New Recordings Should Please Music Fans of Many Stripes Print
Music - Feature Stories
Tuesday, 25 December 2001 18:00
Variety is the order of the day on the local music scene. Two new releases by local bands are now available, and fans of electronic music and straight-ahead heavy metal should have a good time with both albums. Also, we finally caught up with a recent recording by a local singer that should please people who like soft ballads and light country. None of these releases is transcendent, but they’re noble efforts with more strengths than weaknesses.

Protus: Sinking Ship

Last year, it was called Land of Nod Productions. Now, it’s Octopoid Productions. Then, the label was promoting a band called Savage Gentlemen, and now it’s Protus. Make up your mind, damn it!

The fledgling local label dabbles just as much stylistically as it does with monikers, so while the Gentlemen trafficked industrial metal, Protus leans more toward electronica, although certainly of the gothic variety. (It’s no surprise that some of the same people were involved in both projects.)

Protus’ Sinking Ship begins quietly with “Warmth of the Core,” a breezy, atmospheric track in a style reminiscent of campfire harmonica music in Westerns. While that image is a cliché, the track actually works, rich and with a pleasant balance between live instruments and processed sound.

The second track, “Botchelism [sic] Begins at Home,” is a better indication of what Protus is up to. The track has the creepy texture of Skinny Puppy, is dominated by beats and a two-note guitar motif, and abandons its early themes for a while and returns to them with patience.

“Falling Skies,” the album’s third track, is easily its best. It feels alive, twitching and spastic, with electricity flowing through it. Like the rest of Sinking Ship, it has the requisite static, buzzes, clicks, and chirps, but they’re given a strong hook, and the track feels composed, considered, and planned – nearly narrative. The sonic texture is dense but accessible, with a stunning variety of sounds combined in fascinating ways.

At its best, this album resembles Coil’s Horse Rotovator, an unclassifiable (and virtually unheard) record that takes the industrial technique of the mid-1980s and turns down the abrasiveness, wiping away the aggressive veneer to let the music stand on its own. Both Coil’s music and the best of Protus make no secret of the electronic roots, but they feel organic.

Unlike “Falling Skies,” however, many of the tracks on Sinking Ship have the structure of improvisational jazz – not much, in other words. The earlier pieces are more fully formed, but in its second half the record becomes a sort of ambient cloud, with debris – some of it interesting by itself, some of it interesting in combination with other bits, and a lot of it just … debris.

That might be intentional, but the strength of electronic music – be it danceable or simply for mood – is the ability to craft rich soundscapes, and this record’s aesthetic is hit-and-miss. Not unlike the Savage Gentlemen’s debut, Protus’ record is full of interesting passages and moments, but the later tracks don’t hold together.

Protus will have a CD-release event on Saturday, December 29, at 7 p.m. in Moline’s Chai Café.

Knuckle-Head: Music Psychos

The guys in Knuckle-Head don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, so I’m guessing they’ll appreciate that the band’s new record, Music Psychos, reminded me more than anything of Metallica’s Garage Inc. from a few years ago – competent, fun in its own way, silly as hell, and full of shit. It’s good-time heavy metal, pretending to be more threatening than it really is, and seemingly knowing it. (Lead singer Retzel seems to worship at the altar of Hetfield.)

The nine-track album is relatively brief, and the band writes tight songs that won’t surprise anybody but aren’t painful in any way. The hooks are strong, the rhythm section is propulsive, and although Music Psychos won’t blow you away and feels as if it should have been made at least a decade ago, a lot of major-label metal bands don’t sound this good.

Ann Marie La Mar: Ann Marie La Mar

And in a completely different vein is local singer Ann Marie La Mar’s collection of songs. The 10-track album covers a fairly narrow range of material, from ballads to country. “When We’re Home” tries some blues, but La Mar can’t quite dig in enough. The singer didn’t write any of the songs on the album, and it’s clear that she needs to choose her material carefully.

But her voice is particularly at home in the country. While she seems somewhat tentative with straight pop songs, her voice is confident and twangy when the big hats are on, and it’s in these tracks that her self-titled record is at its best.

La Mar’s album is available from MMT Music Group; P.O. Box 330; Grand Ridge, Florida 32442; (850)482-3004.
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