I Am The Avalanche – S/T (CD)

I Am The Avalanche start out this self-titled disc with an intensity that reminds one of Vinnie Caruana’s previous band The Movielife. The overall sound of the disc’s beginning track “New Disaster” is still inexorably linked to pop-rock and feels groomed for popular radio, but there is no denying that the music of “Dead and Gone” has a certain edge to it that just was not found in Vinnie’s previous band. The manner in which I Am The Avalanche arranges their songs may not be at the height of experimentation, but there are some impressive times (specifically during “New Disaster”) where the band is simultaneously reaching their listener base on a number of levels.

During “New Disaster”, this is evidenced by the simultaneously virtuosity being shown by the vocals, bass, guitar and drums; there is just nothing in the way of filler to be found on this new act, and the track itself even has a minor flirtation with differing time signatures. Moving into a ska influence for the opening of “Murderous”, even down to the multiple hits of Brett’s vocals, I Am The Avalanche looks back to the late nineties brand of pop-punk (SR-71, New Radicals), while inserting just a minor amount of “Black Balloon-era” Goo Goo Dolls for the proper amount of emotional involvement. While an individual might say that “I Took A Beating’s” arrangement is too uninspired to succeed, there should be no debate on the fact that the music really works with Vinnie’s slightly-stressed but overall smooth vocals. The incorporation of a multiple-part harmony on the track gives listeners hope that they, one day will be able to participate much like the phantom chorus on this track has.

Not slowing down for the later part of the disc, it is a track like “This Is Dungeon Music” that brings I Am The Avalanche to slightly harder pastures. “This Is Dungeon Music” is directly influenced by the metal/punk hybrid that is Sum 41, whether it be the harder guitar riffs or similar vocal stile that Vinnie takes up for the track. Couching “Clean Up” with an acoustic-sounding guitar, the slower tempo of the track is an exercise in differing sounds and tempos, something that I Am The Avalanche is more than able to do on this track. The disc is surprisingly solid, being based much more in the “rock” tradition (actually making arrangements that will make listeners think) than the emo/pop-punk boy band genre that seems to be losing a little steam.

Top Tracks: Clean Up, New Disaster

Rating: 5.8/10

I Am The Avalanche – S/T / 2005 Drive-Thru / 12 Tracks / http://www.iamtheavalanche.com / http://www.drivethrurecords.com / Reviewed 12 August 2005

I Am Ghost – We Are Always Searching (CD)

I Am Ghost – We Are Always Searching

I Am Ghost – We Are Always Searching / 2005 Epitaph / 9 Tracks / http://www.iamghostmusic.com / http://www.epitaph.com / Reviewed 14 October 2005

Coming out much more like the Eurhythmics than the Nekromantix, the smooth vocals really provide a contrast with the rapidly increasing fuzziness of the instruments during “The Dead Girl Epilogue: Part One”. When the band actually gets into their groove, they show themselves to be an equal mixture of “Waking the Fallen”-era Avenged Sevenfold, AFI, and “My Bloody Valentine-like” Good Charlotte.

The crunchy opening to “Pretty People Never Lie” shows a nice double-vocal dynamic that really is the ultimate in a track of dichotomy, whether it be between dark/light, guitar/bass or male/female. The use of strings during “We Are Always Searching” is reminiscent of the same instrument’s use in Yellowcard’s last few albums, but there seems to be a much harder edge to I Am Ghost’s music that allows for the band to really incorporate non-traditional instruments without seeming like they are just vying for attention. The music that I Am Ghost puts forth on their “We Are Always Searching” is not necessarily any one given genre; a track like “The Most Beautiful Nightmare: Part Two” seems to edge closer to the emo/post-hardcore label than anything else on the disc, but is still led by instruments that are as intense as any put forth on a metal or punk album. The vocals laid down by Steve on this album really provide listeners with some of the sweetest sounds to be found on this disc. What is surprising is the diversity of sound that Steve can bring forth to the track, whether it be the smoothed-out sound that dominates “Beautiful Nightmare” or the shrill screaming found on “Kiss Me Like You Wanted”.

