March 31, 2004  




Jack Rose
Black Dice
Joy Zipper
Casino Versus Japan
Sunburned Hand of the Man
The Clientele



A Certain Ratio (Reissue)
Hits and Misses (Various Artists)
Antifamily/Difficult Fun Comp.
Comsat Angels (CD Collection)
Amp Fiddler
Suicide (Live at Max's Kansas City)
Metal Boys (Reissue)







Two Originals of...

"Red Horse"
"Mountaintop Lamento"

Sometimes it seems as if my good friend Brooks almost solely collects solo acoustic guitar records. This obsession naturally began with the man who kick-started the genre, John Fahey, but soon spread to an ever accumulating constellation of white male finger pickers with names like Robbie Basho, Sandy Bull, William Eaton, Fred Gerlach, Sunni McGrath, Max Ochs, Dick Rosmini, John Miller, Dennis Taylor, Jim McLennan, Leo Wijnkamp, Sam Firk etc., etc., etc. Lately it's gotten to the point where he's even singing the praises of early William Ackerman records on Windham Hill (which I must admit were pretty good)! That's a pretty good number of obscure names who felt compelled to grapple with that most expressive of instruments, the guitar, in a quest to articulate their personal feelings on love, beauty, frustration, history, or what have you. Which brings me to the record at hand, "Two Originals Of..." as performed by Jack Rose.

Rose has spent a good number of years as an integral member of the psych entourage Pelt, who recently have increasingly been headed in a more acoustic direction. This has apparently culminated with Rose's decision to abandon electricity altogether for his first two solo releases, originally issued on vinyl over the last year-and-a-half or so. It's a sink or swim situation going it alone in this genre and the tough question is what does Rose have that those aforementioned fellas don't? At face value, it would seem that the narrow confines of the genre have been pretty well mined. Recent press I've read on Rose would have that what sets him apart is the apparent influence of Terry Riley, La Monte Young, et al. Well maybe, except that those guys are of the '60s as well as everybody else I mentioned and their ideas were certainly in the air. (The Vincent Le Manse and Bertrand Porquet album on Shandar anyone?)

But the simple fact is that this is some incredibly beautiful and accomplished music, perfectly realized. His pacing is stately and graceful, the sentiment never too maudlin nor bogged down by cliché. While a good deal here is inherently melancholy, a swelling hopefulness and breezy undercurrent always lifts the arrangements beyond the realm of cheap sentiment. This album has more than enough hair-raisingly impressive passages to go around and I'm sure you'll be saying "God Damn" more than once to yourself as I was. Recommended. [MK]







$9.99 LP


Miles of Smiles EP

"Trip Dude Delay"

"Miles of Smiles" auspicates with queasily bucolic shafts of texture, of a similar sort as can be found on Animal Collective's various releases. The rising of these textures' tide differs in each band's handling of them, or rather in each's respective aesthetic shoreline. And now Black Dice seem to have reached a landmass, after sailing beneath bright moons on the classic "Beaches and Canyons." On "Miles of Smiles" in particular, one hears possible signals of street trade on this island. Potential for tropical bustle, and/or forthrightness in white suits and canes. "Trip Dude Delay" returns to solely astral concerns soon enough, at first tendered to a lightly chiming guitar gesture, which is then truly subsumed by the sonic heavens and yet revealed sporadically within this tempest's midst. In fact this tempest abruptly falls away later, and this chime is conjoined with popping percussion in one of the most affecting Dice moments yet, a starry tendril that lights until the end of this glorious 'double A side.' [DHo]






American Whip
(13 Amp/Vertigo)

"Christmas Song"
"Dosed and Became Invisible"

Joy Zipper are deceiving in their beauty. At face value, everything seems sun-drenched and sweet, with lush layers of guitars and boy-girl harmonies that owe as much to "Loveless" as they do to Brian Wilson. It all seems innocent, as innocent as a first crush, until you dig just below the surface. After a short, sleepy psychedelic guitar intro, "Christmas Song" starts off the New York duo's second full-length. Vincent Cafiso's sugarcoated melody masks a dark love song in which he confesses that his weaknesses strengthen his affection. (You should know I'm always watching/You're doing things in a different way/I feel you now 'cause I'm deep in madness.)

