Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jet Black Crayon
In The Interim

Function 8 Records
CD & DVD set

Jet Black Crayon's In The Interim mixes the aural with the visual in this inspired dual-format release. Seven of the nine songs on the CD are represented by short films on the accompanying DVD, as produced by various independent filmmakers.

The band's instrumental music is minimalist and somewhat impressionistic, giving the listener just enough to get an emotional vibe. Nothing about it reaches out and grabs you, instead it drifts in and lingers in an atmospheric fashion, slowly creeping into your subconscious. The short films take advantage of this abstraction, with most of them avoiding a coherent narrative and depending instead on random imagery. The notable exception is the well-produced film by Dan Wolfe that is set to the song Lost In The Fog, where a repeatedly stolen bicycle is passed from thief to thief on city streets.

Taken as a whole, the album provides a multi-faceted view of Jet Black Crayon that reaches beyond the traditional approach and gives fans a complete musical experience that is rare and truly unique.

MISH MASH Mandate: The Bicycle Thieves
Function 8 Website

Friday, April 25, 2008


Rune Grammofon
11 song CD

Skyphone's Avellaneda quietly deconstructs and re-purposes various musical ideas before pasting them back together in a strange and wonderful sound collage. It's a subtle and unassuming folksy style that uses quirky rhythmic beats that cruise gently beneath light and atmospheric melodies to create a sound that is completely their own.

It's a sound that is wide open and airy, yet at the same time produces a pointed uneasiness that never quite lets you get comfortable while listening. It's challenging instead of relaxing, even though it rarely raises above a whisper. Truly a thought-provoking and completely abstract way of looking at music, all the while remaining accessible to the listener.

MISH MASH Mandate: Undertow
Skyphone Website
Avellaneda Order Page (US)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Louis Armstrong
Live In Australia 1964

Medici Arts/EuroArts
12 song DVD

Live In Australia captures a unique moment in the long and storied career of Louis Armstrong. In 1964, at the time of this recording, Armstrong was about to make a huge resurgence with his hit, Hello, Dolly!, a song that would challenge the Beatles for the top of the charts. But in this live concert in Australia, we get to see a pre-comeback Armstrong focusing on earlier tunes that were hit-makers a decade before.

In this filmed performance, Armstrong was in his element, playing songs and having fun in the process. It is obvious that his playing live was a labor of love, and at this point in his life he had fully embraced his position as one of the forefathers of jazz. At the same time, he accepted this honor with an air of humility, as he graciously shared the stage with his All Star band mates. Shining examples of this can be found in the piano solo performance of Perdido by Billy Kyle, along with the extended bass solo How High The Moon, by bassist Arvell Shaw. It's impressive to see a band leader of Armstrong's caliber allow a backing player to simply take over and have their own showcase right in the middle of a concert.

Highlights of the DVD include the aforementioned solos, a terrific take on High Society, along with the sultry swing of Did You Hear About Jerry, with the excellent and underrated Jewel Brown on vocals. This is a must-have addition to any Armstrong collection.

MISH MASH Mandate: Now You Has Jazz
Louis Armstrong Live In Australia 1964 @ Naxos

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Warner Brothers
11 song CD

I really hate to get negative on R.E.M. After all, they're one of the few bands I have consistently kept an eye on for the past 25 years. As the elder statesmen of indie rock, they've always been one of my favorites, throughout the thick and thin of their long career.

So what's the matter here? The whole idea behind Accelerate is that R.E.M. wanted to make a rock record. It's a bold and noble attempt, and the album is probably their best effort in the past decade. But, the main problem for me is that R.E.M. seems to be trying too hard to sound like a young and angry band, and they just barely get there. They're obviously not young anymore, and apparently that kind of teen angst is hard to come by for middle-aged rock stars. They actually come very close on the last two songs of the record, Horse To Water and I'm Gonna DJ, where the band finds the right amount of vinegar and piss to make a couple of down-and-dirty, gritty rock songs. If the whole album had this vibe, then I'd be singing a different tune. With that having been said, there are other good moments in the album, just not stunningly great ones. It's frustrating, because I would love to love this album. Perhaps I'm not being fair with my high expectations. Who knows?

If anything, there's promise and potential of a true classic album in the vein of Automatic For The People, but it just falls out of reach. All the ingredients are there, except for the youth and the angst. And wouldn't we all like to be young and angry again.

MISH MASH Mandate: Rapid Eye Movement
R.E.M. Website

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dave Dill
Follow The Summer

Pickled Sun Music
11 song CD

Dave Dill has his Beatles thinking-cap on tight. And while his music comes across with a definite Fab Four influence, the overall sound is actually more reminiscent of other power pop groups that also looked to the Beatles for inspiration; like The Move, ELO, Cheap Trick, and Jellyfish, just to name a few. Throw in a little Brian Wilson for good measure, and you've got the complete idea.

