CATALPA CATALPA — HARDONCITY (OPSOUND)
Hardoncity is the first CD release from Opsound, a label/collective/online artist resource center founded by New York-based artist Sal Randolph. Eschewing copyright and licensing red tape, Opsound's Web site offers musicians a chance to upload and download music and sound in a share-friendly "sound pool." It's fitting that Catalpa Catalpa gets the first "official" release from the Electronic/Experimental imprint. The Cincinnati duo of Hayes Shanesy and Justin Stewart cut up and manipulate noise, actual instruments, beats and samples (sources are often molested beyond recognition) to create magnetic mood music. But the re-pasting is far from random (and don't get too cozy in your "mood"). CC's collaging has purpose, as the twosome constructs a textural flow that rotates between gushing currents of exquisite, airy ambiance and more erratic beat-craziness. A mix of studied Post Rock elegance ("I Know, Right"), vocal-less Indie Pop ("Kid Shit") and gltichy electronic tweakiness ("Debbiedrone"), the end result is disorientingly dynamic, spacious and occasionally jarring. But there's also much fluidity, as the sounds on tracks like "Mummy" oscillate hypnotically, drawing your ears closer with each repeated listen. The duo does go more extreme at times — the cicada-beat-driven "Wax Lips" has a winding song structure befitting a Jazz arrangement, while "Kronk & Scaggs" is an overdriven, fuzzy whirl of noise that resembles the gear-grinding roar of a 50-year-old muffler-less motorbike. Apathetic music fans not up for anything more challenging than a Postal Service record might not stand for CC's roguish multiplicity, but those who appreciate more progressive and creative explorations of sound will rejoice.
(Mike Breen) Grade: A-
500 MILES TO MEMPHIS — 500 MILES TO MEMPHIS (3rd SILO RECORDS)
Grabbing attention right out of the gate locally with their unique meshing of straightforward, old-school Country and energized, new-school Punk and Rock, 500 Miles to Memphis' self-titled album — released by area label 3rd Silo Records — is a solid display of frontman Ryan Malott's sharp, instinctive songwriting skills. Malott comes off like Uncle Tupelo/Son Volt songwriter Jay Farrar genetically spliced with Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, and musically the band isn't far from that intersection either. Drummer Lee Steele (who has since left the band) and bassist Wade Owens follow Malott's writing whims expertly, supplying supple balladic rhythms, rolling train shuffles or hyper, rousing breakbeats with equal poise. 500 Miles to Memphis is an inspiring debut, showing a different way of blending seemingly disparate genres (this isn't Punkabilly, Pyschobilly or your typical Roots Rock fare). But the songwriting is the clincher and gives the band legs beyond, "Hey, look at those guys mixing Punk and Country!" The "Emo craze" isn't exactly a haven for originality, but Malott & Co.'s creative, natural spin is brimming with rootsy freshness (and this is really too good to be linked with the term "Emo" in any way). Good songwriting is good songwriting, regardless of genre. While the sound and song quality here aren't perfect (Malott is very much a promising work in progress, having recently expanded the band to give it more depth), the potential is glowing with neon beer-sign intensity. 500 Miles to Memphis performs Thursday at the Southgate House. (MB) Grade: B+
IN RAGE — TAKE CHARGE (3WAY PRODUCTIONS)
Hard Rock crew In Rage should be making Cincinnati proud. They've managed to produce a well-mixed, diverse and professional album with Take Charge, though that same diversity makes it uncertain how the public will receive it. Hard rockers could brush the album off as being too mainstream Rock-ish with the energetic opener "Breaking Free" (there seems to be something holding the band back from making this a truly full-on, aggressive album). Punk kids might spike up their mohawks to the taut power chord chanting in "If You" and "Take Charge" but be lost by the obligatory slow ballads "Isolation" and "Crumble." It's possible that recently injured romantics will relate to the post-breakup repents of "Contentment," then get distracted by the ferocity of some of their more obscenity-laden cuts. In all, as is often the case for groups that do cover songs for a living, Take Charge attempts to throw out a wide net and grab everyone's enthusiasm but forgets the adage "you can't please all of the people all of the time." It's a good album with potential (especially the standout drumming), but perhaps focusing their apparent musical abilities in a more concentrated direction would keep the sporadic nature tamed and give a better sense of cohesion and direction. (Jacob Richardson) Grade: B-