Thursday, October 16, 2008


Focalt's piano-driven melodies seek to produce a cross between the sentimental proficiency inherent in the romantic era of classical music with the syncopated, thoroughly upbeat fun of ragtime. An intriguing concept in the hands of a competent pianist, Focalt instead fumbles the transitions between the two widely different schools, producing an auditory train wreck in the process. The music wrought forth into an uncomprehending world makes substantial demands upon the listener, demands few are willing to yield to since the results are almost unlistenable at certain sections.

Splitting time between a grand piano and a honky-tonk upright, Focalt sits astride a specially designed stool which allows him the ability to slide dramatically back and forth between both instruments. A clever bit of stagecraft, it still doesn't redeem a bad idea or major musical incompetence. Smoke and mirrors are Focalt's trade and in that respect, at least, he doesn't disappoint.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Jaimie James

The latest pop princess for the 'tween set, Jaimie James possesses good looks and absolutely no vocal range. In that regard she's just the latest in a very long line. Fortunately, computers can remedy the latter, though doing so is quite an effort and the label has to pay top dollar for the absolute best studio wizards. Though the technology has come along quite a lot in the years, sometimes James' singing voice sounds so processed that it seems she is singing underwater or in a cave.

James' voice is so bad, in fact, that she never even once risks singing live, relying instead on pre-recorded backing tracks. That phenomenon in itself isn't terribly uncommon these days, except that in most instances the backing band is highly proficient while the lead singer is not. James' musicians mime in front of the camera the same way their lead singer does, meaning that the entire performance is about as real as a three dollar bill. Or the Monkees.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bovine Einstein

The smartest cow in the herd is still just a cow.

Fear of Heights

Simultaneously silly and tremendously irritating, Fear of Heights rose to minor stardom on the strength of an out-of-left field hit that somehow struck a chord with the buying public and produced a Top 40 hit. Sometimes record companies can successfully hype an album or a single enough that it attracts the attention of a few influential critics, who by granting their approval, will single-handedly ensure for the lucky group a certain amount of commercial success by default. The label put money in the hands of enough king-makers to give Fear of Heights a notable critical reception at least for its debt album.

Milking the new wave formula of jittery, jerky tempos and distinctive, albeit out of tune lead vocals they sound exactly like the Talking Heads. No one is sure whether this was a strategic move to copy David Byrne's formula or merely a decision made due to the band's inability to formulate its own unique sound. The music press has been known to fawn over certain bands, often coming across as nonsensical and downright sycophantic in its rationale for lavishing this degree of adoration. Fear of Heights remain a critic's darling, though many observers fail to understand why.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Underground hip-hop finds many fans among hipsters and college radio station listeners, particularly due to the fact that practitioners of the genre creatively pinch samples from almost every available source. Part of the fun as a listener comes in guessing exactly where the artist or group got their beats and samples. Saginaw try to work within the tradition, but aren't particularly gifted in the art of keeping a steady beat, nor in locating interesting audio source material. Since those two elements are essential components, the group is little more than a failure.

Supremely lazy might describe Saginaw's attitude towards hip-hop. Far more interested in smoking pot and playing video games, music for them is almost an afterthought and a discipline that is put together sloppily and without much preparation. Both are a recipe for disaster and it shows in how little airplay the group receives. Feeling that fame is their right, they loudly blame everyone but themselves and gripe to anyone who is willing to listen. Few care enough to grant them even that.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Hardcore groups have always been typified by a combination of amplified sludge, sonic assault, and throatily demonic screaming. Luciferous, to put it mildly, overdo the formula. Believing that bombastic is best and titanic is better, four singers simultaneously screech away in performance like electrocuted cats, strumming madly and utterly chaotically upon guitars amplified loud enough to cause instant hearing loss. The result sounds not unlike an explosion in a fireworks factory. The average lay person would find Luciferous substandard and mediocre, particularly if he or she were not a hardcore music fan.

However, a devoted cadre of hardcore fans show up to their shows, acknowledging that they really don't want to hear anything particularly novel. They want a kind of adrenalin consistency and cathartic opportunity and if this means that every single band sounds the same, then so be it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Politician's Progress

Barry Soniat came to public attention as a perpetual third party candidate, one whose populist rantings and proposed radical reforms were frequently discredited by the media but who, in spite of it all was beloved by an adoring fan base. Running a inevitably distant fifth place ever November, even coming in behind the Communist party's candidate for the highest office in the land, Soniat nevertheless, year in and year out collected the necessary signatures to place him on the ballot in every state in the land. Among a large slice of the electorate he was considered a bit of a bore and a consumate perennial loser, each time running a highly tasteful, but thoroughly bland campaign.

