Music Reviews

Artist: White Shadow (@)
Title: The Wastelands
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
White Shadow is a band from Baltimore MD that began in 2006 and 'The Wastelands' is their third album. The music is pretty much straight-ahead Goth-Industrial rock with metal and punk flavoring. The band (on this album) consists of DX Nero (vocals, programming); Sinnocent (vocals, live percussion); Crawford (bass); Nytro (guitar) and Wahkeen (keyboards). You may notice there is no drummer credited. That's because they don't have one, at least a human one. Sort of a Sisters of Mercy 'Dr. Avalanche' kind of thing.

The album opens with a brief, dark ambient instrumental mood-setter with robotic vocoder welcoming you to 'The Wastelands', then charges ahead fast and furious with 'The Tide Within'. This rabble-rouser could easily fit on a various artists Goth-Industrial compilation and although it might be the best song on this album, it probably wouldn't be the best song on the compilation. DX's vocals are appropriately punky for this old-school barn-burner. Sinnocent takes the lead for the next track ('Treason') and her vocals remind me a bit of The Azoic's Kristy Venrick. The lyrics are part sung, part spoken. The sung parts reminds of the old adage ' 'Wednesday's child is full of woe,' while the spoken parts are woefully understated with a lack of force and conviction. You really need some hyper manic energy and attitude (verging on screaming) ala Tairrie B (My Ruin) to pull this kind of thing off. It would have been an interesting contrast that might have lifted the song out of the mundane. The musical power is there, but vocal oomph is lacking.

'Burn Baby' hands the lead vocals back to DX while Sinnocent takes a supporting role. Pretty standard Goth-Industrial stuff with some nice chime accents. In 'Crashing Down' DX and Sinnocent share vocal duties and it has a bit of a Sisters of Mercy feel, very old school Goth. What I notice myself liking more than most anything else are some of the sampled industrial loops and keyboard bits that add a little atmosphere. More shared vocals between DX and Sinnocent follow on most of the next tracks, but the songwriting is beginning to grow stale like a loaf of five-day old bread.

'Cutthroat' features a dynamic Nytro guitar riff but the vocals don't do it justice as they are more spoken than sung. Not enough power here. The rest of the songs don't get any better. The song, 'A Sea of Mistakes' is aptly named, and might have more suited to the album title. The final track ' 'The Things I've Forgotten,' a moody instrumental, I actually liked.

I think White Shadow needs to step up their game to get beyond the local level if 'The Wastelands' is any indication. The vocals are a problem; they're kind of boring after a couple of songs and don't make this band stand out. The drum programming isn't bad, but a good human drummer might add some energy. I don't know about the band name though. Makes me think of Ken Howard and a black high school basketball team.
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Artist: Robot Koch
Title: Songs For Trees And Cyborgs
Format: CD
Label: Project:Mooncircle
This is a really busy year for Robot Koch which after the Jahcoozi album and his E.P. is now delivering his second solo album titled SONGS FOR TREES AND CYBORGS. The title already explain a little what you'll find on this CD/2LP release that will be out the first of October: if Jacoozi's "Barefoot wanderer" was indicating the will to find a way of getting in touch again with mother nature, on this album the trees of the title are meaning the same, so, here you'll find some of Jacoozi's atmospheres mixed with hip hop, grime, jazz and world atmospheres. It's like that the cyborgs of the title are willing to get in touch with mother earth really... For this adventure, Robot shared the mixer with Boxcutter on "Cloud City", Doshy on "Powerstrip 66", Protable Morla on "Verbal Bruises", Graciela Maria on "Brujeria", 1000 Names on "Haunted Landscapes" and RQM on "Summer Snow". If you love lushy atmospheres with a rich sound palette (samples, jazzy and hip hop vocals, tons of world/grime/dub rhythms) here you'll find your cup of tea, otherwise, check the excerpts first because this one doesn't sound like his first album...
Artist: Echo Us
Title: Tomorrow Will Tell The Story
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Absolute Probability Records
TOMORROW WILL TELL THE STORY is the third album of Ethan Matthews's creature called Echo Us. Ideally it continues the story started with their previous album "The Tide Decides" released the last year by Musea Records. For this release, Ethan is helped out by a number of guest musicians: the Grammy nominated vocalist Henta, the harpist Raelyn Olson, Rawn Clark (who performed a Kabbalistic 'canticle') and harmonium player Daniel Panasenko. TOMORROW WILL TELL THE STORY musically is a mix of progressive music, new wave and ambient where luscious atmospheres are enriched by chants, guitar solos and passionate vocal performances. Sometimes it recalled me a sort of mix of Peter Gabriel meets Rain Tree Crow (do you remember the reunion Japan did under that moniker?) with contributes of Adrian Belew's guitar. For my tastes there is too much use of world/fairy atmospheres but the whole album has a great sound and if you love dreamy/dramatic atmospheres performed with the heart in the hands, for sure you can check this out. At the moment is out as digital download but soon it will available as CD.
Artist: John Zorn
Title: In Search of the Miraculous
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
Distributor: Tzadik, Amazon, iTunes
Rated: *****
First off, I'm going to avoid the good/bad or thumbs up/down review format here. After spinning even the first few minutes of this disc, I immediately sense the departed sound that Zorn is working towards. This is not Naked City or yet another sax freakout. But by way of hypnotic rhythms, dramatic and sublime harmonies and lovely jazz textures, Zorn pulls a beautiful white dove out of a hat here. Or maybe it's a blue flamingo.

