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Random Stabbings 22a

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Kristoffer Ragnstam “Sweet Bills” (Bluhammock Records)
Admirers of Spoon and Sufjan alike may find common ground in this collection of alt-rock-ified sketches of violent genre collisions tabled by an artist with a suspicious amount of consonants in his name. The melting pot is so vast but quirkily accessible here that the easiest comparison that comes to mind is Electric Light Orchestra, doubly so being that Ragnstam’s voice possesses all the chromosomes of Jeff Lynne’s, case in point being the twinkly but punkish “Breakfast By the Mattress” although there isn’t anything here that radio would have kicked out of bed in the 70s. The riffs are only as ambitious as OK Go’s, but the layering is far denser, allowing for danceability as well as out-of-body drivetime experiences. The title track’s got an annoyingly kludgy appearance from an overenthusiastic chick singer, making it the blackest hole of the record, elsewise there’s plenty to like. With all this, conventional wisdom would assume it’s a one-man operation, but turns out Ragnstam enlisted help from members of Division Of Laura Lee and International Noise Conspiracy among others. Order from

Better Left Unsaid “Robbers & Cowards” (self-released)
Blunt nu-metal/screamo weaponry powered by guitar antics that aim for the rafters, held together by a production ethic that calls for an ironic sparseness despite the lofty harmonies, generic caterwauling and seemingly limitless Dimebag riffology. “Never Again,” the transparent attempt at a single, begins the album with boy-band calls and responses, a bit of nudge-wink false advertising crafted to lure in unwary hicks who somehow haven’t had Black Dahlia Murder and the like shoved down their gullets, because that’s what you get for the balance forward, guitarists Jason Jones and Rob Fernandez toying with some Iron Maiden and Yngwie Malmsteen ideas in between long runs of healthily hormonal histrionics. Bands like this (now numbering in the millions of billions) seriously need a collective vacation from Hit Parader and some zen-time spent with – oh jeez, anything, Turkish folk, Ethiopian tribal rhythms, anything to separate them from the pack. Punchline here is that the lack of overproduction that makes this a fairly collectable EP is guaranteed to be gone twelve seconds after they’re signed, and it’ll just be a better-engineered loaf of Wonder. That’s not to be too cynical, though, kiddies; you’re of course forever free to pray for a polka dotted sky and 10-cent gallons of non-polluting gasoline.
Order from Better Left Unsaid

Craig Buhler “Capistrano Sessions” (Discernment Music)
Billed as music for any occasion, Buhler’s jazz quintet is best suited for ballroom or chill. Richard Stekol’s impeccable production wraps these versions of sax player Buhler’s originals in soft focus but with enough detail to point to an overall leitmotif of the artist as casual espresso-gulper and determined melody-addict – were Buhler a guitar god he’d be more representative of the David Gilmour school of purposefulness, his sax stressing vocal-ready lines and deliberately squandering all the room that’s available for soloing (now there’s a nice break). As a reflection on the players, the songs convey sunny dispositions all around, as stated with little in the way of bumblebee workouts to be found, although bassist Joel Hamilton does put on a clinic during roll-out track “Lookear.”
Order from Craig Buhler

Sophe Lux “Waking the Mystics” (Zarathustra Records)
I need to learn to stop myself from trusting albums that have bunnies on their covers. Sophe Lux is one of those leisure-class bands, obviously, a bunch of rich kids playing dress-up for the insert, fiddling while art burns, contributing zilch to Generation iPod. Like a Hollywood Squares of MTV, no half-hearted effort to delve into irregular, extinct styles goes wanting. Oh look, there’s Natalie Merchant (“President”). And Jewel ripping off “Building a Mystery” (“Lou Salome”). Keeping in mind that when the prefix “post” is used to describe a sound it means “leagues cruddier than,” “Little Soldier of Time” is a super-post-riot-grrrl non-anthem, but there’s even more (as in “even less”), with the 70s off-Broadway Supertramp ripoff “God Doesn’t Take American Express.” One look at the broad range of instruments listed as used by this 5-piece is a clue-in too – does anyone buy the fact that gongs, lap steels, glockenspiels and “loops” all belong on the same album? Anybody? Order from

Tack “Porn”
(Tarpit Music)
What do the soundtrackers of such films as Road to Perdition and Saw want to be when they grow up? Apparently Iggy Pop. Tack is one of those generally dreaded project bands, bringing together Colin Edwards (an accomplished bagpiper and the Founder of LA’s Bay of Pigs), soundtrack dudes Rick Cox and Academy Award winner Chas Smith, and Gary Ferguson, whose strange-bedfellow list of performing credits include stand-in stints with Etta James, Billy Bob Thornton and – you sitting? – Liberace. Grimy, fuzzy guitars run a Stooges gauntlet here, concentrating their energies mostly on what might come from Zodiac Mindwarp circa Rock Savage luring Iggy into a grimy, fuzzy studio. Little surprise that the songwriting’s bang-on for the most part, if a little too familiar now and then, vocoder static adding Gravity Kills-like depth to a woozy vibe that’s predominantly like a copy of Hustler magazine come to musical life. Order from

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