Zuexeus, S/T (The Proto)

Zuexeus - S/T Zuexeus
S/T
The Proto
By: Eric Greenwood

I practically pissed myself with glee about one minute into "Red Giant Sunrise" when I was ambushed by one of the most glorious hardcore riffs I've ever heard in my life. Chris Murray (ex-Cornelius) is Zuexeus, and he plays all the instruments on this self-titled debut himself (vocals, guitar, bass, drums, and sound effects), which is pretty hard to believe because this is some of the tightest, most melodic hardcore punk ever caught on tape. Think Drive Like Jehu sped up and even more precise mixed with Assfactor 4's frenetic energy and assault, and you'll only start to grasp how amazing this album is. And it's just one guy! Seriously, as Zuexeus blasts through my headphones I want nothing more than to carve the band's name into my forehead and go door to door spreading the gospel.

Murray's guitar playing is simply unbelievable. His riffs are at once ear splitting, sharp, and rocking, and he's got the vocal chops to boot. His voice has a tremendous presence. He doesn't just full-throttle, balls to the wall scream like Assfactor 4, but, rather, he mixes it up, sounding agitated and dogged one moment only to come back with a raucous wail the next. He knows exactly how to capitalize on a riff's momentum, and his voice cracks in all the right places. Truly possessed. Everything here is razor sharp too. It's hard to listen to this sitting still. I'm fighting every impulse not to stand up and shout Zuexeus! out the window.

"March Against October" is the album's defining moment, where everything falls perfectly into place. The guitars chug alongside huge, pounding drums, but Murray's lyrics steal the show: "I borrowed a few words for an elegy to better remember you by/your reflection was there when you put your makeup on to play/presentable now for the masquerade where I invited your Jesuit friends to waltz in October/I started a march/I started a fire." His voice explodes as the music stutters in unison on those last two phrases, but that meager description doesn't begin to do such a goose-bump-inducing part any justice. Please, just take my word for it. You will bow before the rock of Zuexeus.

"Summertide" rocks just as hard but with a slightly more accessible edge. The song quickly builds from a simple high-hat introduction to an onslaught of searing harmonics that will boggle your mind. Murray screeches out some impossible notes, and the hair on you neck is bolt upright once again. It's true that I have no idea where his lyrics are coming from, but I love them all the same: "the highway home is serpentine with fruits and labors that carry death/the summer smells bovine where the blue bottles repel and the lightening bugs strike." Right on. I hesitate to use terms like "catchy" and "pop" because you won't understand where I'm coming from in this context; suffice it to say that you will not forget these songs easily, if for no other reason than the fact that you won't be able to stop listening to them.

Some parts do border on metal (as did bits of Cornelius), but the production is low key enough to avoid any confusion that this is hardcore. Nothing preachy or political- it's much more humble than, say, Refused but every bit as rocking (without the glossy production, of course). Murray has a special knack for making every song feel like you're gearing up for a fight. This guy must be jacked up on caffeine to play so relentlessly and accurately (his internal rhythms are like a machine- synching all this up by himself had to be a chore). This is one of the best punk albums I've ever heard, hands down. I realize I'm frothing all over this review, but it's because of how infrequently an album makes me genuinely this excited. Find this album, if you love hardcore punk- you will not regret it.

Quintron, Unmasked Organ Light-year Of Infinity Man (Bulb)

Quintron - Unmasked Organ Light-year Of Infinity Man Quintron
Unmasked Organ Light-year Of Infinity Man
Bulb
By: Eric Greenwood

So, this guy Quintron invented an oscillating drum machine (the Drum Buddy) that is light activated, patented, and has its own instructional video/infomercial. He's married to an eccentric puppeteer named Miss Pussycat, who opens all of his concerts with, of course, a puppet show. He is a one-man band who plays an antique organ as well as the Drum Buddy. Miss Pussycat occasionally pipes in with backing vocals and maracas, but every other sound comes from Quintron himself. His music is extremely lo-fi, New Orleans-style blues mixed with science fiction, b-movie soundtracks, television theme songs, punk ethos, self-ingratiating wanking, and gospel. He thinks all music reviewers are cynical bastards, and he claims he regrets it when his music lands in their hands.

