Music Review: Indie Round-Up for Nov. 2 2006

The Ratchets, Glory Bound

This angry, melodic, Clash-inspired punk-and-roll with a message is so perfect in its way I can’t help wondering if it’s an act, and I don’t mean in the sense that all bands are acts. But how can you not like a band with lyrics like “Money makers are coming in their Cadillacs/To watch us eat our lunch/Sloganeers are here with their assholes shined/To beat us to the punch”? In four quick lines they establish both working class cred and clear-eyed political realism.

Their second, endearingly old-fashioned main theme is “rock is our salvation” and they seem to mean it both symbolically and literally: “We’re human amplifiers/Together they can’t deny us;” “it doesn’t matter how firmly you are wound/There’s plenty of people who will try to water you down/Don’t let them drown you.” Sophisticated guitar layering, keyboard touches, and relatively slow tempos contrast effectively with hoarsely shouted vocals.

Harsh, Jimmy Page inspired guitar work livens up the funny, minimalist “Irritated,” while a pop-reggae beat churns through “Ration,” a frustrated love song to someone who’s overly scheduled. The CD’s centerpiece is “Skyjack Sunday Starts,” an ambitious if somewhat confused bass-driven reflection on terrorism in the skies. It’s followed by a return to the regular-guy blues in “Don’t Wanna Go” and “Cathedral Bells.” The latter links a sweet island-music flavor to a catchy rock chorus and is my favorite song on the CD, next to the anthemic “Born Wrong” that closes it.

The straight-ahead reggae “Proclamation Time” reinforces the band’s political stance. They never exactly identify their enemy, but revolution’s clearly in their air they’re breathing. If they mean it, that is. In the age of irony, these things are hard to read. But the inspired lyrics of “Born Wrong” argue strongly for sincerity:

Could you send the word out on scrape-faced Jake?
He lost it all in a burned out wreck
He was a wild card till he hit the floor
Noon tomorrow we’ll bury Jake in the ground
So let’s roll this steel convoy with the pedals down
Mile line glorybound payin’ last respects
We’re born wrong senorita
All along senorita
We’re born wrong.

The band has taken the smart step of streaming the entire CD at their website.

Aaron Comess, Catskills Cry

Aaron Comess, best known as the Spin Doctors’ drummer, has a new CD that can perhaps best be described as ambient rock. On these eleven tracks of thick, richly imagined instrumental music Comess collaborates with guitarist Bill Dillon (Sarah McLachlan, Marc Cohn, Joni Mitchell) and legendary bassist and Chapman stick player Tony Levin. It suggests what might have happened if some pioneering prog-rock band of the 60s or 70s had matured and mellowed. The music is certainly more colorful and expressive sans vocals than a lot of sung music. Underpinned by Comess’s chunky drumming, Dillon’s guitars and guitorgan cook up dense atmospheres, leaving much of the melodic work to Levin. Unconventional time signatures (“Seventy-Six,” “Ode to Attila”) and titanic polyrhythms (“Africa”) give way to devilish gloom-rock (“Future,” “Sky”) and meditative stuff that could almost be smooth jazz (“Zapped.”)

Extended clips can be heard here.

Breaking Laces, Astronomy Is My Life, But I Love You

Breaking Laces makes essentially acoustic-based pop-rock that’s strong and assured, sweet and sometimes funny. One could say “Bowie meets Live,” but there’s also a singer-songwriter aspect to this talented trio that harks back to 1960s folk-rock. There’s nothing new under the Sun (or the Chess or the Motown or the Bomp), but these guys are very good at putting their own twist on the basics. It’s suburban chill music for the post-American Beauty generation. “Promise me that you won’t believe/All the reasons they say you cannot leave/Let’s go, we’ll prove that love is blind/To their holy suburban dividing lines.” Echo and Narcissus, Romeo and Juliet, Buffy and Angel – these stories never get old, and neither will we as long as we have good, grown-up, rock-charged pop like this to listen to.

Extended clips can be heard here.