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Break Down the Walls

The Cooper Temple Clause
Kick Up the Fire, and Let the Flames Break Loose (RCA)

The stateside debut by England’s Cooper Temple Clause is an ambitious amalgam of quirky indie rock, Oasis-y arena bombast, metal, and electronica that is deaf and blind to genre, convention, and criticism. There’s a “We don’t really give a fuck what you think, we’re gonna do this now” attitude in Kick Up the Fire’s 10 songs that is completely refreshing, and maybe just a little bit confusing. These guys are really hard to pin down: They don’t stay in one place for more than five minutes at a time, and while that makes for a fully engaging listening experience, the American masses are bound to either try in vain to pigeonhole the band’s sound or just miss the point altogether.

“Forget about me and just desecrate everything,” sings Ben Gautrey on the lead single, “Promises Promises,” and that’s pretty much what he and his band set about doing for Kick Up the Fire’s 55 minutes. It’s a more effective and realized version of the stylistic mashups attempted by the mid-’90s radar blip Mind Bomb, from the My Bloody Firewater shoegaze of “The Same Mistakes” to “Written Apology,” where they might just reveal their true mission—to make dance music, however noisy, unconventional or unorthodox it may be. That song alone shapeshifts from a hotel-lounge piano-jazz shuffle to a hectic 176-bpm collage of vintage synthesizers and the sound of what may be 100 car alarms screeching in symphony.

“New Toys” throws a breakbeat- damaged Manic Street Preachers-worthy chorus in between blasts of overdriven drums and whispered vocals, then tacks on a coda that, in fitting with the song’s title, sounds as if they picked up every instrument in the studio and gave it a spin. “A.I.M.” is Aphex Twin remixing Nine Inch Nails remixing Stone Temple Pilots. Tack on “Talking to a Brick Wall,” a blast of Liam-Gallagher-fronting-Primal-Scream badass electrorock, and the not-quite-as-’luded Spiritualized drift of “Into My Arms,” and you’ve got yourself a fucking journey.

While it’s probably unfair to simply compare The Cooper Temple Clause to a bunch of other bands, that might be the only way to convey the scope of their sound and vision. It’s also unfair to say that America has absolutely no hope of “getting it”—there are at least a few genuine hits here that could catapult these guys to semi-superstardom, namely “Promises Promises” and “Blind Pilots”—but Kick Up the Fire is first and foremost for the adventurous. It’s also one of the best releases of 2004.

—John Brodeur

Various Artists
Peter Gammons Presents: Hot Stove, Cool Music Volume 1 (Fenway)

Circumventing the cliché of sports-meets-rock crossover compilations, ESPN baseball guru Peter Gammons has produced an interesting collaboration of his and our favorite American pastimes. With profits directed to cancer-research organization the Jimmy Fund, the project tosses together musicians and ballplayers, including Pearl Jam, Paul Westerberg, Little Feat, the Gentlemen and members of the 2003 Red Sox. Gammons apparently has as much authority as anyone to preside over this release. As a teenager, he just barely chose baseball over rock & roll as the dream to pursue (and too bad for rock & roll, because his band the Fabulous Penetrations, included as a bonus cut here with “Summertime Blues,” were particularly riotous for 1963). And to demonstrate his contemporary rock savvy, Gammons listed P.J. Harvey and the Gentlemen as two of his favorite albums from 2000—pretty hip for a guy in his late 50s.

The collection includes a fairly mature range of artists, not old but not exactly fresh either. Westerberg’s slurry rocker “Outta My System” is taut and sharp, on par with his excellent recent work. The Dropkick Murphys bring their now-harmless brand of Irish jig-punk, with co-lead vocals by ex-Letters to Cleo singer Kay Hanley. “Hit That,” sung by bassist Ed Valaskus, sees the Gentlemen in their usual rock form, mixing AC/DC-esque riffs in a power-pop blend. Even the Allman Brothers show up, submitting a live cut of their jazzy ballad “Desdemona.”

Pearl Jam bring some political flair with a live version of “Bu$hleaguer,” the song during which Vedder controversially spiked a Bush costume mask with a mic stand last year. Wittily exposing the president on his unearned political stardom, Vedder calls him out with lines like “born on third, thinks he got a triple” and “he’s not a leader, he’s a Texas leaguer”—the latter being a baseball term for a bloop single likely due to luck more than anything else.

While most tracks were solicited from the artists, it’s the original music commissioned for the project that ends up making this an exciting batch. The Gentlemen perform backing duties as the Hot Stove Band, playing Gary Glitter’s classic “Rock and Roll (Part 1)” with impressively renewed vigor, joined in by members of the Red Sox with the notorious chant “Hey!” The Gentlemen also back Gammons himself on a snazzy cover of Chuck Berry’s “Carol,” where the man himself sounds quite on top of his game. Hot Stove includes a few additional snoozers, but overall it’s a fun and fine endeavor. And hey, it’s for charity.

—John Suvannavejh

Ollabelle
Ollabelle (DMZ)

Ollabelle are a six-person New York City-based band who celebrate rural American roots music, as well as the joys of group singing. What started as a side project became a bona fide group, capped off with a name that pays homage to country singer Ola Belle Reed. They mix traditional songs (including “Jesus on the Mainline,” “Soul of a Man” and “John the Revelator”) with originals, the latter sounding as natural and at ease alongside their forebears as good songs should.

Lead singer Amy Helm has had no shortage of exposure to honest music, her father being Levon Helm of the Band. The rest of the band are singing instrumentalists who have varied but nicely overlapping backgrounds. While a number of the songs wrap themselves in spare and acoustic simplicity, they also embrace the more urban bearing of unobtrusively electric blues and funky gospel. Singing over a pulsing rhythm section or an organ-based combo, Helm sounds strikingly (though unintentionally) like Julie Driscoll, who fronted Trinity with Brian Auger in the ’60s and then continued under her married name of Julie Tippett (such are the surprising juxtapositions that occur with a hefty library of music in one’s head). This debut is post-Harry Smith, post-Alan Lomax music at its finest—steeped in tradition but unafraid to be spunky and inventive.

—David Greenberger


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