don't receive CD's in the mail. No one's hunting me down, shooting
freebees my way in hopes of good copy from this esteemed critic. I
must hunt down music with my own money, then shout my opinion as loud
as I can type. It's costly, being self important. So how do I choose
where to send my valued money? The same way I'm assuming most of you
do. I read record reviews, get excited about them for five seconds,
then forget them. Three months later, I'll see some familiar name
in the discount bins, and think, well, I read something about them.
Was it supposed to be good? I'll find out.
Cab For Cutie
Something About Airplanes
7,103 out of 10,000
band has a new album (We Have The Facts and We're Voting Yes )
out I'm curious about. Sometimes I'll check out a group based on earlier,
cheaper albums, to see if I'm interested in their sound and if I want
to get into their catalogue. Perhaps I'm depriving myself by listening
to lesser castoffs when I should go for the apex. Perhaps The Panoply
Academy Engineer Corps has a great record; I'll never know, having bought
The Panoply Academy Glee Club and deciding they stink. I got into The
Make Up this way, so I'll stand by the process until the desperate fools
start sending me music for free
"I saw the scene unfold on a rainy Sunday" is how "President
of What?" begins on Something About Airplanes, setting the listening
vista. "President of What?" features a groovy organ, and disconnected
frightened thoughts. Actually you can hit about every song with the "disconnected
frightened thoughts" tag. Dreamy and downbeat, the Decabfuties, as
I call them, create mood music for reflecting on blankness, while floating
in a tub. It's easy to let the whole thing play through without noticing
it. The music throbs and murmurs and no one musician calls too much attention
to himself. If you do sit up and give it a good listen, you will be rewarded.
Melodies and emotions float to the surface, as do subtle hooks, if hooks
can be subtle. Perhaps they're magnets for a kid's play fishing set, and
you have to be iron filings in order to be caught. There's a sad detachment,
as the guitars march along searching for emotional resonance, which they
do find, after a while. Benjamin Gibbard writes pretty, slow building
songs that he sings in a wimpy voice that's less nasal than most smart
alecs playing guitar pop. The band demurs to the songs, include standouts
such as "Your Bruise" , set off by some high, not quite falsetto
singing, and a curling guitar line, and "Pictures in an Exhibition",
which chunks along at quicker pace than the mostly midtempo album. One
listens for The Beatles, referenced in the band's name (The song the weird
Blond Elvis guy sings in "The Magical Mystery Tour" movie, which
is about as poor as they say) and one can find it, but where can't one?
They're more independent than really Beatlesy bands. They're more of a
Luna or Jesus and Mary Chain kind of band, really. Perhaps through adjusting
to the soft timber of his voice, the listener may enjoy the album in continuity
more than in some shuffle or mix tape.
While I may not pay full price, if I see "We Have The Facts and We're
Voting Yes", I'll get it.
Enter the Draco
3,278 out of 10,000
enters with nice interwoven guitar lines, some dull samples and beats,
as girlish Japanese singer Mima chants passionlessly about funky sounding
things. Then track two, "If You Want To Mek It" reveals Draco's
more straightforward sugarpop side. It's a little too straightforward,
a little two sugary, and sounds too much like a lot of Alannissy girls
on the radio today.
On "Buttercup" , not all the pieces fit together, laterally
or linearly; the singer might have recorded her track acapella and some
Tom Waits beat thrown behind it. A guitar and a chorus wander in from
another room and steal the mic. No one knows each other.
First Buckaroo vs. Summer Alien is a bluesy country instrumental that
sounds like its title. Pretty good mix tape filler. There are some pointless
"Bonus Beats", then "The Slacker", wherein Mima speaks
cutely over a riff (sample?) with a John Spencer feel. Not much else happens,
including the chorus, so this is the best track on the album, which continues
to grow more sugary and less interesting. "Lost in the Paradise",
like most of the album, is mixed horribly. Some farty synths piggyback
onto a folky guitar that can't bear the weight. Is this a folk singer
who met the helpful producer? It wasn't enough help.
The Soft Bulletin
6,125 out of 10,000
was evidently some sort of touchstone album for 1999. A lot of gentle
neo-psychadelia came out last year, and The Soft Bulletin smacked of more
of the same, so I waited on it. Sure enough, the record immediately spills
forth orchestras of thereminish strings (stringy theremin?), piano, an
acoustic guitar in epic dynamics, with a disjointed story about competing
scientists ("Race for the Prize"). It reminds me of the competition
between public and private industry to decode the human genome. The rest
of the album offers the same lush productions, in a very mature psychadelia,
with much the same emotional impact. Not that the human genome isn't something
to get emotional about, it just doesn't move me in song. The
Flaming Lips are talented musicians who like to fiddle around with
weird sounds but don't have much to say, so they sing about whatever they
think might be important or weird or scientific. "What Is The Light"
is subtitled "An untested hypothesis suggesting that the chemical
(in our brains) by which we are able to experience the sensation of being
in love is the same chemical that caused the 'Big Bang' that was the birth
of the accelerating universe"
Such beautiful arrangements are built around Wayne
Coyne's cracking voice, so thin and reedy one can get congested listening
to it. One would think that the instrumentals, "The Observer"
and "Sleeping on the Roof", being freed from the vocals, would
soar into further adventures of sound, but they are both soundtrackish
(in the bad sense, if that has any sense) and unremarkable, seeming to
swell slowly towards a chorus that never arrives.
