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Random Stabbings 35

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The Presets, Apocalypso (Modular Interscope Records)
The digging’s too deep for me personally to bother with – either the Presets are gay or they’re not. It’d be nice to know for the FYI of it, but in the end it’s like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive after Harrison Ford swears he didn’t kill his wife: I don’t care. This is a futurepop/nu-rave/80s-techno hybrid record to die for here, but if these guys truly desire to become “international stars,” there’s going to be some blowback, begging your pardon, from Americans, who’ll predictably twitch as though covered in fire ants when lines like “You must have known I was never to doubt you, boy” are sung in that big, fat, rich Depeche Mode-sounding baritone. Lots of arguing about what genre this album belongs to. Picture the crusty-crunchy techno sound of Justice applied to VNV Nation (“If I Know You” is textbook VNV) and you have futurepop, so I’ll stick with that, except when the songs go completely nu-rave, like “Kicking and Screaming,” or 80s-on-steroids, like “Talk Like That,” which is punctuated with the same “Oh oh ohs” you heard 400 years ago on “Dar Kommisar.” Meantime, if you’re looking for big news, you’ll have to wait until this record label puts out something that isn’t freaking awesome (the new Cut Copy album isn’t as good as this, but it’s still better than the last dance record you heard).

Emmanuel Jal, Warchild (Sonic360 Records)
In the realest sense, [insert name of gangster rapper here] has nothing on this dude. Warchild is also the title of a documentary that premiered in the states at the Tribeca Festival, chronicling Jal’s life as a child soldier and “Lost Boy” refugee in Sudan, the horrors involved in which included forcing himself not to eat the carcass of his best friend on the barren path to the town of Waat, where Jal met and was taken under the wing of a British aid worker who picked him out of a sea of doomed kids and saw that he got an education. These are his tales, these tribal-rhythm-flushed rap songs, many of them sounding no different than what the latest Jay-Z lamprey is doing. Jal flows like an understandably nervous Pitbull, laid back and mumbly, but it’s all about the words, of course. Jal’s artistic license authorizes him to insert music that sounds like something from the Lion King soundtrack (“Baakiwara”) between stock piano-loop beats, and over such things he cusses out the US greed-complex not only as a rapist of his land but of its own (“Ninth Ward”) and, in a heartwarmingly unassuming reach-out, warns his favorite star that he’s being used by The Man (“50 Cent”).

Local H, 12 Angry Months (Shout Factory Records)
Two-man 70s-tinted surf-grunge outfit from middle-of-nowhere, Illinois, that likes to abuse their live audiences the way Gaye Bikers on Acid used to. Control freak Scott Lucas handles everything but drums, holding down the bass by way of pickups bolted to his guitar, a solution that’s done the trick well enough so far that their 2005 cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” made them semi-famous. Their 6th album begins with a Trojan horse of 70s-radio guitar arpeggios Andrew Gold would like, Lucas’s voice playing melodramatic possum as though looking for a backup gig with Ben Folds. Then the Kool-Aid Guy busts down the wall, whereupon “The One with ‘Kid’” pleasantly whips itself into a bubble-punk-speed ruckus influenced by every frantic-sounding rock-thing from early Blue Oyster Cult to Franz Ferdinand.
Keeping in mind that this band’s been around for 20 years, you sort of have to forgive all the Nirvana/Foo Fighters theft on “Michelle (Again),” but don’t knock yourself out doing so. If they were doing it by the book, Local H would be eating some of Last Goodnight’s soccer-mom-indie lunch, and that’s probably their most appealing characteristic.

Sarah McLachlan, Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff
(Arista Records)
Sarah McLachlan owns chick-music simply because she’s a flawless creature. Like basically everything else she’s done, this scattershot collection of previously released team-ups and one-offs stands on its own merit as an album, and that’s saying something when the cast includes mummified rapper DMC in one corner, Cyndi Lauper in another, and Emmylou Harris providing a touchstone of coherence to the entire package with a hold-your-breath duet on “Angel” from a Lilith Fair show. Not to be confused with 1996 Canadian import of the same name (none of those songs are aboard), this is more geared to American ears, and it’s hard not to be smitten. Essentially every angle she’s ever played gets touched upon – the trance-electro pairing with Delerium as remixed by Tiesto (if you can beat that, you should be making Armin van Buuren’s salary), the sweet but mathematically correct unpluggedness of Lennon/McCartney’s “Blackbird,” the gorgeous ”Miracle” – not one miss, although it helps to know that she’s lowered herself to some crazy journeyman roles over the years if you’re trying to grok her high-class-booty-bimbo taking of the backseat to DMC on “Just Like Me,” wherein she gracefully accepts a vanilla assignment to sing the refrain from “Cats in the Cradle” while he yo-yo-yos away.

