Released by: Spinefarm Records
Release Date: October 16, 2015
Genre: Hard Rock, Electronica
Richard Z Kruspe (Rammstein)
Matt Tuck (Bullet For My Valentine)
Noko (Apollo 440)
02. How the Cookie Crumbles (featuring Iggy Pop)
03. Kill or Kiss (featuring Shea Seger)
04. Move it (featuring Richard Z. Kruspe)
05. Barrel of My Own Gun (featuring Noko)
06. Kill to Love You (featuring Matt Tuck)
08. Walking Through The Night (featuring Iggy Pop)
09. Texas Groove (featuring Shea Seger)
10. Into the Light
12. Battle Without Honor or Humanity
You may not know his name, but if you have ever seen the Quentin Tarantino samurai porn flick, Kill Bill, you definitely know his sound. Hotei is the guitarist/songwriter who created that film’s immediately recognizable theme song “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” (dun-dun-POW!!). Now on his newest album release, “Strangers”, he gives the listener an audio platter full of that head nodding sound.
From the opening style of the first track, “Medusa”, you are struck by how much he owns this surf-boogie rock and roll. He swirls his guitar around a groove not terribly dissimilar to “Battle…”, but giving you that same swaggering vibe and granting the track a solid independence from it’s doppelganger.
The second track was the one I was most excited about, but ended up being most disappointed by. “How the Cookie Crumbles” excited me because it boasts the cameo vocals of legendary rock singer Iggy Pop, and yet it never seems to get itself off of the ground. The song deftly mixes electronica and a hooky guitar riff, but for a listener like me, hearing Pop-who snarled through “Gimme Danger” in the early 70’s like a volcano-dabble in modern bubblegum sensibilities feels out of place. Pop has successfully mixed his punky roots with unlikely sounds before, such as on 1977’s “Lust For Life”. However, “How the Cookie Crumbles” is a noble attempt at melding two sounds together again, but it never successfully gels.
Two other tracks, “Strangers” and “Departure”, also both suffer from being dull exercises in pop influence. While on “Strangers”, Hotei’s guitar sounds fine, the hook and its surrounding riffs are largely unmemorable. “Departure” unfortunately wallows in a repetitive, 1980’s influenced electronic drumbeat, and what little nostalgia it may summon for some older listeners *cough* is undone and overwhelmed by the retro synthesizer sound that would be right at home being played over a sports montage.
Ironically enough, the song I had zero expectations for and ended up being completely blindsided by is “Kill to Love You” featuring Bullet For My Valentine vocalist, Matt Puck. Summoning his inner Sebastian Bach, Puck sings quietly and desperately through “Kill…” as Hotei’s mournful guitar perfectly complements his pleading cries for an unreachable love. As much as I don’t like Bullet For My Valentine, I have to admit this track was the high point for me as a listener.
On the upbeat and surprisingly solid “Texas Beat” Hotei paints his sound with a dusty brush, kinda like what the Texas desert would sound like if it could hum it’s own tune. Lone Star state singer, Shea Seger, provides the vocals here, confidently singing with a wonderful balance of country girl sassiness and Motown soulfulness. “What are searching for?/get up with a Texas groove!” she sings wildly, while Hotei wisely keeps his guitar sound in the background. You kind of get the feeling she might pummel him if he gets too close.
Just before Hotei closes the album with “Battle Without Honor or Humanity”, he quiets things down briefly with the wispy and dreamlike, “Into the Light”. Without vocals, Hotei deliberately picks the notes and allows them to breathe before melting like a gentle wave into the next one on the guitar, artfully creating a sound that echoes Duke Levine’s 1997 guitar meditation “Far Away”.
While the album is uneven, it is still a solid listen from beginning to end. The weak songs feel like they are honest attempts and not the result of laziness or just egotistical dicking around, and the hits really do hit the mark and make the album enjoyable. If Hotei can follow what made the good songs strong, I really think he could create a devastatingly classic rock album. Here’s hoping.
Written by: David Locklear