Hurra Torpedo Rock The State Theatre

Hurra TorpedoPhoto by LP Lorentz

If you have heard of Hurra Torpedo, aka the kings of Norwegian appliance rock, chances are it is from an Internet video clip of their 1995 appliance-smashing performance of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on Norwegian television. Based on that clip, it would be easy to dismiss Hurra Torpedo as a one-hit, shtick-based novelty act. But take away the too-small tracksuits, Continue reading →

The Coup: Pick a Bigger Weapon

Coup CD coverCD Review >>

The Coup
Pick a Bigger Weapon
[Epitaph, 2006]
Rating: 7 (out of 10)

During The Coup’s explosive full band performance at the Operation: Cease Fire rally at the Washington Monument last September, a awkward moment of nonverbal discord passed between Ray “Boots” Riley and his resident hype man. Halfway through their set, the hype man grabbed a “Bush Must Go!” picket sign from the front row and hoisted it in the air. Boots’ rock-solid demeanor, for a brief moment, turned into one of marked disappointment. It appeared that Boots, like many other patriotic dissenters, had grown tired with anti-Bush rhetoric as it has been driven into the ground since the man waltzed into office. When The Coup made waves with their last album Party Music in 2001, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Patriot Act, the Christian Taliban, the actual Taliban, Duct Tape, domestic spying, etc. were all looming under or out of our nation-state’s subconscious. Continue reading →

Death Franz for Cribs at D.A.R.

Death Cab for CutieDeath Cab for Cutie

One really can’t lose with a bill such as the one which D.A.R. boasted on Tuesday night. –Death Cab for Cutie, Franz Ferdinand, and The Cribs– since the odds are strong that the majority of the crowd will leave with, at best, a new favorite band and, at worst, newfound respect for a known quantity. Continue reading →

Sondre Lerche: “Duper Sessions”

Sondre LercheCD Review >>

Sondre Lerche & The Faces Down Quartet
Duper Sessions
[Astralworks, 2006]
Rating: 7.5

No better way to mark the beginning of Spring than the stateside release of Sondre Lerche’s new album “Duper Sessions,” featuring the Faces Down Quartet. The man has already generated at least two albums’ worth of sunny, romantic, elegant pop that simply brim with class and sophistication well beyond his twenty-three years. In fact, the level of sophistication that Lerche reaches on “Duper Sessions” nearly immortalizes him as one of pop music’s great anomalies.

He was only 18 when he recorded most of what would become his stellar debut album “Faces Down.” Following its stateside release in the fall of 2002, legions of critics, who had little else to pick the young Norwegian apart for, repeatedly cited the inevitable obstacles he faced writing lyrics in his second language, yet still lavished him with well-deserved comparisons to Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. I found it impossible to hold the language barrier against him. He still wrote better songs than a majority of Americans who got any attention from the mainstream press that year, which is sad in a way. Few artists anywhere near the realm of popular music have drawn such heady comparisons to artists two to three times their age in this context. Was Lerche trying so hard to emulate those soul-infected, bossa nova stylings and appear well beyond his years, or simply aiming to separate himself from a slew of other “sensitive” Euro-indie acts? Truthfully, for myself and many others who had the good fortune to discover the man early on, the songs on “Faces Down” and its follow-up “Two-Way Monologue” were too damn irresistible to worry about his intentions.

Continue reading →

Cat Power: The Greatest (CD Review)

Cat Power - The Greatest

Get it at Amazon.


Cat Power
The Greatest
Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Matador Records | 2006

I���ve got to hand it to Chan Marshall. It takes balls to call any album that isn���t your greatest hits album The Greatest (and this being her seventh album, she could have done it). It doesn���t matter how good you think it���s going to be. Claiming to be the greatest is a boast like no other (unless you���re Kanye West). Of course, if you think that Chan Marshall is purporting that her album is actually the greatest, well, you don���t know Chan Marshall.From the second you lay eyes on the album cover, you should know that The Greatest is actually not claiming anything of the sort. The cover, all pink and shiny with a holographic finish, features a ghetto gold chain with gold boxing gloves hanging from it. Let���s face it, the cover looks more like the cover art for the Britney Spears/K-Fed vanity project than the cover art for a Cat Power album.

The Greatest is a beautiful album full of sweet soul. Recorded in Tennessee with some of Al Green���s old collaborators, it definitely calls to mind old school soul without completely departing from the signature sound of Cat Power. It���s the kind of album that is well suited for a rainy day. It���s the kind of album that makes you want to walk into a dark bar, order a glass of bourbon, light up a cigarette and walk on over the juke box and fire up one of these 13 songs.