I've seen Quintron live only once, but it was an amazing show. His energy and charisma make up for the rudimentary blues-infused music that sounds like scaled down Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Quintron loses himself in his music, which often causes him to set the Drum Buddy on auto pilot, grab an audience member to repeat a simple organ riff, and strip standing on his piano bench. Miss Pussycat gleefully shakes her maracas and coos into the microphone, her smile never wavering. It is a sweaty show for both Quintron and his audience because he demands participation. He believes that music should make you want to scream and shout and, of course, dance, which it successfully does in a live setting. Listening to Quintron on CD is another story, I'm afraid to say.

Unmasked Organ Light-Year Of Infinity Man is Quintron's seventh album. I'm told his early albums border on unlistenable, and if the lack of fidelity on this his seventh (!?) album is any indication, I believe it. The music sounds like someone who unknowingly left a dictaphone in his pocket accidentally recorded it. Not being able to see the Drum Buddy in action really takes away from the experience. To the uninitiated it would probably just sound like crickets being tortured, but Quintron scratches it like a turntable, forcing wild sounds out of it. Quintron's vocals flail and crack, and if you listen closely you can hear traces of his organ riffs. I'm not sure why Quintron stubbornly refuses to utilize modern technology to record his music. As it is now, only truly patient noise freaks could stomach this whole album, but, again, not because of the music but because of the awful sound quality. The frustrating thing is, Quintron's music would probably sound amazing if only given proper production.

Ironically, Quintron is not afraid to promote himself. Commercials for his own Rhinestone records fill the awkward gaps between songs, but you'd think that a guy who so fervently spreads the word of his gospel would want his listeners to enjoy themselves. Despite the strikes against it sonically, "Hurricane" shines above much of the unintelligible muck. It follows Quintron's philosophy that a song's chorus should be repeated as often as possible, and it's a mighty catchy lick. Quintron and Miss Kitty trade off vocals while he showcases his prowess on the organ. Sure, it goes on too long, but in concert it's probably irresistible. You can tell that many of these songs are toe-tapping rockers; maybe, it's all an elaborate scheme to get people out to his shows, though. Yeah, he writes catchy songs but purposely makes them sound like shit, so you'll be intrigued enough to hit the club when he's in your town. What else could it be? Regardless, you should go see him live, but, perhaps, skip out on the album.

Spiv, Everybody’s A Rock Star Tonight (Pop Sweatshop)

Spiv - Everybody's A Rock Star Tonight Spiv
Everybody's A Rock Star Tonight
Pop Sweatshop
By: Eric Greenwood

Despite a few mildly catchy melodies, Chris Barber's wordy, nerdy pop songs don't really leave you wanting for more. His band, Spiv, sounds like an ill-advised amalgam of Squeeze, Cheap Trick, and the Barenaked Ladies, and if you think that looks bad on paper it's even worse on headphones. The hooks are forced and the lyrics are too clever by half ("Seedy Release"- get it, CD release). Underneath Ken Stringfellow's (Posies) glistening production, there might be a trace of rock and roll, but on the surface Spiv's songs are lightweight and silly. Thankfully, this is an EP, so I only had to sit through four of them.

"Everybody's A Rock Star Tonight" has an identifiable hook and a power pop groundwork, but Chris Barber's vocals are so loud in the mix that they squash any impact the song may have had. The lyrics are decidedly hokey: "Given up on my showcase slot showing on MTV/so I decided to give my songs away for free on MP3/I got my fifteen minutes coming to me." Referencing current events is always a little embarrassing. It's like when bands cover a song that's still on the radio. You just don't do it. And that's the good news. "Beatley" not so cleverly tries to emulate, surprise, The Beatles, but, again, Barber's voice, adopting a flat monotone, mucks up a simple, unassuming melody. Why bands even bother trying to imitate The Beatles is beyond me. It's just a recipe for failure.

Spiv's music is all over the map- from power pop to maudlin rock to corny white boy rap- but it fails to establish any roots. If you don't securely nail down any of the support beams, your house will fall in, and that's exactly what Spiv has neglected to do here. Dabbling frivolously in various genres can work if there's some sort of connection or consistent factor, but Spiv offers only a loosely goofy demeanor to link its songs. If you're into jokey pop, then Spiv might be up your alley, but the songs aren't even showy enough to woo the Barenaked Ladies crowd.

