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Local Yodels

The mountain of local releases that needs reviewing is slightly diminished after last week's column. But continuing the quest to cover all things local, here's another smattering.

Brethren Fast visits and revisits themes of gear revvin', truck lovin' and beer swillin' on 500 Laps of Beer Drinkin' Fun, the band's third CD. But that doesn't mean the music on this fourteen-song disc is limited to the roots or rockabilly sound often associated with the brothers Messina, guitarist/vocalist Don and bassist Mik. In fact, the styles here sample everything from jazz and subtle ska to good old-fashioned greaser rock; "Greaseball Creeper [225K aiff]," complete with a bass line that's bona fide funk, is a good example of the band's ability to fuse all of the above. "77 Toranado" finds Don mating a roving, Deadbolt-esque narrative with just enough wah-wah to keep things rocking, while the undeniably funky "Krazy Fingers [173K aiff]" is a jamming, jazzy instrumental featuring Jeremy "Krazy Fingers" Lawton deftly going to work on what sounds like a Hammond B-3 organ. A song Don apparently wrote about his favorite Harley, "Hammer Down," is another highlight track, with its pseudo-Southern-rock sound and lyrics that could easily be about a woman and not a bike: "She looks so beautiful...She's the finest little hightail that I've ever seen." "Hey Girl," a song with lyrics penned by the brother's mother, Avril, is a traditional country ditty complete with Lawton's saloon-style piano playing; the result is likely to make listeners want to vacate their bar stools and grab a two-step partner. Less interesting moments are found on "Hot Toddy," which, strangely, has a sentimental, almost Hootie-like chorus, and "Squash That Bug," which, though probably fun in a live setting, sounds formulaic when compared with the more creative, genre-hopping tunes on the recording. Generally, though, 500 Laps is a clean, full-sounding release that mirrors the band's general approach to its live shows. They may be caricatures of themselves in slicked-back hair and matching jumpsuits, and they may tell you it's all about having a good time, but they'll make sure the music sounds good in the meantime. (Available at area record stores or by writing P.O. Box 19922, Boulder, CO 80308-2922.)

Who's Bambi, the debut from Boulder-based Bambi's Apartment, contains the kind of music you might expect to hear on a CU admissions recruitment video. The band's harmonic, melodic songs would fit in perfectly amid images of snow-capped mountains, cute little squirrels and historic campus buildings. Throughout the ten tracks, Who's Bambi? has an unmistakable Colorado sound. This is quintessential high-elevation rock: nature-core, if you will. What's refreshing about this kind of music is its unabashed sincerity, its willingness to broach themes routinely eschewed by its more cynical, irony-driven local counterparts. Some bands do it well, others not so well. Bambi's Apartment, for the most part, succeeds. So when guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Tiersten asks in a strong, wide-open voice, "If the world is just a blue marble/Why am I trapped in the glass?" on "M.O.M. (My Old Man)," it sounds as if the young man is truly troubled by the question. Tiersten shares vocal duty with fellow guitarist Micah Stone -- whose voice is tinged with Cat Stevens affectations -- and the contrast between the two creates some interesting harmonic tapestries, particularly on the slow-tempo "Black Rain" and "Devil," where they repeatedly proclaim, chant-like, "I feel like a devil with a conscience." The music throughout brims with distinct Dave Matthews undertones (particularly in the guitar parts on "Dog," the opening track), partly because of bassist Darren Roebuck's occasional mandolin fills and Scott Perrie's sax and piano work. It's clear why this band is a staple of Boulder's live music scene: This is music fit for sippin' lattes, smokin' cloves (or other choice herbs) and doing that curious little spinning dance so familiar from Dead shows of days gone by. (Available at Boulder area music stores, by calling 1-888-563-7474, or via www.bambisapartment.com. Bambi's Apartment will perform at Nick's in Boulder on October 30 and 31.)

Befuddled, by Denver's Big Jim Slade, ain't even close to hippie music. The members of this three-piece are clearly more interested in straightforward rockin' -- from the bubbly blues guitar of "Confession" to "Quite So Lonely," which finds the band imitating Pearl Jam imitating Neil Young. Things take a turn for the heavy on "Homegrown," which, against a cushy bed of fat guitar riffs, actually sounds a bit like Soundgarden aping Black Sabbath. Despite its obvious derivations, though, the song is undeniably, darkly good. The band navigates more original ground on "Ragman," in which vocalist Slaus Brown-Paul broaches themes of homelessness and police abuse with lyrics like "Cops on the corner/Bring their own law...Have a brown paper breakfast/ Take a newspaper nap." Social topicalism continues on "Wrong," the final track, in which Brown-Paul mimics John Lennon's rant in "Give Peace a Chance" with the stream-of-consciousness lyric "Mass pollution evolution prostitution degradation masturbation copulation, there's so much wrong in your world." (As if there's something wrong with all of those things?) Big Jim Slade isn't smashing holes in any rock conventions on this release, but when the band does venture from too-familiar territory, its members show promise as both songwriters and performers. (3BI Records, P.O. Box 100783, Denver, CO 80250.)