It took a while for me to take a shine to this album, mostly because it���s the kind of album that the younger and more depressed college aged me would have loved instantly. That���s not to say that this album is at all juvenile. It���s full of the knowledge of having loved and lost. It���s full of lament, sadness, rejection, and loneliness (it even has a little bit of fun thrown in there with ���The Islands���). Chan Marshall���s voice is gorgeous and strong on every song of the album. She almost sounds like a cross between Beth Orton and Fiona Apple �Ķ almost. Some album highlights include the title tracks, ���The Greatest,��� ���Lived in Bars,��� ���The Moon,��� and ���Where is My Love.���

But honestly, it���s not each individual song, as much as the album as a whole that is so captivating. The Greatest like a comforting old friend that you can take out and put on when the right mood strikes you (or the wrong mood). It���s not an every day album, but it can definitely be a though the years album. An album that you may not need all that often, but when you do need it, to let you know its there for you and that hey, it could always be worse, but more than that, we all go through tough times and we just might get through them too.

Army of Me, Monopoli and The Sketches at the 9:30 Club

Live Music Review >>

The Sketches
The Sketches

Upon Sketches singer Charlie Bernardo���s first mention of local rock station DC101, something strange occurred to me. DC music has rarely been regarded on a national level as at all mainstream. The league of Georgetown punks of the early 80���s, the emo progenitors of the late 80���s, and rhythmic bitch-slaps like The Dismemberment Plan and Q and Not U have all well represented the DC area���s musical spirit and image through the end of the century. But we have to accept the fact that The Plan and Q are through (despite successful shows by Travis Morrison and Chris Richards��� respective new outfits in the past few weeks), and Fugazi has been on hiatus since 2001���s excellent The Argument.

But as I fell headfirst into the straightforward music of quartets The Sketches, Monopoli, and Army of Me, I realized how this show was a veritable showcase of the three bands vying to be DC���s next breakout. Considering how most of the area���s best-known bands are off the national hipster radar at the moment (Thievery Corp, and Medications notwithstanding), it would be strange but refreshing having Army of Me as the face of the District.


Despite not being the ruthless musical innovators that Fugazi and the D-Plan were, The Sketches, Monopoli, and Army of Me still have plenty to offer. All three bands have had some exposure on the ClearChannel pawn DC101, which speaks volumes of both their hard work and their radio-accessible sounds. In fact, Army of Me���s dark, hooky single ���Come Down to DC��� has been added to 101���s core play list, a major accomplishment for a band not backed by a major label.

The Sketches kicked off the show with magnificent harmonies and generally solid songwriting from brothers Tony and Charlie Bernardo. Most of their set, including highlights like ���Fly Baby, Right Now,��� maintained a mid-tempo flow until they sped up within their last few songs, concluding with a faithful, beautifully done medley of ���Bohemian Rhapsody��� with other 70���s staples. Continue reading →

The Pietasters and The Slackers at The 9:30 Club

Live Music Review >>

���Dude! You���re in a three-piece? Christ!���- one fan to another, exiting the sauna of a 9:30 club at 1:45 AM, 1/8/06

The Slackers
The Slackers
The Pietasters
The Pietasters


Being a true ska fan takes dedication. Having to countenance declarations that ���no one likes ska anymore��� and ���it was a fad��� in the pages of glossy, mainstream music magazines gets aggravating after you read them a thousand times. True, the scene and the art form took a hit ca. 2000 after MTV realized that they could make more money with boy bands, and when Moon Ska Records (the issuers of the Pietaster���s breakthrough Oolooloo) closed up shop, but the best bands survived the fall, emerging stronger and smarter. Two of them, NYC���s trad-ska powerhouse The Slackers and DC���s own indefinable The Pietasters, performed to a packed, bouncing house at the 9:30 Club on Saturday night.

The band���s respective sets perfectly displayed why they are both such strong outfits. Singer/keyboardist Vic Ruggiero, the consummate New Yawkah, made it a point to establish a good ground with the DC crowd right off the bat, with the political ���Propaganda.��� He soon got off it, though, since he realized halfway into their first song that he���d be preaching to the choir anyway. The Slackers played an hour-long set that only for brief moments lost its luster. Prodigious saxophonist Dave Hillyard, and bombastic trombone player Glen Pine, who has assumed elevated vocal duties, for better or for worse, added a dramatic flair to Ruggiero���s outstanding pieces of songwriting. Considering how much energy The Slackers emanated through the likes of ���The Nurse,��� ���I���ll Stay Away,��� a notably an uproarious rocksteady version of the Jewish traditional ���Dreidel Song,��� their new rotation seems to be heading in the right direction. Continue reading →

The Hickories — Lost in Pennsylvania (CD Review)

The Hickories - Lost in Pennsylvania
Get it at CD Baby.


The Hickories
Lost in Pennsylvania
Rating: 7 (out of 10)
Independent Release | 2005

The songs of The Hickories are stones cast into water with the twitch of a wrist. Not to flutter and oscillate, settling gently to the bottom, but in a direct veering motion with the intent of striking bottom: the soul, the mind, the heart.

