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Alexander Laurence's Summer Music Smorgasbord

The Vines
Highly Evolved

This is a new band from Sydney, Australia who have caused much subtle noise lately. Like The Hives before them, they have tried to rock the joint and to such an extent that people are firmly for them or against them. The Vines are fronted by Craig Nicholls who met his moptop bandmates while working at McDonalds, then all still in high school. They soon decided to record Highly Evolved in LA's Sunset Sound Factory where Zeppelin and the Stones have laid down some tracks among other things. While they would like to capture the atmosphere and echoes of hard rock, songs like "Mary Jane" channel the ghost of Brian Wilson, who, yes, is actually, still alive, and lives down the road.

There's been a recent rock revival in LA apparently and The Vines have recruited producer Rob Schnapf (he produced "Odelay"), to capture the sounds of a band who have said "Nirvana and The Beatles are probably our biggest influences." In the middle of recording this album the Vines tried to get Ringo Starr to join the band, when their original drummer went back to Australia. The Vines have a range from hard rock, pop, punk rock to reggae. The title track "Highly Evolved" is a 90-second grind out that is much like a slap in the face. This fades into the stoned out anthem "Autumn Shade" that glides over a melody like the smog over downtown LA. The music is evocative of moods whether lazy or tense.

"Outtathaway!" and "Get Free" are the "in your face Nirvana-like punk" without any apologies or self-loathing. This brilliant music is about raw energy and having fun. Other songs like "Homesick" and "Country Yard" are psychedelic longings for a simpler life back home. These are songs where The Vines can explore their harmonies. They are a much better vocal group than most of the groups out there. "Factory" was their first single in the UK that got them a group of attention. It is a fusion of rock and reggae that is totally original. Some others like "In The Jungle" and "Ain't No Room" show that their version of rock is a little more expansive than some recent indie acts. Highly Evolves ends with the long sonic blues number "1969" that claims that "It's 1969 in my head." It's a well thought out album with all forms expressed. There is both talent and great songwriting here. Nothing too personal and nothing too pretentious. You are almost glad that they don't often wear their hearts on their sleeves. This music is about freedom and the unexpected. Hopefully they will be around for a while.

Full Cycle
Full Cycle Live

The Full Cycle crew with Roni Size, DJ Krust, DJ Die and Suv are known in the Bristol underground for their push-the-envelope productions. Back in the early 1990s it was a local scene that you had to be in Bristol to experience it. After meeting at the 1990 Glastonbury Festival, DJ Krust and Roni Size soon began to produce tracks together, often in collaboration with DJ Die and Suv. The outfit recorded tracks from V Recordings, Philly Blunt, Dope Dragon, and Full Cycle, which was a label run by Roni Size himself. Size's debut album New Forms -- featuring considerable production help from Krust -- hit the music world like a bomb in 1997. Soon every was wondering where all this music was about. Drum and bass was the most original music coming from England in years. The first non-imported movement.

People who were fans of New Forms and solo records by DJ Krust and even Brickbat Era were unaware of the Full Cycle material. When I spoke to DJ Krust last year he said: "Full Cycle was our own record label. So some people knew us from those days. We had an underground cult audience from those days before we did any albums. When the album came out, we attracted a whole other audience." Just like Metalheadz had their own thing we get to sample what the Full Cycle was about. In these drum and bass records we are transported to Bristol 1993. So Full Cycle Live is a document and a recording of a live DJ night. It's about 25 tracks over 70 minutes. It is a great record. We know that Roni Size Reprazent is a great live act. As DJs this group is very complex. They incorporate live singing and rapping. Dynamite MC gets the audience going. It is a wicked record. Fans of Reprazent and the live show will recognize the energy of these early records.

