February 2003

As If To Nothing
Movie soundtrack-maker, uber-producer and Massive Attack co-conspirator wheels out the big guns on his second solo album. Evan Dando gets stylishly mopey on the mopey, stylish single “Wake Up In New York.” “Snow” features UK soul singer and Ultramarine guest-vocalist David McAlmont, doing his best Seal impersonation. “Starless II” features, it says here, King Crimson 1974. By which Mr Armstrong does a latter-day cover version of the last song on the Crimson album “Red,” sampling it outright, adding a few bits and looping sections of the original to give it a different form. But the aching beauty of Robert Fripp’s greatest solo of the 1970s remains and Armstrong’s treatment is lovely. Of course he could probably make an album of people vomiting and it would still come out pretty damn hot. Maybe next time.
Ian C Stewart

Somehow, John Zorn got the idea of asking free-improv luminary Derek Bailey to do a standards album for release on his label. The result is not as deliberately perverse as one might expect; instead, it feels as if you're hanging out with Bailey in his living room and he's just rambling along on his acoustic guitar, interspersing beautiful tonal harmonies among the usual harmonics, string snaps and rapid atonal figurations. Though the music does get pretty wild every now and then, much of the album is restrained enough that it could make classy background music for an artsy New York cocktail party. In fact, it occasionally seems downright sweet.
Alex Temple

Sea Change
Who here hasn't already read at least two reviews of “Sea Change?” (reviewer mentally accuses the one person raising his hand of living under a rock) Well, everything you've read about it is true. "Sea Change" is a haunting, poetic, folky-bluesy-mopey album full of thoughtful/painful lyrics that make me want to give Beck a hug. More "Mutations" than "Midnite Vultures" I guess. I never actually bought "Midnite Vultures" (am I allowed to say that?) but I did want to. There's a lot of strummy guitar playing that often seems toned down and almost minimalistic, which makes it easier to focus on the depressing lyrics. My most favorite track is "Sunday Sun" and not just for all the kick-ass distortion at the end. I love the open, optimistic (if you ignore the words), new agey feel of it and the shaky, emotional vocal delivery.
Michelle Nollan

More Broken Dishes
(Princezz Of Power)
Trash is right! This is trashy, low-tech, drum-machine new wave with two singers. The bass is the boss and it sounds appropriately toilety in spots. The drum machine is mostly metronomic but some of the beats actually sound pretty cool. (PO Box 348 LV NJ, 07853 USA -
Ian C Stewart

“BLADE 2” Soundtrack
Is it stupid to review a soundtrack to a film I have no intention of seeing? Oh well for you if it is. In general the coming-together of dance music and hip-hop artists tends to be total bullshit, with the talents in question often negating each other. With that in mind here’s the quickly-aging “Blade 2” soundtrack that opens with “Blade” by Marco Beltrami and Danny Saber. It’s like the Propellerheads’ versions of various Bond themes – slow big beat with epic trance music twists. Not bad. Mos Def and Massive Attack get down on “I Against I” – is that the Bad Brains song? I kinda doubt it. The Roots and BT’s “Tao Of The Machine” is an early success. Cypress Hill and Roni Size, two artists who are very well-known in their own countries, probably ain’t shit on each others’ turf. So when they come together it immediately reminds me of Goldie and KRS-One and that lame-ass song they did together. Roni Size is a proven master of upbeat, jazzy breakbeats. Cypress sounds a little winded with the fast tempo and the lyric ain’t exactly “Insane In The Membrane,” but they’ve done worse. Silkk The Shocker, Busta Rhymes and Dub Pistols – my all-time favorites together at last. Too bad the music sounds so rigid and anemic. The intro is cool though, especially when Busta says “never been done before you motherfuckers.” Redman and Gorillaz, okay sure. The music is some mutant pastiche of hiphop and Redman is excellent as usual, though the gorilla sound effects are kinda retarded. Volume Ten and Roni Size. Who’s Volume Ten? Size lets a smoothed-out jungle groove go and Volume Ten tries to keep up from the sidelines. Bubba Sparxxx with Crystal Method – The Method brings it mightily yet again, but Sparxxx will keep the song from being played more than a couple of times. That guy fuckin’ suxxx. Mystikal and Moby try not to step on each others’ toes with varying degrees of success. The usually comically-explicit Mystikal just sounds annoyed and Moby’s music bed is a little on the lite-rock side of things. At least Moby isn’t trying to sing, for which we can all be thankful. Everything else on this CD is unspeakably offensive.
Ian C Stewart

(Hollywood Records)
Smiley, happy, at times semi-industrial, hard rock with delusions of Nickelback. Songs to check out: "Natural Life" has a slightly grungy sound with a little heavy breathing action and growling. "Home" pays homage to the Wizard of Oz for some/no reason. Holy hidden track, is this the same band or did their label put someone else's song on the record?!? "Untitled" sounds totally The Alan Parsons Project "Eye in the Sky" to me. But so does your mom.
Michelle Nollan

The VIIth Coming
Largely dispensing with the sludgy doom of “Endtyme,” “The VIIth Coming” is another Black Sabbath-distilled riff masterpiece. There seem to be more keyboards. The guitars remain front and center. Of course it’s not a Cathedral album without the token non-metal song and in this case it’s “Aphrodite’s Winter,” which is an acoustic-guitar driven track with ghoulish organ, joined by distorted guitar action in the middle. Campy Lee Dorrian lyrics that sound like they were written in the eighth grade. “Nocturnal Fist” recalls the “Supernatural Birth Machine” album without being overly derivative. “Black Robed Avenger” brings the doom at last, recalling the glory days of “The Ethereal Mirror,” still the high-water mark of not only Cathedral’s career but the entire doom-metal genre. Gaz still trills and bends notes like Tony Iommi’s bastard son. But “Halo Of Fire” goes one better and slows shit down to nothing – and another doom anthem is at hand! The keyboards are a kick-ass touch and Lee’s singing is more melodic than ever. Cathedral keeps on keeping on.
Ian C Stewart

A Rush Of Blood To The Head
The gorgeously-recorded misery returns without doing anything to dispel my lingering feeling that Coldplay is merely a Radiohead clone. The songs are more tragic, more stunningly depressing than ever and the dynamics seem to have been taken up a few steps as well. The run-out groove of “Politik” does recall their hit “Yellow” closely enough that Capitol put that sombitch right up front for all the MTV2 viewers who just want what they want. “In My Place” is where the fun (ahem, gloom I mean) starts, with an affecting chorus and big fat drum sound. “The Scientist” opens with mopey-key piano stabs and lilting vocals. It’s like if they bred a new Radiohead in a laboratory without any quirks, this is what would come out. “Clocks” lifts the tempo, thank fuck. More piano, bass, drums and guitars. “Green Eyes” kicks off like a folk song with a swingily-strummed acoustic guitar and plaintive vocal. Another lovely melody and the band kicks in eventually and it’s very nice. Climaxing with the title track and the postscript of “Amsterdam.” Timeless classic or flavor of the week? I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.
Ian C Stewart

