Welcome to this year's final installment of local-music reviews. It's not quite as eclectic as one might hope this time around, I'm sorry to say, but runs the gamut from bands you should seek out immediately to, er, the opposite kind. Enjoy.
A Beautiful Dream
This full-length by a Tampa one-man band kicks off with some tight, snappy electro funk-rock ("Cuttin' Loose") and slinky groove ("Bundle of Joy"); the programmed bass and rhythms effectively support Mike Baluja's bright, syncopated guitar and coolly minimalist vocals. Deeper in, however, the sinewy vibe that carries these two tunes sometimes collapses under the weight of the myriad sounds and styles heaped upon it. "A New Beginning" suffers from too much arty ambition and overwrought keyboard, and "The Dark Room" is a heavier, more cluttered and less successful version of the disc's opener. The rest of the album follows a pattern of hit ("Comfort in the Bottle," "Back it Up") and miss ("A Beautiful Dream," "One"), hitting with spare, groovy hooks and missing when it tries to pile too much onto them. ([email protected])
This Pinellas melodic hard rock act has everything in its place — which can be a good thing, a bad thing or, in this case, both. Every performance is competent and somewhat inspired, from the rhythm-perfect drumming through the throaty baritone vocals. The production is fine, with the minor exception of the midrange-less rhythm guitar tones, but that's exactly what most metallic guitar tracks currently sound like anyway, so there you go. (Oddly, the leads and clean tracks are fat and perfect.) Fans looking for something that lies between Creed's monolithic, one-dimensional riffage and older metal's more adventurous six-string acrobatics will be pleased, particularly with the disc's first two songs. Having said that, however, Vent offers little in the way of innovation or discernible personality. The little touches they add, like cleanly picked instrumental passages, the hackneyed sounds of rain at the close of "My World," and the flanged-out guitar intro to galloping closer "Out of Time," are the same things hard rock bands have been doing since the '70s. It's definitely not bad, but a little more originality could go a long, long way. ([email protected])
The June EP
Three quick bursts of female-fronted power-pop, complete with a few intriguing new chord changes ("Sunday") and some quirky comedy ("Sunomono"). There's nothing shockingly different going on here, but Gina Forlano's sultry vocals recall a less smoky Chrissie Hynde. The instrumental performances are appropriately rough yet tight. This mini EP's production is a bit strange at first — Forlano's lead vocal, though not loud or strained, is boosted conspicuously out front — but you might find yourself humming the choruses after only a couple of listens. (www.niceguyeddie.com/buckle/)
Oldsmar crossover kids Concise have mixed metallicious guitar tones, emo angst and raw, punk-ass execution on this six-song disc, and it works well. Better than most, anyway; there are plenty of posthardcore bands in the Bay area that sound like an amalgam of every group that's come through town with New Found Glory over the past few years, but only a handful inject the style with their own personality. While this lengthy EP waffles between bursts of originality and the tried and true, there's a visceral sense of commitment — and just enough cunning guitar-fill innovation — that's impossible to miss. Concise are heavier, catchier, and more rocking than the more indie-minded of their ilk, without veering too close to The Used/Taking Back Sunday territory. It works in their favor. Check out "12/13" and "Soundwaves," and try not to be at least a little impressed. They're not exactly airtight, but that sense of impending chaos works in their favor. There's lots of potential here. (www.concisepunk.com) 1/2
Don't Make Me Laugh
Journeywoman backup singer Janelle Sadler (Natalie Cole, Donny Osmond, fucking Crimson Glory!) calls Cali home these days, but because she's a Tampa native, we'll give her debut disc a spin in the name of home turf. Don't Make Me Laugh is a pop-jazzy collection of originals penned by Sadler's producer and band, and several classics of varying genres (Janis Ian's "Jesse," fucking Hendrix!). It's also exactly what you'd expect from such an offering: immaculate musicianship (particularly Robin Swenson's wonderful piano), a great voice, clean, shiny production. Is it boring? As a guy whose all-time favorite album might be Faith No More's Angel Dust, I've gotta say yes. But even I was charmed at moments — "Manic Depression" was NOT one of them — and it's a solid, professional effort that should please fans of everything from cruise-ship jazz to Sarah McLachlan. (www.janellesadler.com) 1/2
