September 2003

The Process
Patsy Records
I love this album from the first note. As soon as the drums and keyboards kick in on “The Process,” it’s clear sailing. The use of xylophone, glockenspiel and keyboards, combined with regular rock instruments, brilliant musicianship, riffs and melodies that don’t tug the forelock to rock-pop tradition, combined with Laura McFarlane’s mature and distinct vocals, add up to create music superior to most indie-pop. Is this post-pop? 99 is one of the few bands I’ve seen to use cheesy Casios as actual instruments instead of opting for the kitsch element, meaning that they produce sounds in the studio that sound oddly dignified. “The Cleaner” could well be a Phillip Glass track back from when he was good. Cameron Pott’s drumming is ornate and spot-on, but his vocals on “Istanbul And The Punishing Heart” and “Baluchistan,” are grating. I think he sounded better on the last album. The latter track is a wonderful stomping thing, almost like a battle hymn. Apart from the first two tracks, the best song is “The Waiting”, which hints strongly at the bright. The chorus is lovely. 99 have established their reputation through hard work and by just being bloody good. Makes a nice change, doesn’t it?
Andrew Mcintosh

Wolfgang Records
They call themselves "punky secret agent brass music." CDDB calls them "world." I call them "Finnish klezmer-metal," though the metal influence only shows up on about a third of the album, and besides, those chugging power chords are actually produced by dual distorted cellos. Other, non-metallic parts of Käärmelautakunta suggest droopy European café music, or the drony dissonance of Univers Zero -- an impression strenghtened by the strong sonic presence of piano and pump organ. As for the music itself: these guys certainly rock out quite awesomely on tracks like “Astiatehdas” or the cartoonish “Lentävä Mato,” but when you edge this close to avant-prog territory your audience is going to start gettin' hungry for some serious contrapuntal meat, and while Vasarat are fun, Charming Hostess they ain’t. Might make good background music at an ultra-hip Jewish wedding, though.
Alex Temple

Yearning For The Grotesque

Avant Garde Music
Brutal thrash-grind with excellent production and grrrrrrowly vocals. Hua! Great guitar harmonies and the drums sound awesome as well. Opener “Wormeaten” has sweet doom and gloom interaction. Some of the songs have an Iron Maiden feel. “Pale Red Blood” opens and closes with an acoustic riff played on, like, a bouzouki or something? I wasn't expecting that. And then the guitars slam in, playing the same riff and it is devastating. This is an extremely enjoyable thrash attack!
Ian C Stewart

Skanks For The Memories
Comedy Central
A 2CD collection of Attell’s standup comedy action. Since he went mainstream he seems to be everywhere at once; Comedy Central gave him the keys to the executive washroom and his show Insomniac is as ubiquitous as a show can be when it’s on after 9pm. Attell’s standup is as crass and as inventive as the TV show. His humor is uncomfortably observational and often scatological, as in the bit where he describes how he got his hernia, with one of the most creative references to Dukes Of Hazzard I’ve ever heard. Almost everything he jokes about inhabits the realm of Too Much Information, like his theories on shaving body hair. Attell basically makes fun of himself and all the dumb shit he finds himself doing. One gets the feeling there’s an endless supply. I laughed a lot and that’s all I need from a comedy album.
Ian C Stewart

A Garage Dayz Night
And now for something strangely familiar. Of course you've all been wondering what would Beatles songs sound like if Metallica had written them, and this very question, having vexed the music community for too many years, is finally resolved. It sounds like, well, Metallica doing pop-punk really. "Everybody's Got A Ticket To Ride Except For Me And My Lightning," "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorhead Pub Band," "The Thing That Should Not Let It Be." With titles like that, you probably don't even need to hear this thing. Well produced, and damned if that isn't Hetfield on vocals himself, the classic guitar sound from Garage Days Revisited; a lot of work went into taking this particular piss. One can only pray that it doesn't go any further. Sadder things have happened. Incidentally, if you go to the Beatallica website you can download the whole thing for free. That's official, by the way. Even Metallica have given them the thumbs up. Let's hear it for free music!
Andrew McIntosh

One Month In Every Twelve single
Big Rig Records
It’s jangle time once again. That patented sound: the steady beat of the drums, the steady jangle of the guitars, the steady warble of the keyboards, the steady crooning of the vocalist, the steady plaintive emotions of the lyrics. Every now and then, you need this. “One Month” is the strongest song, with a good riff and a nice ending. “Leanora,” not too sure, it’s a love song (apparently about surrealist Max Ernst pleading with his beloved to leave Old Europe for the New World) but seems to dip a little too much into the cliché bag to stand out, especially the chorus. “She Finally Gets To Travel” rocks a little, nice organ sounds, nice bass line, nice foot-tapping beat. A little worried about the lyrics, though; “Always felt like the tenpin / Now I want to be the ball.” Hmm. And the song seems to just fall apart at the end. Simplicity and time-honored indie-rock tradition are the orders of the day here, and there’s a lot worse than that you could do.
Andrew Mcintosh

Phunk is right! My GOD! Sort of like a less-stupid Outkast, Black Eyed Peas deliver large, corporate-style hip hop with great production, great tunes and a sense of humor. “(Labor) It's A Holiday” samples the same horn break that powered Public Enemy’s triumphant “Night Of The Living Baseheads” and gets down on the chorus from Madonna’s “Holiday.” Fuck yeah. “Let's Get Retarded” is the 2003 summer anthem. Female singing on the intro. You don’t usually hear disco divas using the word retarded. “Hey Mama” uses that samba-clap thing Busta Rhymes used a couple of albums back, before he lost the plot. But Black Eyed Peas rock out with a Farfisa organ. “The Elephunk Style” has an Indian vibe - tablas, sitar samples, etc. And is that Big Old Dirty Baby Bastard Jesus (or whatever he’s called this week) at one point? Did I hear that right? Elephunk does not fail to deliver the funk.
Ian C Stewart

Very Mary Beth
Stone Garden
Very Mary Beth suggests a number of geek-rock comparisons: the cheerful awkwardness of the Talking Heads, the ironic melancholy of the Magnetic Fields, the overeducated-dork-in-love vibe of the Smiths -- and, a bit surprisingly for a band formed in 1987, that slowish-indie-rock-with-ringing-guitars thing that everyone seems to be doing these days. The band’s textures edge towards shoegazer, their harmonies towards even-numbered decades; they use words like aver and promontory in lyrics that somehow demonstrate intelligence without being especially clever or even very interesting. The most notable element of their sound is the vocals: broad in timbre, a little shaky, untrained but never unpleasant, generally very college-y. Overall it’s a fun enough listen, but I wish they’d throw in more “what the hell?” moments like that Spike Jonesy circus-music break in “The Girl of My Dreams.”
Alex Temple

Captain Dog Rides Again
Meteor City
Holy Queens Of The Stone Age babies! These guys even look like the Queens on the back of the box here. Bald bass player with long beard. Guy with short hair and a black dress shirt playing an old-school Flying V. They just need a megastar guest drummer now. Blind Dog plays the same sun-baked, downtuned, stoner pop-rock that’s suddenly everywhere since QOTSA made their ascent. Within that framework, they do their thing very well. They write great riffs and the guitars sound very cool. The songs could be sung along to, even. Get in your ‘69 Camaro and rock this album sleeveless.
Ian C Stewart

Out Of The Wires
Output Recordings
The Boy needs to understand that the joy he feels in recording and listening to his own music is not necessarily shared by everyone else. The home-taping scene is littered with efforts like these; pieces of near-melodies through layers of effects, hints and snippets of computer generated beats and sounds, collaged together in such a casual way as to suggest sloppiness and lack of consideration. Stuff like this seems to be in some kind of vogue, though; Mirah, The Microphones, a new generation of youngsters discovering the four-track and home computer. Funny how it all sounds cute, breathy, and patchy. Annoying how it all sounds cute, breathy and patchy. In this case, though, Out Of The Wires is annoying because of a complete lack of editing. That's what it sounds like. These tracks aren't even like sketches, more like doodles. "There Are Great Monsters Going Past," is the only track here with vocals, thank god, because his vocals sound even more annoying. Other than that, it's the uninspired acoustic guitar bits, every pissy little sound effect he can muster, chucked together to sound what I'm sure he thinks is novel or eclectic or experimental or what have you. Okay, fine, it's a lot of fun in the bedroom, but must it be done in public?
Andrew McIntosh

Mille Plateaux
Minimalist and mechanist techno chillout music with plenty of bleep, thump and click. The music pulses with an entrancing pace and a clear, open sound, akin to the ambient techno of Richard H. Kirk, not so much like the diffuse, reverb-drenched isolationism of the Basic Channel or Porter Ricks style of techno minimalism. Bertscheider and Deupree’s work does have a sterile electronic feel -- a coworker of mine said it sounded like a microwave going off. I need to buy a new microwave if they sound like this now.
C. Reider

Defending The Throne Of Evil
Season Of Mist
Evil is right! Fuck! This is incredibly brutal, evil black metal from the bowels of Norway. Journeyman black metal guitarist Tchort brings his signature midrange death, underscored by blast beats and symphonic flames. “Skjend Hans Lik” opens with a midtempo riff and and keyboard drone. “Christian Incoherent Drivel” is a zombified, old-school thrasher with great lyrics. “Nekrophiliac - Anthropophagus Maniac” features a... saxophone at the end? “Cold Murderous Music” gets all trip hop on it, with a rim shot drum groove, slow bass, clean guitar, sax solo, and the vocals coming in like an AM radio broadcast. Wow - I can’t say I saw any of that coming.
Ian C Stewart

Exidy Tours
I don't get it. Ceephax Acid Crew are obviously able to put together some really interesting stuff, like the über-digital fake 16th-century keyboard music of the unfortunately-named “Camelot Jostle,” or like “City Collars,” which starts out as the sort of electro-funk that wouldn’t seem out of place on Laurie Anderson’s Mister Heartbreak, and quickly becomes not only absurdly fast and contrapuntal but also microtonal. So when they can do that, why do they spend so much of the album on unimaginative break beats and dull, gloomy ambient washes? There are some good riffs here and there, but the pieces rarely have more than one thing going on at once in the foreground, and when they’re repeating everything four or eight or sixteen times, that just doesn’t cut it. Isn’t electronica supposed to be about massive layering? Even worse, these teases will often do something cool just once and then leave it behind -- witness the seven seconds of absurd proggy twiddle thrown into “Vladijenk,” or the Rhodesy jazziness of “Cop 76” -- less than a minute long.
Alex Temple

