Spring fever - A survey of the season's sauciest sounds
in eye, 24 mai 2001
MITCHELL AKIYAMA *****
Hope That Lines Don't Cross Substractif
TOMAS JIRKU ****
The day the world was overrun by excesses of minimalism seemed more appealing in theory. And IDM (intelligent dance music) -- by virtue of its name alone -- is shaping up to be a rigid niche about as mysterious and enticing as an ATM. This says more about the sheer glut of recordings churned out by a laptop nation than about adventurers like Akiyama and Jirku marketed within the genre. Akiyama's debut commercial disc is a superbly crafted landscape in 10 movements. While both recordings have a debt to the languid environments of Monolake, Hope That Lines Don't Cross brings structure and direction to his mellifluous mix of sound design and song. The rubbery gamelan of "Named After the Chorus" is as much lullaby as it is ritual song and, like all the evocations contained in the 10 tracks, reconfigures the familiar -- heart-rate pulses, reverbed synth belches and a smudged version of traditional melody -- into something distinct and new.
Jirku's four movements are looser and have more of an improv feel. The impact and depth of these tracks compared to Jirku's guy-staring-at-computer live performances is probably as much a testament to the anti-vibe that uninspiring space bars impose on ambient sounds. Low-key drones slip around each other as the individual components take their turn at the surface. Metronomic beats alluding to the skeleton of club culture bind the various sections in a formula that, while familiar and contemporary, taps into the essence of trance. Handshakes all round to everyone involved. DP
HORACE ANDY ****
Wicked Dem a Burn: The Best Of True North/UMG
Just in time to help us forget about his mediocre solo comeback album last year, here's a delightful reminder why Horace Andy's androgynous alto voice is one of the most captivating in reggae or any other genre. The historically starved hipsters who recognize his voice from all three Massive Attack records need to hear him wrap his trembling tonsils around Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" or Andy staples "Skylarking" and "My Guiding Star," all stamped with the vintage reggae production style of the mid-to-late-'70s. The only complaint here is about the lack of detailed liner notes. MB
BARDO POND ***
Since taking over the psych-rock underground with 1996's Amanita, the Philly fuzz-kings-and-queen have displayed a curious self-destructive streak -- they still want to take you to heaven, but you have to go through hell to get there. No surprise, then, that Dilate's breathtaking opening act -- highlighted by the freakin' awesome 10-minute feedback freefall of "Inside" -- eventually crashes and burns in a wasteland of atonal acoustic mood pieces. (The upside is that, for the first time, you can actually decipher Isobel Sollenberger's vocals and, whaddaya know, she's a Kim Gordon fan.) But Bardo eventually re-emerge high and mighty, ditching their My Bloody Valentine/Sonic Youth-derived drones for some primo Spacemen/Mudhoney class-of-'88 pedal stomping on "Lb." and setting you adrift on "Ganges," which routes Indian mysticism through the New York City sewage system, a showdown between the Middle East and the East Village where the two sides get along fabulously. SB
Bardo Pond open for Mogwai at the Phoenix Sunday.
COLETTE BARON-REID ****
Magdalene's Garden EMI
Not even a psychic friend could have predicted that 42-year-old clairvoyant Baron-Reid would get a deal as a singer/songwriter, and that her debut record would actually be good. Magdalene's Garden is tailor-made for relaxing in your lavender bath reading the latest Oprah book-club pick -- it's a shoo-in for the grown-up girl market. Baron-Reid sings about destiny, fate, etc. in a sweet voice has that Tori/Kate/Loreena feel (on "Look Around" she's a dead ringer for Anneli Drecker of Norway's Bel Canto). Drawbacks? Synth sounds and bright production are very '80s. An extra star to EMI for signing a fully formed female in this age of teen poptarts. LL
SYD BARRETT ***
Wouldn't You Miss Me? Harvest/EMI
They're selling this best-of on the back of a single, previously unreleased track, "Bob Dylan's Blues," which finds the fallen Floyd frontman coming down from his land of octopus rides, gigolo aunts and lemonade babies to paint a scathing caricature of one his favourite folk heroes (though in Syd's mind, he probably thought he was paying tribute). It seems like an uncharacteristically direct statement at first, but this collection shows our Syd was as often heart-on-his-sleeve honest as he was mind-melting mad. If you've laughed with the Madcap before, you can afford to miss Miss Me, but it's a safe introduction for those who've been too wary to take the trip. SB
BOSSACUNANOVA & ROBERTO MENESCAL ***
Brasilidade Ziriguiboom/Six Degrees
If Suba's Sao Paulo Confessions is a sweat-drenched Brazilian night and Bebel Gilberto's Tanto Tempo is a sultry twilight breeze, then Bossacunanova's Brasilidade is a bright, sunny South American afternoon. The latest nu-bossa offering from Belgium's Ziriguiboom is a collaboration between guitarist Roberto Menescal and his bassist son Marcio's beats 'n' breaks trio. The quartet embodies the intergenerational flavour of today's Brazilian sound, and the interplay between acoustic and electronic instruments is infectious. Of course, it's questionable whether the world needs an overheated take on "The Girl From Ipanema," and the frantic, happy-happy go-go grooves threaten at times to turn Brasilidade into a kitschy party album. Nonetheless, there's enough craft and style here to make the disc a worthwhile, if slightly enervated, listen. MDO
HAROLD BUDD ****
The Room Atlantic/Warner
PAUL BLEY ****
Basics Justin Time
Ambient keyboardist Budd's first track, "the room of ancillary dreams," sets the tone for this concept album, with sombre organ swells accentuating piano impressions of the space of the title. Each successive, strangely shaped, dysfunctional, oddly employed or misused room ("of oracles," "candied," "of mirrors," "obscured," "of accidental geometry," "of forgotten children," etc.) is given a meditative look-see before, finally, the title track finds the pianist dancing tensely on a scale. The listener may absorb the effect of this exercise either meditatively or actively, depending on mood and time of day.