Crowned In Terror
(Metal Blade)
Melodic grindcore – who knew there was such a thing? Guitar harmonies and blastbeats plus yelled vocals. It’s equal parts Iron Maiden and Napalm Death. The Crown makes judicious use of tempo changes. The guitar solos even sound like Dave Murray fer fack’s sake. The drummer gets a totally ridiculous mini-solo near the end of the title track – octopus on the ice! My man obviously has five arms and six legs and they’re all built for speed. The singer has a unique shriek. “World Below” throws down at a relatively slow tempo and has several catchy layers to it, sort of like Paradise Lost. Okay, not really, I just wanted to say Paradise Lost. The guitars chug along and the thrash bits are energetic. “Satanist” is a great name for a song and the toilet-bass intro tips off the glorious mayhem to come. Blastbeats on the chorus. Hell yeah.
Ian C Stewart

(Tone Casualties)
Ass-friendly glitch-tech art-damaged sample-intercourse from the co-creator of Rugrats, Duckman and Wild Thornberries. Covering every electronic base from hiphop to breakbeat and trance, though often through some mutated variation. The production is very nice and the songs are catchy in a weird way (and vice versa).
Ian C Stewart

(Takeout Records)
Furious and funky full-scale DJ mix CD with twists and turns enough to keep the heads nodding and the arses in full-wiggle mode. If your car isn’t yet equipped with a subwoofer and a lightshow, this mix will make you want one. The tracks are well-chosen and they flow seamlessly for the whole hour of the disc. Derrick Carter grooves into Alexander East into Bushwacka all the way into Ilana at the end, bringing the entire set home. OH yeah.
Ian C Stewart

Taming Of The Demons
(Southern Lord)
Holy doom – this is slower than “Iron Man” at 16rpm. Well, nearly. Earthride acknowledge their debt to the extent that their logo even looks like Sabbath’s on “Master Of Reality.” That purple wavy thing. Homage or ripoff? Is there a difference? And ultimately who cares – the riffs are vast and slow, the singing sounds like some sore-throat version of Phil Anselmo (good thing) and the production is very good. “Train Wreck” ups the tempo and sounds like St Vitus. “Mr Green” opens with a distorted bass and drum groove – I keep expecting Ozzy to come on and say “all right now!” even though the singer sounds more like Lemmy. The title track is an eight-minute epic with a few tempo twists and turns but basically it’s a Black Sabbath workshop from any angle.
Ian C Stewart

Freedom in Fragments
Freedom In Fragments is a series of 23 pieces written by Frith for the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, any number of which can be played in any order. The CD contains thirteen of them, and they're enormously varied: Frith seems to delight in wringing out of the saxophones every sound he possibly can, from liquid, melodic playing to key-clicks to free-jazz skronk. The music is sometimes lush, sometimes chaotic and atonal, sometimes just two minimalistic lines in quiet counterpoint. Improvised sections are set off against composed pieces that combine quasi-traditional jazz harmonies or Bartókian modality with typically Frithy angular lines and a tricky sense of rhythm that evokes comparison to Messiaen. It's impressive that the saxophone is capable of this much variety, especially at the hands of one composer.
Alex Temple

Heavy Meta
(Ecstatic Yod)
The prospect of an 80-minute slab of completely free improvisation might seem intimidating, and indeed, "Heavy Meta" is a dense, difficult listen. But while this trio can whip up all the blustery chaos you might want, they can also slow down and produce much clearer, more intelligible material. Sometimes guitarist Kaiser introduces tonal harmonies among his Derek Bailey-esque clicks, pops and harmonics. Sometimes drummer Lukas Ligeti (son of György) sets up complex rhythmic patterns that employ cowbells and other unorthodox percussion along with the snares and hi-hats. Sometimes the group plays a sort of spastic chamber music that seems to take its cue from the classical avant-garde of the 1950s. Throughout, regular patterns almost emerge but lurk just out of reach. One of the most striking moments comes in "Blind Site," in which a highly dissonant version of "Three Blind Mice" gives way to a sensuous study in seventh and ninth chords, Kaiser playing like four people at once as Goodman's piano hits its lowest notes and Ligeti's drums mutter tensely in the background.
Alex Temple

(Reprise Records)
B-sides, previously unreleased and covers make up this unquestionably Green Day album. I knew some of the songs sounded familiar. Pay attention to the spot-on, kick ass cover of "Tired of Waiting For You" by The Kinks and "Espionage,” which sounds like an overly-long Batman (the TV show) song. "On The Wagon" is an uninspired track that I could probably play if I actually had a guitar. Also it's a touch too cowboy for me. On second thought, the more I hear this song, the more I like it. Shit, I don't know.
Michelle Nollan

King Of Kings
Viciously precise death metal with crystal-clear production and amazing riffs. The thing is, the riffs alone are ridiculous but then they go in and harmonize the shit. The drumming is totally off the hook, blast beats up your nostrils and down your pant-legs, with amazing double-bass action throughout. The production should win some type of award. So many death metal recordings lack any kind of low end or even mids. This shit has it all. So it starts with a little ghouly intro ditty they call “Our Beckoning” – with backward speaking through a harmonizer or a vocoder or some shit. “Born By Fire” is a gloriously brutal track that sounds like Buckethead jamming with Cannibal Corpse. But faster. No, really. “Chants In Declaration” continues the madness and the album doesn’t even relent after “Powers That Be,” the last track! Even after you stop playing this album it’s still kicking your ass!
Ian C Stewart

I wish all music succeeded as well as this album by Sweden's Hoven Droven. “Hoppa” is traditional Swedish folk music with contemporary sensibilities. The addition of drums, bass and distorted guitar to traditional instruments is a stroke of brilliance. The accordion, whose sound usually strikes me as corny, is a haunting and melancholy texture here. I'm not familiar with Scandinavian folk music, except the territory mined by Fred Frith in the late '70s on his album "Gravity,” and much of the material on “Hippa” is reminiscent of that. Occasionally it sounds like something from the Thistle And Shamrock radio show. Plus the album sports the best cover photo I've seen in a long time: the band members schlepping their instruments across a frozen tundra in the middle of nowhere. And I thought, wow, when you are trying to do something really different musically, it can be kinda like Shackleton's voyage. For the musicians that is. For us listeners it's pure joy.
Michael Bowman