The only thing that can possibly be shown as something lacking during “We Are Always Searching” is that Kerith (the violinist who does show up in a vocal sense on much of the disc) is not given a more major role in any of the tracks here. When there is a larger role for Kerith (such as in “Lady Madeline in Her Coffin”), the music has an intensity to it that is not comparable – a brand of chaos rules the track, even though there seems to be some form of structure that is present throughout. What happens is that the music contained on a track like “Lady Madeline in Her Coffin” is quite like a furious rainstorm on an ocean, causing massive waves to swell and crash against the nearest land but certain other factors present on the track – like the guitars – show this to be under the control of a director.

Top Tracks: The Last Goodbye of Smile and Bone, We Are Always Searching

Rating: 6.4/10

[JMcQ]

The Hypstrz – Live At The Longhorn (CD)

With all the energy of the Ramones, The Hypstrz seem to “Englishify” the original Ramones sound enough to re-cast all their tracks in a favorable veneer. With tracks crashing into each other all willy-nilly like, the live songs here have a studio sensibility to them that belies their freshness and spontaneity. Crafted in such a way that ensures listeners will not be tired, the average Hypstrz track hovers right at about two minutes; when the band moves into a near-perfect sound (such as in the blues-looking “I’ll Go Crazy”), the fact that these tracks are so short will throw listeners into a state of depression.

When the band slows down their sound, especially during tracks like “I Don’t”, one can hear each constituent part of the band. The benefit from hearing this is that it shows each member of The Hypstrz as contributing their all; the vitriolic vocals are not the only thing on “Live at the Longhorn” that should knock listeners on their ass. Hell, one can even say that The Hypstrz are more immediately influential on the state of punk than the Ramones are. Listen to a track like “Talk Talk” and hear the Matt Freeman-like bass lines strewn throughout the arrangements; wow at the multiple-part vocal harmonies that The Misfits would perfect a few short years later. “Live At The Longhorn” is a twenty-five year old album, and yet there is a level of directness that The Hypstrz has with their audience, both in reality and those who listen to the concert now.

This lack of bullshit, of overbearing distortion and egos is what makes “Live at the Longhorn” so damn compelling. Each of the tracks here is eminently radio-friendly, but is not of the same style of what is being pandered to radio nowadays. There is a solid foundation of rock which The Hypstrz place themselves on; there are chunks of psychedelic working next to surf music, and even further linked back to the blues of a more-forgotten day. Why exactly this band has been relegated to the footnotes of history is beyond me, but The Hypstrz were easily the equivalent of a Ramones or Clash at the height of their careers. Perhaps it was because so many stars were shining with so bright of a light in 1980; anyways, be sure to pick this album up as it is some of the most directly influential music of this era.

Top Tracks: Shake, Talk Talk

Rating: 7.5/10

The Hypstrz – Live At The Longhorn / 2005 Bomp! / 37 Tracks / http://www.bomp.com / Reviewed 23 November 2005

[JMcQ]

The Hybrid – Demo Days (CD)

With a rushed style to it, The Hybrid, a local band from Greencastle, Indiana, comes out with their first disc. Coming through with 13 tracks, of which two are original songs, we mainly get a view of The Hybrid as a band that does a lot of covers. This isn’t necessarily the case, as the band is getting a number of originals, but certain things can be said about their style from both the tracks that they chose to play as well as the way they play them. So, for most of the tracks, we are assaulted by a faceless lead guitar that is distorted enough to make anything besides power chords be lost in the mess, played by Mark, and the chunky bass being played by Aaron. As a result, many of the lead guitar parts are obscured by the rhythm and bass, really making tracks like Ann Baretta’s “Better Days” incomplete, as the entire second half of the song is started off by a lead solo.

Using Gabe for two of their three Misfits covers, The Hybrid shows their desire to support the burgeoning Greencastle scene, but in reality Gabe cannot be heard over J.J.’s lead vocals. With the majority of The Hybrid’s songs, we notice some excellent multipart-part harmonies, only sullied by the similarity of each singing member of The Hybrid’s voices. While the effect is not completely lost, it becomes hard to discern who is actually contributing to the multi-part harmony. While the idea of four individuals all helping out on a song is exemplary, perhaps something should be done to the harmony to stop something like the one-voice sound of “Ring of Fire” from happening. The Hybrid are excellent at going and continuing the structure of the original song, especially during Bad Religion’s “American Jesus” and Screeching Weasel’s “Hey Suburbia”, but their originals, like “Skate Park Slut” and “Shut the Fuck Up”, seem to belie a set of allegiances closer to Screeching Weasel and Darlington than Minor Threat and Dead Kennedys.

