Joan Zen

There is a serious classic rootsy rock feel to the self-released debut by the Hamilton (by way of San Diego) band Joan Zen. The effort hinges on Deborah Hicks’ soulful, sultry delivery and is at its best when her vocals are pinned up against straight-ahead rock riffs and drums in tunes like “If I Could” and “Casually Acquainted.” I can just picture bar stools swiveling away from the televised ballgame and toward the stage as Hicks belts out her finest Chrissie Hynde impression on “Acquainted”: “As I’m sifting through the memories of you, it won’t let me be until we meet again.”

When Intramission downshifts to a coffeehouse groove, it continues to evoke a mature and refined sound. “Getting Out” and “I Ever Never” have hints of the Cowboy Junkies, and “Don’t Call Me Friend” is a multi-layered, jazz-infused ballad that plays with its timing and vocal harmonies to great effect.

Deborah is joined on the album by her husband/drummer/keyboardist/saxophonist Jason, and the two are reportedly in the studio working on another release scheduled for later this year. Here’s hoping the next has the same old-school energy and seasoned hand as their first. (Skylar Browning)

Joan Zen plays Sean Kelly’s Saturday, May 21, at 9 PM. Cover TBA.

Last of the Juanitas
In the Dirt
Wäntage USA

There’s something terrifying and delicious about Last of the Juanita’s newest album. “Baghdad,” the first track, launches listeners down a horror highway of dirge feedback marked by the evil anticipation embodied in The Melvins’ “Boris.” Bassist Lana Rebel’s vocals add music-box terror that seems to have traveled from the lonely reaches of Appalachia. It’s a deeply odd conglomeration for a band settled in the Northwest (previously San Diego), but a brilliant way to set the mood for the avalanche of rock that follows.

Heavy with power chords and marked by distinctly variant time signatures, the album barrels forward like a boxer blessed with the agility and speed of a hobo spider. Rebel and guitarist Maurice Giles take turns singing (combining forces for the dirty-rock sass of “Smashed by Nothing”), while drummer Johnny Schier nails each piece with deft and violent force. “Took the Short Train” is a gem, with Giles worked up into a paranoid sermon steeped in the cautionary flavor of something by Universal Order of Armageddon.

In the Dirt isn’t for everyone—it’s dark and mathy and it won’t reduce stress. But for those who love murky, driving rock, it’s a real prize. (Erika Fredrickson)

Prince Jaeo

In his latest release, Missoula native Prince Jaeo continues to take on the baffling task of mixing southcore-style gangsta rap with local anecdotes. In the process of colliding these two worlds, he alienates just about every self-proclaimed hip-hop head in this town. He acknowledges this estrangement in songs like “Payback,” and by the end of the album it’s clear he doesn’t really care.

Lyrically, the album is rife with typical gangsta elements, as in “Money Motivated,” which is concerned with time-honored pastimes like selling crack, spending money and bringing guns to social gatherings. “Revenge,” on the other hand, has Jaeo rhyming about killing the family members of those who have wronged him and filling his trunk with severed heads. By this point, it should be clear to readers whether or not they’ll find Jaeo appealing.

Production credits on the album go mostly to Max Allyn. The cheap synths and rapid, digital-sounding beats are appropriate to the southcore vibe, but the album could use some influence from the likes of DJ Paul—the EQ and compression work needs improvement, and the vocals are way too loud in the mix, drowning out the basslines.

Still, this is a homegrown effort, so you have to give Jaeo, Allyn and the crew props for completing another original album, and for taking chances in the genre. (Adam Fangsrud)

So Many Dynamos
When I Explode
Skrocki Records

So Many Dynamos have a surprise up their sleeve. No, it’s not their clever palindrome name, nor is it that their newest album, When I Explode, nearly clones the musical intonations of their major influence, The Dismemberment Plan—critics and indie rock connoisseurs alike have been heralding these particular facts since the album was born. The real surprise arises after a few listens to the album, once you look past the pop-punk angst of vocalist Ryan Ballew and the familiar weaving of catchy hooks: clinging to these innocuous but all-too-customary musical elements are innovative textures including disco junctures, Miles Davis jazzscapes and Moog-induced laser breakdowns.

Ballew is not a bad singer by any means, but songs like “The Pros of Being a Con Artist” and “Let’s Laugh about it Later” rely heavily on the affected annunciation that makes bands like Simple Plan so annoying. Ballew, alas, redeems himself with lively anthem-like choruses and songs like “Heat/Humidity,” which captures an edgy and intangible malaise.

So Many Dynamos may be derivative, but no Simple Simon can fake this kind of craftiness. (Erika Fredrickson)

So Many Dynamos play the History House (227 S. 3rd Street West) on Sunday, May 22, at 8PM.

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