Disc Reviews

by Max Ink Staff Writers


The Nuclear Children - Paint it Red

The Nuclear Children - Paint it Red

The Nuclear Children

Album title: Paint it Red
By Cactus Joe
Posted: Dec 2008
Label: Champion of the Arts Records
(2010) Page Views

THE NUCLEAR CHILDREN’s single “Paint it Red” preambles the band’s soon-to-be-released full length studio album, “Ten Sordid Tales of Schaden and Freude” (Champion of the Arts Records) due out in early 2009.  Energetic, intense, and sarcastic, the band’s sound has been compared to Modest Mouse, The Pixies, and Social Distortion. These bands are all clearly influential in “Paint it Red” as well as the B-side track “Hey Wendy.” They hail from Columbus, OH, an underrated modern-Mecca of urban retro rock. Check them out on MySpace, where you can hear the singles.

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The Ringers - Headlocks and Highkicks

The Ringers - Headlocks and Highkicks

The Ringers

Album title: Headlocks and Highkicks
By Cactus Joe
Posted: Dec 2008
Label: Fort Mason Entertainment
(2109) Page Views

“Headlocks and Highkicks,” the second album from LA indie rockers THE RINGERS, is aptly named for its aggressive, high-energy pomp rock sound assault. Dynamic changes and bold song-writing, I give this one 4 stars and a place on my prestigious CD rack. The recording production is crisp as well. This is exactly what I look for when I seek out indie garage rock. Scope their videos on their web site…tons of fun and theatrics. I will definitely catch their show next time they pass through the Midwest.

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John Statz - An Evening With John Statz

John Statz - An Evening With John Statz

John Statz

Album title: An Evening With John Statz
By Cactus Joe
Posted: Nov 2008
Label: Self Released
(3866) Page Views

“An Evening with John Statz” is the third self-produced release by Madison folk musician John Statz. It was recorded live at Uncommon Ground coffee shop in Chicago, IL, on April 22, 2008.

“I had put out two studio albums and just wanted to get a live cut of some of those songs and a few new ones,” Statz said, “I was playing Uncommon Ground on the spring tour and they always give you a live recording of what you play. So I figured it would be an easy way to get a good quality live recording.”
The live recording was mastered by Nate Edwards who recorded Statz’s first album, “Dusk Came Slow.”

“An Evening with John Statz” was recorded on the first stop of Statz’s spring 2008 tour, which speaks to the artist’s innate talent and preparation for live performances. The musicianship and sound quality are nearly flawless, with dynamic and rich equalization of the guitar and vocals, the only instruments on the recording.

“It isn’t easy to describe [Uncommon Ground] to people,” Statz said, “It is a really intimate, small room that you play in. It is just the size of a medium-sized living room. There is no stage or anything. You just kind of stand in the middle and people really have to come into the room to hear the music. It’s my favorite place to play in Chicago because it is just so intimate. It’s a live album, but you won’t hear a roaring audience or anything, because there are maybe 20 people in the room. That gives it kind of a house concert feel.”

The closeness and intimacy comes through on the recording, allowing the listener to feel the spatial relationship to the artist in both the music and the close applause of the small audience.

“I think some people, on first listen, may try to compare this with a lot of live albums with tons of clapping,” Statz said, “This gives a different perspective.”
If there is anything to be critical of here, it is only that the clarity of the recording hides nothing (as when Statz gulps water near the microphone on the recording). Occasionally Statz’s voice noticeably, albeit mildly, pushes the upper limits of his range. But when he keeps to comfortable vocal territory, the intonation is dead on.

The songs are heavily folk music influenced with a lyrical story-telling maturity. The title track from Statz’s second studio album, “Our Love Was Made for Canada,” appears on the new live album in solo acoustic format. Two songs, “Nobody Can Say We Aren’t Loyal Now” and “Best Girl of ‘16” are previously unreleased. They are themed on World War I, a period of history in which Statz has a deep intellectual interest. Also new to this album is the lighter “Ballad for V and B in 5,” a song Statz was hired to write for a wedding. The first track on the album, “A Letter from Southeast Asia,” focuses on the more recent Vietnam War and brings to mind the anti-war sentiments found in folk music of the 1960s. All of the songs on the album were written by Statz except for “Chelsea Hotel #2,” a Leonard Cohen composition.

Statz’s spring 2008 tour ended in early May, with dates in New Orleans, LA and Greenwood, MS. The track “Every Other Time” pays tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the injustices revealed during its aftermath.

