CD Impressions: October 4, 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. This time, we’re pleased to present capsule reviews for releases from experimental rockers MadLove, electronic dance-rock duo Datarock, stylish Mexican guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela, and English indie rockers the Maccabees.

Artist: Rodrigo y Gabriela
Label: Rubyworks
Release Date: 07/09/09
8 out of 10

Most of the renowned guitar gods are seen as mythic axe wielders, and fuel their tempers with the echo and crunch of amp plugs. How many can marvel in tandem with a full-bodied sound (including body/string-slapping rhythm) on acoustic guitars without eventually cracking under shapeless melody or appealing only to cult acclaim? Here’s two: Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero. On the duo’s third full-length, they dedicate each composition to an artist that has inspired them in some way, including tango composer Astor Piazzolla, jazz legend John McLaughlin, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix. The song for the latter (a “Voodoo Child” tribute called “Buster Voodoo”) is perhaps the best, but gets stiff competition from “Master Maqui” (Paco de Lucia), “Logos/Santo Domingo” (Al Di Meola/Michel Camilo) and “Atman” (Dimebag Darrell). Their admiration for the late Pantera guitarist makes sense—the duo cut their teeth playing heavy metal—but even unplugged, they can create quite the surging storm unadorned by studio fills and frills (an Alex Skolnick electric guitar assist on “Atman” and a sitar addition to “Maqui” is pretty much it). If any of this sounds like 11:11 will ring of novelty or Tenacious D (minus the joke), I assure you it’s not. The pair have been labeled as flamenco, and this one will likely see them notched as world music provocateurs, but really they’re just a couple of talented and passionate guitarists with a great gift for interplay and experimentation. (Matt Medlock)

whitewithfoamWhite With Foam
Artist: MadLove
Label: Ipecac
Release Date: 31/08/09
5 out of 10

MadLove is in essence a side project for five talented musicians you've probably never heard of. Some diehard music lovers may find one name associated with the band that would possibly ring a bell though; if so, that name would be bassist extraordinaire Trevor Dunn, who has been in and out of various groups and studio sessions for nearly a quarter century. Most famous for his stint with the experimental metal group Mr. Bungle, which in return is most famous for having Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton at the helm, Dunn had since gone on to form the super cool avant-garde group Secret Chiefs 3, the metal group Fantômas and has played as a studio bassist for numerous acts. Dunn's newest project is more of a straightforward rock sound in the form of MadLove. Joining three other wayward musicians and South Korean vocalist Sunny Kim, Dunn and MadLove have crafted a sound that's generally pleasing to the ears though regretfully unoriginal.

Considering how outlandishly inventive some of Dunn's earlier work was, MadLove often sounds timid in comparison. White With Foam, the band's debut album, goes from dreamy trances to harder rocking numbers, all the while directed by the steady hand of the group's seasoned instrumentalists. Rarely do we get to see anything that hasn't been heard before though. The generic, and before long tiresome, grind of slow ballads and up-tempo rockers are sometimes only saved by the ethereal vocals of Kim. On songs like the harder rocking "Dirty," Kim's voice perfectly fits the changing tempos and crashing guitars. But even Kim's pitch perfect, yet emotionally void, voice can turn into a drone behind the often unabashed music. It seems almost like MadLove has all the pieces and yet just couldn't figure out how to put them all together on White With Foam. Despite all the experience and talent, there's just not much to hang on to here. (Tyler Barlass)

wallofarmsWall of Arms
Artist: The Maccabees
Label: Rough Trade
Release Date: 04/05/09
5 out of 10

Wall of Arms is the Art Wave meets the Arcade Fire. Or the disheveled, Anglo-centric Britpop of the 90s colliding with the less nationalistic and more emotional, arena-ready post-Britpop of the 00s. These aren’t the best of bedfellows; even XTC knew they couldn’t do both at the same time, so they mapped out a career maturation trajectory. But Maccabees try out both and come up with a shaky collection of good and bad (but mostly pat and unremarkable). “Dinosaurs” ain’t bad with its triumphant horn hooks and chugging rhythm. The big brass works subtler on the title track, another small victory because it remains low-key and rhythmically quirky (the way the Kooks oughta sound). “Can You Give It” is remorselessly empty but just brief and peppy enough to register as another minor winner. But most of the later passages suffer from one too many visits to the same well, leaping predictably from small to large, intimate to epic, chime to surge, and dripping with creaky platitudes as sold by singer Orlando Weeks. His warblings are meek and his crescendos over-the-top—you’re not safe in the same room with him. They were better off with the superficial stylings of Colour It In, though the arrangements are stronger and production richer overall. Musically, when they swing and miss, they spin, fall and embarrass themselves (“Bag of Bones” makes for a stultifyingly bland finale, “William Powers” is the very definition of aimless, the echo backups of “No Kind Words” are over-affected enough to make you cringe), which makes it a mostly middling affair without the standout song or two to give you reason to revisit. Sure, it’s not terrible, but it’s also kinda pedestrian in execution. Lucky for them, they’re vanilla enough to gain a following from the easily moved. (Matt Medlock)

Artist: Datarock
Label: Young Aspiring Professionals
Release Date: 01/09/09
7 out of 10

If you liked James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem love letter to private record collection but wished it was crazier and campier, Datarock’s Red should fit the bill. They pay tribute to Talking Heads on “True Stories,” give a sloppy hug to both GNR and Prince with “The Blog,” deliver a silly nod to a-Ha on “Amirillion,” and so on. The most aptly titled song: “Dance!”; the least: “Back in the Seventies.” That’s because this Norwegian duo is clearly obsessed with the 80s—when they’re not blowing kisses to music from the decade, they get all giddy over the other pop culture stars (I could tell you who “Molly” is about, but the album title/cover color should be all the hint you need). At forty minutes, it’s brief enough not to leave you restless, but as you must expect from such a faux-high concept, there are good ones and bad ones scattered about. Tolerance will affect the ratio, but “Do It Your Way” doesn’t fit into the scheme (it’s too post-punk recycled, not enough disco-rock ebullient) and “Fear of Death” proves it’s not easy to sell serious spoken word over a catchy electroclash beat. For better times with the dislocated vocal tics riding high (and well), listen to the aforementioned “Blog,” which is simultaneously one of the catchiest and heaviest (like the slickest electro-metal shit you’ve ever heard). Some clever lines and several infectious tunes, it appears to be entirely irony free, and while it will leave no craters—shiny stuff rarely does—it should satisfy with just enough consistency to keep you there for the limp ones and enough variety to make you eager for the next bite. (Matt Medlock)

Matt Medlock


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