Malibu – Robo Sapiens

Malibu - Robo SapiensEver since I heard the TV Eyes album a few years ago, I’ve been pining for more from that particular side project. Given that it’s a side project for Jellyfish alumni Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Jason Falkner, and Manning’s occasional collaborator Brian Reitzell, it’s a given that it might be a while before we hear these busy musicians reform TV Eyes. Little did I know that Manning and his cohorts basically followed up on that album under a different name, only a year later!

Malibu is a pseudonym for Manning, and Robo Sapiens is Malibu’s debut album of heavily-’80s-influenced dance pop. This isn’t normally a genre I’d spend too much time with, but as with TV Eyes, Manning’s own leanings make sure that the ’80s influence is worn on Malibu’s sleeve for all to see. The opening track, “Yesteryear”, kicks in with arpeggiating keyboards and echoplexed guitar licks courtesy of Jason Falkner, and the retro synths are the real deal, restored for these sessions. It sounds like it should be the background music for a kick-ass TV sports montage.

Other highlights include “Rubber Tubes”, “German Oil” and “Parisian Nights”, latter of which takes a very circa-1980 sound and then flirts with chiptunes in the same track; there are quite a few songs with lyrics here, but almost all of the lyrics are processed through a vocoder or some other means of creating a robotic sound. The best example of this is “Please Don’t Go”, though there are plenty of others. For those looking for a solid TV Eyes connection, there’s an extended version of “She Gets Around” here, which fits in perfectly with the sound of the rest of the album.

3 out of 4Now that we know that these boys aren’t averse to revisiting the ’80s just for the pure musical fun of it, I all but demand a repeat engagement – whether as TV Eyes or as Malibu. Manning and friends have managed to distill all that was cool about ’80s music into two very cool projects. Let’s go for the trifecta.

Order this CD

  1. Yesterday (5:34)
  2. The Bounce (6:19)
  3. German Oil (6:18)
  4. Sidekicks (7:12)
  5. She Gets Around (6:21)
  6. Rubber Tubes (5:33)
  7. Parisian Nights (5:09)
  8. Animal Lovin’ Ken (6:11)
  9. Time To Time (5:05)
  10. D.I.E.T. (6:31)
  11. Please Don’t Go (4:20)

Released by: Expansion Team
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 64:33

Jason Falkner – All Quiet On The Noise Floor

Jason Falkner - All Quiet On The Noise FloorYet another Jason Falkner solo album that has so far only been released in Japan (as of this writing, his previous album, I’m OK You’re OK, still has yet to hit our shores as anything other than an import), All Quiet On The Noise Floor may well be the best thing Falkner’s done since Can You Still Feel? Still drenching everything in a guitars-at-the-front-of-the-mix 1970s power pop style, Falkner’s songs are better this time around. Tunes such as “Maybe The Universe”, “Doin’ Me In” and “Emotion Machine” are instantly catchy and hard to get out of your head.

I also have to give a recommendation to the mostly-acoustic “Counting Sheep”, one of the most infectious melodies Falkner has graced us with since his first album. Another catchy number, “My Home Is Not A House”, dates back to Falkner’s well-circulated demo tapes and originated during his brief stint as one of The Grays. “Doin’ Me In” is a fast-paced, talky rocker that lands somewhere between The Clash and The Knack in style (and that’s not something one can say about just any song).

4 out of 4If there’s a single problem with All Quiet On The Noise Floor, it’s that, once again, one has to blow a lot of money (relatively speaking, for a single CD) to get a Japanese import. Falkner himself has implored his fans to hold off an wait for a domestic release, which he assures us is coming – his logic there is that he’ll only land a North American tour if a domestic release generates significant sales. As if his fans are going to hold off that long (and as if his fans won’t go ahead and buy any eventual U.S. release anyway, just for a shot at that tour).