Moving into more of an experimental feel for “American Jesus”, The Hybrid perfectly captures the essence of the original by laying down some distinctly opposite sets of vocals. While it is key to remember that The Hybrid are still a relatively young band, this disc is important in recognizing where the Greencastle scene is at this early juncture. There may be a number of times where play is a little sloppy, but still, there is a certain amount of energy to the band that may be lost in an official “studio” recording. “Demo Days” feels like a live show more than a studio disc, and it is pretty easy to imagine the band in front of one while the tracks work their way into each other.

Rating : 7.0/10

The Hybrid – Demo Days / 2003 Self-Released / 13 Tracks / http://www.geocities.com/the_hybrid_music / Reviewed 02 January 2004

Top Tracks : American Jesus, Halloween

Husky Rescue – Country Falls (CD)

Thin tendrils of music start off “Country Falls”, with dreamy vocals doing much more for the construction of a musical identity than the furthering of certain lyrical ideas. “Summertime Cowboy” shows Husky Rescue re-cast their sound, sounding much like a sixties girl-group than the dreamy-pop that opened up the disc. Therein lies the most interesting fact about the band; they can completely change their style up in the space of three or four minutes and go with the new direction as confidently and strongly as before. Why this album is called “Country Falls” though is through a heavy use of the slide guitar, and the alt-country leanings of Husky Rescue come to fruition during tracks like “New Light of Tomorrow”. This track impressively mixes a very current electronic synthesizer line with the more traditional, Uncle Tupelo meets Tori Amos type of sound. The synth and slide guitar are not the only instruments to get the mad love; the bass heavy “Rainbow Flows” is a return to the well of sixties-influenced music for Husky Rescue; as with the case of “Summertime Cowboy” (and all the rest of the tracks on “Country Falls”), the track is a hit. Even if a large section of “The Good Man” is simply talking, Husky Rescue makes the track into a swirling storm that engulfs all listeners completely, a microcosm of what the album does to the band’s fanbase.

Top Tracks: The Good Man, Summertime Cowboy

Rating: 6.3/10

Husky Rescue – Country Falls / 2005 Minty Fresh Records / 10 Tracks / http://www.husky-rescue.com / http://www.mintyfresh.com / Reviewed 12 June 2005

Hush – Bulletproof (CD)

Hush’s true introduction to this disc (“Hush Is Coming”) is pretty impressive, bringing a nice flow and coupling it with a rock backdrop and one of the most recognizable rappers in the game, Nate Dogg. The tinny blips that “let It Breathe” has really provide a higher tone against which Hush’s vocals really shine. The incorporation of seventies/early-eighties style of synthesizers to the track further differentiate the track from the mass of other comparable tracks.

More so, it gives listeners another blast of freshness, ensuring that they will have the desire to continue spinning the disc. Where “Put ‘Em Down” really doesn’t excite during its opening strain, the catchiness of the chorus makes up for any perceived weakness. Hush’s vocals on the track are not quite as fluid as they could be, so listeners may have a little problem really getting into a proper groove. “Real T.V.” (which has Bizarre guest starring) uses the sped-up seventies-like vocals that were present on “Until the End of Time”; surprisingly enough on this track, New Jack Swing breaks through for the briefest time. At opportune times during the track, one can almost even hear “CooleyHighHarmony”-era Boyz II Men. Bringing the rock influence back (with about the same success that Run-D.M.C. had during their “King of Rock”) for “The March”, individuals are assaulted with dual bringers of harmony – the catchy guitar riff present and Hush’s own infectious vocals.

The track, which seems to really expand on the theme began by Eminem’s own “Mosh”, is the first rap track to be able to crossover (to the rock charts) since Cypress Hill’s “Rock Superstar”. Throwing in synthesizers that would be just as fitting for a Journey song during eir “24 Hours”, Hush really shows longevity in “Bulletproof” that is simply not to be found in rap today. There are no skits to break up the momentum, and by and large there are just not any weak tracks to be found. By far, the most played track on this disc has to be “Off To Tijuana”, the “starring Eminem” track on the disc. While it does start off weakly (a pseudo-skit to open up the song), the low-key flow of all involved seems closer to something like Esham or Twiztid than the innovator and master of mixing rap and rock. Overall, even if the money shot is a dribbler instead of a squirter, Hush’s “Bulletproof” is one of the most solid rap discs of the year.

