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Pole - R (~Scape)
raum 1

Pole "R" is the first record by Pole (AKA Stefan Betke) on his own ~Scape label and it frankly is a disappointment. The album focuses on reworkings and remixes of two of his tracks from 1988 entitled "Raum 1" and "Raum 2." The wonderful crackle and pop dub that is Pole's signature is always welcome in my book, but the remixes by ~Scape label artists Burnt Friedman and Kit Clayton ultimately make this record a less than enjoyable experience.

Two all new tracks by Pole are included and they are noticeably more jazzy than his work on "3". Simply entitled "Raum 3" and "Raum 4," they will without doubt please all fans of Pole's music.

Now on to the bad... Burnt Friedman who puts out 2 remixes on "R" is seemingly without direction. Perhaps knowing that he could never outshine his source material, Friedman opts to be "arty" in his arrangements and ultimately creates a couple of very disjointed remixes. His beats are sloppy and sound like they are held together by scotch tape.

Kit Clayton fares somewhat better on his two remixes but in the end the tracks sound like glitch thrown on top of a recording of someone tap-dancing. Sound annoying? It is.

If you treat the record as an EP and disregard the non-Pole tracks you will be satisfied. If you value your dollars too much to buy a record that is only half-good, I'd have to recommend passing on this one. The original recording of "Raum 2" (Pole at his dubby best) is included and if you don't already have a recording of this track, then perhaps this record would be a good buy after all. I look forward to a formal release of all new work from Betke who is still the most original electronic musician to come along in years.



Stereolab - Sound-Dust (Elektra)
Sound-DustThe days when Stereolab produced wonderfully minimal and creative records like Mars Audio Quintet and Emperor Tomato Ketchup are gone. I keep hoping that they will return to their roots as a Neu!-inspired pop band, but they have given in to the temptation and laziness of slick production work. I would love to hear the band stripped of horns and strings, forced to rely upon the merit of their song-writing. Their last two records haven't made any new fans for them and finally with Sound-Dust there is some indication that the band has listened to the moans of their devoted fans and focused more on writing good songs. Sound-Dust is still undeniably overproduced, but at least the band sounds a bit more energized on this outing than they did on the formulaic "Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night."

The disk starts out with an electronic introduction that seems to be an ode to their pre-Elektra sound. Blending its way into the second track "Space Moth," the first four minutes of the disk are filled with minor key dissonance and campy harpsichords that sound like a creepy soundtrack to a kitschy horror movie. Given this and the haunted castle artwork on the cover, I was left hoping for a retro-sounding soundtrack theme, but halfway into "Space Moth," the tone of the record changes and enters into more familiar Stereolab territory.

If you have already heard the single "Captain Easychord," with its annoying steel guitar chorus, then don't fear because the record recovers from this misstep. I recommend starting at track four "Baby LuLu" and listening straight through. This is one of those records that seems to get into stride after the less subtle tracks are out of the way. All in all, Sound-Dust may not be a masterpiece but fans of the band will be relieved to hear some nicely written new tunes by the band.



Quartermass Versus Rather Interesting - V/A (Quartermass)
being enveloped by Pentatonic Surprise
QuartermassThis new release by the Quatermass label does something interesting, in fact rather interesting. They have combined the talents of several well-known artists with the work of lesser-known artists on the Rather Interesting label to generate an eclectic blend of remixes and original material. Artists Pram, Pole, Plaid, and Fibla among others are clearly having a good time remixing the strong work by artists including the Naturalist and the disk is made cohesive with its distinctive Latin flavor.

More of a reimagining than a remix CD (sound like the new Planet of the Apes?) the record boasts nine eclectic and melodic songs and just one dud ("Fonosandwich") which is an unusual level of consistency for a compilation disk. Highlights include the bird-chirping opener by Pram whose overall breeziness is wonderfully interrupted by moments of Autechre-sounding electronics. "Being Enveloped" by Pentatonic Surprise and later reworked to dubby splendor by Pole are additional highlights.

Quartermass Versus Rather Interesting
may be a light side-project for most involved, but it is also a record that is very easy to like.




