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July 06

BETWEEN THE BURIED AND MEZOXDASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL
WOLFMOTHERKEANEELANJOHN ELLIS

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Between the Buried and Me
The Anatomy Of
Victory Records

North Carolina’s “metalcore” semi-star band Between the Buried and Me put out one of the better albums (for what’s called heavy metal these days…), The Silent Circus several years ago, which according to the stupid one-page promo-thingy that comes with every freakin’ band nowadays reached “prolific, underground cult status”.

Well, whatever that means, these five guys (including vocalist Tommy Rogers and Paul Waggoner on guitar) have taken the rather daring and ultimately…mediocre challenge of releasing an album of 14, count-em 14 classic covers from other bands, all called classics of heavy metal.

Now, having spent numerous hours in bars discussing the various merits of numerous musical genres (while drinking numerous beers), the unqualified “mutant-bastard-living-in-the-basement” of them all has to be heavy metal. Sometimes awesome (any AC/DC, early Black Sabbath, etc.), sometimes weak (any ‘80s hair band), metal has often hung on through the decades by the edge of its painted-black fingernails.

Unfortunately, it’s now currently a dumping ground for just about anything that isn’t pop music.

Take these guy’s pick of “famous metal” songs to cover: the first track is Blackened, a true metal uberweight from whiner-boys Metallica (but still surely a classic), followed by Motley Crue (sure, maybe they’re Umlat-metal, but acceptable), then Soundgarden (they seem a little more like R’n’R than metal, but okay…), all leading up to one of the heaviest metal bands EVER…Queen! Queen?

WTF?

Strange as that choice is, the songs just gets weirder. Is Smashing Pumpkins a metal band? Depeche Mode? Counting Crows? Pink Floyd? All this proves is that pop music (in the Jessica-Brittany-Clarkson tartly singer mode) is now considered “rock and roll”, whilst anything not involving campy singing and dancing is now considered heavy metal, which is, as Penn and Teller might say, complete bullshit. Got it?

Anyway, the covers here range from horrific emo versions (“Blackened”) to almost admirable covers (“Bicycle Race”), but since the whole CD has a flat, muddy sound that seems like they rushed to get this thing out, even in this half-baked form, it’s hard to care about the results. These guys would be served better to pump out more originals, and leave the metal to the people that know it best, like this reviewer’s favorite head-rockers, Tiny Tim and Weird Al. www.betweentheburiedandme.comBrandon Whitehead (posted 07/28/06)


 

Zox
The Wait
SideOneDummy Records

When marketing for a band compares their sound to The Cure and Sublime, people have reason to be suspicious given the vast difference between the references. Bad news? Zox isn't quite either. Good news? Zox can ditch the marketing pitch and stand on their musical merits.

The band's DNA blends ska and punk, violin and beats, and bass into a polished pop production with catchy rock hooks. "Carolyn" is a jaunty tune with upbeat harmony, a percolating bass line, pogo stick drumbeats and dramatic violin. "Little More Time" harks back to The Cars with less new wave, more lite-ska. A simple plea to give a little more time leads into more descriptive lyrics your skin is glass in the dashboard lights. Spencer Swain's violin weaves into the sound without becoming shrill and adds distinction to the sound.

"Anything but Fine" is a subdued yet anxious ballad with an aching, insistent chorus. Again, fine lyrics drop in to perk up the ears. You said that words can only get you so far / But I've got sentences that cover up all my scars.

Zox infuses each iPod worthy song with distinctive arrangements from the fast-paced "Bridge Burning" to the romping "Can't Look Down." The final track "I Am Only Waiting" borrows atmosphere and bass line influences from U2's "With or Without You." Admittedly, a casual listener can isolate musical antecedents from other established groups on these thirteen tracks. However, these songs establish a distinct footprint under the band's Sesame Street-like moniker with repeated listens. —Pete Dulin (posted 07/28/06)


Dashboard Confesssional
Dusk and Summer
Vagrant

Singer Chris Carrabba reaches back to his roots for a stripped down songwriting style, then builds on the sound with the backing of his band and production from the likes of Don Gilmore (Pearl Jam, Linkin Park) and Daniel Lanois (U2).

When Carrabba collaborated with Gilmore, he wrote six songs in four days, comprising most of the ten tracks on Dusk and Summer. "Don‚t Wait" eases into the ears with an ooh-aah chorus behind Carrabba's insistent plea to "lay your armor down." Crashing drums and reverberating guitar also draw you in after repeated listens.

"The Secret's in the Telling" bursts forward with punchy drum work by Mike Marsh. Consistently, Carrabba pens engaging lyrics that underpin the growth and diversity of the band's overall delivery. "Stolen" slows the tempo as the singer admits, "You have stolen my heart" without veering into sappiness. Another pensive tune, "So Long, So Long," features Carrabba in a duet with influential guest Adam Duritz (Counting Crows). This piano-led tune is well constructed as it unfolds with a pretty and delicate sound that bears a direct link to Duritz' footprints.

