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Melt-Banana, Sleigh Bells, Deer Tick 

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click to enlarge Melt-Banana's new CD, Fetch.

Melt-Banana

Fetch

A-ZAP Records/Revolver USA

File next to: Yoko Ono, Ponytail

When Melt-Banana played Denver's Lion's Lair a decade ago, the entire Japanese thrash quartet was actually standing, playing, screaming on top of the bar itself to the point where it appeared the building would collapse. Now that Melt-Banana has pared down to the duo of Yasuko Onuki and Ichirou Agata, the question is whether the two can maintain the pace and wild noise of the full band. Thanks in large part to Ms. Onuki, whose squealing vocals have always defined Melt-Banana's anti-music, this first album since 2007's Bambi's Dilemma sounds as complex, screeching and dense as ever. Melt-Banana was always too experimental to fit with hardcore thrash — after all, John Zorn produced two of their albums — yet too manic to fit with Japanese noise artists like Merzbow and Fushitsusha. On Fetch, song riots like "Red Data, Red Stage" can simply be enjoyed for the miracles they are. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Sleigh Bells' new cd, Bitter Rivals.

Sleigh Bells

Bitter Rivals

Mom + Pop Music

File next to: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karmin

Four years ago, Sleigh Bells' sound was described by one DJ as "massively overdriven beats," an approach that was definitely apparent on the Brooklyn duo's first album, Treats. But when they decided to professionalize their sound, and singer Alexis Krauss took to wearing Wonder Woman outfits, the resulting second album, Reign of Terror, was a disappointing sludge of sound. So a lot was riding on this third album. From the opening strains of Bitter Rivals' title track, Sleigh Bells capture you with strategically placed silences, cartoon sampling, and riffs that sparkle like a disco ball, all without betraying their post-punk roots. Every track measures up to their most memorable, including "Sing Like a Wire" and "To Hell With You." Krauss and her partner Derek Miller may not have cemented their reputation for eternity, but they've made one of the best recoveries from a sophomore slump in recent memory. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Deer Tick's new cd, Negativity.

Deer Tick

Negativity

Partisan Records

File next to: Okkervil River, Alejandro Escovedo

Deer Tick's fifth album was mostly written last year while frontman John J. McCauley's relationship with Nikki Darlin of Those Darlins was falling apart. It was around the same time that McCauley's father was sent to prison for tax fraud. The singer-songwriter's take on the latter, "Mr. Sticks," (his father's nickname) is Negativity's heart-rending centerpiece. Compared to prior releases, this album is less rock and more downbeat Americana. Producer Steve Berlin of Los Lobos augments the guitars with keyboards and horns. "In Our Time," a duet with Vanessa Carlton, is a relatively light country song, while "Pot of Gold" is an entertaining recounting of a night of doing crack. While not all of Negativity is negative, this is still an album of dark, melodic songs that reflects a growing maturity for McCauley and his band. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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