 

"I Wish You Were Asian [250K aiff]" is song number two on Fight the DJ, a slickly packaged full-length from So-Cal transplants Sketch. The song, complete with rhythmic hand claps and a stop-start variation on the ol' 4/4, represents the oh-so-zany aesthetic of this three-piece, which includes Dave Allen and Steve Ames on rotating vocal/guitar/bass duty and drummer Sam Parks. These guys have even been known to sport super-silly pajamas during live performances -- how wacky is that? They can play, however, and the band's approach to alterna-pop is professional and tight, if not altogether original, with a heavy emphasis on showmanship. The combination leads one to believe that the members are hoping Fight the DJ might lead to bigger and better things, like heavy MTV rotation next to the Everlasts and Oleanders of the world. Standout tracks include the dense, melodic "Always Changing [245K aiff]," with an interesting reverse-crescendo in the verse; "Computer," in which the narrator does battle with both his difficulty getting online and his techno-obsession; and the peppy, infectious and abbreviated "Forget It." There's also some kind of Peter Himmel thing going on in the herky-jerky "I Feel I've Been Cheated." Catchy and clean, this is a record that record snobs might find themselves liking in spite of themselves. (Stickfigure Records, P.M.B. # 136, 17150 #A1 East Iliff Avenue, Aurora, CO 80013.)

Look Up and Live is Someday I's full-length release on the Fort Collins Owned and Operated label, and like most of the music to come down that pike, it's often loud, usually fast, unusually articulate and damn good. Vocalist/guitarist John Meredith's lyrics are at times impressionistic, even absurdist ("I keep a picture of you in front of a hockey rink/What is the significance of this/Of eating?" on the opener, "Distance"[181K aiff]). Other times, they draw clearer pictures of relationships and identity: "I only showed her what was in this life: the lies/I only showed her what was really in this life: her eyes." Throughout, the music is an aggressive, authoritative take on punk rock with a palpable pop sensibility: The driving "Too Much [171K aiff]," punctuated by Damon Smith's hard drumming, is a crystalline example. "Still Live" has a certain oblique beauty, alternating between syncopated drum-and-bass rhythms (the rock, not hip-hop, kind), relentless guitars and song-in-the-round vocals to illustrate a scene that is both desperate and redemptive: "I know you're dying/I know we all are, all of the time...I'm ungratefully optimistic/I think we should live." Look Up and Live is a good example of a band pulling out the requisite punk-rock toolbox to construct a sound that is truly its own. A clean production (by Meredith and John Livermore at Fort Collins's Blasting Room) helps Someday I deliver. (Owned & Operated Recordings, P.O. Box 36, Fort Collins, CO 80522.)

Denver rapper Down Low, who sometimes refers to himself as Assassin General on Killer Instincts, sets a somewhat misleading tone during the full-length CD's introduction. "Hello, world," he says, friendly, easy-like, inviting listeners to kick back with a lady and chill, baby. But after the first verse of "The Truth [220K aiff]," in which Down Low does his best impression of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, it's clear he's a little pissed, accusing "fraudulent niggas" of not being able to handle his street wisdom. Down Low's somewhat erratic, compulsive rhymes are set against a sonic bed of movie samples and an eerie, synthesizer scratch beat (courtesy of DJ Orion) that resembles the music played in horror flicks right before the killer jumps out of the bushes and lops off someone's head. Down Low and Orion further explore the potential of the Casio on "A Boy's Life [256K aiff]," which finds a sultry female vocalist chiming in on the verses and Down Low relaying tales of street life and desertion. "The Declaration (Black Out Kings Anthem)" relies on gangsta-style lyrics about violence, vengeance and ghetto politics. Unfortunately, the lyrics aren't much fresher than the subject matter. This record is at its most interesting on tracks such as "All That You Need," where smooth grooves and sexiness prevail. Down Low is a good rapper; unfortunately, his skills as an MC are somewhat lost amid music and themes that are a little too easy. (Sporters Ball Entertainment, 2731 East 33rd Avenue, Denver, CO 80205.)

 

And finally, though all of the previous reviews have been of full-length releases, a single by Robert M. Armstrong warrants mention for one simple reason: The song, titled "Hold the Cocaine, Pass the Cyanide," is easily the funkiest, weirdest song to cross my cluttered desk in the past three months. The tune begins with a Gil-Scott Heron-inspired monologue about drug circles, poison minds, conspiracies and "lookin' down the barrel at the booty." It then launches into a chanting, alto chorus of "It's just a whole lot of B.S." against the fattest bass line this side of "Superfly." Armstrong never bothers to spell out exactly what it is that's so much B.S., but no matter -- he's honestly passionate about it. The song continues in this vein, never making much sense and never settling for anything other than a booty-shakin', hand-clappin', gettin' freaky kind of groove. This is surrealistic funk, and it is beautiful. (Though most local acts who send in material are kind enough to include biographical and contact information, Armstrong's single arrived without any such information -- not even a working telephone number for its creator. So, Robert Amstrong, if you're reading this, please make a phone call, send a postcard or wire a telegram -- just do it quick!)


Rhythm and news: The swing club formerly known as Ninth Avenue West was officially rechristened in the Latin tradition with last week's opening of La Rumba, a salsa dance and music club modeled after real-life salsa dance and music clubs in Miami and Los Angeles. Conjunto Colores was the first band to command the mambo-mad crowd, and club promoters Jesse Morreale and Chris Swank plan to book national touring Latin bands in the future, beginning with Poncho Sanchez on November 12 and 13. Sources have reassured me that the lambada ("the forbidden dance") will be uniformly frowned upon at the new club. One can only hope they'll place a similar ban on attempting to emulate Ricky Martin's dance moves.

Drummer-for-hire Kenny James has recently become an increasingly familiar face at local venues since he began filling in for Carolyn's Mother. The band is trying to fill a vacancy left when skinsman John Rector moved to Omaha after playing with the band for a year. It's all in the inexplicable Spinal Tap tradition: Carolyn's Mother has been through three drummers in the seven years it's been together. (None were lost to anything as tragic as spontaneous combustion, however.) Manager Zach Cook says simply, "They were not as dedicated as the remaining three members of the band when it came to the success of Carolyn's Mother." Parties interested in auditioning should call Cook at 303-419-1451.


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