The Lies, Resigned (Kill Rock Stars)

The Lies - Resigned The Lies
Resigned
Kill Rock Stars
By: Eric Greenwood

The Lies offer a derivative and deliberate rehash of New Order's early organic/electronic dirges, circa 1981. New Order's Movement is one of my favorite albums, so I'm inclined to be excited by anything that would honor it; however, The Lies take things too far- shamelessly and disingenuously wallowing in another band's shadow. I say New Order instead of Joy Division (even though Joy Division would be more accurate) because the earliest New Order compositions merely mimicked Joy Division's urgent fatalism and The Lies just seem to be imitating that specific imitation.

Granted, New Order's natural emulation of Joy Division ended up producing a new strain of synthetic hopelessness that would go on to make a name for itself, despite its origin. The Lies, apparently, have no intention of creating a new sound: two albums into their career and there are no signs of advancement, apart from more dense atmospherics. Virtually, all the band's songs are composed in the same minor key, and the lethargic and plodding tempos seem interchangeable. Even the predictably dour lyrics lack the honesty or immediacy of their obvious models.

Rooted in post-punk and garage rock, The Lies spruce up these lengthy funeral marches with lush arrangements and melodic layers of keyboards. A knack for melody and structure the band does have, however borrowed it may be. If the dark arpeggios sound slightly familiar it's because they're all first cousins of Joy Division/New Order songs (I could make a list of all the ripped off songs and inverted melodies, if you'd like). It might be easier to give the band a pass for such blatant thievery if the lead singer could project his voice with any panache, but Dale Shaw's nerdy indie rock whine hardly conjures up the appropriate demons for such cheerless music.

Bands that got tagged with the goth label – the ones actually responsible for inspiring such a bizarre movement (The Cure, Joy Division, Siouxsie And The Banshees) – had no idea that what they were doing would be so misconstrued. The Lies have preordained their music to fall within a certain set of boundaries that seems silly two decades after its accidental creation. Without the ability to suspend your disbelief and genuinely accept all the bitterness and sadness on Resigned, its impact is stymied.

Suffice it to say The Lies are full of it.

Lemon Jelly, Lemonjelly.ky (XL / Beggars Banquet)

Lemon Jelly - Lemonjelly.ky Lemon Jelly
Lemonjelly.ky
XL / Beggars Banquet
By: Eric Greenwood

With a loungey mix not quite as buoyant or upbeat as Fantastic Plastic Machine but equally as kitschy, Lemon Jelly compiles its first three limited edition, vinyl-only EP's on this disc, warning, conscientiously, that if you already own the aforementioned EP's "there is no reason you should buy this product." An argument could be made; however, that it might be worth buying (again) simply for the amazing artwork and packaging, which rival the music contained within for top honors.

For the uninitiated Lemon Jelly is easy on the ears. There is nothing too complex or elitist about its lavish, sample-driven, downtempo hybrid of 1950's easy listening and 1990's hip-hop beats. Lemon Jelly will easily appeal to fans of everything from Esquivel to Fat Boy Slim. Without venturing into any unknown terrain, the duo casts a wide net with a synthetic backdrop so laid back and hypnotic it may even put you to sleep, but you're sure to dream of the diffusive textures, ripe beats, and sunken melodies.

"In The Bath" is smooth and groove-oriented. Faux-string keyboards warm up to a jaunty bass line and intermittent scratching. The sample of the British woman asking, "what do you do in the bath?" establishes the jovial atmosphere. As you might expect from a band called Lemon Jelly, nothing is ever very serious. "Nervous Tension" is anything but. Aside from the predictable urban beats, Fred Deakin and Nick Franglin weave a languid piano melody, silly spoken word loops, and bouncy bass grooves through the crisp acoustics.

