Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.9
Steve O'Donoghue - "Martha" This was a disc sent to me by Uwe at Firestation, and it too was billed as another Aztec Camera influenced band. But in this case it is a bit extraordinary as Mr. O' Donoghue really does sound a lot like Roddy Frame and the opener here Don't Give Up The Ghost really could be lifted from "High Land, Hard Rain" with it's plaintive vocals and acoustic backing. After a few more tracks it's obvious he is no clone and certainly brings his own stylings to the table. Overall it's a pretty fine album, but it does have the problem that no one track really jumped out and grabbed me, and gave the album a definitive feel or message. The overall style doesn't vary a whole lot either and there is for me at least a feeling of tedium before it gets to the end. I'm not sure why that is, because individually the songs are all good, but as a program it seems to be a bit much, something akin to my feelings about Isobel Campbells records. Of course you may not feel that way so I do recommend you check this out especially if you are a fan of early Aztec Camera.
Label ~ Firestation, 10 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.6
Ocean Blue - "Ocean Blue" I have always had a strong affinity for this group, not just because they have made some excellent records, but they are all a bunch of Dutchmen (Schelzel, Lau, Mittan and Minnig) who grew up right down the pike from me in Hershey. "Mei Nochbere is am gut mache!" Formed in the late eighties, a horrible time to try to make it as a group in the US playing good music, these four packed up their kit bag and headed for the isle of hipness. (which at the time was in the early stages of it's own death throes) After some months in London studios, this, their first LP was released in 1989. Influenced by the sound of Echo & the Bunnymen, the LP has the flavour of English music but is nonetheless American.
It starts off with the best song on the LP, Between Something and Nothing which hints at the sound and greatness to come. One of the faults of this LP is that I don't think it was mixed well. I always thought this song was good until I heard them play it live and was blown away at how much better it came across, it was fantastic. The recording doesn't do it justice. Lead singer David Schelzel has a pleasing voice and writes great lyrics, and although he was finding his footing on this LP, the content is still very good. The song Vanity Fair is also a classic, and it also has extra significance to everyone who lives around here and knows what it's about. The rest of side one has some very good songs, like Drifting Falling and Frigid Winter Days. One of this groups strengths is the use of Steve Lau on Sax. It adds a distinctive touch that in time helps make for a sound that is truly their own. Side two, while good, is only of average content. The songs are fair but nothing really stands out. It is often the case with really good groups that the first LP is average and they grow from it, and I feel that is the case with this LP and the Ocean Blue. It's certainly worth owning, but not their best work. I would start with their second or third LP. If you get and like them (and it'd be hard not to) then you'll certainly want this as well.
Label ~ WEA, 12 Tracks, 1989
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Ocean Blue - "Cerulean" It is quite a thing to watch a performer find themselves, and when what they find there is something special it becomes a real moment indeed. This LP is one of those moments. Aptly titled, Cerulean (an intense shade of deep blue) is a beautiful work of majestic, almost romantic pop. It is possessed of brilliant lyrics married to the perfect panorama of sound. Great "poppy" guitar, soothing and soaring sax and keyboards. The damn thing's practically atmospheric. It's here that singer/songwriter David Schelzel comes into his own. The lyrics are intelligent, playful, insightful and go beyond the normal fare. As I stated in my review of their first LP, it was quite good but not great. So at the time I was wholly unprepared for how exceptional this record was when it came out. It is rare for groups to come together so perfectly, with such a truly distinct sound and songs that become so personal to you. This record is so good, it's of the kind that you will not be able to, or want to, listen to anything else for quite some time when you first get it. It propelled them to international attention and it stands as one of the best records of it's time. After hearing it, it pushed them in my opinion to the status of best group in the US at the time. A truly beautiful recording you simply must own.
Label ~ Sire, 12 Tracks, 1991
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Ocean Blue - "Beneath the Rhythm and Sound" While I stated in my review of the Cerulean LP that it was a brilliant, beautiful record, and still is, however there is a special intangibility to this album. I don't know if it's just maturity reaching full stride, but it is possessed of, well, almost a grandeur. The lyrics and music blend together in perfect harmony, each song taking on a deep and personal quality. It would be quite easy to go into lengthy praise of this record. It's very enjoyable to listen to, sing along to, relax to, jump around to, you name it. The songs are emotive, beautiful and it is quite certainly in the top 5 of all records ever made by any US band. It was at this point that in my consideration they went from being the best US group to being the best group period. No one was better, or even came close to making 2 such records in a row. It may have helped the cause that the musical scene was deepening into the wasteland that was the 90's, but this is good enough to hold court with anyone. It's simply one of the most stunning records ever made, I would rate this an absolute must have. If you are unable to appreciate this LP, then you are indeed taking up space on this planet. As in Cerulean, it possesses a quality that takes it beyond the ordinary. It's Schelzels' voice, lyrics, the combination of both and the sound of this group that makes this album such a treat. Music for people with active brains, and hearts.