Turn On The Bright Lights
Some reviewer I read recently said of Interpol that they achieved a "drunken vibe not out of place on a Strokes album". Now anybody who thinks The Strokes create a drunken vibe has either never been drunk or never heard bands like Flipper, or perhaps both. The Strokes sound like the musicians have been replaced by robots programmed to play "rock" music. Interpol thankfully isn't as rote as The Strokes, so don't pay attention to those comparisons if you see them. Many other critics have compared them to Joy Division, which is a bit closer to the mark of their derivation, but Joy Division was much rawer, much more real than this atmospheric, digital-era, factory produced sound. "NYC" brings to mind The Mekons, who also excelled at the drunken sound, so maybe there's some truth to the rumor, but this track is unique on the "Turn On The Bright Lights" disc in that regard. The guitar line on "Pda" sounds way too much like U2 at times to be on an album that was released by Gerard Cosloy of Matador Records. Maybe Mr. Cosloy no longer does the A&R over there, but just signs the checks from a beach in the Caribbean. Or maybe he's just saying "Hey, all my '90s acts like Pavement, GBV and Liz Phair were the lofi reincarnation of the '70s. Now my turn-of-the-century acts are all gonna be hi-fi reincarnations of '80s new wave, punk, goth and techno sounds." "Say Hello To The Angels" has that bouncy riff that is a misguided genetic-splicing of "Walking on Sunshine", Adam Ant and The Psychedelic Furs. I guess if you're under the age of thirty this Interpol crap all sounds new to you, so enjoy! Or you wish more bands would take their cues from Echo and The Bunnymen. If so, you'll like Interpol, maybe.
Michael Bowman

Come Away With Me
(Blue Note Records)
I bought "Come Away With Me" after I read the Rolling Stone interview with Norah Jones and thought she sounded rather intelligent for someone so young. She reminded me of a less messed-up Fiona Apple. I'm not normally a fan of jazz (sorry!) but decided to make an exception. And I'm very glad I did. How hot is this CD?!?!? And by hot, I mean that this is definitely music to do it to. Sultry, wise beyond her age voice, seductive & sensual music, damn. I dig the interesting, unpredictable choice of covers: “Cold, Cold Heart” and “The Nearness of You.” This chick even makes country music hot. Best track: "I've Got To See You Again" - samba-ish melody with hypnotizing lyrics. You'll sway around like Sade even if it’s just in your head. I would dare you to listen to this song and not have carnal thoughts but there's no point because I know you can't do it. Go ahead and try to prove me wrong, big boy.
Michelle Nollan

O'er a Shalabast'r Tyde Strolt Ay
(Beta-Lactam Ring)
Ka-Spel's solo albums typically serve as a repository for material that was "too weird" for the more song-oriented Legendary Pink Dots. This album, consisting of three tracks that total over 45 minutes, is no exception. Some of the material here -- melancholic waltzes, out-of-tune chimes and oppressive ambient wash -- is very Dotsy. Other parts are more abstract: long distorted instrumentals, quiet, piano-led sections that sound like dark film scores, heavily-filtered spoken-word vocals buried under massive piles of texture, and especially the eleven-and-a-half-minute "O'Riley's Comet." This last starts out with various synthesized and sampled sounds collaged into quirkly little irregular rhythms, somewhat in the vein of Coil's "Disco Hospital," and eventually winds up as quiet, rhythmic bursts of static surrounded by swirling ambience and samples from old movies. Throughout, Ka-Spel seems obsessed with the contrast between murky, abstruse layering and crystalline chamber music.
Alex Temple

Shadows And Dust
(Nuclear Blast)
"In Shadows And Dust" opens with a riff that Napalm Death wouldn't banish to Utopia (ha) and woofy vocals kick in. Then there's a blastbeat and the singer gets some upper-register black metal bleating in. The breakneck riffing and precision drumming combined with the blastbeats make Napalm Death an obvious comparison. The production is excellent and the riffs are mean and well-rendered. Odd breakout chords help too. There are melodic aspects which will help keep Kataklysm out of the deathmetal ghetto, unless that's where they want to be or something. Pure, finessed brutality. Oof! My teeth!
Ian C Stewart

Since the mid-90s, Dave Kerman has gradually been leading his band 5uu's away from the Yes-on-crack sound of the avant-prog classic "Hunger's Teeth" and toward a sort of demented clockwork music. Jerky, angular guitar lines, perversely complex precision drumming and Deborah Perry's almost completely emotionless vocals all give the impression that this music was produced by a huge machine. A swarm of electronic buzzes, clangs, clicks and whistles surround the compositions, which only contributes to the album's cold affect. The only emotions that break through are anger -- particularly in "Noah's Flame," which ends with an ostinato in 7/4 that makes you want to headbang -- and humor -- Kerman's interest in Jewish folk music occasionally threatens to turn the music into evil cartoon Klezmer.
Alex Temple

Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With
This EP is a taster of the album to come, not unlike how “Vrooom” was a hint of “Thrak”s to come. King Crimson 2002 is Trey Gunn, Pat Mastelotto, Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp (well duh) plus every piece of technology in the world. There are four proper “song” songs (that is, they have singing on them) and six bits of computer-treated vocals that sound quite amazing. I don’t know what kind of funk they dipped them shits in but they sound wicked. Opening with the 30-second “Bude,” and picking up for real with the title track - which is slam-bang-crash-wallop back into the metallic ninja fury of postmillennial Crimson. Which is to say that it rocks like a bitch and has a chorus you could drink milk out of. The opening riff is mean and meaty, recalling the Sylvian/Fripp track “Brightness Falls.” Oh shit, I think I just swallowed my uvula. The riff tears it open and you immediately notice groovebox percussion – bass drums and high-hats. It gives it a distressed, of-the-moment feel. Adrian is singing “and there’s gonna have to be a chorus” – which makes it a songs about songs. The chorus in question is twitchy and catchy like a nice dose of Parkinson’s Syndrome. “Mie Gakure” is Crimsontronics, or maybe Fripp solo but I somehow doubt that. Two minutes of shimmerin’ beautistics by whomever. Let’s hope there’s a 22-minute version of this track on the next album. “Eyes Wide Open (acoustic)” does feature acoustic guitar amid synthetic percussion and – is Trey Gunn playing fretless Warr Guitar? Whatever it is, it adds up to the most affecting King Crimson ballad ever: beyond “One Hand,” beyond “Matte Kudasai,” hell, it’s even up there with “Epitaph.” The vocal harmony on the chorus is heart-stopping. “Shoganai” is an Oriental percussion jam that was probably done on one of those Roland hand-drum synth deals. I think the preset is called “Gamelan Bells.” “Potato Pie” is this year’s answer to “Prozakc Blues” or “Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream,” only it’s, like a real blues progression. Of course it’s in some fucked-up time signature but still: 2002 and King Crimson decides to explore the fucking blues. “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (Part IV)” was recorded live in Nashville. All ten minutes of this cybernetic reconfiguration of a legend of progressive rock still kicks the ass of nearly everything else in the world. This version doesn’t descend into “I Have A Dream” either, it just shudders off. Several minutes of BPM&M-style freakouttakes follow the last track, most of which are very funny, especially Fripp saying “ohhhhh, isn’t it sweet?” Yes it is actually.
Ian C Stewart

