Music Reviews By Mike White. MilkCan - Make It Sweet I’m a sucker for goofy two-dimensional animated characters rapping or jamming on guitar...
MilkCan - Make It Sweet
I’m a sucker for goofy two-dimensional animated characters rapping or jamming on guitar. I suppose that’s why I’m such a big fan of the Sony Playstation games, “Parappa The Rapper” and its quasi-sequel, “Um Jammer Lammy.” Even before playing a round of “Um Jammer Lammy”, I found (and subsequently purchased) Make It Sweet at Wizzywig Collectibles-a Japanese tchotchke store in Ann Arbor (www.wizzywig.com).
Make It Sweet is something of a soundtrack for the “Um Jammer Lammy” Sony Playstation game but with all of the eleven songs on the disc being performed by the characters of MilkCan (which consist of the Lammy herself on her heavy-duty guitar, Ma-San on drums and Katy Kat-making a triumphant reappearance after “Parappa The Rapper”-on bass and vocals). Guest vocals include some of the “Masters” that Lammy finds herself in competition with in the game but songs are arranged to put more of an emphasis on Katy Kat’s voice. The disc is something of an odd blurring of reality as it presents the band as if they weren’t two-dimensional cartoon characters. But, hey, if The Archies can do it...
Like “Parappa The Rapper,” Masaya Matsuura penned by music while Ryu provided the lyrics. The songs derive from the various challenges that Lammy faces on her way to her big rock show and each is wildly different in tone from the effervescent, tinny piano of “Birth Song” to the mad thrashing of “Keep Your Head Up!!” to the twangy country ditty “Casino In My Hair.” What keeps the album from being a schizophrenic mess is the consistent lunacy of the lyrics, fantastic production values, and contagious melodies. Even if you never play a game of “Um Jammer Lammy” or own a Playstation, Make It Sweet is delightful (albeit bizarre) listen.
A word of warning, released around the same time as MilkCan’s album was an EP, I Scream, by PJ & Parappa. It’s a real waste of time. The music consists of recycled tunes from Make It Sweet and the rhymes are more whack than Slick Rick’s. This one is to be avoided.
Friends of Dean Martinez - Atardecer
Travelling down a lonely Texas highway at night. If you dug out the map in the glove box you’d see that there’s not a town around for over two folds. The only lights are the stars above and your headlights, which seem to cut through the dark like a silver spoon stirring strong coffee. You feel the resentful eyes of countless roadside animals on you as your car drives past. They almost thought that they had reclaimed this land as their own until you interrupted their party. Your only comforts on this night are that the cool, dry breeze coming up from your rusted out floorboards; the sliver of moon on the horizon providing a little more light than you had the night before; and playing on your radio is the perfect song for this moment.
It’s the Friends of Dean Martinez playing one of their wistful instrumentals. Whisked away by the melancholy melodies woven by a coarse, muted guitar and highlighted by a mournful, vibrato organ played to a flamenco rhythm, you let time wash over you as the miles tick by on your odometer. Atardecer is the third release by the Friends of Dean Martinez and each one seems to do the impossible by surpassing the last. Each is a collection of instrumental tunes that seem to have gestated south of the border for the past forty years to be born triumphant and enjoyed today. Simple, landlocked Mexi-Cali surf music melodies are enhanced with enticing instrumentation such as on the song “Casa Mila,” which introduces the main elements of the song with an acoustic guitar. As the tune progresses, an other-worldly, wailing sound springs aloft, following the strains of the strings. And, as things reach their full stride, we’re introduced to a harpsichord.
Few artists can create compositions where a theremin, moog, and harmonium complement one another and don’t provide distraction or subtract from the overall impact from their works by the inherent oddness of the instruments. It never fails, though, that before you can puzzle out how the Friends of Dean Martinez utilize the modern to compliment and concatenate deceivingly simple songs, you’ve arrived at your destination. It’s time to turn off the blacktop for the night and dream of dusty images fueled by Atardecer.
Billy Mahonie - The Big Dig
This was an impulse buy. As soon as I saw the name of the band I wanted to hear what they sounded like. Though they spell their name a bit differently and might not even have anything to do with the film, I was immediately reminded of the character of Billy Mahoney (Joshua Rudoy) in Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners. Mahoney was my favorite character in that wretched flick. He’s the sum of Kiefer Sutherland’s fears and, despite being about ten years old, he kicks the living shit out of Kiefer repeatedly. Being so annoyed at the film, I vociferously cheered Mahoney on as he beat Kiefer to a pulp.