Hate Crew Deathroll
Heavy, modern metal with melodic everything - and no blastbeats in sight. The vocals are mostly screamed, foregoing the woofy Cookie Monster trappings of other similarly heavy bands. The name Children Of Bodom refers to a Scandinavian mass murder. All this time I assumed it was some sort of joke on the word "Sodom," or “Bodom” being a joke spelling of "bottom." Double wrong again. This album covers a wide variety of styles and influences, from 80s thrash to midtempo, rhythm-heavy riffing. Keyboards are omnipresent without overstating their case. The guitar lines are layered and intricate and the band is very tight. The production kicks ass. “Sixpounder” opens with a slow ‘n’ beefy riff but descends into a syncopated head banging motif that’ll get your neck sweatin’ any time of the day, laddie. “Triple Corpse Hammerblow” starts like a ghouly King Diamond ballad but builds into a prog-thrash-death-metal monster. Plus, it has the greatest title in history. I think Mariah Carey should call her next album “Triple Corpse Hammerblow.” The bonus track is a cool cover of Slayer’s “Silent Scream” that doesn’t deviate much from the original. Hua!
Ian C Stewart

Metamophic Reproduction Miracle
What’s in a name? The band and album name had me expecting doom-laden, head-crushing death metal... you know the type of thing, right? “BLLEEUUUuuuuuuuuUrrrrGHGHH!!!” There, did that help? Well, Christ. is nothing of the sort, in fact instead they’re (should I capitalize “They’re” out of reverence?) something completely different: floaty, chillout ambient with muted IDM beats. The first track, “Lazy Daisy Meadow,” floats along with a smoky ambient soundscape featuring a weirded-out voice, recalling Aphex Twin’s classic Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Other post-Aphex Twin projects come to mind, like Disjecta. Not in a bad way either. The second track, “Dianoes Noveau,” introduces a muffled beat and some nice bass blurps and almost everything in the upper mid frequencies absolutely drenched in reverb. Things get a little more problematic by the next track and onward, when it becomes increasingly apparent that Christ. has an unhealthy interest in Boards Of Canada. Whoever sequenced the album wisely seems to have wanted to put the least derivative tracks at the beginning, because by the time it’s glaringly apparent, I’ve already enjoyed a few songs, and I want to enjoy the rest. No such luck. By the seventh and eighth tracks, “Fantastic Light” and “Always To Play,” Christ. reveal Themselves as the third rate knock-off that they are. Obviously, things for Christ. are more serious than I’d imagined. It’s almost as though Yamaha or someone released a Boards Of Canada synthesizer with all sorts of warm synth pads and muted drum hits so that anyone in his little basement studio could pretend to be those mysterious Edinburghers. Christ. also has some structural problems. The parts don’t gel, lead lines compete with each other - often clashing confusingly until the song smears into a sludgy muck. Furthermore, the latter tracks don’t have a groove, they just kind of scissor along with a wind-up toy feel. All of the flaws noted in the second part of the disc leads up to a sentence I’ve waited my entire journalistic career to say: Christ. is just an amateurish copycat.
C. Reider

Hot And Tasty Beats
Nervous Records
MTV alum spins a funky mix of songs that don’t so much flirt with being commercial as just sort of embody what it means to have mass appeal. The tracks don’t fear choruses and they don’t worry about being too glossy. This is dance music for teenage girls who watch MTV and as such probably makes the most sense on an imaginary, overcrowded dance floor in the back of The Limited. Some of the transitions veer toward trance but for the most part it’s funky pop songs with enormous beats.
Ian C Stewart

Musick To Play In The Dark Vol. II
The first track, "Something," is that very word repeated over and over. The synth blows white-noise, the organ plays, other voices of tortured souls come in for their bit then bugger off.... Get the picture? Then "Tiny Golden Books" does a sort of ambient-synth thing like Tangerine Dream's sequencer tunes. Almost exactly like. Nice glittering sheens of sound, occasional twisted melodies come and go, the vocoder speaks, the tune kicks in, all very laid back and mellow. Grab a glass of chocolate port and enjoy. "Ether" features a tedious piano riff, over and over, while the effected vocals seem to want to give a Tom Waits feel to. "It's either ether or the other." Yea, sure. Not one of the highlights of the album, unless you were on drugs. "Paranoid Inlay" goes all modern-electronica-clicky, cozy up-front little sounds, the sort of thing that¹s all over the bloody place these days it seems. Not a bad effort at it, but far from ground breaking, although the harpsichord-sounding melody is a nice touch. "An Emergency" is a short little poem with creaky creepy sounds. On this album at least, Coil seem restricted, without much actually coming together to really gel into something attractive. The next two lengthy tracks, "Where Are You?" and "Batwings (A Limnal Hymn)," seem to strive for a creepy, occult sound, and no doubt that's what it sounds like to them, but to these ears they're almost corny. The repetitive melody riff, the almost cliched sound effects and the spoken-word poetry that only just raises above cringe factor have no effect on me. I tried listening to this late at night with candles and a potable by my elbow, but still to no avail. "Tiny Golden Books" is the winner on this album because it sounds almost out of place. But for the rest, I'm neither freaked out nor amused.
Andrew McIntosh

Deadstring Brothers
Times Beach Records
Kind of like American Music Club, Deadstring Brothers inject pedal steel guitar into their jangly, catchy songs. “I’m Not A Stealer” opens the album on an almost Nick Cave note with a huge, syncopated groove thing. The chorus is large and co-ed. Imagine Sheryl Crow (if she didn’t suck) singing with Ben Folds. Piano is prominent but not dominant. “Unbroken” features more great co-ed vocal harmonies. “For A Time” is another groover while “I Know You Dear” recalls The Bad Seeds with story lyrics and a spaghetti-western vibe. “The Long Black Veil” closes the album with a relative downer - piano-driven ballad with wailing pedal steel and sad lyrics. Making use of a combination of elements that usually gets on my nerves, Deadstring Brothers do the Americana thing better and more interestingly than most.
Ian C Stewart

Takeout Records
Thump thump thump thump thump thump thump. What? I can’t hear what you’re saying! I can’t read your lips either because of all the smoke. Maybe we should go outside. Thump thump thump thump. DJ Diz stuffs this disc to the fuckin’ gills with more beats and bass than you can shake your taint at. The mood is extremely upbeat without being cheesy or relying on disco divas. Vocals, when there are any, are mixed relatively low in favor of maintaining this endless thumping groove. Standout cuts by Beat Smugglers, Shaftbury Sisters and Lo/Rez don’t diminish the impact of the other tracks.
Ian C Stewart

Intention Surpassed
Nuclear Blast
After recording a one-off grindcore album in 1989, the unrelated Mick Harris and Mitch Harris reconvened in Napalm Death. Mick Harris soon fucked off for good to start Scorn and Lull. Mitch Harris, meanwhile, remains a member of Napalm Death and is active with numerous side projects. Intention Surpassed is a Mitch Harris solo album. He plays every note on the thing, even the absurdly great, appropriately-detailed drumming. “Continuum” kicks things off with a swinging neck-breaker of a guitar line and tortured vocals. Fast tempos abound as do old school thrash passages. The songs are all short blasts of laser-sharp destruction. This definitely doesn’t sound like a one-man band. Shit is brutal.
Ian C Stewart

Climate Variations
Intr Version Records
A prickly glitchfest that sounds like Oval Vs. My Bloody Valentine. Tones of indeterminate origin (possibly a guitar? An organ?) are broken up into discrete packets of noise, rearranged into dirty, swollen, quantum collages. The familiar glitcherati obsessions of pop, crackle and static hiss are hemmed by the fact that the chunky audio flakes have been shaped into some nice chord progressions with an able building and releasing of tension. Okay, fine. So they are Oval copycats, but they’re really good Oval copycats.
C. Reider

God’s Empty Chair
The Grace Slick comparisons are apt. Becki’s voice and songwriting are like time capsules from the golden era of West Coast psychedelia. The fringey buckskin jangle of “Find Your Own Way” eases the album into gear. “Cats In The Aviary” features harmonized guitar-god soloing and a neato bass breakdown at the very end. “Bathe My Heart” represents the heavier end of things without degenerating into a metal dirge. The surprise of the album is “Susan Revolving,” a full-band treatment of an acoustic, thirty second Andy Partridge demo. If the original was Pink Floyd, Becki's take is Jefferson Airplane. “God’s Empty Chair,” the song, is looking-glass studio trickery - some stuff goes backward, some goes forward, some doesn’t go at all. “Laudanum” features an earnest but sullen acoustic guitar strum that crescendos seven minutes later with blistering rock fury. An acoustic version of “Cats In The Aviary” brings God's Empty Chair full circle. The production is great, the drums sound very good and the guest guitars by XTC’s Dave Gregory are always welcome.
Ian C Stewart

Black Cabaret
Car Park Records
Dinky is a one-chick show, with beats and breaks and cracked melodies that congeal amid elements of electro and whatever kind of music Kraftwerk is. “No Love” welcomes the listener to the world of Dinky, existing somewhere between Chile, Germany and New York City. “American Guy” adds an internationally cheesy male vocalist. “White Lie” sounds like New Order in spots - arpeggios plus an unfashionably large snare drum sound. Word. Unlike much of the current wave of electroclash, Dinky does not favor style over substance. The songs and melodies here would be just as nice played on an acoustic piano. “Go" is the one that’ll have you wondering which Gary Numan album it was originally on. Or OMD. Hell yes.
Ian C Stewart

Silverback/Red Urban
I hope a book gets written about The D.O.C. After a forgettable comeback album (1996’s Helter Skelter), he’s back for real this time, with the full N.W.A. posse reunited: Dr Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and Snoop Dogg standing in for the late Eazy-E. Thing is, D.O.C. has relegated himself to the sidelines on Deuce. Sure, it’s his name and photo on the cover, but he’s barely on this fucking thing, it’s a long blur of guests artists. Maybe he felt like he was overextending himself on Helter Skelter and wanted to rest his zombie voicebox. Whatever he’s thinking, it’s bullshit - he should be front and center. “The Shit” is the full reunion, giving me the biggest nostalgia-boner since KISS put the makeup back on. MC Ren takes the first verse and still sounds like a pit bull. Ice Cube is the megastar of megacrappy action movies and he rhymes accordingly. I’m not calling him a second rate Will Smith. I’m just saying. Snoop comes in with “easily I approach…” in homage to Eazy-E. I’m all teary-eyed now. Dre features on several other cuts, but “The Shit” is the peak of the album. Deuce is dominated by lengthy guest spots from a bunch of nobodies. It’s not bad, necessarily. But, apart from “The Shit,” it’s not exactly the shit.
Ian C Stewart

