Review Round Up #44

PlugInMusic.com's Review Round Up feature provides five quick-fire music reviews on a weekly basis. This edition includes P.J. Olsson's "American Scream," The Holy Roman Empire's "Egress," John Garrison's "Above the Cosmos," Simpler Machine's "2013," and Carolyn Mark's "Nothing Is Free."

American Scream

P.J. Olsson
“American Scream”
(CBS Records 2007)

P.J. Olsson knows how to balance light and bright melodies with full instrumentation. It is a skill that Olsson shows off throughout "American Scream," his CBS Records debut. The album is generally minimal, focused on layering sounds and harmonies while still remaining loose and creative. But as likable as those pop melodies might be, Olsson seems infatuated with them and spends "American Scream" nailed to the same spot.

Sounds Like: Adult contemporary with a gently poppy, '70s style

Key Tracks: "A Million Stars"

B-
buy it!
Egress

Holy Roman Empire
“Egress”
(Slanty Shanty Records 2007)

The Holy Roman Empire's "Egress" takes chances but manages to put the various pieces together in such a way that the album flows loosely and even offers some unlikely hooks to pull you in. It is a chaotic mess that gets you tangled in orchestral tune ups, Middle Eastern flavors, classical guitar and dreamy riffs from a psychotic ice cream truck which find their way with a feeling of lazy abandon all while the strong vocals evoking the ghost of Jeff Buckley haunts. Somewhere between noise and drone, "Egress" steps up without feeling too avant garde.

Sounds Like: Classically influenced experimental

Key Tracks: "Scaling The UofI Art Building"

B
buy it!
Above the Cosmos

John Garrison
“Above the Cosmos”
(Johnny Vic Records 2007)

Do not let that pesky singer-songwriter label fool you, John Garrison is not just churning out some sweet, twinkling piano melodies. On "Above the Cosmos," his solo debut, Garrison creates intense melodies that swell while building to great heights before crashing quietly back to the ground with neither a note nor a hair out of place. Full of potential and hinting at Garrison's greater ability, "Above the Cosmos" nudges the door open gently and slowly builds your interest with one track after the next.

Sounds Like: Singer-songwriter for the Coldplay and Snow Patrol crowds

Key Tracks: "Testimony"

B
buy it!
2013

Simpler Machine
“2013”
(Rich Dick Records 2008)

Sleazy, brash and in your face, Simpler Machine perfectly embody the 1980s hair metal that they are influenced by. Inject some speeding punk rock to that mix and you have "2013," the band's aggressive album dedicated to sex, sex and more sex. And while that certainly is not necessarily a bad thing, Simpler Machine remain at the extreme end of the spectrum, opting to avoid any tact, synonyms or fresh air. Instead "2013" forces its way by with a heavy hand that quickly becomes repetitive and slightly dull.

Sounds Like: Attitude-laced punk/metal ready for a good time

Key Tracks: "Let's Fuck In The Van"

C
Nothing Is Free

Carolyn Mark
“Nothing Is Free”
(Mint Records 2007)

When Canadian Carolyn Mark is not making music with one of the many projects she is involved with (including The Corn Sisters with Neko Case), she is doing it solo. With strong, sharp lyrics and a commanding voice to match, Carolyn Mark makes "Nothing Is Free," her fifth solo record, a country flashback that is firmly rooted in the present with twangy guitars, loosely collected harmonies and a folksy ramble. Mark is no Southern belle as she tells you off but never loses sight of the larger picture or obsesses over the failures.

Sounds Like: Alt country with some bite

Key Tracks: "Happy 2B Flying Away"

A-
buy it!