By Nick Romanow
*AM Stereo – “Can’t” – The Gentlemen’s Recording Company
A sense of humor is always a good thing in the dark world of rock ‘n’ roll. *AM Stereo has a pretty good sense of humor. The Boston band has just released their latest album with cover art where a soup can next to an apostrophe and a t represents the title of the album (“Can’t”). On the band’s website the members are credited as playing sitar, harmonica and glockenspiel in lieu of their actual instruments, but in reality *AM Stereo is meaty, ’80s-influenced power-pop that consists entirely of guitar, bass, and made-for-arena melodies.
And while *AM Stereo seem like they are probably fun guys to hang out with they aren’t particularly interesting or fun as musicians. “Can’t” is pretty much 13 tracks of stadium-sized, derivative pop-rock. Huge riffs of distorted guitar chords into harmonics and big dumb lyrics are *AM Stereo’s bread and butter. And while there is nothing wrong with that – in fact there have been some great bands that worked with little more than those ingredients – *AM Stereo has nothing new to say and they aren’t even particularly good at repeating old tricks.
“Can’t” is such a numbing record – track after track of the same exact thing – that even rotating vocalists doesn’t make a difference; it all sounds the same. And while the band cites brainy indie-rockers like Pavement, Superchunk and Soul Asylum as influences, they have nothing in common with those bands except an occasional vocal similarity to the latter band – and certainly none of what made Pavement and Superchunk so loved and revered. In fact it seems that *AM Stereo did nothing more then try to mimic fellow Boston-based hard rocking power-poppers Waltham to exact specifications, making “Can’t” something like a stale 4th- or 5th-generation take on the genre, retaining absolutely none of its redeeming values.
Repetitive, clich餠music, empty and brainless lyrics and dime-a-dozen vocal melodies add up to another album that is occasionally offensively bad but more often just plain old bad.
By Nick Romanow
T. Raumschmiere – Blitzkrieg Pop – Novamute
T. Raumschmiere’s latest electro-punk album “Blitzkrieg Pop” may reference the Ramones, but, to be sure, the group shares nothing with the punk legends – aside from perhaps simple, repetitive song structures. If the front cover, which portrays a digital-age skull-and-crossbones (with keyboards for bones) wearing a trucker hat doesn’t make it clear that T. Raumschmiere is the type of slick, dumb, ineffective frat-techno that is almost embarrassing to listen to. “A Mess” is a bumbling attempt at social commentary; “Sick Like Me” is a watered-down take on mid-’90s industrial, though it sounds more like the Mortal Kombat theme song, which takes the initiative that few artists have – rhyming “schmuck” with “suck”.
If that’s not enough to warn away any potential costumers, it should be noted that T. Raumschmiere aren’t just lacking in the lyrical department. As a techno band, poor lyrics and vocals can be excused in favor of propulsive, interesting music. Unfortunately “Blitzkrieg Pop” sounds exhausted before it even starts. Almost all the songs are extremely repetitive, in a tedious way, to be sure, rather than in the effective way the Ramones’ songs were, and there are barely any subtleties in the music. Each song sounds clumsily slapped together.
The album has a handful of generic electro-ballads mixed in between the faux-aggression that pervades the album, but nothing that the band tries can change the mood and feel of “Blitzkrieg Pop.” It’s a generally embarrassing listen; it’s hard to imagine the band themselves enjoying the album, but it’s more innocuously bland then patently offensive. And for that T. Raumschimere can be set free – there’s no need to war against a “Blitzkrieg” no one will notice.
By Nick Romanow
Holopaw – “Quit +/or Fight” – Sub Pop Records
It can be safely said that any good album grows on repeated listens, no matter what the initial impact is. “Quit +/or Fight,” the sophomore album from Holopaw, is one of those albums that practically begs for multiple listens but, sadly, does not deliver on its promise. The album is packed with intricate arrangements, a slew of instruments, literate lyrics and soft vocals that straddle the line between folky alt-country and wide-eyed indie-rock.
