The Good, The Bad, The Local

Time for the Quarterly Local Music Review Roundup

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STEEL RAIN
Trial and Error
It's all right there in the name, really. Steel Rain plays turgid hard rock, combining classic rock and occasional pseudo-operatic ambiance with an overarching, Dokken-esque sort of plodding chunkage. It's competently produced and well-played, but it's also dated, anonymous and chock full of lyrics like "Save your soul/ It's time to pay the toll" and "Locked and loaded/ loaded like a gun." The slight Southern-rock influence of "Loaded like a Gun" is enjoyable, and the grungy anthem "Down" comes off as interesting, if only in comparison to the rest of the disc. Overall, however, impressive guitar leads aside (see the harmony lick in the title cut, and the riff in "Sanity Fades" that straight-up cops Ratt's "Round and Round"), Trial and Error offers nothing that hasn't been heard countless times over the last 20 years, and little to equal the tradition it follows. (www.steelrainrocks.com) 1/2

CROOKED EDGE
Sickness in Motion

Above-average emo-rock that scores mostly by dint of doing what its cookie-cutter contemporaries don't. One, it really rocks, delivering earnest lyrics in a throaty tenor (as opposed to the now-mandatory nasal whine) and backing them with beefy riffs (as opposed to the now-mandatory major-key four-chord hook). Two, it does employ the now-mandatory major-key four-chord hook, but judiciously instead of, you know, all the fucking time. And three, it's not afraid to err toward the loose rather than the slick. This demo isn't blindingly original, but there's enough here to suggest that dismissing the band as a soundalike might be a serious mistake. (www.crookededge.com) 1/2

DENNIS MAYER
That Ol' Sun is Sinkin'

This solo three-song acoustic demo by St. Pete songwriter Dennis Mayer offers some lush, eminently listenable country-folk with a touch of Irish drinkin' swing. The lyrics to the title track and "Tell Me I Was Dreamin'" may not cover much new ground (what country song does.), and the slow-croon crescendo at the end of the latter may sound a bit hokey, but Mayer can pick him some serious guitar, and delivers the songs with a clear, capable voice more uplifting than down-and-out. Not bad at all.

EAJAE AND ADDEK
Indivisible

This interracial Bay area hip-hop duo offers a grab-bag of top-notch flow, lo-fi beats, assorted original touches and mixed messages. At their best, Eajae, Addek and friends (J-Root, Kasper, producer Robert Schaefer) meld spectacular lyrics on individuality and quashing the fake-gangsta pose with cool, raw production and entertaining flourishes. Highlights include opening tracks "The Next Chapter" and "CandyMan," with its singsong chorus; in fact, the first six cuts, up through the righteous "Indivisible," are largely untouchable. At their worst, the pair work some generic sounds that might get lost in a mediocre Friday-night urban-radio mix ("Poetic Assault," "Last Man Standing") and contradict their own best themes with thuggish and misogynist rhymes. Even that stuff is better than average, though, on the strength of clear, capable vocal performances and an up-front tone that borders on hardcore, but largely avoids that subgenre's hyperbolic clichés. (www.embassyrecords.com) 1/2

GRAVITY
Gravity

While this Tampa four-piece wears several discernible sonic inspirations on its collective sleeve, its alt-rock sound as a whole can be both original and engaging. The syncopated drums, danceable up-front bass melodies, effect-laden guitars and flamboyant vocals recall — for this listener, at least — a host of immediately post-New Romantic modern-rock groups (Simple Minds, The Church, Red Ryder) that the band's members probably don't even consider influences. At the same time, there's a muscular arena-alternative vibe that marries rhythm and hook like a more adventurous Live. The whole package comes off as quite contemporary, however, and both the performances and production are impeccable. It's interesting to note that the disc gets heavier as it progresses, but the best thing that can be said about it is that Gravity is carving out its own niche within the current rock spectrum, and doing it well. (www.gravityband.com) 1/2

