearing, but the group failed to take any risks this time around. An overabundance of saccharine-sweet songs requiring little interpretation is peppered throughout the album. They have a simple, yet memorable structure, giving them radio-friendly potential.
“Never Let you Down” is infectiously upbeat, an obvious pick for the first single. “Only Words” and “I Want All Of You” are equally buoyant. Perhaps the most impressive tracks are “Medicate Myself,” “Wonderful Waste” and “Local Boys,” which are hard-rocking tracks full of vitality. After all, we must remember “verve” means “energy and liveliness” and the name is not overextended on the Verve Pipe, who seem almost guaranteed to reclaim their position in today’s music scene.
— Kara Deniz
Not much can be said about Hex Appeal, The Wonton’s debut full-length CD, except … “Do the Wonton!” The band’s theme song will prove to be this year’s rock ‘n’ roll anthem. It has some of the catchiest hooks of the past decade – imagine if “Twist and Shout” mixed with the Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia.” It sounds like a combination that wouldn’t work, but singer/songwriter Dean Hsieh pulls it off.
Although the CD sounds quite dated (think the Ramones’ debut album), the songs are catchy and fun. “No-Goodnik” has the spunky quirkiness of old Queers, while an ’80s goth/new-wave influence slithers into “Snake Eyes.” The Austin, Texas trio stays interesting by infusing different styles into their trashy-punk concoction.
Hex Appeal is 40 minutes of bad ass attitude complete with black makeup and dog collars. If you’re in the mood for an extra punkin’ good time, make sure to get this CD, which comes complete with the “Do the Wonton” video. It’ll change your life.
— Neal Ramirez and Jeremy Smith
The Wontons will play The Balcony Nov. 10.
Rudy Ratzinger is one sick motherfucker. Sick in that he has a penchant for decorating CDs with photographs of corpses in decay. Sick in that his lyrical themes tend to center around hell, blood, death and agony. And sick in that his uber-dark industrial outfit :wumpscut: cranks out some of the most abrasive music you will ever listen to.
“Opening the Gates of Hell” is a typical :wumpscut: distorto-synth opener a la “Golgotha” (from 1997s Embryodead) or “Soylent Green” (see 1993s Music For A Slaughtering Tribe). Keys brood, Ratzinger shrieks, loops groove … it’s insane. The title track later slows things down, but doesn’t soften the mood, as blast-drum beats kick on entrancing vocoder-laced vocals. Then there’s the brutal and blasphemous “Christfuck” which is just too cool for words.
Unfortunately, the momentum doesn’t fully maintain throughout the album. The dragging “Line Of Corpses” tries the listener’s patience, and the token pissed-off-goth-chick-spoken-word cut, “Dr. Thodt,” is just plain annoying. It’s not a perfect set. It’s not as solid as some of Ratzinger’s previous efforts. But it’s oh so heavy. It’s sick. You just gotta hear it.