Pepper, "No Shame"
On sale at All That Jazz for $12.98
At first listen, Pepper could be mistaken for a cover band.
The Hawaiian trio's sound is so similar to that of Sublime that it could be concluded that the band doesn't have any other musical influence.
But Pepper is not a cover band. Pepper is a sub-par Sublime - a band that has built its success by filling the void left by the demise of its biggest influence.
It's not that the band lacks talent, just innovation - evident on the band's most recent release, "No Shame."
Not only does Pepper passionately imitate Sublime's style and songwriting, but lead singer Kaleo Wassman's vocals also are eerily similar to those of Sublime's deceased frontman, Bradley Nowell. This is especially true on the song "Lost In America," in which Wassman's howling references to regions of America seem pulled from the lyrics of Sublime's "April 29, 1992."
Wassman even emulates Nowell's hometown shout-outs - paying homage to "Kona Town" with the same spirit that Nowell namedropped "Long Beach."
Despite the lack of ingenuity on "No Shame," the album's jejune nature will no doubt appeal to certain sects of surfers, stoners and teenagers. Songs such as "Like Your Style" and "Point and Shoot" have the juvenile quality that made Blink 182 one of the most popular bands of the late '90s.
This juvenile quality also is the driving force behind the album's biggest failing - its inclusion of skits that feature characters proclaiming their love for the band.
These few skits, which may be humorous to 12-year-olds, are merely annoying, serving only to negate the album's high points, including the opener, "Bring Me Along," or the 311-esque "Nice Time" (produced by 311's Nick Hexum).
Rating: Your meal would be better without Pepper. Instead, pass the Sublime.
Jet, "Shine On"
On sale at All That Jazz for $15.98
Jet's emergence into the mainstream during the same period as The White Stripes and The Strokes - outfits that also possessed sounds deeply influenced by rock from the '60s and '70s - inevitably led to the same sort of pigeonhole analogies confronting this wave of classic-rock-influenced bands.
The White Stripes, with Jack White's bluesy riffs and gritty songwriting, were hailed as a rebirth of the Rolling Stones. The Darkness, with a passion for glam rock, was called the rebirth of Queen (although, probably more appropriately, a rebirth of T-Rex), and Jet, simply being from Australia, a rebirth of AC/DC.
Jet probably received the most unfair and uneducated comparison. Although singles from the band's first album, "Get Born" - in particular "Cold Hard Bitch," "Get Me Outta Here" and "Rollover DJ" - definitely share the hard rock, riff-driven sound that is the signature of AC/DC, these songs don't truly summarize the band's sound.
"Shine On," the newest album from the Australian foursome, probably is a better representation of Jet.
Although "Shine On" has its fair share of the brand of hard rock, dive jukebox tunes that the band is best known for, including the album's debut single, "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is," the album is more firmly rooted in Jet's love for The Beatles (the band's name, in fact, was inspired by the Wings' song "Jet" from the album, "Band On the Run").
The album's second single, "Bring It On Back," a ballad following the same equation as "Look What You've Done," the popular single from "Get Born," displays a careful study of Lennon/McCartney song-craft. And closing track "All You Have To Do," with its refrain of the same words, is so similar to "All You Need Is Love" that listeners are more likely to walk away with The Beatles' song stuck in their heads than Jet's imitation.
An obsession with The Beatles isn't necessarily a bad thing - it worked for Elliott Smith - but Jet's inclination to freely borrow sounds and ideas from the classic bands its members idolize is the reason "Shine On," in the end, fails to propel the band to the likes of its fellow classmates, The White Stripes or The Strokes, and instead, places it among the company of Oasis.
Rating: "Shine On" will certainly spawn several hit singles, but Jet still has yet to release an album worthy of the band's influences.
Trey Anastasio, "Bar 17"
On sale at All That Jazz for $13.98
In addition to being known as one of the most popular live acts in rock history, Phish has a reputation for writing music that is unapproachable, if not dissonant, to persons outside of the band's massive, devoted following.
Phish critics would argue this is because the band, despite its immensely talented musicians, lacks compelling songwriting. Phish fans would argue that its critics are bred to indulge the ordinary, or that the songs are too complex for the average pop music fan. Trey Anastasio, as the main songwriter of the now defunct band, takes most of the heat and credit for this positive and negative criticism. With his solo work, including his most recent release, "Bar 17," Anastasio continues to remain true to his vision, unapologetic to those who "don't get it."
"Bar 17" highlights Anastasio's insouciant style and his passion for fusing genres - jazz, blues, rock, country. If he's heard it, he incorporates it. And the list of musicians who joins him on "Bar 17" reaches equally as wide - John Medeski on keyboards, former Phish bassist Mike Gordon, frequent collaborators Marco Benevento and Joe Russo, among many others.
The album is at its best on Anastasio's lighthearted fare - the freewheelin' "Dragonfly," pretty ditty "Empty House," or the '80s-inspired, bluesy "Mud City" - whereas somber numbers such as the title track or "Gloomy Sky," both led by piano with string accompaniments, aren't as complementary of his vocals.
The album won't be as attractive to non-Phish fans as Anastasio's work with Oysterhead, where he paired with the equally eccentric songwriting of Les Claypool, but "Bar 17" is a well-produced collection of songs that highlights Anastasio's talented guitar work and a long list of collaborations. The songs are certain to sound more impressive during a live performance, but that's no surprise.
Rating: Phish fans will eat up "Bar 17." Other listeners, with an open mind, will find themselves warming up to Anastasio with each listen.