Music Reviews: January 2006

Playing God
(Self-released) LOCAL

Bands like Belt of Vapor are the reason that, whenever I hear that familiar groan of a wailing lead singer, I think of my beloved Spokane. But, while there seems to be a plethora of like-minded bands in the area, Belt of Vapor has already established itself as the one at the top of the heap. And rightly so, as their disc Playing God offers up an explosive set of hard rocking tracks that make their various local accolades well-justified.
Motion Sickness
(Team Love)

There are plenty of naysayers who will continue to say that Conor Oberst is just another lucky kid in the music biz, but with a collection of impressive, praise-worthy albums under his belt after 10+ years of performing
(at the ripe old age of 25, no less!), there’s really no reason to deny the incredible voice he has given to his generation. Motion Sickness is the collected efforts of his tour in support of I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, and marks his third release of 2005. It is Oberst at his finest, with standout gems like Elliott Smith’s “The Biggest Lie,” and his previously-unreleased “When the President Talks to God.” Dylan comparisons aside, we’re all lucky to be around while Oberst is making music.

Kate Bush’s first release in twelve years is a rather placid, well-polished affair. It seems overly comfortable and lacking in immediacy. Perhaps this is a gross generalization, but devoting album time to rattling off the digits of Pi might indicate that one doesn’t have much pressing to say. Not to imply she isn’t brimming with intricacy and nuance-she is. And she could also quite easily administer a crash course on “Influences on Tori Amos.” It just takes some patience and devotion to sift the splendor for the 3.14159s.
First Night’s Freeze
(Asthmatic Kitty)

If the new Long Winters EP is the blanket that you bundle up so snugly in this winter, then the latest effort from Castanets is surely the fire you sit beside to keep warm. The perfect album for all your winter exploits, the aptly-titled Freeze is a collection of songs that will both soothe the worries after the holidays, and sing you into a restful and relaxing hibernation. Frontman Ray Raposa has those perfect pipes that the latest batch of folk-flavored artists has thrived on, and the stripped-down country vibes of the backing tunes serve as his perfect complement.
One Way Ticket to Hell

It is debatable whether The Darkness should even have been allowed to release a second album. Their spandex and screech caused a stir with 2003’s Permission to Land by being altogether both annoying and inescapable. Lead singer Justin Hawkins looks like a DLR clone, but his Freddie Mercury wail teamed with bygone power chords created a stunning, though completely laughable, tribute to the best in ’70s rock. But this time around, as the band’s sophomore effort sits in record stores the world over and it’s ’70s-era inspiration, Queen, heads out on a national tour, the question must be asked: When is this increasingly-pathetic parody train going to run out of steam?
Playing the Angel

Before purchasing this album, one must ask the soul-searching, all-important question: Do I like Depeche Mode? If you answer in the affirmative, then grab hold of it swiftly-it’s 50 minutes of DM at their finest and most polished. David Gahan’s rich croon echoes forth on pain, sin and desire over simmering beds of synth and somber guitar. I’ve never been a big DM person, but found Playing the Angel both sonically interesting and melodically strong. Still, those seeking an introduction to the band would be better off with Violator or Music for the Masses.
The Earwigs vs. The Earth
(Reality Impaired)

Not many albums will find their way to you these days via cassette tape, and even fewer will find their way via a shamrock-green cassette tape. Fewer still will include an easily-homemade insert with the phrase “Unauthorized duplication is just fine with us” emblazoned inside. Still, believe it or not, this is just the beginning of what makes The Earwigs unique.
The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions

A CD of David Bowie Covers. Acoustic. In Portugese. And the only thing you’ll be thinking when you hear Seu Jorge’s mellow Brazilian revisions of the Thin White Duke’s mega-hits is “Why has this not been done before?” Jorge’s voice is rich and elastic, his guitar playing relaxed and evocative. The songs do not sound reductive or stripped down, but rather creations modest and perfectly complete. If Jorge’s strumming as a deckhand aboard the Belafonte left you thirsting for more, here’s your fix.

The Mars Volta is one of those bands you either love or hate. Legions of fans would likely take issue with such an analysis, but it is those legions of fans that have made Volta what it is. Their success is a case of right place, right time, and a chance occurrence of “catching on.” Yes, this band is amazingly popular, and yes, they are managing something that isn’t really available elsewhere, but, dammit, a few of us just can’t handle it. Scabdates is, as most live discs are, just one for the diehards, because at 72+ minutes of the squealing, length concoctions Volta creates, it’s just too f-ing much for us non-fans to take.
A Radical Recital
(Filthy Bonnet)

In an effort to quell the distaste left in all our mouths after the recent overabundance of heavy-on-the-cello instrumental music, Brooklyn’s Rasputina adds in the yips and yells of founder Melora Creager. Unfortunately for them, and for this disc, the listeners soon find out that, hold on a second, they didn’t mind the absence of vocals so much after all! A live disc is really where a band like this can excel, and perhaps if you’ve seen Rasputina play you can relate to its flavor a bit better. As is, Creager needs to shut the heck up in between the songs, because she’s killin’ the bulk of the disc-a collection of otherwise interesting gothic tunes worthy of a listen.
Descended Like Vultures

Rogue Wave must struggle to be memorable, jostling for space at the Bar for the Jaded and Pensive. With wistful tenor vocals, guitars sparkling and fuzzy, they seem destined to be drowned out by Snow Patrol or present-day R.E.M. This would be unfair, though, because Zach Rogue and company write far better songs than either of those bands. Their song-craft is delicate and precise, and they make subtle use of textured guitars and surprisingly propulsive drumming. They’re rubbing elbows with greats like The Shins, not Howie Day-thank God.
We Have Sound
(StarTime International)

Where do we begin with this charmer? You’ll hear a variety of names being dropped when it comes to Tom Vek’s sound-some will throw Talking Heads at you, while others will suggest more recent chart-toppers like Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party, but it’s no doubt going to be Vek’s own charismatic delivery that spins your head around. Vek’s uncertain vocals give character to his quirky lyrical stylings, and the result is this disc of tracks that will get stuck inside of you for days… or weeks.

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