Label ~ Sire, 11 Tracks, 1993
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 4
Ocean Blue - "See" This album was the child of a broken home. After many years saxist Steve Lau left/was outed from this band. Much speculation and rumor has spread as to why. The most common reason heard is he was kicked out for being gay. However, that seems somewhat odd as I find it hard to believe the rest of the band would be unaware of that for so many years. In any event, this LP came at a time when music had hit it's lowest ebb since the 70's, and the lowest I think it ever sunk. Whether because of his departure or a desire to sound like "chart" bands, or perhaps even the difficulty of fitting in new member Oed Ronne this LP sounds nothing like the group we had come to love. The songs are bland and vapid, and the wonderful soul that Ocean Blue songs always had is nowhere to be found. In fact, there is only one song I can even stand listening to on this record. We could spend much time in speculating the why's and how's responsible for it all, but lets spare the barb and get to the point. This record truly blows, and is their darkest and saddest moment. Do not buy it.
Label ~ Mercury, 13 Tracks, 1996
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.2
Ocean Blue - "Davey Jones' Locker" So it was that after the trepidations that marked the last LP I, in effect, had counted this band down and out. That didn't bother me too much, I had 3 albums by them that I just loved, and many groups can't even manage that feat. In fact, after the last disaster I had figured that we'd bid them farewell for good. When I saw the press release notes for this, "former glory" and all that, I naturally took that last plunge. Well, as soon as the opener Ayn started I perked up with hope. Indeed, it seemed the miracle had happened, and the band we knew and loved had come home to us. Further on, tracks like Denmark had that wash and atmosphere of guitar we so love about this group. A few of the tracks on this were written by Oed Ronne and while not bad I don't care for them as much as Schelzels, who has unquestionably found himself again as a songwriter. While I long for the emotion of the missing sax from their songs, there can be no question that the tunes written here follow the formula that endeared this outfit to us in the first place. Then again, things change with age and maybe can't always be what they once were, but the true beaty within cannot be witheld from our eyes forever. Not if they can remain true to what they are. So long as this band does that, then I will always be a fan. Thanks for the memories guys.....old and new.
Label ~ March, 13 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9
Odgens - "Get It Faster" Firestation is really coming out of the box hard in 05, and this is another much anticipated release. (and no matter what, I keep wanting to say oGdens, not oDgens) Perhaps that's part of their plan. In any case, the opener Big Man confronts us with a sound very akin to brit bands like the Stone Roses and Oasis, and the comparison isn't a slight one. I must admit to being a Stone Roses fan, but I never cared much about Oasis. Still, there is no denying that from time to time Oasis created songs so full of pop energy they become like a vortex that sucks you in whether you like it or not, and such is the case pretty much with the opening track here. My problem is that most other Oasis songs do nothing for me. I found myself in a similar situation here, reminding me of the infamous Frost poem. I am at a crossroads in the woods due to this dual similarity and am not sure which path to take. Thank the maker at least I have my stereo back, and set up like a stereo for the first time in, hell, it must be 13 years. So while there are a couple of tracks on here I was not moved by such as Going Down which is just too much of a miasma of sound, there are a number of cuts I do like, such as the aforementioned Big Man and what I think is possibly an even better song, Around The Corner Of My Town, a simply brilliant tune which I think excels because it's the only track where the guitars aren't a wall of sound and there is a great use of horns in it. To me it seems to be the most unique track on here and possibly this bands true sound and I think they would do better plumbing that than trying to be Oasis. Of course a lot of people like Oasis, and if you do then you will unquestionably delight in what is presented on this album. Me? I am not choosing a path. I think I'll just stay in the forest and take it for what it is. A very good if not overly imaginative record that does indeed have flashes of brilliance.
