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‘Twas the season of new music! I came into a bunch of new albums late in the year. While I’m still getting the feel for most of them, I thought I’d write up some early impression mini-reviews. (This got a little long so I broke it into two posts.)

Angelspit, Hideous and Perfect (2009). I’ve mentioned this Australian techno-metal-dance-sort-of-rap group before, and Hideous and Perfect provides more of the same: precise riffs and effects, grim, gritty and profane lyrics, heavy guitars, and infectious beats. Again, nothing has quite matched up to Krankhaus for me, and this one didn’t strike me as a particularly exceptional outing, but I suspect if you like one Angelspit album, you’ll pretty much like them all.

Bryan Beller, Thanks in Advance (2008).This is the second album from  long-time Mike Keneally bassist Bryan Beller. In general I think I prefer Beller the bassist to Beller the composer; neither this nor his previous album (View) has really found its way into my heavy rotation. His music is a fairly conventional fusion of rock, funk, and jazz, usually instrumental. Thanks in Advance features solid musicianship and some strong bass work throughout, but the only real stand-out track for me is the intense and dramatic  “Love Terror Adrenaline/Break Through.” I’m also oddly impressed, however, by the unabashed pop structure of “Play Hard,” an insanely catchy earworm bashing American male entitlement. In the end, though, I feel that if Beller suffers in my eyes at all, it’s for not being quite weird enough — my mileage does tend to vary on this point.

Fishbone, Still Stuck in Your Throat (2007). On first listen, Still Stuck in Your Throat struck me as a return-to-form for Fishbone, to this classic band’s trademark funk-reggae-punk-ska roots. Then it occurred to me that they never really abandoned those roots, although they did veer into darker, heavier territory in the mid-nineties. At any rate, fans of early Fishbone are likely to enjoy this recent effort, which still features Angelo Moore’s distinctive vocals and John Norwood Fisher’s sick bass playing. By rights, it seems like Fishbone should be in “product-of-its-time” territory by now. But although the band kind of refuses to grow up, and still sometimes doesn’t know when to restrain itself, their music never feels dated to me. They’re kind of an out-of-time postmodern stalwart that mixes in nicely with just about any weird, aggressive music of the last thirty-five years or so.

Mike Keneally, Scambot 1 (2009). Speaking of Mike Keneally, his latest outing came out very recently. Keneally is a singular talent, equally adept on guitar and keyboards, and his music sounds like an eclectic fusion of Steely Dan, XTC, and Zappa at first listen, but after awhile achieves a distinctly Keneallean sound all its own (with an odd sense of humor I often find inscrutable). Keneally’s music landed in my wheelhouse for a few albums in the middle of his career — running from Boil That Dust Speck to Dancing — but since then his sound has moved in subtler, mellower, more melodic directions, and my interest hasn’t been quite as strong. That tradition continues with Scambot 1, which nonetheless still strikes me as a strong album of ambitious, unusual compositions — “Hallmark” and “Saturate” are two grooves that immediately spoke to me, and the complicated, progressive “Gita” also stood out during early listens. I rarely fall in love with Keneally albums on the first few plays, though, so the jury’s still out on this one.

Panzerballett, Panzerballett (2005). The jury has, however, already come back with a verdict on Panzerballett: we find awesome! This German combo features guitar, bass, drums, and sax, and intricately mixes jazz, funk, and prog-metal to spectacular effect.  Their name translates loosely to “tank ballet,” which, as I was listening, quickly spun into “choreographed metal,” an apt description. But there’s just as much swing jazz and groovy funk as math-death going on here, a unique and crisply mixed hybrid. I can’t remember the last time an album made such a immediately positive impression on me.

Stay tuned for part two, posting shortly…

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