It's not that longtime boyfriend/girlfriend Cafiso and Tabitha Tindale are trying to deliver some weighty message with their music, but these small, dark twists make their bubbling pop even that more addictive. The topics of drugs, dependency, escapism, hell, even a song about the difficult subject of Alzheimer's are all covered amidst dreamy guitars, warm keyboard crescendos and of course, their breezy melodies. (Go figure why record label delays held up the album release for over a year.)

Contrasted by the simpler home recording of their wonderful self-titled debut, the production of "American Whip" is spotless. Assisted by producer Tony Doogan (Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai) who is credited with the string arrangements, David Holmes (also responsible for signing Joy Zipper to his 13 Amp label), as well as Kevin Shields whose influence can be heard in the backward shimmers of "In the Never Ending Search," Joy Zipper have given us the first great pop album for summer '04. (Import only) [GH]








"Everything is Everything"
"Victim of the Crime"

Phoenix are one of the more enigmatic "secrets" in all of music these days. Fans of their debut "United" generally employ the perhaps appropriately inspired language of studious devotion to them, and to all that they represent. Which is where it gets tricky for some, the question of what it is they represent. Whereas an act like the (fantastic) Strokes achieve currency inside of an amiable, though urgent demeanor, the just-as-accomplished Phoenix seem to be strolling through what IS a deceptively urgent, yet on the face of it not, eternal halcyon villa at dusk. Those who accuse them of embodying the perceived qualities of a cynically, or just lamely, conceived throwback never seem to have any explanation for, say, the impeccably modern attenuation of those perfectly crisply ringing halos of a tempo-marking, digitized-crossbow variety that wonderfully support almost every track.

There is as well the singer's remarkable facility with parsing such a consummately detailed court of spark, and his ability to then grace it with a thankfully hyper-human (as opposed to an indistinct confessional), true pop face. What they represent (and maybe the Strokes too) is a throwback perhaps, to a mythical time when pop didn't have to cycle through various forms of resentment in order to answer for its own purportedly false conceit, and when pop songs could tell something to someone about their existence by means of an unabashedly formal, and suitably conversant, grace. (Import) [DHo]







Split EP

"Sheena" Freescha
"Blinking" Casino Versus Japan

It's not exactly a surprise to see these two artists together on one EP. Freescha recently released a double-disc compilation of Casino Versus Japan outtakes on their own Attacknine label, and the two could hardly be any more like-minded. Both artists make pastoral, melodic electronic music with warm, analog synthesizer sounds. While Casino Versus Japan leans toward the more ambient side of the spectrum, Freescha throws in minimal hip-hop beats and a sample here and there. Listening to this kind of stuff always makes me imagine myself exploring the deep sea in some sort of futuristic watercraft, kind of a Finding Nemo meets The Abyss scenario where a hulking submarine shines its spotlight on a field of undulating brightly-colored sea anemone a. Did I mention that this disc will most definitely appeal to fans of Boards Of Canada? Beautiful electronic sounds from right here in the US of A. [RH]







Rare Wood
(Spirit of Orr)

"Easy Wind"
"Buried Pleasure"

This has been long awaited, even before the Wire stoked the flames last year featuring the New England band/collective in their "New Weird America" issue. Like No-Neck Blues Band, Jackie-O, and many of their other weirdo kin, Sunburned Hand of the Man's proper album release "Rare Wood" follows a healthy succession of limited CD-Rs and LPs. "Easy Wind" kicks off the album with a few quick squawks of a synth that bounce off a cyclic repetition from an eerie electric guitar. A drugged-demon moan of a lone, echoed voice soon joins promising to 'give you what you want.' The song builds slowly but finally pulls together in an almost free jazz form of chaos as the drums begin to pound amidst ghostly sounds of scrapes and feedback howling like they were coming out of Sonny Sharrock's ax.

