Both funny and enjoyable
The White Tornado Outbreak
****1/2 out of *****
The White Tornado Outbreak is an Iowa City-based trio that consists of UI graduate student Bill Peterson on piano and lead vocals, UI law student Kevin Dawson on bass, and Steve Bennett on drums. Seek Shelter is the group’s début album.
There is no question about the three musicians’ musical integrity, and the addition of a talented horn section on a few of the tracks only enhances the band’s sound. Peterson’s sometimes rap-like vocal delivery gives the Outbreak an edge over its contemporaries.
Seek Shelter’s opening track “Bigger Pond” establishes the group’s sound right away with Peterson’s heavy style of piano playing. “Bigger Pond” also showcases Peterson’s offbeat sense of humor with such lines as “our fans are saying that we’ve sold out, and they’re probably right / we just can’t seem to catch on no matter how hard we try.”
Peterson uses an organ effect on his keyboard for “Cop Show” giving the track a jam band-like feel. This track also features Dawson’s bass skills, made more impressive considering he has only played the instrument for a few years.
The album closes with the 8 1⁄2 minute jam “Bicycle.” By far one of the album’s most colorful tracks, “Bicycle” ends Seek Shelter on a strong note.
Peterson’s accented playing and Bennett’s steady rhythm gives the Outbreak an overall upbeat sound. The only thing keeping Seek Shelter from earning five stars is that it would be disappointing to think the Outbreak won’t improve on its next album.
Nick’s Picks: “Bigger Pond,” “Yet Again My Brother Saved Me,” “Cop Show,” “We’re In a Band,” “Bicycle”
A Modern Masterpiece
Ben Harper and the Relentless7
White Lies for Dark Times
****1/2 out of *****
If it’s true the music industry is knee-deep in dark times, then alternative rocker Ben Harper is its beacon of light.
The California guitarist has achieved international success with the 12 albums since his 1992 début, boasting two Grammy Awards and routine stints on Billboard’s Top 200 chart. Harper’s political activism and former partnership with Jack Johnson have cultivated a broad indie college fanbase, and his masterful musicianship has earned him well-deserved praise from legions of critics. Whether working solo or as a team (his last studio album, 2007’s Lifeline, featured sidemen the Innocent Criminals), Harper’s musical instincts are undeniable, and his signature graceful funk is the stuff future legends are made of.
His latest release, White Lies for Dark Times, excels as a testament to Harper’s incredible talent. Recorded with his new ensemble, the Relentless7, Harper soars as he serves up everything from the unapologetically hot (“Number With No Name”) to the hauntingly melodic (“The Word Suicide”). Raw and emotional, Harper evokes Prince’s passion and Ray Charles’ soul in standout tracks such as “Lay There and Hate Me” and “Shimmer and Shine.” The group demonstrates a whole new meaning of the word “jam,” effortlessly combining blues, funk, gospel, and good old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll into a stunning musical masterpiece.
Though Harper has certainly moved into heavier territory with the Relentless7, his gift for writing and interpreting powerful lyricism still shines, adding a gentle layer of thoughtful intelligence over the tight rhythm section. Harper’s tender assuredness in “Faithfully Remain” is refreshingly uplifting, and his delicate, wistful vocal delivery in “Skin Thin” is nothing short of gorgeous.
It’s only five months in, but White Lies for Dark Times is sure to be one of the best albums of 2009 — and more so, will certainly solidify Harper’s impending legacy. When lies sound this sweet, all truth can be damned.
Melea’s Picks: “Number With No Name,” “Lay There & Hate Me,” “Shimmer & Shine,” “Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)”
Peaches, I don’t give a fuck
I Feel Cream
** out of *****
True to the style of Merrill Beth Nisker, more widely known as Peaches, her latest album, I Feel Cream, is nothing short of an electronic tribute to doing the nasty. But can you expect anything less from an album called I Feel Cream? I mean, really.
The album itself doesn’t warrant a whole lot of talk. The music is semi-catchy, and Peaches’ lyrics are always entertaining, but there aren’t any tunes that equal the fabulousness of “Fuck the Pain Away” from her 2000 album The Teaches of Peaches.
I Feel Cream kicks off with the tune “Serpentine,” which is oozing with Pulitzer-winning lyrics such as “I don’t give a fuck if you call me / I don’t give a fuck if you’re mauling me / I don’t give a fuck if you fall for me.” Well, Peaches, I don’t really give much of a fuck for your album, to be honest. That is, when I’m sober.
The next track, “Talk to Me,” has a different feel from most of her other tunes. It cranks down the electronic vibe Peaches is well known for and amps up the vocals, giving it more of a feminine power-ballad feel. Which is weird coming from a chick who once came on stage in a fake beard trying to make a point about penis envy.
Here’s a random fact: Peaches used to be an elementary-school teacher. It’s enough to wonder if there are any other teachers out there harboring a secret desire to sing dance ballads about sex. Which is disgusting.
The title-track off I Feel Cream is by far Peaches’ worst single. The lyrics are clean — come on Peaches, sex is all you have — and the vocals have an Alanis Morissette vibe, which makes the tune a hot mess.
Overall, I Feel Cream, although dripping many sexual references, isn’t up to the standard of her earlier penis-obsessed records like Impeach My Bush or Fatherfucker.
Rachael’s Picks: “Serpentine,” “Talk to Me,” and “Billionaire”
Funny, philosophical metal
**** out of *****
Psychostick could be the most meta metal band ever.
Not only are these self-described “humor-core” headbangers incredibly self-aware of the conventions of their genre of choice, they’re unafraid to mix undeniable instrumental chops with a hearty dose of irony to create musical comedy gold.
The band’s latest release, Sandwich, proves these merry metal pranksters still have enough metaphorical props to make Carrot Top jealous. The follow up to 2003’s We Couldn’t Think of a Title (and the 2007 Christmas album, The Flesh Eating Roller Skate Holiday Joyride), Sandwich spews a wicked combination of distorted guitar, double bass drum kicks, and throaty yells that accompany contrapuntal lyrics celebrating mild everyday delights (including showering, riding a caffeine buzz, and eating a taco).
Sandwich’s sardonic humor hinges on an audience familiarity with metal and hard rock, spoofing stereotypical chord progressions and song structures. Though the die-hard rocker will take pleasure in identifying impressions (“Shower” evokes System of a Down lead singer Serj Tankian and on the purposefully whiny “No. 1 Radio $ingle,” Psychostick does a spot-on Nickleback), the casual listener may mistake the satirical elements of “Die … A LOT!” for serious aggression.
Though Sandwich is solid, Psychostick’s “Bro”-oriented humor does falter at times. “Minimum Rage” chronicles the annoyances of working in food service, but sounds more like a threatening letter from a disgruntled employee than a casual comic complaint. More successful are quasi-intelligent jokes that require an attentive ear and a quick wit, as in “This is Not a Song, It’s a Sandwich!” (in which lead singer Rawrb channels painter/philosopher Rene Magritte in an attempt to convince the audience that an intangible melody is actually a tasty lunch option).
Despite its flaws, Sandwich is sure to sustain, full of tasty licks and hearty humor. It may not curb mealtime cravings, but it will undeniably feed a rocker’s funny bone.
Melea’s Picks: “P is the Best Letter,” “This is Not a Song, It’s a Sandwich!” “Girl Directions,” “#1 Radio $ingle”
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