Living Things, Esquivel, Local H, Once More, Julie Gribble
Ahead of the Lions
I suppose now’s as good a time as any for a straight-up condemnation of the Bush administration’s war engineering/profiteering/manipulating/etc. Whatever can be done to persuade more young people to remove asinine warmongers from public office is appropriate business for such a dirty, depraved era. And that’s about the extent of Living Things’ first full-length proper. This record is fucking nasty, loud and ballsy and blaring and unapologetic in its anti-war politicking. Opener “Bombs Below” delivers the message with the curt and righteous indignation every Left leaner who’s been bent over the last five years will recognize immediately: We’re gonna win the war/that’s what your kids are for. But it’s not just brute politics under the bone saw. “God Made Hate” is an egalitarian, pro-immigration, pro-choice, pro-contextualized-view-of-history tempo changer, a sedate mid-album headbobber that devolves into a noisy mess with an unexpectedly industrial vibe.
Overall, Living Things is more AC/DC than Rage Against the Machine, with devastating power chord arrangements that hearken to early Ramones. It’s relatively simple music with an anthemic, simpler message: Get these assholes out of Washington! Which is, really, just too easy. —Stephen George
The Sights and Sounds of Esquivel
(Bar None Records)
Juan Garcia Esquivel was a notorious perfectionist as a pianist/bandleader, demanding strict attention to detail of his band members and himself. He is credited with creating the “Space Age Bachelor Pad” sub-genre of lounge music in the 1950s. Experimenting with stereo recording techniques and strange instrumentation placed him miles above his easy listening mates. Recorded in 1974 following a successful engagement at Chicago’s La Margarita, the album was intended to be sold as a memento in the La Margarita restaurant chain. It would have been a simple matter to record a nightclub show for a souvenir platter, yes?
Wanting to “capture the spirit” of a live show, Esquivel took his band into the studio where the atmosphere could be carefully controlled. Everything else from crowd noise to stage banter was added. Yes! Another concept album. The idea of a fake live audio recording that purports to represent the “sights” of a band is just perverse. Should you buy it?
It’s lounge music. From 1974. They do “Delta Dawn.”
If that hasn’t made you throw up in your mouth, then go with god and may you be the richer for it. —Michael Steiger
Local H Comes Alive
Even in the wake of the White Stripes, Local H's two-man lineup has foisted upon them a slight whiff of “novelty act,” but they are anything but. On a good night, there are few bands that can match their thunderous assault; on a transcendent night, Local H becomes the living embodiment of rock ’n’ roll. In layman's terms, they are the best live band in America. (Having seen every band in America play live, I am qualified to make that judgment.) Plenty of live audio files of the band have found their way onto the Internet, but no official live document has existed until recently. Local H Comes Alive serves up 17 H classics culled from two performances guaranteed to puncture an eardrum, deviate a septum, stain your britches and otherwise bring about a physical reaction. Crudely Photoshopped album graphics that parody record sleeves from the ’70s — the golden age of live records — show that the band has some perspective on the whole thing, but the music shows that at the /files/storyimages/of the day, they’re deadly serious. —Jay Ditzer
People Ruin Things
Christopher Browder is the engine behind Once More, a trio of Louisville dudes currently studying at different colleges, and his voice quavers Conor-style through these 12 songs like a man profoundly affected by that which he’s written about. That is to say, it’s not affectation or posturing, or doesn’t seem to be.
This is the band’s second album, a formidable contender in the ranks of Louisville emo, though such a classification betrays some complexity here. “We’re Robbers” is an upbeat, existentialist musing that morphs to reveal Browder’s disdain for disingenuous emoters. “For You, We Would Build the Taj” drops the emo drape for the refreshingly raucous. The problem is that when Once More gets loud, they get conventional. The arrangements and stunted, staccato chord progressions come off a little too much like Sum 41. The standouts are really Browder’s solo acoustic numbers, “Family Dinner Week” the most mature and melodically dedicated among them. Choice line: I swear that I’m alive/I swear I haven’t died. That’s precisely the point where the record (and band) is complex: Sounds like a real pop songwriter is wrestling himself behind a noise barrier. If he/they can work it out, somebody call Saddle Creek. —Stephen George
This record is appropriately named, because it bores. Except for the lone gem, the charming “One More for the Missing,” Julie Gribble fails to prove why she’s different from any other singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar and an overactive imagination. The production and mediocre accompaniment hide what could have been a charming one-on-one conversation between her and her audience. It should be just Julie. Instead she’s plain Jane. Natalie Merchant fans will marvel — or revolt as the case may be — at how well Gribble flat-out channels the former 10,000 Maniacs’ frontwoman. Such a facsimile is quite the shame indeed. Maybe a few more years, plus a shot of whiskey now and then, and the real Gribble will show up from behind the overproduction. Gribble plays Uncle Pleasant’s Nov. 11, along with Jamie Barnes, Gillis, and Between Two Lions ($5, 9 p.m., 18+). —Mat Herron
Living Things, Esquivel, Local H, Once More, Julie Gribble
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