Order this CD

  1. Princessa (4:20)
  2. Emotion Machine (3:12)
  3. Counting Sheep (3:58)
  4. Evangeline (4:02)
  5. The Lie In Me (5:17)
  6. Maybe The Universe (5:17)
  7. Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus (4:02)
  8. My Home Is Not A House (3:51)
  9. Doin’ Me In (3:49)
  10. Y.E.S. (5:40)
  11. This Time ’09 (4:40)

Released by: Noise McCartney Records / Phantom
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 48:08

Jason Falkner – Bedtime With The Beatles Part Two

Bedtime With The Beatles 2Arriving as a bit of a surprise in between albums of sublime original material, Jason Falkner’s original Bedtime With The Beatles had a curious mandate of its own: recasting Lennon-McCartney classics as lullabyes for little Beatle-fans-to-be. And so help me, it worked – I always thought it was an incredibly relaxing album, but I didn’t realize the true power of it until years later when my own first child came along. Bedtime With The Beatles was a godsend. The arrival of this second volume of Falkner’s lullabye arrangements came out of nowhere too; maybe it’s because I don’t keep up with very many artists via fansites or MySpace or what have you, but I didn’t know it was in the works, and eagerly picked it up, because now I knew how handy it could be. It wasn’t just a matter of my personal tastes for enjoyment – I had a kid who desperately needed some new sleepytime material.

The problem there, however, is that Falkner’s arrangements on this second volume are much more “involved.” Great from an active listening standpoint, but there’s simply too much going on for it to reach quite the same level of relaxation as the first volume. In places – I’m looking at you, “Penny Lane” – Bedtime Part Two almost ceases to by lullabye music and slides its toes adventurously over the line into downtempo lounge arrangements of the Beatles.

That’s not to say that nothing here lives up to the sleepytime potential of the first volume. “She’s Leaving Home” – which was very nearly a lullabye to begin with in its original form – is positively inspired, with “Here Comes The Sun” coming in a close second as my favorite. “Hey Jude” has low-key vocals-as-instruments that really straddle the line between relaxing and active enough that they demand attention. Some songs, such as “Norwegian Wood”, “Something” and “I Will” try very hard to reach for the sound of the original recordings, with more elaborate guitar work or production, and as such they become “active listening” material. With its back-tracked keyboards and chiming guitar chords, I can’t really imagine anyone drifting off to Falkner’s cover of “Norwegian Wood”.

3 out of 4And what does the little E think? Maybe it was just because it was new music to his ears, combined with his general tendency toward trying to avoid sleep at all costs, but my attempt to introduce him to Bedtime With The Beatles Part Two confirmed my suspicions: he got too involved with listening to it to really relax. But in the end, soft-pedaling my one-year-old into his indoctrination as a potential Beatles listener can’t be all bad – but it’s not all meant for bed either.

Order this CD

  1. Norwegian Wood (3:28)
  2. Something (3:37)
  3. She’s Leaving Home (4:33)
  4. Penny Lane (4:27)
  5. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (4:38)
  6. Here Comes The Sun (3:33)
  7. I Will (2:07)
  8. Hey Jude (5:08)
  9. Yesterday (2:36)
  10. Good Night (4:54)

Released by: Adrenaline
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 39:01

TV Eyes

TV EyesAnother project from the trio that brought us the bizarre soundtrack-to-a-nonexistent-movie Logan’s Sanctuary, TV Eyes is nothing less than an ’80s revival band that’s playing brand new songs instead of new wave covers. If anything, it’s more of a stylistic tribute to the early ’80s than anything – in some of the songs, you catch a hint of Duran Duran here, a snippet of Kajagoogoo there, and so on. TV Eyes doesn’t use those bands’ songs, but it does appropriate some of their stylistic maneuvers.

The result is a delirious trip right back to the ’80s – I’d almost swear that this is just some 25-year-old album that I’ve never heard before. Standouts include the unabashed ’80s flashback that is the Falkner-penned “She’s A Study”, whose synth arpeggios bring vintage synth-heavy acts such as Level 42 and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark immediately to mind. Falkner’s also responsible for “Mission: Submission”, a throwback to some of the style of Gary Numan, with lyrics that are pure ’80s material, predicting a world run by computers, and the least synth-oriented song on the entire album, “The Party’s Over”, a Clash-esque rocker with political overtones that are vague enough to be from any era and yet directly address the 2000s.

“Over The City” and “Need To Love” shamelessly sound more like the Duran Duran that everyone remembers than Duran Duran itself does these days. My first impression was that it was a little too “drum ‘n’ bass” modern to fit the stylistic parameters of the album, but the rapid-fire keyboard work and funky bassline seals the deal even before the startlingly LeBon-esque vocals kick in. “She Gets Around” is a dance number with a hypnotic synth loop, while “What She Said” is an ode to that oddity of the ’80s, a non-rap song with spoken lyrics.

