Sleepless in Seattle: The Birth of Grunge
Employing the word "grunge" to describe the diverse noises that emanated from the Pacific Northwest in the late '80s was arguably the dumbest attempt at pigeonholing a sound in the history of music ("emo" is not far behind). Sleepless in Seattle is a 20-song compendium that pays homage to the pioneering new-wave, metal, and punk bands that would inadvertently cause flannel shirt sales to skyrocket. Better known groups such as Mudhoney (the awesome "In 'n' Out of Grace"), Screaming Trees, Green River, and The Melvins are naturally accounted for, as are forgotten heroes (Blackouts, U-Men, Gruntruck) and fallen angels (Malfunkshun's Andy Wood, The Gits' Mia Zapata, and 7 Year Bitch's StefanieSargent). This satisfying though possibly unnecessary collection serves two purposes: it gives listeners a decent jumping-off point to discover more about these raucously gifted innovators, and it reminds us that it's Mark Arm's world; we just live in it.
The Fine Art of Making Mistakes
The Hi-Risers prove once again you can be a first-rate cutup and still remain relatively clean-cut. But don't let the wholesomeness cloud the fact that this is a primo rock 'n' roll act. The trio routinely digs beats out of the jungle to palpitate beneath an endless library of lush, twanging guitar. And the band blasts it out on stages around the world. The songs on this brand-new platter are quirky, fun, and easy as hell to sing along to by the end of the second spin. The Hi-Risers are definitely Fab Four acolytes, but it's nice to see a detour now and then, like in the title track, where the band delves into a beautiful Gram Parsons-esque landscape or "You Lie in His Arms (I Lie Beneath the Bed)" where things get a little dangerous and mean.
--- Frank De Blase
Gil Mantera's Party Dream
Fans of Gil Mantera and his creative partner Ultimate Donny's goofy, suggestive live show might be surprised by how this album presents the same type of material but reveals the duo's tender side. Like their concerts, Bloodsongs is built on kitschy synth dance beats. But Mantera and Donny capture delicate emotions and colorful sounds in their songs as if they were butterfly catchers roaming the jungles of new wave and techno trashpop. They do a fine job, too, making optimal use of melody, texture, and lyrics that come across a little differently when Donny is wearing a funny suit and a shit-eating grin and the audience is bouncing up and down to the beat looking for a little mindless dance-floor fun. Booming PA systems can flatten Mantera's music into a monotonic thumping pulse, but Bloodsongs shows the pair's range via spacious, refined mixes and songs that vary quite nicely from one to the next.
--- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Metal Blade Records
In 2005 3 signed to Metal Blade Records, and upon the release of Wake Pig, the Woodstock-based quintet's new label is trying to "double-dare any music writer to describe the sound." OK, but no one said it had to be concise: who knew an amalgam of the swaggering prog of Dream Theater, the psychedelic jangle of the underappreciated Saigon Kick, and the poppy musicality of King's X could be so appealing? Joey Eppard's reedy vocals sound best when he's not competing with massive guitars, and the imaginative 3 finds a way to accomplish this in a startlingly heavy way. "Soul to Sell" has an obvious Beatles vibe, and while the unplugged interlude "Bramfatura" is easy to dismiss as masturbatory, it's actually quite rhythmic and sublime. Don't hit stop at the close of the last track --- the hidden remix of the anthemic "Trust" is the highlight of this rather intriguing record.
Tenth Street Entertainment/Alternative Distribution Alliance
Jonny Lives! is one of the few rock 'n' roll bands to motor out of the New York City garage with its pop veneer intact. The driving brutality of The Mooney Suzuki and the post-Velvets psychedelic meanderings of The Strokes are cool, but often the hook gets sacrificed for the gunfighter stance. Jonny Lives! still delivers the goods with guts, even incorporating help from Mooney Suzuki and Strokes cats on the ode to sweaty one-night stands, "ClichÃÂ©." Get Steady is pure guitar pop-rock (think The Kinks, just not so British; or The Replacements, just not so American or drunk) without too many surprises, except for maybe the doo-wop vocals on "Lost My Mind."
--- Frank De Blase
Call of the Mastodon
On its second full-length album, Leviathan, Mastodon gelled into something truly extraordinary, which only highlighted how premature it was that the press had latched onto the band so soon after it formed. Despite many high points, on the first full-length, Remission, Mastodon sounded like it was still figuring out how to cohesively blend its Metallica, King Crimson, Neurosis, and Southern Rock influences --- or so it seemed at the time. Call of the Mastodon compiles the first recordings by the band --- which features RochesteriansBrannDailor and Bill Kelliher, both of defunct but still-revered local band Lethargy --- with vocals re-recorded shortly after the departure of original vocalist Eric Saner. Five of these songs were originally released on the band's inaugural EP, Lifesblood, but, with four previously unreleased songs added, there's no longer any question: apparently, Mastodon always had the stuff to keep audiences riveted over the course of an entire album.
--- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni