Local Reviews

June 28, 2006

Valient Thorr

Legend of the World

(Volcom Entertainment)

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You'll think I'm talking bollocks, but Valient Thorr, fronted by the enigmatic and unusually hirsute Valient himself, is a Venusian rock band stranded on our own blue island, at least in concept if not in--well, reality. Come to think of it, maybe I am talking bollocks. From what I understand, Venus is hot enough to melt lead. I'm a little hard pressed to believe that leather pants and denim vests could actually survive such conditions. But what's reality ever had to do with the fantasyland of rock?

In this case, actually, quite a bit: The extraterrestrial heshers in Valient Thorr seem suspiciously interested in our puny Earth politics. But I guess it's hard to stay marooned in a place like the Triangle for any substantial interval without picking up some lefty talking points, and one suspects that these Venusian expats have spent an inordinate amount of time blasting the radical proto-punk of MC5 in their interstellar conversion van. Legend of the World is a raucous platter of snarling, polemical dissent. Song titles like "Goveruptcy," "False Profits" and "Fall of Pangaea" don't beat around the bush. Rather, they beat around the Bush, as neo-cons and imperialists are mercilessly bombarded by the band's heavy-ordnance air raids.

Valient Thorr, ever eclectic, doesn't stop at channeling the rawer side of classic rock. Besides echoes of Thin Lizzy, Skynyrd and The Stooges, we get chorus-pedaled prog leads, finger-tapped solos, early Metallica galloping chug on "Exit Strategy," blues-rock choogling on "Rezerection," and revival-tent testifying all around. Unafraid to noodle, unapologetically bombastic, Valient Thorr's energy and talent are tempered by the album's iffy recording quality. If their charismatic, Warped Tour-approved live set is cleansing fire, this is lightning in a bottle--the recording's so straightforward it actually sounds like a live record at times, and occasionally one wishes Volcom had coughed up a few more bucks for that outsized studio wallop. --Brian Howe

Roman Candle

The Wee Hours Revue

(V2 Records)

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It's possible to separate Roman Candle's second album, The Wee Hours Revue, from its backstory, but metaphors of parables this apt should be ignored only with caution. Wee Hours is a re-worked take on the Chapel Hill quintet's debut, Says Pop, released in 2002 to quiet critical clamor and re-recorded in 2003 at the behest of Hollywood Records. A few hundred large and three years later, the band was dropped, record in hand. At last, it's out, and--two years later than expected--it's one of the best rock albums this year.

As such, it sounds like a long-in-the-tank catharsis, the sort of album that's like a release of desire, an exclamatory exhumation of comprehensively developed ideas long festering to see the light of day. Clocking in at 52 minutes, it's an exhausting listen, conjuring a marathon of shifting dynamics and a holistic ode to the band's heroes' two-sides-of-vinyl touchstones: The Faces, The Replacements, The Beatles. Every song Skip Matheny writes seems destined to stick, too, 13 tracks all guided by the obsession-worthy nature of a pop masterpiece.

Here, producer Chris Stamey's immaculate taste goads that along, embracing such pop power by refining the songs and enunciating the turns while delegating the Matheny family's clever cross-genre sonic fascinations to bridges between songs. As such, searing electric guitar-and-organ number "Another Summer" is hinged to blue-eyed-soul, Memphis-horns, British-keys builder "I Can't Even Recall" with a spoken-word sample fit for DJ Shadow. The intro for "I've Got a Reason"--reversed samples imbedded in a phased organ--spontaneously shifts into ripping rock, Matheny howling about his new lease on life thanks to his new, permanent lover. It cascades into handclaps and the buzz of a warm tube amp, eventually slinking into the slow acoustic crawl of "Merciful Man," the album's slowest and most redolent moment.

Such continuity matches the seasonal, long-term approach of the record: The springtime sauce of "Baby's Got It in the Genes" comes counter to the top-down swill of "Something Left to Say." The autumnal tones of the pensive "From an Airplane Window" are matched by the winter-in-the-city nostalgia of "New York This Morning." Seasoned by experience, aged by the industry, Roman Candle marched across three Aprils to see this June release. It was worth the wait. --Grayson Currin

Listen to songs from the new Roman Candle album.

facedowninshit

NPON (Nothing Positive, Only Negative)

(Relapse Records)

Facedowninshit has issued itself a challenge.

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The new album from the Greensboro-Carrboro trio comes with "NPON" written down its spine, four letters meant to signify a brassy mission statement: "Nothing Positive, Only Negative." Badass to a possible fault, the title might as well be screaming "For the next seven tracks I'll be your albatross; live up to me or perish!"

Luckily for vocalist/guitarist Jason Crumer, drummer Ryan Wolfe and vocalist/bassist Waylon Riffs, facedown has the mettle to do such a brash statement justice. And the metal to do one better. Opening with the smoky cough and chaos of "Plasma Center Blues," Crumer and company do little to dispute the Eyehategod comparisons they're saddled with by casual fans and meathead mags, but the record's metal mud and unwieldy amp hum carves deeper into the Southern Sludge skin than most critics give the band credit for.

