Disc Reviews

by Max Ink Staff Writers


Droids Attack - Sci-Fi or Die

Droids Attack - Sci-Fi or Die

Droids Attack

Album title: Sci-Fi or Die
By Sal Serio
Posted: Mar 2016
Label: Riff Reaper Records
(2087) Page Views

Unearthed at last is the ultimate Droids Attack document. The talisman. In the long run, has the Droids sound changed much since their first 2004 CD? Not really, except it’s tighter and the vision is more fully realized. The meaty chord-driven locomotive zephyr thrust of sledgehammer metal-punk has simply zeroed in on the target with pinpoint accuracy, and the result is one of blissful head-banging wonderment.

Nailing the concept of uber-product is the physical presentation of this music. I can’t recall the last time I was this awestruck by a local band’s CD artwork, and overall conceptual statement. The combination of Eli Quinn’s Moebius-like illustrations with Brad Van’s graphic art skill equals pure genius. While listening, I can’t help but gaze at the CD itself to get the full effect, which is sort of like a science-fantasy graphic novel and ancient cultures history lesson all rolled up into one big ball-busting enchilada.

An auspicious local offering such as this needs a CD release event that resembles a ritualistic feast of alchemists, aliens, and perverse party-goers. It would also likely resemble the drop of a hydrogen bomb. Will we sci-fi… or die? Find out on Thursday, March 10, at the High Noon Saloon, when the Droids Attack festivities will be preceded by sonic statements from Attalla and The Gran Fury.

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The Coffin Daggers - Aggravatin’ Rhythms

The Coffin Daggers - Aggravatin’ Rhythms

The Coffin Daggers

Album title: Aggravatin’ Rhythms
By Sal Serio
Posted: Mar 2016
Label: Cleopatra Records
(1961) Page Views

I present to you the most happening soundtrack to the hippest parties across the nation! Reverb drenched, punchy and energetic, fun and frantic, pure honey-dripping rock and roll in it’s most undiluted essence. Beach blanket surf music with ample nods to sci-fi and western movie-themes, and the dance crazes that made the 60s so gloriously swinging.

The Coffin Daggers sound is highlighted by band leader Vic Venom’s driving guitar rhythms and crisp in-your-face soloing, as well as Rob Morrison’s organ, which has that retro sound like it must be a Farfisa. This is the third full-length release from the New York based group, but their first for a label with major distribution capacities. The Coffin Daggers also have a handful of 7” single releases to their credit.

What’s really exciting about this music is it’s immediacy. The album was recorded live in one room, with a minimum of overdubs, onto a 16 track analog tape machine. That approach is evident in the cohesion and urgency of the performances, and the organic sound of the recorded document. Trust me! You want this CD to play at your next cocktail party or clam bake!

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Haliwel - Pandemic

Haliwel - Pandemic

Haliwel

Album title: Pandemic
By Laura Sorensen
Posted: Feb 2016
Label: Burn United Records
(1557) Page Views

A new lead singer, a new CD, Haliwel is launching forward undaunted in their mission to bring some great new hard rock to their current and potential fans.  The release of “Pandemic” with Dax Roberts on lead vocals is a demonstration of the admirable talent and diversity of this group of musicians. Blending their instruments in perfect sync with each other and with Dax’s voice, using alternate styles of backup vocals to create various melodic effects for different songs, there is nothing but admiration for this five member hard rock band.  The theme of the CD varies from upbeat, inspirational tracks like the opening song “Firestarter” to no bullshit lyrics with “Truth Is” (you’re a bitch), to softer tracks like “Halo.” You have to really listen to the lyrics to understand the emotion behind each song. “Halo” may sound like a lighter, romantic tune but it really is about finding out someone has deceived you, “My little angel, gonna watch your little halo melt.”  “Sleepwalking” is a great tune with varied lead and backup vocal techniques.  Probably one of the band’s more popular tunes is “My Letter’ which again requires close attention to the lyrics to understand this is a person on the brink of suicide because “I can’t do anything right.”  Concluding with “Calloused,” the longest track on the album, you hear a combination of simple, melodic vocals, becoming more intense on the chorus, and an extended instrumental interlude with the guitars, bass and drums melding together as one fine instrument. 