"His Majesty King Raam" breezes by like a familiar soundtrack theme, despite running over seven minutes. One could easily confuse it for schmaltzy, easy listening with its Fender Rhodes noodlings and hushed synths. I guess the samples and scratching would eventually give it away, though. "The Staunton Lick" raises the tempo a bit awash in jangly acoustic guitars, brisk beats, and gentle bass grooves. Lemon Jelly's inner Pizzicato 5 rears its head on "Homage To Patagonia", although, I dare say, Lemon Jelly shows far more restraint than its hyper Japanese counterparts with concentrated samples and well-crafted tunes.

The slick, funky "Kneel Before Your God" combines Lemon Jelly's penchant for lounge-style cliches with playful, futuristic melodies. The mock-soul of "Page One" cheeses out with tinkling piano bits and layers of synths, eventually bursting into a disco dance number. Lemon Jelly's unpretentious, self-deprecating sense of humor permeates every song. Lemonjelly.ky is so smooth and serene it would be easy to miss- all rounded edges and shuffling syncopation, but, for your dollar, this collection of EP's is well worth seeking out, if not for the gorgeous artwork alone.

A.C. Cotton, Half Way Down (Self-Released)

A.C. Cotton - Half Way Down A.C. Cotton
Half Way Down
Self-Released
By: Eric Greenwood

I've never understood bar rock. Does sweating through generic tunes night after night in a shitty dive really appeal to aspiring musicians? Of course, no band would really consider itself bar rock, but sometimes I wonder. Why would a band purposely adopt a style that is so cliched in its mediocrity? A.C. Cotton is one such band that mystifies me. From the lyrics to the artwork to the production- everything is middle of the road. Sure, there are some relatively catchy hooks on Half Way Down as well as some gritty guitar solos, but nothing to grab your attention much less hold it.

The music sounds like so many other bands that it ends up sounding like nothing- just rock and roll blah. You know those angst-ridden FM ballads that litter every drama on network TV? A.C. Cotton sounds like it tosses them off in its sleep. Its brand of punchy, country-tinged rock and roll is dead on arrival. The thing is, though, there are plenty of people that would probably be into this (music this innocuous always manages to attract fans). I just don't know whom, specifically. I don't know anyone listening to Limp Bizkit either, but then again I don't know many thirteen-year-olds that hate themselves.

A.C. Cotton is led by Alan Charing – you know – from The Alan Charing Controversy? Just kidding- I don't really expect you to know that. Apparently, Alan Charing likes his name- so much so that he doesn't hesitate incorporating it into a bad band name. Or two. Well, anyway, he doesn't hesitate writing a boring song either. I've sat through Half Way Down three times now, and it's all one big blur. The cliches have beaten me into a state of numbness. The "down on your luck lonesome blues" as seen through the eyes of a Springsteen acolyte put to generic bar rock is not my cup of tea. Is it yours?

This Busy Monster, Fireworks (Barsuk)

This Busy Monster - Fireworks This Busy Monster
Fireworks
Barsuk
By: Eric Greenwood

According to the band’s bio, I am lazy if I compare This Busy Monster to XTC. I could accept that criticism if that were all I to convey. Lead singer Christopher Possanza also sounds like Joe Jackson. However, in addition to drawing inspiration from both XTC and Joe Jackson, This Busy Monster conjures a folksy yet ostentatious brand of (indie) pop, replete with horns, strings, banjos and even singing saws. The trio at the core of this busy music has an obvious aptitude for obscure melodies and discordant progressions that will leave an indelible mark on your jaded ears.

"What She Said" (not The Smiths song) is an uncharacteristically rocking anthem, opening an album called Fireworks with the appropriate jolt. Surging guitars back Possanza's guttural angst along with a semi-dramatic rhythm section. The lyrics are willfully obscure and strangely poetic: "I've got eyes in the back of my head/the nails on my fingers they glow in the dark/I've twice been divorced as I remember it/once on a farm and then once in the dark." Switching gears completely on "Loup-Garou", the band sounds like a roadside attraction. Plucked banjos and a clarinet fight fuzzed out guitars and Possanza's domineering voice for attention. Don't be fooled by the homespun melody and jaunty rhythm- there's always something dark lurking underneath the surface.