'In Search of the Miraculous' falls somewhere inside the realm of jazz and minimalist contemporary classical music. Performed by the Alhambra Trio with special guests Kenny Wolleen on vibes and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on bass, Zorn takes credit for composing, arranging, and conducting. The tunes are memorable and nigh catchy at times, not unlike a Vince Guaraldi tune, but with Reich inspired rhythms (!). Hymn for a New Millenium sounds optimistic and the melodies in Postlude: Prayers and Enchantment are almost hummable. Zorn, hummable? Why not?

One thing is for certain about Zorn and I think this is relevant to understanding this release. Zorn is an artist who can't be easily pegged because (as it would seem) even he doesn't know what his next few moves will be. Its like he wants to undermine even himself. So, to bring your Zorn-brand luggage to this musical occasion may not actually be beneficial as approaching it without any expectations.

And with such unpredictability, even Zorn's biggest fans have albums they deplore. While this may seem like an artistic shortcoming to some folks, i see this as a sign of artistic awareness - perhaps moreso on the part of the composer than with the listeners. After so many years on the downtown music circuit, he's done it all. So it's great to see an artist who continues to break his own mold time and again. That said, this is one album to just throw on, kick back and enjoy the musicianship.

I hear it often that Zorn is becoming more listener friendly, perhaps appealing to a larger crowd, albeit unintentionally. I can imagine folks - the diehard Zorn heads - are not going to find this one up their alley. Especially considering that at the end of the day and away from the program notes here, the music on 'In Search of the Miraculous' is far from mysterious as the label tagline states. But that said, it's as bright and promising as the horizon Zorn is dawning for new music as a whole. Recommended to the more daring and openminded Zorn listeners out there as well as any newcomers who are interested in joining the party.
Artist: Tribal Machine (@)
Title: The Orwellian Night
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Distributor: Amazon
Rated: *****
Here I am with a brand new batch of CDs to review and first up is Tribal Machine from Victoria, British Columbia (Canada, for those who really suck at geography) with their new album 'The Orwellian Night'. I will give these guys extra credit for including an elaborate presskit even before reviewing the album. Like many artists I whose albums I get to review, I never heard of these guys before now. 'The Orwellian Night' is their 3rd album, and a concept album at that. As you may have guessed from the title, inspired by George Orwell's '1984' ' a dystopian future kind of thing, but instead of an Oligarchy, it's an oppressive Corporatocracy. Sound familiar? Yep, we're already heading in that direction.

The main man behind the music is Sever Bonny (vocals, keys, additional guitar), with support by Brian Hartlen (lead guitar); Brad Wutke (bass); Dustin Fleming (drums) and Paul Abrahamse (guitar intro on one song). Also, Sever tells us that Aslan (ex-Birthday Massacre bass player) has recently joined Tribal Machine. The album was mastered by Tom Baker whose credential include Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson'¦nice if you can afford it'¦guess that's why the sound quality is so good. But what about the music?

'The Orwellian Night' sounds like a hybrid of progressive and industrial rock, an interesting concept in itself that you don't hear a lot of groups attempting to this degree. Mr. Bonny's highly stylized and often theatrical vocals aren't what you'd expect from industrial rock but aren't far afield from progressive art-rock. It may take some getting used to, but overall is fairly rewarding. The music is an amalgam of many influences, both prog and industrial and to dissect them would be a disservice to Tribal Machine; although citing certain elements might be helpful to give an idea of what you can expect.

Before I do that though, I should say that I believe concept albums are terribly difficult to pull off from any kind of commercial standpoint. For every successful one, there are ten or more failures. Even the big names aren't immune (to wit, Nine Inch Nails' YEAR ZERO; Godley & Crème's CONSEQUENCES; Meatloaf's BAT OUT OF HELL II & III; Pete Townsend's IRON MAN and PSYCHODERELICT; ALICE COOPER GOES TO HELL, etc.). Concept albums that have been successful over the years like Pink Floyd's THE WALL and DARK SIDE OF THE MOON; The Who's TOMMY and QUADROPHENIA; Jethro Tull's THICK AS A BRICK; THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL by Nine Inch Nails; LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY by Genesis; Meatloaf's BAT OUT OF HELL; Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT, Bowie's ZIGGY STARDUST among numerous others have had at least one great song on them (that commercial hit), and in some cases, more than one. Still, in order to make the 'concept' work, by necessity there have to be songs that are more important to maintaining the theme than contrived commercial 'hits'. Striking a balance is the tricky part; you don't want to end up with a 'Mr Roboto' on your hands.

If anything, 'The Orwellian Night' definitely has its memorable parts while remaining faithful to its theme. There is 'The Infiltrator,' with its alternately frenetic, then measured pacing, distinctive vocal line and lyrics, and chaotic industrial interludes; The Arrest' with its 60's garage-rock meets Flying Lizards verses and contrasting Gary Numanesque chorus; the buzzer-beat beginning and woozy-bluesy fatalism of 'Across the Land' with its salient chorus; the beat-heavy 'Eye Spy' and appropriately manic and demented vocals; the from a whispery ballad to bombastic lunacy of 'Mr. Corporation,' ever so much like Roger Waters; the NIN-like power riff and bassline of 'Indoctrination'; 'Burn' ' with a galloping pace reminiscent of early Genesis; the poignant sadness and drama of 'The Factory,' and the Eastern tinged instrumental 'The Journey'.

This is an album that takes time to get into. You may not even like it at first. (It took me about five listenings to really appreciate it.) While I don't hear any big hits (probably not what Tribal Machine intended anyway), and there are some things on it I still don't care for, there is enough good material on 'The Orwellian Night' to make it worth checking out. The lyrics seem a bit awkward in spots, a few songs lack some pizzazz, but overall this is a pretty good album. Only the music buying public can determine whether this album will be an underground classic or fade into obscurity. For Tribal Machine's sake, I hope it is the former rather than the later, as adventurous albums like this don't come along all that often.
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