Indie Round-Up for Apr 20 2006: Brandston, Wendt, Mulligan, Martin

Brandtson, Hello, Control

Brandtson has been around for nearly a decade, but somehow I’d missed the whole phenomenon until now. Not knowing the band’s previous work, I can only consider the new CD on its own terms – but there’s nothing wrong with fresh ears. And there’s not much wrong with the CD, either – it’s full of melodic, modern rock with bite, and more hooks per square foot than a velcro dance floor.

The soft-rock opener, “A Thousand Years,” has a Neil Finn-style melody, and the bright “Earthquakes & Sharks” is clever and catchy, if not very original musically, with funny lyrics and supple, close harmonies that evoke Squeeze. Ska-punk-disco makes a fiery appearance in “Denim Iniquity.” “Nobody Dances Anymore” is relentlessly danceable. And so on. A few of the songs in the second half get a bit drony and repetitive, but the whole album is enjoyable, and that’s a rare thing in pop-rock.

Sara Wendt, Here’s Us

Sara Wendt‘s captivating new EP meets the expectations raised by its promotional copy: “rocking yet delicate and nuanced… featuring haunting overtones that make her music both vivid and dreamy.”

“I’ll Be Waiting” is a tense and powerful pop gem. Wendt’s sad and beautiful cover of Homer Erotic’s “King of the Ghosts” has a sun-baked Mediterranean feel, as her keening wail trades riffs with co-producer Ann Klein‘s fuzzed-out guitar. The poetry is like an offspring of Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith, and Wendt’s wrenching delivery squeezes the most out of it.

“Pretty Dark Knight” is a dreamy, Eastern-influenced drone complete with sitar (Klein again). It’s a little like The Doors’ “The End” turned upside down and inside out. An unexpected chord change in the chorus and the crystalline toll of a bell provide all the drama the song needs. The title track is another catchy pop nugget, this time on the Sara McLachlan tip.

The final two songs don’t do much for me, but the opening lines of “Weightless With Love” do give a good idea of the sharp angles of her language: “I can’t make small talk with words that big/With those big words you used on me.” Sara Wendt is an original talent graced with a lovely voice. This is intelligent, variegated music that is perhaps most easily classified as pop-rock, but shouldn’t be shoehorned into any such category.

Melissa Mulligan, Sparrow

Hit machine Melissa Mulligan is back with a new EP featuring her new killer track, the hard-rocking “Objectify Me,” a tongue-in-cheek take on the objectification of women. “I’m getting bored as heck/With all your damn respect/When’s this friendship gonna end?” The rollicking closer, “Laughing (I Dare You)” is a similarly slanted take on love games, all of two minutes and eleven seconds long. In between, Mulligan’s more reflective side appears in the pretty “Nashville,” while the soul-rock churner “Walk Out” shows off her strong Janis Joplin influence. It’s a good song, and more to point, it’s just the kind of thing Janis would have turned into a showstopper; Mulligan stays true to that mode with spirited vocal pyrotechnics. All that it’s missing is the Kozmic Blues horn section.

Todd Martin, Time For Good

There’s a big market for guys like Todd Martin. You hear them on the radio one after another: gentle-voiced, unthreatening balladeers with a sensitive catch in their voice and a touch of rock in their arrangements. But their songs too often have limp melodies and cliche-ridden lyrics.

Martin manages to rise above the sad stereotype at certain points on his new CD. His sweet voice, half Freedy Johnston and half Michael Stipe, is a well-tuned and emotional instrument that gives a soothing quality to the choruses of “Punchline” and “Midas to Minus.” And there are other likeable bits and pieces, like the killer opening riff of “Save Myself” and the dramatic, wall-of-sound build in “This Life.” But on the whole, the earnest vocals, artful production and ace backing band can’t inject enough personality into these unremarkable songs.

Available here.