Salvo Beta, Abrasive Stuttering (Some Odd Pilot)

Salvo Beta - Abrasive Stuttering Salvo Beta
Abrasive Stuttering
Some Odd Pilot
By: Eric G.

Salvo Beta enters the instrumental electronic scene on the offensive. His beats are aggressively overdriven and his melodies are sinister. Clearly taking cues from fellow deconstructionists like Mouse On Mars, Salvo Beta's noisy audio show is a pummeling and spastic display of rhythm and texture.

Abrasive Stuttering sounds like the work of an attention-deficient madman (it's actually just a guy named Sean Wolfe, who must have access to some pretty amazing machines). Each track sprays beats like gunfire while ominous sound effects crackle erratically. Moments of clarity do interrupt the barrage of percussion, but they are short-lived before the next onslaught hammers you back in your seat.

Melody plays a subordinate role to the explosive rhythms. The song structures are unorthodox to say the least, but the music is not just a formless display of aggression. Salvo Beta knows how to abuse his loud/soft dynamic to manipulate your ears into falling for the same trick again and again without losing interest. When melody does take center stage, though, it is hypnotic and repetitive.

Salvo Beta lets you see the eye of the storm in “Network”, where everything is calm and serene. Your ears wince at every turn expecting yet another assault, but even after nine minutes of floating in space it never comes. “Clugy” spits and sputters so many simultaneous rhythm tracks that you feel worn out just listening to it much less trying to dance.

This joyous synthesis of rhythm and noise runs circles around your average drum and bass ensemble. Salvo Beta may be new to this game, but he comes with an arsenal of beats and both barrels loaded.

Reproductions- Songs Of The Human League, Various Artists (March)

Reproductions- Songs Of The Human League - Various Artists Reproductions- Songs Of The Human League
Various Artists
By: Eric G.

Unsurprisingly, 80's junkie, multi-instrumentalist, and Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt ran with the idea of a Human League tribute, appearing no less than three times under his various guises. You know tributes have gotten out of hand when bands whose contribution to the musical lexicon is a mere three hits are being celebrated (hell, Gary Numan only had one hit over here and he has two tributes). The thing is Reproductions makes a good case for The Human League- as strange as that may seem. The Human League's innovation and cultural impact may have been underestimated because most of these songs are classic examples of the mass appeal of electronic pop music.

The Aluminum Group tackles one of the many non-hits on Reproductions but injects enough panache to make it sound like a song you should know. Seeing as how Barcelona already possesses a blatant affinity for all things 80's, it easily slips into character for a reverent version "Mirror Man." Fusing some of its geeky indie pop with retro-vocal effects and obligatory synthesizers, the band trades some of the song's original bombast for its own brand of indie pop earnestness. "Don't You Want Me?" is interesting because Stephin Merritt and Claudia Gonson of the Future Bible Heroes sing the opposite parts that the guy and girl did in the original. Otherwise, it's fairly tame.

I saw The Human League open for Culture Club a few years ago on one of those eighties reunion tours, and I remember being taken aback by how pretentious and serious the band was. The entire stage was white, including the monitors, amps, and microphones. I figured either the band realized the kitsch factor was inextricably bound to the setting and decided to ignore the reality of the situation or was just embarrassingly out of touch. I'll assume it was the former, but either way it was highly entertaining to see a band as hokey as The Human League present itself as though it were Kraftwerk. It is unfair, though, that The Human League gets lumped into that whole early-80's, androgynous, new romantic movement that seems so dated and cheesy now because the music is just harmless, danceable pop, which is something that should never go out of style.

Baxendale boldly turns "Keep Feeling (Fascination)" into its own blend of light acoustics and electronic pop, complete with faux-strings and silly sound effects. The chorus is so infectious to begin with that it's hard to mess up, but I must give credit to Baxendale because the original harmonies are tough to compete with. Even more daring is the Pet Shop Boys-style spoken word/rap thrown in at the end. Sure, it's slightly pompous, but it seems to work within the context of the song. "The Sound of The Crowd" is yet another unknown Human League song that should have been a hit. Superheroes drench the song in lightweight electro-pop nostalgia, sounding like a friendly Depeche Mode.

