On the One and Two
reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01
Mix albums are always difficult to review. The DJ in question (in this case, Adam X) is mostly responsible for picking the music and then applying a little audio collage work to the stuff in order to move the set along. You know, just like he might do in a club.
Which is all very good. But when I hear a club DJ who's really on (and this doesn't happen much down here in the New South), I'm as impressed by the freshness of the choices and interesting ways the music is presented. It's a live thing, and when you commit such an endeavor to album, that element of surprise is lost.
Still, Adam X has good taste in music, and he's got a light touch on the mixing board that presents his selections in the best way possible. This is a fun disc. I'm not sure how well it will wear on me, but I've got to admit it's working right now.
reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01
First and foremost, Adam X sticks to the beat. Everything else is secondary. The beats here aren't particularly complicated, but they are stylishly presented. Club music for the discerning dancer, I suppose.
Very German, though I believe Adam X hails from NYC. The sound is clean and sterile. Even when some keys drop in, they're ultra-tight techno. All steel and no cushion.
I like it, myself. The trick to this sorta sound is to surprise the listener, to do the unexpected often enough to set the hook. These tracks are generally predictable, but at just the right moments, the beats are shaken up.
That's enough to keep me listening. You've gotta know when to tweak the rules, and Adam X has that skill down. I think this disc might be a little too technical for the average listener, but anyone wanting to venture out onto the chilly side of dance music ought to step through these doors.
X Marks the Pedwalk
The Killing Had Begun
reviewed in issue #56, 6/15/94
Just for the sheer magnitude of their catalog, the folks at Cleopatra are the top industrial/dance/goth etc. label around. But the list doesn't stop there, as their backlist includes stuff from the Exploited, the Damned and others. Certainly good folks to hook up with.
Nicely merging techno and industrial sensibilities into a rough-yet-club-ready sound, X Marks the Pedwalk has crafted a savvy second album. Yes, the band is from Germany and you can tell, but that is not all bad.
After all, this isn't a rehash of anything you've heard before, but something more interesting. Heavy enough to entice, melodic enough to sell to the masses.
Four Fit (Singles Collection Part II)
reviewed in issue #81, 7/31/95
Just in case you missed the last four singles from this German hard techno outfit.
Hard techno means fast, mean and dirty, with plenty of sampled guitar and other heavy bits. Stuff that is pretty much guaranteed to get me on the floor to hurt people (though Barbara is much more likely to do damage, as she tends to flail without remorse).
Basic blood-pumping music with all the trimmings. As usual, X Marks the Pedwalk has put together a fine package. I liked last year's album (The Killing Had Just Begun) immensely, and now I have to start looking for new singles. I have a feeling that won't be easy. Such is the thrill of a search.
reviewed in issue #103, 3/18/96
I've sworn by this band since hearing The Killing Had Begun. A masterful mix of hard techno, electronic experimentation and addictive grooves and melodies puts X Marks the Pedwalk ahead of almost every other electronic act around.
As if to prove the point, the title track (which leads off the set) is almost an ambient piece, with subtle beats and a mellow groove. Somewhat of a departure, but well-executed. And then plenty of what made the band famous: club tunes with an astonishing array of sounds and moods. And, yes, a few trance-like introductions. Done with the ultimate in style. Of course.
Some might complain about the length of the tunes (the average is well over six minutes) or the excessive intros. Valid to a point, I guess. But I didn't get bored one bit throughout. There's more than enough going on to keep even the most ardent speed freak amused. And once the full song kicks in, well, I don't know a person who can resist.
X Marks the Pedwalk in full stride is an awesome sound indeed. Eight songs (and a remix) are hardly enough, and yet more than necessary to satisfy my need for fine electronic music. Another amazing performance.
Johnny X and the Conspiracy
Buy, Sell, Trade 7"
reviewed in issue #177, 2/22/99
I like the sleeve, I like the clever spindle sticker, I like the concepts behind the songs. But the music itself lets me down.
Just not enough punch. Part of that is definitely a production problem, as the sound is a bit excessively muted. But part of it is the way the singer kinda mumbles his way through the vocals (though that could be the engineering; I'm not sure).
I dig the incisive lyrics, and I like the style of the music, what I can make out. not a world-beater, but pretty decent. Still, I simply cannot make out exactly what the band wanted here. I know this judgment is kinda severe, but so be it.
White Knuckle Ride
reviewed in issue #211, 1/29/01
You know, about what it sounds like. A bunch of rockin' punk types from Atlanta got together to jam. A little MC5, a little Iggy and the Stooges, a little New York Dolls. You know, the good stuff.
Each song is a tightly-wound ball of explosive energy. Not only are these songs written in a blistering, bare-bones style, the band pounds them out with aggression and flair. These folks are having fun.
The sound? Ragged and hoarse. And I'm talking about the guitars. Of course, just about everything fits into that category. The X-Impossibles play like there's no tomorrow, and the production showcases that effort. This disc sounds like it was recorded live in one take.
And, actually, the cover of "What Love Is" was a one-take wonder. A nice way to finish off a rather irresistible album. Jump in anywhere; you'll be swept away. The X-Impossibles have come to conquer, and you know, they just might.
reviewed in issue #131, 3/31/97
There's a big wall of sound, but X25 (once known as Xanax 25 before a certain pharmaceutical concern got wind and sicced some lawyers on the boys) seems to be hiding behind the chaos it creates.
There's a lot of pain gong on here. X25 isn't a grunge band (the sound is bass-heavy, but in a more NYC style, if unowhutimean), but the themes are similar. More personal, though, and X25 always seems to punt when the song is begging for anthemic overdrive.
All reasons I should really dig this, but I don't. First, the lack of diversity in the music sound (even when the guys are trying something different, as on "Will and Time", the feel is the same). I just don't hear a search for creative new sounds.
On the other hand, the lyrical explorations are quite good. In fact, that's the mean reason I'd recommend this disc. The music is never better than middling, but the lyrics sometimes are exquisite.
reviewed in issue #105, 4/8/96<
A collection of three singles and some new material, all put together for the very first time by eMpTy. All tres punk.
The production varies greatly from song to song. One of those singles must have been engineered by a complete incompetent. Oh well. The spirit rides through well enough.
And spirit is the fume material that drives this album. The songs are nicely fast and rough, but nothing terribly new or exciting. Just enough attitude to make me bounce along and put a smile to my face.
As basic as music gets. Which is not the worst thing in the world.
(Bomb Sniffing Dog Records)
reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98
A cool sorta home recording, with lots of caustic comments broadcast on top of an amalgam of samples, drum machine beats and the odd instrumental interlude. Kinda like techno on peyote (before you puke).
Lots of discomfort, but you know the good stuff's coming, y'know? And I'll be damned if this guy didn't spend some tough time pretty near my old high school stomping grounds. He makes plenty of references to west Texas landmarks (I happened to be stuck in eastern New Mexico, which is about the same thing).
So there's this personal connection on top of the general weirdness. And don't misunderstand me: This stuff is definitely out there. Xark doesn't bother with explaining himself, he just goes off, again and again. Difficult to discern a point sometimes, but still amusing.
There's a reason people make records in their basements. It's so that the resulting music can conform to their pure vision. This one's pretty warped, but the trip is worth the price.
reviewed in issue #169, 10/12/98
Not like anything else I've heard from Laundry Room. Imagine 80s electro-pop given a 90s grunge overwash. The songs are synth pop, but there's this layer of grime covering everything. Trust me; it sounds really, really good.
With some pleasantly idiosyncratic moves. No formulas need apply here. Xing (that's pronounced "zing", BTW) reaches for the top of the ride and gets there. The pretentious art-pop album that actually pulls off what it intends.
Oh, yeah, this is the real deal. As each new song comes through the speakers, my ears jump up and beg for more. I'm not exaggerating here. This is the sort of music which instantly impresses. Think of Peter Gabriel when he was making all those eponymous albums. Just a bit messier.
There is that initial layer of "we are making an important album here" to work through, but see, this is an important album. Sometimes pretentious music actually works. It does here. Actually, it more than succeeds. It soars.
reviewed in issue #342, November 2012
Not of this world. Or mine, anyway. Xisix is straight electronics, meandering through virtual worlds as yet undiscovered. Most of these pieces have a trance beat, but they often veer into unexpected territory.