Top Tracks: Hush Is Coming, Real T.V.

Rating: 6.8/10

Hush – Bulletproof / 2005 Geffen / 12 Tracks / http://www.mchush.com / http://www.geffen.com / Reviewed 25 September 2005

Hurt – Vol. 1 Sampler (CD)

This is one of the only new hard rock bands that does not take the sound of acts like Disturbed and 10 Years to heart, deciding to mix a little Tool and Kenny Wayne Shepherd for something that weaves its way around genres for five and a half minutes (“Rapture”) before sputtering out. The track is diverse enough to really be able to connect to a large segment of the populace, as well as keep individuals interested for most of the track’s long runtime. Understanding that this is the “album” version of the track, I really wonder what the radio cut of “Rapture” sounds like, as the song could conceivably be tightened up for a greater effect.

Hurt may just be the most innovative major-label hard rock / metal band of the last decade (I’m thinking Kyuss beats them out slightly, but that band’s time was over a decade ago). “Falls Apart” is another major change for Hurt, as it relies on a much more sedate sound for its near five-minute runtime. Hurt succeeds here through the slow accumulation of tempo that links Hurt to critically-acclaimed acts like Live; when the band kicks into the harder style of the chorus, one is shown clearly that the band has something more than just technical ability; they also can arrange amazingly. The swirling atmosphere of “Falls Apart” really gives the track another layer of fury; what one can liken “Falls Apart” to is a landslide, starting with only a few pieces of dust but ending with tons of detritus rolling over anything in its path. Finishing off the sampler with “House Carpenter”, Hurt seems to change their style again.

This time, the band opts for a more progressive type of metal, with a “Silent Lucidity” (or “Epic”) type of bombast present. There seems to be some talent present in Hurt that is typically not present in any metal band outside of System of a Down. The three cuts show three different faces of Hurt, but the one thing that is really noticeable about the band is that they always put their entire soul into their music. Here’s to hoping that the full album (Vol. 1) is more of the same and that Hurt gets the press that they deserve. Hurt making it big would be the gust of air necessary for a new style of music to dominate that is not a race to copy what has worked in the past.

Top Track: House Carpenter

Rating: 6.4/10

Hurt – Vol. 1 Sampler / 2006 Capitol / 3 Tracks / http://www.hurtband.com / http://www.capitolrecords.com / Reviewed 05 March 2006

[JMcQ]

Hurt – Vol. 1 (CD)

“Falls Apart” is the first track on “Vol. 1” and it is a track that mixes together all of the disparate styles of radio rock that have made it big in the last fifteen years. The track shows that Hurt loves acts as wide as Live, Tool, and Linkin Park while not just rehashing each band’s style. In much of the same way, “Forever” shows Hurt as a band that have taken pages, even chapters from bands like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. The hard-rock formula that Hurt uses on this disc is diverse and different from anything else that other bands can cut, but as familiar as anything else that finds its way onto radio in the current time. The band has an ear for arrangement, one that will drag listeners through the entire 10 song opus that is “Vol. 1”.

“Unkind” continues this solid mixture of differing styles, with different segments of the track eliciting wholly different emotions from the Hurt fan base. “Danse Russe” is perhaps the largest derivation from the general sound of “Vol. 1”, using a much more organic type of sound to keep listeners focused into the disc. Masking multiple vocals over the lead, “Danse Russe” is a perfect example of a track that will be played at practically all proms for this next year. Hurt can chalk up a victory with this track as it is kept well under the four-minute mark; this move is done to counter all the other ballad songs that approach the six and seven minute mark.

“Dirty” is a perfect example of the diametric opposite of a track like “Dance Russe”; the bombast employed by the band shocks listeners back awake after a decent amount of time in which the more nuanced side of Hurt was able to see the light of day. The tracks may not be at the cutting edge for experimentation for rock music, but the solid nature of Hurt will ensure that the tracks on “Vol. 1” will be played on radio and mTV for years to come. In my eyes, it would actually be a disservice if Hurt never made a Vol 2 or Vol 3; the orchestral sound of a song like “Rapture” matches well with acts like Led Zeppelin in their prime. Give this band a shot, and if they don’t appeal to you now give them a few years to further refine their sound into something more amenable.