This Needs To Be Your Style
Irritant Records
No, silly, not that Donna Summer. This here’s an intelligent dance music grapple that takes a Napalm Death approach to beats and cutups. That is: blasts of appropriated sound, reconfigured for maximum head-scratching. Some music is good to nod to. This music is good to stand back and say “holy shit. Oh my god” to. Numerous rhythms are sampled in “The Magnanimous,” including at least two drum breaks sampled from albums by The Cure (the handclaps from “Close To Me” and the beginning of “The Caterpillar”). “Prog’s Not Dead” samples, cuts up, reconfigures, and reassimilates a drum and Hammond organ display from Yes (I think) and multiple other snatches of 1970s progressive rock. The next track, “The Stenberg Brothers,” owes its brief existence entirely to a single sample of King Crimson’s “Dig Me.” “Possibly Useless” is an Aphex Twin-style throw down of beat-as-weapon. “Heels Over Head” combines an actual Go-Go’s chorus with J. Geils Band's “Freeze Frame” and probably a hundred other sources that will make you scratch your head in amazement. Appropriation mania. Holy shit. Oh my god.
Ian C Stewart

13 Songs And A Thing
Crumbling Tomes Archive
Not only will longtime fans be pleased to see the former Thinking Plague bassist in fine form, but this disc might also be the ideal starting point for the Drake newcomer. The basic sound is his usual -- sort of avant-bluegrass meets Yes, channeling Edward Gorey -- but the songs are more fully-developed than on some previous albums, and never before has Drake squeezed so many different sounds from his guitars, from scrungy electric squealing to complex fingerpicking. The music is equally varied, ranging from creepy, dissonant folk-pop to herky-jerky improv, from big, blasty prog-in-a-wind-tunnel climaxes to the mariachi-techno of guest vocalist Dick Verdult. There’s also an arrangement of a weird, beautiful dance by Croatian composer Stevan Tickmayer, with whom Drake works in The Science Group, and a thirteen minute noise track -- the “thing” mentioned in the title. The latter is constructed mainly out of drum sounds, and, like a lot of noise, leaves you rather unable to listen to anything else afterwards. Too bad there are two more tracks after it, but hey, what can you do.
Alex Temple

Little Music
Little Music is a compilation of early singles, EPs and other unreleased tracks from one of the lesser-known bands in the mostly-defunct Elephant 6 collective, and it holds true to the principle that obscurity within Elephant 6 is directly proportional to cutesiness. The existence of this band proves that any gap in the pop-music repertory can be filled, even that created by asking, “what would happen if the Beach Boys had all been ten years old?” In other words, this is unadulterated twee, complete with androgynous vocals, cheerful retro melodies and only one lick per song. It’s not as psychedelic as Marbles, as wacked-out as Of Montreal, as British Invasion as the Minders -- as anything as anything, really. There are two or three random synthy bits thrown in for the hell of it, and one song (“Ultra Vivid Color”) that hedges towards an Olivia Tremor Control-ish sophistication, but for the most part this is as light as it comes. But hey, there's nothing actually wrong with it. I mean, it's not the All Girl Summer Fun Band or anything.
Alex Temple

Everyone Down Here
Palm Pictures
On Everyone Down Here, Earlimart recalls bands from all over the indie rock map: you'll find wistful Grandaddy-like vocal lines here, an infectious Pixiesish punk sensibility there, Home’s wonky chord progressions somewhere else. The production features a number of synthesizers, pianos, organs, chamber strings, and noises both bubbly and staticky -- Olivia Tremor Control, anyone? The experience of listening to the album is one of constantly asking, “Who does that remind me of? Why does that sound so familiar?” Luckily, they pull it off - they’re certainly far more supple and engaging than Grandaddy, perhaps the closest of the four groups mentioned above. And yet Earlimart are better at soundcraft than songwriting, and have a tendency to leave their material underdeveloped. Somehow, the whole seems less than the sum of its often excellent parts.
Alex Temple

Completely Oblique
Pretentious The Label
While the Muslimgauze compilation Chapter of Purity consists of material that would later manifest as the barbaric, distorted, aggro-Arabic dub that Muslimgauze churned out in Bryn Jones' last years, the earlier E.G. Oblique Graph works seem to be happily exploring, rather than struggling. The Completely Oblique double CD set lovingly compiles for the first time all of E.G. Oblique Graph's work, which was originally released in the early 80s on cassette and seven inch vinyl in extremely small editions. Not yet present are the overtly political song titles and the Arabic influences; instead, the music draws from early Tangerine Dream and Cluster, but sparser, darker and more experimental. The charmingly lo-fi sound creates an obscure and exploratory mood as the tracks squirm along, mostly beatless, with lurching spasms of delayed electronic squelches and echoing voices distantly murmuring in the background. This excellent release is highly recommended, even for people who don't like Muslimgauze.
C. Reider

A Cast of Thousands
V2 Music
This CD opens with a monster track called “Ribcage” in which the singer Guy Garvey wails about wanting to pull his ribs apart to let the sun inside. It's a spare track with a huge head-nodding beat that recalls the Stone Roses or the lumbering grace of Wolfgang Press. The production is so intensely great - with beautifully recorded instruments, well-executed dynamic shifts, interesting noises popping out and surprises waiting around each beat - that it's constantly giving me wood. The singer has a mournful, weary croon that falls somewhere between Peter Gabriel's darker moans and the po-faced delivery of Talk Talk's Mark Hollis. Thankfully, the first track isn't the only strong track available here. In fact, the entire CD is full of brilliantly droll shoegazerish verses sliced into singalong choruses that make my inner songwriter hang his head in shame and envy. "Snooks" features a weirdly mellow humming, buzzing beat which is torn apart by trashy T-Rex guitar screech. "Fugitive Hotel" is a heartbreakingly lush and gorgeous song with sad romantic swoop and pop grandeur which comes to a peak with the enormous chorus of "I'll blow you a kiss, it should reach you tomorrow as it flies from the other side of the world." The title A Cast Of Thousands refers to the guests on the album, which include a full gospel choir, a string section, a brass section, members of the Doves and the entire crowd at a show at the Glastonbury festival. Garvey said in NME, "I said to the crowd, 'Do you want to be on the next record?' and they said 'Yeah.' So I got them to sing. They sing 'We still believe in love so fuck you!' There was about 15,000 of them!" This album is so totally fucking necessary I can't even tell you. Oh wait, I just did.
C. Reider

XL Recordings
Are they German? Are they Southern? Are they serious? Electric Six attempt the improbable fusion of disco and hard rock, both musically and in terms of attitude -- dancefloor fruitiness mingling with sexual swagger -- in a tribute to their personal holy trinity of sex, fire and dancing. The lyrics are patently ridiculous (“Fire in the disco / Fire in the Taco Bell / Fire in the disco / Fire in the gates of Hell”), as are gags like that in “Improper Dancing,” where singer Dick Valentine yells “stop!” and the band does -- until he yells, still infused with bonehead 70s bravado, “continue!” The music tends to shift back and forth between its two influences, drums trading off with drum machines, guitar solos falling into club-inspired repetition, gay-techno falsetto merging into Led Zep falsetto. I think they manage to use the phrase “I'm a man” in at least three different songs, though “you must have been a dance kommandah!” appears in only one. The real question now: how long before the joke gets old?
Alex Temple

Koch Records
Entombed returns with an album full of downtuned, chugging riffs, cheesy fucking lyrics and bellowy vocals. It’s 1991 again, finally. “Retaliation” opens the album like a smack in the mooth (that’s the Canadian pronunciation), with a twiddly prog intro thrown in. “That’s When I Became A Satanist” breaks out with a Queens Of The Stone Age vibe and some funny lyrics about falling out a window as a child and becoming a Satanist as a result. Okay, what? “Nobodaddy” yoinks an old school Cathedral vibe (itself yoinked from an old school Black Sabbath vibe) with trills of doom on the guitar lines. I’m pretty sure he says “Daddy is the CEO” too. “Flexing Muscles” is a new gay anthem - “testosterone - male masculine icon, athletic godlike clone," and "jerking off while flexing”? What the hell?
Ian C Stewart

Serial Human
Downbeat electro-IDM with lush synthpiles and neato rhythms. “Bleece” is a gorgeously layered lasagna of sequencing. “Swift Urban Departure From What Was Once An Innocent Soul” cuts in static-aerosol sprays to the uptempo, dubbed-out rhythm. “Alipe Lacks” has beautifully pokey chords and an itinerant beat that cancel each other out. I think you have to own a Jetta to fully appreciate this album.
Ian C Stewart

Fanfare In The Garden: An Essential Logic Collection
Kill Rock Stars
It's not a "best of," it's a "nearly all of." This two-CD compilation includes not only almost every track released in Essential Logic's lifetime, but also most of lead singer (and former X-Ray Spex saxophonist) Lora Logic's solo work, and some unreleased tracks to boot. What this means is that you can trace the band's evolution through the years. There's their debut single "Aerosol Burns" (1978) -- jerky, angular, hyperactive, quintessential post-punk. There's the one full-length, Beat Rhythm News (1979), which combines that post-punk style with a Sparks-like art-rock sensibility. Then there's the self-titled EP (1981), moving towards a more New Wavish sound, vaguely Talking Heads but more gleefully cartoonish, and Lora Logic's Pedigree Charm (1982), where the New Wave element has come to the fore and the overall vibe is early, arty MTV. Throughout, there are two common threads: Ms. Logic's voice, alternately low and throaty or high and shrill, broadly British, with a wide warbling vibrato; and the band's willingness to throw wrenches into their machine, from "Albert"'s atonal instrumental in 6/4 to the vocoded, monotonic proto-electroclash in "Moontown." But wait, there's more! There are the unreleased tracks, including some demos from 1983, cheesily digital but well-written, and the bizarre "Do You Believe in Christmas?" (1985), which, despite its cynical lyrics, sounds completely seasonal and even includes a children's choir. And there are also the EPs from 2001 and 2002, put out by a very different incarnation of the band: Lora's vibrato largely gone, her voice thinner and occasionally even vulnerable, the music calmer and simpler, drawing on new influences such as straight-up punk, goth and bossa nova. The contrast is clear from the remake of Pedigree Charm's "Martian Man," which is not only slowed down and given a sparser arrangement, but is also surf-rock. Overall, Fanfare In The Garden is a bit much as an introduction (especially to a band with only one actual album!), and certainly not every song is equally worthwhile. Still, the only real misstep is one track from 2002, the affectedly plaintive, neo-gothic "Marika." Essential Logic may not be the best art-punk band ever to walk the earth, but they sure as hell know how to put a song together.
Alex Temple

