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Igloo, Igloo (Bubblecore)
Igloo's debut is a collaborative side project by Adam Pierce of the experimental New York band, Mice Parade, and Doro Tachler of the German group Alles Wie Gross. Igloo is an imaginative, mostly instrumental record. The album expands on Mice Parade's Obrigado Saudade's Latin-inflected percussions and incorporates ambient electronic arrangements with German and English vocals (actually, chants) on the record's eight tracks. The album was home recorded on a cassette four-track and on a Fostex half-inch tape machine. This gives Igloo a crisp quality that would have been subdued in a larger recording studio. The result is an album that at times is more suitable for background, coffee shop music or something that just Mice Parade fans would enjoy. Perhaps it's that Igloo treads the same familiar territory already explored by other bands.
For example, the first song, "Cricket", treads an Uwe Schmidt (Senor Coconut) percussion, while "Flashback", prefers a backward Kid A musical track with accompanying chants. While these beginning tracks lay the album's ambient foundation, the acoustic sing-along "Found" is a simple melodic pop song that introduces structured lyrics (and once again recalls Senor Coconut) before morphing into an atmospheric guitar instrumental. Aside from allusions to Senor Coconut (who exemplify the way electronic music should sound if it wasn't electronic) and Radiohead, Igloo's stronger, more original tracks are the up-tempo songs like the tropicalia two-step of "Frog" or the Afro-Caribbean feel of "A Ye Yo." These two songs are also the most uplifting tracks on the album. Pierce constructs them with intricate arrangements and the minimal use of vocals only work as ornate dressing to Pierce's compositions. Although, Igloo is 40 minutes of lo-fi acoustics that span only eight tracks, any more would definitely make this album taxing.
Centro-Matic, Flashes and Cables EP (Misra)
Coming hot on the heels of their acclaimed full length, Love You Just the Same, Flashes and Cables is a brief, six-song journey into the psych-country territory presided over by Centro-Matic frontman Will Johnson. Using their home state of Texas' sunburned landscape as inspiration, Centro-Matic weave shambled tales of love and modern life. Featuring tracks left over from the Love You Just the Same sessions, as well as a remix of the excellent title track, the EP doesn't stop there. For all you computer savvy types, Centro-Matic has generously thrown in four additional music videos for your viewing pleasure. Fans of '90s alt-country such as Uncle Tupelo and Palace need to look no further than Flashes and Cables for an introduction to this excellent band. Centro-Matic fans need to stop reading and get their hands on this fast. Flashes and Cables is a great addition to Centro-Matic's already well-established catalogue.
Evil Wiener, Evil Wiener Presents Billy Sugarfix's Lost Gumdrop Kingdom (Smith Level)
Though it might not have the widespread cachet of, say, Seattle, North Carolina has been the home of some mighty impressive music. Giving birth to The dB's and Mitch Easter would be enough to launch it into the stratosphere, but many more minor pleasures make it sound like a tiny jangle-pop outpost in the wilderness of bad music. Add to the list of minor pleasures Evil Wiener, whose sophomore effort, Evil Wiener Presents Billy Sugarfix's Lost Gumdrop Kingdom, does just fine for itself. It exists in tension between its quirkiness and its concision with a clean and pure sound courtesy of one of the great masters of all those things, Chris Stamey. Despite the boon of his production skills, Stamey's presence threatens to overshadow the proceedings, as much of Evil Wiener's work sounds like it could've been done much better by The dB's, especially in the vocal department. But seeing as how that outfit doesn't seem to be in a hurry to regroup, Evil Wiener makes a solid younger sibling to those dearly departed North Carolinians.
Various Artists, Chicago's Avant Today (Delmark)
The appeal of post-bop is about as easy to explain to the uninitiated as astral traveling, but this should help. Rightfully asserting that Chicago is the center of the current free/action/avant jazz spider web, Delmark has put together a top-notch sampler of the city's progeny, from marathon men like ex-AACMer Malachi Thompson to youngbloods Rob Mazurek and Jeff Parker. The whole is an admirable balance of accessibility and expression, from Ken Vandermark's tightened wax-comb sax attack to Kahil El'Zabar's melodic and groovy "Truth in Mind". If there's an indie rocker in your life who needs a breath of fresh air, or a hip-hopper who's outgrowing that throwback, this would make a great entrée to today's music for grown-ups -- as well as a library addition that'll keep them coming back.
