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Chris Clark, Ceramics Is the Bomb EP (Warp)
Chris Clark terrifies me. His Ceramics Is the Bomb EP, an evil collision of gabba beats, hardcore house, tape drones and feedback, is one of the most malevolent records that Warp have ever vomited forth -- pretty impressive when their back catalogue includes albums by Aphex Twin and Chris Morris. From its "outsider" cover art (a chalk drawing of a skull scribbled on the front, semi-legible track listing and disjointed slogans scrawled on the back) to its six tracks of electronic brutality, Ceramics Is the Bomb is a record that should be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Have you ever seen a schizophrenic scream and shout, trying desperately to cover up the disjointed voices and fractured noises that constantly assault their thoughts? Ceramics Is the Bomb is how I imagine those fractured noises to sound. Occasionally, through the bewildering fog, fragments of delicate melodies and ambient calm peek through, only to be battered away by the industrial demons. The relief only heightens the horror. As I said, Chris Clark terrifies me. If you have the stomach for it, you should let him terrify you too.
3d5spd, Fever in the Ice Age (Two Sheds Music)
Should 3d5spd (apparently pronounced three-dee-five-speed) change its name to the Hydroponics and be done with it? With lead singer Chris Hoke sounding remarkably like Stereophonics front man Kelly Jones on most of the songs on Fever in the Ice Age and the band often following suit, 3d5spd could be mistaken for a tribute band. Whether that's good or bad is up to the listener. The Stereophonics were Britain's answer to Pearl Jam; loud, sometimes bluesy rock and roll, only with more of a studio sheen. With Hoke's voice reaching Jones' gruff howls on songs like "Now and Then" and "LightWeight," the comparisons are deserved. But they break the mold on a few songs (the building, groovy "Situation" and "Red Wire," where Hoke sounds like Sting fronting the Constantines) to make Fever in the Ice Age a pleasant enough, if not groundbreaking, listen.
Lauren Braddock, Lauren Braddock (Lost Dawg/Love Child)
Lauren Braddock sounds quite a bit like Jill Sobule on the pop roots opening track "Don't Turn Away". She also brings to mind Sheryl Crow, Liz Phair, Stacey Earle and Juliana Hadfield. With a childlike innocence in her voice it might be difficult to take her seriously, but the quality of her lyrics as well as Don Henry's is evident. "Ignorance Is Bliss" is a sultry Americana take on urban problems and mundane life. A snippet of the Tammy Wynette classic "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" (which was co-written by her father Bobby Braddock) is performed before a toy piano and Melissa Etheridge rock style is used for "A Walk Down Sesame Street". "If I Was Your Girl" is an Eastern-influenced spoken word tune that falls flat from the get-go. Braddock goes for the blues feeling on the murky "Alibi Lounge" for a better effort. The song slowly grows on the listener but the wording seems out of place. The Beatles were another huge influence upon Braddock growing up and it shows throughout the songs with dream harmonies, spacey effects and other effects put to good use. The highlight has to be the simplistic yet infectious "Lost Dawg", something that the Dixie Chicks would have a hit with -- a jug-band groove with a lovable mandolin. "Where the Wild Things Are" bring to mind Steve Earle's "Taneytown" in its rhythm with Braddock doing just enough to get her point across. The latter songs are a bit too slick, especially "What Am I Gonna Do With You". Although soft in some places, the album has its fair share of good moments.