Meanwhile, the Montreal-born avant-garde pianist Bley, a quiet giant of jazz for almost a half-century now, is no stranger to inventive recording sessions, making covers sound unfamiliar and originals familiar. On his fourth solo outing for Justin Time, he gets playful with his own tunes, plus "Monk's Mood," massaging time to his advantage -- slowing it down, picking it up, tossing it around -- as is his custom, producing a relatively accessible listening challenge. BR
Cassidy Beggars Banquet
Despite my high hopes, the second full-lengther from Bows -- the studio-only project of Long Fin Killie's Luke Sutherland -- isn't nearly as stunning as their debut, Blush, which was a near-masterpiece of chamber trip-hop. Even so, Cassidy will snare you in its gauzy clutches. It's a more hushed affair than Blush, with most tracks sounding like urban lullabies: Sutherland combines ethereal guitar effects, strings, vibraphones and, in Ruth Emond and Signe Høirup Wille-Jørgensen, two seraphic vocalists to create sumptuous dreamscapes. Cuts like "B Boy Blunt" and "Luftsang" amble awkwardly and with little purpose, but they're redeemed by winsome cradle songs like "Wonderland," "Blue Steeples" and the enigmatic "Cuban Welterweight Rumbles Hidden Hitmen." AM
R.L. BURNSIDE ****
Mississippi Hill Country Blues Fat Possum/Epitaph
In contrast to Burnside's boisterous, juke-joint material, this reissue of rare acoustic songs will please blues purists as well as those who only just bought the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack (or the '96 Burnside/Jon Spencer collaboration, A Ass Pocket o' Whiskey, for that matter). Most of these tracks were recorded in Holland in 1980-82, though some hail back to the 1967 field recordings that first brought Burnside to public attention -- yet Burnside's consistency makes it difficult to discern between sessions. "House Up on the Hill," "Jumper on the Line" and "Greyhound Bus Station" are timeless, eerie and truly underscore the hypnotizing power of north Mississippi rural blues. CR
SLIMM CALHOUN **
The Skinny Warner
The first signing to Outkast's Aquemini Records left me bone-dry until the weather shifted gears: on the first sweltering day of the season, with playground ambience filtering through the window screens and my T-shirted back stuck to the leather desk chair, it sounded just right. But it's nighttime as I write this, suddenly chilly, and once again Slimm leaves me dry. He's not lacking for hooks or nifty arrangements -- the presence of Big Boi and Andre 3000 helps, for sure -- but none of it really gels into something beautiful. The exception, I'm sad to say, is "How Much Can I"; sad, not because it's a paean to ganja, but because it's the only non-rap cut here. SW
CANNIBAL OX ***
Cold Vein Definitive Jux
This is some agitated shit. After rhyming alongside Company Flow, Cannibal Ox finally has a joint to call his own, and what a mighty beast it is. "You got beef, but there's worms in your Wellington/I'll put a hole in your skull and extract the gelatin," he chafes in "Raspberry Fields," establishing an offensive that doesn't let up through Cold Vein's 14 tracks. Company Flow's El-P is behind the console, and he matches Ox's verbal fusillade blow for blow, unfurling raw beats that combine R&B and jazz motifs with twitchy futuristic grooves (most assuredly on "Atom" and "Battle for Asgard"). The sci-fi theme is killer, but Cold Vein has one drawback: someone had the bright idea to program a sample of Mac speech software (like the one Stephen Hawking uses) threatening "Don't make me cut you, beeyatch" to repeat every 60 seconds, all the way through the album. This grating refrain mars what could have been an enjoyable four-star record. AM
THE CHAMBER STRINGS ***
Month of Sundays Bobsled
Chicagoan Kevin Junior's superior songwriting talent continues to develop apace, but the choice of instruments highlighted has shifted on the Strings' sophomore effort. Incoming pianist Carol Engelmann may have something to do with that, as she co-arranges the strings and brass with Junior. Not exclusively guitar-driven, the Strings recall (and build on) worthy American power-pop experiments from the past like Mitch Easter's Let's Active. In the classic distinction, 1999's Gospel Morning was more Stones, while this one's more Beatles. If offered, I'd take both, but only the former to a desert isle. BR
MANU CHAO ***
Proxima Estacion: Esperanza Virgin
Former Mano Negra frontman Manu Chao sold millions of his debut solo album in the Francophonie, with good reason: his multilingual, acoustic and horn-y Spanish reggae is indelibly infectious. His playful approach is one of his most endearing qualities, but on his second solo album he takes it a bit too far, until you begin to think those singing coconuts from The Muppet Show have cut their own album. Chao's nasal voice and reliance on two or three musical motifs begins to wear thin by the album's end. But it can also work magic, as on the ridiculous "Papito," which sounds like you've stuck your head in an organ grinder. MB
CHRIS CLARK ****
Clarence Park Warp/Outside
I suspect that if Chris Clark ever indulges in puzzles, it's only for the twisted pleasure of forcibly combining incompatible pieces. This Bristol producer (and suspected ADD sufferer) creates jarring soundscapes of varying styles and intensities, which makes his debut album only slightly more musical than, say, Kid 606. The rollicking Clarence Park includes jungle conceived by Perrey and Kingsley ("Lord of the Dance"), music-box tinkling ("Pleen 1930 S"), a grindcore cut-up ("The Dogs"), queasy ambient ("Caveman Lament," "Shrewland"), clattering avant-electro ("Diesel Raven," "Proper Lo-Fi"), plus a whole whack of less classifiable noise. The only way Clarence Park could have been a more jolting experience is if Clark had packaged the record with a set of electrodes. Pummelling good fun. AM
