(out of 5)
Like so many other popular musicians,
Dave Gahan has been to hell and back. The Depeche Mode frontman has been
exposed at his worst, captured in the grasp of an ever-present limelight.
Note the infamous photo following a near-fatal overdose with the rocker’s
head pressed against the rear window of a cop car—nose caked in
blood. Gahan overcame heroin and returned to the studio to work on his
solo material. The resulting debut album reinforces the notion that intense
suffering inspires painfully beautiful art.
Gahan’s vocals gave Depeche Mode a much-needed depth typically absent
in other synth pop bands. That same haunting baritone is what drives Paper
Monsters to astonishing heights. However, ascension originates in the
murky depths of a troubled psyche. This is not a jovial celebration of
endurance, but rather a somber reflection on a life that vainly cheated
death. “I won’t always be around/ So call before you drown,”
Gahan warns on “Bottle Living.”
The song reeks with disgust over one’s past, a tone that also drives
opening track, “Dirty Sticky Floors.” There is an overwhelming
sense of reverence permeating the album, binding each element into a gracious
whole. On “Stay,” Gahan gently begs a lover not to go, terrified
of losing the light guiding him through an abyss. The appreciation is
more explicit on “Hold On,” as he expresses a somewhat unexpected
acceptance: “You keep giving me all these things, I think I’ll
Gahan never asked for any pity. He didn’t run from his problems,
and for that, he deserves a little respect. But it is the music he’s
created that pays testimony to his resiliency. Paper Monsters is more
than just a pleasure for the senses—it is a soothing balm for any
soul that has ever danced with destruction.—JG
From The Crates Vol 1.
National Vinyl Association
(out of 5)
The title to the recently released
Avatar Records hip hop compilation is an obvious play on NWA’s Straight
Outta Compton album, but while NWA will be remembered as the group that
defined West Coast gangsta rap, this compilation will have a lesser influence
on the course of music history.
The pitch behind the album is that all the tracks are singles previously
released on vinyl only. So the CD offers the turntable illiterate a dose
of underground hip hop otherwise out of reach.
The album is worth going to your local record store just to hear “Hard
Times,” the best musical and lyrical track on the album, a collaboration
between The Pharcyde, Charli 2Na and Akil of Jurassic 5. Besides the laid-back
electric key vibe that backs the track, the lyricists score major points
for their innovation on the mic.
Rakka and Babu of Dilated Peoples deliver a solid opener with “Speakin’
The Truth.” Slum Village’s “Da Villa” stands out
as another monster track on the compilation. The intricate beats match
the intelligent rhymes and the syncopation sounds great.
Mos Def’s “Workin’ It Out” is a weak example of
the master MC’s capabilities on the mic, but its interesting beats
save the track. Rass Kas featuring Scipio’s “Verbal Murder”
demonstrates a strong sense of rhyme, but the beats lack luster and the
chorus bites a line off of Blackalicious’s “Shallow Days.”
Despite the album’s underground mystique, the tracks get tired as
the album progresses with too few diamonds in the rough to shine through.
On The Sun
(out of 5)
Brother Ali’s follow up to
his cassette-only 2000 debut Rites of Passage solidifies the MC’s
storytelling abilities. In the opening track “Room With A View,”
Ali declares himself a “modern urban Norman Rockwell,” a true
statement considering his ability to paint verbal pictures about his reality
with a wide array of words on his palette. There’s also a somewhat
decent DJ to set the groove and match the tone of his themes.
Ali’s cunning on the mic is what brings strength to the album, but
DJ Ant needs to learn how to change the record now and again because
listeners shouldn’t be forced to listen to a 10-second tape loop
for four minutes straight with no hooks, a capella sections or changes
in the beat, bass or anything else. The prime examples of this are on
“Blah Blah Blah,” “Forest Whitaker” and the title
track. The rhymes demonstrate intelligence and wit on behalf of the MC,
but the beat stays the same, slowly driving the listener insane.
