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October Music Guide

Out Hud
S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D

[Kranky; 11/4/2002]

With a list of artists under its belt that includes Low, Windy & Carl, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and Doldrums, Kranky is a very aptly named label. Though a very trustworthy indie music brand, the artists on the label are usually played at parties where heroin or way too much weed are present.

That said, I must say I was shocked when I popped Out Hud into my CD player. I was expecting to mellow out in my easy chair with a magazine, but two minutes into S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D., I was ready to turn up the volume and dance. Out Hud are a Brooklyn-based 5 piece who dabble in House, dub, and hip hop in very inventive ways. Imagine Couch playing dub-inflected dance music and you will get the idea. They have been playing gigs in New York to much acclaim for close to two years now and with this much-anticipated debut will not disappoint their fans. Using guitar, bass, cello, drums, and a touch of electronics OUT Hud have created a upbeat record that is completely unexpected for the label and stylishly original.

--Robert Lanham

Frank Black
Black Letter Days/Devil's Workshop

[spinART; 2002 (out now)]

Some artists are praised for creating music that is raw or rough whereas other artists are criticized for precisely the same reason. Frank Black is of the latter category. Exile on Main Street, for example, is widely considered to be one of the most important recordings in rock history because of it rawness and its refusal to polish its edges. Early recordings by Guided by Voices and even the music of bands such as The Dirtbombs are also praised for their rough, live sound.

Poor Frank Black; by recording live to two-track, it is obvious he is simply trying to loosen his belt and have a little fun by creating a more ragged sound. His "sloppiness" is intentional and to my ears, refreshing. The simultaneously released Black Letter Days and Devil's Workshop both have a very seventies Stones sound and feel to them and feature consistently strong songwriting. Regardless, most critics have nothing kind to say because the records don't sound like The Pixies. If you are still waiting for a Pixies record my suggestion is to move on, like Frank has, lest you will miss out on some very rewarding solo work. Try out Black Letter Days first. It is the stronger of the two, though Devil's workshop is enjoyable too. If you are still salivating for a more Pixies-esque record, pop in Surfer Rosa and pretend that Bush Senior is still Vice President

-- Robert Lanham

The Streets
Original Pirate Material

(Vice; 2002)

Enough has already been written about The Streets so I will keep it brief. The critics are right and wrong. They are right in asserting that this is a good record. It is. They are wrong in saying it is amazingly groundbreaking. It is just a hip hop record with a British rapper who is not afraid to sound British. Mike Skinner is talented and enjoyable but he is not the second incarnation of Christ.

-- Robert Lanham

Yo La Tengo
Nuclear War

[Matador; 11/19/2002)]

The latest EP by indie demigods Yo La Tengo sounds absolutely nothing like anything they have ever recorded. It consists of 4 versions of Sun Ra's "Nuclear War," a topic that seems very topical these days given the cowboy rhetoric we are hearing from the White House. Despite the theme of the record and the chanting of "Nuclear war, it's a motherfucker/ If they push that button, your ass gotta go" this EP is surprisingly playful. Like the original recording by Sun Ra, the versions of the song on this disk are very free in form and nostalgic of the early Seventies.

The first track features the band chanting and having what sounds like a great time trading off on percussion. On the second track, a chorus of children replaces the band, undoubtedly delighting in the opportunity to say motherfucker repetitiously without getting a scolding. The third track is the real zinger though, featuring guest appearances by Susie Ibarra, Josh Madell, Roy Campbell Jr., Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateenby and some free from jazz that would make Sun Ra proud. The band will be playing 8 Hanukkah shows again this year in Hoboken, so get your tickets now.

-- Robert Lanham

Large Professor
1st Class

[Matador; 11/8/2002)]

I'll spend the same amount of time on this review as Large Professor did attempting to be original. It's derivative as hell. Large Professor wants to sound like Tribe Called Quest or Nas, but lacks the rhyming and songwriting ability. This record would have been dated 10 years ago. Granted, Large Professor has produced great work by many hip hop legends from the early 90's, but he should have stayed behind the scenes.

-- Mandy Sussman

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

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

The Cassettes

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
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


Wild Life Documentaries
(~Scape; 2002 (out now)]

Scott Montheit, a.k.a. Deadbeat, is one of the rising stars of Montreal's burgeoning electronic music scene and he shares his Canadian peers' mastery of slick, digital craftsmanship and fondness for the glitch. However, Deadbeat's clicks and cuts take a backseat to a dark, plodding Jamaican skank bathed in a murky soup-like echo chamber. The tracks on "Wild Life" tend to stew rather than evolve, and hang like smoke from a bubbling cauldron, the rhythms of which rattle rather than bounce, like the summoning forth an old indian spirit or voodoo spell.

It's a mostly foggy affair from track to track, as each groove hovers just above ambient status, but just below dynamic complexity, and the disc as a whole sounds a bit samey. However, track two, "Organ in the Attic Sings the Blues," is a nice, suspenseful interlude and is perhaps the one instance where the glitchy backdrop becomes more noticeably charged amid the sad, haunting melody.