"Seedy Release" is a faux-ballad about the music industry. Barber's commentary isn't exactly scathing or insightful- it's just kind of sort of half-interesting. And the play on words is pretty cheap. "VIP's Of The Street" is the EP's most embarrassing moment, however. The other two bandmates should have piped up and warned Barber against a rap parody. They were obviously compliant, though, because both bass and drums feature prominently in the atmospheric disco mix. Barber's approach to rapping is low-key; he's supposed to sound smooth, I guess. It's just not funny because it's been done to death and there's nothing new in the joke. At least the Barenaked Ladies were so silly in "One Week" you could almost see how the masses latched onto it. When listening to a band causes me to defend the Barenaked Ladies something is very wrong, so I will stop right now.

Hannibal, Directed By Ridley Scott (MGM)

Hannibal - Directed By Ridley Scott Hannibal
Directed By Ridley Scott
MGM
By: Eric Greenwood

Ridley Scott's Hannibal is a boring waste of time. The first sign that this film was going to be a failure was when Jodie Foster read the script and said "no thanks"- not that Jodie Foster has impeccable taste (Anna And The King is even more boring than Hannibal, but at least you expected it to be). The second sign was the fact that additional screenwriters had to be brought in to rescue David Mamet's first draft of the script. What in the hell is David Mamet doing writing cheesy horror scripts, you may wonder? You'll note the high profile release of his latest film, State And Main, and question no more. Quid pro quo. Hope it was worth damaging your reputation, Mr. Mamet.

Anthony Hopkins should have known better, but I guess, after films like Instinct, all pride goes out the window. Sir Hopkins wisely didn't want to repeat himself in Hannibal so no Fava beans and no tongue action. Instead, though, he treats us to awful new catchphrases like "okey dokey", which sound utterly implausible coming from a man so purportedly refined. He's like a brains-eating Ned Flanders. Hopkins possesses none of the malice he did in The Silence Of The Lambs; his performance is pure camp. John Waters will love it. The film is so utterly devoid of pacing or thrills that you're actually cheering for the bad guy. It is the ultimate cynic's film, lacking any semblance of hope or remorse or emotional connection. Nothing in it is scary. The villains are laughable clods, including Hopkins' emasculated Hannibal. The more you get to know him the less intriguing he is. Topping even Hopkins' candy-ass lampooning of Dr. Lecter is Gary Oldman's over the top turn as a burnt pumpkin (Mason Verger- one of Lecter's victims who got away and wants to feed Lecter to wild boars…ooh, scary). Surely, Oldman knew this film was dogshit, so he hammed it up accordingly.

The plot is ass-backwards and absurdly unbelievable, so I won't bore you with its inconsistencies because that would insult your intelligence. It's like watching a Timothy Dalton James Bond movie without any hot Bond girls- it's so corny. And, no, Julianne Moore doesn't cut it either. She's like a stonewall reading these artificially inseminated lines, awkwardly throwing in traces of a southern accent to stay true to Foster's creation but sounding like a Faulknerian idiot. Clarice Starling is incidental in this film. The plot relies so heavily on your knowledge of The Silence Of The Lambs that if you saw Hannibal without having seen its predecessor you'd be clueless as to her motivation or resolve (although Scott does his damndest to get you up to speed using transparent tricks like having Clarice review Dr. Lecter's case file). It's not Julianne Moore's fault; she did what she could with such lifeless tripe for a script.

It is Ridley Scott's fault, though. It's rare to see a filmmaker so utterly out of place. It's like watching a film about Tibet directed by Martin Scorsese or a film about baseball directed by Sam Raimi. Hmm, maybe it isn't so rare after all. There's just something intrinsically wrong, though. Scott has no business directing a horror film because he has no concept of suspense, evidenced by the fact that you're so bored watching this comic book cartoon that you resort to longing for the deaths of the characters. You'd be inclined to think Scott had never even seen The Silence Of The Lambs the way he avoids any trace of its appeal. The film looks like a dark b-movie with too much money. Apart from the opening night masses hoping for a reprise of Jonathan Demme’s work, the gratuitous gore is the only reason anyone will walk into the theater, but the gore is a let down, too, because it's just carelessly thrown in for show. Thanks Ridley Scott. You had better hope that Gladiator wins you an award to cover up this travesty. If there's any justice in the world, the word of mouth will kill this film as well as any future franchise hopes.