Top Tracks: Rapture, Danse Russe

Rating: 6.3/10

Hurt – Vol. 1 / 2006 Capitol / 10 Tracks / http://www.hurtband.com / http://www.capitolrecords.com / Reviewed 27 March 2006

[JMcQ]

Jana Hunter – Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom (CD)

Pretty much everything that Andy Cabic and Devendra Banhart get their hands into is going to have some larger implications for the music world. If it is not Vetiver or Devendra’s solo music, it is Jana Hunter. Where individuals throw fits about the fright that artists like Marilyn Mason and Alice Cooper instill in youth, my vote would have to with Jana Hunter’s music on “Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom”. There is little in the way of instrumentation during tracks like “”The New Sane Scramble”. Essentially, the only instrumentation that one can find comes in the quite-often repetition of a simplistic set of guitar chords and the hauntingly brilliant vocals of Hunter on the track.

With these few pieces of instrumentation (a set of strings is also thrown into the mix at a certain point), a sense of fear and dread is cultivated in the heart of every listener. This is not fright rock, but does contain an atmosphere that is disconcerting to say the least. Furthermore, later tracks like “The Earth Has No Skin” does nothing to change this tempo, but actually exacerbates it throw the creation of an off-key choir that speaks to the darker parts of the old “good days” of society. Hidden in these seemingly-innocuous voices lies a world of deceit and romantic trysts; the world is not as it should be, despite the outwardly rose tone of the vocals.

An individual may not need the cutting-edge sound system to hear everything that Hunter commits to disc, but the utmost attention is need to not miss the subtext running throughout this album. None of these tracks will ever be on the rotation of a commercial radio station, and for good reason; to remove one of the tracks from “Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom” would be to bastardize the context in which all songs on the disc reside. However petty a track like “Laughing & Crying” is in terms of track length and what would typically be expected of it in traditional music, it is a vital organ to the corpus that is this album. The smartness of Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom is that Hunter does not add anything more to the tracks than what is absolutely essential; this is reflected in the sub 2:30 runtime of nearly half of the disc. Emotionally involved while beyond musically vacant, Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom may be the best thing yet to be affiliated by the Vetiver/Banhart camp.

Top Tracks: Have You Got My Money, The Earth Has No Skin

Rating: 7.5/10

Jana Hunter – Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom / 2005 Gnomonsong / 13 Tracks / http://www.myspace.com/janahunter / http://www.midheaven.com/labels/gnomonsong.html / Reviewed 27 December 2005

[JMcQ]

Hunter Brown – Raise Up!

Christian rappers can be good. For examples, Cross Examination and KJ-52 both are pretty solid rappers, even when one takes the Christian element out of their music. Hunter Brown is interesting, and to say that ey is good or bad is a little confusing. The backing beat that is present during the title track is something that is solid, a beat that takes on the instrumental style of a number of classic rap tracks, while having a hint of the seventies present in its sound. Some of the flow is a little weak (the mention of basketball stars is a little hackneyed, and the mention of Shaq during “Raise Up!” brings individuals back into remembering Aaron Carter), but the flow itself is fairly strong.

There are not any segments during “Raise Up!” where it seems like Hunter is struggling or trying to find the next line, which is something that even more established rappers tend to struggle with. For the finale of the title track, the repetition of the hook is almost to the point that individuals will get tired, but a smart Brown lays back and lets the instrumentation take a dominant role in the last minute. The down-home, country feel of “In The Church” links Hunter Brown to both The Roots and Bubba Sparxxx, while relying most heavily on a gospel framework. The style present on this track is solid, but is diminished slightly but the poor production of the vocals on this track. This means that the vocals are obnoxiously loud, and push out what is really an interesting backing beat.

A minor stress fracture occurs in Brown’s flow during “In The Church”, in that the flow that ey is attempting to do is just too fast for the rapper. Perhaps a few more tries with the line in the studio, and the final sound would have been much more professional. “One Love” continues that trend of having interesting backing beats in Brown tracks (this beat sounds almost like that backing up Kirk Franklin during “Stomp”, or eir later 1NC works), and the style of Brown’s flow during this track even approaches that put forth by an early Snoop Dogg. This EP is a good first effort by Hunter Brown, and with a similar devotion with the next few discs, there is little doubt that Brown will find a large audience, both in and outside of Christian music.

Top Track: One Love

Rating: 6.0/10

Hunter Brown – Raise Up! / 2006 M2 Productions / 4 Tracks / bustabrown@comcast.net / Reviewed 28 April 2006

[JMcQ]