The disc contains odes to Berlin, Israel, and Akufen, the latter of which refers to Montreal's techno super-star of the moment Marc LeClair. On "A Dub For Akufen," Montheit momentarily clears away the rattling debris and hovering dub-fog, allowing samples of LeClair's expansive synth tones to fill in the space. However, the result of this respectful exercise is ultimately just as static as the rest of the tracks on "Wild Life." Deadbeat's sophomore effort makes for excellent wallpaper, and is enjoyable as such, but its lack of dynamics makes it an unessential listen.

-- SK

Chainstore Massacre

[On-U Sound; 2002 (out now)]

Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound label has been releasing eclectic, politically charged, electronic hyper-dub reggae music since the late seventies/early eighties. Over the years, the British On-U roster has included reggae, punk, and funk superstars such as Bim Sherman, Mark Stewart, Lee Perry, Annie Anxiety, Gary Clail, Prince Far I - many of whom have collaborated in Sherwood's studio to create original, reggae fusion sounds.

The On-U sound has always had its eye on the future, successfully recontextualizing Jamaican roots music through Sherwood's skillful, redefined art of dub engineering and emphasis on electronic samples and instrumentation. The label initially brought attention to their modern reggae sounds through their low-priced Pay It All Back samplers, but now On-U has entered the new millennium with a new roster and a new sampler called Chainstore Massacre.

The collection features a few new reggae sounds from old On-U favorites, such as Dub Syndicate, Little Axe, and even Adrian Sherwood himself with a shuffling rhythmic workout called "Xplanation." Little Roy's "Heavy Going" is the most rootsy of the bunch and is a delightful, sunny pop song.

On-U superstar Mark Stewart's compilation contribution is, however, disturbingly reminiscent of KMFDM with its sampled guitar riffs, and Stewart's vocals have morphed from panicked and frantic to simply sinister. Ri Ra's gangsta rap sound on "25 O'Clock" seems out of place on an On-U disc, even though it shares the same love of electronic beats and looped samples. However, it's a refried effort and has no place among the other, more original sounds.

Asian Dub Foundation and New Zealand's Salmonella Dub have the phattest reggae jams on the sampler, the former of which rock mean tablas and distorted guitars to big effect, while the latter's "Push on Thru" is wistful, yet confident and has a bass line as big as any sported by Jah Wobble.

Chainstore Massacre may not be the best introduction to the ON-U sound, but it's certainly an adequate update, and is worth it for the Skip McDonald and Sinead O'Connor collaboration alone. "My Love I Bring" passes the goosebump test, highlighting impressive interplay between O'Connor's typically emotive vocals and McDonald's lyrical guitar. A light reggae groove shares the spotlight with a background of Celtic flutes, providing the best example of On-U's futurist reggae fusion. Recommended.

-- SK

Dynamite Club
The Legend of Tiger Mask
[Big Sleep Records; 2002 (out now)]

If you're feelin' wet and whacky-and even a little pissed off-this is the album for you. The first time I heard this band's demo, I was like "What the heck is this!" I remembered a lot of screaming at the tops of lungs and cacophony. Thankfully, these elements haven't been completely refined for their official debut release (in stores November 12). They professionally incorporate a few but necessary sounds from weird places: an answering machine message, kazoo noises, random chatter amongst bandmates (including vocalist/guitarist Kentaro Saito; avant garde drummer, Mike Pride, of Mr. Bungle side project The MP3; and their fifth bassist, Byrne Kley), mocked sounds from a fat, constipated Asian man-"reely, reely, reely, reely wundafo!" Then you get this mad yelling like you're in a cage with rabid apes during "Eat Shit (Everything They Taught Me in College)" which should make perfect sense with a title like that. These guys are so much fun and the music is so whacked out of its mind, while maintaining a great deal of quality musicianship that is extremely listenable, especially after you've acquired the taste after the fifth listening. Now I can't get enough!

I was fired from this snobby 4-star restaurant job a couple days ago, and I'm telling you, no music did me justice like this album. Instant catharsis, fun, and Kung Fu lessons for this society. And they know how to chill too, with smooth jams like the jazzified "Dead Meat" vocalized by Kentaro, who whispers the lines with a sexy, subtle, Japanese accent. It's Prince from Japan. Then there's "Chillin'" which embodies the entire essence of the emotion that is "I Want to be Chillin'." "Pissed Off Pussies" is pure jazz. Do they make sense? Uh, no. But who cares. I'm ready for some unpredictability on an album. They're from New York City/Brooklyn. A crowd fave at this year's Block Island Music Festival in Rhode Island, according to their press release, and regulars at CBGBs and the Knitting Factory. Check 'em out at dynamiteclub.com.

--Alien Rock!

