Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals
Sounds like: Ben Harper discovering Neil Young's After the Gold Rush
Short take: A quieter, yet appealing, Harper
Recorded in Paris on an analog tape machine (no Pro Tools, no computers, no studio production hi-jinx), Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals' latest, Lifeline, is a stark affair that contrasts the sizzling guitarist's image with a Southern rock, backwoods country- influenced vibe. In fact, Harper appears to be indulging his Neil Young love with many tracks digressing into the grunge icon's early '70s acoustic past. There's the tender instrumental "Paris Sunrise #7" and the sublimely harmonica-enhanced "Fool for a Lonesome Train." Considering that Harper's recent efforts were folk- and rock-based, the 11-track Lifeline marks a successful digression in what is quickly becoming an impressive career. Sure, Harper can shred the blues with the best of them, but it's often his unexpected efforts that truly stand out. John Benson
VHS or Beta
Bring on the Comets font>
Sounds like: Underground '80s dance music for this millennium
Short take: Star rises on Comets
VHS or Beta's 2004 effort, Night on Fire, explored the seedier side of the dance floor with a compelling mlange of neo-disco beats and mesmerizing guitar moments. The Kentucky band's new album, Bring on the Comets, acts as the morning-after follow-up. There's a distinct sunnier side to be experienced on the 12-track album, which finds the act successfully spreading its wings into more pop- based dalliances without losing its unique sound. The anthemic "Take it or Leave It" feels like it could fit on a mid-'80s Duran Duran album, while "Fall Down Lightly" has a breezy quality that is insidiously beguiling. If the album closer "The Stars Where We Came From" is any sign, it appears Comets positions VHS or Beta to enjoy a VCR-like run over the failed Beta-max. John Benson
Sounds like: An Emocore Tribute to New Wave, Vol. 8!
Short take: We need more Hot Topic muzak?
It doesn't help that the name "Blaqk Audio" sounds like the name of some lousy R&B quartet, but, really, that's only the least of this band's worries. The real pity in this work of AFI members Jade Puget and Davey Havok lies in the clumsy, amateurish take on New Wave that serves as a disservice to all of the bands being homaged. There aren't even any of AFI's signature moves here those may have kept this record out of the trash can. Havok doesn't endear us with his shrill caterwauling, instead opting for some muted talk-sung nonsense as throbbing synths and techno bass lines echo monotonously in the background. The Blaqk Audio guys are clearly just "trying something out to see what happens," but out of their time and element, they shouldn't have even bothered. Matt Martin