The new CD is available at most Madison record stores. Statz hosts a monthly Thursday showcase at the Brink Lounge (www.thebrinklounge.com) in Madison, WI.

“It’s a monthly songwriter’s showcase I am starting,” Statz said of the gig, “I play every month and I get to book in two other acts. So it will be me, an out-of-towner, and another local.”

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Steve Grimm - Keep Your Dreams Alive

Steve Grimm - Keep Your Dreams Alive

Steve Grimm

Album title: Keep Your Dreams Alive
By Cactus Joe
Posted: Nov 2008
Label: Self Released
(2095) Page Views

STEVE GRIMM is probably best known as the front man and drummer of the infamous Milwaukee rock band BAD BOY. But he has a formidable solo career too, recently releasing eight solid rock songs on an album called “Keep Your Dreams Alive.” If you like 80s and 90s classic rock, check out this record. It’s potent.

Touring with Bad Boy, Steve had the envious privilege of sharing the stage with some of the greatest classic rock bands, including AC/DC, Journey, Fleetwood Mac, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Ted Nugent, and Alice Cooper. These influences are apparent in “Keep Your Dreams Alive.” A current-sounding production, this album still bleeds pure 80s rock-n-roll and will appeal to lovers of that genre. “Soilder [sic] (for Your Love)” is the song to preview before you buy (cdbaby.com/cd/stevegrimm) as it covers characteristic sonic territory.

Released in October 2008, the album’s title clearly reflects Steve’s continued passion for songwriting and performing. A graduate of Berklee College of Music and the University of Wisconsin, Steve has shared his veteran music wisdom teaching music in the Milwaukee Public School system for the past 12 years.  He is an active member of Sleighriders, a charity made up of performers who donate their talents and time to providing instruction and musical instruments to young music students.

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Sound And Fury - Sound And Fury

Sound And Fury - Sound And Fury

Sound And Fury

Album title: Sound And Fury
By Chris Fox
Posted: Nov 2008
Label: Rebel Youth Records
(1715) Page Views

The album artwork alone makes this album worth purchasing. A very dark, yet refined, punk rock album. Eighties hair metal rings out in the solos and vocals as well as just a touch of southern rock. Songs like “Teenage Rampage” and “Bad Touch” will make you want to call your parents and start a political argument just to reminisce.

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System And Station - A Nation Of Actors

System And Station - A Nation Of Actors

System And Station

Album title: A Nation Of Actors
By Cactus Joe
Posted: Nov 2008
Label: Latest Flame Records
(2105) Page Views

“A Nation of Actors” is the fourth full-length album by SYSTEM AND STATION. The August 2008 release is poppier than its predecessor, “Here is Now.” It has a guitar heavy and rhythmically progressive sound that forms the foundation for gentle and sometimes plaintive melodies and lyrics.

“The earlier System and Station stuff is pretty ‘prog rock’ with a lot of changes and six or seven minute songs,” said RFK Heise, principle songwriter in the band. “On this record we really tried to focus in on cutting out the unnecessary and get to the heart of the songs. I think doing that it really defined an identity for what we have been trying to do for a lot of years now.”

The music isn’t especially hooky, but I found myself drawn to the overall sound quality of the record. So perhaps “cerebral” is a good descriptor, although that suggests mellow music, which this isn’t. The song structures, instrumentation, and dynamics are reminiscent of early JANE’S ADDICTION, an influence in Heise’s songwriting.

“‘Ritual [de lo Habitual]’-era JANE’S ADDICTION definitely…and I’m a big classic rock fan,” Heise said. “Everything from LED ZEPPELIN, BUILT TO SPILL, and THE POLICE. I am super into YES. The idea before was to write epic rock songs, but it started to get to be too much. So now we are trying to be a little more accessible.”

SYSTEM AND STATION formed in Boise, ID in 1998 and have called both Madison, WI (1998-2001) and Portland, OR home since (they currently reside in the latter city). SYSTEM AND STATION has performed with the likes of MARKY RAMONE, SHINER, BUILT TO SPILL, BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB, and THE MEAT PUPPETS. They completed their 19th national tour in September.

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Fragile Utopia - Fragile Utopia

Fragile Utopia - Fragile Utopia

Fragile Utopia

Album title: Fragile Utopia
By Chris Fox
Posted: Nov 2008
Label: Self Released
(3123) Page Views

Thrash metal guitar without all the screams. This Madison local group does a great job bringing a unique mix to the painfully categorized metal scene. “Stillframe,” the album’s third track, provides insight to what the group is all about: a mixture of clean and distorted leads, heavy bass lines, and smooth vocals. “Machine” brings back the thrash metal feel, and proves the cyclical abilities of this group.