Label ~ Firestation, 10 Tracks, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Dale Olivier - "Fountainhead" This disc isn't due out until July but was sent to me by the kind folks at Matchbox Recordings who saw this site and were of course impressed. (ahem) Our boy Dale here is being touted as everything from the next Bowie, to the naughts (we had the eighties and nineties, what do we call this decade?) answer to Sinatra. This album starts with the first single Mary which begins with some lovely guitar and string bits, however I suppose the real hook lies in Dales voice. It has a strength, but isn't strong, it holds melody but isn't melodic and it quivers on a transparent edge betwixt a cutting blade and a rusty spoon. It definetly takes a little time to assimilate, and the song itself is arranged in a way not typical, but damn if it hasn't been growing on me daily. I always felt a good sign is when you catch yourself singing something all of a sudden on your own, and I've found myself singing this song more than once. The album as a whole leans to the slower, softer and emotive side, and somewhat reminds me in temperament at least to Tanita Tikarams first LP. That's a hard trick to pull off, but I think he's done it. There are other uptempo cuts on here, like the great What a Feeling but the rest of the LP is good enough that even though it is slower you're not waiting for the more uptempo songs. This is quite a nice surprise, and far too many bands try to make slower heartfelt music and really fail. They come off Twee and moaning, where this is adult and emotive. (I think they think it's easier, when actually I think it's the hardest thing to pull off) Musically this is recorded excellently, and lyrically it is right from the gut, and sung with a good deal of passion. I think our Dale is indeed a rising star and we'll hear more from him in the years to come. This is simply brilliant.
Label ~ Matchbox Recordings, 11 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 6.2
Ooberman - "Running Girl" This is one of those things the English press can't seem to heap enough laurels on. Now, I certainly think there are some brilliant happenings going on in the UK, but this definetly isn't one of them. Prejudice? Possibly. I pretty much hate 60's music and the first and title track is a bender of acid laced 60's "groove" and at times even reminds me of the Mommas and the Pappas in it's folkier moments. However the album changes after that and goes into a more folk styled somnambulistic freefall. That's the fancy way to say it's as boring as all hell. I have always said there are two styles of modern songwriting that require no talent, Country and Western and Rap. I could write an entire C&W album in an hour, and Rap, mmm.... 5 minutes. (it's all stolen anyway and nobody plays an instrument) Now there are 3. Apparently it is possible to compose a morose, pallid and wholly predictable indie pop album. All you need to do is sing slow, "croon" (in a heartfelt way) and use all the same old lame old chords. (Even if they don't go together. In fact that's better, then they'll call you creative) So lets cut to the chase. This thing is slow, boring and no new waters are being explored. This is defunct music being played by a band from a country with a terribly confused music scene right now. For the record, I believe the pop revolution will come, and my guts tell me the UK will lead it and perhaps attain the greatness they reached in the 76-90 period. This however, is NOT it. Yes, we are still waiting.......
Label ~ March, 2002 Tracks, 11
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 1
Organ Donor - "Midwest/Italia" This thing just started in the player and I already need a bromo. The press sheet calls this "the brainchild" of Iowian Jeremy Grace, and the Iowa State daily called it "reminiscent of Radiohead and the Smiths". I don't know what kind of doober that guy was tokin but he sure as hell needs to get out more. He also shouldn't be reviewing things stoned and he should especially stop throwing Smiths references around because it's the only indie band he ever heard of. I am sick of people doing that. The first track on this is awful, the next is an awful version of Dylan, the third is an overblown anthem. The whining he calls singing is really not something I'd care to hear again. It might be driving the mice out of the house, but that's about the only good point to it. So if you have rats, buying this might be cheaper than an exterminator so I'll give it a point for that, but otherwise stay far, far away. A contender for years worst for sure. Sorry Iowa, that's how it goes, but you keep trying. I still can't believe this press sheet. "Rec. if you like the Smiths"!? That's like a press sheet for a Husker Du album saying it's for "fans of Simon and Garfunkel". This tawdry use of band comparisons needs to stop people. If you genuinely like this guy, fine. Just don't screw consumers by painting him to be something he CERTAINLY isn't. I honestly don't believe the people doing this even know what the bands they use sound like. There must be a master sheet out there somewhere someone made up for them.
Label ~Bi-Fi records 10 , 2002 Tracks,
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.3
Origami - "Please Exit Quietly" I believe this is the second album from this Aussie band, but I had not heard anything by them before. The opener, Stand Up is slighlty punk-esque and vaguely reminiscent of some UK girl bands. However, the next track Testing Societies is a very suave, and almost sexy anthem, not electric folk and not pop rock but somewhere in between and it has the sort of hooks and lines in it I think are very indigenous to Australian bands. It's a quite brilliant and emotive song. Oddly enough on the next track the lead singer (they trade off so I'm not sure which it is) sounds an awful lot like Justine Frischmann of Elastica and the song itself is Elastica like and much rougher around the edges. On a whole the LP wavers closer to a more raw edged sort of indie folk punk. I am not sure how else to describe it. It has that sort of homespun sound made by kids in college bands only it's dipped and served in something a little more raw and edgier. If it could have maintained the magic on track two thruout it would have been an incredible album, but I think maybe a little more maturity is needed. Still, this is quite interesting and well played and while not everything is a triumph nothing is really bad and I think another LP or two might just see some real brilliance from this outfit. Still, this is the noise of youth and I'm not so old as it's lost on me, yet..
