A lot of local CDs crossed the Bandwidth desk this year. I'd like to say I listened to each one promptly. But with all the modern gadgetry at our disposal on the cusp of the year 2001 -- monorails, underwater cities, robotic underwear -- it's easy to get distracted. Some of these discs sat in a drawer while I rambled on about Fort Lauderdale's mayor or some such nonsense. In an effort to fulfill my New Year's resolution to review indigenous efforts regularly, I'm attempting to clear the decks, uh, drawers.
It sounds as if Nothing Rhymes with Orange faced a dilemma a few years back: One member decided the band should try to sound like a modern version of the Fixx. The other members protested, then gave in. At least that seems a likely scenario after listening to Soho, the Hollywood-based band's newest record.
Nothing Rhymes with Orange is a textbook example of a group of above-average musicians working extra hard to sound like what they hear on the radio. The band is obviously pandering to A&R reps by sticking to a slick, middle-of-the-road sound. There isn't one note on Soho that isn't calculated to appeal primarily to record-company talent scouts.
Some of the noises here are compelling and likable -- serrated guitar slashes, insistent synthesizer riffs -- but they are marred by horribly overdramatic singing, which at times recalls the very worst of every mediocre talent, from Bono to Neil Diamond.
Although Soho's material is industry dictated, even record-label executives might balk at some of it. "Another Black and White Morning" misses the mark entirely, plodding along simplistically like a brontosaur in the swamp. "Poor Little Head" (I'd rather not speculate about the meaning) is pedestrian, annoying, and derivative. And not in a good way, either. (NRWOproductions@hotmail.com)
By contrast the Curious Hair does not sound as if it's trying to appease suit-wearing bean counters (or anyone else) on its album, Say Hello to Happiness. The Curious collective is headed by Miami bandleader/producer Jeff Rollason, with collaborators Amanda Green, Maria Marocka, Matthew Sabatella, Mario Padron, Ben Peeler, and Ferny Coipel. This local supergroup of sorts has put together a half-drunk experiment that often resembles a haphazard jam session rather than an attempt to make a bona fide record. And that's why it's so successful.
Raw, bruised Southern rock is this group's order of the day, with sloppy grace and twang by the ton. Rollason penned most of the 14 tracks, settling into a comfortable, well-worn veneer of Americana. A summery, back-porch vibe fills Rollason and Marocka's "When I Wake Up from This Dream" with unshakable '70s swagger. Marocka's "Off with Java" is a clear winner, her high, airy voice held aloft by the soft tones of a melodica. She scores again with "Dew Drop Inn," a place, she promises, "where we'll meet and begin again." For every silly throwaway like "Pied Piper," there is a timeless retro-rocker like the Royal Truxish "Sunday Sunshine," which rides on thick, droning chords from an old analog organ.
The Curious Hair's carefree collection is one of the best local releases to sit buried beneath my desktop detritus in 2000. I'm glad I unearthed it. (www.nartworld.com)
Newport Gestapo, a trio with principals in Miami, Hialeah, and Pompano Beach, has little in the way of uniqueness (in fact it's nothing but the Clash and the Ramones reheated), but it boasts a good deal of snotty fire. Nasty, backbiting guitar gives the 16 tunes of Newport Gestapo's self-titled debut a jolt, but the disc could use an injection of tempo enhancer. The songs are simply played too slowly to qualify as punk rock. Starting with drummer Jim Burke, the band needs to become tighter, harder, and faster, though singer-guitarist Victor García-Rivera's guitar sparks nearly overcome that weakness.
Lyrically Newport Gestapo never strays far from suburban teenage rage. But "CST (Cuban Standard Time)" throws a South Floridian wrench into the sociopolitical ranting. "Goodbye 182" takes the Blink boys to task for selling out to VH1. "Who Asked You?" is appropriately short, angry, and direct. Cleverness takes a break on "Happy Suicide," however, with its chorus: "Tell why I want to die/Do I really want suicide?" Make up your mind, then get back to us. "Just an Illusion" sports a chorus so awkward and clunky, one starts to think Newport Gestapo never throws away a song. But there's no question the band's heart is in the right place. (members.aol.com/newportgestapo)
Hello's big, fat, well-produced, ready-for-stadiums rock comes with a slightly dark edge. But the West Palm Beach group's The Last Place on Earth is standard stuff that toggles between two modes: overtly dumb and aggressive and not quite as dumb and aggressive. This problem is complicated when vocalist Mike Jerome slips into Eddie Vedder mode, a condition that has evidently reached epic proportions in the rock-singer community.
I suppose I should mention the songs, though I don't really want to. "Todd" is fatally infected with a clumsy vocal flow. Atmospheric and almost jazzy, "Fun Government Cheese" starts with promise but quickly degrades into a mealy morsel about as tasty as its title. "Archie Swirl" proudly shows off a catchy hook; "Butter" makes a pass at the Nu Metal crowd; and "Wasted Sea" makes nice use of Eric Guenette's guitar. The best tune, "Saturn Girl (Acetythane Mix)" is a creepy, slow-cooked techno groove. But it's just hard to picture anyone getting excited about The Last Place on Earth, which seems commonplace and nondescript. There must be 40 million bands that do this sort of thing much better, such as the Spin Doctors.
Professional and competent, if somewhat misdirected, The Last Place on Earth might be a much more enjoyable affair if the songs weren't stocked with so many trite lyrics: "The sky is falling/How appalling/ Man can become" joins the list of well-intentioned poetry unlikely to become a new environmental mantra. (www.geocities.com/thebandhello)
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Bill and John Storch are Lake Worth composer-performers known primarily for their work in the electronic-music realm, specifically electronic music commissioned for modern dance. So it's completely unexpected to see the Brothers Storch delve into acoustic-bluegrass songs on The Cat's Outta the Bag, which was casually recorded with friends under the name Hillbilly Heart. The two oversee the project from the background, contributing guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion, and dobro, but leave the songwriting and singing chores in the hands of capable associates.
The Cat's Outta the Bag is a knee-slapping harmonica hoedown, with its central theme driven home over the course of its 15 songs: desertin', two-timin' women doin' men wrong. Jeff Merchling delivers his share of the tunes in a sleepy drawl, while Marc Ward's voice is as gritty as drain cleaner. Although the two shuttle between rustic blues-rock and twisted prairie folk, the topic remains constant. "You said you'd go down on me tomorrow," Ward sulks on the very first song. "Then you snuck off for weeks!"
Other notable moonshine-and-mandolinfueled ditties include the scruffy "Texas Rocks," with muscular harmony vocals from Nifa Scraggins, and "Everybody Said," a self-determination doctrine that counsels a wayward chum to "Get down off your high horse/Your head out of your ass..../You're worrying too much about what everybody said." Straight from the still, "Alice (First Storm of the Season)" compares a feisty female companion to a hurricane: "She never bored me, but man, she could sure inflict pain." Faraway harmonies on "One Way Out" give the tune a lonely, mountain-town sound.
Quite a departure from the thumping, digitized domain the Storches usually inhabit, Hillbilly Heart is more likely to be embraced by fans of Wilco or early Dylan. But The Cat's Outta the Bag goes further than just showing the duo's wide range. It seems no one involved with the record took the process too seriously, and that gives it an authenticity money can't buy.