Album Review: Marbin — The Third Set

December 17th, 2014

Generally, I avoid reviewing more than one album by relatively unknown artists; even less often – never before, as far as I know – do I review two albums within the space of a year. But Marbin’s the real deal. Jazz-rock is a nearly meaningless term, so instead I might describe them as progressive rock band with jazz technique; they rock, and hard, but their precision is nothing short of stunning. And The Third Set is in fact a live album, combining studio production values with lots of feel and spontaneity. Dani Rabin‘s level of expression on guitar is stunning.

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Album Review: Lucas Lee — Normalcy Bias

December 17th, 2014

Some of those progressive drummers really get around; it seems as if Pat Mastelotto and Marco Minnemann are everywhere, and that they always involve themselves with fascinating projects. Pat’s the drummer here, but multi-instrumentalist Lucas Lee is the star of the show. He’s as skilled on classically-tinged piano as he is on menacingly distorted prog-metal guitar. The melodies are strong here, and the vocals (from the spoken news-chyron-esque “Justice Injustice” to the more conventional bits of singing on the remaining tracks) add a narrative element full of fear and paranoia to this mostly instrumental offering. It’s accessible without sacrificing ambition.

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Hundred Word Reviews: December 2014, Part 3

December 17th, 2014

Today I cover five more albums – all new music – in hundred-word format. There are some good – and quite possibly overlooked – releases in this bunch.

In tomorrow’s blog entry, I’ll serve up five more of these capsule commentaries.

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Album Review: Willow Willow — Listening to Music

December 16th, 2014

Sweetly jangling pop that recalls everything from Let’s Active to Lesley Gore to The La’s to The Cranberries (especially them) to The Roches, Listening to Music benefits form its fetchingly homespun production vibe and understated approach. The crystalline vocal harmonies of Jessica Vohs and Miranda Zeiger are Cowsills-level swoonworthy. If this music doesn’t make you smile at least a little bit, you’ve got a heart of stone. Innocent but just the rock side of what the British call “twee,” this self-released effort deserves a wide hearing; in a just world this duo would hit the big time. Find this album.

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Album Review: The Jigsaw Seen — Old Man Reverb

December 16th, 2014

It’s nice to discover there’s still music like this being made (and released) in 2014. Crunchy guitars, strong yet guy-next-door vocals, and strong melodies are often labeled power pop, but since that’s too often the kiss of death for a group’s commercial prospects, I’ll refrain from labeling The Jigsaw Seen thusly. That said, they do remind me a slightly less snarky Greenberry Woods. A point or two is deducted thanks to a too-annoying-by-half packaging design (the idea’s admirable but the execution is lacking), but the music (check “Idiots With Guitars”) more than makes up for that lapse. Worth seeking out.

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Album Review: Screaming Headless Torsos — Code Red

December 16th, 2014

This charmingly-named outfit weds aggressive, metal-riffage styles to funk textures (a la Red Hot Chili Peppers), and some hip-hop vibe. The result is difficult to pin down, but it’s a mite compelling. Equal parts Metallica and Parliament/Funkadelic, this is easily one of the more boundary-pushing releases of this year. Pig squeal guitar, shouted choruses and alluring lead vocals are all blended together in an appetizing sonic stew. Unusual and not (by any stretch) easy listening, Code Red is well worth the effort it demands of the listener. This delightfully varied album heads in many directions, and it’s a thrilling ride.

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Album Review: Leon Alvarado – Music From an Expanded Universe

December 16th, 2014

The album cover art is an unashamed homage to H.R. Giger, so you might expect something foreboding, or at least challenging. The five-track album (one of which is a “bonus track”) is surprisingly understated, even with such able guests as Trey Gunn (King Crimson), and Jerry Marotta (David Bowie and many others). It’s a gauzy, nearly ambient recording that manages to convey a spectrum of emotions wordlessly. In places the album feels like Jean Luc Ponty‘s late 70s work (sans violin). On “Cinemania ‘Alive’” the energy level increases briefly. Think ambient instrumental progressive rock meets chillwave a la Zero 7.

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Album Review: Modest Midget — Crysis

December 16th, 2014

If the name makes you think of Gentle Giant, you’re on the right track. The album opens with a grand, sweeping intro that might remind you of Yes. This group swims in the melodic end of the progressive pool. Then it moves quickly into something reminiscent of an instrumental version of Queen or Supertramp. 70s prog touchstones abound on this album from Eastern European musicians (with classical- and jazz-oriented guests) guest. They occasionally recall Steely Dan, even. Dig their prog-ska cover of “Oh! Pretty Woman.” The mostly instrumental Crysis explores musical textures; it’s recommended for fans of catchy 1970s prog-rock.

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Hundred Word Reviews: December 2014, Part 2

December 16th, 2014

Here are five more capsule reviews; each of these is worthy of longer, more in-depth coverage, but with the volume of CDs in my inbox, sometimes it’s this or nothing. These albums – new music all – are worth my time, and perhaps yours as well.

Check back for lots more of these hundred-worders.

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Album Review: Thom Douvan — Brother Brother

December 15th, 2014


Thom Douvan – Brother Brother
A (perhaps) surprising number of the Detroit players known as The Funk Brothers were actually white guys. One of ‘em was guitarist Thom Douvan. In this 2014 album Douvan pays tribute to the team of session players in the form of an album full of cover tunes. Mostly done in a smooth (but not too smooth) jazz style, Brother Brother features readings of classic soul (and/or soulful) tunes from the likes of The Isley Brothers, Hall and Oates, Donny Hathaway and other greats. Imagine if Steely Dan played instro jazz covers, and you’ll have an idea of how this sounds.

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