Heathen Chemistry
Epic Records

This is a much anticipated album for people who go to Bang and Popscene on a regular basis. Or if you have picked up a British music magazine lately. It hasn't been a very good year for Britpop. Blur and Suede have disappeared. Pulp put out a record that was never released in the US and then they got dropped from their label. In the meantime people have been filling up their time listening to bands like Elbow and Starsailor. The first Oasis single came out, "The Hindu Times," and it sounded like a return to rock and the sound of the earlier albums. Yet all the initial reviews have been sort of waffling. Has Noel Gallagher lost it. He only wrote a little more than half the album. This time out he has a little help from his friends: Liam wrote three tracks, new members Gem Archer and Andy Bell supply one song each. Also ex-Smiths member and free floating collaborator Johnny Marr shows up on a few tracks here.

The record starts out with three rocking tunes: "The Hindu Times," "Force of Nature." and "Hung in A Bad Place." The first sounds better than anything from the previous two records. Noel sings "Force of Nature" that also seems like a return to the first record Definite Maybe that was filled with songs about aspirations and optimism. Gem Archer's "Hung in A Bad Place" sort of works out of a Stooges two chord assault. All three seem more crafted after repeated listenings. Where people might have expected a rock record, most of the great songs on this album are slower ballads. "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" is one full of feeling and loss. Liam's ballad "Songbird" recalls country tinged songs by Dylan and Lennon. The songs have a little more substance than the previous efforts, and there is no songs as bad as "Little James."

The events of September 11th seemed to have made an impact on Noel. His response is "Little By Little" which is a far better song than Paul McCartney's "Freedom." The album ends with two great songs by Noel, including the Beatlesque "Probably All In The Mind" and the acoustic based "She is Love" which Noel also sings in an uplifting way. Then there's two by Liam, including the spacey and dark "Born On A Different Cloud" that begs to be included on The White Album, and the all out rocker "Better Man." There's also a bonus track after waiting twenty minutes. But overall it's a good album and probably their second best. Being in America, we don't read about the Gallagher brothers and their love hate relationship in the press all the time. We don't have a sense of growing up with them as many people in the UK do. The people who love Oasis will probably embrace this as evidence of their continued life. Most of us in America only feel that way with Dr. Dre and Beck. Oasis still plays packed football stadiums in Europe. While America only shows up in numbers for Ozzy, Rolling Stones, The Who, and U2. Most of these bands did their best work around 25 years ago. Well, maybe if Oasis stays intact, Americans will finally get their head the Oasis story in 15 year's time?

The Walkmen
Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone

When I first moved to Williamsburg in 1995, I used to see the members of Jonathan Fire Eater quite frequently. I didn't know who they were then but they looked like a band. I was going to many reading and cocktail parties to notice. The lead singer often came up to me to buy drugs in the East Village. I used to hang out at some friend's apartments between C and D when there was a fear factor. I think that he thought that I was someone else. I have a familiar face. Actually as a kid I looked a lot like the guy in the middle on the cover of The Walkmen's new CD that comes out about five years after Jonathan Fire Eater's demise. There was talk about the members going back to college. Apparently there was another band called The Recoys. From the ashes of those bands, The Walkmen started about two years ago.

I think that some of them may still live in Williamsburg. It's hard to tell what any of their songs are about. But once you hear the Pixies-like "Wake Up" you know this is a band to pay attention to. Their music is dark and has more of a sense of loose humor. "Revenge Wears No Wristwatch" is a good example of what JFE might had sounded like if they had continued. They have been compared to U2 and New Order and vocally sometimes Hamilton Leithauser is like a drunk Bono or Gavin Friday. But there is hardly any of that annoying Edge guitar and instead there is experimentation and openness to new instruments. There's more to dream about with the Walkmen. Songs like "French Vacation" and "Stop Talking" are as much about the future as it is about the past. They are not recycling.

Actually at times they sound like the next record by The Strokes, if there is ever one. Most of the songs by The Walkmen sound like these precious little dioramas that are cut off by the world. The album is pretty even, and with the exception of "Wake Up" there are few pop songs with apparent hooks. There's a stark and angular quality that they attain at some point and carry on throughout. They are probably the most original band right now in New York. They are doing their own thing. If anyone is interested, fine. I am.

