CD Impressions: November 27, 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. We've been off a few weeks too many but we're back with a new group of recent albums to make quick remarks about. This time, read about the latest releases from experimental rockers F-ck Buttons, the feisty noise rock outfit Pre, L.A. hard rockers Something to Burn, trip hop legends Massive Attack, and Aussie classic rock torch-bearers Wolfmother.



Splitting the Atom EP
Artist: Massive Attack
Label: Virgin
Release Date: 04/10/09
5 out of 10

Last year, Portishead returned from a decade-long absence and reminded everyone why they were so cherished in the 90s, reigniting trip hop’s dying flame by moving well beyond trip hop’s borders. It is, of course, unfair to compare Massive Attack to Portishead (and certainly an EP to an LP), but it’s impossible to not notice that while the latter sounded revitalized and willing to expand, Massive Attack mostly just seems to be doing the same old thing with a fraction of the black fire atmosphere and attention to miraculously subtle but unforgettable beat hooks.

The Splitting the Atom EP contains two originals and a pair of remixes of yet-to-be-released tracks. There’s also a fairly impressive list of guests, including TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Martina Topley-Bird, Horace Andy and Elbow’s Guy Garvey. Unfortunately, none of them manage better than “dependable” even as guests; Garvey is particularly flat on the EP’s weakest track, the near-seven minute drag, “Bulletproof Love” (as remixed by Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid). The “Psyche” remix (with Topley-Bird) is slightly more entrancing, but she was better as a Tricky collaborator, and the arrangement and beat (and exotic female vocals) make it sound like a merely passable outing from the Knife. The two originals are better; “Splitting the Atom”’s deep bass vocals have a menace to them that suggests Nick Cave with a frog in his throat, and the central segment of “Pray for Rain” finds the Bristol duo at their most lively and unpredictable. Both are still too long, though—the prosaic beat of the title track begins to lumber after three pounding minutes and when Adebimpe returns to the first verse again at “Rain”’s tail end, the momentum is spoiled and you itch for some self-editing tools on your computer to rectify that unnecessary final minute. If this extended player is supposed to sate us until next year’s (scheduled) Heligoland album, let’s hope that these represent premature B-sides. Some fans might be more forgiving, but while short of tedious, there’s little on here we haven’t heard before from them in a more inspired capacity. (Matt Medlock)

Artist: Something to Burn
Label: Softdrive
Release Date: 15/09/09
3 out of 10

Los Angeles’s Something to Burn is one of the latest generic rock bands to be churned out of Hollywood. There is little that sets Something to Burn apart from their vast populace of rock comrades. Many of the introductions of the songs on Transitions give the impression that some moderately talented metal music may be about to unfold before your ears. The instrumentals of Something to Burn display the strong musical connection among these bandmates that comes with jamming together and creating music for several years. However, vocalist Greg Wayne is a newcomer to the band. This transition (pun intended) obviously never evolved into a state of cohesion. Wayne has little to offer both in vocal and lyrical talent. His lyrics often seem to lack depth, and at times can be monotonous and overly rhythmic. Wayne’s vocals certainly aren’t unbearable, but they also fail to distinguish themselves from the overwhelming array of male rock vocalists.

Transitions, their debut effort, was released on Softdrive Records, the label of Stone Temple Pilots frontman, Scott Weiland. Their name will certainly garner popularity as Mr. Weiland kindly takes the budding musicians along to support Stone Temple Pilots on their tour next year to promote their yet-to-be-released latest studio effort.  The music of Something to Burn definitely holds promise, as it could easily be confused with the instrumentals of other bands currently gracing the airwaves and Billboard charts.  The best songs on the album would have to be “Say Goodbye” and “Stories Better Left Untold.” If the listener can look past the immaturity of the lyrics and vocal stylings, perhaps Something to Burn could spark their fire. (Holly Hargrave)

tarotspiritTarot Spirit
Artist: F-ck Buttons
Label: ATP
Release Date: 14/10/09
8 out of 10

Hypnotic can get you pretty far, if not quite the entire hour of Tarot Spirit. Some might apply the old phrase “fits and starts,” but this album doesn’t move that way. It’s not restless or agitated, though it does accelerate as if there’s a hefty dose of C-4 strapped to the underside of the kitchen table. F-ck Buttons have improved on consistency, to be sure, and they’re considerably more accessible here than on the occasionally masterful, occasionally repellent (occasionally both on intention) Street Horrrsing. Even before accessibility, the first thing you notice about the lengths taken by this experimental post-rock duo is how indebted this album is to electronic music (can you call it post-techno?). The first half compels mightily, from the robust dance loops of “Surf Solar” to the cool synth drone of “The Lisbon Maru” broken up by a stapling beat. Heading into “Olympians,” the urgency you once felt has become a spiraling sense of quasi-relaxation. That sensation is as alien to F-ck Buttons as the sounds they invent—this is the summation of the most minimalist aspects of the likes of Orbital and Eno with a breadth and voracity you typically only expect to find in the most cluttered house jams around.