Richard Buckner
(Overcoat Recordings; 2002)

In a past life Richard Buckner may have been a frontiersman, a lumberjack, or for that matter, a linebacker. In this one he's a soft-spoken singer-songwriter with the build of a well-fed woodsman and the soul of a poet. As my friend Pat puts it as Buckner sneaks on stage in Fall River, Massachusetts, "He looks like a Richard Buckner." But for a man so bearish and burly, he puts forth an image that is entirely unimposing, almost as if he's making an effort to go unnoticed. Try as he might, Buckner leaves a lasting imprint, in person and on record, which sticks around long after he's gone.

We traveled to Fall River, a burned-out mill town in Southeastern, Massachusetts, to catch Buckner as he plays one of a handful of dates in the Northeast in support of his new album, Impasse. The venue is a gutted warehouse run by local artists who utilize the space for gallery openings, studio space, and weekly performances. Somehow this town, a place of great history that never quite recovered from the Great Depression, and this venue, an if-these-walls-could-talk type place, seem a perfect fit for Buckner's brooding melodies and literary-minded musings.

Buckner begins with the title track off his new album, a moody ballad that trails off on a downer: "I wish that I could see you now/Call me if you're crawling, too." Though during Buckner's live show he plays unaccompanied, on Impasse he's joined by his wife Penny Jo on drums. Every other instrument on the album is played by Buckner himself. Impasse finds Buckner making no attempts to hide the skeletons in his closet or mask the unabashed sad-sackery some critics have accused him of. And why should he? Buckner's roughhewn tenor would lose its potency when faced with the prospect of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows -- not to mention love that works out the way it's supposed to.

Not unlike Buckner's previous albums, Impasse courses with sedate melodies and chilling vocals. Buckner's lyrics are as intriguing to the ear as they are to the mind. Presented in the album's liner notes in the form of a lengthy poem and without distinction between songs, Buckner's cryptic narratives rely on interesting word combinations for content as much as delivery. "But, that's the way the blur was used/Cap it off and crawl away/The summits were so little then/Asking to be home-to-stay," Buckner sings on "Loaded @ the Wrong Door."

During his performance in Fall River Buckner cycles through a collection of songs drawn from his earlier albums, Devotion and Doubt and The Hill, plus several from Impasse. Midway through his set he has already reduced several audience members to tears, several more seem to be teetering on the brink. This prolonged soul-splaying has Buckner himself cringing through.

Buckner ends his set with "Fater," a sorrowful a cappela number from Devotion and Doubt. He steps away from the microphone, drops his hands to his sides, and fills the warehouse with his voice: "I saw such light in you/Crushed by the basement view/The night I lost my light in you/Leave…." As Buckner walks off stage and packs up his guitar, nobody moves, nobody even claps, everyone just kind of trembles.

As we drive home that night I break out my copy of Impasse and offer to play Pat a few songs that Buckner didn't get around to tonight. Pat's eyes grow wide and he jumps to block the CD player. "Dude," he says, "Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow. I'm still recovering."

--Daniel Schulman

Tori Amos
Scarlet's Walk

[Epic; 2002]

When we last left Tori Amos, she was translating and re-interpreting prose by the likes of folks from Eminem to Neil Young with her all-covers "Strange Little Girls" album. With her latest release we find Amos, as Scarlet, at it again, traversing through familiar musical landscapes with "Scarlet's Walk." As she travels America, Scarlet (via Amos) create a patchwork story for us to follow, in a sense, providing narrative for the journey along the way. Perhaps America is a different place to wander through days, but somehow Amos presents us with a new body of work that is strangely familiar as it is comforting and disconcerting at the same time.

Really, since her first album, Amos' calling card has seemed to veer in the direction of 'word-as-power' and "Scarlet's Walk is no exception to this rule. Amos continues to let it be known the strength that defines her talents can be divined from the tools of everyday language. Granted some of the lyrics border on the corny, and perhaps Tori has added a few too many breathless sighs on such tracks as "Wampum Prayer" that are reminiscent more of a Broadway drama-queen expressing teenage-angst-riddled pain. But on the whole, Amos weaves a tale of travels that evoke a sense of power. Our heroine and resident explorer, as Scarlet, meanders about on tracks such as "Amber Waves," "Stranger," and "Crazy" that somberly drift from high to low points with the help of Amos and crew. Tori's vocals, harmonizing with her superb keyboarding, even set the toes to tapping though toe-tapping often seems oddly inappropriate throughout much of the album.

Generally, "Scarlet's Walk" is a mood of disconnected isolation that, evidently, serves our journey-woman well though parts may leave some a bit discombobulated. Even strangers at rush hour in Grand Central can meld into nothing more than a surreal wallpaper when juxtaposed to the tune of "A Sorta Fairytale." This track is, sadly, destined to get too much airplay and will become a cliché within the next week or so. But, such is typical Tori-magic.

From the first time I heard her, in concert with The Cavedogs, I had a vague understanding of why I liked her. As a musician, Tori Amos has an impressive ability to change the ordinary into something we never imagined was even a possibility. Despite a few teensy flaws, "Scarlet's Walk" affirms this theory for me once again.

- Derek Elmer


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