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December Music Guide

[Ipecac; 2002]

Metal is the new indie! Metal is the new indie! You read it here first (unless you read it where I read it earlier).

An unashamed metalhead for, like, ever, this means nothing to me. Wow: so some Michael Stipe look-alikes now realize there's more to metal than Motley. Metal Rules, and Metal Has Always Ruled (Oceanic has always been at war with Europe and Asia). Now, I am not talking about the current crop of crap from ridiculous pussies (e.g., Linkin Park, Adema, Staind, System of a Down, Andrew W.K. and so on). And I am not talking about quasi-metal by droopy prog-pretenders (i.e., Queens of the Stone Age). I am talking about thanks-be-to-Slayer, metal-as-fuck metal, and in particular, the new CD by Boston's ISIS, "Oceanic."

Here are some adjectives: thunderousity, discordantantic, cordant, screamy, cathedralious, lowd, munchy, ambient (yes, ambient), aggressive. And that there is the key to balls-out, serious-as-cancer, ask-not-for-whom-the-bell-tolls-it-tolls-for-thee-motherfucker metal: aggression. But as anyone familiar with it knows, aggression need not be endlessly, relentlessly evident to be on. Even if there's no clot-riddled screaming scorching your ear bones, no kranging cymbals breaking your brainwaves like that headpiece Harrison Bergeron's dad had to wear, no guitars filling your every hole, there is still aggression: roiling, writhing, waiting. And in ISIS' music, it lurks even between the tracks, it's in the dinging, dingy, ambient feedback (yes, ambient feedback), in the expansiveness before the punch-you-in-your-fuckin-heart re-entry of the drums, guitars, and screaming. And in the cover art: a green ocean surface, undoubtedly teeming beneath with sharks and guitars.

This is not Megadeth shredshit, not ponderous Metallicrap, not "we're only slumming" Fucking Champs mathmetal. This is actual metal, but metal informed by Slint, by Labradford, by wide-open spaces, impressionist paintings, and broken noses. I'd list the songs, but what would that tell you? This is metal for fans of the aforementioned Fucking Champs who raise the devil horns in ironic abandon but who are ready to get their metal served without a smirk (looking for an easy comparison? John Spencer Blues Explosion = Fucking Champs, White Stripes = ISIS).

I, for one, welcome ISIS, our new metal champions, delivering all the irony-free metal one CD can hold on "Oceanic"… (but if it's irony you crave, here are some UMLÄÄTS!)!

- Matt Casper

Boards of Canada
(Warp Records, 2002)

This reissue of early Boards’ work dates back to ’95 and I guess, if so inclined, you could geek back further to some obscure cassette-only releases representing their actual initial output. But I prefer to think of Twoism as the beginning, and perhaps the most quintessential Boards of Canada release, a truly great representation of all of their audio trademarks – haunting downtempo rhythms; lonely, resonating synth melodies; short bursts of electronic optimism; flawless, near-obsessive production. Originally released on their own Music70, Twoism is testament to BoC’s innovation and legitimizes their growing legacy. With legions of transitory copycats flooding electronic music with a deluge of sub-par offerings, it is truly amazing how much this 8 year-old record retains its quality and stands out amongst its peers.

-- Steve Marchese

Drive Like Jehu
Yank Crime
(Swami, 2002)

You can't fuck with legend. For a little over 4 years, from 1991 to 1995, San Diego's Drive Like Jehu aggressively redefined the rules applied to anxious and intelligent guitar-driven rock. Innocent onlookers took to cover every time John "Speedo" Reis and Rick "Fork" Froberg joined together to deliver the ultimate contrapuntal axe attack. Froberg's often accusatory shrieking is sometimes accredited as the forefather to the "screamo" movement, yet Jehu was much more than teenage boys shouting over Christmas guitars. Yank Crime (their second and tragically final record) is to Jehu as Ritual de lo Habitual is to Jane's Addiction -- a more dynamically epic and calculated record, brooding in it's potential to ignite and explode at a moment's notice. A certified underground classic that sounds even better seven years later. This reissue also includes the Merge 7" "Bullet Train to Vegas."