CLICKS & CUTS 2 *****
Full meals in pill form and flying cars have yet to arrive, but the futurists of the past hit the nail on the head music-wise. The minimal techno of Mille Plateaux has origins dating back to shortly after the invention of electricity itself through to Stockhausen and Kraftwerk, but only recently became a movement in relative proportion to our swelling culture of spectacle and information. C&C2 bests last year's initial set, not only in sheer size -- counting in at three discs -- but in ambition as well, collecting such a large quantity of the genre's top personnel. Ranging from difficult to blissful, chaotic to tabula rasa, C&C2 is as much as a sign of the times as face piercing, Survivor and No Logo. RW
DANIELSON FAMILE ***
Fetch the Compass Kids Secretly Canadian
The indie-rock Christian brethren are back, singing songs about family, patience and the desire to get things done. Daniel Smith still lays down the lyrics in his high-pitched shout, although there is little of the shrieking that was abundant on earlier recordings; the songs are also faster and probably as straightforward as this bunch can get. Lyrically there's a lot of humour, with Daniel often contradicting himself from song to song. The album opens with him bidding "Hush hush/What's the rush/East Coast children do too much" on "We Don't Say Shut Up," but it's only a matter of time before he's saying that it's OK that he forgot to eat "'cause I hate to waste my time" on "Rallying the Dominoes." While undeniably Danielson, this is a smoother ride than their fans will be expecting. JH
Streethawk: A Seduction Misra
Dan Bejar's adventures of the last year have caused much gossip in CanRock indie circles, but the only thing worth talking about is how astounding his new songs are, far surpassing 1999's Thief or his work with the New Pornographers. His nasal singing is smoother, the '70s production more colourful, the band tighter, Jason Zumpano's piano more pronounced and the melodies simultaneously catchy and complex. Bejar's persona is equal parts Dylan, Bowie and Malkmus, and his "rock about rock" lyrics are metaphors inside intimate and poetic narratives, not gimmicky geek fodder. Bejar's music embraces grand gestures -- so it's not surprising that Streethawk should have all the makings of truly classic rock. MB
ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN ****
Flowers Cooking Vinyl/True North/UMG
The Bunnymen's comeback has yielded increasingly good music since 1997's Evergreen, but hardly anyone has heard it. They're hoping their luck changes with Flowers, which sees a resurgence of both Will Sergeant's inventive guitar work and Ian McCulloch's playfully oblique lyrics, which deal (appropriately enough) with death and regeneration. While Sergeant's love of psychedelia occasionally manifests itself in dubious retro effects the band never explored in their Doors-influenced heyday, Flowers is a consistently strong collection of songs capped by the fantastic "An Eternity Turns," for which you'd think late drummer Pete DeFreitas had been exhumed. Maybe such literal regeneration is impossible, but, creatively speaking, the Bunnymen have truly bounced back. MD
THE EX ***
Dizzy Spells Touch and Go
Twenty-one years into a singular career, Dutch lefties the Ex remain the musical equivalent of an ill-humoured yoga instructor: they twist your ears into knots with gruelling exactitude, but once you've been stretched to the breaking point, you ultimately feel rejuvenated and thankful for the workout. Recorded by Steve Albini, Dizzy Spells is no misnomer -- the band's tangled fretwork and tortuous rhythms still unbalance the listener. There's nothing as flat-out brilliant as "Bee Coz" (off 1999's Starters Alternators), but every song bristles with feverish energy and contempt for authority and consumer culture, especially "Walt's Dizzyland" and "Burnsome" -- G.W. Sok's sandpaper vocals alone are enough to shred middle-class complacency. Invigorating, as always. AM
THE FLASHING LIGHTS ***
Sweet Release Outside
Sweet Release is the sophomore release from local pop stars the Flashing Lights, and it's a rather underwhelming event. Apart from live favourite "It's Alright," Sweet Release is sadly lacking in the big hooks and choruses that made their debut, Where the Change Is, such a hit. (Dare I say the psychedelic goofiness of "Too Delightful" may be leading Light Matt Murphy's career low point.) There are some good songs here -- "Same Old Life" is a bittersweet delight and "Friends You Learn to Hate" makes you wonder who he's talking about. But overall, Sweet Release feels more like treading water than exploring new terrain. JH
Flow Thirsty Ear/Outside
Ah, that crazy J.G. Thirlwell. Back after a six-year absence for his Foetus project, the industrial innovator throws a kooky curveball with Flow. Opening with the punishing, beat-driven "Quick Fix" (reminiscent of Ministry's "Just One Fix" and most of Thirlwell's other albums), he then swings into a lounge track, "Cirrhosis of the Heart," complete with trumpet! And so it goes, alternating from heavy to groovy until you're not sure which genre he's making fun of (if any). Snarling throughout (and occasionally sounding like The The's Matt Johnson), Thirlwell puts in the production work to ensure that Flow is a fun listen but no joke. LL
MICHAEL FRANTI AND SPEARHEAD ****
Stay Human Six Degrees/Outside
Michael Franti sings with the voice of a tenor Barry White, the consciousness of Gil Scott-Heron and the spirit of Sly Stone, and he leads a band as Curtis Mayfield would, creating earnest yet sexy soul music for a conscious party. This third Spearhead album is long overdue, but Franti still sounds vital and charged as he did on the 1994 classic Home, and his new band rides the reggae, hip-hop and soul grooves with subtle ease. In between the life-affirming party jams, Franti weaves a fictional anti-death-penalty narrative that, though potent, doesn't bear repeat listening; he'd have made his point better in a single song. MB
