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Do you have eclectic tastes? It’s going to cost you. If you stick to one genre there’s less to buy. Heck, the latest electronica hype probably breaks your genre down to one band, say Plautmas, playing drill and tuba. If your fancies do range wider, however, you’re in for an investment. Best to buy it on the cheap. The bargain bin also slows down your buying addiction. You can always buy a whole catalogue, but the bin asks for the old records to ripen and drop.

The Starlight Mints
The Dream that Stuff Was Made Of
6,499 of 10,000

Well, from the title you know these guys are “clever”, and yes, they are far too “clever”. The truly beautiful string arrangement that opens the album is followed by Allen Vest’s smart alecky voice, one that’s pretty easy to dislike. I think Stephen Malkmus inspired a lot of bad singers to affect a yawny detachment. The only thing is, Malkmus can sing. And even if he has nothing to say, he says it well. This guy probably gets told all the time he has great lyrics, but he doesn’t. “It’s a masquerade, the mousecapade” and the like keep pulling at the corners of smarmy, and though they don’t plunge into smirking assness ala the Barenaked Ladies, fans of such skimpy joys are the target audience.

What the band does have in barrelfuls are hooks, riffs and melodies. The short poppy songs can get caught in the head, like them or not. Certainly, there are people out there just begging for this kind of music. They’re probably XTC fans, who like clever lightweight songs about some subconscious nattering, with genuinely fine arranged strings and well placed guitar phrases. “Blinded By You”, betrays a listen to Bowie’s “Major Tom”. “The Twilight Showdown” dares to pull a very Pixies kind of key change with a sort of Joey Santiago surf guitar. The melodies, for the whole, are generally fresh, sounding more like the aforementioned XTC and those Elephant 6 bands without blatantly going for the Beatle-esque sound. Still, Starlight Mints break a cardinal law of such poppy, psychedelic, Britpop influenced bands: Thou Shalt Not Sing About Submarines. “Submarine” kicks off the album with that strike, as well as the first listen to Vest’s nasality.

Each song has it’s own selection of musical ideas, until one might want to shout “All right! I get it! You’re geniuses!” They go by pretty quickly, in a sugary melting way, which could fool the careless, doped up and melody deprived listener. “The Twilight Showdown’s probably the most memorable, though it leaves you remembering characters like “Prince Augustus” and other such eccentrics. Did I mention this band is quirky? The angular dissonance of the horns on “Margarita” have nothing to do with experimentation and everything to do with some snotty musical wonderkind going, “that’s pretty, how can I make it goofy?” Lobotomize yourselves, boys, and become producers or something. Learn some pain, and unlearn everything else.


Trans Am
The Red Line
7,856 out of 10,000

Instrumental music is always questionable. Music theory wankers, most of the time. Jazz heads and dreamers too lazy to spit out a fully formed song. Techno geeks with irritating sideburns and bushy nostril hair. Vegetarian soundtrackers. Losers who won’t sing, have nothing to say, but want everyone to listen. Windless windbags worldessly expressing themselves through their instruments, through their music Talentless hacks with a dull axe to grind. I hate them. Some of them.

Trans Am sing a little, but it’s often German sounding nonsense or such distorted vocoder business that it doesn’t count. No, this is instrumental music ranging from minimalist beat pulses through some Ubertechno to huge bombastic guitar instrumentals. Yet I do not hate them. They are just some guys having a good time with music, playing with their friends, but they do not bore.

You’re not locked in a studio, forced to appreciate musical expertise or alien landscapes of sonic hedgework. You’re trapped in a cave, lost in the dark. Theirs something in there with you, but you cant’s tell if it’s some large animal or an elaborate robot beast. It’s eyes glow red. You can see faint ripples of red reflections along the stalgmitic ceiling. There’s lots of synthesizers playing, too.

Then it’s all guitars, with the songiest number, “Play In The Summer”. “I'm Coming Down”

is also pretty good in a moldering rock way. There’s so much instrumental filler, but you probably won’t feel cheated. Most of the filler is pretty cool pools of stasis, and you’ll probably just be happy when one of the more straightforward rockers comes splashing through. I was sure “Play In The Summer” was the third or fourth song in, but it’s the seventh. Towards the end there’s a number with lyrics from mAKE UP’s Ian Svenonius. The guitar wankout session goes too long, but the way these guys bring all these styles back into that cave is impressive. Though it could have been lucky. There’s always a question with (Near) instrumental music. It would be interesting to see if they can make more “Play In The Summer”, and less filler. Maybe get a singer, or become a singer. Lose the vocoder and get a decoder, man. That doesn’t mean anything, but some good vocals could really generate something cool, or it could break the very fragile spell Trans Am cast. This is good stuff for a Walkman; you’ll feel cool as you march along, and your walk will evolve.

James Brown
Sex Machine
9,122 out of 10,000

So the latest story is James Brown called an electrician, answered the door carrying a knife and a suit, and said the suit means he’s with the CIA and has a license to kill, then he gets scary. I don’t believe it. The man’s not on PCP, he’s on Soul Power. Even if it is true, after all he’s done for music, the man has a right to get a little crazy and kill an electrician or pizza delivery guy. Who hasn’t come close?

This seems a weird record, conceptually. It’s 1970. In the wake of his longtime band’s dissolution, The Godfather puts together a new team, including a head-spinning introduction of the world to Bootsy Collins. “Sex Machine” is the current hit, though not the version on this album. He splices together live numbers from the old band and the new with material recorded live in the studio (His usual method anyway) and audience response dubbed in. Conceptually, it’s Frankenstein, delivery-wise it’s a great concert album, a worthy companion piece to the next years’ Revolution of the Mind.

I WANT TO DO MY THING!

The familiar demand is proclaimed, but just as the show begins, it seems like it’s going to fall apart. “So ah…let me move some things around here” he mumbles, “and let me do my thing. Can I really get into it?”

YEAH!

The response that Eddie Murphy parodied many years later comes, obedient to a man.

Like a…like a sex machine?

YEAH!

MOVIN IT? [He’s back.]

YEAH!

DOING IT?

YEAH!

Then it kicks into a ten-minute version of “Sex Machine” wherein Brown takes it to the bridge, then takes it to the band. There’s always an edge to James Brown, even on his most inspriational songs, but here he’s at his most playful. It’s like the knife and the suit somehow. He’s about to go back to the bridge then he takes it all around America, calling out the cities he’s visiting. It’s somehow more than played stage schtick; he’s really going to those places, the meter of his delivery suggests geography, huge chunks. He’s not trying to generate applause, he’s walking around, Hiawatha style, from city to city. Mr. Dynamite does get into it, and soon his interactions with the band are that of rollicking friendship, instead of the master with his troops, which is very rare indeed, and worth the price of the album alone.

But of course there’s more. His scream is at it brassiest, and the music is perched dynamically on the cusp between his old soul and the new funk. “Please Please Please” is transformed into a jazzy outro. He free-associates, telling the story of a breakup through the titles of his hits. Again it comes off as more than self-reference. Brown really means this story, even when the titles contradict each other. He doesn’t have to make sense; he has soul power.

- Dan Kilian
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[email protected] | January 2001 | Issue 10