CD Impressions: September 19, 2009


Welcome to another edition of CD Impressions, the bi-weekly feature at JPP that allows the music writers to offer brief opinions and critiques on recent albums. On the plate this time are the latest releases from prog-rockers the Mars Volta, the noisy garage outfit Japandroids, screamo vets Poison the Well, rapper Kid Cudi, and bluesy alt-rockers Band of Skulls.

Artist: Japandroids
Label: Unfamiliar
Release Date: 04/08/09
8 out of 10

Two guys—a guitarist who loves simple chords and a foot locked onto the fuzzbox (Brian King), a drummer less inclined to keep a tap-tap beat than to plow through a hundred fills that vaporizes any sense of rhythm (David Prowse)—one goofy name. They carry a torch for garage, but also subscribe to the deafening reverb of the new wave of noise rockers out there who like to slip in a little melody. It doesn’t matter that you can hardly understand what they’re singing in unison since their voices sound garbled and off-key whenever they simply don’t shout, and the lyrics are exceedingly simple, even sentimentally bland (example: “She had wet hair/Say what you will/I don’t care/I couldn’t resist it”), but these apparent detriments only add offbeat charm to their arsenal of appealing elements.

Impenetrable and loud as they are, the songs quickly emerge from the static swamp as properly jowly anthems, shout-alongs that’ll make you want to shove through a crowd with a sloppy grin on your face. Like shoegaze gunned into overdrive or pop spiraling dizzily after a month spinning in the dryer collecting lint, their emphasis on simplicity amplified to extremes is nothing novel, but they do it about as well as any other hipster-darling buzz band. Replays help unwrap the melodies, but catchy winners like the hardcore-derived “Heart Sweats” (with a great groove despite the absence of a bassline), the distortion-drenched power pop ditty “Wet Hair,” and the grinding, mid-tempo ballad “I Quit Girls” will snare you immediately. (Matt Medlock)

tropicrotThe Tropic Rot
Artist: Poison the Well
Label: Ferret
Release Date: 07/07/09
5 out of 10

The Tropic Rot by screamo veterans Poison the Well is a muddled album; it's partially good and partially bad. The first problem is frontman Jeffery Moreira, whose lyrics, and lyrical phrasing, only hit the mark half the time. Sometimes he'll try to squeeze a multi-syllable word into one musical phrase, or he'll get too wordy and have to stretch one line across two phrases. The awkwardness of those moments kill any momentum the song had gathered. Moreira also has a little bit of a frontman syndrome: the affliction where the lead singer of a band feels the need to be constantly doing something. Thankfully, Moreira settles down on the second half of the disc and lets the band do their thing. The second problem is the music behind Jeffery.

Screamo isn't known for it's lyrical depth, so it's up to the music to be the substance in the disc. It's kind of like a cupcake with sprinkles. The cupcake is what really draws people in, with the sprinkles just being a nice-looking decoration. Unfortunately with The Tropic Rot, only half of the cupcake is fully baked. Tracks one through five feel entirely different than tracks six through eleven; it's almost as if Poison the Well slapped two EPs together. The first five tracks have a more atmospheric feel to them. They are very reminiscent of symphonic black metal, White Pony/Deftones-era Deftones, and countless late '90s post-grunge bands, but they never go anywhere. There is one idea per song, and once that idea is over the song is over. It's not until the remaining six tracks that Poison the Well incorporate groove, experimentation, and some nice headbanging rock into the mix. Taken as a whole, this is a half-and-half niche album. It's half good, and it's not going to convert anyone. If you're already into screamo, you'll like it, but there's not any reason for someone outside of that niche to pick this up. (Ryan Quinn)

babydarlingBaby Darling Doll Face Honey
Artist: Band of Skulls
Label: Shangri-La
Release Date: 28/07/09
5 out of 10