Various Artists, Rough Guide to the Music of Pakistan (World Music Network)
If just hearing the words "music" and "Pakistan" summons up the soulful sound of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan powering out qawwali, the compilers appreciate that. They have included the master himself in a 10-minute excerpt from a performance of "Aj Rang Hai Hai Maa", a rang so ancient it has been sung in exactly the same way for 700 years. The only modern accent is that Khan sings his above a harmonium. But women sing Sufi songs as well, and Abida Parween is immensely popular in both India and Pakistan. After listening to her eight-minute work out in front of an appreciative audience, it's easy to understand why. Other women singers get proper coverage here, too, among them Farida Khanum, the reigning "Queen of Ghazal". From just 12 tracks, the listener gets a good solid introduction to the traditional sounds and popular melodies of Pakistan. Included are four examples of Pakistani pop that represent this relatively recent phenomenon (and one that clearly has a ways yet to go). "Jhullay Lal" is a Sufi hymn of praise, but it is sung here to a pop/dance beat. This collection of Pakistan's music is among a handful of exceptionally noteworthy releases offered just last year by Rough Guide.
The Emergency, How Can You Move? (You Guys on a Label)
Taking their influences from The Who to Husker Du, this three piece West Virginia group start off with meaty riffs and pop smarts on "Church Of The Chix Denomination" and the head-swiveling, summery "Morning Announcements". Lead singer Rob Wehrle sounds like a cross between Daltrey and Mould, but slows things down for the melodic Big Star-ish, radio dial-tuning or channel surfing "All Over Town". What can be taken from the entire album is the fresh and fun approach they bring to each lovely little ditty, including the thumping "Under The Weather" which could be eerily mistaken for Guided By Voices. And more impressively, they seem to get stronger with each song like the gorgeous "Wedding March" and "Breakdown A Go-Go" which resembles GBV's "My Valuable Hunting Knife" in some respects. The middle portion gets more into a singer-songwriter format a la Ben Folds during "Cracked Up". Thankfully the guitars return with the fist-pumping "Stop Sign" and the sugar-coated pleasing "Girljacketdrunk". Definitely something to seek out if you're a fan of any of the above-mentioned bands. Yippee!
U.D.O., Nailed to Metal: The Missing Tracks (AFM)
"Raised from the glowing ashes of cauldron iron/The Phoenix arose from the sanctum of metal." It might be corny compared to contemporary music, but classic heavy metal has proven to be incredibly resilient over the past 20 years, as veteran artists like Iron Maiden, Slayer, and Motorhead continue to ply their trade with just as much power as ever. Udo Dirkschneider, former vocalist for the great German band Accept, has been working with his solo project U.D.O. since the late '80s, and on this odds-and-sods collection of outtakes from the 2002 album Live in Russia, the little guy with the most recognizable voice in the history of heavy metal still sounds great on this well-recorded live performance. Nailed to metal is a real treat for Accept fans, as Udo and his ace band (with former Accept member Stefan Kaufmann in tow) tear through classic tracks like "Fast as a Shark", "Restless & Wild", "Balls to the Wall", "Princess of the Dawn", and "Metal Heart". Newer songs like "Holy" and "Raiders of Beyond" hold up very well compared to the classics, as does the obscure Accept track "X-T-C". Inexplicably, this hour-long CD has an unbearable, four minute drum solo, but the sheer power of all the other songs make up for it. The only thing you're left wondering is, "Why on earth were these great performances left off the original live album?"
Carl Weathersby, The Best of Carl Weathersby (Evidence)
Before spending 1982-1996 as a full-time musician with Billy Branch's Son of the Blues, Carl Weathersby served in the Army in Vietnam, worked in a steel mill, and was a police officer and a prison guard. He plays the blues, more of the soul blues variety that was the soundtrack of the '70s. I wouldn't have been able to predict that this is a style that so many long to hear again, but the numbers prove it. This disc has sold more than a quarter million copies at one online merchandiser, which is like going gold in this lousy economic climate. Weathersby's a fine guitarist with a beautiful tone, and he shows a remarkable ease mixing up a variety of chops shaded and textured by soul as they bleed into a clean blues. He's a good singer, too, but deserving of better lyric material. Actually, it's hard to pay attention to anything but his guitar work because that's so good it can eclipse anything else surrounding it. This album draws from his four previous releases on Evidence and very likely is an adequate representation of Carl Weathersby as he takes his turn center stage at the mic. If I'd heard this in a club, I would in no way complain, but I wanted to hear more guitar from him.
The Mood Elevator, Married Alive (Doppler)
Give Chris Plum some credit. Taking a break from his day job as a member of Brendan Benson's backing band, the Wellfed Boys, Plum (with plenty of help from Benson) has, on Married Alive crafted a power pop album that's not a retread of Benson's gem, Lapalco. That's not to say Plum is wholly original, as most of Married Alive chronicles that most popular of power pop tropes, girl trouble, but when the songs are as catchy and pithy as Plum's are, who cares? Plum doesn't share his co-writer Benson's penchant for stacking rhyme upon rhyme, but they both throw out more hooks than they know what to do with. Songs like "Boycott", "Watch Your Girl" and "Long Hard Look", with their guitar crunch, demand to be blared from speakers and air guitared. There's also a distinct Get Happy!!!-era Elvis Costello vibe - see the funky "Guilty" and "Beginner's Luck". And of course Benson fans will warm to the twee pop of "Anglophile" and "Everything's In Place", an ode to domestic bliss so complete it describes a "perfect runner [that] runs down the hall". That tranquility is shattered by the gut punch of a closing track, "At the Wedding". Needless to say, it's not Plum's own wedding. The refrain of "Say your wedding vows / When you do I'll cry out loud" automatically lands the song in Tear-My-Heart-Out-Why-Doncha Power Pop Lament Hall of Fame.