Pandemic is not for the faint of heart, but for the passionate, the compassionate, and the true fan of what modern hard rock is supposed to sound like.

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Tortoise - The Catastrophist

Tortoise - The Catastrophist

Tortoise

Album title: The Catastrophist
By John Noyd
Posted: Feb 2016
Label: Thrill Jockey
(1932) Page Views

Chicago’s eclectic post-rock messengers celebrate twenty-five years cross-pollinating rock, jazz and electronics with an album both playful and challenging, methodical and improvisational. Fusing Krautrock precision with jazz-splattered visions, “Catastrophist,” swings from elusive grooves bursting with frenetic energy to contrapuntal onions peeled in myriad layers of reckless dialectics. A cerebral hodgepodge built from serpentine designs weaving symbiotic labyrinths, Tortoise’s first album in over six years confronts an ironic paradox where their past innovations have become widely-accepted conventions. Possibly in acknowledgment of their far-ranging influence, Tortoise invited Dead Rider’s Todd Rittman and Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley to contribute vocals to two tracks on the album. Still pushing the envelope, the rabid dabblers play Madison’s Majestic Theater March 10th with sublime folk-drone harmonium proponent Mind over Mirrors.

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Basia Bulat - Good Advice

Basia Bulat - Good Advice

Basia Bulat

Album title: Good Advice
By John Noyd
Posted: Feb 2016
Label: Secret City Records
(1841) Page Views

Trading in her auto-harp and acoustic guitar for an assortment of colorful keyboards, Bulat’s self-professed break-up album sounds more like a declaration of independence than an admission of defeat. Dynamic, resilient and unsparing in clear-eyed resolve, the Jim James produced, “Advice,” sheds regrets and pledges respect to forge an iron-clad happiness with forward-looking lyrics, decisive insights and muscular arrangements supporting the Canadian song-thrush’s warm vibrant voice. Shining an inviting light on turbulent times, Bulat’s rousing counsel seeks the personal in the universal, connecting common problems to self-empowering solutions with commanding stanzas, steadily catchy melodies and rock-solid backing from a talented battalion of musical troops. An enchanting performer, Basia plays Madison’s High Noon Saloon March 8th along with fellow Canadian songwriter Tamara Lindeman’s The Weather Station.

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Paul Filipowicz - Rough Neck Blues Live!

Paul Filipowicz - Rough Neck Blues Live!

Paul Filipowicz

Album title: Rough Neck Blues Live!
By Laura Sorensen
Posted: Feb 2016
Label: Big Jake Records
(1241) Page Views

Over thirty years of fronting a band, Paul Filipowicz knows how to sing the blues. Recorded live at the Knuckle Down Saloon in Madison, WI this live version CD combines heartfelt blues and swing music with interludes of rock instrumentals. Down and out lyrics such as “Life is a crapshoot” (Gambling Woman) and “Most dogs eat better than I do” (Most Dogs) reflect a more traditional true blues sound and attitude. “Most Dogs” uses a strong, steady toe tapping drum beat throughout the performance .  Then break out your dancing shoes and prepare to swing your partner to the snappy track “Junk In The Trunk” with an upbeat Boogie-woogie style broken up with more contemporary rock interludes. No matter what you’re looking for, you will experience a multitude of variations of blues tracks as you absorb the sometimes raspy, often gravelly vocals of Paul.  The four piece band utilizes a combination of instruments ranging from the obvious electric guitars and drum ensemble to a traditional blues instrument in the harmonica and a more unique inclusion of a harp. The final track ends on a jazzy note with extensive use of the harmonica and sums up the whole theme very appropriately with the track “’Where The Blues Comes From.”