The quirkiness of "Smell Of Blood" may reinforce the XTC comparison, but This Busy Monster confirms that its penchant for catchy pop is, in fact, legitimate. And lines like "you'll have to forgive me for many things/I smoke 'cause I can't stand the smell of blood" only enhance the band's charm. "Swoon" is dark and folksy. Snare brushes shuffle behind a timid acoustic guitar. The bass is sparing in its jazzy runs, and Possanza's harmonies are effortless, despite the awkward phrasing of his lyrics. When the band finds itself trapped by indie rock cliches it manages to wriggle out unscathed through versatile playing and inventive structures.

Quirkiness often leads to self-indulgence and pretension, and This Busy Monster is hardly immune. "The Thing" meanders aimlessly through an overly dramatic build-up, which lasts almost four minutes before it explodes into an all-too-brief reprieve. The meaningless lyrics only drag it further into the realm of unmitigated masturbation. "White Rabbit" (not the Jefferson Airplane song) pulls the band out of the hole momentarily with herky-jerky guitars and loose percussion, but snoozers like "Time To Sleep" and "Gold Stopwatch" fall prey to excessive exhibitionism. Fireworks could easily do without the ballads. For some reason the band decided to clump them all at the end.

Fireworks is an intriguing album; I keep coming back to it. The talent is undeniable, and the songwriting is unique. The band is hard to pigeonhole and that's admirable in today's cluttered and derivative underground scene. Despite a few obvious influences, This Busy Monster retains its individuality on its second album. The experimentation backfires occasionally, but what band doesn't trip when it travels down an obscure path? If at least a handful of these songs don't excite you, I don't know what will.

Gorillaz, S/t (Parlophone/virgin)

Gorillaz - S/t Gorillaz
S/t
Parlophone/virgin
By: Eric Greenwood

In his quest to avoid recording a new Blur album this year, Damon Albarn has been knocking off side-projects like he doesn’t have a real job. Gorillaz is Albarn’s latest incarnation, and it’s a rap/dub/punk/electronic collaboration with producer Dan “The Automator” Nakamura (Dr. Octagon, Deltron 3030, Handsome Boy Modeling School), featuring Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads, Del Tha Funky Homosapien, Kid Koala, and Miho Hatori from Cibo Matto. The onslaught of all-star collective records has pretty much run its course (the suddenly ubiquitous Santana notwithstanding- just ask UNKLE and Prince who put the first few nails in the coffin), but Gorillaz does have something unique to offer the genre: good songs. Well, a few anyway.

Originally, Albarn’s involvement with Gorillaz was rumored to be minimal, but he seems to have killed the captain and taken over the ship, as his instantly recognizable cockney slur is the crux of almost every song. Dan "The Automator" backs Albarn's hooks with intentionally futuristic yet simplistic beats. There's a lazy, stoner's indifference to many of the songs. Albarn sounds almost giddy compared to the last few Blur albums, thankfully. Like the dilettante that he is, Albarn is content to get his feet just wet enough in a particular genre to pull off one song. But before you level Peter Gabriel or Sting-wannabe accusations at him- he has the wherewithal not to take himself too seriously. And his consistent tunefulness hammers home the fact that his long-lauded pop sensibility is indeed no fluke.

"Rehash" opens the cartoon band's debut with a sunny, carefree sing-along. Albarn and his acoustic guitar lead the way. To prevent anyone confusing this with a Blur song Dan "The Automator" peppers the scenery with heavy, dub-bass, wobbly beats, and a chorus of slick back-up singers. "5/4" is a surprisingly straightforward rocker- Albarn's bratty affectation driving the Wire-y guitars into a noisy, foot-stomping chorus. The dark, soporific beauty of "Tomorrow Comes Today" instantly recalls Blur's eponymous reinvention in 1997. Albarn's melodica melds perfectly with Nakamura's lethargic beats. On "New Genius (Brother)" Albarn successfully experiments with his upper register over top Nakamura's scratches and dusty record samples.