Everest, Ghost Notes (Vapor Records)
Easy-listening-indie born of pragmatic necessity from a handful of Los Angeles scene-vets who’ve survived such medium-name bands as Sebadoh, The Folk Implosion and Earlimart. We’re talking SXSW-is-Woodstock mindset, a record that took a grand total of three weeks to record and master, but the sound is surprisingly rich, reaching for Ryan Adams-level bigness and oftentimes getting a pinkie-hold on it. This lot have no time for lovey-dovey or fooling around – the songwriting combines Adams with latter-day Wilco, and perhaps if they’d suppressed the urge to parlay their bar-packing local fame into some fast record sales they’d have knocked out a “Two” or two. The band’s honest, clear-headed effort does result in the location of bona-fide harmonic elephants, but they seem reluctant to surround and capture them alive, as in the fadeout to “Rebels in the Roses,” where the foggiest Dave Matthews idea, perhaps just one switched-out chord, would have opened the door to a slam-dunk radio hit. Of course, if, however, the idea was to recruit a cadre of misfit wonks to disappoint with commercialism yet to come, they’ve succeeded brilliantly. This could be a big one, fair warning.

Patti Rothberg, Double Standards (Double On Tundra Records)
Heavily poppy neo-post-punk redolent of an abandoned collaboration album between Garbage and Katrina and the Waves. A New Yawker who looks like a Bud-guzzling extra from Hysterical Blindness, Rothberg busked her way through Europe and the US before prying a contract from EMI Records, all this eventually leading to a Billboard #32 in 1996 (“Inside”) that went for naught when the US arm of EMI went belly up.
Given those unfortunate circumstances, the hot-potato handling this album’s gotten from record labels (Amazon still lists this as a Megaforce release), and the good-not-great level of her songwriting, Allah obviously didn’t intend for this girl to be a standalone superstar. Her best move would be to hook up with a couple of No-Nos or other equally half-legendary riot grrlz who, like her, are looking down the barrel of their 40s and want to own houses, but that’s just the smart thing to do, not necessarily what her level of burnout will allow. To the songs, though, tally-ho. The title track is reg-US-pat-off Garbage shooting for Bon Jovi; “Alternate Universe” is Cheryl Crow on a Harley; “Eye to Eye” attempts to milk some Runaways cred, which, along with a dollar, will get you a Whopper Junior.

Mates of State, Re-Arrange Us (Barsuk Records)
Ambitious alt-pop from Kansas married couple Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel. The songs are more geared to radio than the random cut-and-paste mismatches that made up their older material, not to say that everything fits according to the book, but then again they want Conan O'Brien, not Snobby McWinesniffer Recommends Classics. The melancholy blend of shoegaze and twee on "Get Better" is nothing new, and there was no need to slather it in cello to translate the mood. Being as how the pair's shtick has been characterized historically by unconventional keyboards, the weirdly percolated R2-D2 synth line of "Now" is an instant imporvement, something that might have been thunk up by Ace of Base's handlers to get them back on the map. Driving gymnastics-piano and a pleasantly robotic vocal line move "My Only Offer" into a class where even its glocknspiel can't bring it down; "The Rearranger" invites further Ace of Base comparisons even while it could just as well have been an Abba remix.

Iron Maiden, Somewhere Back in Time: The Best of 1980-1989 (Sony Records)
In my let’s-scare-Mom-to-death days I never really dug the kids who were into Maiden, the band who, along with my preferred Judas Priest, crafted the New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound. Like the guys in Maiden, there was something prissy about their fans – their hair was too straight and satiny, and they didn’t understand the essentialness of doomy chug-chug riffs. You become what you hate the most. I used to hate it when record reviewers would say that such-and-so-band’s best effort was their crappily produced debut album, but now I must step forward and give a nob-gloved hail to original Maiden singer Whatever-his-face, because the best things on this collection are live versions of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Wrathchild” as sung by Bruce Dickinson while wielding his imaginary singing sword. Aside from that it’s a remastered fricassee, with “Number of the Beast” and other Eddie-the-Corpse-Boy salutes making nice with mummy-metal opus “Powerslave,” unhateable angst-anthem “Wasted Years” and the ever-pointless “2 Minutes to Midnight.”

Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome. Email

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