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Renaldo And The Loaf - Behind Closed Curtains

Renaldo And The Loaf - Behind Closed Curtains

Renaldo And The Loaf

Album title: Behind Closed Curtains
By Sal Serio
Posted: Feb 2016
Label: Secret Records
(1977) Page Views

Hot on the heels of 2015’s vinyl debut of the live 1981 Snakefinger concert in Melbourne, comes another rarity finally seeing the phonograph light of day, thanks to Madison’s Secret Records. This time around, we are treated to the elusive, unreleased first album, by U.K. avant gardists, Renaldo And The Loaf.

Perhaps best known for their work on the Ralph Records label in the early 1980s, the creative forces of Brian Poole (“Renaldo”) and David Janssen (“Ted the Loaf”) are characterized by a desire to make synthesizer-type sounds by unconventional means. Often this meant tape loops and tape manipulation, back when that particular medium was still in its infancy.

‘Behind Closed Curtains’ was recorded in 1978, and was intended for release the following year under the band moniker Plimsollline. Shortly after, the group changed their name, and was picked up by the Ralph label after The Residents listened to a cassette dropped off at the San Francisco Ralph headquarters. Indeed, Residents weirdo attitude abounds here, in close proximity to a dreamlike style reminiscent of the ambient Eno albums. Or, you could say this music teleports you to the astral/aural equivalent of the Pee Wee’s Playhouse soundscape.

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Ches Smith - The Bell

Ches Smith - The Bell

Ches Smith

Album title: The Bell
By John Noyd
Posted: Jan 2016
Label: ECM
(1829) Page Views

A skittish persistence pitting meditative minimalism brimming in tentative collisions against fragile beauty infused with evaporating grooves, “The Bell,” plays with vacant space through mindful silence; dormant hand-crafted organics yielding a heightened sense of looming danger and eerie calm. Bringing a placid mastery to the sessions, pianist Craig Taborn, violist Mat Maneri and leader, composer, drummer and vibraphonist Ches Smith exude a stellar delicacy whose suspicious decisions erupt in sumptuous rumpus and cataclysmic synergy. A cinematic assault on the senses, each player’s shady chamber-jazz improvisations drizzle, dribble and sizzle in haunted autonomy to author an art-film murder mystery packed in intense suspense and peaceful release. Ches and company play February 21st at Madison’s intimate Gates of Heaven along with the Lundberg, Packard and Pireh Trio.

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Field Music - Commontime

Field Music - Commontime

Field Music

Album title: Commontime
By John Noyd
Posted: Jan 2016
Label: Memphis industries
(1641) Page Views

Layering sharp harmonic angles onto catapulted backbeats and chiffon-spawned symphonics, Britain’s funky wizards of precision cruise through air-tight flights guided by consummate falsettos swooping down on breathless connections for a romantic panic padded in fractured ballads and hip-swiveling talent. Dancing to glam-rock stalkers clocking prog-pop rockets, Field Music’s tangled tango of sleek, chic soul-trains built by hyper-punctual felines cranks out posh wind-up circus acts from daredevil diplomats practicing haughty clown-car choreography from poised high-wire pile-drivers. Injecting geometric soul into jigsaw juggernauts, deviously creamy sequences tread fine lines between splendid eloquence and whiplashed catchiness as the duo’s fifth full-length, “Commontime,” chimes in with foxy needles and pins whimsy balancing immaculate elastic abstractions beneath cheeky clichés stoning roaming metronomes with wicked glibness, tart smarts and crisp wit.

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The Drain - End Of The Drive

The Drain - End Of The Drive

The Drain

Album title: End Of The Drive
By Sal Serio
Posted: Dec 2015
Label: The Drain
(2373) Page Views

Uh-oh. The Drain. Here we go again! They still have that same late 70s/early 80s “Cure-meets-Buzzcocks-meets-Devo on the scruffy dance floor of a sweaty English pub” kind of attitude. Which is kind of rare in this day and age. I feel like I should be Dave Kendall or Kurt Loder writing this review! And, I want my mullet-mohawk back. Dammit.

Okay, sort of kidding, but sort of not. Considering how much fun we had pogoing and skanking around to the music of that era, I’m right bloody happy to hear it resurface in a shiny oxycleaned fresh-faced way. “Yes Mom, those ARE my friends, and I’m going out with them tonight, and there’s NOTHING you can do about it !!”

