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March Music Reviews and Picks

Califone
Quicksand/Cradlesnakes

(Thrill Jockey)
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Born from the ashes of Red Red Meat, Califone sire a type of boozy Americana that is equal parts delta blues and ramshackle country, with the requisite amount of sonic discord to keep you guessing. On Quicksand/Cradlesnakes, the band's fourth full-length, captivating melodies devolve into inventive dissonance, and at the point of no return, arise from the expanse to resume their beautiful course - songs dangerously close to coming undone, held together by creative junkyard percussion and Tim Rutili's steady, gravel-throated tenor. Here, backwater arrangements mingle with strains of electronica and droning tape loops; two eras collide - the Great Depression meets the Information Age - in a way that remains surprisingly organic throughout.

-- Daniel Schulman

The Minus 5
Down With Wilco

(Yep Roc)
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After a record year of output from the Wilco camp (and variations thereof) the band's fervent supporters must be questioning whether they can sustain the financial burden of their devotion. Last spring the band's long-awaited follow-up to '99s Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, arrived in tandem with Jeff Tweedy's score to Ethan Hawke's directorial debut, "Chelsea Walls." That summer Sam Jones' documentary "I'm Trying to Break Your Heart" premiered chronicling the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - and the unmaking of Wilco's record deal with Reprise. And, arriving weeks apart this February, Tweedy's collaboration with Jim O'Rourke, Loose Fur, and Down With Wilco, the band's drolly titled merger with Scott McCaughey's pop collective, the Minus 5, which also features R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies.

Started as a side-project of McCaughey's principal pop outfit, the Young Fresh Fellows, the Minus 5 was long a testing ground for his pop experimentations. The songs were written and arranged by McCaughey then doled out to a revolving line-up of musicians to expound upon. He took a different approach on Down With Wilco, co-writing songs with Tweedy, then arranging and recording the songs as a band. The result: A collection of good-natured ooh-aah pop songs -their sound not unlike what you'd expect had Pro Tools technology been available to Brian Wilson during the Pet Sounds sessions.

Vocally Tweedy takes a back seat to McCaughey - he sings on two of the alum's 13 tracks, "The Town That Lost It's Groove Supply" and "The Family Gardner" - but musically his mark is unmistakable. Down With Wilco carries more than a subtle imprint of the prodigious high brow pop that Tweedy and co. mastered on Summerteeth.

Not quite a Wilco album and certainly a digression from McCaughey's previous pop concoctions with the Minus 5, Down With Wilco is a rare collaboration, unique if only because it succeeded in pulling together the distinct styles of a diverse group of musicians to form a magnificent, single-minded album (and, if we're lucky, a new supergroup that will continue to meld-minds in the future).

No, Down With Wilco is not the ill-conceived clinker that will fell the Wilco juggernaut as the title mockingly suggests. Down With Wilco. Oh, sweet irony. We get it.

- Daniel Schulman

Soulo
Man, The Manipulator
(Plug Research)
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On the follow-up to their self-titled debut on Plug Research, Soulo, the Los Angeles duo of Shawn King and Nate Flannigan, continue to transform acoustic and digital properties in ways sure to cure the ailment's of disaffected music fans everywhere. Soulo seamlessly meld the popular sounds and styles of today and yesterday to create music that is at once au courant and oddly familiar. Post-rock perhaps, but Soulo's inward groovyness embraces all things groovy - be it jazz, folk-rock, glitchy dub, or a Mike Post theme.

The downside to "Man, The Manipulator" is that its inclusiveness tends to breed a few strange tangents and a misleading sense of a lack of cohesion. However, this new Soulo full-length satisfies. It has genuine warmth and soul, despite much of its digital framework, wears its sense of humor on its sleeve, and has a sort of bittersweet, personal touch about it.

Tracks like the deep, dreamy dub of "Games Mother Never Taught You," the shoegazey "Emotions, Can You Trust Them?," and the orchestral pop of "Born Female" effectively balance variations on various themes while maintaining a strong sense of melody and hypnotic groovyness throughout. The kicker is "Your Erroneous Zones," a cheeky, but infectious track that manages to frame guitar-driven glitch pop within the glow of a seventies sitcom. Soulo's musical alchemy succeeds at transforming yesterday into today.

--SK

Lightning Bolt
Wonderful Rainbow
(Load)
buy this record

Hold on to your earplugs, Lightning Bolt, the dynamic bass and drums duo from Providence, RI, are back with another feedback-laden full-length. "Wonderful Rainbow," a cornucopia of distorted bass, galloping rhythms, and shrill screeches, will surely satisfy those who have waited in anticipation for the follow-up to the duo's sensational sophomore effort, "Ride the Skies".

Lightning Bolt's third symphony is as gratifying a reward as could be expected following the group's elevated status as one of the most essential bands in recent history. Recent converts to the Lightning Bolt experience - many having been transformed from regular concertgoer into rabid, fanatical fan at one of their many live shows - will be amazed to find the volume and sheer intensity of their explosive, anthemic outbursts to be exceptionally well represented in the full spectrum of "Rainbow"'s digital format.

