You may not have heard of her and arguably her style of music doesn't fit the American Idol mold, but trust me, that's a good thing. I speak of Lindsey Yung, who was honored with the Female Singer/Songwriter of the Year at the 2006 Los Angeles Music Awards, and with that came the anticipation of what to come up with next.
Opal Essence (self-released) is an album that shows a true craft for songwriting and music, it's not just a mere decoration or something to sell cars. "Away From It All" opens the album with Yung explaining her mission on the album, and perhaps in life:
We can make our getaway
Ignore the agenda and play
Throw a wrench
It's time to quench
This aching need for slower days
Yung is a storyteller in the style of Sarah McLachlan, where reality is the most colorful pallet to create the most vivid audio pictures. "Authentic Counterfeit" has her touching on elements that one might also hear in songs by Bess Rogers, where both of them go a bit deeper in their conviction towards hitting the part of us that isn't meant to be revealed, but is. She doesn't quite get into Tori Amos mode, but Yung is very much on that same level of reaching the epiphany but resisting the urge to go into it head first. "Touchstone" sounds like a spiritual song, and for all I know it could be just that, but if one is to twist the lyrics around, it could easily be about the joy of a pet dog:
He never asks why it's been so hard
He won't be the one you'll find sulking in blame
You'll discover he brings out the best in you
And when he's away, you'll find that he remains with you
Maybe it's not meant for interpretation, but this is one of the few songs on Opal Essence that one may wonder and say "is it or isn't it?"
The music has a sense of freedom that I think we all search for in our lives, and with her pop flavored songs (think Ben Folds) she could easily become one of the premiere artists of the early 21st century. Want a left field comparison? At times she sounds like a much more polished Jennifer Lopez, although I don't think Lopez will be playing a piano or 'ukulele anytime soon, nor will she be writing arrangements for string sections. Fans of singer/songwriters demand something that will move them beyond initial expectations, and those who approach the music of Lindsey Yung will eventually be drawn to the talents that she has shared to the world.
(Opal Essence can be purchased directly from LindseyYung.com.)
Ruck and Rock are back together again as Heltah Skeltah, and on their new album D.I.R.T. (Da Incredible Rap Team) (Duck Down), they show why so many fans were supportive of their verbal attacks and why fans will definitely be pleased with their long awaited reunion.
It's hard to believe D.I.R.T. is only the third Heltah Skeltah album, and I think it's because both of them have recorded so much music inbetween (especially Ruck, known to many these days as simply Sean Price) that people haven't realized the space between. As always, what you can expect is tight rhymes and flows with the kind of in-depth lyrics that made them one of the best out of the Boot Camp Clik. They speak of life, they speak of the hip-hop industry, they speak with the values of the streets, and don't mind talking about getting high with a deep love for weed, cocaine, or the occasional blend of the two. They don't mind doing a little sing-song to keep people guessing but they haven't gone R&B, far from it. It's an album that easily measures up with anything the Clik have done, especially Smif-N-Wessun's Dah Shinin'.
You want quality hip-hop, you're going to get it here from two guys who work well individually but do even more damage as a team. Every song on D.I.R.T. are solid stand-outs, and while people are still crying over allegations of hip-hop's death, what you're hearing from Heltah Skeltah are tales of the most incredible kind. We're not talking about the celebration of bling, cars, money, and women, this is a bit more down to Earth but then again, this is Heltah Skeltah, the name demands appreciation. They are mature, they are now the elders, and are now hip-hop statesmen. They will tap into their old school ways and make sure their older fans know they haven't forgotten, but the rhymes here are of a high caliber, the type that represents rap music on its own home turf. The cover photo of Sean Price and Rock as superheroes might seem silly at first, but they know that you will look beyond/behind the costumes to find something a bit more accurate. It makes one wish more hip-hop fans did the same for their favorite artists. Easily one of the best albums of the year, of any genre.
(D.I.R.T. is available directly from Duck Down Records or from CD Universe.)
Boo And Boo Too are back again after releasing a decent EP, and this time they're ripping shit up with a fantastic full length album.
No Tempo (Chomp Womp/Ironpaw) only adds to the intensity the group had before on their first EP (reviewed earlier this year in The Run-Off Groove #194, and maybe because this is being presented as an album, I'm sensing a bit of cohesiveness. Or maybe I'm wanting to hear that from these guys, although what I hear are a band that I hope are on the edge of something incredible. It would be too easy to say "massive success" but in today's industry climate, who knows what might or might not happen, but what I'd like to see happen is Boo And Boo Too tour across the country and as much of the world as possible, so people can find moving music to believe in again. This album reminds me a bit of Sonic Youth and The Flaming Lips, bands who incorporated noise and experimental values in their music but also weren't afraid to try melodies and actual song craftsmanship.