THE GO-GO'S ***
God Bless EMI
With God Bless, the Go-Go's have achieved a rare thing -- a comeback record that doesn't suck. Apart from a few bunk lyrics, these songs are straight-up pop hits that don't break from the classic Go-Go's style. In fact, the first single, "Unforgiven," sounds like the sequel to the Beauty and the Beat hit "How Much More" -- even if Billie Joe is credited as co-writer. Most surprising (for a group of slender California girls who look even better now than they did in their 20s) is the anti-dieting sentiment of "Throw Me a Curve." This is cheery, bouncy and catchy: fine summertime pop. JH
GERI HALLIWELL **
Scream If You Wanna Go Faster EMI
Although the blond and toned Geri Halliwell is no longer the voluptuous redhead that made her Ginger Spice, she hasn't made any shocking musical moves with her second album. There's a cover of the Weather Girls camp anthem "It's Raining Men" that sounds a lot like the original, but with much weaker vocals, and "Heaven & Hell (Being Geri Halliwell)" is a self-reflexive look at the way she's depicted in the media. While she attempts to be serious (there's even a code designating songs as sexy, romantic, groovy or heady), Halliwell's lyrics never get so deep as to challenge the music's bland peppiness. There's a lot of good pop music in the world -- this isn't it. JH
EMMYLOU HARRIS ***
Anthology: the Warner/Reprise Years Rhino/Warner
If you're thinking this might be a nice little Emmylou best-of, think again, because that would have to include some of the million duets she's done with everyone and his uncle over the past 25 years, plus the ground-breaking work she did with Gram Parsons in '72-'73 and Wrecking Ball, the album she made with Daniel Lanois in 1995. As a retrospective of the 18 years she spent with Warner/Reprise, it's serviceable, but doesn't really add anything to Portraits, Warner's box set from 1996 (which did include duets with Parsons). Plus it's all hit singles, no unearthed treasures. Still, it showcases Harris' remarkably fine taste in songwriters -- from Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell and Johnny Cash to Hank Snow, T-Bone Burnett, Merle Haggard, Carlene Carter and even Phil Spector -- and unerringly beautiful voice, with remarkably few questionable turns. MD
DAVID GRAY ****
Lost Songs '95-'98 ATO/RCA/BMG
We don't know exactly what happened to David Gray during the years following '96's Sell Sell Sell, except, simply, he got better. Much better. Like Robert Johnson after he sold his soul to the devil, Gray emerged with a voice -- earthy, honest, sincere, real -- that marked his transition from middleweight folk rocker to reservoir of human emotion. An essential companion to last year's White Ladder, this collection of mostly unadorned compositions -- less the dance beats and band arrangements -- brings you that much closer to Gray's essence. RW
THE GUESS WHO **
This Long Time Ago: The Lost Sessions '67'68 Ranbach
It's hard to imagine a time when the Guess Who didn't have moustaches and road-food guts, but apparently, just before "These Eyes" sold millions to launch their "classic" period, this was the case. This double disc, restored and released by guitarist Randy Bachman, documents the band gnawing their way through their record collections -- half the set is covers. The earliest Bachman originals -- the Seeds-damaged "My Pride" and a French-sung update of "Believe Me" -- have a derivative enthusiasm that is far more charming than their painful remakes of both the Doors' and Jose Feliciano's arrangements of "Light My Fire." Straight outta the CBC museum, the majority of the tracks are culled from the Guess Who's weekly TV stint on the national program Let's Go -- why isn't the CBC re-running this instead of yet more hockey? The band's essential elements are here, but this is for archivists and CanRock completists only. DP
JOE HENRY ***
Joe Henry's welcome new record picks up where 1999's Fuse left off. Moody ballads contrast with funky shuffles as the singer wallows in the fateful vagaries of desire. Jazz giant Ornette Coleman signs his alto sax signature to a couple of tunes (whether actually called for or not), and other guests include Marc Ribot, Brad Mehldau and Me'shell Ndegéocello. The faintly trip-hop beats on the funkier material are the bomb, but, unlike Fuse, the flow of the tracks is uneven and doesn't build to climax and denouement. BR
HOT WATER MUSIC ****
A Flight and a Crash Epitaph
Best played really loud, Hot Water Music seamlessly combine balls-out rock with punk and emo, and A Flight and a Crash is easily their most appealing record so far. Anger and emotion are delivered vis-à-vis catchy pop parts, sweet hooks and solid riffs. "Paper Thin" takes a well-executed stab at a scene that so often preys upon itself, while songs such as "A Clear Line" and "Paper Thin" attempt to explain exactly why that is. MW
Mixed by Andrew Weatherall Force Tracks
For a label that's built its rep on singles, this collection, stitched together by celeb spinner and music maker Andrew Weatherall, is surprisingly lacking in effervescence. All reprises, no surprises. I've always found the more engaging works in the Force family of bits and bytes to be contained within their Force Inc. and Mille Plateaux catalogues. How seamlessly Crane A.K.'s peppy workout flows into S.F. house frau's Safety Scissors track seems hardly a trait to rave about. Dirk Diggler's lovely "Silverfinger" has some engaging mystery and soul, but we're more than halfway through Hypercity before anything worthy of the title happens. When dance music is desexualized to this degree, volume, drugs and darkness become (arguably) essential to the mix. Luomo's "Tessio" puts the Vladislav Delay alter ego into a context that emphasizes their understanding of the connection between hips and loins. DP