-- Steve Marchese

The Mercury Program
A Data Learns its Language
(Tiger Style)

Critics love to attach the ubiquitous "post-rock" tag onto any record that challenges the conventions of your typical 2 guitar/1 bass/drummer paradigm. In these burgeoning times of trust-fund fueled "raw" rock , anything that deviates from the vocal-oriented, verse/chorus/verse formula is forced into a common niche. A Data Learns it Language will certainly be there, and deservedly so, because there currently isn't a better example of tight, looping, instrumental rock. Like the Dylan Group or Mice Parade, the vibraphone is a huge player in the overall sound. (Add your prerequisite Tortoise comparison here). A solid, introspective long player from the Tiger Style crew.

--Steve Marchese

Q and Not U
Different Damage
(Dischord, 2002)

There's no denying the impact Dischord Records has had on underground music culture. Even after 20 years, they still find a way to release records from quality bands from the DC area (see Faraquet as well). On Different Damage, Q and Not U continue in the spirit of their taut debut No Kill, No Beep Beep, expanding on the Dischord post-punk sound with metronomic start/stops, passionately spit enigmatic lyrics and a funky dubbed out rhythmic timing. Stop complaining about how Beefeater's "Play's for Lovers" reminds you of the good times and keep the magic alive with next-gen Dischord. Solidly produced by Fugazi's Ian MacKaye and Inner Ear's Don Zientara.

--Steve Marchese

(Morr Music, 2002)

The newest addition to the growing Morr Music roster (including Isan, Lali Puna, Ms. John Soda, Manual) is one of the label’s finer offerings among a slew of recent releases. Forced to literally form his own scene and band in a small village located in South Apulia, Italy, 22 year old Italian Andrea Mangia, a programmer/player influenced as much by Funkstorung as he is Tortoise, drops a solid offering of ambient textures, rhythmic crackles & hisses, solid bass-driven beats and enough melody to avoid the tiresome clichés of his glitch-pop contemporaries. Like most Morr records, Quipo has its share of organic guitars, strings and percussion, providing material depth to the otherwise sterile cut & paste samples and sharply programmed beats. It is a record reflective of its maker – isolated, pastoral, yet just a technological moment away from dialing up the rest of the world.

-- Steve Marchese

The Cassettes
(Lovitt, 2002)

I hope this record gets to you somehow, because the odds are that you'll never hear it and that would be a shame. The Cassettes are a bunch of guys from obscure DC area indies like Frodus, Dead Meadow and Weird War and if you have heard any of these bands you may imagine this an angst-filled exercise in noise. Suprisingly, The Cassettes throw down 10 nuggets of what Lovitt describes as "post-punk psychedelia or neo-garage rock for basement show kids." Although these phrases may induce vomitting, they are nontheless accurate given the band's history and context. This self-titled release is in fact filled with memorable, melodic anachronisms bringing to mind tweeter-bursting classic rock, introspective singer/songwriter-isms and solid trans-Atlantic anthems.

--Steve Marchese

Boom Bip
Seed to Sun
(Lex, 2002)

The ultimate prefix record. Post-, neo-, whatever it is that preceeds the style, Seed to Sun represents a beautiful amalgam of it all. Boom Bip, aka Bryan Hollon, drops a lovely, introspective collection of deeply personal and relevant music. With equal attention on the strengths of cinematic rock, laptop jockeyism and fringe hip-hop experimentalism this is a record made by and for someone into the now sound. Go to your collection, start with 'A', grab some random disks - Atmosphere, American Analog Set, Authechre, Aerial M. You'll like this record. Drop down to 'B' - Broadcast, Boards of Canada, even Basehead. You'll enjoy it. I hope you get the picture. Out now on Warp's fledgling label, Lex.

