The Weekly Jive

Posted August 21, 2008 in Music

DragonForce—Ultra Beatdown (Roadrunner)

More like ultra beat-off.  This ludicrously masturbatory, over-caffeinated fourth offering from these Brit metal caricatures is a regimented blizzard of twin-chipmunk guitars, battle cry lyrics, and blast-beat barrages bookended with mellow, Middle Earth interludes. Yet this superficially laughable “Nintendo metal” is no DragonFarce: there are actual songs amidst the (literally) sped-up histrionics; ZP Theart is a classic metal mouthpiece, with a succulent, grandiose bellow; and the sheer irreverence of the quintet’s no-half-measures-ever approach has to be admired. Like the computer games they’re often associated with (their “Through the Fire and Flames” is perhaps the most shreddy song of the Guitar Hero series), DragonForce brilliantly fuse old-school Dungeons & Dragons-y nerdiness with contemporary cyber geekdom (making full use of ProTools’ tempo-tampering and effects-generating possibilities) into an escapist guilty treasure. DragonForce are Coheed and Cambria gone crazy and Iron Maiden for an impatient generation—go forth and air-widdle! (Paul Rogers)


The Uglysuit—Uglysuit (Touch & Go/Quarterstick)

On their sparkling debut, all six members of Oklahoma’s The Uglysuit—drummer and bassist included—list “guitar” next to their names in the liner notes. But this is no in-joke or overblown “Freebird” shred-off; it’s a gloriously textured and self-assured effort blending shoegaze guitar layers and shimmering melodies into refreshingly inventive compositions. Sixty seconds into the classic pop intro of disc-opener “Brownblue’s Passing,” The Uglysuit detours into an unexpected epic bridge, sinewy guitar lines overlaying reverb-rich echoes until two minutes later a chorus emerges, reflective of the subtle left-turns that make these songs so compelling. Five of the nine cuts clock in at over five minutes, but none read too long because they all offer surprises: the sunny, open piano chords of “Brad’s House” evolve into a thumping orchestral drive lifted by full-band choruses, which are in turn interrupted by near-prog rock sections; when, at the four-minute mark, the escalating promise of album-highlight “ . . . And We Became Sunshine” delivers a monumental crescendo of soaring harmonies, driving percussion, and helix-like guitar lines spiraling off into infinity, it’s one of this year’s musical highlights. In the Rookie of the Year sweepstakes, The Uglysuit deserves serious consideration—though there’s little rookie-like about this debut. (John Schacht)


Matthew Sweet—Sunshine Lies (Shout! Factory)

On album opener “Time Machine,” Matthew Sweet sings, “the years are flying by.” No kidding. More than two decades have passed since the young, unassuming Nebraskan first hit the scene. The singer/guitarist eventually wowed the masses with 1991’s Girlfriend. Worshipping at the musical altar of the four Bs—Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys and Big Star, plus a hefty dose of Neil Young & Crazy Horse—he was a mainstay on alt-rock radio throughout the ’90s. Despite a lack of mainstream attention this century, Sweet hasn’t been idle: he put out two studio CDs, another as a member of folk/pop “supergroup” The Thorns, paid tribute to Sixties favorites alongside The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs (Under the Covers, Vol. 1) and produced new acts. Sunshine Lies contains everything longtime enthusiasts have come to love and expect. There are old school fade-ins, split channel panning (perfect for absorbing with a pair of headphones; preferably not via iTunes), lush and layered harmonies (all handled by Sweet, except the organ drenched title track where his wife Lisa and Hoffs guest) and various sound effects. A good Sweet disc always includes a few crunchy rockers. Old pals Richard Lloyd and Ivan Julian add electric guitar muscle and solos in just the right spots. Multi-instrumentalist Greg Liesz and drummer Rick Menck ably fill in the gaps. The lyrics revolve around love and nature, while the artwork displays plants and insects. The latter images are appropriate since these songs should get people buzzing about Sweet again. Retro still rules. (George A. Paul)



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