Terroir Blues
Act/Resist Records
As the leading light in alternative country stalwarts Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, Jay Farrar showed he also had some psychedelic aces up his sleeve on 2001’s awesome Sebastopol album. Continuing in that vein, here’s his second solo outing. It’s a strange one for sure, and it's taken me several listens to get into. Proper songs are interspersed with weird-ass backwards instrumentals all entitled “Space Junk” (I through VI). He also drenches some songs in way too much reverb. The third track, “Hard Is The Fall” is completely ruined by this treatment - it sounds like it was recorded in an empty swimming pool. However, the songwriting is as top notch as we’ve come to expect from Farrar and, to be fair, he has tacked alternative versions of several tracks on at the end of the CD (including, thankfully, a non-swimming pool version of “Hard Is The Fall”). It’s almost as if he wants to give listeners the chance to program the CD any way they choose (which I am going to start doing, to cut out all the unnecessary weird shit). Most tracks are accompanied by pedal and lap steel, instruments guaranteed to make me weep every time, so maybe I’m biased. But songs as heartbreaking as “Dent County” are surely classics in the making. This is also the first Farrar release to include printed lyrics. I still don’t know what the fuck he’s going on about in most songs but it makes a nice change! I’m still waiting for this guy to put out a bad record and, I’m glad to say, he hasn’t done so yet.
Mark Ritchie

Metropolis Records
As a perfect response to post-millennium fear culture, Front 242 emerges from its long, six year exile. This mighty electronic music juggernaut dispenses with the gimmickry that, in the mid-nineties, threatened to turn our Belgian heroes into another irrelevant KMFDM, and kicks out the fuckin' jams with the classic, urgent, propulsive techno that hails back to the sound of their peak albums of the late eighties. Most of the record, interestingly, is instrumental, showing off the band's knotty, inter-twisting, ever-evolving programming prowess which inspired so many current techno projects. When vocalist Jean-Luc de Meyer appears first on track six, "Together," he sounds a little worse for the wear, delivering his lyrics with a gritty fatigue which recalls the "I've seen it all" world-weariness of Leonard Cohen. He even says so much on "Triple x Girlfriend," with lyrics like “There is nothing here I haven't seen, I'm just waiting for my turn to leave.” Much of the album has a mature melancholy to it, and slow tempos to accompany those moods, thus presenting no clear hit club single, like some of their earlier albums. This, of course, isn't a bad thing. The album works more as a whole than as a collection of possible singles. In fact, I consider it among the best albums I've heard yet this year.
C. Reider

Paper Monsters
Depeche Mode singer steps out and makes... a Depeche Mode record. Great production, prominent beats, silly blues guitar flourishes. Like I said, it's a Depeche Mode record, but without that irritating castrato Martin Gore butting in to fuck up the proceedings with his fey lugrubriousness. Will this batch of songs stand the test of time like Gore’s? Let’s meet back here in fifteen years and see if we’re still humming any. “Dirty Sticky Floors” opens with a large beat and slide guitar. Rock bass. Gahan’s lower register singing. The song breaks down where you expect it to. “A Little Piece” is a damaged ballad in a sort of Portishead groove, “Black And Blue Again” perhaps more so. “Hidden Houses” rocks out kinda like Depeche Mode’s Exciter album. It’s probably not a bad thing that there are no surprises on Paper Monsters. The tunes are pleasant and the sounds are all just like you’d imagine. Album closer “Goodbye” goes for the slow burn - a creepy ballad that builds into full-band rock-out action. Cool. And he sings “goodbye” as the proceedings slow to a halt. Okay, Dave, nice knowin’ ya. Bye now.
Ian C Stewart

Invent Modest Fires
“Only At Night (feat. Priest)” includes a classic Cozy Powell beat while “Fire Walk With Me” is a downtempo triphop jam with a loud beat, a piano figure and ghouly ambient washes in the background. Guest vocals by Nick Taylor and Anti-Pop Consortium stir the pot further to create occasionally outstanding middle-of the-night acoustic soul music. Some tracks rock full-band style, some rock-electro-groovebox style. Not the worst way one could kill an hour.
Ian C Stewart

Napalm Records
Wow, um, progressive, gothic metal? Three words that don’t usually add up to much when you string them together. In fact, they tend to cancel each other out. “Doomsday Celebration” throws down a harpsichord and guitar harmony before descending into some technical, full band thrashing. Golden Dawn sounds like a cross between Dream Theater, Dragonforce and Dimmu Borgir on tracks like “Alive And Immortal” where melodic vocals coexist with death metal growls. The keyboards sound just a little too good for their own good, rendering the album more technical than brutal. And the vocal harmonies are like fucking Journey or something. The music is good but the singing is mostly petty and weak.
Ian C Stewart

V2 Music
Sumday opens with fifteen seconds of pure bizarro brilliance: flanged guitars, psychedelic swirlies, and duck quacks in one speaker alternating with high-pitched voices saying “click” in the other. After that, it’s all downhill. Every beautiful texture, every interesting production trick, every awesome squeegie synth tone is thrown away on songs that are heavy-handed at best (think Quasi in their less inspired moments), mostly pretty unmemorable, and occasionally so soporific that it’s all I can do not to press the skip button. I think between the twelve songs on this album, you might be able to scrape up ten minutes of material that I’d actually care if I ever heard again. On top of that, Grandaddy seem to have some notion that they’re a lo-fi band, which inspires them to write trite lyrics condemning technology - “her drag and click had never yielded anything as perfect as a dragonfly”? -- and throw in tired “behind-the-scenes” snippets like “start the fade here,” even though their music is highly produced and rather littered with electronics. The album might be best as background music for reminiscing nostalgically about being a sixteen-year-old geek at summer camp, but even that’s only because it kind of sounds like Fountains Of Wayne. And besides, how many of us were sixteen-year-old geeks at summer camp? Don’t answer that.
Alex Temple

Hidden Pleasures Of A Nonexistent Reality
Morbid Records
The downtuned, downtempo dissection continues - this time from Spain. Well, the instrumental intro “Life Downfall” is downtempo. By “Ten Thousand Degrees,” no metronome in the world could keep up with this band without suffering a complete meltdown. Greenfly mixes up the pace, going for classic speed metal action throughout. Mixed with deft, violent blast beats and scowling vocals from the pits of heck. Greenfly is like a less-frenzied Lamb Of God and the singer’s voice even sounds like their dude’s. The guitar playing is monstrous and the insane mood of the album is sustained throughout. Some of the songs break into trad-metal harmonizing and soloing and it’s beautiful. It’s not just blastbeats, it’s not just cinderblock riffs and it’s not just harmonized guitar solos. It’s all that and a kick in the thigh! Greenfly rules.
Ian C Stewart

Night on My Side
Who would have guessed that the first thing I’d like from notorious indie (over)producer Dave Fridmann would be a major-label folk-pop album? This is the guy who killed Home, bloated the Flaming Lips, sapped the life from the Essex Green -- and yet here he is, taking the rather ordinary songs of Gemma Hayes, and doing one of the most consistently engaging production jobs I’ve ever heard. Psychedelic organ riffs, echoing blips and bloops, fuzz bass, guitar drones, “I Am The Walrus” string arrangements, Sonic Youth feedback, unexpected drum machines -- all used with maximum dexterity and a great ear for contrast, and yet all relegated to the background. Hayes cites My Bloody Valentine among her favorite bands, but this is like Loveless inside out: the novel production is secondary to the uninteresting songwriting, rather than vice versa. Add to that the breathy, country-tinged, incongruously mainstream vocal style and you get an album that I can only describe as frustrating -- all the more so because of brilliant passages like the wordless, repetetive, unselfconsciously beautiful neo-psych climax of “I Wanna Stay.”
Alex Temple

Skull EP
Smalltown Supersound
Kind of like a less (or differently) arty Tweaker: frantic, busy beats partnered with cool melodies and weird-ass samples. Hacked to fuck and back. It grooves in spots and it just sits there and dissects itself in others. This EP is 22 minutes of constantly-shifting background grist. Making Skull an EP was a good call. Any more of this activity would surely cause permanent blindness.
Ian C Stewart

Put Here To Bleed
In Music We Trust Records
I Can Lick Any Son Of A Bitch In The House is a sleazy, hard-rockin’ guitar band that’s gotten all the wrong ideas from the Rolling Stones. Then they made an album out of them. “Twerp” opens with an arrogant swagger and sneering, over-the-top vocals. “Dear Mr. Heston” shuffles, employing acoustic guitars played with a country vibe, smeared with rock sleaze. “American Fuck Machine” sounds like a lost Faster Pussycat outtake. The production is good and the delivery is certainly there. There's no shortage of personality either. The singer sounds like he has scarves hanging from his mic stand. “To Be Good” is an earnest ballad that dispenses with the sneering, but includes a sizzly guitar solo. “Sixsixfive” ends the album on a slightly morose, arena-rocking note.
Ian C Stewart

Sanctuary Records
Three-quarters of the original Jane's Addiciton reconvened with producer Bob Ezrin (KISS, Pink Floyd) to create an album that struggles with outmoded styles, sounding like a combination of all of their post-Jane’s solo albums and bands rolled into one. Remember Dave’s solo hit last year, which was bigger than Perry’s solo album flop the year before? Remember Porno For Pyros and Banyan? Strays lacks the instant whomp and overwhelming scope of Ritual De Lo Habitualand Nothing’s Shocking. The intro of the single “Price I Pay” recalls “Classic Girl,” hinting at greatness while “Bring The Mood” nobly gropes for the same vibe, but Strays sounds more like a lost Porno For Pyros album than anything. I hope this album is a grower because, at the moment, I’m just not feeling it.
Ian C Stewart

Fear Yourself
Gammon Records
Despite looking more like a serial killer than an ultra-hip indie-rock god on the back cover, this is another great addition to Daniel Dale Johnston’s ever-growing catalogue of freaky pop. Produced and arranged by Sparklehorse bloke Mark Linkous, this is not quite as accessible as some folks may have been expecting. After all, Dan’s last couple of albums have been better played and less hard on the ear than his legendary lo-fi releases of the 1980s. Strange then, that Fear Yourself opens with a complete no-fi song called “Now,” which sounds like it was recorded in a toilet bowl; but, halfway through, gives way to a proper posh recording. Other tracks range from the usual weird ballads we’ve grown accustomed to from Daniel, like “Love Enchanted,” in which he intones spookily over eerie piano chords and crashing cymbals, to uplifting pop gems like “Mountain Top,” complete with rawk-out drums and sweet violin. “Fish” might be the album’s best track - huge, singalong chorus, fuzz-bass and lyrics of unrequited love (as usual). “Love Not Dead” is similar (possibly even better), but you do worry about Daniel, as the song tells yet again of his ex-girlfriend who has long since been married to someone else. Sometimes the lyrics veer close to stalking territory, hopefully he’s only worshipping her from afar, otherwise this chick should get herself a restraining order! The final track has hilarious, intentionally out-of-tune vocals, which seems like willful sabotage on what could be a totally killer track (much like Linkous did with his own song “Happy Man”). Fans of Daniel will love this. Others, um, probably won’t!
Mark Ritchie

