Deadlands – Faceless Angels
Deadlands play dangerously close to a line that would put them into the schmaltzy bar-band blues category. What saves them from that awful fate is a skill for invoking the ghost of early ZZ Top in order to bring some character to their tracks. As often as the generic “Before You Were Born” and the “Mustang Sally”-baiting “Discotex” make me want to scream, tracks like “Bottom Feeders,” “Libby Prison Blues,” and “Fink” prove that there’s much more at hand with Deadlands than Thursday-night-dive-bar status. There are glimpses of real blues-rock genius on Faceless Angels. If you queue up those stellar moments and skip past the cheese you are certain to find something to enjoy on this record.
Junior Varsity Arson – Self Titled EP
Junior Varsity Arson is the musical project of four long-time New England rock stalwarts, Guy Benoit (Thee Hydrogen Terrors), Kraig Jordan (The Masons), Dave Narcizo (Throwing Muses), and Don Sanders (Medicine Ball, The Masons). What do you get when you throw these four guys in a room together? Not exactly what you would expect. Instead of heavy art punk, you’ll find something more akin to Devo or They Might Be Giants, as spoken/ sung by an odd combination of the guy from Cake and William S. Burroughs. If you have any taste at all you will agree that this is an oddly appealing recipe. The five songs that comprise JVA’s self-titled, debut EP roll by like some strange beat poet’s LSD-induced hallucination. “Her Parents Love Me” starts off quirkily with, “Her parents love me/ I’m such a big improvement/ over the white supremacist. Her parents hated him/ He ruined every holiday,” and continues on with a strange, American gothic love story. “Brown Jacket and Purple Keds” is a song about… actually, I have no idea what this song is about. There are references to shopping at Target, a museum, a Volvo, and shit-stains on the floor. I have to admit that I lost the story line pretty quickly. And so it goes for another three tracks of stream-of-consciousness lyrics spoken and sung over kitschy keyboards, guitars, and drums. Junior Varsity Arson’s debut sounds spontaneous—like a gang of accomplished musicians getting together on a Saturday night, simply enjoying playing together, all wondering what will come out on the other side. Thankfully, what came out the other side is utterly entertaining.
Matt Fraza – Let Trouble Go
As I’m driving down Storrow Drive one fall morning, I slide Matt Fraza’s new album into my player. The opening track is mellow folk melody that puts me in mind of a quiet house concert with a cup of coffee in hand, resting on a couch and surrounded by friends. It’s familiar, relaxing, like a stroll down the quiet roads I grew up on. Much of the lyrics lack a regular format, and have a more stream of consciousness feel to them, reinforcing the casual feeling I get when listening to songs like “Forever.” At first I was a little put off by this, but on the second third runs through the album, I think I get it—Matt, Kraig Jordan (bass, lead guitar), and Tom Chace (drums, keyboards, vocals, bass) have some stories they want to share, and it’s about the telling of the tale, not making sure it fits into a certain mold.
Sick Pills – Sickening
Classic-era punk, particularly of the UK variety, presented us with a lively alternative to bloated arena rock, and the best of its purveyors, particularly the Buzzcocks and The Jam, also offered up some pretty snappy tunes to go with the attitude. This propensity carried forth into the so-called college rock of the ’80s (aka indie rock), and we find plenty of that attitude and tunefulness here, particularly on the opening track, “Wormfood.” But the same opening gambit tropes which seemed so refreshing and new a generation ago have now become cliches: telepathic guitar lines; anti-love songs; stop and start dynamics; brawly Pistols-like chaos; sludgy intros; machine-gun staccato; cinematic whangdoodle; abrasive textures; pounding clamor; grudging grindoramas; feedback-laden echoplex tunings, and so forth. No bad, all in all—just lacking in anything genuinely novel.