(No Tempo is available through Ironpaw Records.)
He calls himself Tha Pumpsta, and he's a guy who combines hip-hop with electronic twists and incorporates his Atlanta roots by doing his brand of crunk.
Bass Black Treble White (Milk The Beef) is his second album, and the raw demo quality of it (good but not super polished) has it bordering on the thin line between super genius and self parody. It's geekery at its very best, with loads of in-jokes, cliches, and tight music mixed in with lyrics that range from complete nonsense to abstract dork-ism. It is his tendency to tackle various cliches that at times make it sound like a joke, or perhaps he's not wanting to take himself too seriously. Maybe there's a dilemma in that he's the white guy who can make cool music but has to dork it up in order to be accepted or be heard. Either that or you step up to the level of a Slug or Sage Francis or go on MC Paul Barman's level. Tha Pumpsta knows how to pump the music up, but whether or not he is able to count his money as he gets paid in full depends on what audience he caters to. Or maybe the rule of Tha Pumpsta is to balance yourself so that you can please everyone, thus the title Bass Black Treble White. If he's able to get himself heard on a wider scale, it could prove to be dangerous.
(Bass Black Treble White is available from CDBaby.)
I've been anxiously awaiting to hear new music from Charmaine Clamor after being blown away by her Flippin' Out album. For this new album, she takes the music and inspiration from her native Phillipines and creates My Harana: A Filipino Serenade (FreeHam). It's an album that she sings in a number of Filipino languages, including Tagalog, Ilocano, Pangasinan, and Bisaya, and by doing so reaches across the country for a wonderful story of love, romance, companionship, and common courtesy, when etiquette meant something.
The songs here are a part of the folk tradition, and the moment these songs are heard in homes and dances, people drop and can cry in an instant. When you hear Clamor sing "Pakiusap", "Mekeni King Siping Ku", and "Manamahal Sinasamba", one can almost step back into time and imagine what it must have been like for the people of the Phillipines to hear these for the first time on the radio, on television, or on record, and the millions of transplants who were able to keep one foot home through these songs of joy and occasional heartbreak. Clamor states in the liner notes that these songs are about a time when seeking companionship meant poetry, passion, and a song, something that has been romanticized to death in television shows and movies, but one that seems to be evaporating by those who feel gadgets are the way to link up.
In her voice is the sound of sentiment and passion, she is an incredible jazz singer whose American upbringing and love for the music makes her perfect to be an influence on the next wave of singers, I still feel that way. By singing in and to the native tongue, it feels a lot like comfort food, where a bowl of pork guisantes and rice is what you may need to start an all night (and perhaps all morning) conversation. It's front porch or backyard music, where you didn't care about performing to the masses. If your family heard it, or neighbors, or the mail man, you didn't mind nor care. It sounds very simple, but at times it's the simple things in life that we miss and seek in order for us to gain back a bit of sanity, to regroup. It's a great album that captures her love of family and roots. If she ever does a cover of "Pagdating Ng Takipsilim", perhaps with The New Minstrels arrangement, it would be all over.
(My Harana: A Filipino Serenade is available from CDBaby.)
Cynthia Hilts is a jazz vocalist/musician who has all the qualities to make it happen, and on Second Story Breeze (Blond Coyote) she plays the piano in a fashion that makes the listener want to hear all of her work and check out a few shows.
She plays with the same kind of beauty that Herbie Hancock and Dave Brubeck have in their playing, where it's not just hammering for the sake of hammering, there's a lot of thought in each and every move she makes, which include the amount of space between each chord and phrase, it's very deliberate. You can hear this in material like the engaging title track, "Bunny", and" The Fading Blue", or in the crafty "Nun, Miffdemeanor-Like" where she is playful and shows that she has an incredible sense of humor in her style too.
The only thing I didn't like was her singing, I liked when she did a bit of abstract scat but her vocals only slowed down the pace of the album, at least for me it did. Remove the majority of the vocals on this and this would be huge.
(Second Story Breeze is available directly from CynthiaHilts.com.)
Tracy Shedd says in the first song: "you can stay up all night and talk about it/or you can just play your guitar". She sounds a bit like Liz Phair with the ambient vocals of Miki Berenyi or Tanya Connely with the same kind of bounce and attitude that groups like Belly and The Breeders have. Cigarette & Smoke Machines (Teenbeat.net) easily fits in with many female indie rock artists, and while it might sound lazy to say Shedd sounds pleasant, she does without becoming unsettling. She has one of those silky voices that, at least from a male perspective, I enjoy hearing, it's pleasing to me. But a nice voice cannot make bad songs sound decent, fortunately Shedd doesn't have any terrible songs. The album could easily be the kind of thing Gabby Glaser would do on her own album, but this is Shedd's album and here she sings about dreams, hopes, life, the world, and anything and everything under the sun without making any grandiose statements. Or if there are statements to be made, it's in the music and how one feels after hearing it. It sounds like accomplishment, and one hopes she will not make this her final statement.