Idrissa Diop, Yakar (Tinder)
I have no doubts that percussionist/vocalist Idrissa Diop and his many piece band put on an electric and eclectic show, and I'm sure I would be entertained and made to move. The dynamic horn arrangements, the layers of percussion, a couple of violins paired with a wailing guitar, the I-Three like harmonies of the backup singers et al. present on this album I'm sure would shine through. So why is it that the obvious talent that I imagine would be displayed on stage have such a hard time representing on Yakar? Should we blame it on the slick production? The average mix? The disparate musical styles? I'm not sure, but it lacks the oomph that I would expect to hear from such a large ensemble of talented musicians coming out of one of the most musical countries in the world, Senegal. Singing in Wolof, Mr. Diop's voice approaches more of a salsero's bark, rather than a praise singer's exalted lilt, which works just fine when the band is doing ! the latin thing. Throughout the album the band throws out a little bit of funk, rock, salsa, and reggae. And though the results aren't stellar, neither are they boring. Particulary if you like your violins real, not synthesized. Diop has opened for Santana and performed with Youssou N'Dour. Here's hoping a live album release soon does this Senegalese veteran justice.
Various Artists, Universal Smash Hits 2 (UTV)
This has a pretty good ratio of hits (successful singles) to filler (flopped singles). And when the icy perfection of one genre wears thin, it segues smoothly into another. But, since the songs are all primed for airplay, they have a generic blandness to their big sentiments that the little details in Erykah Badu's "Love of My Life" only makes more apparent (Contrast that ode to hip-hop with the actual hip-hop of the admittedly catchy "Hot in Herre"): India.Arie's feminist empowerment of "Video" helps balances the sleazy misogyny of Mr. Cheeks's "Lights, Camera, Action!", but both tip towards bland. For American listeners into pop as meaingless ear candy, though, it's nice to have the catchy club seduction of Iio's "Rapture" on a domestic disc, though no one anywhere should have to suffer through Mr. Jessica Simpson's "This I Swear".
The Liberty Ship, Northern Angel EP (Matinee)
This Nottingham, England group offers up four songs of pretty but inconsequential pop that's delicate and wimpy. I like "Rachel" the best (no last names are given). Her song "Final Kick" is the best thing here, but she can't sing that well overall, and neither can "Marc", "Tim", or "Steve", or whoever it is that mainly sings on the other tracks. Whoever's doing the drumming is rather sloppy, and those guitars tend to lose their rhythm in places, but this release is charming in its own amateur way. Nothing groundbreaking by far, and unsurprisingly the band pulls its shit together to make the closing "Small Lives" tight enough to make you wonder why the hell they were so sloppy elsewhere.
Waterproof Blonde, Glitter Lust (Label X)
Yep, this is the band that wrote the theme for WWF (or is that WWE now, or simply "WW"?) wrestler Sean O'Haire. That tune, "Come On", is here, as are five other tunes of mixed quality. "Supermodel Craving" is the best thing here, with lead singer Rachel Hagan's voice going into full-tilt overdrive and the rest of the band following in a rocked-out fashion. The band should stick to rocking out, though; the slower fare -- "Ruthless" and "How Long?" -- are simply boring. Nice, but boring. Still, one supposes that the wrestling tie-in will at least keep the band in the public's ears for as long as interest waxes for Sean O'Haire. Who is he, anyway?
Mammal, Double Nature (SNSE)
Mammal, the power-noise musical moniker of Gary Beauvais, and his most recent release, Double Nature, is like Metal Machine Music's 21st century counterpart. Spending the majority of its four longwinded tracks propelling as much static fuzz and white noise through your speakers as your stereo can manage, Double Nature is not so much test of musical ability as it is a test of endurance for the listener. Occasionally beats rise up in the mix in an attempt to divert your ears from something other than the relentless feedback-damaged noise only to drown in the mix and get lost in the static. According to Double Nature's press release, the album was turned down by three mastering engineers for fear of irreparable damage being done to their equipment -- and its easy to hear why. Mammal may be less obtuse than Hair Police, less beat-oriented than Wolf Eyes, and less noisy than Merzbow, but if those names excite more than scare, Double Nature will most definitely fit snuggly into your music collection.