I guess one should not judge a band by its name, though, as the thought of little Billy Mahoney brought to mind “music to kick Kiefer Sutherland’s butt by.” Instead, this is a surprising instrumental album. Most of the tunes have a slight southern-fried feel to them, despite the band’s U.K. origins. The music is mellow but has enough energy to still merit some good head bobbing. The Big Dig is a nice companion piece to the Friends of Dean Martinez’s Atardecer.
The Switch Trout - Psycho Action!
Putting to rest the notion that the only music going on in Japan is syrupy pop or mind-numbing noise, The Switch Trout absolutely rock the house with Psycho Action. This will put the ants in your pants and make your backbone slip-it’s hard rocking instrumentals straight out of Yokkaichi. With enough reverb to collapse Link Wray’s lonely lung, when Psycho Action begins, The Switch Trout show no mercy!
Man Or Astroman? - Eeviac
Over the years, several people have told me that I’d like Man Or Astroman? For some reason, I had never invested the time or the energy to pick up any of their albums. When a copy of Eeviac fell into my lap and tickled my ears, I had to admit that I had been denying myself for too long!
Sounding like a beam of psychosurf garage music that was intercepted by some NASA egghead with a four-track, Eeviac exemplifies all that is right with three-chord 4/4 rock. Mixing the better parts of the Ventures and the Sonics, Man or Astroman? play with nuclear-powered amplifiers and have had metronomes implanted at the base of their craniums: there’s no other, better explanation for their awesome ability to rock. They succeed in keeping what could be a tired genre alive and well by putting it on a slab and sending fifty million volts through it. The fully animated and twisting spirit of psychosurf garage music walks the earth (and beyond) thanks to Man or Astroman? It’s official; I’m a convert.
DJ Cheb I Shabbah - Shri Durga
I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it. In the past I’ve heard songs where drumbeats have been added to Gregorian and Buddhist chants and have enjoyed them. Taking a rhythm track to another part of the world, DJ Cheb I Shabbah adds a pinch of hip-hop to the soft song of the Sufi. Instead of sounding like a desecration, the songs on Shri Durga maintain a facade of spiritualism coupled with meditative, plodding percussion.
The seven songs begin slowly; often they begin with little more than a simple sitar that seems to not want a melody coaxed from its strings. The song then builds one or two elements at a time. With the average length being eight minutes, there’s time to grow and shift several times in one track. It’s a pleasure to experience their progression, to relax and let the cry of the muezzin transport you to the East.
Gene Page - Blacula Soundtrack
Mmm...smooth...I was positive that the soundtrack for Blacula would be a freaky-deaky collection of warped out music appropriate for the horrific aspects of the film but, instead, it’s a soulful collection steeped in laid back rhythms and sinuous melodies.
Mixing tunes vocal tracks by The Hues Corporation and Gene Page’s instrumental tracks, the Blacula Soundtrack is a successful, enjoyable listen.
John Linnell - State Songs
This album had all the ingredients to be a gimmicky throw-away side project. Here we have one of the two Johns of They Might Be Giants presenting a collection of fifteen songs named after (and presumably about) states in the U.S. Instead, State Songs is a wonderful album that demonstrates Linnell’s incredible talent. Each track is an experience in a different musical genre with the use of state names in the chorus used to bind the disparate tunes together into a cohesive work of a master craftsman. State Songs demonstrates Linnell’s terrific songwriting ability. Not only are the lyrics catchy (I often find myself singing bits of “South Carolina” and “West Virginia”) but the music is fresh and exciting.
After listening to State Songs, I’m left to puzzle Linnell’s role in They Might Be Giants. Compared to the rock-cliché work of Mono Puff, I think the solemn man who stands behind the accordion might be the true giant of the band. It’s not necessary to be a TMBG fan or even an American to enjoy State Songs.
The Lovemasters - Hot Pants Zone
The Lovemasters - Pusherman of Love
Bootsey X, lead singer of The Lovemasters is a local legend of sorts around Metro Detroit. I can’t even begin to count the number of hip record stores that Bootsey’s worked at over the years (currently he’s upstairs at Desirable Discs II in Dearborn). Having him as an employee is merit enough to give a store indelible indie cred.