The Very Best Of KISS
Yes, “The Very Best Of KISS” is another greatest-hits album. But this one just includes songs that were released as singles. Unlike previous compilations like 1978’s bizarre, slapdash, haphazard back-catalog romp “Double Platinum,” and the abortion “Smashes Thrashes & Hits,” “The Very Best Of KISS” focuses on songs which people have actually heard of. It opens with 1974’s “Strutter,” which hasn’t aged well at all. Then “Deuce,” which is timeless, eventually followed by “Rock And Roll All Nite” from “Alive!” which is one song I can go the rest of my life without hearing again. That song is like herpes, it just follows you everywhere. “Shout It Out Loud” was always fun but the diabolical “Beth” is just wrong. Its inclusion here guarantees that this will never be a CD I just put on and let play. Fuck that shit. And I’m falling in love again with the song “Calling Dr. Love,” especially the opening caveman-with-a-guitar riff. Hell yeah. The lyrics are great too, they’re so sexist and retarded. “I Stole Your Love” is an odd choice for a single but whatever. Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” stands out somewhat from the pack due to the fact that it’s not technically a KISS song and also he didn’t write it. Next is “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” the disco anthem, which isn’t as bad as you might remember. But slam-dunked into the arena-metal anthem “I Love It Loud” this compilation is the sound of a band at war with itself. Or something. “Lick It Up,” follows, then it skips all of the 1980s hits like “Heaven’s On Fire,” “Tears Are Falling,” “Crazy Nights,” and “Burn Bitch Burn,” and lands in 1989’s atrocious Michael Bolton-assisted “Forever.” “God Gave Rock And Roll To You II” closes out the proceedings. Not that I care but they should’ve done two volumes in this set: disc one the makeup stuff and disc two without. Sung to the tune of “Forever”: Whatever.
Ian C Stewart

All the King's Horses
This is certainly a change in direction for the Dots. On the one hand, they're returning to their roots, particularly their late 80s period (from Island of Jewels through The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse). At times they even take the lo-fi, super-cheesy Casio-pop of their early days and update it with fuller, more psychedelic and more elaborate arrangements, as in the bizarre bossa nova of "Chain Surfing" or the New-Wavey spoken word of "A Bargain at Twice the Price." On the other hand, there are moments here that sound nothing like anything the Dots have done before: circus music (albeit only for 42 seconds), prickly contapuntal music that almost sounds like French chamber-rockers Volapük, woodsy-sounding troubador songs. The use of saxophones is very different from the mellow, New Agey bits that popped up on many of their 90s albums: instead, they're staccato and spiky, or noir-jazzy, or even boppy. And for some reason, Ka-Spel now pronounces his R's, which is very disorienting every time he says a word like "fire" or "near." Overall, the tunes and arrangements on the album are more complex and unpredictable than anything they've done in years.
Alex Temple

All the King's Men
It's pretty common for the second half of a Dots project to be more abstract and mellower then the first. This is true both of single albums (think "Crushed Velvet Apocalypse") and double albums (think "Asylum"). The same applies here, as "All the King's Men," for the most part, has much more of a background-music feel than its companion, "All the King's Horses." There are exceptions: "Sabres at Dawn" is a sickeningly out-of-tune little waltz, and sections of "Cross of Fire" are as sardonic and industrially twisted as anything the band has ever done. For the most part, though, the album mixes its quirky, gothic songs in among ambient passages, scattered samples of brass and voices, drones, buzzing noises, sweet piano parts and, surprisingly, rock jamming.
Alex Temple

Pieces Of The Sun
Levin and fellow Peter Gabriel cohorts are all over the place on this sucker. The Grammy-nominated “Apollo” opens the proceedings and features the California Guitar Trio on a patented little pretty piece of acoustica in the middle. This album is infused with the DNA of three decades of progressive rock, following a path laid down by the history of the genre itself, incorporating breath-stopping instrumental virtuosity, badly-chosen keyboard sounds and occasional dips into full-on cheesiness. But the finer moments nearly cancel out the lame ones. It’s just too bad they didn’t get David Torn on guitar. They do a Peter Gabriel song, “Dogs” and a horribly disfigured meditation on Pee-wee Herman barroom anthem “Tequila.” It’s good to hear Levin let rip on fretless and fretted basses and of course the Chapman Stick. Drummer Jerry Marotta is always up for a rhythmic throwdown and his playing is tasty and his sounds are top-notch. Despite being on Narada, this isn’t a new age album, nor is it strictly progressive rock. A hybrid perhaps.
Ian C Stewart

Hello Lisa
Yes, that's ‘Hello Lisa’ like Hello Kitty. This album should come with a pink comb. Pathologically wordy, girly, folky alternative rock that may prove to be too literate for pop charts ruled by nu metal, rural hiphop and teenybopper fluff. "You Don't Know Me" sounds like a lost distress signal from 1992 with madly jangling guitars, a 12-string guitar melody and a guitar solo. It's a spiritual cousin to XTC's "The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead." "Drops Me Down" mines that west-coast mope vibe purveyed by Counting Crows, Train etc with a smooshed production job that recalls The Cardigans' finer moments. "The Way It Really Is" opens like Paula Cole's hit, with brushed snare drum and acoustic guitar. The chorus goes big with rock-out drumming and orchestral sounds. "What Am I Supposed To Say" takes a drop-D guitar approach to slow-mope balladry. Hammond organ, tons of guitars. These songs smell like perfume.
Ian C Stewart

Windblown Kiss
Brand new, yet retro! "Windblown Kiss" is fairly constant in mood: dark, flowing, sexy, elegant. As for style, it pays tribute to various genres: bossa nova, 40s pop, flamenco, late 60s folk. Female vocalist Anji Bee is completely convincing as a pre-War vamp, while her occasional co-vocalist Ryan Lum would fit right in with Jefferson Airplane circa "Crown of Creation"(!). Around them swirl lush textures that include acoustic and occasionally electric guitars, saxophone, Fender Rhodes, strings, percussion... in short, whatever is necessary to make the mood as sensual as possible.
Alex Temple

