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Imagine, if you will, the following scenario: Take the musical sounds of rock bands like Fuel and Lit, add in the voice of U2 lead singer Bono, and then make this lead singer look slightly like Marilyn Manson. This composite image exactly describes lead singer Jimmy Gnecco and his group, Ours, a New Jersey band that will release its first album, Distorted Lullabies, in May. The band is mainly known to an established fan base in and around New York and other New England cities where they frequently perform (like Boston). Listening to a small sample of Ours’ music, one would swear that Bono had left U2 to join Ours—that is, until Gnecco starts screaming.
Gnecco’s airy falsetto dominates many of the tracks on Distorted Lullabies, a falsetto that can turn unexpectedly into a controlled but chilling scream. A great example of this comes in the album’s second song, “Drowning,” which has a lively beat and an almost too-catchy refrain, punctuated by Gnecco’s distinct howling. The introduction of “Sometimes” sounds exactly like a song from the movie Romeo and Juliet, and is a slightly more mellow and melodic song than many of the others on the album—that is, until Gnecco starts screaming, again. The edgy songs on the album reflect a tormented, anguished soul, a feeling which is backed up by the intermittent screams. The titles of the songs speak for themselves: “I’m a Monster,” “Miseryhead,” “Dancing Alone,” “Bleed.” Does anyone see a pattern?
Even if howling is not your scene, Distorted Lullabies is at times almost sweet and pleasant sounding. U2 fans may even be able to see past the disruptions and appreciate Gnecco’s voice for what it is. However, with their disturbing themes and haunting screams, these “lullabies” are more likely to inspire nightmares. —Sarah N. Kunz
Tegan and Sara
This Business of Art
Tegan and Sara are Canada’s best kept secret. From the first line, they come jumping out of your speakers with their edgy acoustic guitars and intense, hip lyrics and attitude that could teach musicians twice their age something. Because they’re only 20, they’ve been touring and playing for several years. And this, their debut album on Vapor Records, bodes very, very well for the twins from Calgary, Alberta.
Girls playing guitars...the comparisons are easy to make: fans of Ani DiFranco and The Indigo Girls will not be displeased. There are times when they sound a little like PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea too. But the mix of folk, rap, driving acoustic guitars and the perfectly paired voices is something no one else can match. The first track on This Business (called, appropriately enough, “The First”) is a ball-grabbing, attention-snatching coming of age cut that includes lyrics about how, “They go from kindergarten to killing sprees/They go from heartache to inner peace.” It’s heady, sometimes scary stuff.
The album also includes some beautiful, jangly, almost poppy songs, though never losing the bite that sets them apart from the bubblegum variety. “My Number” might have been simply a love song, only Tegan keeps on telling you, “It’s a silly time to learn to swim when you start to drown.” The lyrics are savvy and young at the same time, a rare and precious mix. The story is that their live act has more attitude than Bono in a sunglass store, and I can believe it. They’re playing Paradise May 18. Sounds like a great way to ring in exams to me.
—Andrew R. Iliff
Couch are German, and they play rock music, and they don’t sing. This is not an altogether surprising combination of characteristics—Germany, after all, has a long and proud tradition of instrumental rock acts dating back to Can and Neu (and earlier, you could always argue, to Stockhausen, etc.). The instrumental rock genre itself, if there is one, has seen a recent renaissance with bands like Man or Astroman?, Don Caballero, Mogwai, and Trans Am. Couch fits right in. (Note: I don’t know no German, so I let the often hilariously inaccurate Babelfish translate titles for me.)
I can guess that the chiaroscurist contrast of beatific cover (an image of a pretty park with some distant peoploids in a pool) and judgmental album title means that Couch intend to say something while not actually saying anything (like Godspeed You Black Emperor!, but with less scrutable liner notes). What it is, though, I don’t know, and titles like “12 is only 4” (“12 sind nur 4”) and “Colour” (“Farbe”) don’t help. What’s obvious, though, is that Profane is some of the most beautiful German intrumental rock music to appear in America in a long time.
Like their minimalist Teutonic predecessors, Couch keep it simple. The instrumentation is piano, bass, guitar, drums, with occasional subtle strings or horns. Piano parts often serve as second bass lines, guitars pluck high harmonic, and drums are generally satisfyingly Zeppelin-like. The real beauty of the album, though, comes from the strong melodies—every track is pretty, and “Everything on Traces” (“Alle auf Pause”) and the opening “Plan” are gorgeous. Song structures may be straightforward, but never boring. As great minimalists from Steve Reich to Chuck Berry have always known, the beauty of repetition comes from slight variations and shifts that sometimes don’t even register on the conscious mind. This Couch do to perfection—there are combinatorial variations of arrangements and melodies and just enough crafty developments to keep songs captivating. Brilliant stuff.
—Josiah J. Madigan
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