One of the past decade's unlikeliest success stories, L.A.'s Tool far transcended cult-fave status by making moody atmosphere, dark lyrical themes and a conspicuously proggy bent a mainstream alternative to lowest-common-denominator metal trends. The group made its bones, in other words, by being arty and weird.
10,000 Days, Tool's fourth full-length (and first release in five years), delves into the band's signature sound from the get-go. Drummer Danny Carey's busy beats and time-signature mix-ups, singer Maynard James Keenan's alternately creepy and powerful vocal insinuations, guitarist Adam Jones' chunky, low-end-heavy riffs and bassist Justin Chancellor's melodic anchorages are immediately and amply accounted for. This disc is immediately recognizable as a Tool album. What it isn't, however, is as inspired, original or compelling as the bulk of the band's largely immaculate previous output.
Much of 10,000 Days ("Vicarious," "Jambi," the opening of "The Pot") strongly recalls the most repetitive and least engaging tracks from '01's Lateralus — tracks that include that CD's big single "Schism," an overlong and overly detached tune of which many of the new record's cuts are suspiciously reminiscent.
Longtime fans will likely ignore 10,000 Days' relative lack of innovation and emotional commitment (not too mention its relative lack of bombast and heaviness). They'll point instead to the Pink Floyd-esque weirdness of "Wings for Marie (Part 1)," the pleasantly drawn-out build-ups of the title track and "Lost Keys (Blame Hofman)," the visceral groove of "The Pot," the typically fucked-up mid-album interlude "Lipan Conjuring," and the unmitigated standout "Right in Two." And they'll be justified, to some extent; this certainly isn't a bad album, and it has its high points. But it just doesn't pack the creativity, iconoclasm and gut-wrenching heft of true Tool classics like Undertow or Aenima. 3 stars
— Scott Harrell
To The Confusion of Our Enemies
THE RIVERBOAT GAMBLERS
And the unimpeachable punk rock just keeps on coming. The third album from Denton, Texas' woefully underexposed Riverboat Gamblers is a fun, searing, cleverly dumb bar fight of a full-length with exactly 34 seconds of filler (in the form of engaging a cappella joke "Unicorn Shave Your Horn"). Take the sort of swaggering, sarcastic punk 'n' roll typified by the likes of New Bomb Turks, add a keener sense of hook, a bit of Southern twang and a whole lot of Stones-and-Aerosmith-derived cock-rock flair, and you've got To The Confusion of Our Enemies. It's the best rock album so far in a year already crowded with 'em. It's got what's surely the best rock song we'll hear in '06 in "The Curse of the Ivory Coast." It's very nearly flawless. 4.5 stars
Now in his third tenure with Blue Note, the pianist/composer shows that, at 68, he's not tempered his iconoclastic side. Hill deftly bridges avant-garde and post-bop, tunes and abstractions, groove and pulse. With reed man Greg Tardy and trumpeter Charles Tolliver as a front line, Hill has crafted another extemporaneous gem. His knotty piano lines are consistently unpredictable, coming at you in waves of hard-won notes. The tunes range from dirges to frenetic bop to a touch of warped Latin. In all, Time Lines provides still more evidence that Andrew Hill is a true original. 4 stars
— Eric Snider
How We Operate
The egregiously undervalued British band drops its seventh full-length, having sanded away many of its endearing quirks in favor of a more radio-ready sound. This may at first sound like a kiss-off, but How We Operate is so notably superior to stuff heard on adult alternative stations that it would be a welcome add. With three distinctive lead singers and a satchel full of hooks, plus some leftover Americana-isms (a Dobro here, banjo there), Gomez's lack of a commercial breakthrough remains a real head-scratcher. 3.5 stars
Always on the periphery of the alt-rock world, Japan's Shonen Knife — now just the duo of Naoko and Atsuko Yamano — bops along with a sound that rivals the Ramones in bare-bones punk-pop simplicity. "S*P*A*M" is, yes, a song about annoying e-mails; "Jeans Blue" tackles the big questions, like why everybody wears jeans; the chorus of "Rock Society" is "Let's rock/ Let's rock / Rock society" ... nothing more. Seriously. Deep themes aren't really the point, though, when the pogoing is as good as it is here. Plus, songs always sound cool with a Japanese accent. 3 stars
— Cooper Levey-baker