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INDIE ROUND-UP for June 2 2005

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Although rap and electronica are not my usual beat, I think I manage to explain why I like the selections below. In between, you’ll find a self-described “bunch of average middle-aged people” who call themselves Key Lime Pie. Next to strawberry-rhubarb, that’s my favorite kind of pie, so they have much to live up to. Read on to see whether I liked the band as much as the dessert. Without further ado, here is the

INDIE ROUND-UP for June 2 2005

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Bludshot, Another Day

An alien who visited Earth and listened only to rap music might be forgiven for thinking that when humans indulge in drugs, sex, self-aggrandizement and foul language – or even just having a good time – they must also hurt or insult others. Fortunately there are talented artists like Bludshot (Shawn Tierney) who can rhyme about both hard times and the good life while casting a critical eye on themselves.

The story of redemption after hitting bottom that Bludshot tells in “Sunshine” is as affecting as the verbal acrobatics of “Fly Away” are technically impressive. “The Smoke Out” is a romantic number featuring the hilariously named producer Dragonfly Pympwell, who sounds like Barry White and is the musical mastermind behind most of these tracks. Bludshot has a lot of songs about anger and lust, but his jibes at himself undercut the objectivization of women in which he keeps threatening to indulge. He’s the guy who’s just trying to make his way in the world. For example, it’s not totally clear who the “hateful bitches” in “You Don’t Know Me” are, but it sounds like he’s got a legitimate complaint against them. Or he’s the half-nervous, half-confident would-be romancer, like the smitten barhound in “Chica Bonita” who never actually makes his move: “I’m assuming when she’s done grooming she’ll be back/To the spot at the bar where she left her drink at/So I’ll just hang low and guzzle some beer/And hope that when I see her my A game will appear.” And in “Bad Blud” he acknowledges that the use of alcohol and drugs comes out of weakness, while “Sunshine” is a rueful look back at the gangsta lifestyle.

The climax of the CD is the gripping “Welcome To My World” where guest vocalist Gina Mohammed chimes the chorus: “Welcome to my world/The place of the unforgiven/You don’t want to stay too long/With the way that I’ve been living.” In this as in most of the tracks, Pympwell has an excellent ear for creating just the right musical track for the story being told.

Just once, I think, Bludshot mentions the fact that he is white. It doesn’t seem to matter in these songs. I suppose we have Eminem to thank for the ability of a rapper like Bludshot to have legitimacy and a fair chance of major success. He definitely has the needed talent. He’s neither as angry nor as funny as Eminen, but he makes his own strong statement on this very good album.

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Key Lime Pie, Must Be The Moonlight

Some bands make it as easy for the reviewer as it is on the listener. “Nothing controversial here,” says Key Lime Pie’s promotional card, “just good safe music.” That sounds like something I’d say, not the band. My job’s half done.

Safe music runs the risk of being bland, and Key Lime Pie only partially avoids this trap. Their songs are a trifle formulaic, but their mix of Southern rock and New Orleans funk delivers the promised good-time, easygoing listen. Don’t forget, the vast majority of bands you’ll see playing this sort of music at the poolside bar this summer will not be doing original songs. I’ll take Key Lime Pie over ten classic rock cover bands.

A few songs stand out. The title track showcases the band’s wonderful harmonies and laid-back groove. Aiko-Aiko and Nashville-boogie elements make up “Graceful Lady.” The Santana crib “Burnin’ Slow” goes down smoothly.

“New Boston” is funky but forgettable. The harmonies in the percussion-driven “Dreamin'” suggests Godchaux-era Grateful Dead minus the druggie haze, but there’s not much to the actual song, and blandness creeps into the ballad “Widow’s Walk,” which doesn’t succeed in creating the atmosphere it intends – it’s not a strong song to begin with, and the female lead vocals are just too undistinguished to make anything more out of it. The energy picks up again with the jazzy instrumental jam “Somewhere, Nowhere” (which recalls the band Chicago), the Jimmy Buffett-inspired “Blink of an Eye,” and the tasty “Cadillac Blues.”

It strikes me that this is probably a band best seen live. The CD is well-made, the musicianship is top-notch, and the songs make up in good-time potential what they lack in originality.

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Pleqq, Psychoanarchitecture

Electronica CDs can be hard to review. Many of them share a limited palette of standard beats; what distinguishes one artist (and one track) from another, mostly, is the quality and composition of the soundscapes built over the beats, and often the most one can say about those is either “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” But when electronica starts to make me feel inadequate as a writer I just look at the artists’ attempts to verbally describe their own music and I realize they can’t do it either, and then I feel better. Pleqq’s website, for example, has this to say about his new CD:

The tracks on Psychoanarchitecture unearth the fervid culmination from layers beneath. Defying conventional categorization, pleqq bridges a multiform musical extraction with the visceral and textural elements of electronica’s calculated freedom.

What charming gobbledegook. Here’s how I’d describe the album: choppy, urgent but lighthearted beats, pop and R&B-derived chord changes, and retro analog-style synth sounds (which I’m a fan of because I come from the pre-sampler age myself). The swelling cascades of “Chrome Cake” and “Psychotropical,” for example, hark back to Vangelis’s Spiral album, while “Leisure Loot” sounds vaguely like a cubist Michael Jackson track. I also particularly like “Squid Pulp” which sounds more like broken machines being shaken around inside a metal box than any kind of seafood, and “Travelog” has amusing, boppy melodies, like Kraftwerk on nitrous.

This is not the most original electronica you can find, but I liked it.

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r-H, Blackasia Volume 1

Here’s an electronica CD with a more international pedigree and a wider variety of beats. r-H (Rajesh Hardwani) uses Indian instruments and chants, both to form some of the beats and to spice up the flavors. There are jazzy horns in “Salvation Man,” Japanese themes in “Sushi,” traditional Chinese stringed instruments, interludes built around various found sounds (“Hong Kong Terminal,” “Chinese Medicine Hall”), and other interesting stuff, some set to clubby dance rhythms, some with more subtle and naturalistic percussion, all of it good. This CD repays multiple listens.

Buy it through the artist’s website or from CD Baby.

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IN THE NEWS…

Item! The two new Gentle Giant reissues, reviewed here and here, are now available at Amazon.com.

Item! This month, Whisperado (that’s my band) begins its first studio recording, at Rivington 66 Studios, New York City.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.