Okie Dokie
Okie Dokie ep

The self-titled debut from left coasters Okie Dokie has none of the cutesy connotations of the band’s name. Instead, these three dudes and a drum machine make a post-hardcore racket that shakes with a restless fervor that belies any sense of complacency. Part pigfuck noise and part swamp thing punk, the record’s the product of nerves ground to a point, larynxes and guitar strings pulled taut and beats pounding like a nailgun.

The EP lurches forth with “Bad Luck,” a minute and a half of swerving guitar fury and maniacally spewed amorphisms. It’s followed by “The Monad,” which speeds things up another notch and sifts echoes of Septic Death into the mix. It’s the driving bass rumble and punched rhythm of “Capital Glad Passion,” though, that gets the gold star, a hard-hitting groove that only suffers from being clipped too short. But the record ends strong; on “Power” the trio seems hellbent on blowing its gaskets, exiting with a pandemonium that bears repeating.
Stephen Slaybaugh

Black Mold
Snow Blindness Is Crystal Antz
Flemish Eye

Chad VanGaalen has been making Canadian flavored weirdo-pop (a la Neil Young) for a while now. Little did we know he’s also been making glitch house songs in his basement all this time under the Black Mold moniker. Is that even legal in Canada?

Some of the sounds on Snow Blindness Is Crystal Antz are familiar, others are from another dimension and not entirely welcome. There are bowed strings and maybe a stand-up bass on the first track, “Metal Spider Webs,” making it oddly reminiscent of Yo Yo Ma’s work on the soundtrack for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but not as pretentious as that might sound thanks to doorbell sounds and a clarinet. Afterwards, though, the album folds in on itself, turning into a half masturbatory, half exploratory trip into VanGaalen’s boundaryless musical mind. Sounds like he pilfered a Gameboy’s innards for the rhythm section on “Toxic Lake” and a few other tracks. While that one guy on Mission in San Francisco may have tried out 8-bit bleeps in 1999, it actually pushes Snow Blindness past plastic Boss drum machine tones into a more listenable area. Black Mold probably won’t spin in those wild new raves kids have rediscovered lately. The longest song is only a skosh over three minutes, which is a good thing because it’s a little too introspective to inspire dancefloor backrubs and pacifier-chomping kids in their hand-me-down JNCOs to do the glowstick. Black Mold might come off as the rave valve for VanGaalen’s overfilled songwriting tube, but at least he’s not in danger of turning into Tiga or Deadmau5 or scoring a sponsorship from Chupa Chup.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

MP3: “Metal Spider Webs”

Amanda Blank
I Love You

Given her magnetic performance at this year’s South By Southwest, it was in the cards that Philadelphia’s born and bred Amanda Blank would drop a debut that rivaled the whole of Diplo’s cadre of female ingénues (see M.I.A., Santogold, Rye Rye) and mega-success would be found right around the corner. Blank has waited much too long on the sidelines, stealing flows from the likes of Ghostface and Spank Rock, singing back-up atop the underappreciated performance-funk-metal of Sweatheart, and generally getting by as the pretty face in a roughshod, yet talented Philly crew. Her time has come. The proverbial ducks (or producers in this case), including Switch, XXXchange, Diplo and others, were in line with their tracks in hand, and a label was eager to get started. So between inspiration and creation what exactly went wrong? It’s not like I Love You is a total flop, it’s not even half a mess. But the pratfalls that bog down her highly anticipated debut, fall hard. Hard enough that even a heavily touted duet with Lykke Li, “Leaving You Behind,” can’t help things.

