generationalsconlawNew Orleans based band Generationals makes its debut with Con Law, a stylish indie pop record that plays mix and match with genres, mostly New Wave style guitar and electropop as filtered through the 60’s, and sometimes vice versa. The retro pop field is admittedly pretty populated these days, but by adding in touches like a horn section and some soulful vocals, the band creates a big, diverse sound, and are able to keep things interesting from track to track. Con Law is a fun, very summery album, and recommended for indie pop and electropop fans. Standout cuts: “Nobody Could Change Your Mind,” “When They Fight, They Fight,” “Our Time 2 Shine” and “Exterior Street Day.”

http://www.myspace.com/generationals

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sthelensA band that sounds like equal parts the Velvet Underground, early Sonic Youth and the Brian Jonestown Massacre? I’m in! Australian band St Helens’ new album pulls together a number of familiar influences into something that somehow gels into a dark, seductive but still strangely fun set of music. The general feel of the album, lyrics included, is jaded and somewhat sinister, an overall mood that’s tempered by a wit that makes itself known without being overbearing. Heavy Profession is a pretty cool, confident debut, not without its flaws or missteps, particularly in its second half, but it’s certainly a record full of promise and one that offers up a lot of pleasure in the present. Standout cuts: “Don’t Laugh,” “How To Choose Your Guru Pt 2,” “Coffin Scratch” and “Get Up.”

http://www.myspace.com/sthelens

drugrugFor the first four tracks, Cambridge based band Drug Rug sound strikingly as if Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac had gone back in time and formed a psychedelic folk band with echoes of the Mamas and the Papas; later, they sound like Melanie trying her hand at the psychedelic folk thing. I don’t mean that in any way as a criticism because Drug Rug’s second album, Paint The Fence Invisible, is one of the most pleasing collection of songs I’ve heard all year. There’s such a bittersweet, earnest vibe to the whole enterprise that I bought into it pretty much immediately. I love the harmonies, the inventive arrangements that begin with an acoustic guitar foundation and are layered upon with various psychedelic and pop touches, and I love the savvy blend of folk, blues, rock and pop. It’s a groovy psychedelic pop pleasure from start to finish, and I highly recommend it. Standout cuts: “Haunting You,” “Never Tell,” “Hannah Please” and “Don’t Be Frightened Of The Devil.”

http://www.myspace.com/drugrugdude

lightningdustHad the Chemical Brothers collaborated with Mazzy Star instead of Beth Orton, the result might’ve sounded something along the lines of British Columbia based Lightning Dust’s second album, Infinite Light, which is a captivating fusion of folk rock, 70’s era country rock, soul, experimental pop and electronica elements. Amber Webber and Joshua Wells, who also sing and play in the very dissimilar band Black Mountain and the somewhat less dissimilar Pink Mountaintops, front Lightning Dust, with Webber’s powerful, quavering voice providing most of the lead vocals. (Wells duets with her on “Honest Man.”) The music ranges from very intimate sounding to epic and richly atmospheric, and the lyrics are moody and often quite dark, though the overall experience of listening to the album is hardly depressing. Instead, Infinite Light is inspiring in the way good music can be. It’s a uniquely beautiful, somewhat unsettling but always worthwhile musical experience from two artists making some of the best, most creative and deeply affecting music on the indie scene right now. Standout cuts: “Antonia Jane,” “I Knew,” “The Times” and “Never Seen.”

http://www.myspace.com/lightningdust

Blue Roses

July 28, 2009

bluerosesThe LP debut of UK artist Blue Roses (Laura Groves) evokes musicians as varied as the Fairport Convention, Jane Siberry and Everything But The Girl, as well as acknowledged influences such as Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and the Cocteau Twins. It’s solidly in a folk tradition, with some classical and electronic music flourishes, and its broad range of influences keep things interesting, sometimes surprising, from track to track. It’s got just the right amount of elegance, inventiveness and quirkiness to recommend it to folk and chamber pop fans. It’ll make a perfect soundtrack to an early summer evening. Standout cuts: “Greatest Thoughts,” “I Am Leaving,” “Coast” and “Doubtful Comforts.”

http://www.myspace.com/musicofblueroses

portugalthemanForget the numerous album reissues being released in time for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock: Here’s your soundtrack for the Summer of Love circa 2009, Alaska based band Portgual. The Man’s latest record, The Satanic Satanist. It’s a potent blend of rock, psychedelic folk, soul and experimental pop, as evocative of the free spirited, groundbreaking music of the 60’s as any endlessly played and overplayed reissue. The Satanic Satanist is packed with musical ideas, so much so that it seems a longer album than its 35 minute running time would seem to indicate. And despite my retro comparisons, it’s a very modern sounding, forward thinking indie pop record, and one of the most enjoyable, addictive and listenable released so far this year. Standout cuts: “People Say,” “Work All Day,” “The Sun” and “The Woods.”

