Known Johnson

July 17, 2006

Overlooked Alternatives: new releases for July 18, 2006

Filed under: Music,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 9:38 pm

Bruce Cockburn – Life Short Call Now: There are a lot of politically driven musicians in rock music, but there are very few who really make me feel that the issues are really personal to them, rather than just being hot-button topics they can use to garner more attention for themselves. Cockburn is one of those rare instances and it’s because he writes the songs as stories, rather than talking down to listeners, or imploring listeners to take action. Instead, Cockburn invites listeners into his songs with intricate details and observations, sometimes wry, sometimes shocking, but always thought-provoking, and he keeps them coming back because he never paints the entire picture for them, either – you gotta come back and fill in the details yourself. And that’s why I’m always excited to see another Cockburn album of new music listed – that, and his fantastic guitar skills (and always amazing band – this time he is augmented on some album tracks by an orchestra.)

Golden Smog – Another Fine Day: Wilco is supposedly working on a new album right now, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at leader Jeff Tweedy’s discography. Just a few months back he released Born Again In The USA with Loose Fur (comprised of fellow Wilco-ite Glenn Kotche and producer Jim O’Rourke) and now he’s got this project, the fourth album by alt-country collective Golden Smog, on which he contributes playing to six tracks and writing to two. Also features Gary Louris of the Jayhawks and Dan Murphy of Soul Asylum.

Helmet – Monochrome: After 2004’s disasterously bad comeback album, Size Matters, I’m not really sure there’s much of a market for Helmet. However, this album should fare slight better – the band brought engineer Wharton Teirs back into the fold (as producer this time) to capture some of the old magic and, in a way, they did.

Monochrome harkens back to the chugging stop-start rhythms that attracted us to them in the first place What’s missing is just need – do we really need more of this when they did it so perfectly on Strap It On and Meantime? The biggest issue is the most prominent one – Page Hamilton’s vocals are not what they used to be, and instead of the bark, we instead get a pinched, nasal whine. It’s distracting and ultimately the exact opposite image that Helmet should be projecting.

XTC – Apple Box: For die-hards only, that’s for sure. XTC repackages it’s two most recent albums, Apple Venus and Wasp Star, with one disc of demos for each album, both of which have already been released separately, in a box with a special 64 page book with all of the lyrics, special artwork, and the one (well, two) bonus being the inclusion of a card with a code enabling the owner to download two brand new XTC songs. If you somehow are a die-hard XTC fan and haven’t bought all these discs yet, now’s the time to do so. Otherwise, save your money for Andy Partridge’s Fuzzy Warbles demos sets – they’re much more enlightening.

The Format – Dog Problems: I overlooked this one last week, but feel compelled to give it some attention this week because these are some home-town boys, and I very rarely feel much desire to hype Phoenix-based bands because I have yet to hear one besides Megadeth that I think is particularly special. Suffice it to say, these guys are special, and one look at the credits of who is involved on this album should say as much: ex-Jellyfish Roger Manning Jr. and producer Steve MacDonald (of Redd Kross,) and those names should give you a pretty good idea where The Format are, musically. If it doesn’t, think late 60s psych-pop, with hints of the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the like. That isn’t to say they’re generic – that’s why I’m pointing them out, afterall. I also point them out because Best Buy has them featured this week for $7.99, so if you’re looking for something that’s not only fun but actually intelligent fun, this is the time to take a chance.

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