Remember the SNL where Richard Nixon (Dan Aykroyd) came up with his comeback slogan, “The New Dick – it’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s what everyone wants to see”!? Well, that’s this new Drain CD! Seriously! It’s the new dick. It’s short (8 songs, 29:07 TT), it’s sweet (every song a winner, and a lush wonderland of audio awesomeness thanks to Mark Whitcomb & DNA Music Labs), and I am here to tell you… to educate you, if you will… that this most assuredly is what everybody wants to see (and hear). C’mon! Let’s do “The Drain”, it’s the dance sensation that’s draining the nation!

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Leslie West - Soundcheck

Leslie West - Soundcheck

Leslie West

Album title: Soundcheck
By Sal Serio
Posted: Dec 2015
Label: Provogue
(2269) Page Views

Leslie West is a true survivor. He’s carried on throughout health woes, addiction, and decades of fluctuation in a fickle and often unforgiving music business. If his growling vocals and white hot power chords on the new ‘Soundcheck’ (his 16th solo album) sound like a man on a mission, I believe he is – a mission to get up in everybody’s face! To say, “I’m still here and I’m ready to kick some ass”, which is accomplished immediately upon pressing play.

While the rockers simply level buildings like a hurricane (“Here For The Party”, “Empty Promises/Nothing Sacred”), it’s some of the more subtle tracks where West’s signature guitar tone and vibrato shine the brightest. The blues take on Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” sends that song spiraling back through the decades, both reminiscent of something Robert Johnson would have written, and encapsulating the vibe of a composition that would not have been out of place on Leslie’s first album from 1969. The soft and somewhat mournful rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” is hauntingly beautiful, notable for West’s soulful vocal and slide work, complimented by Peter Frampton on guitar.

There are two songs that are commanding attention on this release, and it’s no wonder. West is joined by Queen guitarist Brian May, and vocalist Bonnie Bramlett, on a ruckus barn-burning run through the Don Nix (Freddie King) classic “Going Down”. The final chapter of this excellent ‘Soundcheck’ is a tribute to West’s former band mate, the late, great, Jack Bruce. This live version of “Spoonful” was recorded in 1988 but only just released now. You’ll swear you’re listening to Cream. Bruce’s vocal and Leslie’s howling leads will make your neck hairs stand up… and salute!

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The Heavy Set - Everybody’s Got A Mountain

The Heavy Set - Everybody’s Got A Mountain

The Heavy Set

Album title: Everybody’s Got A Mountain
By Sal Serio
Posted: Dec 2015
Label: The Heavy Set
(2760) Page Views

The irony of the Minneapolis group The Heavy Set is their name, insinuating something heavy, or possibly very funky. However, this is homespun music from the heart, often with an airy, lilting quality. Gentle yet commanding one’s undivided attention. Ample nods to the Allman Brothers/Widespread Panic style will keep the listening audience grooving along.

All songs written by vocalist/guitarist Jake Ilika provide an overall singer-songwriter feel, except with full backing band. Also present is a distinct “swing” to Zac Barbieur’s drumming, keeping perfect time but in an understated manner. Holding back a little so the open spaces in the music communicate as much as the parts played on.

“Getting’ Tired” finds instrumentation building to a climax, finishing with soaring slide guitar work. “Circling The Drain” and “Start Over” are in that airy realm, almost with a Lanois or early Mazzy Star type of expansive intuition. Closing my eyes, these moments transport my thoughts to the mountainous prairies of the American west where one can turn full circle and just see miles of untarnished natural beauty. Tasty blues saxophone care of Max Felsheim colors the song “Good Times”, and “Use These Blues” rolls in to Southern rock territory with a boogie rhythm, rollicking guitar runs, and a vocal chorus with a hint of gospel-blues influence.

The Heavy Set performs with the People Brothers Band and Frogleg, Friday, December 11, at the High Noon Saloon in Madison.

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