lordnewbornI’m very much a fan of Shawn Lee’s work, so the idea of a collaboration between him, Money Mark and Tommy Guerrero sounded pretty great. And having now heard the results, I was not let down. The record features twelve tracks, largely instrumental, and is an eclectic, highly addictive and utterly entertaining mix of jazz, funk, soul, electronica and prog rock, with an array of world music influences added here and there, and there are some video game music and sounds to boot. The recording session for Lord Newborn and the Magic Skulls lasted just two weeks at Money Mark’s Los Angeles studio, amazing considering no aspect of the album seems tossed off or otherwise rushed. There is a sense of fun and playfulness about the whole proceedings, which adds to the enjoyment. If some of it sounds like elements of a soundtrack to a film you think you might have seen, it’s because all the composers have done film work. (Lee also scored the video game Bully.) Recommended for fans of the individual artist, and for those looking for moody, cool sounding theme music for their groovy lives. Standout cuts: “Astro Blue,” “Dime Bag Conspiracy,” “She’s My Melody” and “Crazy Apartment.”


Astra – The Weirding

June 19, 2009

astraAccording to the label that’s releasing it, San Diego based band (and “New Gods Of Psychedelic Prog” and “cosmic masters”) Astra’s debut album, The Weirding, has “Guaranteed Cult Status” written all over it. All of that is known as “the hard sell,” but fortunately for Astra, The Weirding is a pretty solid debut, maybe not strong enough to elevate them to immediate rock god status, but filled with enough promise to pay them some attention. Just so you know where they’re coming from, here’s a band picture:


That’s right, direct from the early 70’s, in spirit, anyway. I can’t say I’ve ever been very fond of prog rock via its early originators, but I’m finding I don’t mind modern practitioners of it at all, and in fact, I really enjoy quite a lot of it. Part of it is owing to the fact that while a lot of the current music, Astra’s included, sounds retro, it’s in fact a kind of blending of prog, psychedelic rock and metal that didn’t quite exist at the time. Astra specializes in the long song, and really that’s where they best show off their stuff, as they are skilled at filling an epic sized space without resorting to silly melodramatics, instead replying on solid musicianship and a keen ear for complex, layered melodies. The two highlights of the record, “The Weirding” and especially “Ouroboros,” are worth the price of admission alone, and take up almost half of the album’s running time by themselves. “Beyond to Slight the Maze” is a good closer, clocking in at just over 11 minutes. Also in Astra’s favor is that they don’t take themselves so seriously that their music drifts into pretentiousness. At its core, it’s good rock and roll fun from a band that knows and respects its influences as well as its likely core fan base.


Parts & Labor – Receivers

October 22, 2008

The new album from Brooklyn based band Parts & Labor is a consistently surprising effort, combining noise, prog and psychedelic rock, often with 70’s heavy metal guitar backdrop, into an experimental mix that for the first half of the album often doesn’t even seem like the same band from track to track. They also layer on some electronic flourishes and display a real talent for a pop hook, as with the irresistible “Nowheres Nigh.” Things slow down a bit at the midpoint with “The Ceasing Now,” but pick up again with the somewhat regal sounding ballad “Wedding In A Wasteland” and the prog rock workout “Prefix Now,” both of which have an epic sweep about them. This is a pretty cool record, and having not listened to Parts & Labor in the past, this was an unexpected pleasure. Standout cuts: “Satellites,” “Nowheres Nigh,” “Mount Misery” and “Wedding In A Wasteland.”


tapesntapeswalkitoffWalk It Off, the second album from Minneapolis based band Tapes ‘n Tapes has apparently divided fans between those who see this as a progression, and those who see this as a sophomore slump. I finally got a chance to listen to it myself, and I fall firmly into the former camp. It’s a skilled mix of alt-rock by way of bands like the Pixies, along with some acid, psychedelic and prog rock thrown in for good measure, which makes for a very dynamic and all around pretty terrific rock record. It especially catches on fire with tracks 7 and 8, “Demon Apple” and “Blunt,” but the whole album is worth your listening ear. As soon as I finished listening to it, I immediately started back at track one. Good stuff, and definitely play loud! Standout cuts: “Hang Them All, “Conquest,” “Blunt” and “Anvil.”


Startlingly good second album from British Columbia based band Black Mountain mixes elements from bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Sweet and other 70’s influences into music that’s part hard rock, part psychedelic, part progressive, part folk. Whatever you want to call the result, the soaring male and female vocals, big guitars and synths create a sound that’s powerful and beautiful and so, so very heavy. Though Black Mountain wears their influences on their sleeves, you haven’t quite heard anything like what they’ve come up with on In The Future, which reaches a delirious peak with the epic nearly 17 minute long “Bright Lights.” This is an early contender for album of the year, and it’s not even the end of January yet. There’s not a dud to be found on the 57 minute LP, but highlights include the aforementioned “Bright Lights,” the opener “Stormy High,” “Wucan” and “Queens Will Play.”