Saturday, January 29, 2005

DB Reviews: X-15 - Bombs and Insurance

X-15, based out of Bellingham, Washington, toiled in the local clubs of the American Northwest and eventually made their way to opening for some of the big names of the early 80s, such as X, The Clash, Black Flag, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and an early incarnation of Soundgarden. Along the way, they changed their name to Life in General and had some of their tunes spun by DJs on local radio.

Bombs and Insurance is a retrospective of the band’s career, covering the time period of 1979-1986. A variety of influences can be heard throughout the album, which leaves the listener with an impression of a good local band that struggled to find a signature sound through the myriad of musical styles that came, went, and came again throughout the late 70s and 80s. The result is an uneven listen, but one worth hearing if only to get a feel for a band that bridged the gap between late 70s punk and the new wave, art-rock, and alternative music that would later form the foundation for the so called “grunge” scene in Seattle.

The opening track, “Vaporized,” sounds like a deep cut off the The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack. A jangly piano and high, slightly screechy, David Bowie-ish vocals bowl through an early New Wave review with slightly odd harmonies. It’s a good opener for its energy and strong beat, which unfortunately seems to steadily slip as the album wears on.

“No Regard” is another fun song, heavily influenced by The Clash and early MTV-era bands like The Buggles circa “Video Killed the Radio Star.” There’s a peppy, driving bass and cheesy synth keyboards which work pretty well in tandem, leading into an oddly standard-fair guitar solo. Overall, the vibrant keyboards give it a unique sensibility.

Unfortunately, Bombs and Insurance begins its slide after the two promising opening tracks. “Mad Again” has an overly long opening sequence with vaguely Goth vocals, which eventually breaks into a pretty good imitation of the Sex Pistols, replete with feaux Brit-screech and driving guitars. A section at the end, which features guitar arpeggios and harmonies, sounds like a bizarre rock hymnal.

“Speculation” and “Better View” sound like they’re trying to ape 80s-era Bowie circa “China Doll” and not doing a great job of it. “Mr. Impervious,” an instrumental song that sounds like it features a toddler’s toy bells, could double for low impact aerobics background music.

“Recess” sounds like it might have been recorded live and has a jumble of sounds which might lean toward Oingo Boingo’s staccato mid-tempo numbers or REM circa Fables of the Reconstruction (to be honest I’m really not sure). All in all, its so-so 80s bar band music. “This Fear” has a vague Echo & the Bunnymen feel and is one of the better tracks. The energy level picks up to an extent through the end of the album on “Fog” and “Means to and End.”

Word has it that New Soul Records, which is issuing this X-15 release, will be putting out a number of re-releases, so look out for them if that’s your scene: back in the day, current, or potential.

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