A Broadcast From The Computer Hell Cabin
Roadrunner Intl
Big beat meets big budget when the remixer behind the Elvis track “A Little Less Conversation” is turned loose with a sprawling 2CD set of his own choons. Expansionist rhythms and high-profile guest vocalists combine for a solidly thumping listening experience. CD1 is subtitled 3pm and it features vocals from people like Saffron, Peter Tosh, Chuck D, Gary Numan, Terry Hall, David Gahan and Robert Smith. “Angels,” the track with Numan, is one of his best performances in ages. The album blends to form one massive mix that sounds like the techno station on Grand Theft Auto 3. CD2 is 3am and it’s the chill-dub end of things. The Numan track from CD1 is reprised in remix form, which is pretty fucking cool.
Ian C Stewart

This 2CD + DVD label retrospective of dance label !K7 is an interesting blend of old tracks and new favorites that brings together artists like Smith & Mighty, Funkstorung, Guy Called Gerald, Swayzak and Terranova. The artists loosely share a stylish aesthetic of beats-out-front production and catchy melodies. Princess Superstar’s “Do It Like A Robot” should be the biggest pop song of 2003. The DVD features great videos by Terranova, Rae & Christian, and the almost-porno “Honey” by Tosca ("hot chicks" dancing around in their drawers, licking honey from each others' breasts). Funkstorung’s “Grammy Winners” video is cunning and funky and just as cool the tenth time as the first.
Ian C Stewart

Viva Emptiness
Viva Emptiness is a massive, emotionally-charged album with excellent production and great songwriting, putting them in league with other melodic extreme metal bands like Paradise Lost. “Ghost Of The Sun” opens the album with a fiddly, downtuned, tribal riff and smooth, harmonized vocals. “One Year From Now” is like Red House Painters gone metal. Huge choruses and lush keyboards underpin the drama. Every other song seems to be a ballad too. Late night metal moping.
Ian C Stewart

Killing Joke
Zuma Recordings
Fuck St. Anger, this is the metal payoff of the year. The ghost of industrial music subtly informs Killing Joke, with guitars that sound brutal and meaty. Vocalist and main man Jaz Coleman’s herniated yowl is still an acquired taste, but it suits these songs, which are also paranoid and pumped-up. His tuneless overemoting put me off in the past but it's appropriate here. Superstar guest artist Dave Grohl beats the hell out of his drums and reunited bassist-producer Flood has also done an outstanding job. It would be easy for them to wind up sounding like Rammstein, Jr; thankfully, Killing Joke does no such thing. “You’ll Never Get Me” is an extremely catchy stadium sing-along. I prefer Coleman’s clean singing voice to the testicles-in-hand primal raging he tends toward on most of the album. That said, there is a nice balance of light and dark on this masterpiece of continued dismay.
Ian C Stewart

Symphony Alive IV
KISS Records/Sanctuary
The first thing I noticed on the 2CD Symphony Alive IV was how great everything sounded, especially the drums. “Deuce," “Strutter” and “Let Me Go, Rock & Roll” from 1974 open the first disc, followed quickly by a weak “Lick It Up." “Forever” kicks off the stupidest part of Symphony Alive IV: the unplugged part. How scaled-down can you be in a stadium, wearing a cape? The Michael Bolton ballad “Forever” goes on just about that long. I miss Eric Singer’s masterful drumming - Creeter Piss just doesn’t have the feel. Tommy Thayer, meanwhile, plays Ace Frehley's parts better than the Spaceman himself. The Australian hit “Shandi" comes off like an overly dramatic disco dirge, or a lite ‘n’ fluffy Celine Dion dance song - which is odd and actually very cool. “Detroit Rock City” features orchestral counterpoints that sound like they were written for a high school marching band; and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the album. “God Of Thunder” is only slightly more evil with an orchestra sawing away behind it. KISS resists giving their only actual disco anthem (“I Was Made For Lovin’ You”) the Celine Dion treatment. It’s a fucking disco song, and god damn it, if you’re going to play it live, as far as I'm concerned you should at least take some fuckin’ accountability and whip out the disco ball and do it properly. From there it’s only another seven minutes of the godforsaken song they finish every show with. You know the one. It agitates me now but I'm sure I'll eventually wind up putting Symphony Alive IVinto my regular KISS playlist like I always do.
Ian C Stewart

Live Kreation
Steamhammer SPV
Old-school thrashers go big with a live two-CD set that blends their 80s stuff with everything they've done since. Recorded in Korea. I lost touch with Kreator after about 1989, so it’s interesting to check back in with them two lifetimes later. The recording is excellent and it’s the best I’ve heard the older songs sound. “Extreme Aggressions” is still a blast.
Ian C Stewart

Nueva Musica
Electric Monkey
The Latin Project makes big-room dance music that has Basement Jaxx’s “Bingo Bango” as a spiritual cousin. Grooves thump with Latin music fluorishes like nylon string guitar, percussion and horn section. The production is squooshed, sedate and engaging, which in dance music means the high hat and bass drum don’t dominate the mix. I usually prefer tracks in this idiom without vocals and Nueva Musica is no exception, with “En Fuego” being the standout instrumental for me. But, shit, a surprise cameo by Terrence Trent D’Arby (under the alias Sananda) on “Windows” is tough to argue with. Even if he does sound like he’s singing a love song to Bill Gates.
Ian C Stewart

The Housebound Spirit
Clearly informed by musique concrète, electro-acoustic music and of course the current and reigning computer blitz, Mr. Burton (aka John Leafcutter) presents some fantastically fresh and original sounds. It reminds me of His Name Is Alive - a similar disjointed feel, similar use of multi-instruments, similar short cuts of songs, fragments and a similar claustrophobic feel (not surprising, since the story goes Burton suffered from agoraphobia while making this album and couldn't leave his house). There's that bittersweet element I love, a nice clear up-front production, melodies competing with sounds, snatches of identifiable tunes, juxtapositions between instruments from acoustic to computer to household object, the whole a seamless peek into an interesting mind and soul. I'd love to see how this is done live; it's unsurprising that he's done soundscape work for live art installations; some of this very stuff would do the trick. But Mr. Leafcutter makes his "furniture music" sound catchy, which is not a common thing in my experience. Because of the nature of the album it's hard to pick a favorite track, but "Khoms" with its sound-treated vocals is a real winner. "All I Could Think Of Was Nothing" runs a real gamut between weird noises, orchestral sounds, glitchy beats, the whole damn thing. There's even a blush of reggae on "Arches Never Sleep." The mood is, as mentioned, slightly claustrophobic but this a joy to listen to.
Andrew McIntosh

Wonderful Rainbow
Load Records
Hey, do you love shit that doesn’t make any sense? Lightning Bolt plays psychotic, post-metal rock and out-there, freakout jazz insanity. Wonderful Rainbow's production sounds like a dollar fifty, which adds to the weirdness. I get the impression that this duo set up their shit in the studio, looked at each other and yelled SOLO! as soon as they sat down to play, resulting in totally fucked bass guitar frenzy (I hear distortion, Whammy pedal and a loop-making thing). Not forgetting the distant, screamy vocals and the raging, coked-up drumming. It's energetic and experimental at the same time. “2 Towers” features a bass loop that repeats to infinity. “30,000 Monkies” is a free-jazz love-in (or is that a free-love jazz-in?) with even more layers of bass, atop a percussion freakout. Fans of shit that doesn’t make any sense will fucking love this.
Ian C Stewart

Crucify My Heart
Century Media
For starters my predjudice-o-meter was set into active gear at a glance of the song titles. "Alright Tonight," "Every Single Day," "Better Days," and on. Cringe factor rising. The first riff of "Unchain" is good. The huge stomping on "Heart Of Darkness" highlights the excellent production. The combination of guitars and keyboards on "Better Days" makes for a pleasant sound. There are some good moments. It rocks. But it rocks in such a pedestrian way that it can appeal only to those who demand nothing from their music except that it rock. At least they hold back on the wanky guitar solos. A lot of capital is made of their vocalist. She smiles seductively on the cover of the album, minus the rest of the band. Her voice is good, with the required big-stadium style harmonies and balladry crooning. But I have no mercy for the lyrics. Lots of gunk about bad love affairs, split-ups, how she feels about it, all to the most cliched poetry an angst-ridden teenager could summon. I'm sure she feels every word. And that's the problem. English is probably not this Finnish band's first language, but that's not really an excuse. With the lyrics, and ultimately with the tunes themselves, Lullacry are obediently going through the motions. It all fits, the sugary cock-rock riffs, the mid-paced headbanger-lite stomp, the "I can't hear you!" feel of the whole thing. I'm sorry to say there is little if anything on this album to lift Lullacry above the level of average.
Andrew McIntosh

Spin Art
Gorgeous, mature pop record from the venerable leader of the venerable Echo & The Bunnymen. This is his third solo album and it bears no relation to Candleland and Mysterio, which came out over a decade ago. What remains is That Voice and McCulloch's dedication to a handfull of very smashing songs. The new batch actually sounds like the reunion Bunnymen stuff - acoustic guitars, strings and pianos and darker, mellower moods. A couple of Coldplay dudes back Mac up in spots - which could explain why Slideling bears a resemblance to some of their stuff.
Ian C Stewart

Gentrification Is Theft
Spade Kitty
Organic, heartland-Americana rock pop. Like Wilco maybe, or Mellencamp’s more serious moments. Acoustic guitar, viola, tons of backing vocals (male and female), live everything. The production is very good and the songs have a loose and jangly vibe. More is more on Gentrification Is Theft, with lots of lyrics and many layers to the music. The viola makes me think of Lisa Germano, who could probably sit in with The Me Decade pretty easily. This album recalls bands like Soul Asylum where the acoustic guitar is the engine and the songs rock.
Ian C Stewart

Vermillion Music
From the all-hands-on-deck school of rock bands (Magnetic Fields, Belle And Sebastian), Melomane includes six musicians plus guest artists. Guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, cello, trumpet, pedal steel, trombone. The music is ornate, rocking pop, centered around the songwriting of Pierre de Gaillande (Pee Air), who also sings lead. Opening with a keyboard riff on “Complicated Melody,” Melomane goes on to offer precisely that in the song, which grooves, winds and breaks down. The horn breaks almost sound Latin.
Ian C Stewart