Momus adds his eccentric touch to Philip Oakey's strangely despondent "I Am The Law." Instead of mimicking the Roland keyboards on the original, Momus opts for nagging strings and winds and presents the songs as a dark, campfire chant. Clicks featuring Sally Timms of the Mekons tackles one of The Human League's best, "Seconds." The interpretation is very loyal to the original as Dave Trumfio sounds as if he's imitating Oakey's dramatic baritone. Holland turns "The Lebanon" into an all-electronic pop force, sadly ignoring the original's uncharacteristically raucous guitar riff while Garlands avoids electronics altogether for an indie rock version of "Being Boiled."

No grand statements or predetermined agendas spoil Reproductions. Like The Human League itself, Reproductions is harmless pop fun. It's more of an excuse to dabble in eighties nostalgia than it is an actual tribute to The Human League, but it does inadvertently serve as a pretty convincing argument for buying The Human League's Greatest Hits at the very least, if not a few of its albums.

Mark Robinson, Tiger Banana (Teenbeat)

Mark Robinson - Tiger Banana Mark Robinson
Tiger Banana
By: Eric G.

Mark Robinson finally emerges from the shadow of various bands and pseudonyms with his first proper solo album. It's another batch of eccentric pop tunes played with surgical precision and recorded with sterile clarity. Robinson performs most of Tiger Banana on his guitar alone. Occasionally, electronic beats surface in the background, but they are far from showy, barely serving as metronomic pulses behind his sparse guitar lines. Each track begins with a delicate strum of only one or two strings of the guitar followed by Robinson's expressively boyish vocals, which translate freakishly obsessive lyrics.

Tiger Banana is a return to the clean pop of Robinson's darker Unrest days (particularly the Imperial period of 1992-93), although it's not nearly as emotive or graceful. Gone are the angular tendencies of the bass-heavy Flin Flon as well as the sleek, spacey pop of Air Miami. Robinson has made his simplest and most direct record yet. He sings with such stifled emotion, though, that it comes across very calculating. Every word is enunciated to an obnoxious degree. There are bursts of emotion, but they are so rare as to be shocking.

The electronics are as sparse as the guitar lines, resembling at times the primitive sound on New Order's first album, Movement. Robinson's often silly and puzzling lyrics remove what would be a dark cloud if the music were to be believed. Richard Baluyut and Fontaine Toups of Versus lend help to the proceedings on both guitar and back-up vocals, but this is wholeheartedly a solo outing for Robinson. It has his controlling fingerprints all over it- from the instantly recognizable jangle of his guitar to his unmistakable choirboy harmonies.

Robinson's long-time fascination with crisp, pure sounds permeates Tiger Banana. The production is so clean you could eat off it. "French Good Looks" encapsulates the crux Robinson's strict formula. The vocals tower over the repetitive and sparse guitar interplay. Keyboards are used sparingly and effectively, adding a certain level of emotion to Robinson's cold studio presence. The songs never sound busy. Robinson delivers his cryptic lyrics with a menacing emphasis on each syllable: "She knew everything/she kissed everyone/from her French beret to the back of my hand."

"Volunteering Conquering Fires" is far more playful, recalling the height of the indie pop explosion that Unrest certainly helped to define, but it's one of the few abnormally upbeat tracks. "Difficult Situations" evokes a warm nostalgia despite its serious demeanor thanks to some carefully placed keyboards. "Starfighter" is the golden moment of the record. Robinson's voice harmonizes so well with Toups' that it is obviously reminiscent of the dynamic Bridget Cross gave to Unrest's final two albums. The guitar surge is unexpected but no less glorious.

These are not instantly catchy pop songs. Tiger Banana requires patience and several listens for sure. Robinson tries to keep the melodies lurking beneath his weirdly formal performances, but sometimes he can't help falling into his old sugarcoated ways as on "Putting Up Good Numbers", which is propelled by a wash of jangly guitars and an actual drumbeat. Tiger Banana is a pop experiment that I recommend you participate in. You may not immediately warm up to its strange idiosyncrasies, but just give it some time- it's worth the trouble.