Certain aural textures, ala the stutter-wah-ed guitar washes, at times remind me of Black Dice, only here, avant jazz undertones are more of a guiding force in these free form psych-outs. Each track ebbs and then flows with a loose, stoned intention. It's the sonic equivalent of a nature documentary where you watch a squirming bug get eaten by a bird which is then eaten by a snake, and so on. Earthy songs evolve from strange sounds, odd time signatures, clatters and chants but finally come to some full, freaky fruition; the cruelty of nature becomes almost heavenly. And the closing track "Buried Pleasure" is a slice of heaven. Recorded with Papas Fritas' Tony Goddess, SHOTM shed their electric instruments and produce a blissed out rave-up inspired by Appalachian mountain music with a haunted flute calling for the rise of the morning sun. [GH]







3:16 - The 9th Edition
(Def Jux)

"The Animal"

Murs is definitely no stranger to the rap game- in fact, he's merely broadening his fan base by working with Definitive Jux since the release of "End of the Beginning" in early 2003. Murs has been dropping records with renowned West Coast crew Living Legends for a solid minute, not to mention his collaborations with Jean Grae, Slug, Aceyalone, Mike Ladd, Shock G, and now Little Brother's 9th Wonder. Album producer 9th Wonder turned heads in 2003, with weighty attention surrounding Little Brother, the "God's Stepson" Nas mixes, and finally his work with Jay-Z on the Black Album. Instead of inviting an array of producers to lace the record with their respectable beats, 9th Wonder is Murs' soul partner- providing a distinctual aural framework, allowing Murs' colorful personality to come through on cohesive ground.

Murs' vibrant flow (while subtly conjuring Tupac and Souls of Mischief) takes us through his kaleidoscope perspective of soulful murder ballads, frank racial humor, youthful sexual misadventures, and ironic thug escapades. This motley exemplifies his personal, delightful strife between backpack, bling, and that guy in the alley that will fuck you up for your change. After all he is "more Coldplay than Ice-T"… A 35-minute album may seem strange nowadays to most- but weren't the most classic titles dropped at a similar length? Let's reminisce back to Nas' "Illmatic"…. An exceptional release of the year, so far, as I am sure this will hold up among the best. [MT]







Ariadne EP

"The Sea Inside a Shell"

The paintings in the "Ariadne Series" by Giorgio de Chirico depict the statue of Ariadne against industrial backdrops. They evoke feelings of separation, sadness, loneliness - much like those emotions felt by Ariadne in the Greek myth. The de Chirico series is the inspiration for the Clientele's "Ariadne" EP. (I personally find more similarities to the actual Ariadne myth.) The EP opens with a 40 second track of a single piano playing; the melody is simple and light, yet lovely and melancholic.

The next track, "Summer Crowds in Europe," sounds a bit more familiar - more like a Clientele track with that trippy, warbling guitar, yet the lack of lyrics may sound a bit foreign. "The Sea Inside a Shell" is extremely minimalist. An eight-minute recording of an organ chord subtly and gradually shifts and bends. The ambiance of this track evokes a feeling of loss, mystery, and loneliness (much like de Chirico's paintings). This seems to be the point in the myth where Ariadne has been left on the island of Naxos by her lover Theseus. This image is enhanced by a wave or wind-like sound that gently repeats in the last minute of the track.

The gentle, classical, solitary piano returns for the fourth track, "Ariadne Sleeping," suggesting the same emotions as it did initially. By the time the fifth (and final) song "Impossible" starts to draw the EP to a close, Dionysus has rescued Ariadne; for the first time on the EP, it truly sounds like a Clientele song (the only one with lyrics) -- the familiar sounds of the Clientele reunite in this lush finale, unlike the previous 4 tracks of minimalist detail. [CP]







To Each...
(Universal Sounds)

"My Spirit"