If you know the name, you know the game. “That’s How You Sing Amazing Grace” opens and is Low at their most “produced” – the snare drum sounds like it’s had some work done. Of course the slowmotion breathiness of everything Low touches is present and accounted-for. Recorded by Low and mixed (and presumably fucked-with) by master of all he surveys Tchad Blake. It could be their most listenable album since “The Curtain Hits The Cast.” “Canada” builds on a two-note distorted bass guitar riff. Let me say that again: a DISTORTED bass guitar RIFF. On a LOW record. Oh my. It’s a rad pop song in the vein of “Starfire” from “Secret Name,” with acoustic guitars, bells and whistles. I betcha somebody put Tchad Blake up to putting actual bells and whistles on this record. “In The Drugs” throws a banjo and an accordion into the fray. “Snowstorm” adds multiple layers of activity, including distorted bass and layers of vocals. “La La La Song” builds gradually with nylon-string acoustic and co-ed vocals, adding handclaps and electric guitar. Imagine that Dean Wareham could somehow go back in time and join himself in Galaxie 500, bringing his Luna mindset with him, combining the past and the present. Hell yeah.
Ian C Stewart

Tripping Back Into The Broken Days
Lycia's newest recording finds them trying a new approach, breaking from industrial/goth toward a more ambient sound and a New-Americana/slowcore slant. Foregoing the familiar midrangey moans of Mike Vanporfleet's flanged electric guitar in favor of plucky-strummy acoustic guitar, and dispensing with the clunky preset-sounding drum patterns that pinned down their earlier work in exchange for ambient washes by Steve Roach. Mike's spectral, decayed, wheezing vocals are still front and center, and Tara Vanportfleet's vocals are stronger and more stylized than ever, recalling the songs Julee Cruise did with David Lynch. Both Vanportfleets draw out every phrase, the notes carried on by everpresent cavernous reverb, eventually swirling down into the murky background ambience. At best, Lycia uses the stark and somber pomp of slow, sad waltzes to sound like a bunch of haunted lullabies. At worst, the songs just float by as spooky background music.
C Reider

(Super Secret)
Woo, scrappy garage-punk! These guys make technical incompetence a virtue, in that they don't always seem to be able to keep the rhythm, but if they could it would probably sound boring and generic. The vocals are hardly tuneful, but on the other hand, the basslines are surprisingly melodic (and a lot of the songs open with bass alone). Guitarist Alfonso Rabago's playing is also surprisingly unrepetetive, as if he were determined to make sure the music stayed interesting without departing too much from punk tradition. The music has a "naked" feeling -- not only is there no slick production, there's pretty much no production at all. Oddly, the last song has a real vocal melody, a piano, and an ending in which the sound cuts in and out in chunks; overall it reminds me of Tampa indie-rockers Home, and seems a bit out of place on the album.
Alex Temple

Finally We Are No One
(Fat Cat)
Two dudes and two twin chicks (the ones on the cover of Belle & Sebastian’s “Fold Your Hands Child,” apparently) from Iceland throw down beats, whispery girlvox, piano, samples, synths. Everything pretty much. “Don’t Be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed” opens with a cracked Mr Oizo-style beat and chimpy synth pokes. There’s a playfulness and unbridled tactility to the music and it’s not just the sparkly toy-piano arpeggios either. The buildup at the end is like Stereolab having a nervous breakdown. Or a midlife crisis. “I Can’t Feel My Hand Anymore, It’s Allright, Sleep Still” has tasty accordion, brushed drum sounds and other elements panning between the speakers. If Sigur Ros is the new Radiohead, then Mum is the new Sigur Ros.
Ian C Stewart

Lush, complex hacktronica with classical samples and overtones. It’s like Aphex Twin minus the barbs. Chirps and ticks, backward and forward, glitchy-tech rhythms (and anti-rhythms) get down with piano chords, violins and whatever else. Bits of Autechre throw down with chimped cellos. Certainly avant garde and probably likely to put fear into the hearts of many. The production is sweet, there’s a reverb around the whole thing that pulls it together. The fucked rhythms create their own kind of ambience in the background, in an impossibly groovy turn. “Mo” introduces full drum kit action and peculiar vocal samples. “Mapa” has something bordering a traditional groove, sounding like a soundtrack for very fast late-night driving . “Mir” too. Hacked-up atmospheres.
Ian C Stewart

The Voice Of The Wretched
Dark, longform, arty, slow, fast, brutal, wimpy, walking ball of contradictions. This album was recorded live in March 2001. The songs twist and turn and revolve slowly. There’s a timeless beauty to their twin-guitar riffing and ethereal keyboards. The singer croons and sings and wails, growls and yells. The best bits are the song introductions, the singer sounds like he has a gun to his head as he reluctantly reveals: “Turn Loose The Swans.” The recording of “The Voice Of The Wretched” is excellent and the songs are so majestic that it’s almost like My Dying Bride’s own private little “Live After Death.” “Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium” is the only track I was previously familiar with and it sounds exactly like I remember it. I forgot to use the word “opus.”
Ian C Stewart

Holy Uncontrollio!!!
(Floating Fish Studios)
I can't tell if these guys are serious or not. Lead singer Steve O delivers his lyrics with perfect alternatortured melodrama even when he's singing lines like "One life combo to go / I think I wanna supersize it." And while the vocals would fit in well with a metal band, there are no guitars or drums, just synthesizers, synthesizers and more synthesizers (oh, and a drum machine). And while those synthesizers sometimes play metalish riffs, they're just as likely to imitate 80s synthpop, house (on a song called "The Move," how creative), or even an industrialized version of 80s Kraftwerk. Even more surprising is "Buggabomb," with vocals that rest somewhere between rap and No Wave, atonal synth parts, brief moments of acoustic guitar strumming and distorted vocal samples. Even the band's more conventional material features very complex and claustrophobic arrangements, all mixed loud and dense so that the album just NEVER FUCKING LETS UP. Agh, crushing my skull.
Alex Temple

Fuzzy Warbles Volume One
Fuzzy Warbles Volume Two
After half a decade of buildup, Andy Partridge's home demos are finally becoming commercially available in the first two installments of the Fuzzy Warbles series, either from or direct from the Idea Records site. Partridge's XTC cohort Colin Moulding backed out of the project so we have two hours or so of pure Partridge action - the new ("Born Out Of Your Mouth" on One and "Young Marrieds" on Two), the old (early acoustic workout of 1979's "Complicated Game"), the borrowed (the Captain Beefheart vibe of the short radio ID for DJ Alan Burston) and the blue ("Everything," a murky, mopey leftover from the mid-1980s). Some of the demos have seen release before through XTC's fan club on cassettes like Jules Verne's Sketchbook ("Obscene Procession"), Window Box ("It's Snowing Angels") and The Bull With The Golden Guts (the gilded "Rocket" and the previously-noted "Everything"), all of which continue to fetch small fortunes on eBay. The fidelity of the cassette recordings is revealed utterly by the compact disc format, but not to the detriment of the songs. Even with a tiny bit of hiss, the remastered, remixed demos are pristine. The packaging is fantastic with lyrics and well-written liner notes for every song. Granted, there are a few duds spread across the two CDs but the average is no worse than the average box set. And if the rest of the series is as engaging as these two, it'll be a large treat for Partridge fans everywhere. Casual fans probably won't appreciate Fuzzy Warbles, but then again, who's ever heard of a casual XTC fan?
Ian C Stewart