St. Anger
I lost interest in Metallica after ...And Justice For All; and after hearing their self-titled album I resigned Metallica to the sell-out bin. Is St. Anger to Metallica what Painkiller was to Judas Priest (a return to real, unabashed, true metal)? Well, they could do a lot worse. Though I'm not sure how they could've done worse on the snare drum sound, which sounds like an amplified beer can. And they still have that stop-start-stop-start thing at the beginning of their songs. They also throw in annoying little acoustic bits. The title track sounds like it's going to be a "Fight Fire With Fire" thrash demon, but it goes all la-la nice. Back and forth, like Nirvana on speed. The guitar sound on this album is actually the biggest surprise - instead of infinite studio polish, the guitars sound darker and grittier. "Purify" embodies this, as does the opening song, "Frantic," when the riffs are so fast and harsh they blur into a pleasing drone of distortion. It's these moments when the album really shines. Shame about that snare drum sound.
Andrew McIntosh

Chapter of Purity
Tantric Harmonies
Much of Bryn Jones' rare and long out-of-print material has been re-released since his death in 1999. Chapter of Purity is a compilation of some of the first Muslimgauze tracks, including "Hajj," "Blinded Horses," "Jazirat-Ul-Arab" and "Flajelata." Released in an unlikely edition of 1200, Chapter of Purity is for collectors only, since the music is an unexciting, somewhat ponderous collection of simple, stiff, Arabic-influenced rhythms. Occasionally, offtime percussion is accompanied only by samples of chanting Palestinian voices. The direction taken on later releases is certainly hinted at here, but in a raw and primitive manner. "Mujahideen" is an exception - it's a soundtrackish synth piece akin to Vangelis circa Blade Runner, which also ties this release in with Bryn Jones' pre-Muslimgauze work as E.G. Oblique Graph.
C. Reider

Release Entertainment
Vidna Obmana surprises with a collection of acid-etched, distorted percussion lines and distraught ambient tones. Much of his recent work has been predictable enough that I'd kinda lost interest with his dissonant tone clusters floating suspended like slow moving clouds. It's always lovely, sometimes wonderful, but after hearing several releases in the same style, I'm not inclined to run out and hear the next new thing. The mechanical momentum of this release is a welcome change, then, and it's especially satisfying to hear "not pretty" sounds on a Vidna Obmana release. The liberal use of distortion coats the industrial-sounding beats and feedback, with a building intensity that suggests movement through some howling abyss. Descending synth lines, plaintively wailing flutes and raw bass guitar thudding all contribute to the tense journey. Dark, but quite nice.
C. Reider

Spitfire Records
Historically, the meeting of industrial and mainstream sensibilities has produced questionable results -- Nine Inch Nails, anyone? ohGr, however, manage to circumvent the problems that might come with ear-friendliness: rather than seeming like industrial music diluted by the blandly commercial, their music feels like pop contaminated and improved by serious industrial inventiveness. As a result, we get catchy melodies run through Euro-dance vocoders, but set off against whooping sirens, ring modulators and aggressive, hyperactive digital beats. Or we get bits of rap, rubbed raw by filters and used as just another layer in the texture. Even the startling "JaKO," with its voguish echo and smooth production, avoids cries of "sellout!" simply by virtue of its good composition and strong, flat, grayish vocals. Aside from the nods to the mainstream, SunnyPsyOp also has a marked influence of modern synthpop (Ladytron et al.), and at times seems like an 00s update of a hypothetical cold wave Syd Barrett -- still with a very solid, memorable melodic craft. And don't worry, there's also plenty of good old industrial mayhem: headache-inducing, skipping, thudding machine-gun synthesizers, fractured bass drones, bitter troglodyte moans, and metallic, frenzied, glitchy word-spewing from the ever-logorrheic vocalist Nivek Ogre.
Alex Temple

In Defiance Of Existence
Century Media
Galder returns with a beautifully-produced slab of blackened death metal that is as strong as contemporaries like Cradle Of Filth or Galder's employers Dimmu Borgir. Apart from the dark imagery and symphony breaks, Old Man's Child also shares a drummer with those bands, the master blaster Nick Barker, who is a legend and a superstar in the worlds of grindcore and black metal. “Felonies Of The Christian Art” sets the tone for the album with six thousand riffs, growling vocals, nimble riffing, seemingly random deployment of blastbeats, harmonized guitars. “Agony Of Fallen Grace” opens with a ghouled-out keyboard part and a Dave Lombardo-approved drum line. The inhuman tempo relentlessly propels the guitar lines into one another. Not to mention my ass cheeks. “In Quest Of Enigmatic Dreams” is a brief moment of classical guitar leading into “The Underworld Domains.” The guitar harmonies sound like Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate but the blastbeats and keyboards keep In Defiance Of Existence current. And it rules.
Ian C Stewart

Bicycles & Tricycles
V2 Records Japan
If you know The Orb, then you know what to expect: mind-grooves, thubbing basslines, inappropriate samples (of chickens), songs that are catchier than they really have a right to be. Intelligence. Dub. Happiness. Several tracks that could be chilled to, were one so inclined. “Orb Is” features a Meat Beat Manifesto-style bass line. “Abstractions” is a reverbed groover. “Compania” is straight soundtrackishness with bells ‘n’ shit, building up to the gangster dub of “Tower Twenty Three.” “Dilmun” leaves the album in beatless freefall with vigorous repetition of dubious loopage. The usual Orb action then.
Ian C Stewart

Kill Box 13
Spitfire Records
Overkill has always been a nerdy band I never cared for, existing somewhere in the unbridgeable chasm between boring thrash bands like Exodus and the dull, commercial hard-rock pop-metal of the 80s like, let’s say, White Lion. They might've had a chance were it not for the singer’s stupid-ass voice, which was equal parts Axl Rose, Brian Johnson and Joey Belladonna. Their music was decent, but the singer undermined it all. The first thing I noticed on the opening cut of Kill Box 13 (“Devil By The Tail”) was how great the drums sound. And the guitars were absolutely monstrous. Overkill has clearly been listening to what’s going on in the world of metal and they’ve updated their sound accordingly. “Damned” is a straightforward rock number with beastly riffs. Halfway through, there’s a big, syncopated huddle around the guitar line that rocks like the devil. While the rest of the album is similarly fine, midtempo metal with good playing, the whole thing risks coming undone due to those fucking vocals. The lyrics are pretty awful too. Bottom line: music good, singing bad. Maybe Overkill should turn into an instrumental band, maybe then I'd become a fan.
Ian C Stewart

Fuzzy Warbles Vol. 3
Fuzzy Warbles Vol. 4
The latest batch of Andy Partridge's Fuzzy Warbles contains a wide variety of amazing home demos and studio outtakes. Many of these recordings have been in circulation for years, but the improved fidelity makes these CDs essential. New highlights include “Lightheaded,” “You Like Me?” (a terrifying Ryuichi Sakamoto pastiche with Partridge paramour Erica Wexler singing) and “Autumn Comes Around” on Vol. 3 and “The Art Song (Something Good With Your Life)” and “Where Is Your Heart?” on Vol 4.Older treasures like “Gangway, Electric Guitar Is Coming Through,” (a Skylarking reject) “Work,” (previously released on the XTC fan club cassette Jules Verne's Sketchbook) “This Is The End” and “Blue Beret” (both on the other fan club cassette The Bull With The Golden Guts) are digitally restored while several demos of songs that eventually wound up on XTC albums (“The Ugly Underneath,” etc.) often sound better in this format, their vision undiluted by session drummers. The Warbles don't represent specific periods of XTC's output. Instead, they're random (practically) selections from the vaults. Buy ‘em direct and get ‘em autographed.
Ian C Stewart

Yours, Mine & Ours
Ashmont Records
Joe Pernice has made some of the loveliest albums of the last few years in his various incarnations as Scud Mountain Boys, Chappaquiddick Skyline, Big Tobacco and, of course, Pernice Brothers. This is business as usual, then; another album of finely-crafted pop gems. They seem to be on a slightly less melancholy tip than usual, for some reason, although a lot of the lyrics are hardly what you’d call happy-go-lucky. “I know a heavy load that drags me down, but who doesn’t?” Er, right on! The music is pretty heavily inspired by the Teenage Fanclub style of classic pop, with Byrds-esque harmonies wrapped around all the songs like sticky candy floss. Pernice’s lovely, high-pitched voice leaves you in no doubt who you’re listening to, though. It’s the kind of album that would be perfectly suited to driving around in an open-topped car on a sunny day; the kind of thing you ought to hear on the radio, if DJs had any sense whatsoever. Perhaps not as immediately beguiling as some of Pernice’s past releases, this one worms its way into your subconscious, like most great albums tend to. It’s great to know that people are still committed to making records like this, that sound like they’ll still be as valid and essential in ten, twenty, thirty, years. Very impressive.
Mark Ritchie

Finger Lickin’
Following great singles like “Big Groovy Fucker” and “Plumpy Chunks,” Plump DJs’ second album continues to bring the heat. While as not as taint-grabbingly immediate as A Plump Night Out, the grooves, samples and guest stars sound great, including the newly-ubiquitous Gary Numan, who transforms “Pray 4 U” into a moody, grooving electro number - and he does it with that voice. “Sleep well tonight,” he intones. And I think I will, now that Gary Numan is everywhere again. “How Much Is Enough” features an 808 State sample among computer voices and a squondgy bass line.
Ian C Stewart

Give Up
Sub Pop
Take archetypical indie-pop, complete with unnaturally cute male and female vocalists. Remove instruments. Add cheerful bloops, reverberating vibe-like synths, bright staccato organs and Notwisty e-percussion. OK, add some guitars too. Note that the male vocalist is Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard. There, you've got The Postal Service. Now that you know what the music sounds like, I'll talk about where the band places its emphasis: the lyrics. If you've ever found yourself wishing that Stephin Merritt were more sincere, this band is for you. They're wordy, full of elaborate metaphors involving everything from platform shoes to the JFK assassination, and sentimental as all hell. Typical example: "I have to speculate / That God himself did make / Us into corresponding shapes / Like puzzle pieces from the clay." Give Up consistently treads the line between sweet and embarrassing, and it sure doesn't help when they bust out the string synths on "Nothing Better," already far too clunky with its duet-between-soon-to-be-exes concept. But if you need to purge the saccharine from your system, there's always the unexpected closer "Natural Anthem" -- black, anxious, swirling, minimalistic and almost entirely instrumental.
Alex Temple