Face To Face, Standards And Practices (Vagrant)

Face To Face - Standards And Practices Face To Face
Standards And Practices
Vagrant
By: Eric G.

Worse than the ubiquitous ska cover is the campy pop punk cover. We've all turned on our local college radio stations only to hear some silly punk band covering "Eye Of The Tiger" or "Turning Japanese" out of tune and three times too fast. It's almost like a rite of passage- the obligatory new wave cover is for underground punk bands. Face To Face takes it to a whole new level, though, with its Standards & Practices, wherein the band offers a whole album of covers ranging from quintessential new wave hits to punk classics. The result is harmless enough, if a tad predictable. Pop punk is a frivolous genre to begin with, so a covers album by a pop punk band is like eating icing covered icing- tastes good at first but makes you sick pretty quickly.

Face To Face tries to be faithful to each of the songs. The band obviously reveres the music it's chosen and shows some respectable taste, which automatically separates it from the typical punk act out to piss on some obscure 80's hit. Honestly, though, this album sounds like Social Distortion doing karaoke. Trever Keith's voice is gruff, but he can hit the notes easier than Mike Ness can. This takes away from some of the songs, particularly Fugazi's "Merchandise." Remember the Motley Crue video where its playing "Anarchy In The U.K." live in some stadium? It was so slick and cheesy and out of place, but the Crue just ate up the adoration from the gaggles of hicks, who were no doubt oblivious of the song's origin. Face To Face doesn't shame itself that badly here, but it'll make you cringe, if only slightly.

After the recent and rather disappointing Pixies tribute, any Pixies cover is overkill, and Face To Face doesn't really add much to "Planet Of Sound"- a poor choice to begin with. The band shows a soft spot for effeminate new wave with its decision to tackle both INXS' "Don't Change" and The Psychedelic Furs' "Heaven." Both are so painstakingly rendered here that all Face To Face would need is some Loreal hair gel and a Roland to turn back the clock seventeen years. Keith does his best Richard Butler imitation. I suppose Mr. Butler would be flattered, but I'd just as soon listen to him sing it. Tackling The Smiths takes some balls, particularly for a band with an audience largely comprised of meatheaded slam dancers, and musically Face To Face brings out the latent rock in "What Difference Does It Make?"; Keith's voice, however, does not do Morrissey's vocal line any justice. And for God's sake, if you're going to cover something by Bob Mould, how about a Husker Du song? Sugar? Please…

Low, Things We Lost In The Fire (Kranky)

Low - Things We Lost In The Fire Low
Things We Lost In The Fire
Kranky
By: Eric G.

Low is one of those bands that I never really want to listen to, but I'm always glad when I do. I just never seem to be in the mood for music so deliberately laborious. When I'm packing CD's for a road trip, for example, it never occurs to me to put a Low disc in with the bunch. Perhaps, it's my subconscious telling me I'd surely drive off the road in a torpor. Needless to say, I treated the arrival of the new Low album with little fanfare- that is until I listened to it.

Low's musical evolution has been as slow and nuanced as one of its (in)famous dirges. The band's philosophy has always been less is more, particularly when it comes to instrumentation, and that ethos has firmly cemented the band into a genre that perpetuates my natural bias against anything stubbornly slow. There's a built-in audience of coffeehouse posers, of course, that love to talk about Communism and sit on the floor at Damon And Naomi shows that will eat this up, but Low's appeal should extend much further than watered-down stereotypes would guarantee.

With music this sparse, there's little room for trickery. Low's bread and butter is its sense of harmony. The music is both hypnotic and severe, and while it rarely rises above the sound of rushing water, its stillness is more shocking than the wall of tuneless noise at any given moment on MTV. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have delicate voices that cling to notes and ride the crescendo. Their minimalist style certainly recalls Galaxie 500's lazy resignation, but Low takes its slowness to a monumental peak in almost every single song.