And it’s not that it’s even Blank’s fault. I wouldn’t suspect that someone as street smart, sexually brazen, and dressed up in her own fashion stratosphere of neon bubblegum sleaze would succumb to having handlers demand a particular modus operandi for her career. Still, musically on I Love You, from song to song even, she suffers from an identity crisis. Trying to determine if Blank is an electro-diva a la Brittney on “Shame on Me,” a tried and true emcee a la LL Cool J on the old-school stunner “Lemme’ Get Some,” or the latest in a line of genre-hopping everywoman a la the Downtown roster that’s displayed on the Diplo produced “Something Bigger, Something Better” becomes a bit confusing, much like a mixtape full of trial and error. To be fair, some failed semi-covers of Prince (“Make-Up”) and Romeo Void (“Might Like You Better”) don’t bode well in showcasing Blank’s breathy cooing flow. Neither does the suspicion that she’s being backed with a grab-bag of B-side deejay fodder. The plodding “DJ” makes the case that this might have been a throwaway track for Diplo. Blank survives on charisma and stylish raunch, two qualities that allow her to lift the LCD-lite of “Make It, Take It” above the generic fluff it would become in the hands of less talented vestiges. There are moments (rather than songs) on I Love You that suggest Blank is that superstar I saw on stage in March. Where double entendres abound, choruses that suggest she’s purely pop, and her ever-expanding rolodex in tow, surely we can chalk this up as beginner’s jitters and get on to the much less scattershot follow-up.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Make It Take It”

Various Artists
New Tales to Tell: A Tribute to Love and Rockets
Arsenal Rock n Roll Company

Tribute records are a tricky business. A good collection of covers can reignite a love of the original songs and/or the desire to seek out the other work of new bands. At worst, you’ll be subjected to truly terrible renditions of some of your favorite songs. Thankfully New Tales to Tell: A Tribute to Love and Rockets falls into the former category, with 18 tracks befitting the legendary, yet oft-overlooked, band who created post-punk pop from their gothic roots.

Daniel Ash, David J and Kevin Haskins formed Love and Rockets in 1985 after the break-up of Bauhaus several years earlier, so in some ways it’s fitting that several songs on the record are performed by offshoots of other bands. A space-age take on “Holiday On the Moon,” for example, is from Puscifer, a project of Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle). Blaqk Audio, formed by Davey Havok and Jade Puget of AFI, infuse “No New Tale to Tell,” one of Love and Rockets’ most recognizable songs, with their own electro goth-synth lacquer. The band’s biggest hit, “So Alive,” falls to Better Than Ezra, who turns the track from darkly moody to upbeat and sort of INXS-esque. The remix treatment of “I Feel Speed (Rock Mix),” courtesy of Dubfire, seems as if it could have come from Love and Rockets’ clubby Lift, instead of their self-titled album. The Dandy Warhols do a surprisingly electronic rendition of “Inside the Outside,” while the Flaming Lips take a distorted, vocoded ride on “Kundalini Express.”

Bands worth checking out as far as original material: War Tapes, Film School, and A Place to Bury Strangers, who, gazing firmly at shoes, add distortion and heavy drums to “The Light.” The Stone Foxes do a great, bluesy rock rendition of “Fever,” complete with harmonica. Perhaps, former Pixie Black Francis, who covers “All In My Mind,” sums up the influential band the best: “Love and Rockets are many things, but what they are more than anything are agents of that mysterious force known as rock & roll—a force loved by many but truly understood by a few.” Thankfully, most of the bands here seem to channel the band’s own mysterious force.
Josie Rubio

Fruit Bats
The Ruminant Band
Sub Pop

When the Fruit Bats’ emerged at the turn of the century with Echolocation, it seemed to be a kissing cousin to the records leadman Eric Johnson had been making with Califone. Built on a framework of folk and pop melody, but decorated with electronic ambiance and sound loops, it seemed like just the introduction to what would be an eclectic output.

But beginning with 2003’s Mouthfuls, the Fruit Bats’ second record and first for Sub Pop, and continuing in a more pronounced manner with 2005’s Spelled in Bones, Johnson and his shifting cadre have been inching towards the middle of the road. With The Ruminant Band, they’re straddling the dotted line, having made a record that’s about as straightforward as it gets.

The record leads off with “Primitive Man,” which seems vaguely prophetic. It’s a dust-colored song, filled with hues of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon (as is the subsequent title track) and sets the tone for the rest of the album. That tone is too even keeled for its own good, again a middle ground that does nothing for the band. The Fruit Bats have gone au natural, and in doing so, may have stripped off their charisma in the process.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “The Ruminant Band”