Politics Of The Business
Razor & Tie
Politics Of The Business opens with comedian Dave Chapelle as a record company executive. I know humor is approved for use during skits between songs on hiphop albums, but can Prince Paul get away with it in the songs themselves? I vote yes - these beats are large and the throng of guests give the album a transient, mobile quality. What about irony? Is irony allowed? Can he do this? The title track matches up my personal dream team of Chuck D and Ice-T - they have a conversation about, well, the politics of the music business. Unfortunately, they're not rhyming, they're just conversing. But there's a huge beat way out front, so you have to play it louder than you ordinarily might in order to hear what they're talking about. This album’s got humor, irony, fat beats, and famous guests. What else is there? Hiphop album of the year.
Ian C Stewart

Scorpio Rising
Locomotive Music
Scorpio Rising is a recreation of Prong's early 90s heyday, with caveman riffs, simple beats, big choruses. Opening with the raw groover “Detached,” Scorpio Rising opens on familiar turf. On track two, “All Knowing Force,” they employ a disco beat and an industrial metal guitar riff. “Embrace The Death” has a (cough, gag) Linkin Park vibe, with subliminal dance loops and bass guitar chords. “Regal” rages with a thrash tempo and a guitar solo for maximum nostalgia. The songs with melodic singing and ringing guitar parts are the most interesting, but probably the least satisfying at full blast.
Ian C Stewart

Single is incredibly nice, mellow, Basic Channel-like minimal techno. While the sound is less bleak than the dark neon chill of Plastikman's Consumed, or the tense, underwater thud of Porter Ricks' Biokinetics, it's definitely in the same sound realm. Pub's foggy haze of muted beats is surrounded by brassy delay chatter softly below the echoing remnants of synth melody and spooky, suspended ambient washes. Bliss, basically.
C. Reider

Drifting, IDM-techno, released on Minidisc. Quench takes its cues from latter-day Download recordings like III Steps Forward and Effector. Ingredients include slow, stuttering drums, crispy ambient washes, fluttering synth lines with lots of delay and sweet bass noises; but Punctuated suffers the same fate as the aforementioned Download discs. The music has a great vibe with pleasant sounds, but without melodies, the songs lack the momentum required to evolve into anything interesting. They just hang there, suspended. Not an unpleasant thing to listen to, but not totally engaging either. The sonic equivalent of a kinetic hanging art mobile.
C. Reider

Hail To The Thief
It's not perfect. There are a few dull bits here and there, like on all Radiohead albums. But that won't prevent me from saying that this is the best album they've put out since OK Computer. There are still elements of 00s Radiohead here, to be sure -- the occasional zigzagging electronic beat, the down-South funereal atmosphere of "We Suck Young Blood." There are also elements of the band's earlier work: luscious major-key ballads that could've been off The Bends (except they're good!), and aggressive, punchy instrumental breaks that really drive the music forward à la "Paranoid Android" (rather than just letting it flow by, as on much of Amnesiac). But most interesting of all are the parts of Hail To The Thief that look forward by looking back -- back to decades before the band existed, as in the buzzing Canterbury synthesizers of "Myxomatosis," the old-school folk-rock bassline of "A Punchup at a Wedding," the uptempo acoustic guitars and Jefferson Airplaney electric twitches of "Go to Sleep." Best of all, and perhaps one of the best songs Radiohead's ever come up with, is "A Wolf At The Door": the rhythm of a 50s shuffle, a bassline straight out of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," lyrics obscurely detailing a violent extortion and kidnapping scheme, and the powerful alternation between verse and chorus of the low and high registers of Thom Yorke's voice. I didn't even know he could sing that low. Radiohead have succeeded in recovering the urgency that they lost at the turn of the century, and they've done it without reverting to already-covered ground. How many bands can make that claim?
Alex Temple

A Strangely Isolated Place
City Centre Offices
Debilitatingly beautiful techno-indie action that follows the Sigur Ros path somewhat. Heartbreaking chord changes, upper-upper register singing, massive reverb. The production is amazingly vivid, giving equal weight to the beats, guitars and keyboards. “On My Own” extends the metaphor to sound like the happiest Sigur Ros track in the world. “Monday Paracetamol” slows shit down with a creamy blend of rock and techno elements, sort of like a more-interesting BT (the dance music artist, not British Telecom).
Ian C Stewart

String Quartets 1986-1996
The impression I get from this CD: Elliott Sharp is a tough motherfucker, and he wants you to know it. A battery of modernist techniques, from molto sul ponticello and bow overpressure to electric amplification, are used to ensure a level of sonic harshness that makes Bartók look like Haydn. The tempo is either fast or complete standstill, the dymanic consistently loud. Extended melodies are largely abandoned in favor of short, punchy rhythmic cells -- think Charles Wuorinen without the total chromaticism. And to top it off, there’s 70 minutes of the stuff. The only problem is the near-complete lack of subtlety. I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the compositions or the performances (mostly by the Soldier String Quartet), but that’s a whole fucking lot of loud, dissonant grooves and glissy drones. There are passages that break things up a bit, like the mercifully beatless and surprisingly guitar-like amplified middle section of “Hammer Anvil Stirrup,” and the most recent of the eight pieces, “Lumen,” is a good deal more varied and compositionally sophisticated than the others. (It’s also played by a different group, the Meridian String Quartet, which may contribute to the presence of some actual dynamic nuance.) For the most part, though, the music just doesn’t have the aesthetic depth to justify the exhaustion of sitting through the whole CD.
Alex Temple

Black Utopia
Inside Out
I think Black Utopia is what Racer X should aspire to: absurdly noodly metal guitar riffs, lengthy keyboard solos and drum fills that go on all night. Obviously, the chops are the star of this particular show, and keyboardist Sherinian (Dream Theater, KISS, etc.) has the manual dexterity to bring it all to life. Muso wankfest? Damn right - in your face. And then in your hair. Yngwie fucking Malmsteen unleashes the fucking fury on three tracks, and his playing blends perfectly with the dementedly challenging, overly complex nature of the music. Other guests include Al DiMeola, Zakk Wylde, Steve Lukather, Tony Franklin, Billy Sheehan, Jerry Goodman and Simon Phillips. Bit of a musician’s record then. Notice there are no vocalists, which is a good thing. I shudder to think what people like fuckin’ Steve Perry or Richard Marx might bring to this already crowded sausage party of virtuosi. Now get this fucking thing away from me before I start enjoying it.
Ian C Stewart

Never Trust a Hippy
Real World
Stomping electro IDM dubplates that demand to be blared at top volume from the blissful opening with the hop-limp-step of "No Dog Jazz." Reggae samples and dub effects abound, infusing it with a hazy rasta vibe, but the frantic, speeding beats refuse to laze into boring smoked-out Jah worship. The beats are impatient, plunging ahead only to trip back over on themselves, lending a square-wheeledness that adds to the infectious charm. It's no secret what Cevin Key's been listening to.
C. Reider

Savage Or Grace
Nuclear Blast
Anyone else get the reference? Horns up, who remembers a metal band called Savage Grace in the 80s? Okay, I'll just do the review then. The riffs are cutting and savage, the musicianship is tight, the production is heavy and demanding without sacrificing clarity and the songs are barrages of riffs and tempo-changes. Savage, grinding and powerful. I understand this Dutch band supported Cannibal Corpse - it should have been the other way around.
Andrew McIntosh

Sickroom Records
Definitely not for SGM newbies. The most interesting thing about this CD is that it’s compiled from eleven different shows, but uses creative cross-fading to create a seamless whole that could easily have been recorded at a single event. One short track even uses two different renditions of the same song, “Red Moon,” played simultaneously in the left and right channels and synched up with astounding accuracy. But fans of the band’s invigorating mixture of metal, RIO, home-made percussion and performance art will be disappointed by the high ratio of audience noise and goofy spoken interludes to actual music. When they do get down to business, as on their classic “Sleep is Wrong” or the fourteen-minute “Babydoctor,” they rock out as expected, but for the most part this is nowhere close to seeing the group, or to listening to their one (so far) studio album.
Alex Temple

Short and Explosive
Whoa, it's Depeche Mode! Okay, Statemachine are hardly a clone, but singer Marten Kelleman does bear an uncanny resemblance to David Gahan (if a bit more tortured), and those melodies sure remind me of Martin Gore's. The main difference is that Statemachine have updated the earlier band's sound (circa Black Celebration) for the more cynical 21st century: the textural shifts are vast, the rock aspect big and evil, the lyrics bad and pained rather than bad and cutesy, the drum machines complex and clearly from the post-techno era. Those weird little intros and outros have been expanded into sludgy, crackly miniatures in their own right, making some songs surprisingly long. And they have violins. And they cover "Paint It Black," again taking something simple and making it huge and expansive and contrasty and menacing, full of little production details that add a level of sonic subtlety to this emotionally very unsubtle band.
Alex Temple

Flavour Has No Name
City Centre Offices
A funky bit of techno-lite with microdub clicks and thumps scooting along with understated grooves. Several classy guest vocalists sit in, personalizing every other song with just the right amount of catchiness to propel this release head and shoulders above your average modern electronica. They include vocalists include Justine Electra, whose breathy turn on "Inside Your Heaven" leads with an unlikely, nearly trendy electro-pop sound. Christof Kurzmann sounds charmingly unprofessional, fronting a bit of techno glop-and-bloop with an Arto Lindsay-ish easygoing delivery. If it was up to me, this would've been the lead track, as this is when Static made me a fan. Later is the very welcome addition of Ronald Lippok (Tarwater, To Rococo Rot), whose distinctive baritone adds weight to the creepy, clinical buzz of "Ghost Boy" (which, according to the CCO website will soon be a 12" single with a remix by Isan). It's a standout track, for sure: five minutes of dejected moping with a foot-tapping beat. Rock. Going yet another step toward making this one of my favorite discs this year is vocalist Valerie Trebeljahr of Lali Puna. Her frigidly sexy, disaffected, breathy voice pleads a mantra of "Turn On Switch Off," which seems like it should mean something but probably doesn't. That these tracks just sound like new songs by Tarwater and Lali Puna is by no means a bad thing; unfortunately, the strong vocal tracks also have the effect of making most of the instrumental tracks, which make up about half the album, feel like they're passing into the background. The non-vocal tracks don't have a lot of melodic momentum. One exception is "Waking Up," which almost comes off like a mellow track by Tweaker. Hey, Static! Next time you need a singer, I'm available.
C. Reider

A Lethal Dose Of American Hatred
Sanctuary Records
Phil Anselmo goes AWOL from one of the biggest metal bands in the world to play punk-fuelled thrash in his barn with a bunch of scary dudes (like Hank Williams III on bass). The songs are short bursts of controlled mayhem with Anselmo’s arena-ready vocals at the fore. The reductive production lends intimacy and immediacy. The album is almost evenly divided between fast thrashers and the slow doomers. The tribal chug of “Personal Insult” drifts near Pantera turf but is offset by the uptempo verse. From this description one might get the impression that this is Pantera 2, but there are no fuckin’ ballads, no fuckin’ douchebag weedly guitar solos here. Just fuckin’ organic, fuckin’ heavy thrash. Dude. Now get me a beer. No, wait.
Ian C Stewart

