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    Haunted Cities

    Tue, 21 Jun 2005 17:50:04

    Album Reviews: Haunted Cities by Transplants

    Transplants' 2002 debut shouldn't have worked. There was the supergroup tag, for one, with Tim Armstrong and Travis Barker at the center of a trio that also included vocalist/rapper Ron Aston. And besides, their charge of modified punk revivalism, streetscape grit, and hip-hop bravado seemed (on paper anyway) like music for the villains in a DMX action vehicle, or at the very least a sound tailored for game systems. Nevertheless it was oddly effective, and managed some real atmosphere.

    In 2005 the Transplants return. They've skipped from Armstrong's Hellcat imprint to Barker's Atlantic-distributed La Salle, but it's close to the same sound on Haunted Cities. Opener "Not Today" suggests the first record's "Tall Cans in the Air"; it sounds like a futuristic retelling of 1977 punk, and Sen Dog stops by for a guest verse. "Apocalypse Now" isn't as effective -- its lyrical rage is empty, and the converted drum'n'bass backing track doesn't go anywhere. But the single "Gangsters and Thugs" is as oddly effective as the debut with its turntables and hedonism, organ drop-ins, and skittering percussion racket. "Gangsters and thugs/Criminals and hoods/Some of my friends sell records/Some of my friends sell drugs." And speaking of Sen Dog, B Real appears on the dubby swagger "Killafornia." "What I Can't Describe" appropriates vintage soul and Cali G-funk; it even features some raps from Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. The swaggering "Madness" sounds like a Rancid track recut to fit the Transplants' shadowy street-fighting sound -- while the hammering guitar and Armstrong's vocal part are pulled right from punk, the theremin-and-keyboard breakdowns are strange flashbulbs from an alternate Golden State reality where it's always night and thugs drive around in jet-powered Packards.

    Haunted Cities suffers lyrically. Blood, guts, and I'll punch you (or worse) if you look my way -- that's about the size of it, particularly when Aston's on the mike. But the weird Clash-isms of "American Guns" and "I Want It All"'s chopped-up rhythms and scratches work even though they shouldn't. It's all so blatantly postmodern. But the whole package ends up having this strangely alluring glimmer. It's like discovering California Babylon after being lost in suburbia. - Johnny Loftus, All Music Guide

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