“Star Quality” samples a snippet of an early Funkadelic tune
so you know that the DJ has done his/her homework but just hasn’t
applied the proper DJ skills (acquired in DJ school).
On “Soul Whisper,” Ali does a couple verses in what sounds
like Arabic, which is something that would be cool to explore more, but
this album doesn’t.
Brother Ali is another fresh voice among the underground and has already
toured with contemporary greats like Mos Def, El P and De La Soul among
others. He offers some decent social commentary as well as some good old
shit-talking, which at times seems to go overboard, but all in all it’s
a good effort for a sophomore release in the underground.
Aside from Brother Ali’s skills on the mic, he doesn’t appear
to try and portray himself as anything he is not. The album and the lyrics
are honest and straightforward, which is the best thing that a rapper
can do to have staying power with true fans of the medium.—LMV
green rode shotgun
8 ohm Records
(out of 5)
Bang is gooey bubblegum on a hot
side walk getting stuck to the shoe that is rock and roll, relentlessly
clinging while the shoe owner’s attempt to discard the unwanted
attachment is to no avail. OK, maybe that’s going overboard, but
there is definitely a little bit of bubblegum stuck on the soles of avant-rockers
green rode shotgun, along with some pop and a plethora of energy.
Comprised of Jason T. Johnson (vocals), David Henderson (six and 12-string
guitars/vocals), Shea Callahan (six-string guitar), John Lane (bass/vocals)
and Don Sergio (percussion/harmonica/vocals) the band creates a sound
that’s oddly nostalgic.
“My Will,” is one of the more rockin’ tunes, featuring
a fast paced guitar solo towards the end. Some of the songs have an air
of modern day hippiedom in the backing vocals or through the drum circle-style
interlude in “Nothing Is Good Enough.”
The band has an up-front sound in which all the instruments and vocals
are clearly audible and some what in your face.
One of the band’s strengths is that it knows how to put breaks in
the music to keep it interesting for four or five minutes instead of just
playing the same monotonous line or series of lines over and over. The
high energy playing also works in the band’s favor. Some songs sound
like they have an angst-like quality, but just don’t quite have
the edge on them to qualify in the angry category. They come across as
more whiny than anything else.
Overall, the sound produced by green rode shotgun on Bang is pretty catchy,
and easy to access, and in less than 45 minutes, the band delivers an
11-track dose of their sound.—LMV
(out of 5)
The black background of Donald
Fagen and Walter Becker’s newest album as Steely Dan, Everything
Must Go, holds—I am convinced—a secret, subliminal message,
reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.
The seemingly random yellow letters that are sprinkled throughout the
predominantly light blue text on the cover and inside packaging, when
placed next to each other without spaces, read ‘steelyhsohslliiicockaaegreenxunhso.’
Er…well, there goes that theory. But I don’t get paid to pontificate.
Following in the wake of their 2000 Grammy-winning record, Two Against
Nature, Everything Must Go has some lofty expectations to live up to.
The band—which was reportedly named after a vibrator in William
Burroughs' novel, "Naked Lunch"—released its first record
in 1972 and has been putting out its own brand of culturally aware pop/jazz
fusion ever since.
And to the duo’s credit, despite the fact that the CD is short (nine
tracks), Everything Must Go is a fine album that will not disappoint fans
of the band’s earlier work. Present are the suave guitar licks and
the sophisticated lyrics for which Fagen and Becker are famous.
Songs about misguided modern consumerism ("The Last Mall") precede
songs about love and loss ("Things I Miss the Most"). Some of
the most clever lyrics critiquing pop culture surface on “Pixaleen,”
as Fagen croons about a Shaft-esque female: “Your pager starts to
throb/ It’s your as-if boyfriend Randall/ Better keep it real—or
Becker, the usually quieter Dan, lays some intense, sexually charged vocals,
contributing to the record’s overall smooth and passionate vibe.
Best advice: Sit down with a lovely lady, sip some merlot, put this record
on—give Barry White a rest for once, champ—and, uh, listen.—EG