Bryan Ferry
Virgin Records

Bryan Ferry is one of the great rock icons on the 1970s. The recent Roxy Music tour threw a shadow over this recent release. Most records by Bryan Ferry in the past twenty years followed the ideas put down on the last Roxy Music album, Avalon. Most of the his solo records don't veer too far away, until the As Time Goes By, recorded two years ago, when Ferry remodeled the songs of the 1930s. Even during the 1970s, in the greatest Roxy era, Ferry's solo records were often cover tunes of his favorite songs and influences, and on "Let's Stick Together" he even re-makes his own songs. Frantic is more like that last record that was done in 1976, right after Siren. Ferry collects thirteen songs and gets frequent Roxy collaborator Rhett Davies as the producer.

One senses how fresh this material is. Ferry seems rejuvenated after years of studied art. It opens up with Dylan's "It's All Over Baby Blue." His own "Cruel" sounds like the best Roxy Music song in a while. He also does a few blues numbers "Goin' Down" and "Goodnight Irene" which pay homage to Don Nix and Leadbelly and extends them further. He begins to sound on these like Nick Cave, who Ferry was a big influence on himself. Probably the best cover tune is Ferry's rendition of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice." Ferry often reminds us how great he is on tracks such as these. I was like ten years old when I first heard Roxy Music in 1975. "Love Is The Drug" seemed like a mini-revolution at the time.

But there is a load of original material here too. "Goddess of Love" is a song about Marilyn Monroe (a reference to Britpop), and is much like songs from his Bête Noire. Probably better tunes like "Nobody Love Me" as well as "Fool For Love" are more memorable because of the appearance of guitarist Chris Spedding and Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson. "Hiroshima" brings Ferry together with Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. Radiohead has always been fascinated with the specter of Ferry, as they covered many of his songs in the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack. This is history.

Also the fact that Dave Stewart co-wrote many of the songs is a major factor after all. Songs like "San Simeon" are about the dark side of glamour. It is one of the more eerie songs on the album and sounds like the soundtrack to a thriller. "One Way Love" reminds me of the Flesh & Blood album and is a more upbeat song than most. More history being made at the end. The last song "I Thought" brings Ferry with Brian Eno for the first time in almost thirty years. Remember, Eno was kicked out of Roxy Music by Ferry after the second album. A song that is co-written by Ferry and Eno and even has them singing the chorus together seems like many years of loss and "what if" have been answered in a very gentle way. The song goes over with much knowingness and simplicity. A union made thirty years ago, responsible for over 30 albums and every musician that they influenced, has come round full circle.

The Last Broadcast
Capitol Records

This is the second record by the much loved Doves. They are the greatest thing to come out of Manchester. Their first record Lost Souls was brilliant but often uneven. This time they went into the studio with the idea "Every song's got to be a killer." They were tired of being labelled as a dark and depressive band. They wanted to do music that was positive and upbeat, since now being miserable such a cop out. There's a new enthusiasm and confidence on the new record. The Last Broadcast is mostly self-produced. After the strange "Intro" the album moves into "Words" and that's where The Big Music starts. Even though it uses a U2 guitar riff, it goes on to something else. This is wake up and face the day music. This record makes you think about you life and hardly any music does that anymore.

Songs like "There Goes The Fear" and "M62 song" show their more folk side with a knowledge of prog rock. The first song sounds like coming off drugs and trying to enjoy life with them. Doves are great at creating distinct sounds that come to mean something over time and repeated listens. Mostly recorded in Manchester and Bath, "M62 Song" was recorded under a flyover and sounds like some of the weird songs Vincent Gallo did for Warp Records. Just as things get spaced out and mellow, Doves get loud and big again on "N.Y." that sounds like driving in the country music. Doves define their true sound here early on. It is a real mix of modern and the past, and there's no looking back now. The American release also comes with a bonus disc of four songs that includes a funny take on a Warren Zevon song.

The Second part of the album starts for me with "Satellites" that is a heartfelt ballad that is like a round. "Friday's Dust" is an even more impressive ballad. This is widescreen music for people who can look past the obvious. "Pounding" reinforces one of the main themes of the album: "Seize the time because it won't last forever...." This is done with a lot of building power. The title track is lighthearted ditty that becomes psychedelic at times. "The Sulphur Man" begins as a sort of religious song that could be played in a church. It is about this mysterious figure than seems as hard to put your finger on as this album is. This record is a great journey. It is a little deeper than something like Oasis. A song like the final track "Caught By The River" is like a little story about life itself. You are reminded that a lot has happened on this CD. Doves are finally a rock band that balances emotion and intelligence in a way that most of Britpop bands never could.

