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Teacher’s Pet – self-titled

Teacher's Pet CD cover

It seems strange to call a disc (or a band, for that matter) “ahead of their time” when the tracks were written 30 years ago, but that just makes Teacher’s Pet stand out that much more. These guys – and this disc – are pop-punk before such a thing existed and got screwed up by bubble gum punk bands like Blink 182. There’s no mistake that this is punk, but it’s without the depressed raging and pissing and moaning that defined the genre from its roots until the late 90s or so.

“Can’t Do That” sets the ably for punk’s energy and vitriol, but – like the rest of the disc – is tinged with some pop and even glam sensibilities. The addition of keys add an extra layer of excited energy that makes you want to get up and move without necessarily wanting to burn down the system. This is a staple on other tracks, including (but not limited to) “Let’s Face It” and “Big Fat Mama”.

This is not to say that the album is totally free from bubble gum punk cheesiness. “Fast Food baby”, “Little Arthur” and “The Cops Are Coming” are rife with the stuff. Te lyrics also have a tendency to become overly trite and simplistic with amateurish rhyme schemes on tracks like “Don’t Need You”, “I’m Henry VIII I Am” and (predictably) “Meet Me At The Hot Dog Stand In Half An Hour But Don’t Tell Your Dad”.

That same seeming immaturity (recklessness?) works flawlessly at other times, though, making tracks like “Hooked On You” far catchier than your average punk rock track – sometimes, this comes at the risk of sounding insincere, such as tracks like “Cincinnati Stomp” (who says you can’t write a catchy song about a dozen people being trampled to death at a rock concert?) and “Teenage Suicide”.

With rockabilly sentiments that run deeper than their cover of “Summertime Blues”, Teacher’s Pet draw from a vast range of influences from Eddie Cochran to The Stooges. It may not always works, but they get high marks for trying – for reinventing the punk sound a couple of decades before Green Day made it cool, they’ll always be this teacher’s pet.

-Late

Teacher’s Pet

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 3.5 stars
***1/2

Heavy Water Experiments – Heavy Water Experiments

Heavy Water Experiments CD cover

Dripping with psychedelia, Heavy Water Experiments’ self-titled CD is a twelve track glimpse into what would happen if Radiohead came into your college dorm room to munch on Cheetos and cover Tool songs.

“Goldenthroat” provides the perfect intro to the disc, winding its way into your subconscious and letting the rest of the disc slip behind the veil and speak to you on an almost meditative level. The bulk of the disc plays in that same vein, although some tracks (notably “Book Colored Blue”) sometimes get lost within themselves on drag on a bit longer than they should.

While still maintaining that trancelike sound, tracks like “Mirror The Sky”, “Neverlove”, the rock sensibility of “Solitude” and the exotic brooding mysticism of “Conflagration Song” are darker, tapping into feelings a bit more primal, but not much less serene. Even when these guys want to show you how heavy they can get, they refuse to change who they are or how they sound. This steadfast dedication to maintaining their underlying vision becomes even more apparent when interlaced with the exotic flare of “Octavian” or the almost frantic energy of “Otherland”.

“Anodyne” may be the one exception. It’s probably the most radio-friendly track on the disc, playing with a slightly more pop sensibility, reminiscent of the Alan Parsons Project.

The biggest danger with this disc is probably the munchies. While the experimentation may be heavy, it’s as calm as still waters.

-Late

 

Heavy Water Experiments

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 4.0 stars
****

 

NorseLaw – Serpent in the Circling Sea

NorseLaw - Serpent in the Circling Sea CD cover

Never one to rest on his laurels, NorseLaw is back and he’s once again tweaked his sound a bit, with Serpent in the Circling Sea.

The title track starts things off heavy, with a solid NWOBHM sound that runs loudly and proudly through most of the disc. Don’t believe me? Check out tracks like “Return of the Wolf” and “Beyond the Dawn’s Last Radar”, which channels NorseLaw’s inner Motorhead.

While that metal sound runs rampant throughout, there’s also a definite punk undertone as well which really comes out in “Servants of the State” – arguably the most relevant thing NorseLaw has written. One thing that makes this disc come alive is that every track seems to bring a little something extra to the table as well. “Wasteland Wanderer” is a surprisingly (and, at times, awkwardly) up tempo track, “Mirror Maize” introduces some doom elements (think later-day Celtic Frost) and “Fungi From Yuggoth” is a thrashy tip of the helmet to H.P. Lovecraft. There are even a couple of instrumentals thrown in for good measure, the nifty little “Green Laser” and the blistering “Winterfell”.