The Funky Precedent Volume 2 (Matador)
 

Though not as fresh as Volume 1, which showcased the talent of Los Angeles hip-hop acts such as Dilated Peoples and Jurassic 5, The Funky Precedent Volume 2 is a refreshingly original compilation. This time around Matador and No Mayo Records have assembled up-and-coming acts from the Bay area including Planet Asia, Rasco, Zion I, Foreign Legion, Live Human, Encore, Protest, Fanatik, DJ Vinroc, DJ Quest and Pep Love.

The disk is a breath of fresh air considering the embarrassing lack of inspiration in hip-hop music these days and the turntablism of Live Human on the track "Lagoona's Bliss" is worth the price of the record. Most of the best tracks are on the first half of the disk, but hopefully most will be more forgiving of the duds (Stymie and the Pimp Jones Love Orchestra come immediately to mind) given the fact that proceeds will benefit music education in various California schools. If you are too jaded to care, then just enjoy the music.



The Clean - The Getaway (Merge)
Stars

The CleanI thought this record had an uncanny Yo La Tengo feel to it the first time I listened to it and wasn't too surprised to find that Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley of Yo La fame actually play on a couple of tracks. The Clean is a band from New Zealand that has been around since the early Eighties, though I frankly had never heard them until this release.

The Getaway is the band's first release since 1996 and my only frustration is that I now must go check out what I've been missing. Brothers David and Hamish Kilgour share the vocals with Robert Scott and the blend of voices from track to track keep the record from ever becoming monotonous. If you are a fan of great pop-sounding Indie with plenty of subtle guitar feedback, then be sure to pick up this very strong recording. The Clean will be playing The Bowery Ballroom, Saturday Sept. 15, at 11:00 pm as part of the CMJ festival.



Roy Campbell Quartet - It's Crunch Time (Thirsty Ear)
Bemsha Swing

Roy Campbell QuartetThirsty Ear has been releasing some amazing jazz on their new Blue Series and It's Crunch Time by The Roy Campbell Quartet is a nice addition to this group of recordings. If you missed the beautifully melancholy New Orbits by pianist Matthew Shipp earlier this year, do yourself a favor and pick it up immediately. Matthew Shipp is the director of the Blue Series which is ever-expanding the face of contemporary jazz.

It's Crunch Time features Mr. Campbell on trumpet, Khan Jamal on vibes, Wilber Morris on bass, and Guillermo E. Brown on drums. The music is at once melodic and avant gard and Jamal's work on the vibes will blow you away.

The craftsmanship of the band is marvelously cloaked by a lazy and muted emphasis on melody. Campell repeatedly introduces his motifs and themes in such understated ways that his horn playing almost seems like a mumble. It is a trick that could seem sloppy in the hands of a less accomplished player, but Campell is clearly a master and is able to create beauty in understated ways. The only misstep is the quartet's version of "The Star Spangled Banner," but this is thankfully the last number on the record and thus easy to avoid.

We look forward to more Thirsty Ear recordings in the future as this label helps to promote jazz that is as rooted in tradition as it is experimental.


V/A - This is Next Year (Arena Rock)
 

We missed the release party for this record a few weeks ago at North Sixth, but hear it was great. This Is Next Year is a wonderful Brooklyn-based compilation featuring 42 artists living and/or playing in Brooklyn. This extensive double CD is a huge volume of music and is a great introduction to what is going on in Williamsburg and Brooklyn in general.

Ever wonder what Reverend Vince, Stereobate, or any of those other bands you always see advertised locally sound like? Pick up this record as a resource because the bands worth seeing are probably included.

The work on this disk is fairly consistent (oddly some of the biggest duds come from more established bands Ida and the always terrible They Might Be Giants) but this is a uniquely strong and cohesive compilation overall. Ranging from Emo, to indie, to alt country (lots of it), to pure and simple pop, this eclectic blend of music is surprisingly less disjointed than most compilations.

Highlights include The Boggs, Laura Cantrell, Mendoza Line, Grand Mal, Mink Lungs, Les Savvy Fav, Bee and Flower, and Cub Country but most songs are in the pleasant to the very pleasant to the damn that's pretty good range. As is to be expected on any compilation, there is some garbage to be found here as well. Is there a way to scratch my disk so it skips over the cheesy "It's All Made Up" by the Scouts?