Unlike most experimental electronic types, Xisix keeps the beat flowing no matter what. Any and all tangents (there are almost too many to mention) keep one lead tied to that beat and whip around on the loose end.
The pieces really take off when four, five or more lines start flapping around the beats at the center. It almost gets too frenzied at times, but the songs are always reined in just enough. There is order at the core, after all.
And the beat goes on. Such lovely beat, too. I hoped this album would lope on forever. Oh well. That's what repeat is all about.
(21st Circuitry Records)
reviewed in issue #55, 5/31/94
Music born in the cyberspace. Where some folk like to say things like "No machines" on their records, everything here is processed through some sort of sampler, keyboard, drum machine or other unit.
What comes out is a wildly imaginative set of heavy techno songs. This isn't the stuff you'll find on lame techno samplers, but a more industrial, more creative side of techno. The kind that helped originate the term.
This set is compiled from eight years of recording, and it certainly is rather impressive. A sonic assault on all levels, to be sure. Worthy of long exposure.
Scorched Blood remix EP
reviewed in issue #124, 12/2/96
A 55+ minute EP? Only on CD, man.
Four versions of "Scorched Blood", each radically different from the other, but all bearing the stamp of Bat, the being behind Xorcist. This stuff inhabits the hard techno universe, where anything is possible, and almost everything is legal.
Oh, and a couple other tracks as well, just to fill out the disc. "Burning the House Down" and the remix of "Crack" are just as worthy as the "Scorched" tracks. Music like this makes you feel alone even in the busiest corridors of cyberspace.
Perhaps a little more accessible than the Phantoms retrospective, this set is still more than worthy of the Xorcist name. Still miles away from reality.
reviewed in issue #136, 6/9/97
Xorcist has always been the ultimate merging of goth, cold wave and techno. There's plenty of stuff wandering past all the time, and the synthesis of the various components is sheer genius.
Nothing changes here. The usual lush sound prevails (though the beats do seem a bit weak at times), and the gorgeous soundscapes are amazing to behold. Suffice to say, if you haven't heard Xorcist, you have no idea how good this can be.
Few can make experimentation sound so accessible. While fans of electronic music are notoriously hard to impress, I've never heard anything but praise for Bat's music. The mere fact that so many disparate people swear by Xorcist is telling.
This is one of them "enhanced" CDs, and since I now have CD-rom, I'll give you a run-down on that stuff. First, the thing is set up to run off a web browser, so there's so no compatibility problems. Lots of cool graphics, and a few interesting little tidbits. My guess is this stuff is basically from the Xorcist website (I guess I could check that out, but I'm a bit lazy), but it works as a kind of extended liner notes.
Class all the way. How could I expect less?
reviewed in issue #83, 8/21/95
Space in your face.
Plenty of keys to go around, but the beats are silent. Ah, yes, the empty chasm of space music rears its head.
And like the better acts of the genre, Xylon makes sure to keep repetition to a minimum. Well, as little as possible, considering that each song lasts upwards of 10 minutes and there aren't that many musical ideas in each. It is pretty astonishing that Xylon can almost keep my interest in any song.
Personally, I prefer some beats with my space, but that usually leads to trance (and I do like that better, even if it is a distinctly different sub-genre). Still, Xylon puts out reasonably decent space.
reviewed in issue #130, 3/17/97
Alterna-metal with the mechanical precision of an industrial outfit. Xysma reminds me a lot of Pyogenesis, and I get the same feeling: lots of good ideas, but the execution leaves something amiss.
A nice and tight sound, with a really cool guitar noise. But the riffage is terribly cliche, which undercuts a lot of the more unusual musical ideas that permeate the mass. Really too bad.
And then every once in a while Xysma cuts things loose and goes for the catchy bit. That's a little more successful than some of the other stuff, but even there the hooks generally go awry.
I keep listening, and I keep wanting to like the band. There's so much going on, and much of it has a lot of potential. But when things really get moving, all I can hear is Sonic Temple. Yow. Perhaps the pot needs more stirring.
The Freak Show 12"
reviewed in issue #224, 11/5/01
Actually three tracks, including censored radio cuts. And when it comes to cussing, Y@k doesn't mess around. He slings four-letter words the way John Chapman sowed apple seeds.
But I'll give the guy credit: He's got a good flow. His rhymes are primitive and sometimes disjointed, but his delivery almost makes up for that shortcoming. As for the backing music, it's simple. Nothing spectacular. Just enough of the beats to keep Y@k in line.
On the whole a decent, if not spectacular effort. Y@k needs to work on his writing, if for no other reason than to avoid such a spectacular reliance on just a few words. But there's no denying that he's got a way of expressing his limited vocabulary with style.
Oh My God!
reviewed in issue #56, 6/15/94
Recorded just before the band broke up in 1991. The liners are somewhat self-congratulating, but even if Yard Trauma never did manage much of a following outside of California in its almost 10 years of existence, this is certainly a nice bequest.
Bret Gurewitz produced this with the band, and it sure does have his characteristic clean sound. This is extremely tight.
And Joe Dodge certainly could write a song (he wrote all but one here). Yes, they do stick mainly to melodic punk constructions, but you can do it well, or you can suck. Dodge does it well.
Makes me want to hear a lot more. Longevity can breed indifference, or it can improve things (like scotch). Yard Trauma may not have mellowed much, but this disc showcases a band at the top of its form.
reviewed in issue #291, November 2007
These boys owe a huge debt to Neil Young, but in the end, the Yarrows ably establishes its own sound. Taking the forceful folk ballads of Young's early days and adding modern indie pop conventions (a certain ringing guitar sound, for starters), these boys have truly found something special.
The song construction is assured, but not strict. There's plenty of room to color outside of the lines, as long as such flights better illustrate the song. I like that willingness to digress, as well as the discipline to keep a song together. Young does the same thing (most of the time, anyway), and I think it's that attitude that made me think of that influence.
The Yarrows snag bits and pieces from plenty of other artists, of course. There's a heavy 70s vibe to many of these songs, though I don't hear any organ or piano--just when I think I do, I realize that it's just a guitar in the background. Now that's a cool sound.
Well met. This fine collection of songs is worth plenty of exploration. And I have a feeling it will only get better with age. As the best always do.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #232, August 2002
Karen sings. Brian plays drums. Nick plays guitar. Simple, right? Well, in a way. But not unlike Bongwater, Yeah Yeah Yeahs play with the entire idea of rock music. "Art Star" is a conceptual masterpiece that still rocks like a motherfucker. Just because this stuff is intelligently written and played doesn't mean it doesn't have a certain visceral appeal.
Really, the stripped down sound is a wonder to behold. There's really nothing to the music, and yet it holds an almost unfathomable power. I can't exactly explain that, but if you hear it you'll know what I'm talking about.
This EP originally appeared on Shifty. A full-length on Touch and Go is due soon. Not soon enough.
Hard Trax (Serial Composer Anatomy)
reviewed in issue #167, 9/14/98
On the techno side of electronic music, with lots of beat manipulation. In fact, the beat's the thing here, and all of the overlays just that. Secondary notions which dress up the overall picture.
And boy, what beats. Not slammin' stuff, but fast and furious all the same. Yellowcake (a guy with the quaint name of Spartaco Cortesi) specializes speedy beats, with lots of flourishes. As other reviews in this issue have revealed, I like polyrhythmic dance music. Mainly because I can always find some way to be on the beat. Even if I look like I'm suffering from a grand mal seizure or something.
Cortesi adds brushstrokes of techno melodies and some ambient sound as well. But he never forgets what lies at the heart of his compositions: the beat. And the beat is paramount.
A treasure trove of creative rhythms. The rest of the package is just as solid. Yellowcake is a real find.
Live at Maritime Hall
reviewed in issue #173, 12/14/98
Another reggae legend. And like the Gregory Isaacs set, there are more medleys here than regular songs. Yellowman does flesh out the songs within the medleys a bit more (the pieces are more slurred together than edited down), but I still have a problem.
What does come across is Yellowman's passion. He's been around, but he still loves playing and singing. His energy is infectious.
Wish I could say that about the sound, which is pretty muddled. Past Yellowman's voice and the keyboards, the sound is catch as catch can. Very much a hit-and-miss proposition.
I'd rather go back to the studio albums, I guess. This isn't bad, but I had hoped for more.