JUMPIN' JACK FROST ***
Fine Tuning Volume One Dune
When it's on, Frost's next-level jungle mix is bang-on, finding just the right bpm grooves and polyrhythms to get the adrenaline pumping, without going over the top and dropping the soon-to-be-everywhere waves of bass ripping through the d 'n' b underground. Which makes it all the more puzzling that Frost drops in momentum-killing diva sets midway and on the back end, like he's battling a split personality. The dichotomy is encapsulated on the closing track (Ray Keith's "The Power"), where big breaks and massive bass roars alternate with petite electric-piano stabs. If Frost could only make his mind up between being polite and getting all up in your face, Fine Tuning could have been the most satisfying drum 'n' bass batch since Dieselboy's Sixth Session. RW
Kill Rock Stars
LiLiPUT -- Switzerland's greatest all-girl punk band -- started out as Kleenex in 1978. By the time they broke up in 1983, they had gone through three lead singers -- Regula Sing, Chringle Freund and Astrid Spirit -- and released two albums and five singles. Each singer brought a completely different sound to their rhythmic, loose (they mostly sang in English because German is too precise for the sound they desired) and joyful music. This collection features all of their output -- including the amazing non-hit "Die Matrosen" -- as well as previously unreleased work. Fans of the Raincoats, the Breeders and Kim Gordon's work with Sonic Youth -- heck, anyone who likes women who rock -- should check out this relatively unknown pleasure. JH
RICHARD LLOYD ***
The Cover Doesn't Matter upsettermusic.com
The overwhelming evidence of the triumph of packaging in capitalist economies notwithstanding, Lloyd may have a point about the cover image (close-cropped pic of the ex-Television guitarist in black leather jacket), but singing sure does matter. And though it's great to have him back with his first solo outing since 1986, and while the guitar work, as always, is a fire starter, the vocal chops are questionable, making this return bittersweet. Not like the guy has to be brawny Bono (or even scrawny Verlaine, for that matter), but the monstrous, strident and at times beautiful guitar work does not match up well with the tremulous vocal cords and too-precise enunciation. I know, I know, he's a guitar hero -- what do you expect? BR
Forever Changes Elektra Remasters
If you're interested in learning about L.A.'s cornily named Love (1966-72), nabbing a well-stocked compilation will do the trick -- except you'd miss most of this critically lauded commercial flop from 1967. Unlike Beggars Banquet or Are You Experienced? (to name two other towering rock records of the late '60s), Forever Changes does not sound timeless, but it transcends its stylistic patina for many reasons -- the quality of the songs; the meshing of driving acoustic guitars with orchestral arrangements; the stinging electric guitar out of nowhere; the breezy Tijuana Brass-style horns suggesting a sunnier, simpler, less ironic state; the unforgettable vocal performances by Arthur Lee (a mishmash of folk, R&B, funk and rock); the wordy, clever lyrics and the great rock drumming. This new version adds outtakes of interest to the hardcore, plus a couple of essential tracks recorded by this particular lineup of Love following these sessions. BR
LOW & THE DIRTY THREE ***
In the Fishtank Konkurrent
Remember how underwhelmed you were when Tortoise and the Ex paired up for a previous In the Fishtank instalment? A similar sense of not-adding-up-to-the-sum-of-its-parts pervades this joint "quickie" (read: 30-minute length, under-realized songs). But there's enough evidence to suggest a full and proper collaboration would defy the "supergroup = letdown" axiom. The take on Neil Young's "Down by the River" shows both the pros and cons of projects like this, as the premature ending offsets the match made in heaven of Mimi Parker's celestial voice over Warren Ellis' aching violin -- two of the most gorgeous sounds in music today. RW
PAUL McCARTNEY ***
Wingspan: Hits and History Capitol/EMI
A souvenir cash-in for Paul's recent two-hour ABC infomercial or a chance to reconsider the most critically beaten-down ex-Beatle? Macca's always tried so hard to please everyone, so of course Wingspan works both ways. The "Hits" disc is pretty much a rehash of the crusty Wings Greatest comp, but the second "History" disc wisely weighs in with obscure selections from his two best solo works -- 1970's McCartney and 1971's Ram -- capturing the craftsman at a time when he could still pull off humble folk hymns ("Junk"), incisive social commentary ("Too Many People") and eccentric pop epics (the Beta Band-baiting "The Back Seat of My Car") with conviction. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that 1976's "Silly Love Songs" proved less an act of self-deprecation than a self-fulfilling prophecy -- and as latter-day lowlights like "No More Lonely Nights" would attest, there was something very wrong with that. SB
The Theory of Harmonial Value Smallman
Moneen's first full-length for Winnipeg-based Smallman is a promising start to what should be a long, storied career -- they're still getting their take on emo punk down, but their next record should blow kids away. Things really seem to be happening for this Oakville band, thanks to their intense live show, which doesn't come through on wax as well as it could. Nonetheless, their mastery of dynamics and harmony put them in a good position to continue the momentum they have had in the past year. Though perhaps peppering the liners with math formulas will work against them in the getting-laid-on-tour department. MW
Moneen open for H20 at the Phoenix Saturday.