(Subconscious Communications)
PlatEAU is Download's slightly darker twin brother, essentially another techno project from Skinny Puppy's Cevin Key. But this is a techno project with a concept. Music to smoke weed to. Stoner music for those who don't like the Grateful Dead or the Allman Brothers. Though I haven't toked since high school, the concept works for me. The music, which is no more melodically catchy than recent work by Download (if anything it's starker and more repetitive) grooves much more immediately. This album, the fourth of seven Subconscious "From The Vault" releases, presents eleven new tracks, many of them Muslimgauze-style re-ppropriations. Key approaches bleak, sterile techno forms and applies the same squirmy denseness he has always brought to his productions. Uh, "sparker!" I guess.
C Reider

It’s telling that the hardest-hitting tracks of this collection are remixes or live versions of classic PE cuts like “Fight The Power,” and “By The Time We Get To Arizona.” Some of the remixes were done by fans, with varied results. The album opens with the single “Gotta Give The Peeps What They Need,” which recalls the limp and unamazing “He Got Game.” The new songs have decent, mid-paced grooves but without besting their world-changing first albums. “Can A Woman Make A Man Lose His Mind” is the Flavor Flav solo spot, which could be Public Enemy’s version of “Baby Got Back.” For me the highlight of early albums like “It Takes A Nation Of Millions” is the production: the hard beats, the crazy DJ-ing and the overwhelming sense of urgency. On “Revolverlution,” PE sounds like they know the eyes of the world are upon them, so their delivery isn’t as urgent. I’m not saying they sound lazy and old but it is a far cry from the old days. When “Night Of The Living Baseheads” dropped down from the heavens it was a truly remarkable event. No artists from any genre can compete with that track in terms of funkiness, out-of-left-field-ness and cultural relevance. There is no millennial equivalent to PE at their prime. Their beats were the best and the lyrics were catchy and important at the same time. “Revolverlution” reminds me of Buster Douglas: came from out of nowhere, shocked the world, got fat and disappeared. Probably eating a burrito as big as his head now.
Ian C Stewart

My Fever Broke EP
Melora Creager get remixed, first by Joseph Bishara, whose version of “At The State Fair With A White Trash Sucker” adds a face-slapping percussion setup and big, Reznorish sawtooth bass to the heavily-treated vocals. Cello? There’s a hint or two but the track is mostly Creager’s vocals and Bishara’s dirt-electro get-down. “SweetWaterKill – Soft Kill R-Mix” (remixed by Dimitir Tikovoi) adds filtered percussion, piano sounds and mad echo to the vocals. Again neatly foregoing the cello. It adds up to a cool, spacey take on pop music not heard since Lida Husik went NASA with her album “Faith In Space.” “AntiqueHighHeelRedDollShoes” is an album cut from the Rasputina album “Cabin Fever!” and it goes techno-punk with distorted cello (finally!) and a break-neck tempo. “Deep In The SweetWater,” another Bishara mix, is practically unplugged, with cellos, a fat-ass beat and flanged vocals. “The Fox In The Snow” is a Belle & Sebastian song and it has Creager belting out the words like an acid casualty, and the drumming flies off tempo? “State Fair – Tweaker Ambient Remix” gets a Chris Vrenna makeover, this time reducing the elements and offering little in the way of percussion. Synths, vocal tracks and the odd cello gliss. There’s a CD-ROM video of “My Orphanage,” that’s professionally filmed with multiple camera angles - the sound mix is very good even though the drums almost dominate. It’s interesting to see Rasputina getting down onstage and the reactions of the Knitting Factory audience. They don’t seem to know what to do with themselves. A typically disorienting and fascinating release from Rasputina.
Ian C Stewart

The Original Soundtrack of Glen Duncan's "I, Lucifer"
I can picture walking into a fancy theatre that's been abandoned for decades and hearing ghosts playing this album from down one of the empty hallways. This is Stephen Coates, aka (The Real) Tuesday Weld, writing a soundtrack to a book called "I, Lucifer" with the assistance of The Clerkenwell Kid, Pinkie Maclure and various others. The music is firmly rooted in 20s and 30s pop, but filtered through an industrial/sampling aesthetic: straightforward (and beautiful) tunes are laid over a foundation of quiet, unearthly noises, or stripped bare and accompanied by unexpected instruments like accordions, or cut up and pieced back together into seamless dance loops, creating a sort of Coil-ish nightclub minimalism. Occasionally the spacy textures, at once ethereal and subtly creepy, take on a trip-hoppish cast, especially since Coates' raspy voice sounds a bit like Tricky's. All of these combinations are designed to beguile rather than to shock; this Devil is clearly a man of wealth and taste.
Alex Temple
By the Way
(Warner Brothers)
The Chili Peppers from "Californication" are back on "By the Way" with that studio-polished, mellow sound we might need to get used to hearing from now on. The guys are definitely less raw and/or punk in their sober old age but then again aren't we all. Alright, maybe Flea still kicks as much ass as ever but you know what I'm saying about the other boys. One thing that has remained is the way the lyrics always make you think - even if you're just thinking, "what the fuck does that mean?" A change for the better is the stronger, more harmonized background vocals. Pleasant surprises: the psychedelic synth waves on "Universally Speaking" and the Stewart Copeland-ish high hat action on "The Zephyr Song,” both favorites of mine. And no review of this album would be complete without mentioning "Cabron" for its plunky, Spanish guitar sound, sneaky bad word and use of the phrase “electric boogaloo.” You must buy this CD now if you don't already have it. If you do, go buy another one. I have at least three. True story.
Michelle Nollan

Music Kills Me
Holy Christ: fat grooves and beats for the entire body. Guitars, strings, big disco beats for your spleen alone. Guaranteed to shake the walls at any volume. “Le Rock Summer (edit)” puts a disco twist on, which ordinarily would be grounds for execution but in this case I’m just too busy waving my rectum around. The breakdowns are huge and intense and they’re as important to the song as anything else. “Music Kills Me” adds a vocal loop and distorted guitars and puts a pseudo-Rolling Stones twist on it. Which, again, would normally be my cue to start breaking things. The production on this sombitch is what makes it all so ass-friendly. Your subwoofer never had it so good. While not as minimalistic, nor as immediately catchy as “Le Guitaristic House Organisation” etc from 1999, this is still a profoundly funky party album. “Dead Flowers” adds a Latin theme and percussion, which would usually etc. “Dead Can Dance,” as you can guess, has nothing to do with Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard. It’s a smoothed-out samba jam with funky everything and crystalline guitars that could’ve come from Johnny Marr’s left bollock. “Highway To Heaven” gets a classic rock vibe going – imagine if Air had a fixation on The Eagles that they never told anybody about. Funky for everybody. Ian C Stewart