Beginning with "Hello Morning," Lightning Bolt start their engines, generating resonating tension and lingering suspension in preparation for the plowing that is "Assassins". The duo's unconventional sound revolves around driving, syncopated rhythms and fingered string sequences. Their technical skills, combined with excessive repetition and extreme tempos, create a devastating, blurred wall of distorted sound.

"Two Towers," "Dracula Mountain," "On Fire" - the new Lightning Bolt album is one hit after the other and contains very few noise-for-noise-sake interludes. Put on that John Deere hat and prepare to plow through th'Bolt's best record yet.

--SK

Calexico
Feast of Wire

(Quarterstick/Touch & Go)
Buy the record



Feast of Wire
is Calexico's most exciting record to date. Seamlessly blending alt country, jazz, flamenco, mariachi, and cowboy music,
the band has developed a sound that is completely their own. This is the rare record where all the songs work together to produce a stronger whole. This one will definitely be on some top ten lists this year.



--Robert Lanham

Metro Area
Metro Area

(Environ)

Listen
| Buy


Sick of stale electronic music? Check out Metro Area's release on Environ Records. This Brooklyn duo of Morgan Geist (responsible for the amazing House of Jealous Lovers remix) and Darshan Jesrani is glitchy disco that is way too catchy to be considered cheese. Essential.


-Robert Lanham

Walking in Jerusalem
Random_Inc

(Mille Plateaux; 2002)

Buy this Record


OK, so the name Random_Inc is kinda pretentious, but this electronic musician's Walking in Jerusalem sounds like a soundtrack to a fresh new dawn for glitch. Combining field recordings taken from the streets of Jerusalem with glitch, dub, fuzz, and feedback the record is gimmicky, yet lovely. Fans of Fennesz and dub will be delighted.


-Robert Lanham

Pram
Dark Island

(Merge)
Buy this Record

A very worthy follow-up to The Museum of Imaginary Animals, Pram's latest release Dark Island is an essential record for indie fans who have worn out the grooves of their Stereolab and Broadcast records. A dreamlike trance is always induced by Pram's eclectic (though never pretentious) mood pop and their songwriting continues to mature. Lovely!


-Robert Lanham


Shed Shot/Luxury Ture
The Luxury Shed

(Smoothma)

The Luxury Shed contains the two debut records by Shed Shot and Luxury Ture. Never heard of them? We hadn't either until the CD arrived in the mail. They are on the Smoothma label that comes out of St. Louis. We've never heard of the label either. Hopefully, if there is a god in heaven this beautiful collection will find an audience. This is what the Elephant 6 collective should sound like. Poppy, melodic, fresh and elegantly produced. Visit them on the web and support a record that deserves to be heard.

-Robert Lanham


Cat Power
You Are Free

(Matador)

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Damn you, Cat Power, for making us wait so long for this record. You know we are in love with you. The pain has been unbearable. We see you are suffering too. Your new record is as melancholy and beautiful as ever. Worth the wait. We forgive you. And we know people dissed you for The Covers Record, for doing only covers, but we LOVE that record too.

--Robert Lanham

Giddy Motors
Make it Pop

(Fat Cat)

Buy this record

A noisy as hell debut that will delight fans of Gang of Four and inventive post punk. Produced by Steve Albini, Giddy Motors' Make it Pop is the strongest British release since The Streets. If you have been mourning the loss of The Liars, this record will make you very happy. It sounds like The Liars meet Captain Beefheart. Great shit and my favorite release so far of 2003.


--Robert Lanham

Paul Weller
Illumination
Yep Rock Records
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The Modfather, Paul Weller, is one of the great songwriters of our time. He's sort of an outsider here because they never release any of his records in the USA. His last few records were top tens in the UK and elsewhere. Even though he has released over 26 albums since 1977, Weller is only 45 years old. Illumination is one of his best. Whether it's the hard rocking "A Bullet For Everyone" or moody "Leafy Mysteries" there is excitement lurking around every corner. Members of Oasis, Ocene Colour Scene, Stereophonics, and Stone Roses help out with the musical duties, and make it a very British album. This is a great record, even for people who have never heard of Weller.

--Alexander Laurence


Pitchfork
Eucalyptus
(Swami)
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I am happily writing this review on the eve of my 28th birthday and I can't help but think that I'm in the best fighting shape of my life. My fists are swollen and firm. My feet are quick, my body is thick with readiness. Inside my head, a soundtrack blares; caustic screams and dissonant guitars duel on a dirty stretch of punk rock crossroad. It's Pitchfork's Eucalyptus that I'm hearing, some 10 years after the introduction of San Diego onto the map of my musical America. John Reis and Rick Froberg (Hot Snakes, ex-Drive Like Jehu) unexpectedly birthed a sound uniquely theirs; it's not the polite, conversational guitar that emphasizes so much of indie rock's rich past, but rather a screaming, scene-starting five-string argument. Offensive yet richly compelling, listening to Froberg's inciting lyrics and hellfire delivery for the first time in some years rekindles the mental imagery of a handful of intelligent, angry bands like Void, Swiz and SNFU. Although Eucalyptus was for years considered a rare recording in limited release, the new reissue from Froberg's Swami imprint, assures that you won't have to fight to get your paws on a copy. Just keep your dirty hands off of mine.

