Monday, December 21, 2009

Review: Dead To Me

Dead To Me
African Elephants
Fat Wreck

Dead To Me is back—and lacking in so many ways. For starters, singer and founding member Jack Dalrymple is notably (and very painfully) absent. Secondly, the pensive, captivating approach to ingenious song writing that so permeated its first two albums, Cuban Ballerina and Little Brother, has been completely scrapped in favor of a bland and unimaginative attempt to mature musically. Thirdly, the members of Dead To Me were great at being Dead To Me, but when they distance themselves from their previous efforts in a vein attempt to rip off the Clash, they inevitably sound like a bad Clash rip off. And that’s a shame, because Dead To Me was by far the best new political punk rock band of the 00s.

It’s tough to know where to begin explaining the dullness of this record. It starts with the mediocre reggae/dub tune “X,” a deliberate attempt to exhume the musical imagination of Joe Strummer. The second song—and high point of the disc if there is one—is “Modern Muse,” a catchy pop-punk tune that almost nods to the group’s inspired past. After that, however, it’s one forgettable number after the next. The worst crime of the album has to be “California Sun,” a ditty that nearly caricatures a bad Sublime tune and begins with the line, “Last night I got so high, I finally forgot your name.” This is Dead To Me? What happened to lyrics like, “I’ve got no reaction / Every action’s true” and “Cathode rays to entertain the good wage slaves”? (sigh) Hopefully African Elephants will forever be known as the “Bring Jack Back” album, and the next recording will demonstrate an actual process of musical growth and development instead of one so undoubtedly forced.

(And just for the record, I feel horrible about giving this band a bad review. Not only did I drive from Denver to Fort Collins to see them, but I was truly glad I did. They played good old fashioned political punk with heart and they had a great sense of humor about themselves. And they were the coolest, most laid back people on the face of the earth. I really love these guys. Really. I listen to their first two records daily, as I've done for the past several months. That's why I take this album so personally. It was a letdown on so many levels...)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: The Inactivists

Love Songs & Other Songs About Love

Have you ever wondered what would happen if They Might Be Giants started a high-energy funkish bar-rock outfit? They might just release an album entitled Love Songs & Other Songs About Love and call themselves The Inactivists. Just like the Giants, this Denver five-piece sings jocular songs about randomness. Unlike the Giants, The Inactivists embellish their words with a danceable, lively soundtrack that features an assortment of instruments—everything from accordion and theremin to ukulele and saxophone. Tracks like the folk/country “Song for Gary Glitter,” the disturbingly funky “Why (Aren’t You (In Love (With Me)))?” and the hilariously entitled reggae send-up “Lock Jah” demonstrate the band’s proclivity to write musically precise scores with absurdly witty lyrics. But make no mistake, even in the groups wackiest moments, it takes its unseriousness* very seriously. Like most of its contemporaries in the weirdo-core scene, The Inactivists are much more fun live. Regardless, Love Songs manages to be both manic and tranquil, catchy and atonal, and full of love and hate. It’s a folk-funk-rock journey into the psyche of five musically-endowed, neurotic nerds.

Other Highlights: the lovely jingle “The Last Song,” the even lovelier bonus track “Bonus Track,” and the insanely catchy honky-tonk ditty “Take Me Back”

*Might not be a word