--Steve Marchese

Saint Etienne

[Mantra/Beggars; 2002]

They snuck onto the burgeoning Brit-pop movement about a decade ago before any of us knew what lay in store for the 1990's. Their first single, "Nothing Can Stop Us" appeared out of obscurity and had a large underground British following that heralded a new (or at least different) era of breezy, sweet, dance-clubby Euro-pop. Apparently that track has foretold the success that Saint Etienne (Saint Et) has enjoyed since breaking onto the scene as they continue to rise in popularity.

The trio, composed of Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs and vocalist Sarah Cracknell recently released their latest effort, Finisterre, which comes on the heels of 2001's "Interlude" compilation album. Their sound remains, essentially, the same as they did waaaay back in the 1990's. There are no new daring twists or turns, no radical experimentation to speak of (maybe a bit more acoustic guitar on a track here or there…but that's it). It's the same old Saint Etienne we've known and loved for years. And if their recent late-November show at Irving Plaza is to be any indication, the legion of wildly eager fans is only still growing, it would seem, exponentially.

Many of the tracks on Finisterre are, of course, ripe with new wave electronica, fast beats, high energy and carefree vocals - Saint Etienne's signature sound. The peppy beats swirl around Cracknell's vocals with eerie simplicity on most tracks like "Action," "Shower Scene" "Summer Isle" and "New Thing" to name a few. Four tracks in we stumble upon "Soft Like Me" featuring the unintimidating Brit jammer, Wildflower, rapping along to Cracknell's usual happy beats. It may be too poppy, too lite, or just too much like suburban rap of the early 1990's so this will be the track most listeners skip and probably the biggest complaint of the album. Perhaps it's true that "Soft Like Me" will probably end up as the music bed to a Mentos commercial in the not-too-distant future. Whatever the case, it still fits the underlying trancy mood "Finisterre" creates so it works to keep my toes tapping throughout the entire album.

For the all-out fans, Finisterre is one of those albums with few flaws, Saint Et, hitting the mark again. For everyone else, Finisterre has a few great foot-stomping tracks; however, the rest of the album may remind us of flashbacks to Britney Spears-sponsored Z100 music. Whatever your persuasion, at the very least, it's a good album to have to battle the frustrations of city life, like the hourly delays on the F train, because you'll be in a good mood after you've listened to Sarah's lilting voice whether you like it or not.

- Derek Elmer

(Tehnika, 2002)

The new Umek full-length "Neuro" finds the Slovenian superstar taking a more complicated and dramatic approach to his signature hard techno sound. Inaccurately described by his label as "experimental," his newest release is simply a departure from the usual four-to-the-floor pounding of his club singles. Most of the tracks are actually quite accessible and just as bangin' and funk-a-fied as any club music, but in a more imaginative and narrative way.

On "Neuro," Uros Umek largely shelves his propulsive, deep, metallic dance sound in favor of melodic strings and singing synths to create futuristic anthems and post-rave flashbacks. Their construction reminds this listener of Italian producer Marco Passarani and also brings to mind the best of dark, eighties synth-pop. Umek's rhythms are either mid-tempo or completely spastic, and are more than just a backdrop within the space-time soundtracks, sounding somewhat machine-like, but spicy and very colorful.

There's the occasional floor-filler, with the atypical kick and hi-hats, such as the jazzy "neurotrotter," with its jumpy, high-pitched tones and synth-stabs - the rare, light touches of which somehow managing to fit in with the rest of the disc's overall state of excitement. For the most part, however, "Neuro" is a dramatic, synth-heavy, techno-pop soundtrack likely to unite techno-heads with fans of dark, industrial electronics. If Umek's new release is experimental in any way, it's resulted in a successful crossover from the dancefloor to the mind.