MOULIN ROUGE *
Original Soundtrack Interscope/UMG
For a film that hopes to revive the modern musical, it offers barely any original music and a long list of musical crimes. For starters, we're treated to the film's stars singing medleys of songs by Phil Collins, Elton John, Marilyn Monroe, KISS, U2 and -- shudder -- DeBarge ("Rhythm of the Night"). The only saving graces are Rufus Wainwright (who should have scored the whole movie), Bowie teaming with Massive Attack, and Beck cuddling up to Timbaland on Bowie's "Diamond Dogs." This soundtrack completely backfires; before I heard this, I actually wanted to see the movie. MB
A NORTHERN CHORUS ****
Immaculate space-pop chamber operas from Burlington -- who knew? Centred around the core duo of Stuart Livingstone and Pete Hall, A Northern Chorus shoot for the stars above on their first go and at least get high enough to seriously disrupt airplane traffic, melting down their favourite bits of Low, Mojave 3, symphonic Spiritualized, Damon & Naomi and recent Mogwai into immense sad-pop overtures that display complete disregard for the limitations of indie production budgets. Their melodic sensibilities aren't quite on the same stratospheric level as their orchestral instincts, but their harmonizing induces ample levels of eye-socket-welling. SB
A Northern Chorus play the Horseshoe Tuesday.
GEOFFREY ORYEMA ***
No question, Geoffrey Oryema has a fantastic voice -- it ranges from a keening falsetto to a mellifluous bass. No surprise that producer Rupert Hine (Howard Jones, Thompson Twins) augments the singer's acoustic guitar with some slick synths, but why set Oryema's voice against backing vocals that sound like Clannad on steroids? Not all of the album is overdone -- the first few songs are powerful, and a cover of Talking Heads' "Listening Wind" trades in gloss for mystery and melancholy. Thankfully, the Uganda native's spirit almost always transcends Hine's preternatural, clean soft-rock sound. Still, it's sad when listening to "Omera John," an ode to the singer's dead brother, is painful for all the wrong reasons. MDO
Double Figure Warp/Outside
Plaid have may taken more influence from Trainer (last year's compilation of their early material) than anyone had a right to expect, as Double Figure reaches back to the days when electronic-listening music was just finding its footing. The breakbeat variations -- from anxious and fidgety ("Silversum") to propulsive ("Twin Home") to off-time funk ("Ti Born") -- are unified by the Plone-ish toy keyboard melodicism that's been a Warp staple since two-thirds of Plaid were in Black Dog. Not that the relative lack of a leap forward from Rest Proof Clockwork harms the album -- with the exception of the closing track, "Manyme," which features incongruous female vocals, Double Figure is a consistently enjoyable listen. RW
PLANET FUNK: FUNKY 45S ****
SISTER FUNK: THE SOUND OF UNKNOWN SOUL SISTERS *****
Compiled by Ian Wright BBE/Fusion III
FUNK SPECTRUM III: REAL FUNK FOR REAL PEOPLE *****
Complied by Pete Rock and Keb Darge BBE/Fusion III
Three compilations courtesy of Montreal distributors Fusion, two out of the London label Barely Breaking Even that furthers Northern soul's destiny on the planet and one from I don't know where (even Fusion doesn't know) that features 12 singles used as breaks by DJs. Most of these funk and soul shots from the past are under the radar at best (especially Sister Funk -- what the hell was wrong with everybody back then, not picking up on these slinky, sexy tales of disrespect, longing and coital confusion?), with several exceptions: B.B. King, Grand Funk Railroad(!), Lee Dorsey, Onyx and Ruth Brown tracks, to name some. There's no way in a short space to describe the times to be had here, so if you like getting on the good foot, trust compilers Rock, Darge and Wright, for these discs are the oxygen and carbon dioxide of your life. BR
POPE FACTORY ****
Hibernation Generation Buffalo Fire
It's summer, the sun is shining and Pope Factory don't give a fuck -- the warm glow of a TV in a dark room provides all the UV radiation they need. Not sure if the local foursome's second album is a paean or put-down to couch culture, but it sure feels comfy -- what we have here is nothing less than a condensed history of Sofa Rock, spanning mid-period Floyd flashbacks (echoes of everything from Atom Heart Mother to The Wall), the gentle jangle of prime Pavement and the rec-room-bred Beatle-isms of the Olivia Tremor Control. The Popes do their Roger Waters a bit too straight-faced ("High Wire Nerves"), but with the sweet sway of "Love the Bomb" and "All You Destroy" sucking you further into beanbag-chair bliss, you'll have plenty of reason to smile. SB
Pope Factory play the Horseshoe Wednesday.