"Buggin" is where all the production turns to pop. More lush
theremin-strings and layered vocals glide over another catchy melody,
without some of the dynamic stops that slow up some other numbers. The
metaphor is that love equals bugs. Of course, it doesn't, but what a great
production. Very catchy. It's the best song on the album, though the whole
thing is all quite pretty.
Neil Young(the voice and the orchestration), 60's Psychadelia, The Beatles
and Brian Wilson(Beach Boys means Barbara Ann, Brian Wilson means Smile,
or Pet Sounds, though Pet Sounds is much more subtle and less zany than
Good Vibrations and it's unfinished brothers, which is usually the ambition
for Brian Wilson wannabe composers) form most of the musical references.
The orchestral hugeness, however, brings to mind The Who, with the sense
of bombast mastered, of huge beasts of sound unleashed but never rampant.
There are few horns, but the feel is Quadraphenic. The writing is not
Pete Townsend caliber, unfortunately. The songs constantly call attention
to themselves. The timpani drums and church chimes as on "The Spiderbite
Song" advertise their own excellence, hyping songs beyond their own
abilities. They're good songs, but they sound greater than they are. Repeating
songs at the end of the album, as the Lips do with "Race for the
Prize" and "Waitin' for a Superman" is a bad choice that
really points out how this album needs to be an absolute classic to work,
and falls short.
His Band and The Street Choir
9,576 out of 10,000
funnest album after Moondance, His Band is tight, with sterling,
soul horns and the eclectic mix of bouncy R&B, soulful epic ballads,
call and response rock and roll and Celtic...Celticness. I don't know,
he's a Druid or something. Try not to sing along to "Domino",
"I've Been Working" or "Blue Money" the first time
around (how could you not, with lyrics such as "Doit doidy doit!
Doit doidy doit!") and the rest of the songs on the second or third
listen. This is a desert island album for me, so I had to snatch it up.
Sometimes I regret getting old records I've had before, as they seem played
out and unfresh, I'm hoping to hear something new, without having to hear
some horrible bonus track. I'm so glad to have this one whirring along
in my CD player, though. It's simple happy music bounces lightly, then
brings it way down for such powerful slow. strange numbers as "Crazy
Face" ("Ladies and gentlemen, the prince is late/as he stood
outside the church-yard gate/polished up on his 38 and said/ I got it
from Jesse James) and "Gypsy Queen" which he lays into with
a sweet, sensitive falsetto. It seems as if, while one is singing along
and dancing, Van the Man(And this is Van the Man, not Van the boring Christian
or Van the Walrus Bluesman) has been slyly laying down a deeper sense
of soul communication, which we must settle down and deal with soon, but
each time it seems time for deeper reflection, he throws another fun jumpy
blues number. Finally we get that moment with the two last songs, the
Gospel "If I Ever Needed Someone" and his rumination on Americ,
"Street Choir" which is like part of the name of the Album!
6,180 out of 10,000
this the sound of New Rock? Probably. These girls make get a lot of cool
sounds from synthesizers, samples and guitars. Chuggy guitars meet processed
icing vocals on the title track. Huge monster rock drum rolls meet screaming
synthesizers and a phone message on "What's the trouble With My Silver
Turkey?", which is better than it's name. "Sad Guitar"
sounds like Foghat (Old Rock, with some clunkily funky bass playing).
Another Japanese band has hodgepodged seemingly all of pop culture in
a way that will make you feel cool walking down the street with it in
your walkman. There are many funky guitar parts and few words. Some of
the lyrics are cute, but not too bad. To racistly subculture Buffalo Daughter,
they're closer to Cornelius than to Shonen Knife.
Great Five Lakes is the pleaser, with peaceful acoustic guitar plucks
away with some kittenish bloops while a synth solo worthy of Stevie Wonder
plays overhead. The girls sing something about a summer daze in high,
indecipherable processed voices, then punctuate the breakdown with some
fine little Oomph's.
There's nothing quite that pleasing for the rest of the album, but The
Buffters, as I call them, keep throwing different sounds out, mostly dreamy
or funky. "No New Rock" sounds like Captain Beefheart whether
by design or by an international music translation accident (Did you ever
read "The Amazing Jumping Frog of Calvarous County" after Mark
Twain had it translated beck from the French translation? Pretty funny.
So Japanese rock is with its versions of the western sound, only much
more beneficially.) Sky High sounds like a Stephenwolf psychedelic jam
and "Jellyfish Blues" sounds like Air.
"R&B (Rhythm and Basement)" has some sort of newfangled
technology sound to it, which I'll venture to call one of the thousand
subsets of drum and bass. It has skittering beats. Skittering beats means
drum and bass, doesn't it? Anyway, it's pretty dull, with the word "Basement"
repeated ad nauseum. "Socks, Drugs and Rock'n'roll" is worse
than its title, with long spoken parts that say nothing. There's a bunch
too many little twenty second interludes, but on the whole, the album
is new, and does rock, lightly.
| 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
| October 2000 | Volume