While mainstream Guitar Rock in the '90s continues its evolution from contemplative gloom (thanks to Grunge) to aggressive, testosterone-overload (revived by Korn, et al.,), Los Angeles-based Other Star People (OSP) are putting their own shiny spin on the artform. With Jennifer Finch (ex-L7 bassist, now using her longtime nickname Precious) and Xander Smith each on guitar and vocals and Todd Phillips (Bullet Lavolta, Juliana Hatfield 3) on drums and bassist Junko Ito, OSP represent what they call "the CaliPhonic Sound." As their debut release, Diamonds in the Belly of the Dog (A&M), shows, that sound is a shimmering, fabulous ball of power Pop Rock that's part abfab Glam Rock and part modern New Wave (they enlisted Cars key-whiz Greg Hawkes to provide the keyboard work on the album).
There's an almost giddy quality to Diamonds that gives the entire album the feeling of an extra hip and fancy party with a really good soundtrack. The supercharged first single, "I Could Never Be Wrong," boasts a spastic, addictive chorus hook that recalls Devo at their most melodically whacked, while "Go To" sounds like T. Rex at a pep rally (complete with whistle back-up) and "Then There's None," glides along on a Byrds-like guitar riff. The majority of the songs on the album are buoyed by a consistent guitar-chunk that does hurt the record in its diversity, but the band's ability to write clever melodies and harmonies that weave in and out of the basic chord pattern keeps the album interesting from start to finish. Though hardly mindless, Diamonds is a fun record that shouldn't be over-analyzed. Just press play and let the party begin.
At Bogart's with Queens of the Stone Age.
Tribute albums usually celebrate those artists whose music spans time, influencing legions of musicians and inspiring fervent fan bases. Or at least it celebrates the music of someone you've heard of.
Ray Mason's name and music probably don't ring any bells for the majority of the populace, but it speaks volumes that his songs were recently given the tribute album treatment.
It's Heartbreak That Sells (Tar Hut) features a variety of different artists (including Cheri Knight and Cincinnati's own The Ass Ponys) interpreting the songwriter's heartfelt, incredibly melodic tunes with the love and care of a queen's nanny.
Mason, based in Northampton, Mass., is a craftsman, constructing songs that ring with a Pub Rock bounce and a rootsy undertow (think Nick Lowe in a rural setting). Castanets (Wormco), the latest from The Ray Mason Band, is likely to serve as an introduction to Mason's music for those turned on to him through the tribute album. And it's a wonderful introduction, brimming with Mason's soulful, memorable Pop. It's easy to see why The Ass Ponys (who open this show) have such a fondness for Mason's music: Both groups mix interesting lyrics with emotive, well-written Pop songs and a certain sense of eccentricity. Fans of the Ponys' sound will get a double treat tonight, to say the least.
At Top Cat's with The Ass Ponys.
There's a faction of today's "up-and-coming" bands that seem to follow an eerily similar path to potential success. They start touring a lot, build a following, impress a label with said fanbase and potential sales, get signed and then get a song on Party of Five, Dawson's Creek or some other show like that. And then play a concert (or four or five) for any Top 40 radio station that will have them.
Thus, this weekend Train roll into town. Following that admirable, aforementioned route up the music biz food chain, Train have had their eponymous debut released by Aware/Columbia Records. The grass-roots approach is fitting for Train: The album is catchy, acoustic-driven and rootsy. With tunes that sound like songs rather than product, Train are better than the slew of other emerging talents of their ilk. But little on the album rises above the fray to make Train really stand out. The band may blossom into something bigger, but Train too often sound like Counting Black Crowes, thanks to the vocals. While a notch ahead of mediocrity, Train still have little to offer that you can't get from a hundred other bands.
At the Q102 show at the P&G Pavilion.