More Shedd for everyone.
(Cigarettes & Smoke Machines is available in vinyl and CD form directly from Teenbeat.net.)
Bozos are not what Team Genius are, and the smirk heard in the vocals in "Take Me Home" made me wonder if they wanted to be a bit more clever than the next man/band. I think they are, but they're going to have a lot of fun making people believe they're not as smart. No, that's not saying Team Genius are dumb, no dumb bands are making sounds that sound like this and yet are radio friendly. It's quirky, anthemic, something you could play in a cover band alongside The Knack's "Good Girls Don't" and "Frustrated" and a bit of The Hooters catalog while doing DJ sets involving Boredoms and Todd Rundgren acetates.
Team Genius are the kind of band you wish you had joined or known about during summer camp, because while you had lofty goals to become rock stars, you know it was just nothing more than making great sounds with friends. This is what Team Genius are. Bozos, I don't know, I've never met them.
(Team Genius' self titled album will be released on October 7th.)
Soft Targets at first sound like they've been hitting up the mystical juice machine with their crafty pop tendencies, fresh with that sprinkling of pepper that sometimes can be found on the brim of a cup, but maybe it is that or the fact that these guys are doing some adventurous pop that... I was going to say "should dominate the airwaves" and I guess it would be nice if people just looked left of center to listen to something that is different yet equally as exciting as some of the music people listen to on an irregular basis but that would not be good for things would be watered down and songs like "Sirens" and "Dear Atlanta" do not deserve to be watered down by weak people who cannot and will not appreciate quality pop with a bit of edginess that I tend to like even though I am a sucker for good pop and good pop is not bad.
(Heavy Rainbow is available directly from Cloud 13 Records.)
God damn, sometimes listening to an album will set you off and you think "I really hope this gets better". I will review this album in real time.
"Bees" begins with vocals and is interrupted by a woman saying "what?". That's funny.
Okay, maybe this review format will not work. Let's start again.
Jared Mees & The Grown Children sing about pride in "shooting skeet", and who knows if it's the actual skeet or the hip-hop slang for it, but on Caffeine, Alcohol, Sunshine, Money they play quirky and trippy folk rock pop bop in the vein of The Flaming Lips, Weezer, and King Missile and The Violent Femmes. What I got out of it is a bunch of guys (and one lady) who enjoy making music, but also like to do it in an unconventional fashion. They do this by making music that would be perfect for campfires and post-concert orgies when Denny's runs out of hash browns. They sing about what they see as it's a lot more creative to do that than to create Ronnie James Dio adventures. They play banjos, guitars, drums, Mulcolax, and chun, and then they beat it as if it has been large for three hours straight. Megan Spear's vocals fit in with the dramalans of Mees, and together with the other mates in the band, they primate their way into the monkoral of unmundanity.
Or maybe it's best to describe it this way. This could easily be music done by the cast of Zoom if they wrote bikes around town and smoked hash. I don't know if I would call this "slacker folk" as much as I'd call this Unpeter, Unpaul, and Unmary folk. I am certain these guys would at least pronounce Hanalei correctly.
(Caffeine, Alcohol, Sunshine, Money is available directly from Tender Loving Empire.)
You cannot get this from an MP3: opening the cover and seeing a photo of a rabbit on the CD. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!
Cineplexx are not as surprising as a bunny coming out of a hat, but what I do hear is a band who sound a bit like Let's Active but with a portable record player in hand, walking to thrift stores and buying living room organs and farfisas instead of insecticide-ridden clothing. In other words, Cineplexx are music with a mission, and that mission is to be good without sacrificing decency. This is due to Sebastian Litmanovich, who combines his love of disco and singer/songwriters with super pop and an elegance that he enjoys bathing in like Aria Giovanni using baby oil while sporting bra and panties. Picnic (Portia) is an album that one might mistake for Sukia or Illya Kuryaki & The Valderramas, if not Café Tacuba, and that comes from taking in music like a sponge and not disinfecting the nasty bits. It's an album not afraid to take risks in its execution towards self-made excellent, as heard in "A mi lado", "Novatona 500 mg", and "Humedad".
