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CD reviews: Obi mediocre; Bran flakes for eating, not listening

BY DI ARTS STAFF | FEBRUARY 24, 2009 7:29 AM

Obi Mediocre

Obi Best: Capades
** 1/2 out of *****

Obi Best is a lot like teenager Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid: the band has the potential to take the indie music scene by storm, but it needs a Mr. Miyagi and a kick-ass montage to mold its raw talent into something more focused.

The side project of the Bird and the Bee backup singer Alex Lilly, Obi Best mixes the cheerfulness of She & Him with the ambiance of Goldfrapp, producing a distinct and highly marketable lounge-pop act. But despite its predisposition for success, Obi Best’s début album, Capades, ultimately disappoints listeners with its lackluster and immature songs.

Capades kicks off with “Nothing Can Come Between Us,” a catchy spunky (though slightly annoying) lover’s romp through rolling hills of wildflowers that ends at a bouncy castle filled to the brim with L.O.V.E. This saccharine sentiment is evoked repeatedly throughout the choruses of Capades’s various cuts, often to the detriment of the moody and complex instrumentals that set up the tracks (case in point: the irritatingly upbeat refrain of the otherwise brilliantly dark “Who Loves You Now”).

Though Obi Best’s positive personality gets old, lead singer Lilly’s sweetly commanding vocals do not. She has successfully combined Feist’s sensual sound with a punk edge à la Laura Veirs, resulting in an enchanting vocal delivery that mesmerizes on track after track. The jazzy “Days of Decadence” is a clear standout, allowing Lilly to showcase her sultry capabilities over a slow swing.

Rather than proving Obi Best a new force to be reckoned with, all Capades demonstrates in the end is that the Bird and the Bee should move Lilly from backup vocals to lead. But all is not lost. Because its strong instrumentals and dynamic arrangements show real potential, Obi Best would do well to start trying to catch flies with chopsticks and internalize the advice of one very wise warrior, “First learn stand, then learn fly.”

Melea’s Picks: “Who Loves You Now,” “Swedish Boy,” “Days of Decadence,” “It’s Because of People Like You”

— by Melea Andrys

Prog-rock maverick flies solo

Steven Wilson: Insurgentes
**** out of *****

Steven Wilson, best known as the frontman for progressive rock act Porcupine Tree, doesn’t seem to have a problem with going solo. After all, he already writes the music, sings, and plays lead guitar in his main band. So what’s different about Insurgentes, his first solo effort? Well, it’s much more experimental (and, let’s face it, self-indulgent) in ways that only a solo album can be. But where others might fail, Wilson proves he has the talent to pull the album’s 10 tracks together into something cohesive and stunning.

Perhaps the most important decision he made on Insurgentes was to bring in bandmate Gavin Harrison on drums. His drumming is unparalleled in the rock world; his effect on the album is immediate and, as expected, brilliant. The rest of Insurgentes’ instrumentation is superb as well. For example, the droning, hypnotic guitars on “Salvaging” build slowly until, just when the song begins to feel stale, they explode with wave after wave of blissful distortion. Also, the inclusion of unexpected instruments, such as the koto, wah-flute, and recorder, interspersed throughout the album are a welcome change from the standard guitar/bass/drums formula.

Although the ambient noise parts of some tracks occasionally start to border on the tedious, Wilson smartly mixes things up before any of the songs lose their charm. Unsurprisingly, the result is yet another Wilson-led success. Longtime fans of the UK rocker will easily be sold with Insurgentes, but even casual progressive-rock fans should be able to find something they like here.

Brian’s Picks: “Salvaging,” “Harmony Korine,” “Only Child”

— by Brian Dau

Bran flakes are for eating, not for listening to

The Bran Flakes: I Have Hands
* 1/2 out of *****

The Bran Flakes’ first album after a six-year hiatus, I Have Hands, displays the same monotony evident on the outfit’s previous four releases. The same lines are looped over and over, making for an extremely dry listen.

The duo’s members, one of whom hails from Montréal and the other from Seattle, can hardly consider themselves musicians because anyone with a computer can do what they do. The Bran Flakes’ supposed craft is the kind of thing old-time musicians mock.

Although I Have Hands is quite colorful, utilizing a wide array instruments, the majority of the tracks blend together. The album emphasizes voices and lyrics when being instrumental is the better path.

While the bright, poppy melodies on songs such as “Dance of the Sugarsnap Fairy” and “Butt Head” will bring smiles to listeners’ faces, the annoying high-pitched children’s voices on tracks, including “The Sidewalk Song” and “I Am A Promise,” serve as potent buzz kills.

The heavy, danceable bass punches and joyous synthesizer lines make “Jump Up” a catchy track, but the lame subliminal messages at the end makes listeners want to turn it off instead of going “back to the beginning of the record” as instructed.

Tracks such as “Hi” and “What It’s All About” feature fast-paced Spanish-music-influenced tuba lines, while “I Comb My Hair Sideways” has a Daft Punk-like feel, and “Sunshine Country” is eerie, intense, and quite enjoyable — until the vocals come in.

Although I Have Hands lacks the musical integrity that comes with being an instrumentalist, parts of it are definitely a bit of a guilty pleasure.

Nick’s Picks: “What It’s All About,” “I Comb My Hair Sideways,”

— by Nick Fetty

Can you spare any change?

Lamb of God: Wrath
** 1/2 out of *****

Occasionally, the review seems to write itself. Take, for example, these lyrics from “Everything to Nothing,” a track off Lamb of God’s latest album, Wrath: “A shadow of someone you used to be / You’ve seen so many in these flames / And swore that you’d never become the cliché / A long forgotten memory.”

Sadly, Wrath marks the point where Lamb of God became a shadow of something it used to be. It seems 2006’s excellent Sacrament set the bar just a bit too high for the Virginia metallers, as the band members tried painfully hard to recapture the magic of that album here but end up merely making Sacrament 2.0.

With song titles such as “Fake Messiah” and “Choke Sermon,” it’s ironic a band that so often takes aim at right-wing fundamentalism seems to be opposed to evolution, at least when it comes to its own sound. Songs that once felt fresh and heavy on Sacrament now feel tired and formulaic when rehashed on Wrath. Lyrical themes, breakdowns, and even individual riffs all start to feel interchangeable after a few tracks, with only a few snippets of clean guitar on “Grace” and “Reclamation” to break up the monotony.

It’s difficult to blame Lamb of God for what it did on Wrath. Technically, the members are all at the top of their games, especially Randy Blythe’s vocals, which range with ease from guttural roars to frenetic screams. All they wanted to do was make more of a good thing, and what’s wrong with that? The problem lies in Lamb of God’s inability to change from the sound it has grown comfortable with. The tracks on Wrath are simply not different enough to feel like a complete and separate entity from Sacrament. And after three years of waiting for a new album, that’s not good enough.

Brian’s Picks: “Grace,” “In Your Words,” “Choke Sermon”

— by Brian Dau


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