CD reviews

This week’s CD reviews are on: >> Cornelius >> Neil Halstead >> Hoobastank >> Raul Malo >> No Doubt >> The Extra Glenns >> Huon >> Elastica Cornelius Point (Matador) The term “song writer” certainly

This week’s CD reviews are on:
>> Cornelius
>> Neil Halstead
>> Hoobastank
>> Raul Malo
>> No Doubt
>> The Extra Glenns
>> Huon
>> Elastica

The term “song writer” certainly does not apply to Cornelius. Light on lyrics, heavy on sounds, “song constructor” would be a more appropriate title. He knows his way around a studio, and on Point, he sure shows it.

Resting layers of static over the chime of acoustic guitars, Cornelius’ cut-and-paste style is used to good effect. One would hesitate to say Point has a frantic quality to it, but the album is full of heart and enthusiasm not usually found in such complex studio work.

Surprisingly, though, Cornelius gets away from the snot-nosed stigma of random noise as the album progresses, favoring a gentle rise into peppy loops and melodies. With Point, Cornelius accomplishes a rare feat in creating a studio-oriented recording that draws listeners in instead of alienating them.

Unfortunately, Cornelius does have some trouble getting away from goofiness. The panning of lyrics “Left,” and “Right,” into their respective speakers is a little too cutesy for its own good. The occasional cheap laugh aside, however, Point represents a much needed maturing for Cornelius and modern studio craft as well.
—Robert James Algeo

Neil Halstead
Sleeping on Roads
If Jack Kerouac had been a folk musician, chances are he would have made a record like Sleeping on Roads, the solo debut from Neil Halstead.

Having led the shoegaze masters Slowdive and Dylan-adoring Mojave 3, Halstead — practically a modern Nick Drake — has composed a fine collection of songs for the traveler in all of us. Though the albums features other performers — Mojave mainstay Ian McCutcheon’s impassioned drumming and soaring trumpet by Mark Armstrong are particularly noteworthy — this album is really Halstead’s show.

From the daydreamy “Two Stones in my Pocket” to the sentimental “Hi-Lo and Inbetween” (which could have fit perfectly in the post plane crash-scare scene from Almost Famous), Sleeping on Roads includes some of Halstead’s most poignant songs.
—Neal Ramirez

Passionately produced, Hoobastank’s 12 track self-titled debut reflects their Southern California roots with a funky trance rock sound similar to Incubus, but with the additional electric influence of Faith No More, Phish, Tool and Guns N’ Roses.

With flavored vocals and wild instrumentation Hoobastank succeeds with impressive song structure, divergent sounds and funky grooves. It’s an album highlighted by enjoyable songs that grow on you with each spin.

What keeps you listening is the search for the light. Hoobastank’s message is hard to piece together, from the dramatic vocals and folk sounding guitars on “Running Away” to the more intense sound of “Pieces.” One doesn’t know whether this is an album laced with dashed hopes and broken dreams or the steps towards recovery. Maybe it’s both, but regardless, it is their first single, “Crawling In The Dark,” that serves as the hook baited just right for success.
—Chris Powell

Raul Malo
(Higher Octave)
Raul Malo insists that The Mavericks haven’t broken up, that they’re just on hiatus, that he loves the country persuasion of the Nashville band he founded in the early 1990s, but always felt limited by it.

On his solo debut, Malo couples the country sound he’s known for with the latin music he grew up with. The result: an eclectic but uneven collection of English and Spanish language ballads. Malo’s voice is as strong as ever, crooning at times like Orbison, belting at others like Sinatra. But while the Spanish-language tracks are a joy to the ear, the others are rigidly structured and make for tedious listening.

The title-track, with a catchy chorus and salsa beat, is the exception. But even on this track — like many of the others — the production is sloppy, with many unnecessary sound effects detracting from the song. A promising cover of the Ray Charles/Betty Carter duet “Takes Two to Tango” with Shelby Lynne is also laden with errors.

Malo makes a good effort with this album, but seems a bit over his head. With The Mavericks he has songwriting and production help. On Today he goes it alone, and achieves mixed results.
—Jesse Chadderdon

No Doubt
Rock Steady
(Interscope Records)
Of all of the flash-in-the-pan alternative bands that existed in the 1990s, it seemed quite certain that No Doubt would have been one of them. Ten years later, however, Gwen Stefani and company have grown from a somewhat awkward pseudo-ska act to true pop ingĂ©nues. On their latest, Rock Steady, the group eases from one genre into another without showing a bit of strain. The overall style is reminiscent of ’80s albums by Cyndi Lauper and Prince (who guest-produces “Waiting Room”) where the performers transcended style with their attitude and enthusiasm. Everything from dancehall to Nellee Hooper-produced disco is thrown in the mix and the theme is predominantly Gwen’s rekindled romance with Bush’s Gavin Rossdale, making Rock a kind of anti-Return of Saturn. While there are a couple of songs that slow the groove down (“Running”) the majority of the album is high-energy new wave all the way.
—Maureen Walsh

The Extra Glenns
Martial Arts Weekend
(Absolutely Kosher)
John Darnielle, frontman for the best indie band of the ’90s, The Mountain Goats, is a genius when it comes to the creation of riveting musical compositions. Academaniac Franklin Bruno, leader of Nothing Painted Blue and Darnielle’s partner in the Extra Glenns, is literally a genius. Get the two together and the results sound great, right?

Right. Martial Arts Weekend is the sound of hundreds of songs being written, sung fervently, written again (sometimes better) and sung again. With jazzy piano on “Twelve Hands High” and lush guitar on “The River Song,” these Glenns play like the matured sounds we never thought Darnielle would commit to tape. If you don’t know what the music of John Darnielle is about, imagine the acoustic-punk equivalent of a first-love orgasm and repeat that 19 times on one album. The Extra Glenns is a bit more like sex with an old lover: not as earth-shattering, but still damn good.
—Neal Ramirez

Answers to Lucky
(Animal World/Dutch Courage)
You’d be hard pressed to find an Australian or New Zealand band in Jonathan Valania’s “Rock Snob Encyclopedia,” but Huon’s latest CD offers a first hand idea of how they rock it down under.

This Melbourne quartet, which features members of The Cannanes and The Cat’s Miaow, recalls the bare-boned sound of greats like Look Blue Go Purple and early Go-Betweens.

Every song sounds like it was recorded in a basement in 1984, and the same love of discordant post-punk and sha-la-la pop that infused The Clean gets these guys all excited, too. The songs may seem “same-y,” but the age-old argument of “at least it’s a good song” rings true.

With Casio keyboards and bucket stomp drumming, there’s not much to dislike about Huon.
—Neal Ramirez

The Radio One Sessions
(Strange Fruit/BBC)
A part of Elastica’s goodbye present to its fans, The BBC Sessions could be one reason to believe that they may have been one of the greatest punk/pop bands in recent history. Sessions chronicles the band’s evolution from indie darlings to Public Enemy Number One by the critics. The disapproval of their slightly new sound (I mean, were the lyrics in “Generator” any less deep than those in “Vaseline”?) was what eventually did Elastica in, as they lost a multitude of fans and finally dissolved. The incentive for getting this CD is the rough yet excellent versions of album tracks, sans some of the hits (Justine Frischman didn’t believe in plugging singles) and the non-album tracks that appear here. Now that the dust and hype has settled around this band, you can relax and listen to some great rock tunes by a group that was more than “Damon’s girlfriend’s band.”
—Maureen Walsh

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