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August Music Reviews


Mahi Mahi
"He No Wa"

(Corleone)

Mahi Mahi are feeling cavalier. They exude the spirit of those heady days back in the early eighties when street and club culture enjoyed a brief spate of solidarity. When anyone with a few cheap keyboards and a microphone could be the next one to break it big.

While it's unclear whether Mahi Mahi, a duo consisting of the mysterious V. von Ricci and Servicio, intend to pick up where the likes of D.A.F. and Ebn Ozn left off, they manage to resurrect the ghosts of legwarmers past in a way that only slightly jives with today's lo-fi underground.

They mold blocky, syncopated rhythms and beeps and buzzes into a kind of neo- new wave for new club creatures. From start to finish, "He No Wa" has that upright, uptightness that only cheap beat boxes and preset synth patches can intone.

Stark, tin-toned street raps and stoically delivered slogans hold everything together, but it's that blend of geeked-out anxiety and Teutonic vacant-ness that gives them away. It has the unfortunate effect of giving off a stereotypical Valley Girl / Devo kind of retro vibe that has already been played out the second time around.

While everything sounds just a bit too familiar, Mahi Mahi's overall delivery is strong enough to lead me to believe the duo will successfully surf the prevailing winds of change and drop the stark and stiff Square Pegs routine. Hopefully the duo will produce a follow up that not only reveals the sound they love, but a sound that can more readily be observed as their own.

--John Rickman


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Luke Vibert
"Kerrier District"
(Rephlex)

British techno maestro Luke Vibert's new full-length, "Kerrier District," is a very stylized blend of funky rhythms and sleek, designer electro-disco. Like his recent singles for Planet Mu and his 2003 Warp Records full-length "YosepH" (destined to become an acid-techno pop classic), "Kerrier District" refreshingly retrofits classic dance sounds around his signature beats and breaks and sassy samples.

On first listen, Vibert's new project may sound just a bit too infused with the oh-so-fashionable Metro Area vibe, but his bold, imaginative production style effectively keeps the occasional smooth-jazz tendency to a minimum. For the most part, these are floor fillers designed for willing booty shakers and party people with the intuition to groove to a fusion of house and disco rhythms.

However, the martini set is sure to find its comfort zone in some of the tracks. "Negresco," a cool breeze of dancing synth-flutes and light go-go rhythms, simply steeps the listener in the moment. "Wide Vice," the album's lone head-nodder and easily the most original "Kerrier" moment, is a jazzy, odd-timed trip-hopper.

The album's finale, the fanciful "Squaredance," is centered by a strumming acoustic guitar that reverberates a baggy, Happy Mondays kind of vibe, mercifully relinquishing the listener from yet another funky piano. Party on Luke.

-- John Rickman


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Ova! + Happy Mothers Day I Can't Read
"The Number On My Forehead Is Gone"
(Freedom From)

"The Number On My Forehead Is Gone" is the title of a new split full-length between Ova! and Happy Mothers Day I Can't Read, two obscure, freak-flag flying acts from Minneapolis, MN. It features eight breakneck speed-prog numbers by the very talented Ova!, seven sine wave sufferings by their Mothers Day colleagues, and five collaborative tracks that impressively unite the technical clatter of the former with the surrealist circuitry of the latter. Like chocolate with peanut butter, this three-act basement production combines the sweet with the sticky.

Fans of guitar/drum pairings Orthrelm, Hella, and Lightning Bolt are likely to be pleasantly surprised by Ova!'s quick picking and damaged time structures. Like their contemporaries, they compose with quick jabs and precise licks and deliver it with equal helpings of precision and exuberance.

The hot-wired sounds of Happy Mothers Day I Can't Read, will either engage or enrage the listener, depending on one's chemical makeup and immune response. Manic laughter, improvised malfunctions, white, pink, and other shades of noise taunt and torture, but hardly titillate. This one man sideshow rouge-wires recycled toys from childhood's past, streaming electrical currents in through the out door, providing an occasional zap here and there.

When the two acts merge and invite a few friends over for a jam session, the end result is an uncompromising distraction of great complexity. If you're searching for uncharted territories of sonic sound, this release is more likely to transport you to a comfort zone rather than a twilight zone, but if you've been waiting for phase three of "Lumpy Gravy," the wait is over.