Does all of this mixing and matching of styles work seamlessly? Not always. “Children of the Storm” is a jumbled mess and glaringly draws attention to just how much experimentation is going on. Plus, with all his burning and pillaging, NorseLaw clearly doesn’t have time for any of that “music theory” nonsense – after listening to three or four albums, I still don’t think I’ve ever heard an actual transition from him. Once again, though, he makes it work for him – NorseLaw likes his music raw.

The Vikings tell of the Midgard Serpent, which circles the entire world under the sea and will signal the end of the world when he releases his tail. What NorseLaw has done here encircles the last 30 years or so of the metal scene and its influences into ten primordial tracks, and this release is poised and ready to poison the sky.

-Late

Serpent in the Circling Sea

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 4.0 stars
****

Tiffany Gow – Deeply Drowning in Deception

Tiffany Gow - Deeply Drowning in Deception CD cover

Tiffany Gow’s Deeply Drowning in Deception is another case of not judging a book by its cover. If you go in cold, you’re going to get smacked in the face. First, the soft focus cover sets your expectations completely incorrectly. Next, a soft, lilting intro gets you in the mood for some light fare. Then “Liar Liar” stands up and slaps you in the face with some Lita Ford-style rock and roll.

The disc then treats you to ten tracks (plus a bonus track or two) of solid rock, spanning everything from power pop to prog rock to straight up rock and roll. “Death of Me” and “Save Me” feature some slightly more progressive compositions while “Faith” and “Love Is Not Enough” are pretty standard pop ballads. “No Fear” straddles both ends, starting out as a ballad but seemlessly slipping into and out of power ballad territory and “Numb” lets up on the gas slightly, slipping into that realm of female-fronted rock generally reserved for Heart.

For a solo CD, there’s a surprising amount of musicianship here. This may be Tiffany Gow’s CD, but she has no problem sharing the spotlight with the musicians backing her up – which is a nice change from so much of the solo work out there, which tends to play as one person’s karaoke.

The one knock on the disc is the uneven lyrics. It has some strong moments, to be sure, but the repetitiveness of “Liar Liar”, and weak choruses in “Fake” and “Heading For A Fall” really distract from what would otherwise be solid tracks. The bonus track is a remix of “Death of Me” and “Love is not Enough”. The first half works surprisingly well as a dance remix, the second half, not so much – the source material is too slow and spicing it up, still isn’t enough to make it a dance track, but is enough to screw up the charm that the original track had.

Overall, strong vocals, stronger than expected musicianship and a nice overall balance make this a strong CD – something you can pop in and rock to without driving your girlfriend nuts. And that’s no deception.

-Late

Deeply Drowning in Deception

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 3.5 stars
***1/2

Carol Martini – Petals of the Red Magnolia

Petals of the Red Magnolia by Carol Martini

Carol Martini’s latest slice of folk-rock Americana, Petals of the Red Magnolia is at times soft and sweet, but too often sappy and silly. In attempting to channel the likes of Neil Young and Janis Ian into her infusion of pop, country and folk, she has instead created something more akin to an Erma Bombeck musical.

To be sure, there is a lot of charm on this disc. Songs like “Love Took Hold”, “Swim in the Ocean”, “The Bath Song” and “Teflon-Coated Heart” are sappy, but their simplicity has a certain charm to it. This isn’t polish and glitz, it’s a singer-songwriter bringing you into her world. “Table and Chairs” acknowledges as much, and gives a lot of these songs an intimacy akin to a quiet coffee shop, while maintaining the fun and laid-back style of karaoke night.

There’s even some heartfelt poignancy on tracks like “How Proud I Am”, “No Wishes”, “Almost Gone” and “Petals on the Water” – a poignancy brought home all the more powerfully by the homespun sound.

Unfortunately, that only takes one so far. Tracks like “Skateboard Chick” – with its distracting background vocals – and “You’re the Only One” seem to want to add some polish to the rough product and it loses that charm, making it seem like little more than a bad indie recording. The sappy, endearing lyrical style also wears thin on tracks like “Moms Are The Greatest”, “Sugar” and “Store It”, giving way to silly greeting card platitudes.

“Halloween is at the Door” gets a special nod – it is everything that so many of the other tracks are not. It has well-developed imagery (as opposed to the amateurish lyrical musings of tracks like “Sweet Valentine”) and is more musically fulfilling than the bulk of the disc. It’s the standout track and really draws attention to itself.

At times heartfelt and endearing, Petals of the Red Magnolia reminds us all to stop and smell the flowers from time to time, but at times this particular magnolia can be a bit overwhelming in its sweetness.

-Late

 

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