Fuelled by its fully animated video with characters designed by Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett, "Clint Eastwood" is light-hearted, urban, futuristic fun. Del Tha Funky Homosapien's aggressive rant counter's Albarn's lackadaisical hook effectively, and Nakamura ensures everything retains its dark tinge with a soundscape resembling a hip-hop clash with a circus sideshow. Even on throwaways like "Punk" where Albarn turns up the cockney drawl to an obnoxious degree, there's still a freshness and a spark as well as an (un)intentional resemblance to Elastica. Albarn's slumberous falsetto careens gorgeously over Nakamura's orchestral "Sound Check (Gravity)"- a rumbling hip-hop dirge.

Because of its dilettantism and shallow experimentation Gorillaz rarely outstays its welcome. It's an unpretentious diversion for Albarn- an easy way out of recording a solo album, for one, as well as a chance to purge himself of any zany ideas he might inflict upon Blur. From the cartoon concept to the playful atmosphere, Gorillaz succeeds primarily because of its solid songs. Even after all the hype dies down, many of these songs will hold their own. Of course, there are a few cringe-worthy moments when the genre crossbreeding is awkward and strained, but these indulgences are easily forgiven. This is an eclectic pop record. Frivolous, yes, but full of melody and attitude.

Lightning Bolt, Ride The Skies (Load)

Lightning Bolt - Ride The Skies Lightning Bolt
Ride The Skies
Load
By: Eric Greenwood

Rumored to be one of the loudest and most frenzied live acts on the touring circuit, Lightning Bolt offers this recorded document of its spasmodic, deafening thrashcore, hoping to convey just as much jaw-dropping awe as its live show purportedly does. The Providence, Rhode Island duo consists only of bass and drums, but a Godhead Silo tribute Ride The Skies is not (no boring sludge-core here). Lightning Bolt explodes from the same fiery hole as Japanese counterparts like Melt Banana and –to an extent– the Boredoms. Each song is a lesson in speed, control, and dynamics.

This type of music will only appeal to those with an affinity for bombastic rhythms and overly complicated arrangements. Anyone looking for hooks will be sorely disappointed. What sounds like utter noise at first soon reveals itself to be so tightly wound and precisely syncopated that it boggles the mind. Drummer Brian Chippendale mimics every cragged twist and turn of Brian Gibson’s squealing bass. Gibson’s effects pedal plays an important role, transforming his bass into a versatile instrument capable of the highest-pitched squawks to the deepest rumblings.

From the first seemingly random notes of “Forcefield” it is obvious that this is not your typical thrash. The controlled chaos is too pristine- too calculated. Chippendale’s drumming is monstrous. He relentlessly pummels every single note like his life depends on it. Gibson sounds like he’s trying to shake Chippendale off his tail with a spattering of notes so disparate that to the casual ear it must sound like five different records all playing at 78 rotations per minute, but Chippendale never misses a beat. "St. Jacques" sounds like a jackhammer with sudden, unpredictable stops and starts while Gibson teases you with high-end bass snippets of the traditional "Frere Jacques" played so fast it's almost unrecognizable.

Transferring this type of energy and intensity to something as impersonal and stale as a digital recording must be a let down for the band and its fans, but Ride The Skies has its shining moments. "13 Monsters" has a semblance of a groove, led by a gnarly, fuzzed-out bass line. Random shrieks and screams are audible beneath the pounding rhythms, so, technically, you can't call Lightning Bolt an "instrumental" band. One could almost hum along with the music of the title track (the vocals, however, are a different story). Have you ever listened to a cassette while it's being dubbed on high speed? That's what Lightning Bolt sounds like when it's locked in a groove. It doesn't last long, of course, as some sort of noisy deconstruction invariably sets in ("The Faire Folk").