--Steve Marchese


Aim
Stars on 33

(FatCity Recordings)


Familiarity is an important, albeit underrated necessity when compiling a DJ mix. Not only must a producer or DJ posses a comprehensive knowledge of his records, but it's essential that he familiarize himself with his audience. A truly great mix may even demand a little bit of prescience; predict what the audience wants to hear and success is often as close as the grooves on a piece of wax. Aim's Andy Turner, known mostly for his stellar production work for Grand Central records, specializes in compositional, cinematic hip-hop, or the type of music that situates itself perfectly within the context of the familiar. His new mix, Stars on 33, is modestly beat-matched and less reliant on the turntable wizardry of your typical hip-hop comp, instead focusing more confidently on track selection and style. Opening with "It's a Sin to Go Away," a brilliantly mined psych-rock contribution from Peruvian rock band We All Together, Stars on 33, bobs and weaves resolutely from Turners influences to the current staples of his DJ set. He drops solid nuggets from downtempo contemporaries like Fingathing, Tosca, Jon Kennedy and King Biscuit Time; superb remixes by RJD2 and Deadbeats (of Cannibal Ox's "The F Word" and Aim's own "Cold Water Music" respectively); and closes things out with a soul-jazz classic from Tom Scott. A resounding success, Stars on 33 is not only an example of Aim's familiarity with his audience; it is a small glimpse into his own motivations as a DJ and music lover.

--Steve Marchese

Alaska!
Emotions
(B-girl Records)

Buy this Record


Given that Russell Pollard of Sebadoh and Folk Implosion is a member of the new band Alaska!, it's amazing
how under the radar this record is. Especially since Emotions is a gorgeous indie-pop record that immediately grabs its listeners with its hooks. A great debut that fans of Son Volt and Pavement will adore. People will soon be talking about Alaska! Purty and a very nice surprise.


--Robert Lanham


Juggaknots
Re: release
(CLear Blue Skies)
(Third Earth Music)
buy this record

The new album from the Juggaknots isn't actually a new album at all. It's more like a secret certain folks have been waiting to tell for years on end. Imagine coming across something truly wonderful and not quite knowing how to express what you've found? The rediscovery of the underground classic is somewhat analogous to that child in Qumran, Palestine who looked in his backyard and just happened to find the Dead Sea Scrolls… especially for those who'd been singing the albums praises since its initial pressing back in 1995.

The story of re: release is basically the story of the music industry in general. Signed to East West Records initially (now Elektra-thanks to Manhunt.com for the info), Juggaknots were among hip-hop royalty. They claimed groups like Brand Nubian, KMD, Das EFX and Pete Rock & C.L Smooth as labelmates, and they managed to get out the critically acclaimed Clear Blue Skies EP. It became a minor sensation, but on its way to becoming a major one, disagreements between the Juggaknots and the label caused the two to split ways after some time. The album was shelved then later released, vinyl-only, on the now defunct Fondle Em records. And even though the Juggaknots have always been on the scene, music-wise, someone must've realized the injustice of letting the album fall by the wayside.

So, in a story far less representative of the music industry, a label takes a chance on putting out the album for those, like myself, who may have missed it the first time around. Just out of love… awww. Third Earth Music, oh they of Jean Grae and Masterminds, don't make it a habit to make mistakes. They're part of what's at the forefront of the underground hip-hop movement.

Re: release comes off as a bit of a trip down memory lane; at least that's how it struck me. Everyone talks about '77 style punk music, but who talks about what a fine vintage 1995 was for hip-hop? Along with '89 (Boogie Down Productions, NWA, Beastie Boys) and '92 (Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, and… Wu Tang Clan), '95 was a year with quite a few legendary performances. Re: release, which should be taken as a reworking of Clear Blue Skies from the original master tapes, features several tracks that would've had my high school's heads swaying from side to side. It just seems to belong in that time, kind of the way that Three Dog Night's "Blinded By The Light" would never make it onto rock radio nowadays considering its length and composition. In '95, the bounce-inspired bleeps and bloops so ubiquitous in today's hip-hop would've been completely out of place, as would much of the "player" talk… it had only begun back then, and "gangstas" were still doing videos in front of projects, not on yachts with models (I'm just saying…). Then consider if you heard the more jazz-heavy production at work on this album on hip-hop radio; there's even a different style of thought at work in the lyrics. The nature of "Sex Type Thang" seems more Native Tongue than any current independent releases, and more playful than the more MTV heavy efforts. If anything it's interesting for comparison to see how the form has changed.

Listening to Re: release, to call this or the album it was based on "legendary" may be something of a stretch. It may not be as timeless as "Mecca and the Soul Brother", for example. Still, it would be a shame if people didn't get to hear where the Juggaknots got their start. I'd more consider it a foundation for them to build off of, rather than a definitive word. It's certainly a fun album, and it also has the ability to make you think at certain points. And as a piece of hip-hop history, it reminds us that nothing this good can stay under wraps forever.

--Maurice Downes



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