Released in 1995, I finally got my hands on Hot Pants Zone, a wonderful sampling of The Lovemasters’s work. The six powerful tracks include long-time Lovemasters favorites such as “(Annie’s Got) Hot Pants Power,” “Pony Down,” and my personal favorite, “Genius From The Waist Down.” With clever, hip lyrics and fast, loose guitars, The Lovemasters are undoubtedly one of the great real rock bands in Detroit.
On a hunch I did a little online research and found a second album of The Lovemasters available over at www.mp3.com. Boasting a different version of “Genius From The Waist Down,” Pusherman of Love also sports the classic title track and six other rockin’ tunes. Oddly, though there are two more songs on this collection, it’s a few bucks cheaper to order (even with shipping). I guess it’s that disparity between indie record labels having to charge a little more to cover costs and soulless corporate behemoths undercutting them.
I’m afraid that Detroit could easily get a bum rap by music fans not familiar with what’s really going on in the Motor City. Between the moronic Insane Clown Posse and flavor-of-the-week Kid Rock, folks could easily think that the only acts in Motown are white boys trying too hard. Between acts like The Lovemasters and the more rockabilly-oriented 3-D Invisibles, I can still have faith that all is not lost in Metro Detroit.
Kids of Widney High - Let’s Get Busy
Yes, those rockin’ kids of Widney High have returned for a second go in the recording studio! If you’re not familiar with the Kids, they’re kind of like a Californian version of Menudo as their members are often rotating. To qualify for the group, they must meet residential requirements, be under 21 years of age, and be financially eligible and diagnosed with a disease or physical limitation covered by California Children Services. At Widney High, the kids get diagnostic evaluations, ongoing medical treatment, therapy services, and the chance to cut a hit album!
Yes, depending on your frame of mind, this album could be seen as incredibly exploitative, uproariously hilarious, heartwarming, or a mix of the three. I’ll admit (as politically incorrect as it may sound) that I tend to favor the former two aspects of The Kids of Widney High. I find a lot of humor in songs like “Insects” from The Kids’ first album Special Music from Special Kids with its off-key singing and off-kilter lyrics like, “If you accidentally fall in the water, you’re in trouble, spiders will come after you!”
All songs on the new album (except for a semi-cover of “Respect”) are written by The Kids with help from their back-up band of professional, cheesy musicians. While Let’s Get Busy doesn’t quite have the surprise (and paranoia) of their first album, there are some amazing tunes present.
If you want to see The Kids perform, check out Mr. Bungle’s shows in CaliforniaThe Kids of Widney High have been an opening act on more than one occasion. Or, watch The Kids in the comfort of your own home courtesy of a video available through Blackest Heart media.
The Chicken Hawks - Siouxicide City
Sweaty bodies pressed together, the taste of beer, the stench of cigarette smoke and busty gals in animal-printed bikini tops; that’s rock and roll to me. That’s a Friday night in the heart of some dangerous area where you know your shitty car’s going to be okay but you wonder about your stereo. You hold your arms close to your body; practically running to the door in an effort to stay warm as you left your bulky coat in your back seat. It’s a night where you evade the cold in a hothouse of loud sounds and dollar drafts.
When you get inside, your senses are assaulted and, if you’re lucky, your musical sensibilities aren’t insulted by some poseurs trying hard to be the next big thing. They’re practicing their strutting and theatrics on your dime when, dammit, you just want to rock. Well, lemme tell ya, the night you walk into that bar and The Chicken Hawks are on stage, you’re gonna get your money’s worth-even if you’ve arrived late and have to pay the stinkin’ cover price.
With Siouxicide City, The Chicken Hawks demonstrate the beauty of a loud guitar, pounding drums, thumping bass and loud, profanity-laden vocals. When singer Betsy Phillips demands “Stick it in! Pull it out! Shake around! Get down!” you’d better do it or else she might jump off the stage and pummel you! When she proclaims in “Fuck Minneapolis” that she’s a “rock ‘n’ roll bitch,” you don’t doubt her for a second!
Wonderfully produced to capture all of the raw energy and excitement of a bottle-breaking live show, Siouxicide City is pure rock for the brave.
The Eyeliners - Here Comes Trouble
I know one shouldn’t judge a book or CD by its cover but just looking at The Eyeliner’s Here Comes Trouble, something told me that I wasn’t going to be disappointed. I think it might have been the leopard-skin pattern surrounding the picture of Gel, Lisa and Laura, the three gals that make up the group. The back cover photo of a leopard-skin shoe crushing a cigarette didn’t dissuade my opinion either.