Open Your Eyes
(Beyond Music-Tommy Boy)
reviewed in issue #150, 12/29/97
Four guys who wandered through the band in the 70s and 80s (Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White) add a much younger member (Billy Sherwood) and crank out a set of songs that are quite accessible by Yes standards.
Traditionalists probably won't be happy. And I'm not sure how many new folks will flock to this sound, which is something of a 90s update of the 90215 concept: a stricter adherence to pop song structure and a greater emphasis on vocals.
Technically, of course, Yes satisfies. Steve Howe may look like Keith Richards's vampiric cousin, but he can still play with precision. And somehow, Jon Anderson is able to waft that weird falsetto as well as ever. The songs themselves aren't particularly interesting (a few too many musical and lyrical cliches for my taste), but they don't suck (a problem which has plagued Yes releases for the past few years).
A rebirth? Not really. But it is nice to hear a listenable Yes album again. I certainly wasn't counting on even that much.
reviewed in issue #188, 9/20/99
The "old" Yes lineup (Jon Anderson and Steve Howe lead this incarnation), this album still manages to sound a lot more modern than I imagined it would. Modern in the sense of "new age." Kind of an adult contemporary feel at times. Pretty sing-songs. Not unlike a Disney soundtrack.
And despite some tech help from the likes of Rhys Fulber, this Yes really doesn't break any new ground. Well, maybe for Yes, but not in general. Indeed, Fulber's contribution on "Lightning Strikes" brightens what otherwise would have been pretty generic piece.
It's not bad. I can't say that. It really isn't. The playing is still good, and the writing is workmanlike. It gets the job done. There isn't a high level of inspiration, though, and that's where I question the need for another Yes album.
I guess when you get old, you play music like this. I just don't particularly want to hear it. That's all. Perhaps my parents will groove happily. I'll let them.
Chill Out Sector
reviewed in issue #69, 1/31/95
This is exactly the kind of space music that would come on my clock radio at noon on Sundays. I would sleep all through the hour until one.
And I still would. Lots of keyboards and special effects, but not much really going on. Sure, if you've got a head full of acid you might get into this more, but even so I'd rather hear something a bit more interesting.
If all you want is soothing tones to clear your mind, then this might do the trick. But if you want something that assaults your senses even in the slightest way, move to something else.
reviewed in issue #93, 12/4/95
What happens when K.K. Null meets the noise jazz pop gurus of Chicago (Jim O'Rourke and cohorts Darin Gray and Thymme Jones)? Lots of cool shit.
And if you aren't a big fan of Brise-Glace, any of K.K. Null's output, Gastr Del Soul or any other such outfit, well, you just might dig this after all. The noise is nicely modulated, and Gray and Jones have really crafted some fine rhythms. The stuff keeps moving, despite whatever chaos presents itself.
Sure, Yona-Kit is not music for the masses or anything. But this disc is more of a "lite" version of the stuff the guys usually put out on their own. Hell, you can even hear K.K. laughing now and again.
Adventurous enough to keep me enthused, and mellow enough to allow the average person to keep her wits. Yona-Kit is a cool idea, and the album is executed with love and care.
See also Brise-Glace, Dazzling Killmen, Gastr del Sol and The Red Krayola.
(Black Mark Production)
reviewed in issue #112, 6/17/96
Wildly technical retro-metal, kinda like old Iron Maiden knock-offs Helloween. Actually, a lot like Helloween.
I liked that band a lot. Sure the stuff was pretty silly much of the time, but still fun. Yosh is a little heavier, but still cranks out a sound that has been absent from the popular scene in the US for quite a few years.
The songs are a bit self-indulgent, and Yosh, like Helloween, never gets over its Maiden obsession. I kept waiting for a song to really give Yosh its own sound, but that never arrived. This stuff is enjoyable, but nothing special. Nice playing, nice production, but I've heard it all before. Rewind.
Sound Factory (1997)
reviewed in issue #150, 12/29/97
The last of the extras in the Skin Graft package proves to be one of the finest. Otomo Yoshihide is an acclaimed master of the noise form, and the two 20-minute plus songs here prove that point.
Yoshihide creates whorls and swirls of distortion and then lobs them against one another. Kinda like watching Life, the old mainframe computer game where pixels react to one another in accordance with the rules of the universe, building huge sets of beautiful patterns before getting wiped out by a magic arrow from another civilization.
A firestorm of creative genius. Yoshihide fires his static with a soft touch, bringing a level of subtlety not usually heard in such compositions. Sure, it's loud, but listen for the little voices which flit about just behind the wall of pain.
Agonizingly beautiful. An acquired taste, of course, but one I succumbed to years back. This is one of the finest examples of this sort of music I've ever heard. Brilliant.
reviewed in issue #121, 10/21/96
Tim and Darin from Dazzling Killmen (and elsewhere) and Thymme Jones of Brise-Glace, Yona Kit and elsewhere. Boy, I bet you know where this is going.
Well, you knew it was going to be weird, anyway. The guys take all sorts of sounds, and kinda throw them in a blender. Sometimes it comes out like a perfect blueberry shake. And every once in a while you get bass.
As in the Bass-o-Matic 2000. Blended fish isn't the greatest. But then, when you live on the edge like these guys do, it's not hard to get lost once in a while.
Obviously, experimental noise-jazz-pop-whatever isn't everybody's bag. I like what they're doing, and I can't wait to hear more. Beat work like this is damned hard to find.
reviewed in issue #139, 7/21/97
The loopy photo collage (showing the trio in various "pals" positions) is but a hint of the stuff that lurks inside. This EP from the guys is one 17 1/2 minute piece.
The title is "Pals", after all, and the piece is a rambling (kinda dictated by the length as much as anything) musical discourse which moves from introspective to rather assertive in a shockingly short period of time. I could quite easily picture various scenes of innocence lost when I heard this, and perhaps that's what You Fantastic was trying to bring across.
Or maybe my head is up my ass, as usual. That's the beautiful thing with music like this: there's no right answer! When music is this intricate and compelling, each listener has to figure out for herself what the hell to think. I like that. A lot.
So come along and lend an ear to the continuing saga of You Fantastic. This one won't bite. Well, at least it probably won't break the skin.
reviewed in issue #172, 11/23/98
The band's last outing was a 17 1/2-minute single-track EP. This one is a 22-track, 69-minute effort. I guess the most obvious change is that You Fantastic is separating its sections instead of calling it one song.
The same three guys, making all sorts of noise. All dynamic ranges, all sorts of sound inputs (a lot of found sound, as usual), all sorts of moods and intensities. Living on the edge of defined sound.
Which is to say, if you're still not sure about that whole noise-jazz-etc. thing that the Skin Graft folks like to call the "Now Wave", well, get the hell out of town, now. This is not yer basic band. For example, the fourth track, "Subtraction", takes the rhythm element of a Brise-Glace 7" (You Fantastic members Thymme Jones and Darin Gray were also in Brise-Glace, and it's Jones's rhythm, anyway) and grafts some rather unusual pieces over it (including a bass line which sounds like something Darin might have played when he was with Dazzling Killmen). It helps to know these things, because then you might be able to make sense of it.
Maybe. I'm still getting there, myself. But I kinda like the challenge. You Fantastic demands a lot from its listeners. We're a masochistic bunch. But then, it helps to be a little crazy when you're listening to fare such as this.
See also Brise-Glace, Dazzling Killmen and Yona Kit.
reviewed in issue #241, May 2003
Sometimes it's cool just to sit back and bask in the wonderment that pours through my headphones. Everett Young plays conceptual pop rock music, stuff with understated hooks and a wicked wit. Songs that are constructed piece by piece and then meticulously finished by a master craftsman.
Reminds me a bit of the most recent New Order album (you know, the really good one that no one actually heard), or maybe some of the Pet Shop Boys's more graceful moments. There is, of course, the fact that these pieces aren't electronically created. But nonetheless, there's a certain soaring quality to these pieces that brings echoes of that sort of sound. And, strangely enough, Young's use of orchestration brings a lushness that electronic acts often try to replicate.
I have a feeling that I'm simply failing at my task here. Young has created a truly stunning work, the sort of album that can be played over and over without even a chance of burnout. The execution sounds effortless, which is all the more amazing considering how much work went into making these songs the gems they are.
