Welcome to this week's Indie Round-Up. Here in New York City we're facing the threat of a transit strike, which feels like a mini-apocalypse in the making. So Aaron McMullen's gritty urban folk music is fitting. Jay Mankita's gentler songs are a balm. And Panic Division - well, the name feels just about right for this moment in this place. Read on.
Panic Division, Versus
This is corporate noise-pop at pretty close to its worst. Polished, professional, and forgettable, its headbanging rhythms, frantic power chords and circular melodies add up to empty grandiosity. Here and there, as in "Paradise" with its skewed beat and U2-borrowed melody, and in the moody "Little Child," Panic Division comes up with something slightly more interesting to listen to, but even those bits are too derivative to say anything even slightly important. We heard early U2 back in the days of early U2; a faster version of Flock of Seagulls isn't going to turn anyone's world upside down either. These guys should be doing something more original with their musical talents.
Jay Mankita, Morning Face
Last time we covered Jay Mankita's lighter-side CD. Today we discuss his more serious recent recording, Morning Face, which shows off his quirky, jazzy-bluesy songs, deft acoustic guitar work, and subtle take on the human condition. Everything Mankita does here is understated, and the more effective thereby. Graham Nash and early Simon and Garfunkel come to mind, but Mankita has a bluesier style than most guitar-folkies.
Songs like "Shadow" reflect his facility with children's music, but it's no kids' song: "Shadow, shadow, you already know/You shadow of my former self, you've got to let me go." The title track has a lilting, playful melody too, but there's an adult sadness to the lyrics: "I bring to you my morning face, my morning face/My face before the thoughts rush in, before the waters of the flood rush in." This is an evocation of childlike simplicity by a wistful adult mind that can't quite recreate it.
Can't always, anyway. Children and adults would both enjoy the delightful "Bread Alone" and "Rain Rain." The latter unifies nature and humanity by calling on rain to "bring us life again," wind to blow down "the foolish houes I build if they won't bend," and a ray of sunlight to "melt away the icy words I spoke to you today."