One of the more impressive aspects of Dill's album is the fact that he plays all the instruments and does all the producing. Not an easy feat when you're playing music that traditionally lends itself to a group mentality. Somehow Dill pulls it off brilliantly, and it certainly helps that his songs are catchy with memorable pop hooks. Speaking of which, three tunes here are co-written by Derek Holt of the Climax Blues Band, which adds even more hit-making flavor to the mix.

MISH MASH Mandate: Endless Summer
Dave Dill Website

Thursday, April 17, 2008

13 song CD


Ladytron is back, and they're picking right up where they left off with 2005's Witching Hour. Their upcoming album, Velocifero, continues further down many of the same musical paths as their previous album, venturing out to explore more dark, rock-based electronica that has a distinct classic Eurotrash vibe.

The group gets down to business with the driving, sharp rhythms of Black Cat, a song that has an 80s New Wave feel with heavy, layered synths and mechanical drum sounds. The track Runaway reminds me of The Pet Shop Boys with its matter-of-fact sterile pop delivery and catchy refrain, while Burning Up rages along with a nightmarish dance floor fever that aches with unbridled angst. Predict The Day strips down their sound into pure rhythm and melody, slamming you with beat after beat and a simple and infectious chorus.

Ladytron seems much more comfortable in their skin this time around, allowing their music to breathe and grow a little more. The innovation of Witching Hour has obviously lead to a desire to reach deeper into the musical discoveries they found last time around, and they are all the better for it. While this album doesn't grab you as quickly as their previous release, it has a staying power that keeps you coming back again and again for another listen.

MISH MASH Mandate: Electronica Exploration
Ladytron Website

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Marc Ribot
La Corde Perdue/
The Lost String

A Film by Anaïs Prosaïc

La Huit Films
DVD Documentary

This is a unique and offbeat French documentary about avant-garde guitarist Marc Ribot, and it's a film that bounces around in a limbo world very similar to the abstract music of its subject. Instead of the standard historical biography, we are thrown right into the world of Ribot, with smatterings of performance footage intercut with wistful and meandering commentary from the guitarist himself telling his own story, along with a few of his musical aquaintances. The DVD package is rounded out with five complete performances from Ribot as bonus features.

The subject matter drifts from his thoughts on and overall approach to music, and to the New York music scene where he lives and creates. There is no clear thought process at work here, but more of an almost impressionistic view of Ribot and his art, and his environment at large. It's more than a mere caricature, though, because it delves beyond the superficial and gets deeper into the soul of what music is, beyond what is popular and beyond what can be called a "genre". By the end, we see Ribot reaching for the pure essence of music in its most raw state, and it is an excursion well worth taking.

MISH MASH Mandate: Wistful & Weird Wanderings
The Lost String @ La Huit Website

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Students Of The Unusual
Giant Sized Music Special Number One

3 Boys Productions
Comic Book With 14 Song CD

Now here is something a little out of the ordinary to start out your spring. Students Of The Unusual is a self-proclaimed "Comic With An Edge", featuring whacked-out comic short horror stories by publisher Terry Cronin and others, with help from various comics artists in a wide variety of graphic styles.

The included CD stems from a contest that SotU posted on their MySpace page, inviting bands to re-interpret the comic's short stories through music. The bands on the disc run the gamut in genres, from rap to rock to cajun, with varying levels of production quality. Of course, given the nature of the project, the songs have sort of a "ya-had-to-be-there" vibe. You kind of have to be in on the joke when you're listening to songs about "Recalcitrant Jones & The Dead Beats" and the "Zombie Jamboree", or else you're going to be out of the loop. A few of the songs stand strong on their own, my favorite being Giant-Sized Extra Credit Special by The Impediments, a track that reminds me of the high-octane guitar rock of Five Eight.

Surely, this isn't for everyone, but if you're into weird horror comics with a sense of humor and music that does more of the same, then you're in for a treat.

MISH MASH Mandate: How Bizarre
Students Of The Unusual Website

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sahib Shihab And The Danish Radio Jazz Group
Oktav Music
9 song CD

It's always amazing to me when decades-old and virtually forgotten music gems seem to appear out of nowhere and leave me stunned and almost speechless. This release by Sahib Shihab had me taken aback at the first note and held me enraptured to the end.

The Danish Radio Jazz Group was a large jazz group formed in the early 1960s who played a live monthly broadcast in Copenhagen, and this set with multi-instrumentalist Sahib Shihab was recorded over a couple of sessions in 1965. This particular album reissue is welcomed by jazz lovers, as the original European release from 1965 has been sought after by collectors for years, and there's a good reason: The music is awe-inspiring, and the production quality is downright incredible.

