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Around Hear: November 2010

Local Band Reviews

Roxy Swain (above) is the name of a band as well as its dynamic lead vocalist. On The Spell Of Youth, a full-length follow-up to the New Love Designers EP, Swain belts out power-pop tunes crafted by guitarists Tom Valenzano and Matt Walters. “Second To None” and “Z Dimension” evoke The Bangles, while “Linda” sounds like a 1960s hit single. “Son Or Daughter,” which features male lead vocals, is a funny ode to some sort of chemically spawned creature. (www.spadekitty.com)
– Terrence Flamm

Not just another ordinary folk album, Warren Buckler‘s self-released debut, Like That Of The Coral, is a luminous, experimental record, infused with a tender heart and wide-eyed appeal. The club-friendly beats that blossom behind the frail acoustic guitar and layered coed vocals may sound crooked and incongruous, but when the Casio-style percussion marries the lulling call-and-response vocals in “Look Again, It’s Magnificent,” the song swells into something magical. (www.warrenbucklermusic.com)
– Patrick Conlan

Initially, Joe Phillips’ vocals on All The Fallen Parts‘ 10 originals bring to mind the alt-folk/country sound of, say, recent Mark Knopfler or the Krauss/Plant pairing, save that the Ceiling Stars ensemble and additional players he’s assembled – not to mention taking advantage of every tool a studio offers – bring a far more lush, deeper richness of sound. It’s a consistent offering whether the material drifts toward shoe-gazing rock ether, makes a bossa-nova nod, or just plain pushes at the boundaries of solid lo-fi pop balladry. While perhaps not breaking any new ground, it’s an extremely accomplished recording and satisfying listening experience nonetheless. (www.ceilingsongs.com)
– David C. Eldredge

With corpses playing instruments on the cover of It Comes To This, Deadmanswake appears to have a sense of humor, even if the songs therein are fiercely cut from a similar shock-rock cloth as Alice Cooper. In more current terms, the female-fronted foursome evokes Evanescence or Paramore (if both of those acts had more ferocious licks), though by the end of the 10 main tracks, the gore-tipped guitar grinders all roll together. (www.deadmanswake.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

Fans of easy-going rock can’t go wrong with Open The Door, the latest effort from Down The Line. All four members of this quartet sing, and their harmonies on melodic songs like “To See The Ocean” are inventive as well as gorgeous. The title track is a fun toe-tapper a la Jim Croce, while “The Great Debate” uses a delicate arrangement for a song about two people who can’t seem to agree on anything. (www.myspace.com/downtheline)
– Terrence Flamm

Geronimo is a throwback of sorts to the early days of “alternative” radio, cranking out heavy, sharply melodic rockers slathered with cranked-up amp fuzz and head-bobbing rhythms. Its debut album’s title, Fuzzy Dreams, perfectly describes “Thunderbattles”: had it appeared on “120 Minutes,” it would have become an instant college-radio classic. Revealing Geronimo’s knack for moody, epic songwriting, “Table Legs” is a swirling, psychedelic maelstrom of thick riffs and majestic destruction that approaches Bardo Pond territory. (www.myspace.com/thegeronimoband)
– Patrick Conlan

Somewhere between where James Taylor left off and Richard Marx began, Goodbyehome‘s Troubles can come off as schmaltzy more often than not, despite the fact that you can tell these guys don’t have an insincere bone in their bodies. It’s difficult to dislike the music they’ve made here because you can tell they meant each and every note of it, but truthfully, it can be something of a chore to make it through many of their songs. (www.goodbyehomemusic.com)
– Dean Ramos

There’s no right way to start a band, but thanks to The Joans it might be time to establish some guidelines. We Are The Joans serves as a fictional biography of actress Joan Crawford, performed in the same novelty-rock idiom that brought you “The Monster Mash.” For those of you still reading, that includes a eulogy/travelogue (“Joan Crawford Goes To Hell”) delivered by what sounds like Exene Cervenka and Uncle Fester. Kudos for slotting the title track last in the song sequence, in case any questions remained as to their identity. (www.thejoansband.com)
– Steve Forstneger

Though presented as an album, Luster‘s Run From Dogs bears the feel of several EPs artificially conjoined. The downstaters open with soaring, Killers-raiding-Springsteen arena anthems until “High Class Beat” ushers in a brief dalliance with lightweight Maroon 5 soul, followed by Airborne Toxic Event darkness, swooning ballads, and indistinct pop rock. While refusing to be hemmed in stylistically has its advantages, a young band might be better served by consolidating strengths before indulging whims. (www.lusterofficial.com)
– Steve Forstneger