45 Seconds Of:
(Simballrec, 2002)

This odd, conceptual compilation combines ninety-nine 45-second tracks by eighty-four artists into a tightly-woven collage of electronics. No fade-outs here, just 45-second snippets whizzing by in a dizzying, non-stop fashion. If you're not paying attention from track to track, some of the snippets seem to blend and merge nicely. However, some transitions can be somewhat jarring, but it's those edits that make the disc so exciting to listen to.

Chosen from a pool of over 500 submissions, the artists represented on this collection showcase abstract electronic sounds as well as rhythmic and melodic compositions, and include the notorious (DJ Spooky, Lali Puna, Jan Jelinek, Martin Rev, Blevin Blectum, John Tejada, Kim Cascone) as well as the relatively unknown (Lump, Rockin' Pony, Derevo, Fer Chloca).

However, despite the originality and entertainment value of each artist's contribution, "45 Seconds Of:" ultimately forces the listener to experience the collection as a whole, challenging the listener to find commonalities and revel in the disparities. The end result is a boundless tapestry of electronics, bridging artists from around the world whose singular, immediate expressions merge (or clash) into a unified listening experience.


Robert Poss
Distortion Is Truth
(Trace Elements, 2002)

Emerging from the fringes of New York City's punk and experimental music scenes of the late 70s', guitarist Robert Poss has always managed to straddle the grey area between pop and improvisation, and continues to do so on his new solo release, "Distortion Is Truth." Perhaps best known as the lead axe-wielder of the 80s' drone-pop act Band Of Susans, Poss' keen appreciation for the electric guitar's unintended noises and ringing overtones continues to point him in new directions.

The disc consists of both live and studio recordings and starts off on an isolationist bent. "Brakhage" is a short, cinematic piece with flickering glitches morphing into waves of guitar tonality. On "Radio Free Albemuth Revisited," Poss nicely dices shards of feedback into distinctive voices that call and respond. There are more of these meditative moments throughout the disc, but Poss also takes a few 360-degree turns into pop, and even synth-pop territory.

Without taking the guitar into too much, if any, digital territory, Poss layers buzzing synth-like drones, feedback, and distortion on top of big beats and deep bass. "You Were Relentless" whips up a sonic storm of squealing guitars, soaring vocals, and Bonham-beats into a devotional frenzy, while the instrumental version of "Azulene" takes it down a notch without losing the same feel of propulsive, rhythmic euphoria. "Management Confidential" is definitely the odd duck of the disc, with its synthetic, electro-style instrumentation and cheeky, lyrical gratitude.

While this solo effort tends to highlight Poss' meditative side and ability to channel six-string sonics inward, it also reveals Poss as a songwriter with a gift for studio craftsmanship and a talent for harnessing and commanding electrical afterburn. Whether riding resonating crests or layering light sounds of strums and hums, Robert Poss' emotive directions are equally moving and exciting.

-- SK

Mick Turner

[Drag City; 2002]

A poem printed in the liner notes of Mick Turner's third solo album, Moth, ends "and my mouth heals like a cut." The imagery says quite a bit about Turner's wordlessly expressive approach to music. As a member of the Australian instrumental trio the Dirty Three, Turner's forlorn guitar lines mingle with a tempest of strings and rhythm to form compositions that are oddly visual. At times wanting for Warren Ellis' maudlin violin outpourings and Jim White's emotive drum fills, Turner's Moth is stark and rainy-day moody. Through 19 instrumentals, reverb-heavy guitar melodies ebb and flow over incidental piano and organ flourishes to form a partial picture, deliberately vague, the score to an unscripted film taken beautifully out of context.

