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06 June 2004

DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid vs. Twilight Circus Dub Sound System, Riddim Clash (Play Label)
Paul Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky, tips his pretensions with his very name -- he's insisted on the cumbersome "That Subliminal Kid" tag since his earliest days, and cultivated fans on the arthouse/academic circuit with a fervor that would shame the most crassly commercial of mainstream hip-hop acts. It's too bad, because underneath all his puffery about turntablism as avant-garde aural bricolage, he's actually created some terrific records, and Riddim Clash extends his streak. This time, however, Spooky takes his "illbient" sound collages out of the realm of hip-hop and places them squarely in the land of dub, thanks to an inspired collaboration with dub veteran Ryan Moore, a.k.a. Twilight Circus Dub Sound System. Spooky's dabbled in dub's reverb-heavy textures and subterranean basslines before, but never to such great effect -- the creepy, expansive soundscapes of "Other Planes of Dub", with its haunting violin solo (courtesy of Daniel Bernard Roumain), and especially "Dust Storm on NGC 7023", are mesmerizing. Other highlights include the high-stepping breaks of "Gamma Burst", the very "Scratch" Perry-sounding "Phase Anansi", and the eerie, echoing thumb pianos of "Interlude" and "Interlude 2". But it's all pretty great stuff, as these two very idiosyncratic artists seem to have brought out the best in each other.
      — Andy Hermann

Some Girls, All My Friends Are Going Death (Deathwish Inc.)
Comprised of members from such bands as the Locust, Unbroken, and American Nightmare, Some Girls is a hardcore super group of sorts, delivering a mix of thrash and '80s flavored punk rock. All My Friends Are Going Death collects the songs from the band's previously released The Rains and The Blues 7" EPs, along with new tracks, demo recordings, and a Stooges cover thrown in for good measure. Energetic and executed with aggression to spare, Some Girls still comes off as somewhat stale. Their hardcore-meets-old-school-punk-rock is engaging, but hardly moves past being anything more than an homage. Perhaps the group should be commended for at least doing their brand of punk rock so well, but when the members come from such groundbreaking bands, the expectations can't help but be a little higher than usual. All My Friends Are Going Death is a solid listen, but fans of the aforementioned groups will be somewhat disappointed by the perfunctory punk rock they'll find contained on this provocatively titled disc.
      — Kevin Jagernauth

Fireworks Go Up!, You're Welcome (Baryon)
Fireworks Go Up! is the first artist to release a record on producer/engineer John Agnello's (Chavez, Dinosaur Jr., Jay Farrar) new imprint, Baryon Records. This New York-area trio offers up ten lovingly crafted pop/rock numbers that fall somewhere between the proper bite of guitar-driven indie rock and the dusty glow of 70s pop. A more well-developed sense of both would probably be an improvement but songs like "The Sun Don't Burn Without Her", "Stronger As it Goes", and "Me Myself" still manage to bristle with enough energy and spirit to elicit a smile. It seems as if singer/guitarist/songwriter Dan Coutant (ex-Joshua) is still struggling to fully realize the weight of his influences. Will he ever channel into that great unconscious pop song that underlies all the world's great love and splendor? Maybe so, maybe not. Overall, Fireworks Go Up! is a new band on a new label worth watching.
      — Jon Goff

World Saxophone Quartet, Experience (Justin Time)
Jimi Hendrix changed the world. His playing blew minds and singed hearts, a uniquely emotive and powerful wave of fiery blues that could enrage, engorge, enchant or electrify, depending on his mood. His music has meant many things to many people, yet for all his pioneering spirit and virtuoso musicianship, I for one cannot connect his musical drives with jazz. David Murray of the World Saxophone Quartet disagrees, and on this record they attempt to transcribe eight of his songs into free jazz compositions. Undeniably, the playing here is great and varied. The saxophonists outdo each other; whether bluesy, funky, harsh or wailing, fans of Mingus will find as much to enjoy as those of Peter Broetzmann. Billy Bang's blistering violin onslaught on "Machine Gun" probably set his bow alight from the friction, Craig Harris' didgeridoo makes an unexpectedly apt appearance on "Hear My Train a Comin'", Matthew Garrion's bass playing hums and coils fluidly, and gene Lake's drumming is a dynamic, meaty delight throughout. And yet, and yet... And yet, "Foxey Lady" is playfully amusing instead of salivating dangerously, the spoken word verses of "The Wind Cries Mary" are hopelessly unaffecting, and a good nine tenths of the music would not elicit the merest inkling of Hendrix without the track titles. There are moments of magnificent free jazz here, but as adaptation of addition it merely underlines how untouchably unique Hendrix's soul was, and remains.
      — Stefan Braidwood