All of it adds up to one of the most repeat-listen-worthy CDs I’ve come across in years. This stuff is just impossible to get out of your head – it’s that catchy. It’s got a knack for sounding so familiar that you’d think that you’ve been hearing these songs on countless ’80s compilations down through the years, and yet the album – and the songs – are only a couple of years old as of this writing.

4 out of 4TV Eyes’ debut album is a dandy, and it’s a testament to the sad state of musical tastemaking on this side of the world that this group could only find a label in Japan. (Two of its members, Jellyfish alumni Roger Manning and Jason Falkner, have also released music in Japan that’s unavailable here except as wallet-stranglingly expensive imports.) Someone in America, anyone: pick these guys up, pronto. They really “get” what was so good about some of the music of the 1980s.

Order this CD

  1. Fade Away (4:33)
  2. She’s A Study (4:55)
  3. Fascinating (5:20)
  4. Love To Need (4:05)
  5. The Party’s Over (4:42)
  6. What She Said (4:14)
  7. Over The City (5:00)
  8. Mission: Submission (4:30)
  9. She Gets Around (5:22)
  10. Time’s Up (4:45)

Released by: Phantom
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 48:26

Logan’s Sanctuary – Brian Reitzell & Roger J. Manning, Jr.

Logan's Sanctuary soundtrackBased on an entirely fictional sequel to the last great pre-Star Wars SF flick of the 70s, Logan’s Run, Logan’s Sanctuary is the equally imaginary musical score, composed by Roger Manning (Jellyfish) and Brian Reitzell (Air) and featuring Jason Falkner as a guest performer. Conceptually, Manning and Reitzell try to create this music as if they were in the 70s.

Musically, your enjoyment of this “soundtrack” from Logan’s Sanctuary (which, by the way, isn’t even trying to be a part of the three-book Logan’s Run cycle written by William F. Nolan) will depend on your tastes in instrumental music. Analog and Moog synthesizers are the order of the day here, all played very much in a 70s style; Falkner contributes appropriately 70s-flavored “wah-chicka” guitar licks to the instrumental track “Metropia”, and plays guitar, bass and sings on the 70s-styled power pop anthem “Search For Tomorrow”. (Unless I’ve completely forgotten what Falkner looks like, he also appears to have been the authentically-costumed “hero” in the CD booklet’s amusing plethora of freshly-shot “movie publicity stills.”) Search is easily the most modern thing on the whole CD, played very much as one of Falkner’s own solo tunes, though Falkner’s own style of writing and performing is so firmly rooted in the 70s aesthetic that this doesn’t put it at odds with the rest of the CD.

Getting back to the liner notes booklet for a moment, the “synopsis” of the movie is knee-slappingly funny (as are the photos of Jason Falkner in full Sandman uniform, dispatching white-hooded villains at futuristic-yet-vaguely-mall-like locales), almost as if we were reading about a Logan’s Run sequel…directed by Ken Russell. This actually enhances the whole experience, as the music on the CD itself isn’t music that’s aspiring to follow in the footsteps of Jerry Goldsmith. It’s music befitting a low-budget 70s cash-in flick. Which, let’s face it, is probably what any cinematic sequel would’ve been, with or without George 4 out of 4Lucas completely rewriting the SF filmmaking book.

Pretty enjoyable stuff, though it’s not going to be up everyone’s alley; fans of 70s power pop or of Jason Falkner might put this one on their list just for “Search For Tomorrow”, however. And the whole “movie that wasn’t” gag is enough to spark one’s imagination (or, at the very least, it worked for Manning and Reitzell).

Order this CD

  1. Islands In The Sky (2:39)
  2. Search For Tomorrow (5:14)
  3. The Game (4:25)
  4. Lara’s Rainbow (5:08)
  5. Metropia (5:56)
  6. Pleasure Dome 12 (4:46)
  7. Ian’s Orbit (6:00)
  8. Escape (3:27)
  9. Endless Tunnels (6:10)
  10. The Silver Garden (5:40)

Released by: Emperor Norton
Release date: 2000
Total running time: 49:25

Jason Falkner – Bliss Descending

Jason Falkner - Bliss DescendingIt’s been far, far too long since we’ve heard anything new from Jason Falkner that wasn’t attached to a side project of some sort. Touring with his band TV Eye has taken up much of Falkner’s time the past few years, and he has done some interesting solo stuff along the way – Bedtime With The Beatles and a track on the Lynne Me Your Ears ELO/Jeff Lynne tribute collection, among other things. And there have been what seems like a half dozen releases of Falkner’s B-sides and demos along the way – all to cater to fans who are eagerly awaiting more solo work from the man himself. At long last, Bliss Descending brings us an all-too-brief taste of what Jason Falkner has been up to in his own studio.

