Wednesday, March 23, 2011


These are my latest album reviews for AP's website. Click the titles to buy them from Amazon.

Passive Me, Aggressive You (Universal Republic)

This New Zealand-based group mix glitchy, dreamy electronic pop and occasional outbursts of static-ridden noise with male-female duet vocals from Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers that sound like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke whispering back and forth with Natasha Bedingfield. Many songs have a steady drum-machine thump to keep the listener’s attention focused, even as the low-key vocals nudge toward narcosis. The best of these is the album-closing “Girls Like You,” which manages to meld Hi-NRG synths, a dubby post-punk bassline, some guitar fuzz and murmurs from Powers that lead into anthemic howling, with oohs and aahs from Xayalith in the background.

On some tracks, like “Eyes” and “Young Blood,” the band up the emotional content a little in an attempt to get ’80s-style epic and modernize the weeping-androids sound the Human League perfected back then. They never quite make it, though, and just wind up sounding like some half-forgotten song from midway through the second side of the Breakfast Club soundtrack. A few others overstay their welcome, like the nearly six-minute “No Way,” which transitions from sub-Coldplay piano pounding to fuzzy acoustic guitar strumming, all with gently shimmery female vocals (part shoegaze, part Primal Scream circa 1991) on top. It’s nice, but would have been nicer at three minutes. But when the Naked And Famous get noisy, as on “Spank,” “Jilted Lovers” and “A Wolf In Geek’s Clothing,” they successfully meld the Ting Tings and Sleigh Bells.

Love & War (Hellcat)

The second Hellcat release from Civet is a raging dose of rockin’ punk that will appeal to Social Distortion and Joan Jett fans alike. Frontwoman Liza Graves roars like Jett with a migraine, and her three bandmates—guitarist Suzy Homewrecker, bassist Jacqui Valentine and drummer Roxie Darling—keep the music driving forward with plenty of pick slides, Bad Religion-esque backing vocals and occasional handclaps. “L.A. Nights” and “Sunset Strip” are paeans to their hometown; the former could be a theme song for L.A. Ink. Other tracks evoke a particularly streetwise version of sisterhood, gang fights, and romantic disillusionment. “It’s The Truth” and “Reap What You Sow” are too long at nearly five minutes each; the band’s strength lies in hard-charging tracks like the two-minute “Deadbeat.”

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