54321: Reviews Of Recent Releases By Local Bands, Pt. 77
Disclaimer: Record reviews are a tricky business. It's one thing to enjoy music, but to pick out what you like (or dislike) about it? That being said, if I review your thing and I didn't like something, don't feel too bad. My opinion doesn't matter all that much.
The Cleveland Steamers - Best Record Ever - Smog Veil Records - 10 songs - LP, CD
Let's just start this one off on a negative note and say that not only is this not the best record ever, I don't even think it's the best Cleveland Steamers record. I don't think any record should ever be called that because guess what? It's not in any way possible to live up to. And, to continue being a jerk, I was worried about this record specifically because the first two tracks did nothing for me. Fortunately, Cheese Borger and friends turned it around after that starting with "Never Saw You Again." It's a catchy garage rock-ish song (I don't think this band is really that punk, more like mid-late '80s alternative/garage/punk), and Cheese's everyman vocals really come across as defeated here, which definitely adds to it. "Dream Of Me" is a sort of spooky sounding ballad, with some tasteful organ from Cullen O'Connor of Archie & The Bunkers and a great sax part from Marianne Friend of the Adults/Rainy Day Saints to complement Meredith Rutledge-Borger's sultry vocals. Then I started thinking about how parts of it are really reminiscent of 2 Bobs' "Nightmare Song" and wondering whether it was in any way supposed to kind of be a counterpart to that. If it was, that's really funny and a really nice touch. I like the wild west guitar intro to "Monsanto" and then it kicks into an appropriate evil dirge. Halfway through it, my CD player experienced some kind of catastrophic failure and I had to take the disc out, put it back in, and go back to track 5. See, I usually wish Smog Veil would just send me the LPs, but somehow it felt right that that occurred during this song. Spooky. "Hung Up On You" features both of the Archie Bunkers (who, amusingly, are listed on the hype sticker like they're full-time members of the band– they're not), and Emmett really comes through with the bombastic drumming. I like "Last Love" well enough, but it shares the same problem as several of these songs in that it takes too long to get started as well as to go anywhere. "Maple Leaf Girl" finally brings the album a truly uptempo tune, and while I don't find "My Asshole Cousin" that interesting musically (though Nick Summa really does throw some good guitar bits in there), there are some pretty funny lyrics in there, like "he's the kind of guy who put the Jews in the oven." The last track is "Shut Up!," which is the most punk of the bunch, probably owing a lot not only to the tempo but also to guest vocalist Bob Sablack, who does indeed provide some punk vocals. The packaging is pretty great (though the two drummers are both credited as having played on track 7 and neither on track 9). Decent enough, if you're already a Cheese fan or an Archie completist, you'll probably enjoy it. 3.5/5
Saucers - Third Saucer From The Sun - Rerun Records - 12 songs - LP
Man, Rerun is having a good year. I mean, very few things could possibly top those Great Plains reissues for me, from this or any other label, but a Saucers collection is pretty darn cool. Saucers were Lakewood's own Craig Bell's band after heading to Connecticut in the late '70s. Do they sound like Mirrors or Rocket From The Tombs? No. Are they good anyway? Yes. Generally, I see Saucers represented as "Craig's thing," but there's actually a lot of shared songwriting and lead vocals. This collection kicks off, for example, with Malcolm Marsden's pretty great "Orpheus," an immensely catchy power pop/garage rock tune. Then, there's also some of Craig's classic tunes, like "Annie," with the keyboards providing some added whimsy to the very upbeat, catchy, and incredibly dark (despite the "sun is shining" lyrics) song. "Frustration" is also given the same pep. "Tossed A Coin" is an old song that was written at the time but never got recorded until 2011, and despite the modern production sound, you can hardly tell that the band is thirty-something years older. Side A closes with a pair of upbeat garage rockers, "Take A Chance" and the fantastically dumb "What We Do"– one of the people in this band pronounces it "wot" every time, the sound effects to help illustrate the lyrics are ridiculous, and it even goes into a slow part