While Holopaw’s sound is somewhere between Wilco and John Vanderslice, the songs aren’t as strong. “Quit +/or Fight” swirls by like a half-hour blur – enjoyable, but not memorable. The songs are all amiable and the lyrics reveal themselves to be intriguing and clever, but singer John Orth’s fine voice, which is quite reminiscent of Vanderslice, is often so soothing it buries itself. The music, too, is grabbing at first, but over the course of the album it loosens its grip, eventually becoming pleasant but complacent. Holopaw have dug themselves a nice niche, one that requires a level of talent and creativity, but they may have burrowed a little too deep.
Those required multiple listens only serve to annunciate the strengths and weaknesses of the record, which alternately make for a more satisfying and frustrating listen. The haunting melodies that sway in and out of “Ghosties” are a perfect example of how good Holopaw’s songwriting can be but the overwhelming amount of similar songs and tones that permeate the album only drag down the best moments. For every subtle electronic effect there is a generic indie-folk riff. Orth’s lyrics deserve far more attention then the band is willing to give them but often it is the singer’s own inability to find an interesting way to present them that does them in.
That being said, the good does out-weigh the bad on “Quit +/or Fight.” In fact, it’s only because the good is so good that the bad, which isn’t actually bad at all, is so apparent. Holopaw is a young band with a lot of potential that, like many of their peers, hasn’t yet harnessed their abilities to the fullest and that’s no crime. “Quit +/or Fight” might not resonate the way a great album would, but it sure beats a lot of the competition.
By Tim McCall, Collegian Staff
54?40′ Or Fight
After the successful soundtrack to the movie “Garden State,” every record label in the country went out to look for a band similar to The Shins. Some of them failed, some of them got a cheap rip-off, but one label, 54?40′ Or Fight, to be exact, already had their Shins like band.
For proof, go listen to their band Ticonderoga and listen to their new album “Heilig-Levine LP.” Sure they don’t have all the effects of pop samples, but they have the slow-fast transition down, as well as the vocals.
Or maybe that’s just all mere coincidence and Ticonderoga is just a band who went and ignored the myth of the sophomore slump and released a really good second album. “Heilig-Levine LP” isn’t just their second album, but their second album of this year.
Two albums in one year is a feat not heard of in today’s music world. In fact, most of the time it’s just not allowed due to contract issues, so the band normally would have to wait until at least the following year and by then the music is stale.
“Heilig-Levine LP” is far from stale. Each member of the band has their own style they bring to the band. They each sing the songs they write so they take turn playing each other’s instruments and sometimes bringing other non-rock ‘n’ roll instruments into the material as well, such as a cello or a violin.
The orchestration is what brings in the comparison to The Shins, but also destroys it at other times. The Shins use more sound effects than instruments at times contrasting with Ticonderoga who utilize more actual instruments making a more unified.
The band still has a lot more conquering to do. Heck, they still haven’t played the western half of the coun
try yet, but as for recording they are already proving themselves to be worthy of success.
By Tim McCall, Collegian Staff
Sheryl Crow has been around a lot longer then most of her newest fans think. Blame MTV or pop radio all you want for misleading you, but Crow has been around for well over the past decade, so when mainstream recognition and success came calling for her last album, it was well-deserved.
The follow up to “C’mon, C’mon” is “Wildflower,” originally planned to be part one of two albums this year, but for one reason or another it turned out to be the only album Crow is going to release this year.
Since “C’mon, C’mon” has been released, Crow’s life has turned for the better. She is now engaged to Lance Armstrong, six-time Tour De France champion and cancer survivor. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who saw last year’s Tour De France because the camera kept panning back to Crow to talk about her and her relationship with Armstrong.
While “Wildflower” doesn’t seem to have a standout track to become a single for the album that will sell millions more albums for her, the album has a feel that would be right at home if it was still the mid-’90s with the release of the “Globe Sessions.”
“Wildflower” is definitely more rocking then anything Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez would release, but that’s partially who Crow is. She’s always been more rocking then a folk singer. “Wildflower” reunites Crow with her duo producer team consisting of Jeff Shanks and John Trott, but went in a different direction with her recording procedure. Crow used to write songs in the studio and perform them fresh there. This time she brought songs to the studio already written and waiting to be performed instead.
Crow’s newest fans might at first be set back due to the album being not poppy enough, but with each listen they should learn to love this album too. The lyrics are outstanding and the overall musicianship is top-notch. Crow has a lot to teach about the world with her wisdom of the world and this record starts the lesson off well.