- Daniel Schulman

Sigur Rós
( )

[MCA/Fat Cat, 2002]

Perhaps because the spelling of Sigur Rós' previous album, Ágætis Byrjun - and indeed their songs, which included such hits as Svefn-G-Englar, Flugufrelsarinn, Viðrar Vel Ttil Loftárása - proved too vexing for English-speaking journalists, the band's latest invocation is titled with a symbol and includes no track listings. The album described by the symbol ( ), which most closely resembles a pair of parentheses, exists in a preternatural stasis between experiment and calculation, melody and dissonance, reality and auditory hallucination. Occasionally through the wash of droney guitars, atmospheric synth lines, and dirge-inspired drum beats, singer Jónsi Birgisson interjects with a melodic statement. You might think he's repeating the phrase "you are so alone." He isn't. Like Birgisson's lyrics sung in the nonexistent language "Hopelandic" - Icelandic words coupled with melody-tailored gibberish - the content summed up by the album's parenthetical symbol is whatever you, the listener, chose it to be. On the band's website (www.sigurros.com), fans are invited to contribute their interpretations of Birgisson's lyrics. A computer program built into the site then recognizes the most often used phrases constructing the album's lyrics from fans' contributions.

Though ( ) is not packaged with a cautionary label warning listeners about the album's physical impact on the human nervous system, maybe it should be. We suggest May Cause Drowsiness or Do Not Use Before Operating Heavy Machinery. ( ) - all 71 mind-altering minutes of it - feels like drowning, slipping further from the surface, but instead of fighting it, letting go, and thinking only of how amazing everything looks from that perspective. Coincidentally, or maybe not, ( ) was recorded in a converted swimming pool in rural Iceland.

The wordless title, the largely featureless cover art, and seemingly the maddening irreverence of a band that would go so far as to release a beautiful album about nothing in particular, have prompted some reviewers to brand Sigur Rós pretentious. Maybe. But if so, they are one of very few bands to give pretension a good name.

- Daniel Schulman

[Epic, 2002]

Ok, what is this shit? Seriously, what in the good name of fuck do you think you're doing? This is the result of two legendary groups? This is the logical conclusion to Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine? You've got a band now that sounds like Soundgarden with Tom Morello riffs; that's what I've been waiting for all this time? When The Strokes came out, and cats were insulting them for trying to sound 80's (or 70's depending on what annoying indie prick you asked), I said, and say to this day "Dude, whatever. It's a good album." Oh, and "cochise" is a good song… had neither Soundgarden or Rage Against The Machine ever existed. But they did, and now some five years later after their respective breakups I get to have a bastardization of classic music. Well, isn't that a bloody hoot? Zach was famous for saying that the reason he left Rage was that "the decision making process had completely broken down." I guess that must've been with the decision to make a Hype Williams-ass video with sparkly things and 20- nay 40-foot platforms. And, oh Mr. Cornell, weren't you so powerful constantly wailing about "LAY IT ON MEEEEEE…. GO ON AND SAVE YOURSELF!" Let me get this straight, you left Soundgarden to write a song that sounds like… Soundgarden. Hanging out with Jerry Cantrell much? Then that shit needs to stop, son. Oh, and the band name. Let's bring up the band name: Audioslave. What kind of wanky-ass nonsense is that? Sounds like some crap modern rock outfit, clamoring for their video on MTV's "Buzzworthy" (ahem). Please boys, tell me this isn't another misguided attempt to "just play some good ol' rock and roll", because I've never heard a bigger death knell than that in all the world of music. It screwed Slash on his solo effort, because he never just played "good ol' rock and roll". It was the time and place and TALENT that all made what he, and you bastards, did brilliant.

I'll tell ya. There's so much wrong with modern music that I don't need you people raping high school for me. High school was bad enough, let me hold on to what I can of grunge, and of the only viable rap metal band ever (probably because they were the first, were good musicians, and Zach can actually rhyme). For shame… for shame boys. I thought I knew ye.

- Maurice Downes

mick turner, moth, audioslave, matador, warp, drag city, isis, oceanic, umek, neuro, boards of canada, twoism, john rickman, matt casper, Robert Poss, q and not u, boom bip, seed to sun, a different language, The Mercury Program, A Data Learns its Language, distortion is truth, 45 Seconds Of, Simballrec, review, music, indie

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[email protected] | December 2002 | Issue 33
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