aave, Meh! Chris Whitten, Yes! Honeybird, Nope!

It's summer clean out time. Here's the word on three recent releases.

There's Nothing
Villain Place/Rock Ridge Music
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The four-piece band aave hails from Nashville, but you're excused if you thought it was from San Francisco, circa 1967. This quartet consciously locates itself in a  psychedelic/ambient mode and, if you close your eyes, you could summon forth images of garland-adorned hippie chicks in tie-dye dresses, heads-tilted, eyelids half closed, and twirling against a light show backdrop. While that's sort of cool, musically it means that aave is more about mood than melody. It often draws comparisons to bands like Pink Floyd and Flaming Lips—largely because it combines the dreaminess (bleak and optimistic) of the first with the occasional thrash of the latter. I'd also call aave a post-punk band for the way in which songs often flirt the edge of cacophony. Add Hollies-like bubbly lead vocals and chirpy harmonies, and aave emerges as the ultimate mash-up band. Alas, this is less interesting than you might expect. The eight tracks I heard lack the signature hooks of acid rock classics, the attitude of punk, or the catchy melodies of The Hollies. In other words, meh!

(Digital downloads)
* * *

Charlie Whitten is also based in Nashville, and he too admires late-60s psychedelia. Luckily for us, he also likes Simon and Garfunkel, folk-rock, grunge, and fin-de-si├Ęcle radio hits. Although he is sometimes compared to Don McLean, Nick Drake and Neil Young are more apt comparisons. Especially the latter, if you can conjure Young in his youth with his rough edges smoothed out. Whitten, in fact, positively channels Neil in a cover of "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." One the things I admired about Whitten's folk-rock sound was his balance between trippiness and control.  "Dreaming" and "Home" have a Drake-like drift to them, but they don't meander. In like fashion, "Wedding Song" is sweet, but not treaclely, and "Too Far Gone" is funky and cool without being remote. Only "Lost I Heard" fails to connect, a song that simply feels and sounds undone. Whether any of this is good enough to break through in Nashville is up in the air, but Whitten's music is certainly worth a listen.

Out Comes Woman
(Digital download)

I suppose Honeybird (aka/ Monique Mizrahi) has her charms, but they eluded me on Out Comes a Woman, the sort of album I imagine Gil Scott-Heron would have made with a gender change and a talent transplant. Honeybird tries too hard to be hip and sassy, efforts that lead to literary disasters such as "Good Job," where she rhymes "rejection" with "erection" (mostly for shock value) and "tease job" with "on your knees, John." There are also musical train wrecks such as "You Think I'm Single" that are so muddled they are little more than random noise masquerading as art. This album feels homemade, but not in homey way. Honeybird styles her instrumental approach as "charango punk" and bass, but some of the bass tracks are so out of balance that what pours out of the amp obliterates sounds in its path. When she mixes spoken word with song, she her musings and snippets of poetry frequently lack enough articulation to connect. For the record, I don't know this Brooklyn-based artist. For all I know she's funny, kind, and smart, but Outlaw Woman felt pointless and self-indulgent. At several junctures I felt like I was in a Dos Equis ad gone terribly wrong and wanted to cry out, "Please lose the 'tude! You're not that interesting."

Here she is performing "Ex-Spearmint."


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