Like the notes on his web site say, few people even try to write music like this these days. Truth is, very few folks have ever tried--it's just that we remember those that succeeded. Young has not only succeeded, he's triumphed. This is one of those albums that cannot be forgotten.
reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01
Johnny Young is a reconstructed grunge boy. The riffage and song construction are straight outta Seattle, but Young brings in elements of blues and some electronic underpinnings to update the sound.
Does it work? Well, I wasn't bored, and it's been a while since I could say that about even a pseudo-grunge disc. I'm still not knocked out, but I must admit that I'm a lot more impressed by Young's creativity than I imagined when I heard the first chords crash down.
If young has a problem, it when he delves a little too deeply into more mainstream AOR sounds, like some vague references to latter-day Van Halen (never a good idea). The grunge base is anthemic enough as it is.
Pretty good, which is pretty high praise considering how little I like grunge stuff in general. Young has given a nice update to the sound, though I think he'll have to go a bit further to the edge if he wants to break out. Take a few more chances, man. The one's you've taken so far have worked out well.
Young and Sexy
Life Through One Speaker
reviewed in issue #247, November 2003
As I mentioned in my review of the Gay earlier in this issue, I've struggled with a previous lack of enthusiasm for Young and Sexy. The music is fine. In fact, I think the problem might be that it's too fine.
Much the same way the High Llamas make stuff that might be a wee bit too fine. Refined, I suppose, is a better way to put this. Young and Sexy has taken off all the edges. The lyrics are clever, but not biting. The pop is sweeping and gorgeous, with very little blemishes anywhere.
I like a few imperfections here and there. Young and Sexy doesn't. For whatever reason, I like this album better. It's certainly another stunning set of songs, and the production is, as usual, lush and ultra clean. The question that remains is can I question something that approaches perfection?
Of course I can, but I choose not to here. Music for the beautiful people, I suppose. This album sure is quite a looker. Maybe I'll have to refine my thoughts about refined music.
The Young Antiques
(Two Sheds Music)
reviewed in issue #242, June 2003
If Uncle Tupelo hadn't gotten vaguely popular and veered off in the direction of post-folk roots-rock prophets, well, this might well have been the band's third album. The guitars are a bit more swirly (remind me of old Soul Asylum, they do), but whichever of the guys is the singer often sounds like a dead ringer for Jay Farrar.
The thing of it is that the whole Minneapolis meets east Texas sound was precisely what I heard when I was in college 15 years ago in Missouri. I saw Farrar, Tweedy and Heidorn grow up (literally), and shit, Husker Du broke up right under my nose (almost literally). Bands like Soul Asylum and the Jayhawks played the local clubs all the time. The Young Antiques can't quite seem to decide which way they want to veer along that axis--which is where the whole Uncle Tupelo thing comes in.
Right. Back to this band and what it plays. Good music with plenty of feeling and power. Often a mess. Never dull. Produced with a fine fuzzy edge that leaves me feeling warm and happy. Stuff like this takes me back to nights where I can't remember what happened after cashing the fifth dollar pitcher of Natural Light.
Maybe my strange little nostalgia trip is clouding my judgment, but I'm still pretty sure these guys make some damned fine music. Louder than what the alt. country crowd wants to hear, and I think that's a good thing. Keep it loose, boys, and never be afraid of a little feedback. Now hit the lights.
New York Sun EP
reviewed in issue #345, 2/24/13
Plenty of JAMC (more earlier than later) in this squalling, poppy set. The modest anthemic trend gives the songs a solid footing, and the judicious balancing of noise and melody is quite pleasing to the ears. Fun stuff.
reviewed in issue #330, September 2011
Easily the most unexpected album I've heard all year. Young Circles channels so many ideas and sounds that I can't even begin to catalog them. There's plenty of noise (feedback, reverb and electronic), jangle rock and most everything in-between.
The songs run in length from a 1:27 to 7:44. There's very little connection between these songs--often enough, there's very little to connect the sections of individual songs. Somehow, someway, Young Circles gives this roiling stew form and direction.
Despite the disparate ideas and sounds, this album works best when played in order. The songs themselves are more than impressive enough to stand up to randomizing, but the band has sequenced this set for maximum impact.
Not many folks make such an effort any more. But that's one of the reasons Young Circles impressed the hell out of me. Absolutely wonderful.
Young Fresh Fellows
It's Low Beat Time!
reviewed in issue #23, 10/31/92
When the Young Fresh Fellows first started gigging in Seattle, the Melvins, Green River and Soundgarden were not even in the garages yet.
Armed with this interesting sense of history and now compelled by BMG lawyers to make a sell-out "yes, we're an ultra-hip Seattle band, too," the YFF instead cruise into an examination of yesteryear. The first tracks sound much like those on Electric Bird Digest, but as the album progresses, the tension releases and some really fine moments appear: Butch Vig sings, the A-Bones guest and most incredibly, Rufus Thomas takes the lead for a song ("Green Green"). Yes, that's Rufus "Walking the Dog" "Do the Funky Chicken" Thomas. If your station doesn't have any of his albums, go out and buy them. They have just been reissued on CD.
I can't really be objective about a YFF album, especially one that is this good. Very few bands could have pulled this thing off, and thankfully they were up to the task. One word of advice: don't overanalyze; enjoy!
The Young Hasselhoffs
Win a Date With...
reviewed in #164, 8/3/98
From the label that brought you the Cretins. Three (young) guys from the mean streets of Omaha (a city which has a much better music scene than it deserves). Influences include the Ramones, the Beach Boys, MTX and a lot of stuff in between. Tuneful punk pop, with full belt on the vocals.
Sharply produced, a great sound. Reminds me in spots of the Queers album Don't Back Down, which still stands as a real milestone. The Young Hasselhoffs know how to mix earnest adolescent yearnings with just the right amount of perspective.
So, yes, the songs are not only crunchy, but nicely written as well. Happy happy joy joy, with the odd broken heart thrown in to keep a fair balance. Quite impressive, to be sure.
I'm just knocked out. This album has all the hallmarks of a winner. Great songs, cool sound and simple, down-to-earth back beats. Very much the happenin' summer disc.
The Fall of Richmond split EP with Avail
reviewed in issue #148, 11/24/97
A couple Richmond bands joining up to slime out some messy-but-melodic punk. Goofy, fun and ever-so-crunchy.
Avail is, well, Avail, with a serious hardcore track, a mostly acoustic tune and a ripping take on "You May Be Right". All pleasantly amusing without any thought of tomorrow morning. Best not to think about this stuff too much.
(Young) Pioneers sound (as some of you know) something like a punk rawk version of U.S. Maple, with strangled vocals laid over lean, tuneful licks. Oh, and the odd bit of Vietnamese propaganda, thrown in mostly for laughs (I think). These tunes have a lot more going on then it sounds like at first. Dig in.
As I expected, some serious quality fare. More than enough to make me happy.
Free the (Young) Pioneers Now!
reviewed in issue #179, 3/29/99
Well, a bit different than the stuff I heard on the Avail split about a year ago. There's a definite country twang (sorta like what Uncle Tupelo sounded like in 1989, with more attitude) to go along with the noise mess and general punk abandon.
Highly political, even for a punk band. Some of the songs sound like manifestos. Well, some of the lyrics do. The music is fairly consistent, and I like that. Always pay attention to the music, no matter how important you think your lyrics are. If the music works, people will remember the lyrics.
The almost scratchy sound obscures the vocals (which are generally hoarsely shouted anyway), but a quick read of the lyrics will clue you into the political leanings of the band. And once you've read the lyrics, well, you can hear them easily. Isn't that always the way?
I'm pointing out the obvious, and I feel like I'm missing something. (Young) Pioneers are definitely going for something, and for the most part, I think the guys make it there. Idiosyncratic as hell, but then, most good stuff is.
Youngblood Brass Band
reviewed in issue #241, May 2003
Imagine a New Orleans brass band teaming up with a DJ and an MC or two. And then imagine it actually being pretty damned good.
The rhymes flow in something of a native tongue style (how's that for old school?). They move in and around the fairly authentic jazz blues of the band. And when there's the need for a little kick, there's a kick from the booth.
At least, I think that's what I'm hearing. Maybe the band is good enough to fool my ears. Wouldn't be the first time. I know I'm completely knocked out by the sound here.