Rather than rock out completely, Dashboard Confessional assembles songs that demonstrate maturity in their style. "Slow Decay" holds together with a pulsing bass line, chugging guitar, and vocals that speak, soar and simmer down. Title track "Dusk and Summer" is the sole acoustic track written in the band's classic style, an aching end-of-season heartbreaker that hangs in the air. Closing track "Heaven is Here" clunks with a metallic, hammering beat that distracts until keyboards, vocals and guitars override the clang and clatter. Dusk and Summer signals artistic growth in Carrabba and makes Dashboard Confessional worth a listen. — Pete Dulin (posted 07/21/06)


Wolfmother
Wolfmother
Interscope Records

Since Interscope Records has lately seemed hell-bent to corner the emo/scremo market (presumably before it loses its already questionable market value — after all, there are only so many shallow, self-absorbed 15 year olds out there — finding a rock band like Wolfmother in the middle of their latest steaming pile of…ahem, new albums was like finding a gold coin hidden inside some dried up dog poop.

Driven by some fantastic rock-anthem guitar/vocals work by Andrew Stockdale and some tasty drums from Miles Heskett, which are matched perfectly with Chris Ross’s fluid bass and keyboards, the result is so much good stuff here it’s hard to figure out where to start.

While this lil’ ol’ reviewer boy is seldom given to overt praise (although I’m sure that’s just me’ and not the present completely pathetic state of the entire music industry as a whole…right?), this Australian power-trio could give Led Zeppelin in their prime a run for their money.

Stockdale seems to be channeling the bastard son of Robert Plant, while Ross’s keyboards make Specter’s “Wall of Sound” look like a tiny little hedge. The stand out single “Woman” (which they played recently on the Letterman Show, proving that Dave still rules!) is pure ‘70s power rock, while songs like “Vagabond” has a distinctly Pink Floyd super-psyadelia sound.

No matter what animal they give birth too, Wolfmother chases all others off the stage with their very, very big teeth, and power-chord their way to blowin’ the house down. www.wolfmother.comBrandon Whitehead (posted 07/14/06)


Keane
Under the Iron Sea
Interscope Records

Under the Iron Sea attempts to soar for dramatic heights propelled by Tom Chapin's vocals, moody piano notes, and studio production. "Atlantic" addresses the anxiety of age and loneliness with a slow buildup that sets the atmospheric tone for the rest of the release. Fans dedicated to Chapin's nasally vocals and the calculated dramatic air of Keane's past material might latch on to more of the same here.

The songs veer between vaporous emo and near anthem without the conviction expected of a 2006 Grammy nominee. "Is it Any Wonder?" bursts forth with driving guitar and drums, but sounds like U2-lite in All That You Can't Leave Behind without Bono's charisma or Edge's aptitude. "Leaving So Soon?" also winds into a faster tempo, but never quite shifts into the right gear that might leave a listener breathless.

Slower ballads puff into shape with Chapin's breathy efforts, but carry little substance. "Crystal Ball" seems ready-made for play in a stadium with a mid-tempo guitar and a snappy beat yet push only so far. "Broken Toy" breaks from the rest of the material with a snaky bass line that winds in and around the laconic drum and nervy keys. Then the lyrics drift in and suggest something profound, but do not quite say enough. —Pete Dulin. (posted 07/14/06)


Elan
Together as One
Interscope Records

Elan earned his chops as lead singer for the legendary Wailers for three years. His charismatic voice invokes Bob Marley, but his ambition extends beyond association with an icon.

Elan assembles island sounds, modern reggae and dance club beats backed by impressive contributors. Executive producer Tony Kanal (No Doubt) and the legendary team Sly and Robbie bring masterful production to the show. Up-and-coming star and Jamaican DJ Assassin bolsters the driving beat as Elan goes for the "Girl." Elan asks why "You Don't Come Around No More" as Cutty Ranks, reels off possible reasons. No cash flow, pockets run low, hmm, maybe so. It-girl Gwen Stefani trades lyrical licks with Elan on "Allnighter," a classic summer-love pop song.

Elan's convictions come forth on other tracks without guests. "I Wanna Yell" hollers about injustice and violence. I wanna yell when dem take away your dignity / No respect for humanity / How can we just let it be. "We Won't Stand For This" begins with a burbling New Wave synth line underneath Elan's hopeful vocal assertion. "Together As One" builds into an anthem with a stripped sound.

Guitar, lean beat and earnest vocals underpin Elan's philosophical beliefs. This artist works enough angles — sexy club cuts, kindred spirit love songs, and call-to-arms brotherhood ballads — to keep this disc spinning all summer long. —Pete Dulin. (posted 06/30/06)


John Ellis
By a Thread
Hyena Records

John Ellis threads bright jazz notes across the room and through the imagination with his deft phrasing. "Ferris Wheel" opens his new release with darting soprano saxophone notes. Backed by his quintet, Ellis delivers vibrant melodies that quicken the pulse some moments; then slips into a slow funk at others. Notably, Ellis alternates between soprano and tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and ocarina, never losing a step.

"Tall Drink of Water" builds on a rattling drumbeat and bass line strutting like an alley cat then Ellis saunters around the neighborhood. "Lonnie" shoots for a slinky groove that demonstrates a fluid interplay between crisp horn and nimble blurts on guitar and keyboards, held down by button-tight syncopation. "Umpty Eleven" shuffles along on a carefree harmony. "Little Giggles" conjures a sunny melody far from sappy sweet. Ellis' gentle tone soars and rises above an infectious bass and understated piano.

More pluck than precariousness, these amiable and engaging compositions keeps the listener alert, attuned even, gladly hanging By a Thread. —Pete Dulin. (posted 06/30/06)


 
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