Featured Music: Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Almost hymnal: Dove Hunter’s latest.
Killer or Filler?

Here are some newish local CDs — “for your pleasure.”


I like Aska. OK. Go ahead. Laugh. But I know that buried deep in the recesses of some of y’all’s precious iPods, roiling like fecal lava beneath the Hudson River School-esque terra firma of your arty-farty Radiohead, polyglot R&B, and propagandist Clash, are some ridiculous Maiden tracks and Judas Priest tunes and — in the cases of the sickest bastards among you — sonic effluvia from creatures as blatantly vile as Whitesnake and Def Leppard. Laughing at me, eh? You’re only fa-fa-fa-foolin’ yourself.
No, Aska is not the second coming of Iron Maiden, though the lead track off Absolute Power, the North Texas quartet’s new album, argues forcefully to the contrary. A bloated jaunt — with simple but effective barre chords over a driving rhythm — “Longships” is about a young man who does what any of us might do after being unceremoniously dumped. He fantasizes about … being a Viking. “Once again I wish I could be / Like the Vikings were before me,” frontman George Call asserts, his voice in fine, Kevlar-piercing shape, “Giant men of mirth, braving cold and ocean spray / They burned away their past loves / With high flames that licked the heavens / And sailed off to the setting sun / Bringing death to all in their way.” Sweeeeet.
Like the guys in Maiden, the guys in Aska, obviously, are fantasists, totally enraptured by power or the illusion thereof. Some fantasists write superhero comics. Others direct Star Wars. Yet others make music. Now I kind of know the guys in Aska. They’re all harmless family men who love what they do, can play their asses off, and don’t even seem that interested in getting fucked up at shows. (Can’t say the same for a lot of other … OK, every other North Texas band.) I just have a hard time jibing the clearly adult guys I’ve seen with their escapist lyrics. Perhaps they’re just joshing. In which case, I tip my totally hipster trucker cap. If not, color me dorky!
Seriously, though: I dig the twin guitar leads on the chunky, skipping “Legion” (though I could do without the Roman battle horns) and the “Runnin’ Free”-ish choppiness of “Vowbreaker” (another tune about getting dumped) and singer Call’s Rob Halford-quality falsetto wailing at the end of “Her Ghost Remains.” Eee-yeaaaaah! Grade: B+
Cue the Volkswagen commercial. Austin-via-Fort-Worth-via-New York City’s Frontier Brothers have deftly compiled a million brilliant 20-second pianistic snippets that basically scream, “Buy this new car!” into a surprisingly dynamic album-length listen, Space Punk Starlet. Blinker the Star, bits of Rufus Wainwright, and some angry Ben Folds wiggle their fey ways into the Brothers’ swaying yet decidedly rocking arrangements. Drummer Travis Newman keeps the beats splishy, splashy, and non-traditional — not a lot of that girly kick-snare-high-hat stuff here. Marshall Galactic’s voice, though, is just too whiny and Robert Smith-y — and needlessly coy. He also sometimes sounds like his right leg’s being sawed off with a plastic butter knife. (In the liner notes, Marshall thanks Fain’s Natural Raw Honey and Bulleit Bourbon for “their being the key[s] to his vocal successes.” Alllllrighty then!)
“How Do You Make Movies When You’re Under the Sea?” is actually his best vocal performance and not just because he occasionally forgets himself and sings more quietly. (BTW, haven’t we all asked ourselves that very same question? Especially after watching freaking Shark Week?!) A lot of voices tend to apply their unique qualities equally across the lyrical board, singing with as much force about WWIII as about a lost apartment key. Marshall does some smooth croonin’ here, and when he does get crazy and start goosing notes in the butt, he’s ably matched by the achey-breaky lyrics and the intense playing around him. Maybe “Under the Sea?” was intended to be just a novelty track — it has enough kitschy humor to float a They Might Be Giants ditty: horns mimicking squawking dolphins, shoop-shoop beats popping up here and there, Billy “The Piano Man” Joel raising his bloated head to roar from time to time. But there might not be a more dynamic or more lovable track on the entire album. The two or three other potential noteworthies are — I hate to say this, but — marred by Marshall’s vox. You know what they say about too much of a good thing, right? Grade: B
The Hunted
You also know what they say about “for your pleasure”? There has to come a point when you invite the listener into your world rather than simply impose it on him or her. (Conversely, there are some artists — namely twee singer-songwriters — who try so hard to make their worlds interesting and worth your delving into on your own that they basically turn their cardigan-clad backs on you: “I’m gonna sing in a real quiet voice,” they say to themselves, “and try to be introspective and ‘deep,’ and if no one ‘gets’ me, then that’s fine. I’m an artiste.” No, what you are is a masturbatory jerk!)
Anyhoo. “For your pleasure” is defined about as elegantly as possible on Dove Hunter’s The Southern Unknown. A pristine collection of epic, pastoral Son Volt-ish gems, the album introduces itself via “Devil’s Lake,” basically one simple, twangy, semi-bluegrass guitar figure, all acoustic Zeppelin and soul-destroying melancholy. The spell is broken by the next song, “Cracked Door.” Over a snappy beat, guitar and bass begin punching and counterpunching a la some non-sucky jam band while frontman Jason Wortham comes on like Steven Tyler after an unfiltered cigarette: “Your eyes are barely open / Like cracked doors wanting to see outside.”
By the time “Cracked Doors” reaches its bombastic end — about seven minutes later — there’s a reprieve in the form of Wortham’s spookily multi-tracked voice over a twinkling but ominous, plucked guitar: “Hopeful so far / Ah-wooo-ah-wooo-oooh-oooh / But shouldn’t we hope for something better.” But the break is short-lived. A giant, molten, quasi-blues slide riff suddenly explodes, opening the sky between your ears and triggering a primal, militaristic beat that eventually — and oddly — eases into a reggae clip (no doubt born of drummer Quincy Holloway’s early peregrinations with North Texas’ legendary dub outfit Sub Oslo).
“Evil on the Highway” gets a little Tom Petty-ish, with the drums and double-plucked guitar riff flowing along the same rhythmic current — Holloway is nothing if not a musical drummer (as opposed to being merely a restless timekeeper). Likewise, “Cyclone Stare” coalesces around five bright notes and also stickwork that skips and hops while somehow managing to sprint forward. And Chad DeAtley’s warm keyboards create a beguiling, huffy-puffy Supertramp vibe.
With the exception maybe of the softies “The Shore” and “Well Wisher,” most of The Southern Unknown’s tracks hinge on wonderfully efficient and tasteful guitar phrases or vocal melodies that are driven home by repetition, giving everything a sort of church-hymnal gravity and grace. In fact, the last song, the hum-along shanty “Pitch Black Painter,” wouldn’t be out of place on an overcast Sunday in the nave. Grade: A

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