In fact, NPON nods to a bevy of molasses-metal forebears--from the crusties in Grief and the Cajuns in Crowbar to the harshcore boys in Cavity. This isn't Eyehategod worship: It's a crash course in sunburned sludge and punishing slow jams. From the mid-riff squeals on "Fucked" to the spaghetti-western guitar steps on album-closer "Rough Sleep," the album holds up perfectly front to close.

Relentless--not to mention triumphantly loud--the title track spasms to climax with Crumer and Riffs fire-breathing the words "nothing positive, only negative" ad infinitum. By the end, when the song itself has been beaten into submission, any talk of influence seems useless. The point is the incredible, physically engaging racket. Unbridled and dirty, clutching some of the most sonically furious songs Relapse Records has to offer, facedowninshit have emerged with a record worthy of its title. --Robbie Mackey

Portastatic

Original Film Score for Who Loves the Sun

(Merge Records)

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If I were to say to you, "Word association game: Mac McCaughan: Go," Portastatic would probably be your third choice, after Superchunk and Merge Records. But with a steady stream of critically acclaimed releases spanning more than a decade, McCaughan's solo project is hardly peripheral. While Portastatic's albums are more retiring than Superchunk's, there's nothing throwaway about them. McCaughan simply swathes his winning melodies in delicate indie-pop gauzes instead of spiky rock.

On the De Mel, De Melao EP and the Looking for Leonard film score, McCaughan used Portastatic to explore his fascination with Brazilian music. Who Loves the Sun reunites McCaughan with Leonard writer/director Matt Bissonnette, but the results are markedly different. Gone is the breezy tropicalia, replaced by lush chamber music, sometimes idyllic, sometimes arch. The austere yet emotional arrangements, written for strings, reed instruments, brass, flute, piano, guitar and percussion, evoke an instrumental Sufjan Stevens. Each track is less a song than a theme or motif--22 of them traipse by in just over half an hour--and each has its own compacted scene and mood. Filmic archetypes loom up before your eyes. The album is like an extended, soft-focused montage.

The wistful "Will's Return" sounds like walking-on-the-shore-at-sunset music; the elegiac "Maggie at the Dock" is staring-at-something-as-it-diminishes-on-the-horizon music; the indefatigable bounce of "Fighting Music" would be perfect for driving somewhere really bright and dusty. Cheerful yet undercut with melancholy, Who Loves the Sun also has the vanishing quality of most effective scores: It colors your attention without commandeering it. Portastatic fans old enough to recognize and appreciate the playful conventions of 1970s film scores should be pleased with this departure, although younger listeners might detect a distinct whiff of the elevator. --Brian Howe

Odd Numbers

Here You Go Little Girl...

(In Debt Records)

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Here You Go Little Girl..., the debut from Raleigh hip-hop trio Odd Numbers, isn't an underground hip-hop album. Certainly, it's underground in the sense that these guys--BWise, Henrock and 86 the Canehdian--aren't famous, but it makes no attempt to be a backpacker's odyssey through hyper-enlightened rhymes or over-the-top, complex production. At their best, Odd Numbers simply ride sweaty, funky Southern-style beats as they should be, party-rhyming over cabinet-rattlers about reefer and high fives. But Odd Numbers do borrow from the underground's incumbent inferiority complex, constantly referring to their own superiority as emcees in verses that sometimes don't rhyme or gel.

But referents to the mainstream are just as prevalent: Odd Numbers faun over never-ending joints and busting punks in the face ("My voice makes your girlfriend's panties drop/ and we'll jack you like a bag of blow"). Women get dissed wholesale if they step out of line, but their anatomical assets are always front and center: Each emcee uses the word "boobies" several times, even devoting whole tracks to their worship, like a juvenile Juvenile, sans dialect.

For instance, even after the record's most pensive moment--"Abridged Movement," a Linkin Park-style ballad from 86 where he embraces his enigma status like Fred Durst with a drum machine--he does Gloria Gaynor and himself a disservice, riffing on "I will survive/ on boobies alone" for 78 seconds as his bandmates assure him he is hilarious.

Rather than a typecast, Little Girl is an uncomfortable amalgamation of the clichés of both sides of rap's condition: You get the hyper-good/better/best banter and the uncomfortable androgenic admissions of the mainstream, all in one wash. Odd Numbers have potential, a real chemistry emerging from the tight-groove banter between BWise and Henrock on tracks like "The Funk" and "Rock Wise." But this isn't the party they were hoping to have. --Grayson Currin

Elevator Action

Society, Secret

(MoRisen Records)

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Charlotte's Elevator Action combines the sounds of then and now for a vibrant sonic landscape that seems at home in both worlds. This is a love story of sorts, a look at relationships on the rocks or soon to be there. But there are no lovesick dirges here.

The band hammers like a cross between Cheap Trick and Marc Bolan's T. Rex with a touch of Green Day tossed in on "Surely You Know." "Start a War" sounds like a conflict between Bowie and Slade with a take-no-prisoners attitude. "Common Days" could be the Ramones doing T. Rex. "The more I love you/ the more I live in fear," guitarist/singer Eric Gilstrap proclaims on "Call Me Transistor," resembling vintage Jonathan Richman, in sound and in content.

This is no retro rip-off. The influences are apparent, but Elevator Action doesn't get stuck between floors, stopping instead on new ones sparkling with promise and originality. --Grant Britt

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