After their recently-reissued cassette debut "The Graveyard And The Ballroom," this was A Certain Ratio's first proper studio album. It looks like Soul Jazz/Universal Sound are well on their way to bringing back all of this once-forgotten Factory band's incredible recordings. Laid to tape by the great Martin Hannett in the far off and mysterious town of East Orange, New Jersey, "To Each..." finds the Manchester group perfecting its dark and funky post-punk sound. A co-worker once remarked that before he heard this band he never thought he could enjoy music with so much slap-bass, and I couldn't have agreed more. Aside from the dreary Ian Curtis-style vocals, their style is completely unique, instantly recognizable, and totally in line with the current funky-punk craze. If you've enjoyed recent releases from the Rapture, !!!, and the like, then you should check out these originators. After the fantastic 2002 collection "Early," the lack of liner notes with this release is disappointing, but the music speaks for itself. To top it all off, Universal Sound has added two previously unheard dubs as bonus tracks. Hopefully the equally great "Sextet" will be reissued next. [RH]







Muhammad Ali & the Ultimate Sound of Fistfighting

"Muhammad Ali" Sir Mack Rice
"You're the Greatest" Bette MC Laurin

Trikont's obsession with American folk culture and movements extends to this compilation that pays homage to one of America's most loved and fabled folk heroes. At the height of Ali's fame, he seemed like John Henry, Paul Bunyan and Stagger Lee all rolled into one. He had the strength, rebellious spirit and megalomaniac ego that at once embraced the overachieving work ethic that personified modern America, yet he spent most of his young life railing against an unjust social system and refusing to compromise his beliefs at all. He was the personification of perseverance, and when you look at any sort of young footage of him (circa '64 to '68) it's almost overwhelming to see someone so alive by life. I hope that makes sense.

So it really shouldn't come to any surprise that there were many tribute songs written about him during the height of his popularity, and these are just a few of them. There are of course a few amusing novelty tunes, like Bette MC Laurin's giddy account of a chance Ali meeting in "You're the Greatest." But there are also some awesome reggae and Brazilian tributes, the most notable ones being Dennis Alcapone's "Cassius Clay" and Jorge Bens' "Marcellus Cassius Clay." The fact that artists from Brazil, Zaire, America and Trinidad all give heartfelt, spirited tributes to the man, speaks volumes about his influence on many an oppressed person around the world. A very interesting comp from the Trikont folks... oh yeah the tunes are pretty ace as well! [DH]









Antifamily EP
(Difficult Fun)

"Staring at a Point"

Various Artists 7"
(Difficult Fun)

I blame WFMU for infecting me with my first taste of Antifamily. "Staring at a Point" from the self-titled EP came on the radio and I was hooked. I started exploring and quickly found myself obsessed with their intricate DIY methodology. An UK-based collective that holds four members at its core but has included up to 15 different participants. Utilizing people who have never sung or played before. An improvisational spontaneity reined in with editing and production. Each song is an artifact of a band in continuous flux. Antifamily stride the acerbic, detached, anxious, cathartic, and brittle with intellect and innovation. Distancing the likes of Erase Errata and Numbers with a nod toward Liliput, Can, and Velvet Underground along the way. Syncopated repetition, guitar flourishes, electronic hooks, and lyrical content are all part and process of an actuated dialogue where obscurantist tactics flirt with convention in a trialectic loop of art, philosophy, and music.

The Difficult Fun compilation introduces an additional 3 equally adventurous bands and repeated visits to had me pretty keyed-up to get my hands on a copy. Sharing the A side with Antifamily, Philosophy Queen bring a fractured drop in fidelity to beautifully render a fragile and hazy display of emotion, "Lucy" a.k.a. "defeat is not important/defeat is not unimportant" is a rough-hewn gem. For the flip, Heliogabalus celebrate the damaged acoustic sonorities of their instruments. Then the brilliant Asja Auf Capri round things out with a tempered strut of Zick Zack/Ata Tak but without all the pomp and pose of the Neue Deutsche Welle. The packaging is a kit composed of six parts that beg interaction and offer a multiplicity by design. A card inserted into my copy includes a phrase that I think might be Marxist in origin. This is so much more fun than the bulk of what hits the singles rack these days. Other Music has the US exclusive on both of these releases. Don't miss out! [AG]





CD Box


It's History

"Real Story"
"Total War"

Comsat Angels were one of those bands that I only had knowledge of via mixtapes and word of mouth, introduced to me by elders as I fell in deep love with artists like Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy, and the Cure at an early age. I was quick to file them under my favorite category - "death rock" - artists like Bauhaus and Christian Death that were conventionally, yet undeservingly branded into the "goth" department. At least in my perspective of genres, I guess. To me it was simply dark, Eno/Bowie-inspired rock, melded with the playful yet daring spirit of punk rock. Just because most of them donned that pallid white stuff doesn't quite sanction them into ankh/wikka/Projekt Records territory.