Mit Gas
Opening with actual birdcalls, “Birdsong” sets a deceptively icy tone for the second album from Mike Patton's “normal” rock band (as opposed to his "abnormal" rock band Fantômas). Tomahawk does recall Faith No More, I ain’t gonna bullshit ya. I mean late-period Faith No More, when things got more musically weird and less fashion-misstatement weird. “Birdsong” has multiple tempi and conflicting moods and some of the largest bass-and-guitar chording in the history of musical instruments. Tomahawk has (relative) simplicity in its favor, for those who appreciate Patton’s fucked up releases on a cerebral level but secretly wish for something to sing along with. The production is excellent and Patton’s voices are strong in the mix but not dominant. “When The Stars Begin To Fall” incorporates soundtracky atmos and jazzy guitar action and that's basically true of the entire album. Mit Gas is creepy and freaked out, but you can and should still sing along to it.
Ian C Stewart

Oh Tricky, you have lost the way, my brother. Our once weird and relevant rapper's descent into trite, uninspired rock-rap has been disheartening. On Vulnerable, Tricky gets his friend Costanza (who sounds like Betty Boop really fucking ripped on some Columbian chiba), and with her best Martina Topley-Bird impression on, he and she munch out on ten fluffy, contentless, Twinkie-like songs -- and manage to defile and molest both the Cure and XTC with awful covers of “The Love Cats” and "Dear God." It seems like there was a good song on here somewhere that I might've liked, but I can't remember which one. Even after listening to it a few times, each song leaves the memory moments after it ends. I hope this album is a huge mega-hit so he'll finally be able to buy enough weed so that he can retire and not record another pointless piece of trash that only leaves us wanting for pre-millenium Tricky.
C. Reider

When exactly did Tricky lose the plot? This album sounds like it was cranked out in an afternoon, with Tricky and his doped-up-girlfriend-of-the-week on vocals, singing plaintively over sweet beats. Sampled chords stab out and the playful paranoia of Tricky’s finer moments dominate the opening track “Stay.” Funky? Yes? No? Maybe. There’s a beat but not that kind of beat. “Anti Matter” is alleged to be Vulnerable's pop song, but there’s nothing there that hasn’t been done better by scores of Tricky devotees. “Ice Pick” adds a reggae-dub bassline and a hint of a harmonica loop. Covering XTC’s “Dear God,” he retains the acoustic guitar part and the chords but mixes up the other elements in the process. Costanza Francavilla (says here)’s voice certainly fits the Björk-Martina-Goldfrapp mold, but she blazes through the lyrics like she has no clue what the words add up to. “There's no such a thing I don't believe in.” That's what she sings. The song isn't totally useless but it doesn't improve on the original, or even Sarah McLachlan’s version. As far as Tricky fans going out and buying Skylarking after hearing this, I don’t see it happening. “How High” goes heavy metal with loud guitars and chanted vocals. “What Is Wrong” is space jazz, while “Wait For God” sounds like The Cardigans with distorted bass guitar and a cracked-out drum loop. Which is probably giving the thing too much credit. “Where I’m From” is more fake metal with live drums and an American MC doing the expected. And then“The Love Cats," as a reductive, revisionist hand-me-down that retains only the lyrics and the “into the sea” chorus melody from the original, which is interesting but not amazing. Besides, lame cover versions like this just sound tossed-off. Who’s supposed to benefit from such crappy handling of someone else’s material? Don't get Vulnerable, buy another copy of Maxinquaye instead.
Ian C Stewart

Under a Dying Sun
Reinforcing my conviction that the term "emo" has absolutely no meaning, Under A Dying Sun sound neither like Bright Eyes nor like slowed-down pop-punk. Instead their style has two basic elements, which can often be found side by side within a single song: noisy-as-hell punkish rock with screamy-yet-melodic vocals buried low in the mix, and slower, thinner-textured balladry replete with buzzing and ringing sustained guitar tones. At times I detect a similarity to the Dismemberment Plan's Travis Morrison in the vocals -- except, that is, for the fact that Morrison isn't whiny as fuck. Lyrically, UADS's focus is pain, catharsis and more pain, with frequent reference to "learning" and "lessons," and "sensitive" lines like "inside is really where the wounds appear" yelled for Maximum Emotional Power™. Also, they sample right-wing preachers a couple of times, cause, like, isn't that profound?
Alex Temple

Live at the Spirit

Musea Records
First off, I have to say that this CD has the best sound quality of any live recording I’ve ever heard. Except for the applause at the end of each song, I could swear I was listening to a studio recording. Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system: Versus X are a German prog band who fall on the darker end of the spectrum, which in combination with their tendency toward the theatrical would evoke comparisons to Van Der Graaf Generator, if not for the fact that absolutely everything gets compared to VDGG these days. Besides, vocalist Arne Schäfer is nowhere near as melodramatic as Peter Hammill. Despite the double-digit track lengths, the music here is more concise than a lot of “symphonic” prog, mainly because the band tends to eschew long solos in favor of tight compositions. They also dip occasionally into more dissonant realms, trading in their typical harmonically-displaced major chords for aggressive chromatic passages that remind me by turns of Univers Zero, Area and Il Balletto di Bronzo. Of course, these are my favorite parts. Nice organ work, too.
Alex Temple

Beestung And Waterlogged

Big Rig Records
The fine production got me first. It's crisp and clear, without pretension. And perhaps much the same could be said about the music itself. Starting off with a nice 4AD-style reverb-drenched intro, lots of nice swirling sound and they then play reggae! After that is a nice little quiet ballady-style song, "One Minute Of Everything," which is very much ambient post-rock. A truly lovely ending - nice, droning, quiet sound getting softer and softer. The soft chirping of electronic crickets, the gentle drop of guitar dew...sit back and relax. They keep the mood relaxed with "Zaspish," which consists of gentle guitar and electronics, swirling sounds and crooning vocals. This time the vocals are shared between Darrin Hanley and Jo Cunningham, who doesn't sing enough on this album for my liking. She's the focus on "Devoika," which is credited as "traditional" but sadly lacks any more information. It's a very spiritual sounding folk tune, sounding very Dead Can Dance here. As for the epic of the album, "My Bright Day," it seems to recall prog-rock, with changes of tempo and key, different moods and beats - while maintaining a mellow mood throughout. It seems to nod happily rather than rock out. Nothing is hurried or cluttered. The mood is quiet, reflective, perhaps a bit late-night, certainly civilized.
Andrew Mcintosh

Where is Tamashii?

On 2000’s Polyglöt, this French trio became a multinational quartet with the addition of After Dinner violinist Takumi Fukushima. Here, on the band’s fourth album, her influence finally becomes apparent. The title track, for instance, uses Volapük’s usual slithering, vaguely Bartókian ethno-chamber-rock as a backdrop for a bittersweet song (with vocals!) that could be an After Dinner outtake if not for the satisfyingly full texture. In fact, the textures on Where Is Tamashii? are pretty consistently fuller than those on previous albums -- and yet the playing often seems less polished, looser, more improvisatory, especially when Fukushima’s off-kilter violin playing comes to the fore. Note especially the jazzy ending of “Exercice du Matin” -- Tosca Tango Orchestra minus the tango, with Michel Mandel’s clarinet undulating over a spacious and complex backdrop of jazzy drumming, pizzicato strumming from Fukushima, and, from cellist Guillaume Saurel, electric bass chords -- another novelty for this mostly-acoustic band. And then you can flip to “Nouvelle Vague” or “Mission” and find the same old Volapük you knew in 1997, channeling Present and Aksak Maboul through Arabic and East Asian folk idioms. In ten years they’ll be calling this a classic, just you wait.
Alex Temple

Morbid Records
Well, if the half-naked lesbian catfight depicted on the back cover (amid song titles like “Punch You In The Cunt,” “Orgasm Is The Enemy” and “Blast You In The Face With My Semen, Blast You In The Face With My Fist”) doesn't give you a clue as to this album’s contents, let me break it down for you. Blastbeat thrash metal with woofy vocals. Everything is fast, but super-controlled. Sounds like two vocalists. I’m sure there are lyrics, but let’s not even ponder their contents, okay? I mean, do we really need to delve into the deeper meaning behind “I Hope He Beats You”? When they’re not grinding away on blindingly fast passages, Waco Jesus lays down some very heavy, grooving noise. The guitar parts are super-technical, like Carcass. The drums are prominent in the mix - maybe the guitars should be louder? This is dirty music wrapped in vile packaging. Cranking out ten songs in 25 minutes, it follows The Great Kat’s rule of a higher note-density compressed into a smaller amount of time. Therefore, yes, it does rule.
Ian C Stewart

The Boy and the Tree

A simple and elegant music, combining avant-garde minimalism with fourth-world ambience and a techno sensibility. Drawing primarily from traditional Asian music with woodblock percussion and flutes, and also from American Western music, makes for an interesting amalgam. Looped percussion parts accompany tremeloed guitars, droning sitars and the lowing of a sad sakuhachi. The music is as full of tumbleweed and distant mirages as it is paper pavilions and bonsai trees. An interesting, if not entirely outstanding, ambient disc.
C. Reider

Microminiature Love
Sub Pop
You keep hearing about lost 60s classics -- Silver Apples, the United States of America -- but somehow they never live up to their potential. This, though -- this is the real thing. Recorded in 1968 and shelved until now, Microminiature Love is a very short (under 25 minutes) album that I can only describe as shockingly ahead of its time. The songwriting itself is purely of the era (though it resists easy comparisons), but the band's sound comes off more like an early 80s post-punk band: shaky but powerful vocals, drumming alternately tense and spastic, and guitar work that's almost indistinguishable from early Sonic Youth, from the bulbous, scratchy timbre to the occasional microtonal tunings. The production is raw, lo-fi, even glitchy, accentuated only by occasional panning tricks with the vocals. The frightening, relentless anti-war song "Boy In The Sandbox" even features an enormous blast of noise towards the end. Perhaps the highlight, though, is "Returning," an intensely creepy story of infidelity, death and regret, constructed over a three-note guitar figure and gradually building in tension until it releases itself in a sudden, huge, dissonant climax. The CD is rounded out to a standard 48 minutes by the presence of six bonus tracks, very similar in sound but perhaps less dark and less distinctive, though the closing "Scat Jam" does let us hear the band in whacked-out improvisatory jazz-rock mode.
Alex Temple

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