for no real reason. It's a pretty great song is what I'm saying. "Muckraker," which must be Craig's most famous song, opens up the second side, and it's a pretty good version here, with one of Craig's nuttiest vocal takes (well, I'm pretty sure he's one of the voices on "Penthouse Legend," so maybe his nuttiest lead vocal take) and a dumb guitar solo, as it should be. I'd like to take this opportunity to again say that there's one lyric in the chorus that I've never been able to make out and I always hope someone writes in and tells me. She's a muckraker, a heartbreaker, a man hater, and a…? Oh well. Another Saucer, Mark Mulcahy, steps up to the mic for "A Certain Kind Of Shy," which is just a phenomenal pop song. Total '60s girl group sound, which they nail. I'm actually pretty impressed at how they nailed the drum sound during the sappy, spoken word bridge. Good job. Back to Craig for the garage rocker "She's Alright," and then to Katherine Cormack for "Quiet Boy," a pretty pleasant power pop tune. The last two songs here have never been issued before. There's a good take on "Shit City" from a radio session, which sounds pretty good and is delivered with far more drama than the more rocking Down-Fi version I was familiar with, which suits it. The last song is Seth Tiven's "You Won't Find Me," which is a decent live recording. Pretty good song, and cool to hear a "new" Saucers song, though it's probably not what I would've closed the LP with. My biggest gripe with this record is some of the song selections. Going in, I was a bit annoyed that they didn't just comp the singles and add other stuff instead of picking and choosing from the previously-released-on-vinyl stuff, but that actually didn't bug me too much after all. I still do listen and go, "well, why is this song on here but such and such other song isn't?" but I guess that's actually a good complaint to have, that I would've liked to hear even more Saucers songs. And overall, it is undeniably a solid collection. 4/5
Paul Stringer - Between - self-released - 12 songs - CD
The thing about my column is that I don't have a limit on what gets reviewed, so long as it's sorta local and sorta recent, though, admittedly, I have thrown both of those requirements out the window before. So a completely unknown Lakewood singer-songwriter with no presence as far as I'm aware in any "scene" can get reviewed just as easily as anything else. Such as this one here. Most of the 12 tracks on "Between" are Paul Stringer on vocals with Tom Amon on guitar, and this kind of sparse arrangement makes it a little hard to pinpoint what genre this would be considered. Several songs I would say are folk-based, some struck me as having a sort of Neil Young "The Needle & The Damage Done" style. The production here is pretty nonexistent, as it sounds like it was probably recorded in someone's kitchen. Very heavy on natural reverb. At certain times, the two performers here slip just a bit out of time with each other, and on a couple songs where they're joined by vocalist Megan Amon, a third element does not help this phenomenon. Sometimes Paul Stringer's voice isn't quite in key. Sometimes the lyrics are a bit uncomfortably personal, like you can tell that he's talking about something very important to him but you're not quite following exactly what it is. Are any of these necessarily bad qualities? I don't think so. To me, it's more important that music be interesting and, for lack of a better word, "real" than be perfectly performed or anything like that. And this album is certainly real. There's a couple tracks where Paul just talks (not rants, exactly, but somewhat forcefully delivers his point). These serve to illustrate my point: this doesn't exactly fit in to a genre, but it's real. I like the part in the final track about the A in Moses Cleaveland's name. This guy is clearly a storyteller and his music and what he's doing mean a lot to him. I think it doesn't really matter whether I like this at all. The thing about this column, as I mentioned, is that anybody has the chance to be reviewed in it and here's the proof. I don't quite know what to make of this on the whole, I can't in all honesty say it blew my mind or anything, but it was an interesting listen. 3/5
Are you a local-ish band? Do you have a record out? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or send it directly to Observer headquarters: The Lakewood Observer, c/o Buzz Kompier, 14900 Detroit Avenue, Suite 205, Lakewood, OH 44107.