Band of Skulls sounds like they love their record collections. If there’s a unique identity to discover here, it’s a thesis-through-demonstration that rock n’ roll is malleable. They bravely (and sometimes successfully) take on their idols, which isn’t necessarily an unfortunate thing—I was going to say that several tracks sound recycled from the White Stripes, but they in turn were aping swamp blues, early garage and Led Zeppelin—but the lack of focus results in a predictable criticism: all over the place and only some of ‘em stick. Winners include the psychedelic stomper “Bomb,” the folk ballad “Honest” (with Emma Richardson taking on lead vocals so it sounds like Stevie Nicks trying for her own “Going to California”), and first single “I Know What I Am”—way too catchy to mope about the utterly generic lyrics. Less lucrative are “Impossible,” which is Bono in verse, Britpop at chorus, the tepid slow-burner drag “Dull Gold Heat,” and the even more leaden “Cold Fame”—not nearly catchy enough to ignore the utterly generic lyrics. Most of the rest sounds like passable imitations of the Stripes and the Kills (I guess that means they sound like the Dead Weather, too). If you’re looking for “just another rock band,” it won’t hurt, but if you’re looking for something special, either wait ‘em out or renew your appreciation for Jack White. (Matt Medlock)

Artist: The Mars Volta
Label: Warner Bros.
Release Date: 23/06/09
7 out of 10

I hate to admit it, but I was late to the Mars Volta party. I'm not exactly sure why I chose to ignore this explosive jazz-influenced, Latin-themed, prog-rock band fronted by a duo of familiar songwriters. Maybe it was a grudge or a sense of spite I carried around with me, seeing as how the formation of the Mars Volta meant the end of one my all time favorite bands, At The Drive-In. Eventually, though, I came to my senses and gave Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala's new band a fair shake, and boy was I glad that I did.

The Mars Volta's newest album Octahedron is the group's fifth full-length effort and comes hot on the heals of last year's blistering LP The Bedlam in Goliath, an album that was maligned by some but loved by me. This time around Cedric and the boys have slowed things down quite a bit, especially when you consider how bombastic Golitah was. Don't get me wrong, Octahedron is no collection of ballads, but more than not it takes the subdued path rather than the obstreperous one. Songs like the album opener "Since We've Been Wrong," (a song which actually has some of the most straightforward lyrics of any MV song) and the slightly more cryptic "Halo of Nembutals" are key examples of the band's more downplayed sound. The seven-minute long "Copernicus" may be the gem of Octahedron's low-key display, though. The somber song allows Bixler-Zavala's distinct vocal to shine in a way that it doesn't often get the chance to when competing with a bevy of various instruments. The harder songs on the disc are also good compliments to the softer ones they're paired with. "Teflon" is as infectious and memorable as any Mars Volta song before it; meanwhile, the band taps its post-hardcore roots on the fantastic track "Cotopaxi." The problem with Octahedron, though, is that at times it doesn't feel like you're getting the full Mars Volta experience. Without a unifying subject, the album feels more like just a collection of songs, a few of which are actually pretty weak. There is plenty to come back to on Octahedron, though, and since the mood it projects is so different than the one you get on most previous Mars Volta albums, it no doubt makes a worthy addition to the band's growing discography. (Tyler Barlass)

manonthemoonMan on the Moon: The End of Day
Artist: Kid Cudi
Label: Universal Motown
Release Date: 15/09/09
5 out of 10

Almost everything surrounding Kid Cudi works on Man on the Moon: The End of Day. Concept, style and production are all in the upper echelon—the ambition is admirable, the beats are catchy, the eclecticism bound to keep you there even during the occasional hiccups. Broken up into five acts, this debut album isn’t lacking the scope nor the daring, experimental spirit needed to navigate such tricky terrain. Big, spaced-out and over-the-top in the best sense, it’s a sonic mash-up wanting for a better star. Respect the introspection, but Cudi seems over his head when it comes to penning lyrics—the best bits are the ones that sound boilerplate in the genre’s range just because they’re free of the artless clutter. His raps are, more often than not, sleepy and imprecise—it sounds like he’s just talking more than rhyming. There are exceptions to these drawbacks (“Cudi Zone,” “Enter Galactic”), but then there are songs that are terrible and don’t even fit into the musical scheme: a lewd, “Poker Face”-sampling head-shaker called “Make Her Say” that might actually be worse than Lady Gaga’s dreadful original. Another revamp of his “Day N Nite” hit doesn’t really fit either, but at least it’s fun and hooky. The lame narration across the disc by Common might at first glance trend it towards pretentious, but really just makes the whole thing more preposterous. Cudi is perhaps best known for his assist on Kanye West’s recent LP, 808s & Heartbreak; like that album, Man on the Moon’s drive to be different gets more praise than the execution. (Matt Medlock)

Matt Medlock


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