http://www.myspace.com/portugaltheman

watchmenblurayAs I’ve already done a complete review of Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the Alan Moore penned, Dave Gibbons illustrated graphic novel Watchmen, to be found here, and as this director’s cut of the movie, released to DVD and Blu-ray this week doesn’t alter my fundamental opinion of the movie, I won’t repeat myself for this review. Suffice to say, I still regard it as one of the very best superhero themed films I’ve seen to date, and as of this writing, one of the best films of 2009. This director’s cut, which I saw as part of a Zack Snyder moderated live screening at Comic Con in San Diego on July 25, broadcast via the BD-Live feature on the Blu-ray, features 24 minutes of extra footage, though that doesn’t include the Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood footage. The latter footage will presumably be worked into an even longer cut, suggestions of which were evident in this current cut. (Snyder pointed out a transition point between Freighter and the greater narrative.) The most significant new footage, initially cut for time, is a striking sequence detailing the fate of the characters. Other footage added to the film extends some scenes, adding more dialogue here and there, and generally adding more character and story detail. Though the director’s cut has a running time in excess of three hours, it doesn’t feel significantly longer than the theatrical cut, which is a credit to the skill with which the additional footage has been woven in. All in all, it’s an excellent movie made better.

With regard to the BD-Live aspect of the screening, it was essentially the movie featuring a gray chat box superimposed over the top of the frame, with Snyder making comments and taking questions about the movie as it unfolded. When he wasn’t gushing over his cast and crew, he was enthusiastic and funny, and provided a frequently insightful and often funny commentary. It would have been nice to have had more of a sense of the atmosphere at the Comic Con screening, perhaps an audience shot or two, or even sound piped in from it, but otherwise it was an interesting, mostly successful experiment.

MONKEY RATING: ONE WATCHMEN MONKEY

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

imgoingawayThough the new album from Brooklyn based band the Fiery Furnaces lacks a unifying conceptual theme, it’s tied together by a jazzy pop sound. There are also a number of nods to the past, starting with the title track, a newly arranged “traditional,” but continuing on tracks like “Charmaine Champagne” and its companion song “Cups & Punches.” Though there’s still a pretty strong art rock feeling to the whole proceedings, mostly I’m Going Away, despite it’s somewhat grim title, is a pretty lightweight, easygoing and fun affair. I liked the first half better than the second half, but that said, the times I’ve listened to it, I’ve ended up listening to it all the way through. Not sure this is a breakthrough album for the Fiery Furnaces, though it’s certainly enjoyable for the most part. Standout cuts: “Drive To Dallas,” “The End Is Near,” “Charmaine Champagne” and “Keep Me In The Dark.”

http://www.thefieryfurnaces.com/site/

missderringerIf you can imagine a really poppy X, or a Blondie produced by 60’s era Phil Spector, that’s what you’re in for with Southern California based band Miss Derringer’s third album, Winter Hill. Fronted by Liz McGrath and Morgan Slade, the band blends bluesy Americana, rockabilly, surf music, 60’s girl group music and a bit of punk into slickly produced indie pop tunes. The best songs, “Click Click (Bang Bang),” “Bulletproof Heart,” “Black Tears” and “Heartbreaks & Razorblades,” hit on just the right mixture of the above influences. Considering Miss Derringer’s influences, one would think the music on Winter Hill would have a bit more grit and fire, but alas, those qualities are mostly in short supply, which is a bit of a disappointment. However, if you can forgive the album for its lack of edginess and embrace its poppiness within, Winter Hill may be the album for you.

http://www.myspace.com/missderringer

Those Darlins

July 19, 2009

thosedarlinsWickedly entertaining self-titled debut from Tennessee based band Those Darlins (Jessi Darlin, Nikki Darlin, and Kelley Darlin), featuring twelve odes mostly to wild and dubious behavior of various sorts, frequently alcohol or lust fueled, or both, though there is a tribute to Mama thrown in as well. The songs, often done in three part harmonies, are raucous, a little dirty minded, but also immediately infectious and just plain fun. They seem a bit like the West Coast’s the Hot Toddies, except working in a country vein. And like that band, they’re impressively talented musicians with a real flair for a pop hook. Call it country, cowpunk or rockabilly, but if you’re a fan of one or all of the above, you should give Those Darlins a listen. Standout cuts: “Red Light Love,” “Wild One,” “Cannonball Blues” and “Snaggle Tooth Mama.”

http://www.myspace.com/darlins