Or to put it in another way, it's the Sean Lennon album Sean Lennon would like to record someday. Litmanovich reaches those harmonies Lennon is able to do, but takes it one step further. There's also a heavy British influence here too, at least in how the songs are arranged and performed, as if it's his goal to be a Spanish Beatles-influenced band. I like this.
(Picnic is available from CDBaby.)
Um, what is this?
I mean really, what is this? I hear tight rock with synths, kind of like nine inch nails on luudes, and then male and female vocals that make it sound like someone has a bottle of liquid latex and wants to rub it on their nards. Oh I get it, the ambient vibe comes from them being British, right? Then it makes sense. Let's see if I can accurately describe this. Secret Shine sound like a more orchestrated My Bloody Valentine, complete with what sounds like a horn section and orchestra (or simulations of them). They take that overwhelming sheet of noise and actually create something that even mom could understand (then again, your mom is probably singing "To Here Knows When" right now). They also come off like a more electrified version of The Vaselines, and with songs that are just as memorable. "Know", "Cafe Crash", and "Last Leaves" could easily become songs to define a generation, but that generation has to find Secret Shine. It lurks in the forest, I hope people are making a search.
(All Of The Stars is available directly from Clairecords.)
...AND NOW, THE HAWAIIAN MUSIC CORNER:
Kontiki caught the attention of many Pacific Islanders with their style of reggae, and after winning a Hawai'i Music Aaward in 2004, they have returned with their follow-up album.
Free Again (self-released) shows the group doing what they do best, and that is to make feel good reggae music with a slight island stylee. I think the songs are fairly decent, with the group still talking about puppy love, and even in the songs they cover (Chicago's "Hard To Say I'm Sorry", Survivor's "Second Chance", Lionel Richie's "Sweet Island Woman") they take the safe route, with the only variation being that these new versions have reggae flavor. However, all of that is decent compared to the disgrace that is "Coyote Ugly", where they add the Auto-Tune and make a bad situation worse, and sing about meeting up with a lady who ends up looking like a guy because of her "double belly wide" and "mustache, harry (sic) back", all while a toaster tries to do his Bounty Killer best. Considering the Jamaican's respect for ladies of all sizes, "Coyote Ugly" comes off like a cross between embarrassing parody and a disgrace to what reggae music represents. The saving grace is the ska-flavored "Pepe", where they bounce back in fine form and sing the praises of a beautiful Tongan woman. If the guys did more material like this, they might be able to crossover to an audience outside of their core fans. While I would love to hear different keyboard/synth sounds, I'm not sure if they feel a need to take that risk but if they do, it might also open them up to more people who may be turned off by the Sears-default sound that is heard throughout the album. Free Again works quite well, but they do leave room for improvement and a bit of self-editing. Tip: don't make songs like "Coyote Ugly", funny is funny but a laugh this isn't.
(Free Again is available from Amazon.com.)
Fans of Ten Feet were unsure if their favorite group would return after they decided to take a break in 2004. They released a number of albums since 1995 and had been the sensation of the island nations, even though at the time of their break they had only released two full length albums. Now, Ten Feet fans are in jubilation with the long awaited release of album number 3, Everyday (Ohana).
The group play roots reggae with a pop vibe, which of course is the Jawaiian formula, and while I am not a fan of the limited keyboard sound that they use, the choice of songs and the great vocal harmonies that are found within make up for it. My personal favorite is "True", which has a bit of those old school qualities that made groups like Kalapana and Country Comfort so great, reminds me of driving around the island, tuning to KCCN and allowing the music to be my guide. I like the brief guitar ode to Bobby Womack's "Breezin'" during the break, nice touch. The cover of Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" was very nice, only because I didn't realize it was a Mraz song. Other songs like "247365" (as in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days in a year) and "Sweet Sunlight" are perfect Sunday morning music, cruising with the top down and forgetting the troubles of life, and to add to that these guys can play. It's not just music in a box, just add water.
13 of the album's 15 songs stand-out, the only duds being their covers of The Beatles' "Something" and Leo Sayer's "More Than I Can Say". I can understand "Something" because it is one of the best love songs ever recorded, but Ten Feet really don't add much to it. As for "More Than I Can Say", out of all the songs in the world, they have to cover Leo fricken Sayer? Yet if you understand where these guys are coming from, then you'll know they take value in the cherished pop hit. Unfortunately, it's a Leo Sayer hit.
Other than those gripes, Everyday is a fine album that doesn't disappoint. I would love to hear these guys do a cover of Donna Summer's "Last Dance", performed in the same style and tempo that they do in the song "Tonight". Let's see if it happens, and let's also hope it doesn't take them another four years to release a new full length.
(Everyday is available from e808.com.)