Lightning Bolt wows you with its musical prowess without the ego and pomposity of bands like Don Caballero (or, heaven forbid, the outrageously pretentious Don Caballero sideshow, Storm And Stress). This isn't art so much as deconstruction of art or, more accurately, destruction of art- an aural fight against complacency. You can't dance to it, you can't really sing along, and you won't remember how the songs went once it's over, but I guarantee it will still rock you inside out.

Moulin Rouge, Directed By Baz Luhrmann (20th Century Fox)

Moulin Rouge - Directed By Baz Luhrmann Moulin Rouge
Directed By Baz Luhrmann
20th Century Fox
By: Eric Greenwood

Baz Luhrmann follows up his unwatchable remake of Romeo And Juliet with more of the same slice and dice, over-stylized editing. Setting itself up as a story about “love”, Moulin Rouge barely even scratches the surface of its hackneyed "star-crossed lovers" theme. The deliberately anachronistic musical that drives the film has a few clever moments, but the story is so hollow that the film feels like a cartoon, albeit one that is at times both dazzling and hypnotic. Luhrmann’s direction is inspired, for sure, but it’s all sugar and no salt. He has too many balls in the air, dabbling in comedy, tragedy, music, and theater.

Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are equally impressive as the ill-fated couple. Both have above-average voices, but neither would have been cast based on vocal ability alone. McGregor brings a certain malaise to his role, but his boyish charm flows so naturally it’s no wonder he was picked to play Obi-One Kanobi in the new Star Wars trilogy. Kidman is gorgeous in her vampish garb, making it all too easy for her to dance and sing her way into your heart. Luhrmann makes the seedy Parisian underworld look like a fantasyland with Kidman as its fiery princess.

The music is so diverse it’s sometimes disconcerting. Fusing everything from Elton John and Gloria Estefan to Phil Collins and Nirvana, Luhrmann pounds you over the head with conflicting emotions, but the effect is surreal. Working Madonna's lyrics to "Like A Virgin" into the dialogue is one of the film's most light-hearted yet effective moments. Moulin Rouge works as a play within a play. And the choreography is stunning. The inherent campiness of the musical genre is lessened somewhat by Luhrmann's tongue in cheek and hyper-self-aware presentation. It's at once absurd, gratuitous, and sentimental. Take out all the sexual provocativeness, and it could easily be a child's film with it's wacky, almost slapstick comedy.

Moulin Rouge is lavishly over the top- a constant barrage of images and cuts, fast zooms and blurred sequences, deep crimson colors and wild, glittery sets. The eye candy almost makes up for the unfulfilling storyline. If the film had been shorter, the trite plot wouldn't hang so heavily in its wake. As it stands, though, Luhrmann's story is a cliché of a cliché. We know from the onset that Christian (McGregor) and Satine (Kidman) do not live happily ever after. Christian's beard tells us so, as he recounts the events at the Moulin Rouge. All flashbacks are shot in a glorious haze of dreamy colors and constant motion, whereas, "current" scenes are dark and dank, emphasizing the emptiness and abandon Christian feels now that he is without his one true love.

Luhrmann's films do not look like anyone else's. He is unquestionably a stupendous visual artist and "excess" is the name of his game. As a visual spectacle Moulin Rouge is a triumph, but as a film it lacks staying power as it brazenly insults your intelligence and fails to engage you emotionally. Whether it's done deliberately or not is beside the point (when someone whispers to you at the start of a film that it's based on a true story does that make the film any better?). Luhrmann's had it both ways: Romeo And Juliet was certainly not lacking in plot, but Luhrmann still managed to bungle it. Moulin Rouge suffers from just the opposite problem- the story is half-hearted, but it's a vision to behold. Perhaps, there's some common ground between these extremes where Luhrmann can succeed.