Well, as my musical palette diversified (and the older I got) the Comsat Angels' legend and relevance in the musical gamut became more apparent to me, transcending my own linear and self-appropriated 'death rock' tag into post-punk and new wave while still not seemingly fitting with any categorical particular. One thing for certain is that Comsat Angels eclipsed and outshone many artists of their era. Unfortunately, bouts with dismissive and unsupportive labels, falsified glories involving mainstream success, legal battles, and inter-band tensions prevented them from receiving the praise and recognition they've long deserved. In addition, having received virtually no distribution in the States inevitably left the band to dissolve into obscurity outside of the diminutive circle of devoted and in-the-know fans when in actuality their legacy should have stood parallel to Joy Division and Gang of Four.

Finally, some sort of homage has surfaced- "It's History" features their first three releases: "Waiting For A Miracle" (1980), "Sleep No More" (1981), and "Fiction" (1982), and a special disc with bonus tracks. This box harbors the most dramatic and melancholy works of the early '80s. This is emotive doom and despair, passionately interpreted with perfect pop sensibility, floating somewhere between Joy Division's existential torment and the Smiths' over-indulgent musings: the ideal brooding rainy-day rock band. Haunting atmospherics are interwoven with synth, arpeggiated guitar and plodding bass, laced with Stephen Fellows' soulful crooning and moody lyrics, stylistically precluding (early) U2 and Curve and nestling comfortably with artists like the Sound, the Cure, and the Names while easily finding niche with fans of contemporary rockers like Interpol. This record represents a passionate and personal sentimentality and like any other self-warranted music geek I feel the incredible urge to share these masterpieces with others. Extraordinary, magical, heart-breaking, essential. [MT]







Waltz of a Ghetto Fly

"If You Can't Get Me Off Your Mind"

Detroit native Amp Fiddler's debut was a long time coming. After years of playing keyboards for a long list of artists -- from Prince to George Clinton, to Ladysmith Black Mambazo to Too Short -- he wanted to do his own thing; but he brought these experiences with him. And so "Waltz of a Ghetto Fly" begins with the mellow D'Angelo-ish extended uplift of "I Believe in You." Along the way we get a range of metropolitan styles and flavors; songs like "Superficial" give you that loft party deep house that soulfully teases you on a sweaty dancefloor. Calling out on all the fakers, it grinds, grooves and jangles. The shuffled novo brasileiro protest song "Love and War," with its rich layers of vocals, makes a jazzy plea to end the madness. And Raphael Saadiq appears on "Dreamin'," a deep, slightly cosmic, liquid funk that fits squarely in the urban lounge camp. The whole album does for that matter. Which is why I hear, am reminded of, or can see obvious connections to Omar, Steppers, Maxwell and Jamiroquai (both of whom he also played with) the Soul City Crowd, Jazzanova, Dwele, Terence Trent D'Arby, Stevie, Sly, Marvin, Al and most of the above mentioned. It's smooth, not rough. Easy, not hard. [GA]







Attempted Live at Max's Kansas City 1980
(Sympathy for the Record Industry)

"Ghost Rider"
"Touch Me/Be Bop a Lula"