That was, of course, until after conceding in what he informed the press would be his last Presidential contest, he then decided to record an album of alternative rock standards. The first rule to be considered when recording an album of covers is: is this necessary? In the hands of a person with some degree of talent, yes. Soniat's quavery baritone is suspect enough, but the session musicians backing him play sloppily, both poorly rehearsed and not at all in synch with each other. Part of the reason why many have been hesitant to cover the alternative rock breakthroughs of the early 90's is that the personality and craft of each band in the era is so uniquely distinct and difficult to emulate competently. Slaughtering sacred cows by the bushel, Soniat manages to mangle every single song he records, turning him from a political curiosity in the media to the punchline of a huge joke. In ten years, the album he recorded might be a cult sensation, specifically due to how awful it is, but for the time being, he's an tremendously easy target of scorn and ridicule.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


The Italian composer Pangloni is a bit of an acquired taste---considered by many to be mentally unhinged. This reputation stems from the fact that he once created an entire symphony based on shattering, mutilating, or otherwise destroying a series of small glass objects in sequence. Several musicians refuse to perform these acts for fear of severely cutting themselves in the process. The public finds his radical concepts intriguing but often fail to show up for their performances. The New York Times at least bothers to review the piece for their Sunday supplement, though the comments made to describe the event are hardly encouraging nor particularly favorable.

Even more salacious and unpopular was Pangloni's series of piano etudes, each requiring a performer to file and hack away at the heavy wire of the instrument, producing an abrasive, annoying sound that sounds not unlike fingers on a chalk board. As theoretical constructs, the conductor's ideas are fascinating. As effective performances, however, they are utterly disastrous. Pagloni will always remain a curiosity, but will toil in obscurity for the remainder of his days.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cancerous Foreskin

You don't need to actually be a child, just have the mind of a child.


A rain stick, a wooden recorder, and a set of bongos. That is all. It is enough to hold the attention of the dreadlock wearing, soy milk drinking, thrift store frequenting, Wal-Mart hating, tastefully tattooed, and generally socially conscious set. Apparently it doesn't take much to hold their attention which means that their target audience either have not much in the way of discerning taste or are too frequently intoxicated to know the difference.

Mystikal don't have scheduled gigs, so to speak. Their performances are more like happenings. Or if, say, they happen to show up at the same time on Saturday afternoons in the park to participate in drum circles. This was how the group members met, all smoking cigarettes at a break in the action, pushed over to the side of the park, whereby they struck up a conversation and realized they had enough in common to justify starting a band. Since no member of the group has a strong voice, they instead resort to wordless chanting, which is an interesting effect to hear for a time, but is fairly limited in scope due to vocal limitations and an overall lack of creativity.

Mystial are background music for people to frolic and play hacky-sack. No more. No less.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Urban Legend

A Chicago-based foursome far more infamous for the off-stage exploits of its members than its musical performances. Urban Legend prove to have a skill for the sensationalist sound-byte, even the veracity of what they say is frequently called into question.

The female lead singer, for example, was nearly killed by spider bites. It seems her elaborate hairdo fostered a large nest of the insects. The bassist claims to have seen Bigfoot. The rhythm guitarist/pianist actually hails from Nigerian royalty in dire need of anonymous internet donations. The lead guitarist, a recovering Catholic, insists in interviews that the Vatican owns the world's largest collection of pornography. Lastly, the drummer sets forth a plea, imploring that as many people possible should sign a petition, else Jesus be portrayed as a homosexual in a forthcoming Hollywood film.

If Urban Legend are to make it, people must buy their albums. If the public does not, the economy will fall to shambles, Neptune will stop revolving around the sun, and computers will become infected with a horrible e-mail based virus.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


While in college, the trio known as Neurosis bonded over shared emotional problems. High-strung and nervous, the band is notoriously media-shy and simply refuses to grant interviews altogether. Shunning media attention is usually the quickest path to obscurity and poverty, but Neurosis cares little for the limelight. They'd rather not be known much at all, really, which runs in severe contrast to most rock groups, who resort to at times desperate measures in an effort to be noticed.

Neurosis make for an interesting spectacle during live performances---all so clearly uncomfortable with themselves in a public setting that they trip over words, mangle guitar solos, and often times play out of synch with each other. One of the lead singer's more pronounced nervous tics occurs when he winds the microphone around and around his neck as the course of the show progresses, making many afraid he will unintentionally, eventually strangle himself. The lead guitarist insists upon three do-overs per song, which quickly grows tedious for the audience when forced to listen to a series of false starts in sequence. The bassist's singing voice begins quavery and flat, then quickly grows inaudible, as a case of severe performance anxiety arrives and grows more pronounced with every passing minute.