I AM KLOOT
Gods and Monsters
John Bramwell's Mancunian accent recalls his countrymen in the band James, without that act's melodramatics or range. During his acoustic solo numbers, his reedy voice hovers hyperactively in the confined space like a hummingbird trapped in a tiny box. However, Bramwell's narrow reach doesn't make Gods and Monsters a claustrophobic listening experience, because he keeps his songs short and uses drum rolls and piano trills to reinforce—and occasionally overtake—his vocals.
During its instrumentally elaborate numbers, Gods and Monsters plays like deadpan cabaret. Its rattlesnake percussion, garage-rock guitars, pub-song piano, and swarming kazoos conjure evocative scenes, and Bramwell's detached narrator tells compelling stories, though they don't always match the action the accompaniment suggests. Wordwise, "Dead Men's Cigarettes" is as dark as tar-blackened lungs, but Bramwell's voice volunteers no gloom, and the upbeat, almost tropical backdrop creates a smokescreen. Another track sets lines about Sisyphean struggles to a hand-clap-punctuated hook. Gods and Monsters is a chameleonic collection, changing color depending on its listeners' mind-states. The downtrodden might fixate on the lyrics and brood, but the chipper can tether themselves to the soaring melodies. ANDREW MILLER
(Polyvinyl Record Co.)
With a two-tone cover image of a gnarled, grimacing hesher, Philadelphia's Hail Social set up a misleading expectation. The quartet's first angular chord, plucky bass, and drum kit slither show them pulling from an equivalent era of denim and Members Only jackets as headbangers, but without the equal amounts of aggro.
Some bands burn white hot, but Hail Social burn hot pink. Except there's a dark underbelly to the John Hughes high-school drama aspect of the group—hints of the dusky-meets-dervish thrust of the Cure, Madness, the Cars, and Wire. It's likely that Hail Social additionally look to Madchester, but without the luvved-up loopiness. They're no more dour than detuned. Bouncy, brisk hooks are prominent in the nine songs of the group's self-titled debut—especially on "Get in the Car" and "No Title"—but they are tempered and anchored by a post-emo lament and strafing riffs.
One aspect consistent throughout Hail Social is how well preened the recording is, as glossy bustle gives way to big choruses. No, you won't hear new angst or arrangements. But Hail Social wear frustrations well and allow anxieties to keep the mood buoyant over bogged down. TONY WARE
General Elektriks is the nom de plume of Hervé "RV" Salters, a French keyboard player. He often lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he connected with the Quannum crew, who are issuing his debut long-player, Cliquety Kliqk. The situation is reminiscent of when the Beastie Boys used their Grand Royal imprint to elevate session player Mark Nishita to an underground pop star. But RV doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve like Money Mark; he just wants to make freaky, funky jams.
Cliquety Kliqk is full of jazzy headnodders that are easy on the ears and full of sunshine. The distortion-heavy "Central Park" clucks along at a rocking pace; "Tu M'intrigues," which is sung in French (RV alternates between English and French throughout the album), takes the best elements of spy lounging and weds them to a fresh, body-moving beat.
Cliquety Kliqk is light and fleet and sometimes floats into the atmosphere—which is to say that RV's music could use a bit more substance to keep it from turning into background noise. The album's saving grace is his clever sense of humor. He isn't a comedian, per se—in fact, his lyrics are serviceable at best—but he has a tendency to hum wryly along to his own crunchy instrumentation. You get the sense that he's having fun jamming out without a care in the world. MOSI REEVES
Near-deified stalwarts of the European rock scene since the mid-'90s, Sweden's Turbonegro have had a tougher go of it in the States. Besides the fact that expert glam metal is completely excluded from U.S. airwaves, Turbo's particular brand of mustachioed mock rock is often lost on prudish empire-ending America. We like our dumb dumb, and our rock very serious, and never the twain shall meet. They meet often in Turbo's world, though, where they have really sweaty, nasty, hairy guy sex.
From the creepy "Steven Hawking" spoken intro to the hidden Serbian fanboy exhortation at the very end, Party Animals has Turbonegro still standing as clown princes of party-hardy darkness. Tin candy like "Blow Me (Like the Wind)" and "Hot Stuff/Hot Shit" are solid fist-pumpers. And even when the paint-by-numbers tracks come off like Ratt demos ("Stay Free," "City of Satan"), they get salvaged by funny epic strings, horns, or lyrical zingers that sound like ABBA gone blue.