In Our Gun
Virgin Records

Every review I read about Gomez goes like this: "Hey, they won the Mercury Prize...." I also know that John Lee Hooker confessed that he liked the music of Bring It On. But who cares in the end? That is like saying I had sex with a Playboy Bunny in 1985. What have you done for me lately? I am lonely! Plus the fact that Gomez was just this obscure band to us in America that sounded as if they were from New Mexico but were not. I mean these guys wrote "Tijuana Lady" right? I saw them play with the glam-outfit Placebo once in a dim hotel in Times Square and Gomez appeared like roadies in comparison. There was nothing exciting about them. They looked like unhappy students who were embarrassed by being on stage. From the American perspective we were wondering why those critics ever liked Gomez and Gay Dad.

The same people in Britain who built Gomez up in 1998, said they were crap by the time of their second album, Liquid Skin. It seemed as whatever the boys did wasn't going to be accepted as well. Gomez then put out a double CD of b-sides that wasn't bad at all. After four years in the thick of things Gomez seemed like a band that will not quit. With their three lead singers and progressive rock style and a tendency for studio trickery, it was difficult to put a name on this monster. You could just sit back and enjoy: if you don't like one song, you're bound to like something coming up.

So we come to In Our Gun with little expectations. "Shot Shot" goes from an acoustic folk guitar to odd English funk. Everything is in the right place, for real. Songs like "Ruff Stuff" and "Detroit Swing 66," are about coming off drugs and crashing. Looking desperate and looking for help. Gomez has a sense of creating narratives and creating personal emotions. The song "Rex Kramer" is apparently a song about a character in the movie "Airplane." This first part of the album introduces their eerie arrangements and superb musicianship. Gomez are as weird, energetic, and funky as ever.

Then in the ballad "In Our Gun" things slow down in a very melodic and political moment. Once things get quiet even this song breaks out in a bass guitar riff that gets the feet moving. "The Sound of Sounds" is probably the best track on the album that shows how nice Gomez can be to the ear. It shows one example how they are getting better as songwriters. This album is not without invention. It never lets up at 50 minutes long which seems like a perfect length for a CD nowadays. Gomez possesses much freedom and optimism. They may not be the most exciting band to look at. No one is going to be blinded by the frontman. We don't have to see the video or see the dance moves to get Gomez. We just have to let them operate on their own level and be in anticipation of a punch. In Our Gun may be the one that they are remembered for.

The Realistics
Real People Are Overrated
Tiswas Records

The Realistics are a new band from New York City. I think that I read about these guys in Vice Magazine. I remember Tiswas as some NYC club that Penelope Tuesday used to hang out a lot. So I was expecting some mod thing. It's funny that the Britpop thing of 1995 is so popular now with people under 25. What were they listening to seven years ago? Why does bands like Oasis get slagged in the press in America all the time, while imitators are treated like God's gift? Well, after a few songs in, it's obvious that The Realistics can rock and reggae and play a synth. Songs like "Apartment Two" also point to their punk influences. But they don't really go all the way in the punk direction, so they end up sounding more like The Knack. "Quickee Gone B. B." sounds like a song off the first Oasis record, just as "Should've Known" sounds like something off Blur's "Modern Life Is Rubbish."

