Note: Reviews are in no particular order
The Hamicks, "Self-Titled"-Creepy Drifter Records -
It's very hard to sit through this album because the sound is atrocious. Guitars and keys mixed too far back, and the bass sounds muddy. I've heard 4-track demos with better sound quality.
With that said, it's a pity because Bob Taylor's songs are truly Picaso paintings set to music. One thing Bob Taylor songs aren't is predictable! Suprises hit you when you least expect it. You have the angst of "Girls Don't Make Passes", the hilarity of "Poop in the Pants", the catchy "Sweet Little Attention Getter" and the groove of "Womanican". These last two songs would make great singles, provided they were recorded properly.
Hopefully their next release will present the sonic boom which I know they are capable of (I've heard their past releases and seen them live).
Illuminati, "Low Flying Aircraft"-Indie Label -
This is more like it! Great sound and mix on this three song demo. But, I only give it a rating of 3 because its not a full length release and I know they have an album's worth of material (I've heard tapes of their unreleased stuff). So, I know they have the goods! Overall, considering this is a demo, it is a concise representation of THE ILLUMINATI. Wylie's vocals elevate this band above its competitors, giving it an almost theatrical edge. I can't wait to see these guys live. Post-hardcore punk with drive and great lyrics.
One funny afterward. I had a case of "chronic lyric-osis" when I was listening to the words of their song, "Angry God". I thought the words were, "God is an angry rock star", when the actual words are, "God is an angry punisher". Actually, "God is an angry rock star" would describe the Illuminati perfectly...
Various Artists, "Ear Candy-the best of Pink Hedgehog Records Vol. II"-Pink Hedgehog Records -
Usually I hate compilation albums. One or two of the songs might be good, and the rest are very disposable. I view a comp album as a road map. You can get led to some very good bands once you get past the dead ends. Well, EAR CANDY (the name is just a coincidence) is a very good road map indeed! The album covers some of the best bands from the Dorset, England scene. It is a varied collection of pop, indie, rap, folk, ska and acoustic. True, I'm not fond of about half the songs, especially the folky stuff, the pseudo-pop-rap and some of the REM-sounding bands. But the remaining 8 are superb and have led me to the releases of some of the bands.
The outstanding power pop bands on this comp are: Cheese, Garfields Birthday (interview and album review coming soon), Happyhead, The Big Standeasy (great Byrds-like sound) and Vivid (sounding very much like the Original Sins). Satsuma is old style, Bis sounding punk (their song has hilarious lyrics). The Clangers cover of the Sheryl Crow song, "My Favorite Mistake" is better than the original (and I HATE Sheryl Crow!), especially the singer's sensual voice. And Eye is reminiscent of old Moody Blues (not necessarily a bad thing).
This is one compilation album which is worth the trip for the roadmap alone. (visit the Pink Hendgehog Records site at, http://www.dumbangel.freeserve.co.uk)
Garfields Birthday, "Peepshow"-Pink Hedgehog Records -
What if Brian Wilson had grown up in England instead of Southern California? You would have Garfields Birthday, good old British pop with Brian Wilson-like vocals and harmonies. There is something about the singers'voice that sets this band apart from the Big Star/Teenage Fanclub comparisons. The vocals have a haunting, floating, almost air-ey quality to them. But the vocals aren't effeminate, like say the vocals for the 3-O'Clock.
There are maybe two songs on this album I'm not thrilled about, and those are the ones that stray from the standard Garfields Birthday vocal approach. But, the great songs more than make up for these two. Standouts include: "Ambulance" (infectious pop!), Garfields Birthday (I can't hear this song enough times), "Margaret & Stephanie" and "Old England" (sounds like a Ray Davies song). Records like this make me really want to hear the follow up! And that is one of the signs of a good record...
Coldfire, "the Southside Sessions"-Indie Label -
Looking at the cover I didn't expect hard rock from this group. But, that's exactly what you get. From the opening chords of the Black Sabbathesque, "High Noon" to the Def Leppard sounding, "Chasing the Wind", Coldfire has the chops! What's even more amazing is the age of these guys. I'm not telling, but they are at least 3 years younger than Def Leppard when they recorded their first record. John Shallcross's lead work is amazing, might just have the next guitar whiz here. From the occasional double guitar leads to the driving drums, you have a perfect re-creation of 80's hard rock, minus all the hairspray!
The only weakness is the recorded vocals. You have great instrumentation here, but the vocals come off timid. Plus, the vocal effects on "High Noon" are distracting. However, the vocals DO work on "Littleton", the band's ballad. But, my copy said "demo", so its something they guys can work on.
Asylum Street Spankers, "Spanker Madness"-Spanks-a-lot Records -
A concept album about pot and altered states of consciousness? Well, that's what the Spankers are attempting on their new release. The cover is a parody of a "Reefer Madness" movie poster. The CD is imprinted with a pot leaf and "hemp for victory" logo. And, more than half of the songs have references to pot and/or altered states. The Asylum Street Spankers might have pulled it off...if they had better material. Most of the songs are just plane lame. Especially compared to last year's exceptional, "Hot Lunch" release. The only songs with that old Spanker charm are: "Beer", Winning the War On Drugs", "Wake & Bake" and "Knock Myself Out". The rest of the album just gives you that cheap-beer hangover.
And by the way, the pot-coughing on "Interlude" was done better by Sabbath on "Sweet Leaf" all those years ago...
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Moments of brilliance...
Worthless piece of $#%@...