Just the sort of thing to drop into the stereo and let slide by while enjoying a Sazerak or few. Fun stuff that makes a point or two along the way. Just the way good music always does.
Somethin' in the Air
reviewed in issue #190, 11/1/99
A blurb from John Sinclair, production from Rodney Crowell; Mike Younger certainly has some famous friends. From the first bit of the first song, I could hear why. Younger has updated the classic rural blues sound, adding in a bass, drums, organ and fiddle at times. But it's his acoustic guitar work, and more importantly his vocals, which drive this album.
He wrote all these songs, too. Much like the Wobblies album reviewed above, this is set of songs about searching. Not for a destination, but just a moment or two. A small spot of peace, that's all he's trying to find.
The most incredible element of all is the sound. Younger (and Crowell, certainly) have melded the blues, folk, country and rock into a seamless pastiche. Younger sounds like he's be at home singing in a coffeeshop or an arena. The self-possession is astonishing.
I don't buy into hype, and I try not to propagate it, but man, this is one great album. I don't know if Younger can match this effort again, but I sure hope so. In any case, this disc certainly makes him a marked man. All the attention is duly deserved.
Every Stone You Throw
reviewed in issue #272, March 2006
Every time I re-alphabetize my CD stacks (yeah, I do have a touch of the ol' OCD), I come across Mike Younger's first album and wonder "When the hell is he going to record another album?" Well, more than five years later, he finally did. And if I'm getting it a year after he released it, well, I'm just happy to hear the music.
He still traffics in the soulful rock of the Band, the Faces and other early 70s soulmates, and he does it well. He has a deft and subtle touch which serves his writing well. "Everyday War" could have been a cudgel, a bludgeoning polemic. Younger writes it as a wistful lament. There's plenty of anger, but he channels it into his playing, making a solid song that much more powerful.
People don't make music like this much anymore, which is probably why Younger is toiling on his own rather than getting the support of a major label. Thirty-odd year ago, this sound was everywhere. And while Younger has put his own spin on it (he tosses in a bit more country and folk, I suppose), he makes no bones about where his music comes from.
I just want to know that he will keep it going. This is the second great album he's recorded, and I hope more people out there take notice. Younger's albums are intended to make a difference, and I think they do. Big ideas wrapped in gorgeous music are some tasty snacks, indeed.
reviewed in issue #211, 1/29/01
I don't always review albums in alphabetical order, but this issue I did. I gotta say, this is a real change of pace from the X-Impossibles. Richard Youngs plays piano and sings. One of the songs here is nearly 19 minutes long. Another is 22. There are only 3 songs (the third is a mere three minutes long).
The long songs unfold extremely slowly (in contrast, the short one is merely slow, and it sounds peppy in contrast). Here's the concept: Youngs plays a bit and sometimes sings. On the first song ("Warriors"), most of the playing is chords, which really drags the process out to my ears. That was a tough one.
But on the next two pieces Youngs plays melodies on the piano, and you just wouldn't believe how much of a difference that makes. He's a fairly accomplished player. Not so much with the singing (his voice is usually pitched into a scratchy falsetto). The singing does work at times, though.
Boy, Youngs demands a whole lot of patience. At first, I wasn't ready to give it. I mean, 19 minutes of whole note chords and wobbly singing? No matter that the lyrics were intriguing. Then I settled down and gathered myself. I can't say I'm a huge fan, but Youngs does have a style all his own, and it can be quite effective. He just takes a little getting used to, I suppose.
Out of Print
reviewed in issue #172, 11/23/98
This is actually the CD re-issue of Sound and Fury, originally recorded and released some 16 years ago. There's also four extra tracks, one from a 1981 demo, two from a 1984 single and one 1993 recording.
Kinda like hearing How Could Hell Be Any Worse?... if you were used to No Control.
Very raw and messy. The recording itself is not in the best of shape, and the production leaves a lot to be desired on top of that. Still, there is an undeniable spirit and energy here which probably is enhanced by the primitive sound.
Oh, yeah, it sounds like 1982 punk. Always a nice faux nostalgic thing for me to hear (since, at the time, I was listening to Chicago and such). Oh, I'm not so sure the songs themselves or the recording could be called historic, but then, when a band survives this long, I guess it might as well.
Raucous and enervating. You want slick? It ain't here.
split LP with Swingin' Utters
reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99
The second in a series of BYO split albums. Swingin' Utters come from the oi side of things, but as the liners correctly note, they've got a bit more going to their sound than that.
The six songs here incorporate a bit more of a conventional pop feel, with plenty of nice (if not exceptionally tight) harmonies. I've been hearing bits and pieces from these guys for a while (my brother reviewed an album they did for Fat Wreck), and this is the most solid I've heard them.
Youth Brigade is the perfect foil. The nicely aggro hardcore tunes (with shouted backing vocals) present another face of punk. And unlike the last thing I heard from the boys, this is newly minted fare. Sounds as good as ever.
I really like the idea behind this series. So far, two great albums. I can only hope that future issues can be so fruitful.
reviewed in issue #304, February 2009
Yukon arrives 20 years too late. This is straight outta Touch and Go territory, back when the Jesus Lizard and Arcwelder and great bands like that blasted big noise and occasionally touched on a fine melody or two.
Oh, but I love this melange of sound. Yukon plays a fairly style, but the music itself is messy. The lines are technically sound, but they don't necessarily have a lot to do with each other. The songs fit together well enough, but the anarchy is what sustains them in the end.
Perhaps more Arcwelder than Jesus Lizard. And more math-like than either. But in that ballpark. I no idea who's listening to this stuff these days (other than geeks like me), but that's fine. These boys make great noise, and I'm not gonna complain about that.
"Sensation" Resistance EP
reviewed in issue #128, 2/17/97
Yukon Fudge is a guy named Garth Kolbeck. He writes in the style of the Young Fresh Fellows (stripped-down pop with a fine sense of humor). The four tracks here are bright and amusing.
The sound is a bit uneven, but that works well with the songwriting style. This certainly sounds like a band and not one guy stripping tracks together. Quite impressive, really.
I had a lot of fun listening to this. Nothing important or great, just fun music. And I'm more than willing to accord such things high praise. I'll be looking for more from Yukon Fudge.
The Yum Yum Tree
Paint By Numbers
reviewed in issue #293, February 2008
Something of an oddity. Somehow, this album just missed the cut in December, but I liked it so much this month that I decided to do a full review. Maybe January is a better month for appreciating punchy power pop. Maybe I'm in need of a joy infusion now that winter is reaching its peak.
Or maybe I simply missed the call. It happens. You listen to 250 CDs a month and let me know what skips past your ears. But enough about me. The Yum Yum Tree reminds me a lot of Magnapop and the band hails from Georgia. Logical enough. No connection except the sound and the geography.
Well, one other connection. The music works. Yum Yum Tree manages to keep the hooks sweet even when the songs slow down past mid-tempo. There's always enough going on, and the band never stints on the power. The guitars are omnipresent.
Which is always a good move with this sorta music. The Yum Yum Tree hasn't moved the sound anywhere, but it sounds great nonetheless. Ear candy for the likes of me, and I'm not going to complain about that. Even if I did miss it the first time around.
reviewed in issue #173, 12/14/98
Coming into this after reviewing the Dogon album just isn't fair. David Z does a nice job of balancing a variety of sounds in his electronic compositions, but he just doesn't have the subtlety. Ah, well, that doesn't keep this disc from being enjoyable.
Indeed, from a strictly commercial standpoint, David Z might have the advantage. His use of more generic club rhythms, while a bit stultifying for me, could attract more folks to his sound. I'm not being facetious or rude, either. He keeps a groove pretty well and layers his keyboard sections quite nicely. The songs are straightforward and easy to wrap a head around.
And I like the way he's overdubbed some real-time instruments, adding a bit of sonic texture that way. Not the most complex music around, but certainly worth hearing.
A solid, if unspectacular set. Again, this one is aimed more at the mass market, and fans of Tangerine Dream and the like would do well to check David Z out.
reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01
These boys are not afraid to mess around with sound. I'm really not sure how to properly describe what it is I'm hearing. There's no way to sum up Zao is a simple phrase. "Atmospheric death metal" doesn't begin to tell the story, though I think that's where I'll begin.