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Land Of Talk - Some Are Lakes

Land Of Talk - Some Are Lakes

Land Of Talk

Album title: Some Are Lakes
By John Noyd
Posted: Oct 2008
Label: Saddle Creek
(2046) Page Views

Streamlined and road-tested, the ten tantalizing tracks of Montreal’s Land of Talk full-length debut are the result of several years touring that had the group shuffling members until the current trio emerged as the perfect foil for singer, songwriter and guitarist Elizabeth Powell’s sharp narratives. Recorded in a converted church near their home town except for one track originating from Justin Vernon’s parent’s house in Eau Claire, there is a refreshing compactness to the tunes that leaves plenty of room for well-controlled gusto. A balancing act of agitated riffs and hustling bluster, “Lakes,” smash and shimmer as it reflects restless perspectives of timeless entanglements. Opening for Broken Social Scene Oct 11th at Madison’s UW Union Theater, LoT offer complicated conversations instead of idle chit chat.

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Lucas Cates Band - All The Pieces

Lucas Cates Band - All The Pieces

Lucas Cates Band

Album title: All The Pieces
By Cactus Joe
Posted: Oct 2008
Label: Self Released
(3025) Page Views

“All the Pieces,” the second album from Madison WI natives The Lucas Cates Band, is a thoroughly danceable, musically tight and well produced piece of pop rock work. Released in 2008, “All the Pieces” is a 100% self-produced follow-up to the band’s 2005 debut “Contradictory” (released on Madison’s PopBomb label).

“This record was done completely independently,” Cates said. “I produced the record with the guys and our investor. Everything is independent now and I like it that way. The music is what we want it to be.”

These are well-constructed, dynamic original songs, all written by Lucas Cates himself and arranged by the band. While the lyrics are both touching and emotive, the first impulse I had on listening to this record was simply an urge to get up and dance. This is music I would enjoy at an outdoor summer music festival rather than in the car or on my MP3 player. The grooves are great, the musicianship solid. This is rock’n’roll best served “live.”

The lyrics on this album, which I read on the CD jacket, have a universal mass appeal. The songs cover topics everyone can relate to, like love lost (“Love Broke Her Heart”), current events (“Numb,” about global warming), and injustice (“1492”). The title track “All the Pieces” is about the ups and downs in life, and looking on the bright side.

“We have progressed a lot as a band in the last year and a half, and after this year we’ll have had six major national tours,” Cates said. “I have met a lot of great people who are working as hard as I am and believe in the project. “All the Pieces” is about everything coming together and all these wonderful people whose paths have collided to put us where we are now.”

That said, this is music I just want to blindly shake my booty to with a cute girl on a summer day, not contemplate the depth and meaning of the lyrics. If I had to criticize anything about this album it might be just that the music is too damn upbeat in contrast to the more serious lyrical ideas presented.

There is a decent variety of musical styles on this album, with songs ranging from the more solo singer/songwriter stuff to the full-band rock out jams. Lucas plays rhythm guitar and sings with a voice that is tonally rich and bold, on par with contemporaries in this genre like Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz.

“John Mayer, Dave Matthews, and Jack Johnson were all people I listened to growing up,” Cates said. “I hesitate to say that we sound like these bands. I have the utmost respect for John Maier as a musician, a singer and a songwriter. He’s probably my biggest influence, but I appreciate all good musicianship. Dave Matthews was a main influence when I started playing guitar in college. I like Jack Johnson and Willie Porter for their songwriting.”

“All the Pieces” was released in August 2008. The band has been touring since early September to promote the record and they will host a CD release party for the album on Saturday October 18th, 2008, at the Brink Lounge in Madison, WI (www.thebrinklounge.com).  There will be an “all ages” show from 9:00 to 10:30 followed by an “over 21 only” show from 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.

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Light Pollution - Light Pollution

Light Pollution - Light Pollution

Light Pollution

Album title: Light Pollution
By Dan Vierck
Posted: Sep 2008
Label:
(2237) Page Views

In the vein of Midwest post-indie folk groups, or rural musical collectives, Light Pollution is a welcome beacon in our coast-less sound scape. Melancholy but vibrant, exuberant without being lighthearted and legitimately captivating whilst dodging contrition and pretentiousness, this Chicago four-to-five piece hits like a major indie label heavyweight.