Regardless, this is a wonderful introduction to the Brooklyn music scene and for the price of a single CD, you can't go wrong. All proceeds go to B.A.R.C. (Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition).



HiM - New Features (Bubblecore)
Out Here

Originally the pet project of drummer Doug Scharin (Rex, June of '44), Him has become one the best kept secrets of post-rock and avante jazz. Seamlessly blending jazz, dub, and African Rhythm, Him has created a sound that is fully their own. On their latest record New Features, the band captures the feeling of a live concert better than any recording in recent memory.

Equally influenced by Miles Davis, Tortoise, and early pioneers of Dub, Him is melodic, unique, and um..... you can even shake your ass to the funky rhythms. It's like hearing Miles Davis remastered by Lee Scratch Perry! Their new record is not to be missed.


Summer Hymns - A Celebratory Arm Gesture (Misra)
Something's Going On

This record wins my vote for best cover art so far this year. The lion roaming in a field with Manhattan as a backdrop really captures the dichotomous feeling of the record. It is at once a collection of simple pop songs and a complex production of melodic psychedelia. Listening to A Celebratory Arm Gesture by Summer Hymns is like listening to The Apples in Stereo on acid, with a touch of Neil Young thrown in to boot.

This Athens-based band has released a lovely sophomore record filled with psychedelia reminiscent of Sergeant Pepper's, and consistently strong songwriting delivered by a very Flaming Lips-sounding Zachary Gresham. But enough about who they sound like, already.

A Celebratory Arm Gesture has a very warm (summery?) feeling and the track "Six Something's Going On" is the strongest pop song I've heard all year. This record is worth the money for this track alone. Textured with bouncy organs and the lovely saxophone playing of Adrian Finch, Summer Hymns will please all fans of melodic and inventive indie music.

(Another plus... this record is on the wonderful, Brooklyn-based label Misra.)



Jetone - Ultramarin (Force Inc.)
 

Jetone is the Montreal-based techno master known as Tim Hecker. He has recorded with many labels in the past including FatCat and Pitchcadet, but on his recent release on the magnificent Force Inc record label, Jetone has truly created something unique.

Fusing his Cologne school techno influences with his own often broken tempo beats, Tim Hecker has crafted one of the more unusual techno records I have heard in a while. And originality is definitely something the genre needs of late. Anybody with a laptop can seemingly get signed these days by merely copying the sounds of Mouse on Mars or Pole.

Opening track "Aerial Red" has a 4/4 that seemingly tumbles over its own shoelaces time and time again before settling into a new beat. It is as disarming as it is lovely. The strongest track is "Static" with its tribal sounding beats and completely unpredictable (random?) interjections of glitch. Another highlight is "Thousand Oaks" whose high speed dub is nothing short of trance-inducing.

Jetone has impressively taken minimal techno to a entirely new place with Ultramarin by replacing the expected with the chaotic. Jetone creates melody by texturing his beats instead of writing "songs" per se and there is not a single track on this disk that sounds like another. Bravo to originality!


Windy and Carl - Consciousness (Kranky)
Resolution

I guess we can forgive Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren for waiting 2 years to release a record. Hey, they have been busy setting up their store, Stormy Records, in Michigan. And Consciousness is definitely worth the wait.

This record fits in nicely next to my Gas CD's, as a more organic sounding collection of melodic minimalism. Their seemingly simple, guitar-and-effects-fueled drone has been defined as "a wall of sound." All I know is their distinctive music somehow creeps into every crevice of my apartment, not leaving one square inch uncovered, whenever I put it on. The new record plays well as a whole, seemingly taking its listener on a journey from morning to dusk in mood.

Guitarist Carl Hultgren, begins the disk with a lovely introduction on acoustic guitar called "The Sun," followed by the disk highlight "Balance (Trembling)," a song reminiscent of a helicopter deprived of all sonic unpleasantness rising melodically into the sky.

This is all really mellow stuff, so for best results defy your instincts and play it LOUD to hear all its subtleties.

This record has been out since January and I'm glad to have finally discovered it.


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