Short-Staffed at the Gene Pool Thirsty Ear/Outside
Ruby's debut, Salt Peter (1995), was an under-appreciated album -- its pointed singles ("Tiny Meat," "Paraffin") not only took shots at macho intransigence but lit a fire under trip-hop torpor. Judging by Short-Staffed at the Gene Pool, Lesley Rankine hasn't lost her skewed outlook or willingness to colour outside the lines. While not every cut is a gem, Rankine's efforts to subvert trip-hop's clichés are always commendable. "Queen of Denial" and "Roses" are both shaded with muted trumpets and other jazz inflections, while "Cargo" is a twitchy take on drum 'n' bass. If "Beefheart" is a love letter, it's unlikely Don Van Vliet will fall for either the played-out Garbage groove or Rankine's tacky come-on ("Beefheart honey, don't ya wanna come 'n play with me"). "Fuse Again," on the other hand, will probably make Fleetwood Mac blush with pride. AM
From Here on In Mo'Wax/Beggars Banquet
South are the first pop/rock act signed to James Lavelle's Mo'Wax Records, and the young English trio make it clear from the outset why the man from UNKLE was so impressed. "Paint the Silence," the first song on their debut album, is an epic, six-minute pop song that marries strings to a groovy Stone Roses sensibility -- if the rest of the disc were this good, NME writers would be scrambling for adjectives through the streets of London and proclaiming the true Second Coming. Unfortunately, things quickly get reflective and meandering in a watered-down Gomez stylee, and Joel Cadbury's breathy voice isn't really versatile enough to keep the slower songs from sounding samey and limpid. Things pick up toward the end, and South's flashes of danceable verve display great promise. Let's hope they get on the good foot from here on in. MDO
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND **
Live, New York City Columbia/Sony
Fans of the Boss will really be let down by both the song choices and the performances on this double live CD. Bruce still has the ability to entertain, but this will come as a disappointment if you've ever heard early recordings where he freaks out and does 10-minute versions of songs to bring the show right over the top. Even token hits from Born in the USA are absent from the set, and the E Streeters' musicianship skills are never really put on display. The two new songs, "Land of Hope and Dreams" and "American Skin," are strong lyrically but weak musically, making it clear Springsteen's renaissance is a good 15 years behind him. There's a really good version of "Jungleland" to be had here, but with no "Born to Run," you have to wonder if this is really the E Street Band or just middle-aged dudes with nothing better to do except go through the motions. MW
Anyone worried that Tool might go soft after Maynard James Keenan's dalliance with Cure-ish moods in A Perfect Circle can breathe easy. That is, once they've recovered from getting the wind knocked out of them by Lateralus' first single, almost seven minutes of impossible time-signature switching. "Schism" may sound pretty due to haunting bass lines and Keenan's improved singing voice, but it's still the weirdest, fiercest thing on rock radio this season. Tool avoid simply playing harder, louder, faster (whatever happened to Ministry anyway?) and go for lengthening their menace, each creepy note drawn out for maximum impact. Lateralus is slow, delicious agony amid a sea of quick, cheap bludgeoning, a dense listen that defies any immediate conclusions. LL
Pneumonia Lost Highway/UMG
While not quite up there with the Beach Boys' Smile and Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers in the annals of lost-album mythology, Whiskeytown's recently unearthed swan song has apparently been the subject of much eBay activity among No Depression readers. Recorded in 1998 with a crew of alt-rock notables (the Pumpkins' James Iha, ex-Replacement Tommy Stinson), this is still frontman Ryan Adams' show all the way, documenting the end cycle of his Westerbergian maturation from boisterous bad boy to cleaned-up crooner and serving as a warm-up for last year's superb solo debut, Heartbreaker. Adams will surely be riding his alt-country pin-up rep for many moons to come, but hearing the gorgeous violin fadeout of "Easy Hearts," it's a shame he won't have Caitlan Cary's fiddle around to keep him humble. SB
SAUL WILLIAMS ****
Amethyst Rock Star Columbia import
"I'm the American born of beats and blood." Poet, actor, philosopher and songwriter Saul Williams wields wisdom, and a great crew of musicians create a jaw-dropping antidote to vacuous hip-hop and hedonistic club music. Williams sets his sagacious prayers and proclamations on the state of spirit and urban youth culture to a heavy, unsettling soundtrack. Irate drum 'n' bass beats, eerie violins and bombastic rock jams disintegrate around his mighty prose. (Unfortunately, the guy proves one thing he cannot do is sing.) Engaging and thought-provoking, Amethyst Rock Star is worth the import price. On "The Tao of Now" (featuring lovely guest vocals by Esthero), Williams says, "My purpose is to make my soul rhyme with my mind." It certainly sounds like he has. LL
HERTZ SO GOOD
10,000 Hz Legend Source/Virgin
Singing songs for the sexy boys and the suicidal virgins who love them, the French Air pair seem less like high-brow composers for fashion-show runways, chic salon waiting rooms and overpriced cafés than low-budget porno directors who happen to have impeccable taste in fine arts and vintage European sports cars. They are both super-cool (1998's Moon Safari) and super-creepy (last year's Virgin Suicides soundtrack). Put the two together and you get super-freaky -- or, translated in Air terms, 10,000 Hz Legend.
The opening track seems to explain their MO simply enough: "We are electronic performers," a vocoderized voice informs us. Except what you really have are a couple of real people using electronics to make themselves sound like machines playing real instruments, creating man-machine cross-wired confusion that would have even Kraftwerk gently scratching their closely cropped heads. The droids stick around for the symphonic/nymphonic soft-rock follow-up "How Does It Make You Feel," spelling things out more explicitly: Air have evolved from crafting make-out music for emotionally detached (though sharply dressed) people to making music that robots put on to seduce other robots.
And that's when things start to get fucked. Ex-Jellyfisher Jason Faulkner pops in outta nowhere and tunes in some ELO on "Radio #1." Beck shows up to sing the blues on "The Vagabond." "Radian" feels like a respite from all this retardation, revisiting Moon Safari's luxuriant "La Femme D'Argent" -- only this time she's flat broke, on the street and turning tricks for loose change.