Gaza Strippers, 1000 Watt Confessions (Lookout)

Gaza Strippers - 1000 Watt Confessions Gaza Strippers
1000 Watt Confessions
By: Eric G.

Too bad all the young punk bands on MTV didn't listen to the Didjits. Few things suck worse than watered down punk. When you've got a generation of bands that think Green Day and The Offspring started it all, you're in for bad times indeed. Sum 41- I'm talking about you. The world needs more people like Rick Sims. This guy knows how to write a catchy punk song with panache and punch. He tore things up with Chicago's Didjits for seven years before joining the Supersuckers in 1995. A brief and inexplicable stint with Fred Schneider's band (no comment) precipitated Sims' desire to form the Gaza Strippers, who have just released their second album (ironically on Green Day's original label).

While the Gaza Strippers bring nothing new to the table, they do remember how bands rocked in the 1970's (Cheap Trick, New York Dolls). 1000 Watt Confessions is full of power pop (“Outasight”), sleazy punk (“Catfight”), bluesy bar rock (“Newburgh Housewives”), and hooks galore (“Mommy Shot Daddy”). Sims' Grover-like warble is not as wild as it was in the Didjits, perhaps, as a ploy to keep the two bands separated in people's minds. The Gaza Strippers' fiery brand of old school punk is led by dueling lead guitars that aren't afraid of old-fashioned, cheesy solos. Sims keeps the emphasis on melody, which unfortunately runs against the grain of dirty bar rock's ethos, but we'll forgive him. The songs are meaningless but fun. As tiring as the formula can be, it beats the hell out of any of these johnny-come-lately punk wanna be's.

The Good Life, Novena On A Nocturn (Better Looking Records)

The Good Life - Novena On A Nocturn The Good Life
Novena On A Nocturn
Better Looking Records
By: Eric G.

Honestly, Tim Kasher's shameless sensitivity is better suited for music that rocks. Cursive's Domestica would be nothing short of embarrassing without the explosion of guitars lending credence to the high school poetry. The Good Life is Kasher's side-project. I hate that term because it inherently diminishes the subject- as though it's some kind of second tier priority, but here it's fully applicable and even appropriate.

These are songs that Kasher couldn't justify for use in Cursive for whatever reason. Typically, when bandleaders relegate songs to solo albums it's because they are less universal and more personal, but considering how open and unabashedly sentimental Cursive is, can you imagine what this guy decides is too honest? Novena On A Nocturn answers that question, and, sadly, it's all too predictable.

Kasher avoids Cursive's distorted guitars in favor of organs, cellos, stand up basses, and keyboards. This is his "quiet, singer song-writer" album, so "quiet, singer-songwriter" instruments are used. The truth is, any of these songs could have easily been Cursive songs. The same hooks and emotional build-ups are there- just less pronounced because of the clean guitars. All of this begs the question: if these songs could have been Cursive songs, but they weren't good enough, shouldn't they just be swept under the rug instead of being trotted out as some glorified and indulgent solo album?

The cliché-ridden lyrics are a given, but because of being way too high in the mix they are even more noticeable than usual. Kasher's brutish inflection struggles with the forced falsettos because his natural intonation is that gravelly, post-Jawbreaker yell, which normally erupts into a well-honed scream but not here. Kasher belts way out of his range to emphasize the emotion, which can be endearing when it sounds honest, but all too often Kasher seems to be trading on his honestly for sentimental impact.

"A Dim Entrance" sets the stage for the decidedly dark outpouring of emotion however ambiguous and cheesy: "The days are running down and I'm drowning out this overwhelming sad." Huh? An inexplicable Dr. Dre keyboard line lingers behind a programmed beat that slowly builds into a melodramatic climax of piano and booming drums. "The Moon Red Handed" offers more of the type of embarrassing poetry that any sane person would have burned before letting it be read: "Would you look me in the eye and tell me- does the moon weep at dawn?" Aaah.

The whole record offers similarly confusing sentiments that are supposed to seem thoughtful (poetic?), I suppose. I won't rake it over the coals, though. Just suffice it to say this is not a record that I can recommend, especially since Cursive's Domestica runs circles around it. Cursive fans might be entertained, though, but only the obsessive ones (read young) that connect with Kasher's generic outcries of despair. As for the rest of us, The Good Life should be carefully avoided.