Paquito D'Rivera, Brazilian Dreams (MCG Jazz)
Very smooth, this one. Not in the current usage of the term, but in a George Shearing/Nancy Wilson The Swinging's Mutual kind of way. Actually, this album harks back to the first bossa nova boom, Ipanema refashioned to suit hip Manhattanites. Very chic, very early '60s. Some critics will slate it as far too syrupy and complacent. I love it. Rivera's sax and clarinet are unproblematic and as fluent as ever. Less palatable to many will be the velvet vocal arrangements and the general late night schmaltzerie of the New York Voices, who croon and coo through a selection of (mostly) Jobim standards. You need to love "song styling" in its most mellow and polished forms to really appreciate the charm and craftsmanship that has gone into this project. Even then, track six, "Meu Amigo", will test the sweetest of palates. That sugar-overdose apart, though, the musicianship and the standard of the songs deserves an audience beyond the Easy Listening category (assuming that the much-maligned term still exists). "Corcovado", "Manha De Carnival/Gentle Rain", and "Desafinado" are beautiful compositions, and the elegance of the vocals plus the assured phrasing of the Cuban maestro make these versions a match for any of the thousand or so that have preceded them. Brazilian Dreams is gentle, cultured, and perhaps overly refined, but it is very accomplished and -- if you attune yourself -- does actually swing. It is also truer to the spirit of bossa nova in its first North American flowering than some will care to admit. An after-dinner mint of a set, no basis for a general diet but perfect at the appropriate moment.
Imada, Playground do Brazil (Lifestyle)
If this album had come out on Irma, Om, or Naked, it would have probably created quite a buzz. Think Brazilian beats, French deep house, Italian nova bossa nova, laid back Californian vibes, and a jazz groove of sublime ease and sensuality. All in all, Playground Do Brazil consists of a heady mix of all that counts as swish and sophisticated in dance/electronica these days and is certainly far superior to the bulk of "Lounge" sets that have proliferated over the last 12 months. Imada are, I think, Stefano Paganelli and Ricky Marques and the CD is, I think, French. Not that it matters as this is the sort of Global-Latin digital mix that has proliferated in the trendier clubs and wine bars post-St.Germain, Bebel Gilberto, etc. There can be something bland and faceless about this type of product and Playground does meander a bit at times. However, the title track, the more robust "Cubatecha" and the self-explanatory "Jazzil Sensual" are all good tunes in their own right and the overall ambience is as cool and chic as the form requires. "Curacao" sums the mood up, swaying, sensuous, somewhat derivative but never quite toppling over into pastiche. Play at relaxed dinner parties and on summer evenings and file in between Om Lounge and Brazilian Love Affair 4.
Shuggie, What It Is. And How to Get It (Good-Ink)
Now that the grunge fad has mercifully faded out, perhaps Seattle bands like Shuggie can feel free to break out of the flannel-and-misery stereotypes that recently plagued their hometown's music scene. Shuggie (no relation to recent rediscovery Shuggie Otis) would rather rock the rafters of their local arena than churn out the latest angst anthem, and they deserve credit for this if nothing else. They've drawn the occasional comparison to the Replacements, but if such a comparison is apt, it refers to Tim and beyond. As evidenced by their second album, What It Is. And How to Get It, Shuggie specializes in big hooks, not the edginess of, say, the 'Mats' Let It Be. They sit well in the tradition of Mott the Hoople and Cheap Trick, though. With a solid grasp on arena rock fundamentals, they fill their niche perfectly well, and if their singing and riffing tend towards the generic at times, it's partially compensated for by organist Jason Staczek, who makes the background of Shuggie's songs seem like the best place to be. He goes a long way towards elevating What It Is above the middle-of-the-road anonymity that swallows so many other efforts in the genre.
Various Artists, Hardcore Dancehall (Victory)
Scantily clad babes wearing bandanas are on the cover. The parental advisory label warns the lyrics are explicit. Hardcore Dancehall more than promises to be a hit. There's a song called "Big Pu##y" and that means the record is likely to be a smash hit. I hate to say this -- I'm not offended in any way. But that's because can't understand a single word of the lyrics. I can't figure out who's buying it here in the US, except I think they live in the suburbs and ride around with their "tight" buds. They should have called that song "Big Pu$$y", but I still wouldn't understand a single word. 15 songs, one long propulsion of the fast dancehall riddem. People like that. And featuring a song that's guaranteed to become an anthem for certain sorts, "Gimme the Weed Fi Smoke". Now I get it. Why else would anyone believe they'll become richer and more famous reggae stars merely by singing about vaginas.