Flourescein “High Contrast Comedown” (DGC Records) ***
Four guys from Los Angeles explore the plastic world of Southern California to the tune of crunchy-yet-pleasing pop rock. Sounds like that new formula-for-success so many young bands seem to be trying out, doesn’t it?
Perhaps. But there’s something here that sets this album - the first from the band on DGC Records - apart from the masses of so-called “power pop” flooding the market.
Singer/guitarist/mastermind Greg Mora’s voice is just interesting enough - a bit XTC even - to catch the ears by pleasant surprise as he moves from harmonious croon to screeched howl. And his song-writing skills turn up some real gems. “Cathy’s On Crank!” and “Slaughterhouse With A Bed” are good examples of how this band injects high-energy rock with moments of restrained tunefulness. They are songs that remain catchy without giving up any of their dark punch.
Certainly, five songs into the CD one starts to feel a bit overwhelmed by the whole careening-guitar power-pop thing. Desensitized even.
“I didn’t mean to bludgeon you,” Mora sings during a subdued moment on “Fall Out.” Well Mora, you did. But that’s OK. For the most part you made it an enjoyable experience.
Box Set “Thread” (Capricorn Records) ** 1/2
This five-man San Francisco-based band does what a good number of others are doing successfully right now: acoustic-based roots rock.
Box Set’s music is nothing too innovative, and their debut for Capricorn Records, “Thread,” does not chart unexplored territory. But the band does a fine job creating an enjoyable grass-roots sound. Relish their bits of pedal steel, mandolin, banjo and harmonica. Bask in the warmth of their lofty multiple-part vocal harmonies.
Think Sister Hazel. Think James Taylor.
We’ve been here before, but it’s a pleasant enough place to be - one worth returning to.
Robert Miles “23am” (Arista Records) ** 1/2
If you like the ambient creations of Enigma, then composer/pianist-turned-club DJ Robert Miles could be up your alley. Like the new agerooted sound of Enigma, Miles creates spacial soundscapes and taps into otherworldly washes of rhythm and beat. Keyboards and synthesizers play prominently on “23am,” while Miles also injects a healthy dose of the techno club sound.
Cheesy space-age lyrics are a weak link. Rather than sounding heartfelt, they merely sound like bad poetry. On the epic-length “Everyday Life,” French vocalist Nancy Danino sings “Maybe this world is a broken mirror/Reality in reverse/Maybe it’s just a shadow/Of a parallel universe.”
Gary Barlow “Open Road” (Arista Records) *
I put Gary Barlow’s new album in my CD player and almost immediately begin gritting my teeth. I flip from song to song, wincing each time a new tune starts. Grrrrrr. Can’t … take … much … more.
The CD packaging - crammed with close-ups of Barlow’s brooding, pretty-boy face - should have been the first clue I wasn’t going to like this offering from the former lead singer of English pop sensation Take That.
OK, I’ll be up front right now. I’m predisposed to dislike ultra-pretty arrangements and soothingly overproduced adult contemporary listening. I don’t want to hear a boymodel croon breathily, “I think that love is a fire/I’m burning up in your flame.” Give me a break.
Vapid, insipid, bland drivel.
To be fair, Barlow has a solid voice in the vein of George Michael. And hey, if you like easygoing pop, complete with bubblegum-cheery melodies, cheesy synthesizer and the incessant use of chimes, feel free to chuck my previous statements in the garbage and pick up this album.
At least one of us won’t feel like kicking the CD player.