Things We Lost In The Fire is by far the band's most accomplished and darkest album. The production is fuller, and the songs themselves are more mellifluous. "Sunflower" actually steps up the band's typical beats-per-minute average to a moderately breezy tempo. The chorus is nothing short of majestic: "bought some sweet/sweet/sweet/sweet sunflowers/and gave them to the night." Strings and keyboards add texture and drama to the simple, repetitive arrangement, but it's Sparhawk and Parker's harmony that sends shivers down the spine. "Dinosaur Act" has an uplifting aura despite being unremittingly slow. The booming snare accompanies a slightly gritty guitar progression while Sparhawk and Parker's voices rise above the thunderous refrain. It's beautiful but not pretty as "pretty" implies something ephemeral and weak while "beautiful" suggests something more sinewy- something deeper and more imposing, and this song is musically akin to its title.

Mimi Parker has a lovely voice, but her solo songs tend to outstay their welcome. She obviously likes the sound of her own voice, and the vocal histrionics, however subtle, stick out like a sore thumb in music this bare. "Lazer Beam" is hardly offensive, but it lacks the tension inherent to songs in which Sparhawk sings the lead. And "Embrace" sacrifices tension for melodrama. Parker's voice serves much better as an accompaniment. "July" is a perfect example. Sparhawk's boyish strain sounds absolutely otherworldly when Parker chimes in with "they'll never wake us in time."

The band experimented with orchestral arrangements on 1999's Secret Name, but on this album the orchestration is fully formed. To Low's credit, it still manages to make each song sound distant and elemental. That is to say the orchestrated arrangements don't bog the music down in murky, unnecessary layers. The songwriting is more cohesive and, dare I say, catchy. "Kind Of Girl" has a Simon And Garfunkle tinge to its lullaby-style guitar pluckings. It's instantly familiar and memorable as is "Like A Forest" with its string accompaniment, light, airy gait, and dour but climactic vocal melody.

Low hasn't ventured so far as to alienate its base with its denser sound, but Things We Lost In The Fire surely stands out from any of the band's previous work- perhaps, not immediately or even after the first few listens, but these songs get under your skin with repetition. I doubt I'll ever hesitate to listen to this album – or Low – ever again.

For Stars, Airline People (Acuarela)

For Stars - Airline People For Stars
Airline People
Acuarela
By: Eric G.

I must admit when I first listened to this I laughed out loud. I thought it sounded like something you'd sing while holding hands around a campfire. On the surface it does have a very Kumbaya/cheesy/folk quality to it. Something made me listen to it again, though. There's a simple sadness about the way Carlos Forster pins his thin voice against such a stark backdrop. The lyrics can be silly and naïve, but the slow, swaying music reaches small peaks, which draw you in. The songs are so fragile- it feels like everything could fall apart at any moment.

Carlos Forster's voice walks a fine line between a grating whine and a tragic lilt, but his plaintive melodies help plant him in the latter category. "At The End Of The World" strangely recalls Peter Paul And Mary the way the voices intertwine in harmony. I'm not doing a very good job of winning you over here, I'm sure. A Peter Paul And Mary reference would certainly put me off too, but it's an accurate description and still sounds good- you'll just have to take my word for it. "Brown Skin Saint" has a classic British pop sensibility to it- something very proper and traditional, despite Forster's American accent. He makes a line like "we have airplanes for the sky" sound like the end of the world.

"Motorway" welcomes lush keyboards into the brittle acoustic atmosphere. The tinny production benefits from trembling reverb and a warm electronic presence. Forster's voice cracks when it hits certain notes- not abrasively like Will Oldham's does but subtly and effectively, making the song sound more human and real. "The Racecar Driving Scene" spotlights Forster's shaky vocals with slow building percussion and rumbling sound effects. The layers of sound swell in time with Forster's strain. Very Galaxie 500. "Airline People" reprises the pure poetic pop sensibility that Paul Simon honed to perfection over thirty years ago, while also recalling some of Belle And Sebastian's more intimate moments.

For Stars makes fine melancholic pop music without either ham-fisted irony or androgynous ambiguity as is the tendency of comparable British acts. Or maybe, I'm just spaced out today. This is an EP of outtakes, so, thinking optimistically, that must mean its albums are that much better. I would normally throw a CD that sounded like this out the window without a second thought. It speaks volumes about For Stars that I haven't.