Magnetophone, I Guess Sometimes I Need To Be Reminded Of How Much You Love Me (4ad/earworm)

Magnetophone - I Guess Sometimes I Need To Be Reminded Of How Much You Love Me Magnetophone
I Guess Sometimes I Need To Be Reminded Of How Much You Love Me
By: Eric G.

Retro-futurism meets the chaos theory on Magnetophone's debut full-length. The Birmingham, England duo makes its noise with dated synthesizers and wildly erratic rhythmic dysfunction. The tone is dark, of course, as Magnetophone meanders through showers of textural discord, avoiding anything that would even remotely lead a raver to the dancefloor.

Magnetophone's music is equally beautiful and incoherent. The light strands of melody that underscore the distorted rhythmic pulses reveal an ambient core, but the abrasiveness of the beats will prevent any comparisons to Aphex Twin or U-Ziq. There's little adherence to formula as few songs explore structured soundscapes, building sometimes aimlessly and sometimes effectively into the inevitable cacophony of noise.

"Songs" like the trip-hop-turned-on-its-head melancholia of "Oh Darlin'" are few and far between as evidenced by the eerie sparseness and un-melodic rumblings of "Didn't I Blow Your Mind?" and the cosmic serenity of "Temporary Lid/Georgia." Somehow Magnetophone manages to convey enough emotion through these seemingly cold displays of electronic composition so as not to seem too detached or unfeeling. Must be the old synthesizers.

The tracks that do reveal recurrent themes tend to rub your face in it, repeating ad nauseum a simplistic beat while a barrage of electronic effects swarm and sputter. "Machine Surrender/Milk Of The Commander" deserves mentioning not only for its title but also for its hypnotic syncopation and electronic deconstruction. "Air Methods" is a musical call to arms of sorts with its industrialized noise that builds and builds until a thick militaristic march consumes the entire song.

Magnetophone intelligently downplays obvious drum and bass references in favor of an even more inaccessible medium of electronic expression. The music is not so much playful as it is tragic- a film of hopelessness shrouds much of the record. I Guess Sometimes I Need To Be Reminded Of How Much You Love Me is a confident testament to musical disorder- striking for both its beautiful underbelly and harsh-sounding surface.

Pele, The Nudes (Polyvinyl)

Pele - The Nudes Pele
The Nudes
By: Eric G.

Pele's jazzy, instrumental rock is perfectly adequate yet wholly unnecessary. There are just too many similarly motivated bands that aren't making any strides. I guess the same could be said of any number of genres and micro-genres, but the light jazz-rock instrumental bin is especially inundated lately. That said, The Nudes really isn't too bad. Pele clearly has its formula down pat: staccato guitar rhythms, noodling arpeggios, shuffling percussion, and slithering bass lines permeate every single song, making it hard to distinguish any one track, but, again, there's nothing new here to demand that you own this record.

Instrumental music is, by nature, shamelessly indulgent and with the barrage of high-profile instrumental releases this year (Dianogah, The Mercury Program) it becomes increasingly difficult to delineate between them. Pele just barely scratches the surface of what a band like The Sea And Cake does with its jazzy pop and reflective vocal stylings. Without vocals, though, Pele has to be that much more entertaining musically. The problem is that most instrumental bands replace vocal melody with over-complicated wanking. Pele, however, does a respectable job of avoiding gratuitous self-indulgence with its gray tones and meticulous guitar pluckings but never really fills the void left by the absence of vocals..

Thankfully, Pele remains upbeat throughout its meandering musical sketches, which are expertly played but only mildly intriguing at best. If you're bobbing your head you can't be that bored, can you? Well, yes, but bored or not the drummer makes it extremely difficult to sit idly by as he accents four times as many notes as the guitarist does. The excess syncopation becomes grating at times as does the repetitive guitar interplay, but there is an inexplicably warm and familiar feeling throughout The Nudes that keeps you from turning it off. Although, I suspect you'd be hard-pressed ever to turn it back on.