(MCA/Fat Cat)
If the quiet parts of this album were any quieter you’d have to press your face against the speakers to hear them. I exaggerate. But there is much space between the notes and chords populating the sounds of “().” The eight tracks on this untitled album are also untitled. Track one is led gently by piano and falsetto singing. There are lots of layers, peaks and valleys to the sound too. Lots of creepy ambient shit in the background. Track two is a funeral dirge with drums, bass, samples, singing and the band’s own string section. This is a deeply emotional recording and it’s easy to see why I’m calling them the new Radiohead, isn’t it? Track three is mostly instrumental, strings and piano. Sigur Ros makes Slowdive sound like Anthrax. Track four features a strangely beautiful melody that’s not a million miles removed from the song “Svefn-g-englar.” Track six crescendos into track seven which starts off with a distant angelic choir that fades in slowly; it’s a placeholder for the 2 BPM slow-burn. Track eight closes the album with a balls-out frenzy of strumming and drumming, disappearing in a squall of bass feedback. A damagingly, flawlessly gorgeous album.
Ian C Stewart

Puppy Gristle
(Subconscious Communications)
The second release in the Subconscious "From The Vault" series is an unedited forty minute psycho-noise-techno jam between Skinny Puppy and Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV). The recording stumbles out of the gate with growling distortion, electronic squeals and a tangled mess of clangorous industrial beats, holding the promise of the mayhem of the latter-day Pupsters. Instead, it never finds its footing, floundering stupendously over 40 minutes and 13 seconds, drawing an immediate comparison with that other long boring Skinny Puppy jam with a famous industrial music guy: "Spahn Dirge" (with Al Jourgensen). I might've forgiven all of the stumbling around if the jam had a centerpiece. If, for example, Ogre's dazed whispers built to a rage while everyone else agreed on a beat to groove on, as they do with some hesitation at around the 12 minute mark. Puppy Gristle does have a few magical moments where everything congeals, but not enough of them to make this more than a curiosity for hardcore fans.
C Reider

Taken as a whole, Speedy J's album is an hourlong whip around the outerbelt. As with the classic Orbital albums of the early 1990s, the individual songs blend together, sharing a clang here, a bass line there, all at a tempo that could be considered relentless. Unlike Orbital, who marinate their greatest tracks with memorable tunes, Speedy J's thing is the rhythm. He doesn't arse about much with breakdowns either, it's pretty much one all-encompassing groove for the duration. "Bugmod" does flip the beat around so it hits in reverse for a few bars but beyond that it's tight turns in the Jetta out on the freeway. "Krikc Live" adds crowd noise and freaks the beat so hard it comes to a dead stop a couple of times. A minute into "Stroker" a little two-note melodic figure appears and reappears only to be swallowed by the beat that begat it. "Pannik Rmx" fades the beats back in like a hyperactive child after a midday nap. I'm tired. Who's ready for another lap?
Ian C Stewart

Kill the Moonlight
On this album, Spoon take the spirit of Paul McCartney and dress it up in textures so crystal-clear they make Emergency & I look like The Black Foliage. Every guitar riff, every percussion sound, every reverb, every synthesizer tone is perfectly audible, to the point that an audiophile with some production experience could probably tell you how each sound was made. The tunes are similarly minimal, not in the sense of repetetive, but in the sense that notes are distributed sparingly. There are no elaborate Shins-style multi-sectional melodies here - just stark, catchy little ditties that flirt with the line between simple and simplistic. How they manage to sound like McCartney despite that I don't know, but dammit, they DO!
Alex Temple

I haven’t thought this much about Helloween since 1988. What the hell?! Following the trends begun a decade or so back by Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford and even Geoff Tate of singers from classic heavy metal bands (in Supared’s case it’s Michael Kiske, formerly of Helloween) stabbing out with solo albums that dabble in musical styles most unlike their bands. Though certainly not as divergent as Halford’s Two album for Trent Reznor’s Nothing label, Kiske does loosen his collar quite a bit here. With different production, several of the fourteen songs on Supared’s debut could pass for something out of the Stereophonics catalog. Which transltates to guitar chords instead of single-string riffs, groovy drums, big non-metal choruses - especially “Hey.” There are several splats of samples across the album which give it an even more modern edge. Kiske doesn’t screech or howl or really do anything else that’s downright embarrassing. “That’s Why” is a big ballad that can’t decide if it’s Queensryche or Robbie Williams. “Turn It” throws down some strange guitar chords before tearing into a sweltering chorus. Oh my. Will Supared stand alone as “alternative rock” or is it doomed to be merely an “ex-heavy metal singer’s latest makeover”?
Ian C Stewart

The Shifts Recyclings
(Soleilmoon Recordings)
The salt 'n pepper of ambient tag teams are at it again with their newest Recyclings release. Instead of recycling recordings by each other this time, they aim their respective studios at Shifts, one of the many musical projects of Frans De Waard (Kapotte Muziek, Beequeen). De Waard invited Tietchens and Obmana to manipulate the source material from his experiments with guitars played by automatons, supplying both artists with the same sounds. Working individually, the result is a surprisingly divergent double CD package. Obmana smears his pieces onto huge walls of dissonant tone clusters. There's no wondering what the next note will be because it's always already there, fading in with glacial slowness. He veers from the formula a bit on "IV," preventing the texture from being rendered shapeless by endless reverberation. Tietchens paints with a far more alien timbral palette, twisting the original guitar sounds into layers of electric shimmers and shivers, inorganic moans and startling hypnogogic sounds, advancing with hesitant spasms of unpredictable rhythm. Moody and amazing.
C Reider

The Golden Dove
This album is, at its core, a fairly typical specimen of catchy indie rock or aggressive indie-pop, complete with a disaffected female singer à la Hail's Susanne Lewis. What sets it apart are its chamber-rock, perhaps even proggish tendencies: it incoroporates viola, cello, trumpet, euphonium and a nearly omnipresent Fender Rhodes alongside the guitars, bass and drums, and much of the music is tinged with Renaissance harmonies. There's even a cover of a 17th-century ballad as a bonus track. Comparison could also be made to the recent work of Timony's occasional tourmate shannonwright, but while the latter's music is overtly angsty, Timony buries her misery in cryptic, awkward lyrics and the unsettling bass drones and spooky reverberations that surround her otherwise friendly songs.
Alex Temple

