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Glam Slam

By David King

Smith Westerns

Dye It Blonde

Its not like the world needed any more artists bent on copping the bopping beats, fuzzed-out guitar squeal, elfin vocals, and pompy backup singing of T. Rex. But if someone is going to do it again, they better do it right—and Smith Westerns do just that.

The band’s self-titled debut was as garage and lo-fi as it was T. Rex-obsessed, but Dye It Blonde embraces headphone-sexing, Tony Visconti-style production, and it’s covered in enough reverb to make you wonder if any will be left over for bands like Fleet Foxes and Wavves. On “All Die Young,” the band deliver their approximation of “Children of the Revolution,” anthemic and grand, swelling with organs and ooh-oohs.

On “Still New,” they prove over and over again the the classic formula works as they break the pop waves with a searing guitar lick. It’s not quite a solo, and the trick happens so many times in the song that you would think it would be impossible to fall for it. But each time that lick hits, your heart jumps. It is a shameless take on T. Rex’s “Ballrooms of Mars” (and even ends with a bit of backwards tape riffing, like “Ballrooms”). But Cullen Omori’s vocals make the song something totally different—his vocals are slight, much slighter than Bolan’s, and while Bolan made his songs supernatural with lyrics like “John Lennon knows your name and I’ve seen him,” Omori makes his simplistic lyrics and vocals flow along with the song, more like another instrument than a rock star.

If you like a good indie album with a heaping helping of old-school glam styling, you can’t do much better than Dye It Blonde. If you are a T.Rex fan, pick up this album for the same warm feeling any of that band’s classic albums ever gave you. Seriously, it’s that good.

 

Ben + Vesper

Honors

This second full-length release (there have also been some EPs) by Ben + Vesper is my entry point. I’ve heard nothing prior, but now most likely will, once I’m over being intrigued by the catchy and mysterious bearing of Honors. The lyrics are rich with observations, metaphors and introspection, often in slivered and resonant phrases. The whole may make itself apparent later, but at first blush it’s like the facets of a diamond, each one sparkling and reflecting. The titles themselves are compelling, though they seem to function as labels without being drawn from what is sung. And then there’s the matter of the band’s name: They are a married couple, each one being on either side of the plus sign. Ben is actually Joshua Stamper; Vesper’s real name does not make itself apparent.

With those facts out of the way, the sonics are what are at the heart of this disc. Stamper’s guitar and Vesper’s keyboards are half of the core quartet, along with bassist John Mosloskie and drummer Steve Oyola, appended on some tracks by Sufjan Stevens on piano. Just as Ben + Vesper’s reference points empower the songwriting, mine allow for comparisons unique to my past listening experiences. The opening track, “Adult Vaga,” got my attention because the couple’s harmony vocals brought to mind a favored Boston band from the 1980s, Christmas. There are also connections to the character of works by Stevens and Rilo Kiley (or, more specifically, the conversational phraseology of Jenny Lewis’ lyrics).

For the most part an electric ensemble, they judiciously utilize acoustic instruments as well, such as on the curiously titled “Understruggle: Yay, Win.” The album’s closing title track is a tour de force of anthemic bearing wedded to campfire sing-along.

—David Greenberger

 

Thomas Giles

Pulse

Apparently, no one told Between the Buried and Me frontman Tommy Rogers that a passable Roger Waters impression is not a strong enough base for an album. Pulse, his second solo record, released under the name Thomas Giles, brings to mind a scene from the Noah Baumbach film The Squid and the Whale. The one where Jesse Eisenberg’s character wins over the crowd at the school talent show with his take on Pink Floyd’s “Hey You.” He claims to have written the song himself, but is eventually outed. He excuses his plagiarism by saying, “I felt like I could have written it, so the fact that it was already written was just a technicality.”

In the same way, it doesn’t seem that Rogers feels any shame for draping himself in his influences. Between the Buried and Me are a furiously creative metal outlet who combine the influences of all their members. It’s an eclectic mix, and that is something special in the metal scene these days. But alone, Rogers isn’t delivering anything special.

His Pink Floyd imitations combined with bad drum-machine breaks, stuttering synth lines, and a few nods to Mike Patton and Freddie Mercury, add up to little more than a self-indulgent mix tape. And yet for something that seems like a vanity project, there is actually very little grandeur or experimentation.

Songs like “Sleep Shake” and “Hypoxia” find Rogers tripping over himself to complicate simple ballads with dumb industrial breaks. This passes as creative in the metal world, despite amateurish lyrics and a limited vocal range, because Rogers is normally screaming his guts out. So this album somehow translates into maturity.

“Scared,” an acoustic ballad with Rogers doing his best Thom Yorke/Chris Martin impression, is the easiest to swallow. It sounds like something off Radiohead’s The Bends album (good), but features lyrics that could be taken straight from Hail to the Thief (bad). On “Medic,” Rogers abandons the acoustic pretense and goes back to his usual uber-processed cookie-monster scream, backed by shredding guitars, and somehow it just feels much, much more natural.

If loving Pink Floyd and being able to emulate their spaced-out vocals and lyrics were criteria enough to release an album, every college kid with a shitty acoustic guitar and dreads would be pimping their new slow-jam prog release. But most people are smart enough to realize they can’t get away with ripping off just one band—even Modest Mouse had to add the Pixies to their repertoire to gain mainstream appeal.

—David King


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