-- John Rickman

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The Polyphonic Spree
Together We’re Heavy
Hollywood Records

The first Polyphonic Spree album, The Beginning Stages, was actually a demo tape thrown together primarily by Tim DeLaughter and recorded in a week. It was re-released last year with some tracks recorded in the KCRW studios. They also recorded an additional song called “Soldier Girl” which was the first sign of what they could do in the studios sonically. With the help of Eric Drew Feldman, they have brought the magic of the live show into the studio on Together We're Heavy. The songs are longer and more complex this time around. It all comes together and it is heavy, man. This record proves the band is something greater than a gimmicky assembly of art kids in choir robes.


--Alexander Laurence


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V/A -
"Archiv 1.1"
(Asphodel/Raster-Noton)

"Archiv 1.1" is a compilation of minimal techno and digital ambience from the highly respected roster of the German label Raster-Noton. Originally assembled for subscribers of the British monthly music magazine The Wire, the "Archiv" compilation has been reissued for American consumption by Asphodel.

A retrospective of sorts, "Archiv 1.1" features new and unreleased tracks not found on the Wire giveaway. Raster-Noton -- jointly operated by Carsten Nicolai a.k.a. Noto, Olaf Bender, and Frank Bretschneider a.k.a. Komet -- specializes in combining new ideas in sound and art design, scientific conceptualism, and electronic pop music.

Aside from being the imprint that helped launch Nicolai's career, the growing popularity of the Raster-Noton label has also helped to further maximize the credibility of German minimalism, and the country is still the epicenter of the less-is-more aesthetic.

The label also plays host to many luminaries within the global electronic music underground, including Swedish glitch-rocker Mokira a.k.a. Andreas Tilliander, Japanese digital tone tweaker Ryoji Ikeda, and Irish loop wrangler Donnacha Costello a.k.a. Modul.

The sparse sounds found on the "Archiv" compilation are more in line with the conceptual and environmental side of minimalism. In the hands of these artists, computer software is used to isolate certain frequencies, which are then manipulated to resonate, vibrate, and create new spatial atmospheres and moods.

Mini-pop melodies and dance-oriented glitch-and-groovers are in short supply on "Archiv 1.1," but the click-pop track by Pixel (Denmark's Jon Egeskov) more than makes up for the compilation's dominating art gallery vibe. Pixel's groovy little bassline, combined with cute-but-funky electrostatic rhythms and minimal synth sequences, proves you can dance to the art if you feel like it.

Compiling numerous tracks by different artists whose sounds are best appreciated as individual environments and experiments minimizes (pardon the pun) the effectiveness of each track found on this collection. However, for the uninitiated, "Archiv 1.1" is a good introduction to some of the label's (and the world's) finest digital deconstructionists.


-- John Rickman

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Metalux
"Waiting for Armadillo"
(Load)

The new weird America just got weirder. Once again, Load Records, the freak-chic label du-jour, has unearthed yet another homegrown, no-fi disturbance. Metalux, a female-fronted synth/tape unit from Chicago, typify the latest in post-apocalyptic tech-noise. The duo merges hallucinatory electro-squiggle and sequenced sound effects with enigmatic monologues to create a curious state of unease.

The brave listener will discover a murky world where strange siren songs hang unsettlingly in an obscure atmosphere of analog feedback and radioactive vibrations. Vaguely poetic scripts about armadillos, amethyst dogs, and other ambiguities may only serve to confuse the listener but they're presented in a way that enhances the waking-dream-like quality of the duo's music.

Both M.V. Carbon and J. Gräf were once members of the much-revered nineties no-wave band Bride of No No before banding together as the futuristic Metalux. Nautical Almanac's James "Twig" Harper is an occasional member and he joins in on three "Armadillo" tracks, adding a nightmarish undercurrent of electronic noodling to the dramatic proceedings.

The duo has found a new context of their own in which to exist, having shed their previous rock and guitar-based trappings, and it takes some effort to make sense of the madness behind their method. Yet, the cinematic delirium the duo whip up delightfully astounds as much as it confounds. It's an eerily compelling listen from track to track, but listeners should be prepared to experience some post-sleepwalk stress disorder.

--John Rickman


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The Streets
A Grand Don’t Come For Free
Vice Records

The first sounds on this record are some big horns and the lyrics “It was supposed to be so easy…” We have the second record by Mike Skinner. It’s a concept album. One day in the life of a geezer, literally. This is Mike Skinner’s Ulysses, his Tommy. The first thing you notice about this record is all the female vocals. It’s also a little darker and more "mature" than the first record, which is why some people might not care for it. I think it's a great record that requires multiple listens to fully appreciate. Skinner frustrates our expectations, but in a good way.

--Alexander Laurence









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[email protected] | August 2004 | Issue 53
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