The songs take time to adapt. It’s the transitions that set individual tracks apart and almost none of them start out in full stride. “Surf Solar” drifts dreamily before taking off, “Olympians”’ engine stalls repeatedly as it tries to get its motor going, “Flight of the Feathered Serpent” screeches in provocation until the beat envelops everything. The two shortest tracks (the only ones not approaching or exceeding nine minutes) are the least essential—“Rough Steez” serves as a cacophonous segue between “Solar” and “Lisbon,” but feels a little extended; “Phantom Limb”’s strangling, digi-core percussive assault is grating at first and never amounts to much of worth. Despite these inconsistencies, though, long passages of this album are completely transporting, making you lose focus of time and setting and simply getting absorbed in the chattering grooves. I might suggest certain extracurricular additives to be sampled before or during, but only if you’re brave. This thing treads a cliff overlooking freakish nightmares; as such, usually it safely remains a rapturous dream. (Matt Medlock)

cosmiceggCosmic Egg
Artist: Wolfmother
Label: Modular
Release Date: 23/10/09
4 out of 10

It would be too easy to joke that Wolfmother sounds like the first group to get signed after being spawned by intense garage sessions of Rock Band. Giving the classic rock a little love from time to time is beneficial, though the band’s formula of Sabbath meets Zeppelin can become a little tiring (and obvious) even with references to CCR, Thin Lizzy, Blue Cheer and the Doors tossed in on occasion. I rated tracks like “Woman,” “Joker & the Thief” and “White Unicorn” about two notches above guilty pleasure—no, I don’t feel guilty, but why go for the remake when the original was a classic? I rate Cosmic Egg as I did Jet’s second album—okay, the initial buzz has run off, now I’m just kinda getting bored. And, yes, I still defend Get Born as being a fairly solid rock album, so…you see where I’m going? The riffs are flatter, the keyboards more mundane, the hooks less meaty…even the lyrics frequently try for a more self-serious (read: clunky) grandiosity where they should have flirted with parody at best to get the point across. They’re not as heavy as they think they are, their psychedelia is wholly unconvincing, their metallic blues would be generic if it wasn’t so one-note already that even the band members must realize it. Even the “tributes” are more egregious—the opening riff and chorus vocal pitch of “Sundial” is Sabbath. Likewise, “California Queen” pretty much rips off “Paranoid.” And worst of all, most of their lifts are completely empty—I hear the chords, now where’s the soul? It’s like these guys are playing Rock Ba…oh, I already did that easy analogy. There’s some instrumental proficiency in here and a couple of tunes that are almost as catchy as their earlier tracks (“Pilgrim,” “New Moon Rising”), but Cosmic Egg is really just a reminder that even in the era of (then future) “classic rock,” there were plenty of forgettable copycats with zeppelin-sized dreams that didn’t take off for good reason. (Matt Medlock)

hopefreaksHope Freaks
Artist: Pre
Label: Skin Graft
Release Date: 13/06/09
8 out of 10

If Skin Graft Records were somehow affiliated with, say, Sony, I imagine a bunch of execs in crisp suits whispering to each other, “I dare you.” “No, I dare you.” “Double dare.” “No, I triple dare you to try and contain them.” By them, I mean Pre (or PRE), and by contain, I mean make them calm down and start writing more conventional songs. In this fantasy world where Pre actually could hang with the corporates, I suspect that the band would react to such suggestions by launching into an atonal, pogoing series of bass thwacks, drum beats and guitar slashes while Exceedingly Good Keex (oh, what a name…) jumped on them like a spring while howling inconsequential words. Yes, the suits would be murdered by rock n' roll (and Keex's boots). Thank goodness for Skin Graft’s freedom, then. I don’t think a prison could hold these five.

On Hope Freaks, as it was on Epic Fits, Pre is entirely of the moment. Their music is fast, noisy, frantic, blistering, thoroughly excessive even in small doses. And what a prize it is for such seemingly random and clipped musical phrases that only suggest gasping release. You can’t even judge this album on a song-for-song basis—while “Gang of Wire” and “Not Necessary” (or almost any other random pair) don’t sound alike, what they give you is consistent—an outlet to vent, spew, yelp and slam away anything burrowed up around the shoulders, temples, heart, etc. Figuring out what Keex is shrieking is near impossible, and nothing is lost from inconsequentiality. Insert any emanation you like, the end result is the same—a big, goofy grin and sweat running into your eyes. Some might be surprised that Steve Albini coming on as an engineer would actually enhance the ratio of hooks to chaos, but don’t forget that for all of his work with noisy and disgruntled pop in the past, he did make them catchy. “Love Crunch,” “Why Be Wives,” the title track…these songs are like eight car pile-ups set to spiky beats and coated in pixie dust. If the Powerpuff Girls grew up to be sexually-starved, meth-addicted punks, I know exactly who to hire to write the theme song. Damaged bliss, but, oh, the motherf-cking bliss! (Matt Medlock)

Matt Medlock


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