Usually I get tired of comparing one band to another, but The Realistics make me force the issue when in their booklet it says "Why Make A Clone?" This is a good question. The Realistics seem like they decided that in order to make great music one must sound like great music of the past, and jeopardize sounding like a number of other bands. But you start wondering after a while if Paul Weller or Doug Fieger should start looking to collect royalties. T. S. Eliot said that "Amateurs borrow, professionals steal." For sure The Realistics are not ground zero, but you can pretend that they are, and they might be a great band nonetheless. There are bands with nothing new to say, and at least here in "Digital Brigade" there is a luddite argument being made. Something that does bother me is that I am not sure if The Realistics just want to be a rocking band or an ironic band. I am convinced that they probably have a good record collection. I should look them up sometime. Even though it may not seem like it, I do like The Realistics, and I have listened to this CD about ten times already. I am just worried if I put this CD in my collection will it disappear? I am sure people at Tiswas or Bang will like these guys. Do I need to ride a scooter to like this? I know that they have played a lot in NYC, but does this act go anywhere else? Laszlo Le Fur is knocking on the door. I hope that they don't become another new new wave band.

Selby Tigers
The Curse of The Selby Tigers
Hopeless Records

I spent much time in Hollywood this year. I stayed in hotels on Sunset Boulevard and some enchanting houses in the hills. I had all my mail forwarded to me from New York. I got a big stack of CDs. It was much crap that I traded in to get the new Eminem CD. But somehow I got this one by The Selby Tigers, which turned out to be the best one out of the bunch. I don't really like punk rock music anymore. I did at some point in 1977 I think, but that was a long time ago. I heard the re-releases of The Feederz and was greatly amused. Yet The Selby Tigers make me want to like them. Their energy and their dual singers both male and female seemed more exciting in a way. I guess that they are from St. Paul, Minnesota. Like Gomez, The Selby Tigers have three singers, but they seem a little more evolved than The Toilet Boys or The Cramps. They are supposed to be a great live band and that is totally believable to me. With titles like "Cheerleading is Big Business" you can tell that they have a sense of humor. I like Wire and Selby Tigers seem like them as much as anyone. The Selby Tigers do have a distinct sound. Punk from the Midwest seems a little more authentic than the California variety. James Joyce recommended silence, exile, and cunning. This band may be more about loud rock rules, home cooked fists in the face, and fun. Songs like "Punch Me In The Face (with your lips)" and "Tell It To The Judge" are more evidence of their sense of humor that doesn't seem to much like an in-joke. Also let me say those band members Arzu D2 and Dave Gardner appear to be very dramatic. I can't wait to check them out live. Their live show must be amazing. Please come to Williamsburg now.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives
Behind The Music
Telegram Records

I heard about these guys when they blew through town touring with Sahara Hotnights. It was more to throw on the CD changer from Sweden along with The Hives and The International Noise Conspiracy. They are from Gothenberg and are headed by Ebbot Lundberg who looks like Rasputin. When Ebbot was in Union Carbide Productions (Swedes are not good at short titles) he received the applause of Steve Albini and Kurt Cobain. Both bands have been heavily schooled by 1960s garage rock and 1970s punk. But what comes out is the most original music. Behind The Music is their third album, but the record company decided to release all three at the same time. Well, that's fine. Keep it coming if it rocks this hard.

When you throw this down, the song "Sister Surround" shows that they can rock as hard as any outfit now in existence. Though The Soundtrack hates the prog-rock label, songs like "In Someone Elses Mind" and "Broken Imaginary Time" sort of point us in that direction. Obsessions about time and childhood have always been an aspect of British psychedelia. Even the cover art of death masks of each member of the band reminds us that this is a moment in time to be savored. Maybe we should start to rethink our conceptions of time? The Soundtrack doesn't really sound like a retro band at all. The album seems to stop and then begin again with the song "21st Century Rip Off" with deals with the theme of "everyone cheating each other" that comes off as fresh and capricious.

This band does seem to come from nowhere. Songs like "Tonight" and "Ten Years Ahead" even touch upon the singer/songwriter form. "Keep The Line Movin" is a song about freedom and time and fits well with the other songs. They seem well organized with songwriting, guitars, keyboards, and production. This record doesn't seem to let up. Ten songs in you have "Independent Luxury" that seems like a fist raising anthem. There is a balance between acoustic guitar songs and rock songs throughout. The album ends with two ballads "The Flood" and "Into The Next Sun" that seem optimistic and spread a word of hope. The Soundtrack of Our Lives Behind The Music is one of the great moments in new music this year.


--Alexander Laurence

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