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July Music Reviews


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


V/A -
"Archiv 1.1"

"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


"Waiting for Armadillo"

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


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] | July 2004 | Issue 52
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