The album begins with Di-Da, a bebop jazz tune that centers around a strolling, cool bassline and staccato horns that echo throughout the piece. From there, the band moves into the aggressive, driving sounds of Dance Of The Fakowees and Not Yet, then on to the bluesy ballad, Tenth Lament. The intro to Mai Ding is a long-winded cowbell solo by Shihab, which leads into the song's crazed rhythm lines and big, bold sax lines. Shihab takes to the flute on the sweet bop of Harvey's Tune, which is followed by the melodramatic and dynamic undertones of No Time For Cries. Next up, The Crosseyed Cat is quick and lively, with Shihab back on flute. The final cut of the album, Little French Girl, goes in a completely different direction, with Shihab providing crooning vocals in his best take on Sinatra.

This is a must have for modern jazz fans, especially those of music from the classic late 50s-to-early-60s era. It will certainly find a permanent spot in your listening rotation, have no doubt.

MISH MASH Mandate: Jazz Gem
Sahib Shihab And The Danish Radio Jazz Group Webpage

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Pom Poms
The Pom Poms
12 song CD

Understated, quiet, quirky, and dark, The Pom Poms present themselves to the world without much fanfare in this remarkable debut album. Conjuring up the melancholy spirit of Nick Drake, they skillfully combine it with the folk rock stylings of Iron & Wine.

The tunes are immediately catchy, each one coming across like a quiet little pop masterpiece that sneaks up on you. Singer/songwriter Rob Kuznia allows his voice to drift in on a smoky haze, keeping it soft and almost inaudible most of the time. Even when he brings up the volume, you feel like he's holding back, creating an inward tension that's almost tangible, an air of angst that belies the quiet exterior. All this anxiety creates the perfect storm in the track See More Things, where Kuznia's vocals ride the slow downward chord progression into woefully happy pop oblivion.

MISH MASH Mandate: Stormy Weather
The Pom Poms Website

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Tin Cup Serenade
Tin Cup Serenade

11 song CD

Take a trip back to the early 20th Century, put together some hot jazz and swing, throw in some bluesy rockabilly, and you'll have a fair representation of Tin Cup Serenade. Much in the quirky retro style of Squirrel Nut Zippers, the Tin Cups go into the Wayback Machine and update old-style jazz on their own terms.

Vocalist Rolf Wilkinson has the perfect voice for early jazz, quiet and understated, he tip-toes along lightly on top of the music without drawing too much attention to himself. This allows the music to breathe and move around in the open, and the end effect brings a charm that would be missing if the focus revolved solely around the singer. Instead, we get rewarded with great horn, piano and bass solos, putting a true-jazz stamp on what may have otherwise been a mere novelty act.

My favorite track is by far the original cut, This Rainy May, which could easily be a classic jazz standard if you didn't know any better. It's a light-hearted piece with a drip-drop beat where Wilkinson croons just above a whisper, and piano player Raynier Jacildo lays down the perfect piano solo for a rainy day.

MISH MASH Mandate: Singin' In The Rain
Tin Cup Serenade Website

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Victors
Days To Come

Follow Your Plan
12 song CD

The Victors have a no-nonsense approach that is one part classic rock and one part indie college rock, and it's a combination that works perfectly. The sound is steeped in their positively-charged native California-cool, with a touch of Southern sensibility that reminds me of early 80s Athens, GA.

While the band doesn't venture out too far into uncharted territory, they make up for it with skilled songwriting that's catchy and full of great pop hooks. It's the kind of album that sounds familiar at first listen, and ends up being the disc everyone wants to hear at the party. So turn it up and feel free to sing along.

MISH MASH Mandate: Pop Victory
The Victors Website

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Various Artists
Sonic Rebellion:
Alternative Classical Collection

16 song CD

While discussing music, when you hear the terms "rebellion" and "alternative", chances are that classical music doesn't immediately come to mind. Yet, when it comes to music of the past century that truly pushes the envelope, "alternative" classical should be at the top of the list.

The Naxos label has come up with a clever way to get your feet wet with the avant-garde of contemporary classical music, bringing together 16 works on one sampler disc at a very reasonable price. Naxos has also done a great job of marketing their alt classical catalog, by placing various releases under the Sonic Rebellion umbrella, and promoting them with traditional underground rock paraphernalia like t-shirts, buttons and stickers.

The artists included on the compilation run the gamut from the minimalism of Philip Glass to the atonal edginess of Krzysztof Penderecki. Some of the more interesting tracks include Giancinto Scelsi's Quattro pezzi per orchestra, a dynamic piece built around one single note being played by different instruments, George Crumb's startlingly dark and creepy Songs, Drones, and Refrains Of Death (1962-68) Death Drone II, and the pulsating and bouncing sounds of John Adams' Shaker Loops: A Final Shaking.

If you're looking for something adventurous and way out of the mainstream, this Sonic Rebellion collection is a great place to start. Chances are, you'll get out on the edge and find something to fall in love with. You rebel, you.

MISH MASH Mandate: Rebel Yell
Sonic Rebellion @ Naxos Direct