Former Neurotica guitarist Shawn Bowen's metallic, atmospheric trip-scape trio Bald Daisy offers plenty of amorphous style. Vocalist "Erigeron Ganymede" contributes perfectly lingering, classically trained female vocals. Percussionist/drummer "Ecco" lends just enough tight groovecore weight. And as "Calvus," Bowen pulls double duty as guitarist and programmer for a sound that might be described as Evanescence having a dream about chilling out, firing their DJ and running nowhere in slow motion. Sound effects approach only to flit away into mist, anchored by live drums and Bowen's refusal to give up on the chunky riff completely. The group's ethereal approach keeps them from sounding like the aforementioned Linkin-Park-with-a-chick product; there's a sort of "trademark sound" at work here that puts them closer to the industrial/Goth milieu than to cinematic nu-metal. Still, the overall effect is slightly generic, crawling and a bit banal, gazing at the horizon without actually trying to chase it down. Once they do, they could be unstoppable. (www.balddaisy.com)
Tomorrow Can Wait
My reaction to the couple of times I've so far seen Soulfound live has been the impression that their energy and presence were top-notch, but the material was a little weak. Listening to their full-length, oddly, gives the opposite feeling: the songs are better than I thought, but Tomorrow Can Wait lacks a bit of the oomph I saw in the set. Of course, that can be said of about 90 percent of self-produced releases, right? Here, standard alt-rock hallmarks benefit from just enough muscle, inventive elements (off-kilter time signatures, harmony guitar lines) and earnest self-investment to rise above the same ol', same ol'. Textured hints of New Wave/'80s pop-rock influence shine through the manly hooks, adding substance to a sound that, at first listen, might be dismissed as a fratty FM take on the last Jimmy Eat World release. Highlights include opener "Now Is Yours," the swinging "So Long Pretender," and "Repair." Were this a "Most Likely To Succeed" competition, they'd win. As it is, this is better-than-average melodic rock from guys who know how to do it well. (www.soulfound.com) 1/2
The Standing Shadows
The Standing Shadows
C'mon, seriously. This is the same band that I saw shambling through a bunch of tunes at the Emerald, songs that had a lot of potential, yeah, but were wholly unrealized at the time. Where'd they freakin' record, Wizard of Oz Studios? There's no arguing the rudimentary, derivative nature of these six songs. At the same time, there's no denying the fact that this is a superlative collection of rock 'n' roll that transcends "garage," "retro," "blues-punk," or whatever else you want to call dirty two-chord riffs and libido that owe more to The Stones than anybody else. Great sounds, great hooks, great everything. A minute ago, I was writing about how most unsigned bands sound infinitely better live than they do on self-financed recordings. Well, never mind. This disc is cool. It's trendy. It's almost hyperbolic in its borrowing. It sounds like a million other bands. It's also great.
Rich Whiteley Band
This full-length from songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Rich Whiteley and band showcases an outfit more adept at plying roots-pop gems than scrunching all of their elements together in drawn-out jams. The tunes could all fall under the aegis of the post-Gram Parsons fuck-with-country mentality, were one willing to sprinkle a little granola on the whole thing. The title track recalls a more laid-back James Gang; everywhere else, the band imbues roots-rock with varying degrees of blues, psychedelia, porch-country and an only moderately energetic brand of Crescent City R&B. To call 'em a jam band is, ultimately, a misnomer. These are finely crafted twang-blues tracks that never get more than slightly excited, instead riding infectious, laid-back grooves whose engaging outdoor-bar vibe almost compensates for their innate, you know, white guy-ness. (www.richwhiteleyband.com)
Peace on Earth
While Ocala songwriter Jason Lundock's seven-track home-recorded effort showcases some solid alt-rock songwriting ideas ("Fool's Gold," "Ilium," "Ziggurats"), the shaky execution robs what strong concepts are present of most of their listenability. Yes, four-track recordings are supposed to be raw and expressive. But multi-instrumentalist Lundock's vocal and drum performances, by and large, just aren't up to par, production quality notwithstanding. The punky, repetitive "Fool's Gold" provides Peace on Earth's one shining moment, largely because Lundock abandons any attempt at melody in favor of a compelling, visceral scream. Everywhere else, what might be commendable, workable riffs and arrangements suffer from the distraction of sketchy, sophomoric drum takes and off-key vocals. (www.jasonlundock.com) 1/2
Contact Music Critic Scott Harrell at [email protected], or 813-248-8888, ext. 109.