And that's when things really get fucked. Buffalo Daughter's SuGar does her best impression of those two dead twin girls in The Shining on "Sex Born Poison"; "People in the City" plays like a duet between Syd Barrett and Stephen Hawking, the latter spelling out the title in the computerized equivalent of beer burps; the ghost of Gainsbourg comes up for a quickie with "Wonder Milky Bitch" before "Don't Be Light" sets fire to Stereolab. Fin.
Suffice to say, Kate Moss won't be strutting her butt this fall in Milan to this. Starbucks management will likely ban employees from using it as a frappuccino sales tool. Hair salons that play it will notice sharp declines in business. And those of us who savour all that is sacred and profane about pop music will get fat on vino, crepes and sweet music.
BRAN VAN 3000 ****
Discosis Grand Royal/Virgin
It's a rock 'n' roll cliché on par with revolving drummers and death by overdose: artists claiming that the new album is the one they wanted to make last time. It's how James Di Salvio describes Discosis, the follow-up to BV3's debut Glee.
If y'all recall, Glee was a hodgepodge of rock, pop, country, hip-hop, punk and dance music concocted by a motley crew of Di Salvio and whoever dropped by his Montreal crash pad. It was an ambitious project that went platinum and produced 1997's summer theme song, "Drinking In L.A."
Di Salvio's not fibbing about Discosis: it has the same vision, but even better execution. The big news is that he and new label pals the Beastie Boys rustled up legends like Youssou N'dour, Eek-a-Mouse, Big Daddy Kane and the late Curtis Mayfield to guest star. The great news is that Discosis still sounds like it was created by a bunch of smartasses from Montreal.
One of N'dour's tracks -- an acoustic-guitar number -- is named for the city, but the entire disc transports you to the band's hometown. It's the sound of a weekend of late-night club-hopping, making out with cosmopolitan strangers, shopping, hanging out lazily on café patios and more dancing. And maybe a crime spree or two.
Like Glee, Discosis jumps from one genre to the next with ease, sounding like Frank Zappa one moment, Pet Shop Boys the next. There's nothing here to add fuel to early Beck comparisons -- if anything, Di Salvio does a better job of integrating his love for '70s funk and soul than Mr. Hansen. Unlike Glee, Discosis has top-notch production quality and doesn't feature any filler or novelty.
From BV3's first appearance on the scene, it's been a "band" to root for. Di Salvio has made good on his potential, turning in a record that doesn't make us regret cheering for him.
MISSY ELLIOTT ***
Miss E... So Addictive Elektra/Warner
Booty music is a beautiful thing, and on Missy's latest, superproducer Tim "Timbaland" Mosley has set his sights nice and low. The mechanized musical manoeuvres that made him famous have been shelved in favour of pole-friendly beats that are round, firm and yet perfectly jiggly.
Hopefully, however, Elektra will release an instrumental version of So Addictive, 'cause Timbaland's muse is not blessing the mic, she's burdening it. One wonders if Missy Elliott has some powerful childhood blackmail material on her producer, because her hackneyed lyrical steeze gets more embarrassing with every outing.
Seemingly sick of being marketed as a streetwise Oprah -- complete with plentiful praise from women's mags that equate plumpness with liberation -- Elliott goes the Janet Jackson route, mistaking sex talk for sexiness. Fortunately, Miss Elliott gets a little help from her friends, like Jay-Z, whose throwaway verse on the remix of "One Minute Man" is the lyrical highlight of Miss E. It begins with him saying, "I betcha I can get it in one take." He doesn't quite get it, but who cares? It's that kind of album.
The beats, on the other hand, are prime. The album begins with "Dog in Heat," which combines ribald raps from Method Man and Redman with a luxurious slithering funk 4-4 bassbeat. The shuffling syncopations of "One Minute Man" are much sexier than anything Elliott says on the mic, and the nastified tabla samples on "Get Ur Freak On" show Timbaland experimenting with an ever-expanding palette.
After years of both Mosley and Elliott saying they've never heard of drum 'n' bass, Timbaland does up a jittery jungle beat on "Scream" -- and it's a blatant rip-off of Blackalicious' "Smithzonian Instituate of Rhyme." "Old School Joint" is an unusually upbeat (for Timbaland) electro-house confection with sweet synth melodies, and Missy's all-talk-no-action vocals are mercifully minimal. After this baby goes triple-platinum, maybe Tim'll finally be able to pay her off.
LIZZ MENDEZ BERRY
MAXIMUM ROCKIN' SOUL
THE BOUNCING SOULS ****
How I Spent My Summer Vacation Epitaph
The Bouncing Souls are one of those special bands that get better with each record, possessing the ability to change their sound without losing their original fans, while gaining brand-new ones. So it comes as no surprise that How I Spent My Summer Vacation is another impressive step in this band's evolution, one that can only broaden their appeal to an even wider audience.
The punk rock that these guys perfected in basement shows and halls early in their career makes for a more intense and heartfelt sound, coupled with improving musicianship and the sort of maturation that only years on the road can bring. The Bouncing Souls put a refreshing spin on self-reflection, making songs like "True Believers," "The Something Special" and "Broken Record" so easy to relate to.
The leaps and bounds they've made in developing their melodies and lyrics make them a band to take comfort in when the chips are down, and a band to throw on when you need the strength to make it through the day -- not to mention a band to get you stoked as you prepare for a night out.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation is perhaps mellower than their last record, Hopeless Romantic, but the Souls maintain a high level of energy. Things really can only go up from here -- though, considering where they started, everything they accomplish from here on in is icing.
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