It's hard to accuse Turbonegro of self-parody when parody has always been their core. But ultimately, an inability to keep the scatological angle, um, fresh, the similar tempos, and the ripoffs of their own riffs (rather than the usual Dictators/Queen/Ramones smelts) spell burnout. Hence, listening to Party Animals feels like frantically waving to the departing party cruise ship, with the beer cans washing up around your stomping feet. ERIC DAVIDSON
Particles & Waves
Whether you think it's mesmerizing or cringe-inducing, Ali Shaw's childlike voice has been the signature of UK ethereal pop band Cranes since their quietly menacing full-length debut Wings of Joy landed them the opening slot on the Cure's 1991 tour. Bands like Mazzy Star and the Sundays made the waifish ingénue moderately fashionable 15 years ago, but only Cranes have transcended that label, due mostly to Ali's brother, Jim, and his mysterious, avant-garde compositions. While the siblings have always been yin to the other's yang, they explore themes of duality in a playful direction on this new release.
Jim adds atmospheric electronics to the group's usual minimalist guitar and subtle piano melodies, and the pleasant combination supports Ali's delicate vocals on the opening track, "Vanishing Point." But in a sort of inside joke, the song actually disappears midway through as the sound wave changes phase—the music actually transforms itself into silence. When the song reappears, the electronics give way to upbeat guitar chords. "Here Comes the Snow" starts out with a simple, languid melody like a lullaby but then descends abruptly into a discordant nightmare before regaining its footing. And Jim's raw, weary voice on "Every Town" sounds even more startling when juxtaposed with the lighter-than-air style of his sister. In keeping with the theme, even the title of the album serves as a dichotomy, hinting at of the dual nature of light. By embracing many paradoxical parts, Cranes have created an album of strange beauty. DAVID SLATTON
The Collection Vol. 1: The Novelist/Walking Without Effort
Secretly Canadian's introductory offering to Richard Swift comes as two previously released records, each highlighting his knack for transcending musical generations. The Novelist, Swift's eight-song, 19-minute mini-opus opens as an archivist sound collage of Gramophone scratches, bird songs, and Jazz Age horns before giving way to the muffled drum machine and piano of ghost-pop hit "Lady Day." On "Lovely Night" New Orleans funeral horns rub elbows with Lennon/McCartney and "Sadsong St." is a bit of ragtime melancholy. Connecting these numbers are eerie blends of toy piano and tape hiss that sound like they were unearthed after having been buried for the past seven decades. Ending this genius faux-Smithsonian collection is "Looking Back, I Should Have Been Home More," a Waits-ian piano number recalling Nighthawks at the Diner minus the Lucky Strikes.
The flipside, Walking Without Effort, jumps from Vaudeville lounge to '70s nightclub where Elvis Costello, Leonard Cohen, and M. Ward take turns at Burt Bacharach's piano. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, Walking Without Effort is a tiny hit-fest of Swift's earnest voice and instrumental layering. Through ivory tickles and guitar strums, the songs straddle a line between sunny-day pop ("As I Go") and nighttime wine-sipping balladry ("Not Wasting Time"). Given that Swift's press materials stress his intention to "never make the same record twice," this double disc shows he's off on a good foot. BRIAN J. BARR
Richard Swift performs Fri Sept 9 at Neumo's, 9 pm, $10 adv/$12 DOS.
We Sweat Blood
(Razor & Tie)
Danko Jones—whether the Toronto power trio or the personification—was meant to sling a guitar. This lion has got too much strut to not prowl hard rock's heartland. Some people only feel comfort in snug trousers and slashing riffs, and Danko's got the jones for both. This music is young, dumb, and full of come—for the AC/DC and Andrew W. K. fans there.
When Danko Jones debuted in 1998 the group's sound was punk/funk tenacity fueled by guttural R&B. Now replace R&B with hard cock rock. Danko's incisors draw blood not from the Stones but from KISS, Black Sabbath, Electric Six, the Darkness, and Thin Lizzy, though remain grounded balls-deep in the libido. There are intros and bridges now but no bog of reverb or some such. Atop raunchy rave-ups Danko Jones snarls and swaggers, pleads and pounds across 14 tracks, including two U.S. bonus tracks culled from 2002's import-only Born a Lion.
And this animal roars. There's no distance between sleaze and speaker. There is no excessive overdub or unbelievably treated chords, just the elastic and spastic. All hyperbole is in the lyrics. The sound is stripped and Danko wants you to be stripped, too. Danko sweats blood for youuu. He's felt the bluuues. And if he got you alone he'd know just what to dooo. He's cockily pleased to meet you. Past puerile lyrics, Danko Jones are still suited for those who want cream in their coffee and butter with their Scotch. TONY WARE
Danko Jones perform Fri Sept 9 at the