Music normally complies with its easily attainable goal of serving as a diversion, a corollary event seeking not to interfere with serpentine traffic navigation or the pursuit of exercise and fitness as it streams from iPod lobes. The Hickories planted both my heels in the pavement, the depths to which their music reached. Instinctively, I rifled through the abscesses of memory to pair mind to music, the scoring of prior events that rush to the cortex when goaded by instrument.

Lost in Pennsylvania, their all-encompassing album, couples both the superfluous and the profound. Containing songs of both deep-reaching magnitude and enjoyment bordering on whimsy, the mixture is a striking delivery of their body of work. Being a newly formed and evolving band, not all of their music attains a uniform exceptional quality, but The Hickories succeed through the delivery of music that utilizes the depth and range of their collective voices. Vocalists Michelle Volpe and Meghan Sharp intertwine their contrasting pitches in a manner too relaxed to appear orchestrated, yet impressive in its simplicity and meaning, the snaking handshake of two kite ribbons in a blustery sky. The cumulative voice of The Hickories melts around the instrumental support, which recognizes the mastery of the vocal qualities of the band and supports the effort in a subordinate role. The accompaniment serves as a steering mechanism that allows the vocals to ebb, stray, and wind, while always returning to conclude in a manner befitting the musical subject, be it serious or lighthearted. Continue reading →

Park Police — Ranchero (CD Review)

Park Police - Ranchero
Get it at Not Lame Records.

LOCAL (Baltimore) >>

Park Police
Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Independent Release | 2005

When Pat Wescott sings “We’ve been waiting for you to finally come around” in the opening track of 2005’s Ranchero, he’s being, for once, very serious. Though this is Park Police’s first album, the band, which also includes bassist Eric Bloodsworth and drummer Bruno Anderson, has been together in various forms for well over a decade. This is the Baltimore-based group’s first attempt at a trio, which explains the opening lines of “Mission Song”: “Ten years and pocket change/ we’ve been trying to rearrange/ had a choice for another band/ so we could find us a place to stand.”

It seems more like a place to slouch. Even after a decade of shuffling around, the three 30-somethings of Park Police still seem unconcerned with trying to make it big. They recorded at the Lil’ House, and their album is sold with Not Lame Recordings. As in “Mission Song,” their lyrics are often shrugs of self-deprecation; in “Tunnel,” Wescott confesses to “singing to static, but I’ve lost my place again.” Park Police even dubbed their debut after a defunct half-car, half-pickup truck – certainly not the most glamorous means of transportation.

But there’s nothing more comfortable than cruising around in a beat-up pickup – even half of one – and Ranchero is just the CD to blast from the busted speakers. Not only are many individual tracks bona fide driving songs (especially and obviously “Next Gear”), but the album as a whole is a rollicking, we-don’t-slow-down-for-speed-bumps kind of affair. Like the car, the music is pleasantly worn in, friendly guitar rock with origins in The Who and Rolling Stones. The band also collects frequent comparisons to Joe Jackson’s early work, and the snappy “Nationwide” and rich harmonies and catchy chorus of “I Tried” might mix well with the likes of “Is She Really Going out with Him?”

Ah, screw it – this album isn’t designed for serious discussions or analysis, so stop reading about it. Go get a jump-start, duct tape the brake lights back on and hit the road with Ranchero.

Depeche Mode at Patriot Center

Live Review >>
Depeche Mode at Patriot Center on December 9, 2005

Depeche Mode photophoto courtesy and © Depeche Mode

If the 1990s had a god, it was Depeche Mode, and if that god had a kingdom, it would resemble Depeche Mode’s stage at the Patriot Center on December 9.

The look might have been described as “interplanetary punk.” A moon-sized orb hung in midair, inset with scrolling computer screens and neon inscriptions of words like “sex,” “pain” and “love.” The trademark synthesizers were enthroned in semicircular silver pods. The backdrop was a massive black curtain featuring the feathered silhouette displayed on the band’s aptly named 2005 release, “Playing the Angel.”

First impressions of the crowd didn’t mesh with this otherworldly atmosphere. Unlike the hordes that gathered to worship Depeche Mode a decade or two ago, this congregation looked, well, normal. There was not a single eye-lined, dour teenage misfit in sight – just thousands of amiable 30-somethings. They wore pashminas and leather coats, or else sat uncomfortably in business casual, not having had a chance to change out of corporate wear before gathering to recant their alternative heydays. This observer wondered whether the devout Depechians had lost their faith.

But then everything went black, and then glowed neon blue, then red. The globe‚Äôs screen scrolled a digital ‚ÄúHELLO‚Äù ‚Äì and the demure crowd was on its feet to give their idols a proper welcome. They remained upright for the 21-song, two-hour show. Continue reading →