Lynch suggest what Candlebox might’ve sounded like before someone turned them into a grunge band. Coming from the non-jackass/Tesla school of pop metal, Window Of Your Soul leaves hundreds of musical stones unturned, but sounds rather comfortable in its shoes. Well-rehearsed and relaxed, the band skip genre affectations (blinding solos, laughable lyricism) and let the songwriting behind a standout like “Wash Me” survive as is. Particularly reassuring is vocalist Danny Lynch, who has chances to overpower at every turn but lets them pass – which shows more personality than any howling vibrato ever did. (www.lynch-rocks.com)
– Steve Forstneger

Peter Cimbalo has spent enough of his recent past with Ike Reilly and in places like FitzGerald’s to remember that he can do this, too. So for Lake County All Star, he revives the dormant Pie Eyed Pete for 10 tracks of semi-irritated but ultimately good-timin’ roots rock. The trick with such a recording is to sell energy without obscuring the witticisms behind a drapery of familiar chord changes, appropriately, each time Cimbalo gets screwed over he makes sure you remember it. Welcome back. (www.pieeyedpete.com)
– Steve Forstneger

Reminiscent of Carole King, Rego‘s From The Royal Arcade is a thoughtful, moving album evocative of the best the AM dial had to offer back in the ’70s without coming off the least bit cheesy or artificial. Not a filler track in the bunch, everything from the first note of “Astronauts” to the disc closer “Frozen Cars” is sure to please nearly every bit as much as “So Far Away” or “It’s Too Late” from Tapestry did back in 1971. (www.rebeccarego.com)
– Dean Ramos

Sgt. Wesman’s Logan Square Friends Band doesn’t satirize The Beatles on its latest release, Sticky Whiskers, but there is a definite 1960s vibe that runs through most of the CD. Led by Wesley Torres, this collective creates tripped-out psychedelic rock on songs like “Going Nowhere,” but opts for a classic new-wave approach on the catchy fun of “In The Kitchen.” Torres’ studio posse succeeds at a variety of genres, but a cleaner production would have made this effort even more impressive. (www.sgtwesman.net)
– Terrence Flamm

It’s interesting to note how the same drumbeat propels the consecutively sequenced martial/early U2-like “Marble Mask” and the sprightly pop Zombies/La’s-like “Weathervane” on the five-song sampler from Soft Speaker. And save for the legato (and not so convincing) ballad “Into The Fog,” the band has mastered having both feet solidly planted in late ’60s/’70s pop and ’80s indie rock that – drum quibbles aside – with the addition of strategic stratospheric electronic embellishments can at times be extremely infectious listening. But what the band’s 1930s Austro-Germanic bio references are all about is a head scratcher. (www.softspeaker.com)
– David C. Eldredge

The number of ’90s-inspired bands increases proportionately to each grunge-era reunion, but Standby Radio‘s attempt at early Pearl Jam throughout “Company Man” sounds downright dated. Other tracks on When Signals Cross that recall Weezer’s less time-specific melodic pop make more of an impact, but for the most part, the project’s grunge/garage revitalization is too derivative to sound inspired. (www.standbyradioband.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

Blooming in Nashville, coed duo Steel Magnolia might be country music’s Roxette. New Orleans girl Meghan Linsey’s Southern vocal stylings are the perfect fit for Illinois-born Joshua Jones’ country guitar hooks and blue-collar voice. The duo’s five-track, self-titled EP succinctly captures the breadth of their sound, from the slow reflectiveness of “I Need You” to the stompin’ fun of “Keep On Lovin’ You” and “Fast As You.” (www.bigmachinerecords.com/steelmagnolia)
– Carter Moss

Surprisingly measured and restrained, Far Away Places does a disservice to Petra van Nuis & Andy Brown‘s individual talents. Sounding more like students than artists, the 13 tracks provide ample room for their trad vocals-and-guitar jazz arrangements to explore, but van Nuis seems so concerned with hitting the right notes that we’re only allowed glimpses of her lurking sass. Pulling songs from the masters (Porter, Jobim, Ellington), Brown – despite his rhythmic and melodic responsibilities – actually sounds less concerned with the sheet music and drops intuitive lines throughout. (www.petrasings.com)
– Steve Forstneger

On his fourth release, Chicago-based composer Dan Wallace decided to explore incorporating the extensive guitar solos from his live performances into the recording process. The result isn’t all that compelling, but combined with the string arrangements that back many of his songs, it’s at least interesting. Wallace’s pop/rock continues to flow in the vein of Eels and The Shins, and while his lyrical depth continues to expand, his melodies haven’t quite caught up yet. (www.danwallacemusic.com)
– Carter Moss

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