If you remember Tiamat, maybe that'll help. Those guys played the death metal game with a lush fan, eventually progging out into more standard Floydian Eurometal. Zao doesn't prog out; the sound can be very thick and distorted--though razor sharp and clean.
Also, there's a lot of quiet in these songs. Zao uses the conventions of death metal, throws in a good amount of modern electronic theory and then writes songs in its own style. Literally, from a whisper to a scream and back again.
Boy, is this something. An epic, soaring album of agony and immense power. I have no idea how many people will be able to withstand the assault, but those who stand firm will be rewarded.
Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope
reviewed in issue #303, December 2008
The only Zapruder I know is the guy who shot the Zapruder film (you know, the one where Kennedy gets shot). Don't know if there's a connection, but I will say that these are some keenly observed pieces.
I'd guess it helped that Scott Solter (producer/recorder of stuff from Mountain Goats, Tarantel, Pattern Is Movement, etc.) did the recording. He's got a good feel for this sort of intricate musing. He doesn't make overblown pieces. Rather, he's great at guiding small and intimate ideas into perfectly-formed niches.
So he's just about perfect for Zapruder's subtle music. There's a lot going on here, and Solter just kinda lets it lay. That's perfect for sonic explorers, and hey, you've got to be one to really get where Zapruder is going. The lyrics are somewhat more direct, but they have plenty of subtle moments as well.
It took me more than a month to really get into this album. That's impressive, in my book. There's a lot going on here, and it's not an easy task to take it all in. I'm not sure I have yet, but there's plenty of time.
(as Hector Zazou & Sandy Dillon)
12 (Las Vegas is Cursed)
reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01
There is a certain tradition--I'd say it's European, but plenty of Americans have dabbled in it as well--of the "art song," pieces of music that are as much about the presentation as the music and singing themselves. Hector Zazou takes care of the sounds (with help from pals like Marc Ribot, Lisa Germano and many others) and Sandy Dillon does the singing.
And these are art songs, in a manner of speaking. The pieces themselves have an unusual sense of construction, and the subject matter is often a bit difficult to discern. Gotta think about it a bit, see.
The sound of the songs is exquisite. Zazou populates his canvas with a wide variety of sounds, and Dillon herself twists her voice into all sorts of shapes and sizes. Whispers, screams, growls, grunts, you name it. She does it.
Challenging fare, to say the least. Zazou and Dillon refuse to play it safe, and instead have recorded an album of uncompromising ideas. Dive in and find yourself immersed in another world.
reviewed in issue #162, 6/29/98
Messy, angry funk. Messy, angry funk? When did that become a music style? I don't know, but I'm betting Rage Against the Machine and 311 had something to do with it.
Heavy on bass rhythms, wailing guitar chords with occasional licking, and yelling choruses. It's the less grooving type of funk, and more jumping around and pushing off other people variety. Every now and then, the head bounces with pleasure as they play, but there's a lot of waiting around for the good grooves. And how willing you are to wait for the good grooves?
Kicked in the Teeth
reviewed in issue #153, 2/23/98
Seventeen songs clocking in at almost 21 minutes. Breathless is one way to put it. The songs were recorded live to tape, and they sound like it. The liners consist of a long break-up note and an application for a restraining order (for those of you concerned, the two aren't related, whether or not they are actually real).
Pure punk spirit infused in straightahead rock. Zeke (it is a band) doesn't slow down for anyone, and the songs bleed directly into one another. No comforting strip of silence between the blasts of sonic violence.
An unholy racket, and an unrelenting one at that. Utterly unsophisticated, with not even the slightest hint of subtlety. Methinks this might be one of the purest expressions of the rock spirit I've heard.
If so, then it proves the old maxim "rock and roll ain't pretty". In fact, it's a dog-ugly caterwauling dose of angst and lust. No wonder the fundamentalists get so worked up.
reviewed in issue #195, 2/14/00
My review of Zeke's first album for Epitaph was one of the few to garner "press clip" attention. My dreadfully eccentric writing style usually precludes inclusion on such lists, but my unabashed (and somewhat obscene) rave was well received. I still listen to that album when I need a pick-me-up.
So when I yanked this disc out of the envelope, I was excited. Zeke produced by Kurt Bloch? Hot damn! Well, that's what I thought.
The songs come just as fast and furious as before (16 tunes in just more than 21 minutes), but there a bit of a hole in the sound. Jack Endino gave the boys a heavier sound for that first disc, and it worked. Bloch gives more of a hardcore production job, and I feel like the bottom needs a bit of boosting.
On the other hand, the songs are just as blistering as before, and it's pretty easy to tap into the adrenal overload. Yeah, this is something of a disappointment. But honestly, my expectations were so high that saying this is really, really fine still somehow falls short. Yeah, they still rock like a motherfucker.
Zen Widow featuring Wadada Leo Smith
Screaming in Daytime (Makes Men Forget)
reviewed in issue #340, September 2012
While this album is extremely hard to categorize, I'll try: The three guys in Zen Widow got Wadada Leo Smith to sit in on a series of semi-improvisations on themes from the work of tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman.
The pieces are long and rambling. They have the sound and trappings of "normal" jazz, but the improvisations quickly take these pieces to the limits of that genre. Rather than manic riffs on this or that, however, these pieces are contemplative and often languid. There's no hurry, even within the occasional freakout.
The sound is what makes this album sound most jazz-like. The warm tones lend these songs the veneer of jazz, a veneer that never quite gets sanded away.
It takes a while to get the real feel of this album. But when it hits, there's no escape. You'll simply have to deal with the aftermath.
reviewed in issue #38, 8/31/93
For all of you who think Japanese music begins and ends with Loudness and E*Z*O, this should change your mind. A lot of scowling and screeching guitars going on.
In other words, it sounds great. And an album is on its way, as it should be. These folk are out on tour, and I think to catch a show would be heavenly. Pardon me while I spoo.
Desire for Agony
reviewed in issue #45, 11/30/93
I almost saw these guys; unfortunately, in my moving haze last summer, I confused September with October. I can't believe I did that.
The 7" was the salad, now here's the meal. A lot of you have picked up on the Neurosis, and that's cool. But there is no good reason to overlook this album just because you're playing another AT release.
While the hard-core roots still show, Zeni Geva has progressed from the "get together and play loud" stage. They seem to have picked up a little from the Chicago HC scene, lending to a Jesus Lizard-Season to Risk feel about some of the songs. Not a bad thing in the slightest.
But ZG has a lot more going for it. Steve Albini has captured a very live feel (something he is pretty good at), and it gives this album a real spark.
Something about being on the outside looking in; Zeni Geva has taken many stateside conventions and molded them into a new crunchy meal. A very satisfying one.
reviewed in issue #135, 5/26/97
Yeah, okay, so it's a re-issue. This is the first time it's been available on glorious vinyl (and trust me, it is glorious). And you get two songs from Superunit, which is Zeni Geva plus Steve Albini and someone named Mas-P.
Whenever Zeni Geva is on the turntable, pain is on the menu. I've seen entire sections of records stores devoted to K.K. Null and his output (including this band and well beyond). To say that he is a visionary and a trailblazer is almost silly at this point.
Nai-Ha shows why. Even five years later, this album sounds revolutionary. Yeah, so a few folks in the U.S. like Dazzling Killmen caught on. This album still could have been recorded yesterday.
As for the bonus, Superunit doesn't stray far from the Zeni Geva formula of pain for pleasure. These two untitled songs were recorded in the same sessions, and they have a similar feel, except that Albini sings. Yowza.
Someday this sorta stuff will be recognized for the genius that it represents. Until then, we must carry the torch.
Sides 5-6 7"
reviewed in issue #148, 11/24/97
Two more installments on the Skin Graft AC/DC tribute plan. And if two more disparate acts could be found to share one small slab of vinyl, I can't think of it.
Yes, that's Palace (with another somewhat new moniker) rambling through "Big Balls", turning the heavy blues piece into a very weird, wailing lament. Definitely over the top, but highly amusing nonetheless.
Zeni Geva pounds out a surprisingly rote version of "Let There Be Rock" (though the initial riff employed sounds a lot more like "You've Got Another Thing Coming" than anything AC/DC has played). Oh, once the verse kicks in it's 100 percent Zeni Geva, but I was still surprised by the straightness of the delivery.
Not quite as enthralling as the initial double 7", this puppy still keeps the whole project going strong. That Palace bit should really start some heads scratching when it hits the airwaves. Cool by me.
Zero Mass Calibration
reviewed in issue #240, April 2003
If you like your experimental electronic fare on the spacey, yet rhythmic, side, Zentropia should do nicely. This disc is chock full of some of the finest construction I've heard in some time.
Edgy, but not really out there. And that's okay. If you're gonna spin a few new ideas, it doesn't hurt to put them in the context of vague normality. And so while there are lots of side trips to unknown regions, the songs themselves are still fairly easily accessible by the masses.
I keep getting Pigface flashes, but this stuff really isn't all that industrial. It's more along the lines of the post-Skinny Puppy project Download. Plenty of noise, but the bass and drum machines still keep time.
There are moments where it pays to let go, and experienced sonic drifters will appreciate the final two tracks here for those very reasons. The disc as a whole is chock full of creativity, and it's displayed in a most attractive package. Intriguing and fun, two descriptions that generally don't go together.
Fables of the Celestial Night
reviewed in issue #247, November 2003
I have a friend who once threatened to kill the next music reviewer who used the word "soundscape." and Zentropia doesn't create soundscapes in the traditional sense. What it does is create an alternate musical universe, once which allows it to more fully express its own thoughts on reality.
How cool is that?
Oh, I'm sure this sounds like fancy-schmancy talk from the poncy reviewer, but the truth is that a lot of ambient/dub/electronic acts simply try to make things as weird as possible and pass that off as art. Well, it is, and I happen to like that kinda stuff, but Zentropia does one better. In creating its own electronic realm, it also creates its own laws of physics. And so, sounds that would make no sense when combined in our world are perfectly simpatico in theirs.
Did I just repeat myself? Probably. Fuckit. These boys have some serious talent. They're not only ace producers (as they should be), but they've created quite the living document here. It's easy to get sucked in.
Alright, if yer gonna do the whole soundscape thing you oughta go whole hog. Most bands don't. Zentropia did. And that makes this album something truly special.
reviewed in issue #261, February 2005
I know, I know, there are a million blonde bimbettes trying to break into pop music. I like Madelin Zero because there's almost no chance that she'll become a major star in the U.S. She's simply too interesting.
Dirty Purple is a great Eurotrash dance album. With its heavy techno grooves and slutty disco beats, these songs are much more appropriate for the salons of "old" Europe. There are some superficial resemblances to Madonna's collaborations with William Orbit, but here the chilly sounds don't cancel out the fun.
I really like the electronic feel of the album. The production does kinda jump all over the place within that sound, but at the core is a love of simple melody and good dance grooves. Worthy aspirations, to be sure.
Like I said, I don't think this is the album that will break Madelin Zero here in the states. Kinda like Kylie Minogue, I'd guess that Zero is "cursed" to become a European dance queen who occasionally hits in the land of red and blue. There are worse things that could happen. One could make crappy albums. Now that would really suck.
Space Does Not Care
reviewed in issue #76, 5/15/95
Despite the title, this is not really space music. Oh sure, all the trappings are here: whirling wind noises, serious keyboard abuse, eerie samples. But Len Del Rio (a member of Pressurehed, also touring with Nik Turner and others), who is Zero Gravity, is far too concerned with making interesting music to stick with the space ideal.
For example, the title track is a nice techno piece. "Time... in My Brain" has a nice little melody running through it, and could almost be released (with editing) as a novelty single. "Interferon" is positively Gothic (though with more Moog-style keys than real Goth). In other words, expect the unexpected.
A cool trip through the electronic universe. Del Rio has assimilated many styles, refusing to stick to any one thought. This makes for a most entertaining album, one which might be superficially stuck in ambient, but that most any fan of experimental electronic music will crave.
The Towers of Avarice
reviewed in issue #218, 6/25/01
Highly technical, almost proggy metal. The six songs here clock in at almost 45 minutes. Maybe that gives you an idea of what's going on. Or maybe not.
I think it does. Zero Hour sounds like a ton of other bands playing this kinda stuff. A heavy focus on skilled playing and rapid shifts in musical mood, and less of an interest in making a more personal connection.
Zero Hour wants to make a statement. But its songs are a bit too abstract, too chilly to really get to me. Hey; these boys certainly can play. I could hear that right off. They just don't play in a way that excites me.
If long, extended, technical guitar runs excite you, well, Zero Hour has what you want. I'd be the first to admit that this is not one of my favorite styles. And Zero Hour didn't break through my prejudice.
reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98
Sparkling power pop, with hooks that sometimes shimmer, sometimes clink. Zero Parade does score a few points for introducing some unusual (for the sound, anyway) elements. I just wish the writing was more consistent.
I mean, this is basic garage-style roughage. Good for cleaning out the system, with no aftertaste. The production is sharp, emphasizing the thick rhythm guitar. Everything as it should be, with the aforementioned added brighteners.
Just that sometimes when the chorus kicks in, it coughs and sputters. Clumsy progressions, harmonies which don't match the music. Or just the wrong mood. This doesn't happen all the time, but enough to be disconcerting.
The unevenness keeps me interested, but it also makes for a less than satisfying album. Lots of good here, but not quite enough to make this a good album.
Clone Your Lover
reviewed in issue #241, May 2003
I'm just one of those folks who digs Dead or Alive. You know, the band that did "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)." Zeromancer captures that early industrial-goth feel quite nicely, complete with snarky vocals. I mean, the attention to detail is stunning.
And to be honest, there are many more good songs here than Dead or Alive ever came up with. Zeromancer is something of a guilty pleasure, what with all the keyboard breaks and metallic guitars and breathy vocals--but geez, a guy's gotta live sometime, right?
The sound is stellar. This is party music--if your idea of a party involves people wearing a lot of black. It's not the next big thing or anything like that, but the stuff more than stands on its own. There's plenty of quality here to be had.
And, damn, I don't think I need to justify my jones for drum machines and crunchy guitars. These songs are utterly infectious, and this album keeps lurching along at a fine pace. There's very little here I would change. Cheap and trashy is just my style.
reviewed in issue #103, 3/18/96
Standard dance-pop rhythms (even venturing into the disco), with vocals that are alternately ethereal and sharp. A few acid-house keyboards tossed in for good measure. Just a bit of a mess.
The strangest bit is that I get a real "retro" feel from this. For the uninitiated, retro is my term for the new wave stuff of the early 80s. My junior high music, or retro. I'm not sure if this is intentional. I could simply be crazy. It's happened before.
Amusing enough to keep my interest, but not good enough to make me play it again. Zia sounds like it is trying very hard to make this stuff. The melodies don't quite flow correctly, and the vocals are often at odds with the music. The music itself sounds disjointed much of the time, shifting rhythms and sounds without much thought for continuity.
I like the sparse sound (which is probably where I get the retro feel), but Zia needs to work more on song construction. And singer Elaine Walker needs to sings a bit more confidently. Often enough she seems to be merely tossing off the words rather than imbibing the proceedings with some emotion.
Simplicity in an industrial act is a good idea, but Zia has some ways to go before it properly implements the concept.
Slaves for the Billionaires
reviewed in issue #294, March 2008
I think the coolest bit in the liners is "all tracks five minutes." That's a fine bit of obsession, though such attention to detail serves Ziino well here.
The record label name says it all. Ziino trafficks in electronic disturbances--but more melodic than distorted. He's got a math-y way of putting his lines together, and the pieces themselves are more explorations than actual songs. That would be the experimental part.
And while he does get a little wiggy, most often the tracks consist of meandering melodic lines bouncing over sometimes-irregular bass lines. He obviously knows a good deal about music theory--his convoluted melodies work well. But this isn't about abstraction. There are clear ideas coming forth.
That's what I like the most. Ziino isn't weird for the sake of being weird. His music is an expression of his mind, and he's got a pretty ordered mind. The thoughts themselves might seem a bit strange, but I'm all for that. No need for the same old same old when you've got Ziino able to bring the bizarre home in a fine package.
An Unusual Day in Montana
reviewed in issue #314, February 2010
I love Robert Ziino's stuff. It's very keyboardy and noodly and throbbing and generally warped. Just stellar, really.
Then there are the song titles. "Cows Will Never Be On Colombo." "Kill It With the Bible." "Meat Is a Fetish." These are instrumentals, but the titles make plenty of sense when you listen to the songs.