Weighing in at only five songs, Bliss Descending is really surprisingly understated. Oddly enough, its standout track, the lively and very ELO-esque “Lost Myself” doesn’t hit until the end of the EP, and I had to go back and listen to the first four tracks all over again because that one song is so catchy, it immediately washes the others away. Not that they’re not good songs, but “Lost Myself” is that good – it’s the kind of tune that turns somewhat rational folks like me into fans rabid enough to pick up all of those demo/B-side collections, hoping for some lost gem like this one.

“The Neighbor” kicks things off strongly, but it has some fairly weak and repetitive lyrics; it’s a good song that needs a stronger set of words. “They Put Her In The Movies”, “Feeling No Pain” and “Moving Up” are decent songs, but, at the risk of making an unfair comparison, there’s nothing that really knocks the door down, walks in and makes you sit up and take notice on the order of “I Live” or “She Goes To Bed” or “Honey”. At least not until the last track, which stands up nicely alongside any of those.

4 out of 4Still, I’m prepared to recommend this one to you, because a fair-to-middling Jason Falkner tune is better than quite a few artists’ best. If you’re wondering why I keep coming back to this guy’s work over and over again in’s music review section, check out Bliss Descending – it’s an inexpensive gateway into Falkner’s other work, which also happens to rock.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. The Neighbor (4:31)
  2. They Put Her In The Movies (3:44)
  3. Feeling No Pain (4:58)
  4. Moving Up (5:07)
  5. Lost Myself (4:01)

Released by: Wreckchord Records
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 22:27

Jason Falkner – Necessity: The 4-Track Years

Jason Falkner - Necessity: The 4-Track YearsI like Necessity: The 4-Track Years, a collection of lo-fi demo recordings by rising power pop star Jason Falkner, and yet it bugs the heck out of me.

It really says something about Falkner’s fans that they’ll actually buy (A) a CD of home demo recordings, and (B) a CD of songs which, for the most part, they’ve already heard on his two solo albums to date. It’s kind of a treat to hear these songs in their work-in-progress raw state, but the thing about Falkner is that he’s enough of a perfectionist that the difference between demo and finished recording isn’t always that great. “She Goes To Bed”, for example, possibly my favorite Falkner song of all, isn’t all that different here than it is from the final version that made it onto Falkner’s first solo album. Now, I’m impressed that this was mostly done with four-track recorders (a basic piece of home studio gear on which I’ve never managed to sound this good), but Falkner works his arrangements out in his head obsessively – and the result is primarily a difference in the fidelity of the recording.

Such songs as “She Is Not The Enemy” make their first official appearance on record here, though we Falkner fans are notorious for finding the man’s old recordings in bootleg form, so chances are, if you’re into Falkner, there won’t be much new here. “His Train” is just about worth the cost of admission though. I did, however, like the slightly more-chilled-out take on “Hectified”, with its catchy little guitar hook.

Good stuff, but what bugs me is that Necessity is one of several compilations of Jason Falkner’s demos, early indie label singles, B-sides, covers and whatnot that have been released. Some of these have been intended for foreign markets, but most if not all of them overlap heavily in terms of the material used – and this is from an artist whose professional music career as a solo artist spans not quite a decade (less than a 3 out of 4decade as of this compilation’s release), and only two original albums. Falkner’s supposedly been working on a new album for a while, but the number of times he’s recycled old material endlessly in the interim. It’s not as if Jason Falkner owes me a new CD, but after so many demo/B-side/indie label single compilations, part of me is hoping to hear something new from him soon.

Order this CD

  1. She Is Not The Enemy (3:45)
  2. She Goes To Bed (4:13)
  3. His Train (3:43)
  4. Song For Her (2:29)
  5. I Live (3:09)
  6. Miracle Medicine (3:24)
  7. Hard Way (4:46)
  8. My Home Is Not A House (3:29)
  9. Take Good Care Of Me (4:25)
  10. Hectified (2:58)
  11. Road Kill Rules (4:02)
  12. I Go Astray (3:54)

Released by: Phantom
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 44:17