The duo of Ted Blanks and Ross Harman have pushed their little electronic noise-box, the Yamaha MIDI sequencer, to the farthest reaches of its abilities with the fun-heavy, beat-driven dance tunes on their new album. The organic sweep of Blanks' voice moving from throaty plea to adenoidal chant to those uncontrolled gasps that made Prince a sexual icon bounces all around the ornate techno-babble of the sequencer. It's a great balance, but the strongest songs here introduce live instruments (co-producer Dave Lowery plays guitar on a few tracks) and another voice for Blanks to dance with (Lauren Hoffman duets on "Dé Sunuké Sufain") which really fills out when Harman builds a thumping backbone for the guitars to beef up. "Loose Change" extends the reach of the group's last effort, 2003's "Big Fun" a tribute to the many entertaining hours The Gaskets have logged onstage (always with audience participation). There are currently no plans to add a band, but their synth-pop, live or recorded, swells with more energy than most of what's out there. **** Brandon Reynolds
The Gaskets play at the Velvet Lounge in Washington, D.C., Feb. 10.
The Unknown Favorites "The Unknown Favorites" (Self-released)
Frank Zappa answered his rhetorical question, "Does humor belong in music?" with seriously complex compositions tarted up with self-conscious dollops of sarcasm, sex and scatology. The levity in this self-released CD by Richmond quartet The Unknown Favorites is of a different variety, reflexive as a hiccup and almost lighter than air.
The band serves up cleverness without pretense in a set of songs that revolves around everyday material, including everything from coffee cups and bacon to that special voice used only to call in sick for work. The songs are delivered to a loose-limbed accompaniment that includes guitar, bass, mandolin, melodica and anything else that might happen to fit the mood. The tunes are bright and serviceable, the singing occasionally a bit wavering, but they all add to the gently self-mocking vibe. Occasionally a recognizable musical quote will drift by, the riff from the Beatles' "Hey Jude" or a scrap of Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Songs like "Stuck at the Wal-Mart" run the risk of sounding condescending, but all of the lyrical barbs are gentle, and most point inward. The Unknown Favorites always seem to be having a good time, perhaps recognizing that fun is 60 percent of funny. **** Peter McElhinney
"Unknown Favorites" CD is available at the band's live shows (Sunday, Feb. 19 at Cary Street Café.) Music and videos available at www.unknownfavorites.com.
Jae Sinnett "The Sinnett Hearings" (The Orchard)
The inevitably titled "The Sinnett Hearings" features two formidable strengths of Tidewater-based drummer/composer Jae Sinnett: his crisp, engaging drumming and his ability to put together a first-rate band. This band played a number of gigs, including an afternoon set at the 2nd Street Festival in Richmond, before going into the studio with enough rehearsal to be both tight and loose. Sinnett's playing is full of smart shifting syncopation and deft punctuation; it's interesting to listen to his nonstop inventions when he is playing in support. The band augments his excellent working trio pianist Allen Farnham and bassist Terry Burrell with two nationally known and locally connected players, saxophonist Steve Wilson and trumpeter John D'earth. It's a strong group, and each player is given a fair amount of time in the spotlight. The music all Sinnett originals is very much in a post-Blue Note, neo hard-bop vein. Alternating between soulfully lush and angularly melodic, it has the curious charm of being simultaneously unpredictable and strangely familiar. "Hearings" is intelligent, uncompromising jazz with mainstream appeal. **** P.M.
Pink Razors "Waiting to Wash Up" (Robotic Empire)
Do you remember the Richmond music scene in 1996? It was a time when pop-punk reigned supreme with bands such as Uphill Down, Fun Size and Knuckle-Hed. Fellow Richmonders Pink Razors evoke the spirit of these bands and add influences from such national acts as Dillinger Four and Pinhead Gunpowder on their new record. You pretty much know what you're about to listen to before you open up the CD: catchy, upbeat pop-punk. Even though this music is nothing new, it's refreshing to hear such a sincere CD in 2006 when most records surfacing now are made by musicians who pretend to have grown up giving credit to the recent flood of awful noise records. **** Jeff Byers
The Pink Razors play at Nanci Raygun Feb. 1 and Feb. 17.
"The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder: Punk & New Wave" DVD (Shout! Factory)
This two-DVD set focuses on groundbreaking punk/new-wave acts that performed or sat for interviews on NBC's late-night talk show "The Tomorrow Show" (1973-1982).
I don't know which is more fun: watching goofy yet frighteningly bitter host Tom Snyder feign interest in "underground" subgenres or listening to the frazzled artists as they try to speak coherently for five minutes.
Among the highlights: time-capsule performances from Elvis Costello, The Ramones ("The KKK Took My Baby Away") and an obviously spun/deranged Iggy Pop. There's also a bizarre roundtable discussion on punk, featuring an annoyed Bill Graham and annoying weirdo/producer Kim Fowley and the hilarious anti-interview with snotty, PiL/Sex Pistols' front man John Lydon, whom Snyder stares down with a thinly veiled, murderous rage.
While the interviews and performances are entertaining enough, my only complaint is that each show is broadcast in its entirety. That means you have to wade through some unnecessary C-list interviews, such as the one featuring the nauseating toy doll otherwise known as child actor Ricky Schroder (need insulin quick). Spare us next time. *** Brent Baldwin
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
We make sense of the news; pursue those in power; explore the city's arts and culture; open windows on provocative ideas; and help readers know Richmond through its people. We give readers the information to make intelligent decisions.