(In the Red)
A poppier, more straightforward sonic outlet than her band the Lost Sounds, Alicja Trout's Mouse Rocket steps out of its "side project" vibe in a huge way with this proper album debut on Portland-based indie Empty Records.
Trout partners here with former Big Ass Truck singer-guitarist Robby Grant (taking a break from his own solo project, Vending Machine). The band also includes drummer Robert Barnett (also of Big Ass Truck), bass player Hemant Gupta, and cellist Jonathan Kirkscey.
Many of the tracks on Mouse Rocket, recorded between 2002 and this year, have seen the light of day before -- on compilations (the Makeshift samplers), seven-inch singles, and self-released records -- but taken together they stake Mouse Rocket's claim as one of the city's best bands.
The sneakily smart songwriting here sometimes deploys exploitation-movie imagery (zombies on "Waste of Breath," a suspected murderer on "My Boyfriend's a Killer") to explicate the small agonies of everyday life. It's another-Saturday-night anomie on "Waste of Breath," where Trout surveys a bar full of the usual suspects and laments, "I see too many zombies." Then she decimates the scene in a deadpan garage-rock rush: "I'd rather drink my beer/I'd rather sit and stare/You're boring me to death/Talking is a waste of breath."
This is followed by the comically defensive "My Boyfriend's a Killer," where a Hitchcockian plotline seems to be a metaphor for a familiar "my friends don't like my new boyfriend" saga, Trout sighing, "You've got me biting my nails/He loves me more than anyone."
And highlights abound: With ace covers of Love's Forever Changes standout "Alone Again Or" and (especially) the Nuggets nugget "Little Black Egg," Mouse Rocket conducts a mini-school of rock. Grant asserts himself with "Black Helicopters" and the bent-pop Zeppelin swagger of "I'm Just Blushing." The aptly titled "Stomp Around" is co-written by Trout and former Clears colleague Shelby Bryant. "I'm Set On You" is a sunny rock-and-roll love song, albeit one in which the protagonist is pursuing someone off the market. And the dramatic "Missing Teeth" ends the album on an impressive note.
But Trout has been plenty busy with her other band too. The Lost Sounds will release their debut album for vaunted indie In the Red this fall, but they dip their toes in the water this month with Future Touch, a seven-song, 18-minute EP for the label.
The songs on Future Touch run together in a headlong rush. The opening title track begins with a bracing cello intro before giving way to a familiar synth assault, and the record never once lets up after that: driving beats, stun-gun guitars, demented carnival keyboards, shrieked or barked vocals -- all the sound of the city's most take-no-prisoners band at the top of its form. One difference: With the textured keyboard rhythms of "Future Touch," the rousing yet sinister drum-and-synth interplay of "Rearview Mirror," and the almost hip-hop-worthy beat that leads off "Sweet Knives," this might be the most danceable record the band's ever made. Can't wait to hear the full-length in October.
Grades (both records): A-
The self-proclaimed "underdogs of Memphis hip-hop," the X-Camp make an impressive mark on a crowded local scene with The Replacements. An opening soundbite warns, "I know that you're afraid/Afraid of us/Afraid of change." And while one doubts that much of the local competition is trembling in fear, X-Camp does differentiate themselves from the horde of would-be Yo Gottis or Three 6 Mafias out there.
Though the group proudly reps "Blackhaven" on "Heart of the Haven" ("I live in the Haven and I'll die in the Haven"), they boast a style that mixes local and national sounds. The album's confident production, from Tragic and J-Dogg, owes as much to the East Coast and Virginia Beach as it does to the Dirty South and would sound more at home on a Roc-a-Fella release than on something from, say, Hypnotize Minds. (One wonders whether "Blazin'" might not be a tribute to producer Just Blaze.) The clear, deliberate flows of the group's MCs are likewise more coastal than crunk.
The album's highlights are generally more sonic than vocal or lyrical: the hypnotic, slamming car-truck beats of "What We Came To Do" and the handclap electro riddims of "You Can't Deny Me."
Content-wise, the group's references to "hip-hop heads" and the fact that most of its violent imagery is couched as the metaphorical result of lyrical beatdowns are typical of a record that's a little bit more thoughtful and a little less aggressive than most of its scene counterparts. But that doesn't save the X-Camp from the tired, predictable misogyny of "For My Hoes." ("And if these hoes talkin' shit, we leavin' them in the ditches.")
At 16 tracks clocking in at over an hour, The Replacements can be a bit of a chore to get through in one sitting, but it certainly introduces a viable new addition to the local rap scene.
40 Watt Moon
On August in Grace, their self-released debut, 40 Watt Moon combine crisp guitars, soulful vocals, catchy hooks, and sharp, wistful lyrics for a modern-rock sound that is mainstream but never panders and is always smart, Ö la such current bands as Fountains of Wayne and the Old 97's. (From the title track: "Another wish now/As the night is falling/The summer whispers/Can't you hear it calling?/It's moving so fast/Will it pass you by?/In this roman candle sky.")
The sound is consistent but finds enough range to bounce from the Big Star-ish melodiousness of "Kisses and Pills" to the rave-up of "Crush." The band's true crush is Batman nemesis "Julie Newmar," a worthy target whose charms they plumb in an album highlight.