The Human Echo
Sonic Blanket

The letter The Human Echo sent with this disc described them as a "pop grunge band," but I hear 'em more as an infectiously amateurish take on the droning, alternately dreamy and distorted "shoegaze" post-punk of late-'80s/early '90s Britain. Repetitive guitar riffing, minimal beats, oddly insinuating high-register vocals and harmonies, and well-placed noise combine to hypnotic effect on everything from sparse slow-motion scene-setting to dense, hard-candy garage rave-up. It's definitely a love-it-or-hate-it scenario (particularly the singing), and probably doesn't make for the most audience-friendly live set in the history of local music. But so what? On record, it's awesome (see standouts "In Teck Knee Color," "Birdie" and "Exacto") and is going into regular late-night headphone rotation at my house. (www.thehumanechoband.com)

RIVER CHICKEN
River Chicken

It's nearly an hour of less-than-innovative A.D.D.-afflicted spazz-metal, courtesy of some guys known for their, er, creative onstage antics. The quintet cuts up its rapid-fire chunk with layered harmonies and acoustic guitar-driven breakouts, but everything quickly begins to sound the same, hairpin dynamic shifts or no. This 12-track effort dispenses with the jazz/sample/ funk/no-rhythm-freakout passages of more adventurous schizoid groups like Mr. Bungle or Orlando's Gargamel, ending up far too dependent on familiar pummel and the "moody" clean song sections metal bands have used as a crutch for eons. By the time I reached the interesting intro to the last track (a fucked-up sort of "Happy Trails"), it was way too late. The chops are there; the innovation, unfortunately, is not. (www.riverchicken.com)

AMBER QUINTEIRO
Four-Song Demo

Clearwater chanteuse Amber Quinteiro seems to have all the right pieces in place on this innocuous but insanely catchy bit of pop-jazz/R&B: a clear, pitch-perfect and personable voice; a beautiful face; and, except when she goes horribly J-Lo on the misstep "I Wanna" (obligatory dancehall breakdown included, of course), a knack for penning slightly swinging, perfectly populist tunes with just enough depth and worldliness to get over. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, so be it. But minus the misguided bid for urban radio, she could certainly find her way into the hearts and CD racks of plenty of those Norah Jones fans more impressed by that star's hooks than her affiliation with Blue Note Records. (www.amberquinteiro.com) 1/2

BARRY MAUER
Paris Museum

Orlando's Barry Mauer is a full-time college professor and part-time singer-songwriter who's got a way with brief, sweetly countrified pop tunes. Paris Museum is his second collection of songs, and what it lacks in originality (the shadow of early Wilco looms large — the track "Sinking" is "adapted" from that band's "It's Just That Simple") and visceral compulsion, it makes up for in heart and craft. Everything here is carefully realized; strummy acoustics, Mauer's breathy delivery and a bevy of contributors on various instruments create a breezy-but-substantial vibe. The cheesy "No Love Won" is redeemed by an extremely tasteful guitar solo. Elsewhere, the title track, the Eagles-on-helium "Tough Girl" and sunny '60s "Provisional Love" provide standouts. Some might find his lyrics and wholly guileless sound overwhelmingly sweet, but there's no denying Mauer's talent at putting great little ditties together.

STONE MARMOT
Babes of an Alien Persuasion

The aural embodiment of the phrase "so geeky it's cool," enigmatic quirk-pop mastermind Stone Marmot's full-length is mostly just a joy to listen to. Composed largely of jangly '80s-Athens guitars, drum-machine rhythms, forgotten synth sounds and snidely self-aware dorkitude, Babes of an Alien Persuasion mulches influences from the B-52s to Devo to The Cars to Aztec Camera to They Might Be Giants for the purpose of its own bent amusement. That any of the songs are good at all might be something of a minor miracle; that several of them ("Environmental Poser," "The Choice," "Ms. Frumpy," "Sensitivity") are amazing says some truly scary things about the way Marmot's brain works. Though one must wade through a few clunkers ("River," "Alien Concubine," "The Duh-Lay-Oh Song") along the way, the marvelous harmonies, caricatured pop hallmarks and utterly ludicrous themes are surely worth the price of admission. (www.stonemarmot.com) 1/2

Contact Scott Harrell at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or by e-mail at [email protected].

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