Luckily, sliding Here Comes Trouble into my CD player didn’t result in disappointment. In fact, The Eyeliners surpassed all expectations. Here Comes Trouble is an absolutely rockin’ album filled with thick guitars, fast tempos, and great vocals. The Eyeliners have been around for over four years and have a slew of singles available. Check out www.theeyeliners.com for more info.
James Kochalka Superstar - Monkey Vs. Robot
The prodigious, sophomoric talent of James Kochalka is awe-inspiring. The title song, “Monkey Vs. Robot”, is indicative of the primary themes of the album-monkeys (“Hockey Monkey,” “Hot Rod Monkey”) and science fiction (“Bad Astronaut,” “Pizza Rocket”).
Boasting thirty tracks, Monkey Vs. Robot is also has heartfelt anthems to Kochalka’s penis (“Fifteen Teenage Girls,” “Pony The Penis,” “Punch The Clock”), Michael Jackson (“Show Respect To Michael Jackson”), and Kurdt Kobain (“Put Down The Gun”), all sung the fervent, well-intentioned, slightly strained vocals of Kochalka. While Kochalka’s singing voice and lyrics might not be for everyone (“Twinkle, twinkle Ringo Starr, George and John and Paul / I could be more famouser than redwoods are tall / The Beatles came down in their spaceship / And the world went apeshit”) but I dig this loony, irreverent, overflowing album.
Beck - Midnight Vultures
When a record gets as much hype and critical praise as this one, I immediately become suspect. Most mainstream music critics wouldn’t know a good record if it came up and severed their eardrums with an ice pick. When a new album by a radio regular comes out it’s a race to jump on one of two bandwagons; the “This Album Is The Second Coming of God” or “They Finally Screwed Up...Big Time!”
I’ve long held to the Public Enemy maxim of not believing the hype. And, when it comes to Beck, I’ve always had to believe my own ears. I never had the patience to get into Mellow Gold and only seemed to pick up on the songs that later became singles when I bought Odelay (“Devil’s Haircut,” “New Pollution,” and “Where It’s At”). I never bothered to hook up with Mutations and was going to skip Midnight Vultures. But one morning on the way to work I suddenly knew the new album as “all good.”
Listening to one of WCBN’s morning DJ’s I heard a tune that was so good that I had to plug in the car phone, endanger the lives of countless pedestrians and make a call to find out what I was listening to. “This is the new Beck; isn’t it cool?” the disc jockey asked excitedly (I remember how happy I used to get whenever that phone would ring back in my ’CBN days). Indeed, it was cool.
I continued to sit in my car and listen to the rest of “Get Real Paid,” grooving to the hypnotic female singer crooning, “We like to ride on executive planes / We like to sit around and get real paid.” The music behind her voice wasn’t some faux-seventies wannabe music or some over-sampled pastiche of junk; instead it sounded original and funky. Wow, what a concept! Instead of a crappy carbon copy of old school Prince or P-Funk, Beck manages to surpass these earlier artists and do his own thang.
And what a good thang it is! The rest of the album is just as groovy (or moreso) than the song that turned me on to Midnight Vultures. I’ve got to admit, though, that I don’t think of Midnight Vultures in terms of songs as I seem to always take it in as the entire listening experience-putting that baby on “play” and just letting it go.
Various Artists - Nick Bougas Presents Celebrities... At Their Worst Volume One
“It’s gettin’ to be ri-goddam-diculous.” I hear that line just about every morning that I tune in to the Howard Stern show. There’s nothing I enjoy more about Stern’s radio show than Eric “Fred” Norris’s incredible sound library. He’s always quick to “chime in” with an appropriate sound bite to compliment the topic at hand. On occasion, Fred will delve into his massive sound library for a longer quote or speech, usually of some embarrassing moment like Casey Kasem ranting about “god damn death dedications” (as heard, also, in Sonic Outlaws.)
I had always wondered who was saying, “It’s gettin’ to be ri-goddam-diculous” (John Wayne!) or where I could find William Shatner defending his pronunciation of the word “sabotage.” The answers to both of those questions can be found on the first volume of Nick Bougas Presents Celebrities...At Their Worst, a 2-CD collection of vulgar, crude, and wildly funny moments from celebrities known or forgotten.
