Johnossi: Johnossi (Control Group)
Johnossi is a two-person band (John on guitar, Ossi on drums) that produces loud, stripped-down rock and roll. While comparisons to the White Stripes may be the most logical, they don’t reflect everything about Johnossi. First off, Ossi can play the drums; in fact, he wails on them relentlessly. And the sound that Ossi and John are able to create together is enormous. As John says, “I sing and scream into the mic and play acoustic guitar through some effect boxes and two amps (made for the electric guitar.) We enjoy…a catchy tune, a powerful expression, and a fist full of steel.” That they do. The overarching theme on this CD of ridiculously good songs is of not wasting youth (carpe diem). And they don’t waste any time as they go at their instruments like hurricanes. This Swedish duo sounds more American than most native-born bands; they play nasty, old-fashioned rock and roll (the kind with hints of fifties rockabilly-swing). If you don’t find yourself playing this album (especially “Execution Song,” the slower-but-still-really-good “Family Values,” or “Santa Monica Bay”) over and over again, you might want to check for a pulse.
Jamie T: Panic Prevention (Caroline)
Take the vibe of Athlete, add in the swagger of the Arctic Monkeys, and mix in the wordplay of the Streets, and you might come close to an approximation of Jamie T and his debut Panic Prevention. But the sum total doesn’t come near the quality of the parts. Sure, Jamie’s got some talent, but I frankly just don’t care for it. Apparently, though, the English youth love it, which should tell you something. The monotonous beat and tone go on song after song after song, and his working-class South London accent begins drilling a hole in your head rather quickly. I’m not saying the kid’s got nothing to say, but I don’t want to hear it—and especially not for fourteen songs. Quality Jamie, not quantity.
Junior League: Oh Dear (Holster Records)
Junior League bills themselves as a “contemporary blend of indie and bluegrass.” Now, I’m not a hillbilly (completely), but I grew up around enough FFA members, cattle, and corn farms to know better. Oh Dear is hardly bluegrass—more country-lite. Very lite. Sure, they have the requisite bluegrass tools—banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and harmonica—but the tunes meander around and never really grab hold of you. It’s like set-dressing on a stage: just there for appearances. Plus, the music sounds off; their sound/mix/producer guy needs to get his ears checked. Though “Euclid” and “WSM” aren’t half bad (I wasn’t wincing while I listened), they’re still off-target. And “Nameless” is simply an abomination. They tout their singer, Lissy Rosemont, as a Georgia girl whose father sang her Hank Williams at night and whose family had a fiddler festival in North Carolina. Well, I watched Star Wars and my family is a bit over the moon, but that doesn’t make me an astronaut. Rosemont’s singing is plain, sometimes off-key, and it gets lost in the music. If you’re looking for some good Appalachian music, check out Chatham County Line, whom I reviewed last October in the Rail. Junior League doesn’t even belong on the Junior Varsity team, though I’m sure they’d make an adequate rec league team.
The Old Soul: The Old Soul (Friendly Fire Recordings)
I knew I was in for trouble when they described their music as “a sprawling, multi-layered hodgepodge…genre-ignoring modern Frankenstein.” They weren’t lying. This CD roams all over the place, and usually within each song. There’s definitely a Flaming Lips influence going on here, but I think the band got lost along the way. The signposts read pop, rock, folk, horns, electronica, and any other genre you can imagine. Problem is they whiz by so fast that you don’t have time to get settled. Their “maestro,” Luca Maoloni, has talent and you can hear it fleetingly every now and then among the ADD-on-cocaine tunes. Trouble is, he never sticks with anything much longer than ten seconds or so, and tries to incorporate everything into each song. Letting your impulses take you in new directions is one thing; having a conversation with your four hundred split personalities all at once makes for discord and disconnect.
Enter Shikari: Take to the Skies (Ambush Reality)
The band claims they’ll leave the “pigeonholing to journalists,” but somehow manage to mention the term “trancecore” multiple times in their release for Take to the Skies. The same sort of thinking goes for their other claims: “Take the unbeaten track and follow their instincts,” and “fusing…genres and styles together to form their own sound.” Unfortunately, their instincts and their own sound are reminiscent of Stabbing Westward or Evanescence mixed with a heavy dose of spaced-out synths à la Yes in their heyday. While the “metal” parts of their songs are passable—and the theory of mixing rave with metal sounds interesting—these guys just can’t get it to work in practice. And they do it for fifty-two minutes. As an added bonus, when they list their members and what they play, several are credited with “vox” or “backing vox.” Are they serious with that? If this band is as “big” as they claim to be, the kids aren’t alright.
Grant Moser is an art writer and frequent contributing writer for the Brooklyn Rail.