The familiar Farfisa and rhythm machine do their wild dance around Vega's reverb'd shouts, screams, and ramblings on this record. And seminal tunes like the pulsating "Ghost Rider" and the infamous ballistic balladry of the gut-wrenching "Frankie Teardop" make their appearance as well. But this is no regular Suicide re-issue. The crowd plays just as much of a part in the performance as the band. A woman straight from a horror movie soundtrack screams in between (and during) sets, bits of conversation are overhead ("I heard the London show was CRAZY"), and Vega pokes fun and encourages audience members to get up and sing at the end of Rocket USA. Who comes up is Cheetah Chrome of Rocket from the Tombs/Dead Boys fame to do "Touch Me/Be Bop a Lula" - a previously unreleased tune, until now. Two more unreleased songs are performed on this night at famed punk club Max's Kansas City: "Cadillac" and the pseudo preaching narrative over feedback and repenting organ blasts of "Jesus." This is what live albums are all about - unpredictable blissful racket. As an audience member says at the ending salsa sample on "Frankie Teardop," - "beautiful." [LG]







Tokio Airport

"Tokio Airport"
"Suspenders in the Park'"

An odd and purely coincidental timing with the current (re)release of Suicide's 1980 Live album from Max's Kansas City, this Metal Urbain spin-off shares much more than the re-issue release dates. By this time, Suicide's stateside antics paralleled Metal Urbain's own alarmist art sound. Manipulating keyboards to sound dark, minimal and/or robotic were tactics of the first wash of new wave to which both bands adhered. While Vega and Rev were dodging bottles, the Metal Boys (Metal Urbain sans vocalist Clode Panik) explored their own wall of sound-processed electronics and rhythm machine mayhem.

Comparatively, the Metal Boys went for a far more dry, deep and cacophonous sound. And when it came to political themes, at the time no one else laid it all out icy female vocal style like the "mysterious" China, as they call her. On the title track she plays a Tokyo tour guide while Debris inserts his gravelly French narrative in between her prim British accented spiel. At one point, his brashness rubs off when she yells, "You're lost in the fucking airport you stupid sod!" If that doesn't sound sexy enough, back up to "Suspenders in the Park," a disturbing rant with growling, Grace Jones-esque vocals ruminating on the effects of napalm over a thick pulsating, yet minimal bursts. Another song of note is the homage to (parody of?) Gainsbourg's jazz/lounge shtick, "Parlez-Moi D'Argent."

Fans of the Metal Urbain release may turn their nose up at the more new wave pop tendencies of this record; dissenters should find some excuse to revisit it. Despite the similarities, you don't necessarily have to love or hate Suicide to warm up to Metal Boys - just German new wave, synth pop and minimalist noise. [LG]









I Am the Fun Blame Monster
(Self Released)

"Cough Coughing"
"The Late Great Libido"

What first drew me to Portland, Oregon's Menomena was their unique composition technique. The band essentially uses a computer program named Deeler -- built by vocalist/pianist/multi-instrumentalist Brent Knopf -- to arrange and write their songs. After bits of music are recorded and mixed up on the computer, the group then recreates each part acoustically. This electronic element is very apparent in Menomena's sound, yet it's never too challenging, more electronic indie-glitch pop, if you will.

An anagram for "The First Menomena Album", "I am the Fun Blame Monster" opens with "Cough Coughing" as Knopf's "Chopsticks"-ish piano weaves around Danny Seim's choppy drumming, and then with the addition of organ and multi-vocals, expands into something reminiscent of a Thom Yorke creation. The second track, "The Late Great Libido," demonstrates Menomena's ability to create an incredible sound of atmospheric depth with a vast array of instruments. Knopf interlaces the multiple stages of the song with gentle piano arpeggios that are interrupted by an almost chthonic-sounding saxophone and guitar.

Encroached by deep saxophone and piano sounds, the album is moody, dark and melancholic, yet hip hop influenced drums also lend a 'groovy' feel. Just when you think Menomena are about to build their volume and sound, they will pause or jump to a startling low tone, and then finally explode into multi-instrument chaos crystallized by the crescendo of piano. The melodies are light and Knopf's vocal range is impressive. Menomena became one of my favorites of this past year! Sure, the lyrics on "I Am the Fun Blame Monster" can be a bit on the stranger side, but Menomena is guaranteed to be a wonderful, if not inspiring, listen. Plus, the CD case/flip-book can't be beat! [CP]




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