Label ~ 555 Recordings, 9 Tracks, 2002h
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 7.3
Otasco - "This Product Is Extremely Delicious" I asked for this from the publicist especially even though it has been compared to the Jazz Butcher whom I am not especially fond of. Perhaps it was the swank lounge act charm of the song The New Love Affair Academy or the deep catchy voice of lead singer Dag Luther Gooch that caught my ear. However the album left me somewhat perplexed. Apparently this band lives for the avant garde, and when they wander off the path of poppyness it gets fairly ugly. When they actually try to make music though it generally works out very well. However that makes this album a roller coaster of treats and tortures, for me at least. I think the quirky nature of it is one of the things I disliked about some of the bands they have been compared to as I said before. So for me I'm having a hard time deciding where I stand with this. A bit I like a lot, a bit I dislike a lot and the rest of it leaves me just staring straight ahead and feeling somewhat numbed. There are people who genuinely dig this sort of thing, and this is done well I suppose in that regard. I had hopes I would be able to access it more but unfortunately it did not reach me like I thought it would. It left me in a state neither of like or dislike, but perhaps apathy. Such are the cuts of life.
Label ~ Apocalypse, 12 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.2
Outrageous Cherry - "Supernatural Equinox" This is another thing that doesn't seem on the surface to be something I would be naturally drawn to. However, I heard the clip for Girl, You've Got Magic Inside You and felt it really rose above the genre to which it belonged and exceeded my expectations in a lot of nice ways. The cover of this disc might lend the impression that this is a very 60's psychedelic release and that would be wrong. It certainly owes some of it's melody to the period but it borrows from many other psych and non psych pop periods as well, and in fact some of the songs remind me of the Church of all things. Perhaps that isn't too surprising as the Church did have a sort of a wind swept psychedlia to their music before they started to turn metal. In fact I think I would place most of the songs on here to a period of bands from the early mid 80's that delved into this sort of thing. This is a nice album with a variety of appeal that doesn't allow itself to be cornered by your expectations. Check it out.
sound clip -
Girl, You've Got Magic Inside You
Label ~ Rainbow Quartz, 13 Tracks, year unknown
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.3
Oval-Teen - "Yorkville, Il" Mother Macree, as if I wasn't swamped enough, here's a double disc from this 90's band featuring unreleased and demo material spanning their careers that comes in at 55 songs and well over 2 hours long. (It's longer than the 4 other things I reviewed this week added together) Given my schedule and the length of this beast I have not had time to "live" with it, so I will give a synopsis of my feelings of jumping thru the tracks. What is notable is there is a range of styles presented on it, from 60's beach boy styles to clips sounding a lot like the Jesus & Mary Chain on tracks like Take A Look. The only common thread is that the songs are mostly recorded very lo-fi, and of course some of the demos sound just like that. (not that that's always a bad thing) I didn't like all of it, but at 55 songs how can you even tell, and that's the biggest problem. It's nearly impossible to sit thru one of the discs, let alone both of them but there were a number of tracks I found I liked. But even if you only found 20% of what's on here to be great that would still make a normal 12 track album which was great, and it's likely you'll find more than that to like. The problem is remembering what those tracks are, and where they are. If you like american indie garage bands you'll hardly go wrong here. As a rule I do not, yet there are still certainly some tracks here that will find their way onto comp discs of mine. So you sort of can't lose with this one, and you might even win.
Label ~ BiFi, 55 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.8
Overflower - "Water on Mars" I recieved this disc from the band in what seems ages ago already and between being very busy and having a hard time pinning my feelings about this one down kept putting it off. I think it is the vocals of Marc Bouchard, which are dark and mysterious and one of those voices you either love or hate, and I wasn't sure where I fell. (actually, I'm still not) The more I hear it the more I like it however. I think I can say overall this band reminds me of the 80's band Indio, both musically and his vocals, and while that was a band I loved back then I don't listen to it alot now. Actually, while it probably sounds a whole lot like Indio, especially on the title track, it's also a hard LP to peg as the next track has ambient guitars liften straight from the Cocteaus. Although his vocals preculde any thoughts of imitation or parody, the allusion remains there. There are times I'm quite liking this, and I think the only drawback is some of the songs are a little too long and perhaps it's a little too sad overall. It's certainly a melancholy record, but at times quite a nice one as far as those things go. If you know and like Indio or if you dig sad, ambient records then I think you'll find this just what you want. All I need to know now is how to pronounce their name. Is it over-flower or over-flow-er?
Label ~ Aire, 11 Tracks, 2001