Despite transitioning band members and the death of their electric organ (as documented in the music video for “Firewood”), the band has maintained show dates and managed to put out a white-vinyl-and -download-only self-titled EP. Singer, guitarist, pianist, whatever-ist Jim Cicero is blunt about the band’s single-minded future, “Making the new record perfect [is the most important thing].”

The music is as smooth as sailing in a row boat with a choppy wind. The movement is rolling with the punctuation and sweet feel of lake spray against your exposed skin. With the horns and strings, the music swells in front of a steady bass drum and full guitar strumming with accentuating pops and rolls from the snares and cymbals. There are more layers than the band has musicians. The sound is robust, inviting and engaging.

As odd as it is sensible, Light Pollution owes a lot of its sound to 90’s post-hardcore groups like Rival Schools and Glassjaw, especially in the rhythm section. The odd hits and fills harken to a rawer time in underground music and the vocals harken that way as well. Cicero sounds like he’s indifferent to singing, but like it’s something deeper that he can’t control that’s driving him and coming out through his throat.

“These songs have more string and horn arrangements,” Cicero says about the EP, “and by recording on our own terms we allowed ourselves to experiment more, incorporating found sounds, dissonant piano rolls; noise in general.” Whatever you can find in any of their songs, it always has the building quality of a ghost howling behind you, chasing you up a flight of stairs that’s really a cliff - and that’s a good thing.

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Deadly Sins - Selling Our Weaknesses

Deadly Sins - Selling Our Weaknesses

Deadly Sins

Album title: Selling Our Weaknesses
By Dan Vierck
Posted: Sep 2008
Label: Dirty Mick Records
(2114) Page Views

Any mention of new-ish Boston punk rock outfit Deadly Sins and their full-length, “Selling Our Weaknesses” (Durty Mick, Sept. 2) will almost invariably be coupled with the information that lead singer Stephanie Dougherty was the woman who sang on Dropkick Murpheys’ “The Dirty Glass.” Here is no exception, though this marriage of information is misleading.

With Deadly Sins it’s a much more standard approach to modern east coast punk rock than the Murpheys. Both bands have that solid, unforgiving push to their music and the shouting over singing approach to vocals. Deadly Sins, however, takes advantage of Dougherty’s sultry vocals here and there by slowing down and letting her really sing; though there’s definitely a more raw than a refined, smooth and boozy sound.

The music itself comes closest to Alkaline Trio, but with more punch. The tight hooks are backed up with what sounds like a whole crowd yelling along behind the band. They do move around a bit more and try things out a little more liberally than most bands on their debuts, which keeps the album teetering and tottering throughout the listen. It’s refreshing to hear the difference between the straightforward opener “Grey Skies Turn” and the almost Blondie refrain of “Yard Sale,” but at the same time it keeps the record from maintaining any kind of engaging consistency.

This record has elements from every niche of contemporary rock and punk, appealingly arranged on top of each other, each given its moment in the sun throughout the spin. Mostly though, if it’s definitively one thing, it’s a solid Boston punk rock record.

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Black Sabbath - The Rules of Hell (Box Set)

Black Sabbath - The Rules of Hell (Box Set)

Black Sabbath

Album title: The Rules of Hell (Box Set)
By Jeff Muendel
Posted: Aug 2008
Label: Rhino Records
(2256) Page Views

There’s no denying the Ozzy-era Black Sabbath and that band’s groundbreaking sound. But, it is also undeniable that Ronnie James Dio saved Black Sabbath when he took over as vocalist in 1980. When founding members Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler chose Dio as their new vocalist, the group’s sound matured, and it gave Sabbath another two years of productiveness before the band spiraled into near obscurity as lineup change after lineup change gradually eroded away all identity. Though Dio’s time with the metal pioneers produced only two studio albums and one live release, those years added an unforgettable chapter in Black Sabbath’s history. In 1992, Dio rejoined Black Sabbath after a decade on his own to record an album called Dehumanizer. While the recording doesn’t capture the fire of the earlier releases, it nonetheless offers many fantastic cuts, and produced another tour wherein the older material could be performed again.

Rhino Records has now released a box set that includes all four of these recordings – Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules, Live Evil, and Dehumanizer – all recently remastered for the first time. The set comes packaged in a deluxe black (how much more black could it be?) slipcase with extensive liner notes featuring new interviews with the band members. This five-disc box set sounds great and looks as evil as it should. Heaven and Hell sounds more awesome than ever with the new mastering; Mob Rules retains its status as the most under-appreciated release of the entire Black Sabbath canon; and Live Evil offers up extended jams and alternative arrangements from both albums. If you like Dio or the Dio-era Black Sabbath, this box set is a must-have.

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