The Lonely Position of Neutral
This is more of that high energy, power-chordy rock music that you hear all the time on the radio. The difference with Trust Company is the breathy, boy vocals - oh yeah! - the nice manic-depressive mix of songs (or am I projecting?) and the way the singer dude screams. I'd compare this to Incubus if I was allowed.
Michelle Nollan

Demonheart EP
Oh my god. It’s as if Yngwie (fucking) Malmsteen’s Rising Force has been taken over by Joey Tempest and his co-poodles from the band Europe. For the sole purpose of doing Meatloaf covers. Holy Christ, who knew this kind of thing existed anymore? Singer Olaf Hayer does a very credbile Jeff Scott Soto impression, which is probably the best thing that can be said about someone in his position. The music is classically influenced metal with chops out the tailpipe. There are several keyboard breaks that are just insane, especially on “Black Realms’ Majesty,” which takes the harpsichord to places probably best left undisturbed. When Turilli gets the balance right, his music sounds like a not-bad tribute to early Helloween. Actually, track six IS a tribute to Helloween: a frighteningly note-perfect (perhaps beyond the original, even) “I’m Alive.” Hayer’s upper-register voice suits the material. Unfortunately most of the songs get too pretentious for their own good (the opening of “Demonheart” for example). Press photos show Luca Turilli crouching with broadsword and shield. Um. Clearly Turillia is a virtuoso, and the production is very good. I mean, it’s all plausible – but who in fuck’s name listens to this in 2003, I axe you!?
Ian C Stewart

A Hundred Days Off
It’s smooth and groovy and it ain’t fuckin’ disco. Underworld goes larger-than-life with a big fat ass album for the dancefloor-of-the-mind. This album is what expensive stereos are made for. “Twist” features delectable layers of percussion over a pseudo-Latin groove that Graham Massey probably made with 808state in 1991. The bassline alone will get ya flailin’. “Sola Sistim” breaks shit down to slow-car funk, still with a seriousness to the atmosphere. And the bass sound is another winner. “Little Speaker” is a large, stadium-length groove with piano and stabby little synth pads and breaks and bass and shit. It’s funky and trancey and it doesn’t get on your nerves like you’d expect funky-trance to. Oh, and the breakdown. Open the moonroof, I need somewhere to throw my hands. “Trim” is an extremely goofy cross between that Madonna song where she wears the cowboy gear in the video, Beck, Depeche Mode, and a Rolling Stones remix. Bendy guitars and singing. And great drum sounds. Plus he says “barbecue a chicken.” “Ess Gee” is the noodly ambient one with all the guitars and the cathedral reverb, getting all Buckethead “Colma.” How’s that for a plot twist? “A Hundred Days Off” proves that Underworld is this millennium’s Pink Floyd after all.
Ian C Stewart

What a great idea this compilation is. The songs speak for themselves: Ani DiFranco and Jackie Chan duet on “Unforgettable.” It sounds like two old friends that bumped into each other at a karaoke bar. And this is historic because it’s the first Ani DiFranco performance I’ve heard that didn’t make me want to kill her or myself. Devo covers “Ohio,” which makes perfect sense considering they all went to Kent State and Jerry Casale lost two friends in the bullshit. Plus Devo was in that Neil Young movie. Music-wise they give it the full Devo treatment, which in 2002 means beats and samples plus goofy guitars and rad production. The Box Tops feature Alex Chilton and they do Blondie’s “Call Me,” making it sound like one of those California Raisins commercials. The Connells restate the obvious with “Insane In The Membrane”: white guys can’t rap, but isn’t it funny when they try? The singing on the chorus does make me suicidal though, so moving on the next track: Don Ho “Shock The Monkey.” Wow. He nails the vocal and all of the music is totally unexpected – acoustic guitars and percussion but with looped beats. Don Ho sounds about four hundred years old. Roy Clark “What A Wonderful World”? So what? Does Kerry King play mandolin or something? No? Then who cares? Billy Preston “Girls On Film.” Creepy. It sounds like a 1970s Stevie Wonder record. The Fixx “These Boots Were Made For Walkin’.” Despite my current obsession with The Fixx, I don’t think there’s any life left in this ragged-ass song. Every band has played that sombitch, from Faster Pussycat to Megadeth to your mom. Sorry Cy Curnin and Jamie West-Oram. The band sounds good but fuck that song. The Oak Ridge Boys tackle “Carry On My Wayward Son” which isn’t that much of a stretch really. Four-part country harmonies make sense for it, and the music is totally right-on. I bet these guys add the song to their live show. Herman’s Hermits do “White Wedding” like it was written in 1966; minus all the new-wave trappings (hey, that’s the part I like!). Plus they add a shuffle feel, which makes it sound even more authentic. And Peter Noone can still sing. More or less. Rounding out the weirdness is Lesley Gore reclaiming her 1961 #1 hit, the Quincy Jones-written “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” At least that’s what it sounds like. Except her voice is all low and craggy now. Allegedly they also tried to get Anne Murray to sing King Missile’s “Detachable Penis,” to no avail. The name of this CD is truth in advertising.
Ian C Stewart

Coat Of Many Cupboards
(Virgin Records)
A career-spanning four-disc box with lots of stuff I'd never heard before. Includes a great book with lots of writing by and about the band. Reams of previously unseen (by me anyway) photos. Harrison Sherwood does an excellent Cliffs Notes version of the "Chalkhills And Children" XTC biography by Chris Twomey in the first half of the book. The second half is an unusually revealing track-by-track analysis by Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding with interjections by former band members - onetime XTC keyboard player Barry Andrews in particular proves entertaining and insightful and it's easy to see why he didn't last long in the Partridge-dominated band. Two Hitlers in one bunker, is that how they put it? And though they don't talk trash about Virgin Records throughout the entire book, Partridge and Moulding do make their reasons for eventually going on strike very clear. Unusual perhaps for Virgin to pay one of its former acts to badmouth them. The CDs follow the band chronologically from slow, early demos for CBS Records up through the fast 'n furious late 1970s, down through the flowery and shiny 1980s, grinding to a halt finally with the 1992 live recording of "Books Are Burning" performed for BBC television. Either bravely or stupidly, all of XTC's hit singles are represented here in demo form. Which to me is very funny, hearing a rough cassette version of "Senses Working Overtime" with the sound of traffic in the background. Some will contend that box sets aren't for casual fans looking for the "greatest hits." Many other songs appear as live tracks, single edits or alternate versions such as the almost-a-single "Punch And Judy," produced by Langer and Winstanley (Elvis Costello, Madness etc). Of two hidden bonus tracks, the infamous and indispensible "Shaving Brush Boogie" from the widely-bootlegged "1982 Drunk Sessions" finally gets an official release. Great packaging, great music and there is truly something for everyone who likes XTC up in this bitch. Come on Princess Margaret, open up that fuckin’ hospital!
Ian C Stewart

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