The number of CDs released in the Detroit area each month is staggering. It really is. So much so that it’s almost disturbing. And I know how musically literate this place is and all that. And I am, in fact, constantly astounded by its depth and wealth of musical history and blah, blah, blah, blah. But having said that, two questions inevitably arise when I hear many of the records that cross this desk. A) Where do these people come from? And B) Why should these people feel the need to be rewarded in any way, particularly cases where it sounds like they’ve waited so long to say something so dumb?
Never do we want to become so suspicious and cynical, so long past the point of losing a simple appreciation, where entropy must never encroach, that we crumble under the weight of mediocrity.
Still, half the time I can hear the ghost of Grandpa’s scorn shooting from the back of my head and burping from my mouth: “Ya call that music?!”
Anyway, here’s some we’ve received lately:
The record is called Alexithymia and it arrived from Melvindale. And I gotta admit, “Alexithymia” is one of those words I love to see on a record. You know, the kind of word that really gets all the kids jumping about and wanting to fuck shit up. What the hell does that word mean, you ask? Well, it’s a medical term that has something to do with being unable to recognize or describe one’s own emotions. What’s more, the last song on the disc is called “Aimyhtixela,” which, quite cleverly, is Alexithymia in reverse. Get it? Wow, these obvious cellar dwellers must be deep thinkers, manboys tall enough to recognize their own shortcomings and bang on and on about it in song. Here we have four Melvindale miserablists whose prog nü-metalist drama is as thick as its testicular goo, all set against a backdrop of blank, gray walls. Think James Taylor had he grown up on meth, worshiped Tool and Jonathan Davis’ whine, had a penchant for words like “catharsis,” “suicide,” “decay” and “twitching palms” and constructing highly complex songs with no verses, no choruses and no hooks. Watch for earthly domination soon, then. And visit www.22even.com.
Holy shit! A Book of Revelations nod right there in the album’s title! Auto Pilot is its own ministry! At first, I thought this was parody. Thought it had to be. In fact, I have never heard such ostentatiously grandiose themes attached to a guitar, bass, keyboard, vocal and drum racket in my entire life. Never. But this is as bad as it could possibly get. Here are 13 songs, running 64 painless minutes, sectioned off into three parts (Anima Humana, Anima Divina, and Anima Mundi), each dealing with the human soul, divine harmony and the hereafter, or some such shit. Worse, think of a band that apes a sound by that band discovered by that fatso Fred Durst. Direly tuneless recycled Staind melodia littered with goofy biblical and occult references, bees-in-a-bottle guitars, and hilarious “songs” like “Artificial InseminNation,” “Ballad of a Comatose,” and “Cancer Life.” Yeah! I shall hear frontman/wordsmith Kevin Covert yelping, “Forget I ever loved you,” as he does so aptly on “Lovesick Anthem,” well into the wee hours. Oh, Rick Wakeman, where the hell are you? Surf to www.autopilothq.com.
Kisses and Interrogation
First off, the arrangements are certainly wonderous — vibraphone, glockenspiel, pianos, trumpets, pedal steel mix with guitars, bass and drums — and the record demands real attention from the listener. In fact, there ain’t enough space here to attempt to dismantle the sonic layers. Bottom line is songwriter and singer Daniel Johnson may have a gift for heart-splintering songs, and a sweet vocal quiver, but there is at times something affected and meandering about the lyrics; sometimes you get the feeling that the melancholy is forced and faked. Extremes are trimmed; the joy doesn’t quite get high enough, the sadness not alluringly low enough. Still, heartbreakingly lovely turns abound. If you overlook silly Jungian subtext on “Signs Subliminal,” you can imagine your feet clinking wintry nighttime sidewalks, clouds shuttling from beneath the moon. “Vegas Revisted” is a clipped metaphorical charge through Las Vegas, full of glittery hope, topped with a soaring chorus that aches for a singalong. The Lennonesque “The Ruse” is a songwriting coup, complete with a lofty string part that manages to sidestep portentousness, lyrics about a quixotic love souring that, amazingly, are not wince-inducing, and a vocal that Jeff Buckley would have been proud of. In all, really good stuff. Visit www.judahjohnson.com.
A Little Pain Never Hurt
What’s best about Ann Arbor’s long-in-the-tooth songwriter Dick Siegel is the way he can turn a couplet. He can offer up lines like “first time I caught a glimpse of her skirt / I said to myself ‘a little pain never hurt’” and make them work. He can also string together worthy narratives about tumbling cowboys, colored wagons, salvaging rotten days, and drinking beer and getting to bang “The Captain’s Daughter.” Here, Siegel mines traditional folk, swing, bluegrass, country-western and applies it with aplomb to songs erected with fiddles, mandolins, steel guitars, accordions and bouzoukis. Recorded in Nashville, and co-produced by up-to-the-moment bluegrass linchpin Tim O’Brien, A Little Pain Never Hurt sometimes teeters on the pedestrian; but what’s apparent, and what makes it so damn listenable is the audible heart that thumps throughout. Surf to www.dicksiegel.com.Brian Smith is the Metro Times music editor. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org