From Colonel Saunders badly flubbing a commercial (as heard on Mr. Bungle’s eponymous first album) to a vitriolic Paul Anka, this collection boasts over two hours of famous and infamous sound clips all at the cheap price of under $17 from www.essentialmedia.com. I’m saving my pennies for Bougas’s second CD set along with his two-video collections! I can only imagine what goodies those will have in store for someone like me who finds such shenanigans highly scrumptious.
John Williams - Superman Soundtrack
The guy was on a roll. Basically, great film soundtracks of the late-seventies/early-eighties belonged to John Williams. Despite not being a Lucas/Spielberg film, Williams didn’t skimp on his work for Superman. The score is amazing. For proof of that I’d recommend watching the first two Superman films back to back. While the second film uses Williams’ theme, its interpretation by composer Ken Thorne is an insult to Williams’ prior work, especially in its limited orchestration. Listening to the scores of both films could be likened to comparing a live full orchestra performance compared to an wax recording of the same music made at the Edison Laboratories.
“You will believe a man can fly,” was the tagline for 1978’s big screen adaptation of the story of Superman. Indeed, a lot of the effects in Superman still hold up after over twenty years, at least on my video monitor. I guess I won’t know how they appear on the big screen as 1998 came and went without a sign of Superman being re-released to theaters for a gala reprise à la The Godfather, The Graduate or even Grease. Hell, there wasn’t even a “special edition” videocassette to commemorate the film’s twentieth anniversary.
There is a myriad of reasons for this opportunity to pass with neither a bang nor a whimper. The production was mired in conflict. There were at least four writers on the project and three versions of the film are known to be floating around. If it’s not a matter of rights for the film being tied up between the Salkind or Siegel estates and Warner Brothers, I think that one major reason why the film hasn’t been re-released in any new form comes from an odd social awkwardness surrounding Christopher Reeve.
“You will believe a man who can’t walk can fly,” might be the new advertising campaign. Yes, wouldn’t it be strange to have the paraplegic Reeve up and flying again. Apparently, however, Reeve doesn’t feel too weird about his condition. I say this after seeing his head grafted on to a walking body courtesy of modern-day effects in a Nuveen commercial. (It was such an ineffective bit of advertising that I just had to look up the company name because all I can remember is Reeve’s scene.)
Hopefully, the release by Rhino Records in conjunction with Warner Brothers Music of a fully restored Superman soundtrack CD is a sign of things to come. In years past, it was impossible to even obtain a compact disc of the soundtrack as it was released on double album and cassette versions. The old CD carried an annoying caveat stating that two tracks were omitted “so as to facilitate a single, specially-priced compact disc.” So, yeah, the older version is cheaper but it’s also half as long. True, it only has one version of the overly annoying “Can You Read My Mind” where the new set has three (that’s three too many) but the extended versions of other tunes plus alternate takes of the main title theme make it well worth the price.
Various Artists - The Matrix Soundtrack
It seems that nowadays any film dealing with computers/technology is expected to play host to a score of techno tunes. The soundtrack of the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix is no exception. Yet, instead of being a one-note joke, the tonality of these tunes is as eclectic as the film’s many influences; from be-bopping along with The Propellerheads’ “Spybreak” to the moody “Clubbed to Death” by Rob D to the wonderfully hardcore “Ultrasonic Sound” by Hive (which does a great job with a sample from “Re-ignition” by Bad Brains).
However, the real standout of the soundtrack is that it includes tunes by a few bands that, in other contexts, I can’t usually stand! The limp and greasy retro rock of Monster Magnet plays perfectly on this album, as does the overzealous political posturing of Rage Against the Machine! After hearing their work on the Lost Highway soundtrack, I thought that there was no hope for reconciliation between the music of Marilyn Manson and my taste but with “Rock Is Dead,” I actually find myself rocking out to a band I normally find completely bland.
The selection of work by all of the aforementioned artists along with Rammstein, The Deftones, Rob Zombie, Prodigy and Lunatic Calm work together to create one of the most entertaining and hip albums I bought last year. The only weak link among the songs comes from a group who I used to find mildly entertaining: the once new wavers-turned-bad asses, Ministry. After not checking in with the group since their A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste album, I found them doing the same schtick ten years laterAl Jourgensen’s screaming garbled lyrics over monotone pounding guitars. Bor-ring! With the exception of Ministry’s “Bad Blood,” The Matrix soundtrack is a fine, consistent collection of modern music.
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