CD Reviews


Unloco “Becoming I” (Warner Bros.)

Compare to: Deftones, Endo, Staind

Rating: 7

Evolve or die — a phrase that should be more synonymous with nu-metal than seven-string guitars. If bands don’t grow past the slow, whiny verse-heavy screaming chorus routine, they become extinct.

Texas’ Unloco was one of those bands faced with this very decision after its largely unnoticed, yet impressive debut disc “Healing” sold poorly, putting the band in a do-or-die situation with its label, Maverick.

With “Becoming I,” Unloco put forth a Texas-sized effort to shake away those nu-metal clich‚s, and succeeded for the most part. Most notably, the band has spent time simply honing its skills and created a tighter, more focused album than its predecessor.

Vocalist Joey Duenas brings a more powerful voice to the table this time and shows it off on “Hands and Knees,” a track that exhibits both his increased range and ability to transition from choir boy to metal madman.

New guitarist Marc Serrano seems to be the piece Unloco was missing all along. Serrano not only offers solid playing, but also the ability to incorporate more of a technical aspect to the band than did former ax slinger Brian Arthur.

As far as the lyrical content of this record, it’s more of the same old thing. There is more self-loathing, pity and feeling worthless on this record than a double-live unplugged Staind record. At times it seems relevant. Like “Failure,” where the band seems to be asking, “who will still be down with us if we lose our record deal?” But on other tracks, like “Empty,” where Duenas tells us “I feel so empty inside/ I’m just a freak in your eyes,” it seems uninspired and clich‚.

With the addition of some well-written acoustic tracks, an overall bigger sound — including the addition of electronics — and more attention paid to the craft of its musicianship, Unloco looks to keep itself off the endangered list for the time being.

— Trevor Fisher

American Hi-Fi “The Art of Losing” (Def Jam)

Compare to: Foo Fighters, Cheap Trick, Common Children

Rating: 7 1/2

Stacy Jones has fallen victim to his own cynicism.

After stints behind the drum kit with ’90s sensations Veruca Salt and Letters to Cleo, Jones gave up the skins to start American Hi-Fi as the guitarist and vocalist. But being the center of attention has taken its toll on a man who once occupied the back of the stage.

For their new album “The Art of Losing,” the members of American Hi-Fi have adapted a new attitude. Jones’ lyrics have become cynical and degrading, and it is obvious that Jones himself has adapted a piss-poor disposition. The lyrics reek of his crass, anti-authority views, and Jones never hesitates to drop the F-bomb.

In “The Breakup Song,” the album’s beautifully bitter and sadistic second track, Jones lashes out against an ex-girlfriend he absolutely despises: “Don’t call my friends/ They won’t know who you are/ It’s the end, ex-girlfriend/ I don’t care what you think of me now/ So long/ You’re gone/ This is the breakup song.

The overall musicianship of the band has improved tenfold. Four-chord pop-punk songs have been replaced with multi-layered and complex rock and roll anthems. Jamie Arentzen’s guitar solos stand out like a nudist in a church service, but compliment the songs perfectly.

There isn’t a poorly written song on the whole album, unless you’re someone who thinks a song with any cursing whatsoever is a sin against humanity.

“Nothing Left to Lose” is the stand-out song of the album. The catchy chorus and background vocals make fun of everyone from Pancho Villa to modern rappers. Phrases like “Holla back,” “All the bitches in the back” and “Hell yeah!” are used several times to back Jones’ angry vocal onslaught.

Fans of the first Hi-Fi release will be disappointed with the new offering, but there is no question — this band belongs among the ranks of today’s best and most cynical angst rockers.

— Dan Hopper

Edwin McCain “The Austin Sessions” (ATC)

Compare to: Counting Crows, Jewel, Tonic

Rating: 4 1/2

The singer-songwriter’s best friend has always been his acoustic guitar. Even though sometimes full band backing is better, the true troubadour shines when it’s just him and his six-string. Edwin McCain makes an attempt on demonstrating that with “The Austin Sessions.”

Like any other McCain release, this album is full of soulful vocals and sweet harmonies. But as far as any great new material to showcase those talents, the high points are few and far between.

Fortunately, the starting track is one of those points. “Let It Slide” should probably have beaten out “I Want It All” for the lead single.

The other new tracks aren’t really up to snuff with McCain’s older work. “Wino’s Lullaby” starts off with impressive lyrical work, but the song is ruined by a repetitive chorus that just hammers the title of the song into your head.

“The Austin Sessions” also features a few of McCain’s older tracks, redone the way he (or his fans) always wanted.

“No Choice” is a song first written by a friend of McCain’s named Buddy Mondlock. The subject matter relates how many musicians feel they have no other option than to write and perform their muse. McCain’s performance is a decent ditty that pays tribute to the original. McCain also meant to pay tribute to Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits by recording “Romeo and Juliet,” a song McCain routinely performed live. The thing is, those renditions were far better than the one on this album.

When done on stage, McCain harnessed the emotional power of the track. But something got lost in the studio production. McCain expands and overemotes far too much of the song, when the live version’s timing did so much to more to contribute.

With the inclusion of these acoustic versions of old songs comes a couple cover songs, this disc is probably best viewed as more of a compilation of other tracks than an actual step forward in McCain’s career.

— Jesse Stensby

Relient K “Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right … But Three Do” (Gotee)

Compare to: Simple Plan, Something Corporate, Starting Line

Rating: 8

The realities of life seem to have finally hit home for this Christian rock band.

When the members of Relient K found out a teenage girl from their hometown was kidnapped and later found murdered last summer, they decided to play at the memorial for their lost fan. Without a doubt, the impact of the tragedy further stirred Relient K’s approach to offering hope within well-crafted songs — and the fans have noticed.

The album debuted March 11 and is already Relient K’s best-selling work to date, with more than 30,000 copies of the album purchased in the first week.

After completing two albums and three EPs, the members of Relient K have completely outdone themselves with their latest release. Each track is filled with not only their original pop-punk attitude, but positive Christian-based lyrics as well.

Serious songs like “Getting Into You” stress the importance of setting one’s priorities straight, while “I Am Understood?” deals with feelings that no one understands.

Similarly, “Falling Out” focuses on the aftermath of a bitter letdown, and “Over Thinking” tackles the torn emotions of finishing a miserable relationship.

The songs on this album may be serious, but they’re also inspirational. Each finely-tuned track brings a sense of warmth, love and like-minded understanding to the ears and mind of the listener.

Most college students can relate to “College Kids.” With lyrics like “80 grand later I found out that all that I had learned/ Is that you should show up to take your finals and your midterms” Relient K delivers a message about the struggles of academia and the self-reliance needed to survive those four (or five or six) years.

The past may have hit them hard, but the end result of each member’s effort seems to be a positive one. Relient K has produced newer and better material than its past efforts, and each song serves as individual proof of heartache and resiliency.

— Laura Willcoxson