Or not, I suppose. It all depends on your state of mind. Ziino's songs have always made me smile (goofy title or no), and that's mostly because they're fun. Sure, they often ride the edge of what might be considered "music" by those who wish to restrict the use of the term. But the pieces contain so much unfettered joy within the electronic experimenting that I simply cannot imagine anyone not digging the stuff.
My five-year-old loves it. And he also loves the Flaming Lips. So he's got good taste. Ziino is a few light-years beyond the scope of the average Flaming Lips album, but like the Lips, he never stints on the joy quotient. Effervescently bounding around the edge of the universe.
Playing in Hell
reviewed in issue #325, March 2011
In truth, this one deserves a full review. But I've given more than one of his releases the full treatment, and I don't have much else to say. Ziino is one of the most accessible experimental electronic artists around. I also love that every song is five minutes long. That is so cool. Anyway, t
his album is easily the equal of the others I love. I know the world will never come around to this stuff, but I find it grand.
A Perfectly Futile Gesture
reviewed in issue #338, June 2012
Robert Ziino has been making these five-minute experimental electronic songs for quite a while. What I like about his approach is that these pieces are in constant motion--percussion or otherwise. There's always a new idea around the corner. These nine tracks fit in quite nicely with Ziino's previous efforts. An acquired taste, I suppose, but there's very little effort in the acquisition.
Mind Over Splatter
reviewed in issue #33, 4/30/93
A nice, vicious metal album. The kind you pull out and play for your friends who say all metal is redundant, brainless tripe.
For starters, the production is absolutely perfect. The guy stayed out of the way of great songs and let the album produce itself. A big monster hand for guitarist Kevin Michael, who did the honors.
Sure, the songs are a little preachy at times, but I sure didn't mind when the lyrics are rather intelligent and the music is in the process of pulverizing most of my nerve cells.
I think this has been on the release schedule for almost a year. It arrived here not a moment too soon. This gets an air guitar behind my back in a handstand. And a spot in my discer for the next few weeks.
reviewed in issue #266, July 2005
Self-referential to the extreme (three of the 10 songs have "Zom" in their title somewhere, and most of the others mention "Zom Zoms" at some point) and manic to the point of apoplexy, Zom Zoms bliss out in some alternate electronic universe only known to the Residents and a few other brave souls.
Zom Zoms prefer to make bad jokes--sometimes building entire songs around these lame concepts--than worry too much about where the music is going. The boys seem to think that if they keep it fast and lean, then everything else will fall into place. It's amazing how right they are.
One of the stranger acts on the Omega Point roster (which is saying something), Zom Zoms are frighteningly charming. Stupid at times, of course, but always engaging. Generally enthralling, actually. Give your mind over to the madness.
You know, I'm not sure if this stuff is stupid for a reason (like some greater joke or some different meta concept) or the guys are simply lame. It doesn't matter, because everything is so over the top that the album charms for almost imperceptible reasons. Or something like that. Once you do let the madness overtake you, even the most basic forms of thought become quite difficult to accomplish. All you know is that you need another hit, even if it will kill you. And rest assured, repeated exposure to Zom Zoms will do you harm. Me? I just don't care. I'm mainlining once more.
reviewed in issue #275, June 2006
Utterly lunatic (not to mention manic) electronic pop. Zom Zoms don't vary from the formula they've set down in the past: Play warped melodies very fast and hope the faux-heroic vocals can keep up. Lots and lots of fun.
reviewed in issue #34, 5/15/93
Another member of the highly courted Lawrence (Kansas) music scene. But Zoom distinguish themselves by not trying real hard to sound just like Soundgarden (like, say, Paw and Stick). And what is it with these one-syllable names? But on the meat.
This is more of a heavy pop sound (real heavy, actually). And the songwriting does have a bit of Seattle flavor to it, but only in the bass. The songs simply move too fast to be stuck in that scene.
They thank the Poster Children in the liners, and I think it is that brand of grunge that Zoom belong to. And I like that side a lot better than the MTV one. Why write an anthem when you can actually say something?
I understand these folk have already signed somewhere else, though I can't remember where. It wasn't a major, and I don't think I even recognized the name. Oh well. I wouldn't worry. You'll be hearing plenty about Zoom in the not-so-distant future.
reviewed in issue #146, 10/27/97
Is that a guitar or just a random fuzz machine? Boy, if you've got a thing for distortion that wipes out riffs, Zoomer is your band. And the funny thing is that there's also this fuzzy keyboard that's laid over the top, facilitating the bouncy pop stuff that the band traffics in.
It all works together with a drum machine (or heavily processed drums, I can't quite tell) to create a strange but fascinating sound. The more I listen, the more I'm entranced.
These guys are monster T. Rex fans (there's more than one riff stolen, and the basic tracks were laid down in "Slider Studios", though that may just be a fortunate coincidence), and while that helps explain the fuzz levels, I'm at a loss as to why this stuff has such a sugary base.
All that is cut down by the sound tricks, but at the core, this is cheesy pop. Nothing wrong with that, and honestly, these guys do a good job ripping out the sound. Definitely worth a spin. And if you give it a minute, you'll be hooked.
Songs for the Gray Areas
reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00
Some rather young-looking guys from College Park who like to crank out the medium-throttle rock. The edges are dulled, but the songwriting is rather sharp.
Which is to say, if they band decides a song is only worth 45 seconds, that's all it lasts. I like that attitude. Who says a song has to be three minutes, or five minutes, or an hour? The mechanics of the pieces sound somewhat disjointed, but that's more in the connections. The internal workings of the pieces are rather tight.
Plenty of feedback and distortion. That's where the dull sound comes in. But it's hardly distracting. Indeed, it helps to form a conduit to the soul of the pieces. Now, I'm not trying to make this sound horribly deep (it isn't), but there's a lot here to like.
reviewed in issue #306, April 2009
Two exceedingly different discs from Zopoula, who hails from Burkina Faso. The first set sounds like a lot of Western African guitar pop that I've heard, with a certain bump in the bass and sing-song sound to the melodies. It's good, but not particularly unique.
The second disc is Zopoula and an acoustic guitar--demos cut live to tape. I like that a lot better. It's not hard to imagine what they would sound like with the full band production sound, but I prefer this style.
I like this set precisely because you can hear how an artist writes songs and then how those songs would be translated. There are no repeated songs between the two discs, but a one-to-one comparison isn't necessary.
Hearing echoes of American music wafted back across the Atlantic is always fascinating. This set has something of a documentary feel about it, but it's also quite easy to enjoy the songs on their own merits. A real joy.
reviewed in issue #266, July 2005
So I'm reading some reviews of Zox's first album, and they all seem to make mention of some mind-bending elektro-violin playing. I don't hear a whole lot of that here. Not as much as it seems the first album contained, anyway . In fact, it seems to me (just judging by what I read, since I haven't heard that disc) that these boys really streamlined their approach for this album.
And while that probably won't make the fans of that first album particularly happy, I think it probably helped Zox make this album as good as it is. The songs are tight, generally in a slightly trippy new wave-punk-ska sound that has "tomorrow" written all over it. The playing is energetic, and the production is ultra-clean.
This sound is certainly good for getting major label attention. Zox won't have to clean up much if they get a deal. I'm sure a big label would want simpler songs--you gotta have a single, man--but the sound is radio-ready. And I mean that as a complement. Zox is mainstream in the most interesting ways possible.
Right. So that I don't insult the boys any further, let me get out of here by saying I really enjoyed the disc. That's unqualified praise, by the way. Zox rocks. Oh my God, did I really say that? Somebody shoot me...
reviewed in issue #208, 11/20/00
A nice little groove band that branches out into disco and some light funk if the mood hits it. Nothing particularly substantial, mind you, but fairly solid.
Decent writing, a production job that emphasizes the slightly whimsical tilt of the bands and energetic playing. All very nice, if not particularly exciting. At least to me. I've gotta say that this isn't really my style.
Still, Zyrah's Orange manages to throw enough ideas and tangents to keep the sound from becoming stultifyingly dull. In fact, the songs managed to engage me more than once, which is pretty impressive.
I like the fact that Zyrah's Orange likes to play around. While I don't hear anything spectacular going on, I don't have a lot to complain about, either. And considering the style being played here, that's saying something.
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