Old-schoolers may recognize the name Leon Lamont from his drum work with T.H.U.G.S. in the early and mid-'90s, but that was long ago, and since then his style has transformed from bang-boom metalhead pounding into utterly amazing, inspired drum & bass. On Breakbeat Mechanic, Lamont has created a strange and powerful amalgam of synthetic and live-time drumming, and the result is skillful and engaging. Using drums, MIDI tracks and a sequencer, Lamont creates live what most drum & bass producers are only able to make with the aid of computers: thick, 170-bpm breakbeat breakdowns. The record was released on the Wordsound label out of New York (hip-hoppers know this as the home of MC Paul Barman), where Lamont was living until recently. While there, he hooked up and toured with DJ Logic (Medeski, Martin and Wood's DJ), performed with the Cold Crush Brothers during a reunion gig and collaborated with, among others, Anti-Pop Consortium, Dr. Israel, Dead Prez and Chocolate Genius. Lamont has returned to St. Louis, and he deserves to be recognized as one of this city's most accomplished percussionists; you can welcome him back when he performs live breakbeat and drum & bass from behind his kit, as well as with sequencers and a MIDI setup, at the Galaxy this Sunday. Highly recommended.
If you're looking for solid middle-of-the-road songcraft, the kind that could be used as the opening music on a sitcom, look no further than the tight but wholly inoffensive Stereophonic Nervous Breakdown, the new record from the recently re-formed Ken Kase Group. KKG was, until a few years ago, one of the hardest-working ignored bands in the city, gigging, recording, touring, sweating, whining, kicking out melodies that drew their influences from XTC, Squeeze, Joe Jackson and all other types of new-wave-y pop-rock. Then they quit. Now they've back together. At their best on Nervous Breakdown, you hear four musicians (Kase, Greg Berg, Dave Strohmeyer and Paul Hoga) so acutely rehearsed and in touch with each other that you wonder whether they live together and practice, like, 12 hours a day. The music is tight and smart. At their worst, though, the group's professional sound gives way to gloss and a tone so clean and refined that it barely seems real -- the result is too much Mike and the Mechanics, not enough Squeeze. Kase is an ace songwriter with a sweet voice and obvious talent, but he seems stuck in a specific aesthetic, one that stopped evolving in 1990. He needs to add a DJ and some scratching. Maybe some techno beats. Just kidding.
The biggest surprise from the forthcoming Sullen album is a weirdo version of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," followed by some gutsy, "no way in hell should one attempt to replicate the Beach Boys' harmonies" harmonies. Surprise, surprise: They fall flat, but at least they're pushing themselves. The cover, buried in the "secret bonus track" at the end, signals the band's embrace of music that existed before the Pixies and Nirvana. It's a welcome shift for Sullen, a band with so much live energy when they're on top of things that you just know they've got the magic. A band that goes through bassists the way it goes through guitar strings, on this batch of 10 demos, Sullen still sounds a lot -- like, a lot -- like Nirvana and Verbena. Turning out hard, melodic punk with that loud-soft-softer-loud structure, Sullen is, admirably, attempting to work outside that sound (they're obviously sick of the comparisons), especially on the ace "Fairytale," a song that restrains itself from guitar distortion until the very end. That said, it still kinda sounds like "About a Girl." (They just can't win with us, can they?) But they're getting there, and they rock, and "Working Man" is the best song they've ever done. The band tours Europe in March.
Hotel Faux Pas is a band after our own heart: The group's new album, Five Dead Scotsmen, kicks off with bagpipes. Woo-hoo. And though it's hard to believe, the record gets even better after the pipes are silenced. A band that's always had a knack for mixing incredible, catchy melodies with a keen wit, curious arrangements and general excitement, and on this -- their fifth or sixth, and best, release -- Hotel Faux Pas harnesses all of the above on nearly every song, mixing an obvious influence with a melodic sense akin to some of the better Monkees singles. Yeah, some of their songs are totally stupid -- "The President Has a Monkey" and "Dear Tony" come to mind -- but being stupid and dorky is preferable to being cool and detached, and their inventiveness and utter joy squish any attempt at diminishing their accomplishments. You can see them at Border's Books & Music-Ballwin on Friday, Jan. 26.