Lindsay Smith, Were You Prom Queen? (self-released)
Lindsay Smith's classical voice training is evident on her second self-released album of sunny folk pop. Her delivery is careful and precise on everything from gentle lullabies ("Are You Sleeping?") to scruffy rockers ("Basically Good," "Sebastian"). That's the problem. The upbeat numbers aren't possessed of the abandon or spontaneity they seem to require, and the ballads often sound mannered and over-rehearsed. It's a shame, because her lyrics can be quirky and idiosyncratic (the Seussian pun-play of "One Fish Two Fish," the detailed travelogue of "New England") even if the melodies can all be deduced before the song is over. The songs bear allegiances to both the '80's pop of Cyndi Lauper and Suzanne Vega, and '90's street-busking/coffeehouse folk, like pretty much everyone in Boston who owns an acoustic guitar. They're adorned with nice flourishes like mandolin solos and fuzzy punk guitars, but the production and arrangements never let the songs relax and have as much kooky fun as Smith is trying to put across. She's got a solid vocal instrument and a bigger personality than most mining in the same musical vein. If one day she focuses less on performing and just sings, she could earn the "Rock Star" label that's emblazoned on her t-shirt on back of the album.
      — Michael Metivier

The Afflictions, Do You Have the Afflictions? (Losers/Weepers)
At-home recordings are a double-edged sword. Tunes captured in such a manner are raw, immediate and personal... but they often sound as if the musician was performing on a tarmac next to a taxiing Cessna. Such is the trade-off on Do You Have the Afflictions?, the latest from Maine-based indie-folk duo the Afflictions. The band, Nate Carroll and Andy Vietze, have plenty to say... just good luck deciphering the tunes that were recorded on Vietze's four-track. What can be gleaned is that the Afflictions don't let DIY-limitations stop them from conducting their musical experiments. The pump organ on the small-town ennui-soaked "Bricks to Wood" turns the song into Waits-meets-Springsteen and the ghost-folk of "Nowhere Girl" is nearly enveloped by otherworldly static, as if spirits were sending transmissions. Interesting, but it borders on grating if you're not keyed into the guys' vibe. More successful are the moments when the band keeps the instrumentation as spare as the production. To wit: the near-hymn "Storm of Ladybugs", the proto-alt-country of "Sadly Ever After" and "Exit Wounds" and the lo-fi pop gem "Rotten" ("Something's rotten in the state of my heart" goes one of the album's few intelligible lines). A small release, but one of which other DIY-ers should take note.
      — Stephen Haag

The Dying Californian, We Are the Birds That Stay (Turn)
Vanilla ice cream is good; rocky road is better. One need not be a chocolate lover to adore rocky road, for its appeal lies in the inclusion of almonds and marshmallows, capable of surprising even the most discriminating of tongues. Oh, would that the Dying Californian was rocky road! The Santa Cruz, California-based band's first full-length effort, We Are the Birds That Stay, is simply another generic addition to the leagues of vanilla country-rock (which is different than Vanilla Fudge, but that's another story). Taking its cues from Neil Young and Uncle Tupelo, the Dying Californian is merely an adequate Monday night bar band -- so much so that surprisingly, the clanking of beer bottles and idle chatter isn't audible in the background. The album's 12 songs rarely vary in structure or tempo; the vocal harmonies from Nathan and Andrew Dalton are uncomfortably strained. The alt-country anthem rock of "Prairie Fire" is Crazy Horse Lite; the six-minute mini-epics "The Birds That Stay" and "Long White Hair" overstay the welcome of their paltry ambitions. In the end, We Are the Birds That Stay is a trying batch of monotone melodies, devoid of all the almonds and marshmallows that make music tasty.
      — Zeth Lundy

Kilowatthours & The Rum Diary, Kilowatthours & The Rum Diary [split CD] (Springman/Substandard)
The new split CD from the bands Kilowatthours and The Rum Diary (from Brooklyn, New York and Cotati, California, respectively) floats by on a wave of prosaic sound -- call it indifference amplified. Neither band lights a fire; as a result the disc never picks up any real momentum. Kilowatthours' brand of dreampop is plodding and undefined, more like shoetying than shoegazing. Waves of white noise are wrangled like a capsizing schooner under the mundane chord strums of album-opener "Letting Go". The band breathes some life into the stop-and-start rock of "King"; unfortunately, the song's lackluster search for a hook comes up empty. The Rum Diary has more success in their rhythm-heavy contributions: the charismatic collision of drumsticks, handclaps and chants in "The Electroencephalograph" is the album's one memorable tune, and in "Poolside", the instruments feed melodies off one another to provide the much-needed illusion of spontaneity. But even the bands' sole attempt at collaboration ("{Ex}change") comes up short, as lyrically and melodically uninspired as anything else on the album. There's just no drama or surprise in these songs, proving the old adage that nothing ventured really does equal nothing gained.
      — Zeth Lundy

Gift Culture, Temple at Dawn (Artificial Music Machine)
The press sheet for Temple at Dawn tells you that Gift Culture main man Michael Hale wants to "evoke sonic textures from... DSP algorithms…using such techniques as granular synthesis, spectral synthesis, FFT/IFFT based spectral morphing and interpolation", then goes on to claim that the album "transcends the cold sterility of stereotypical computer music". Those who don't see the contradiction inherent in those statements might enjoy Temple at Dawn, but the best bet is that even they will find Hale's plodding new age compositions less than inviting. The ten tracks here have beats, but, aside from a hint of drum & bass at the album's close, they're not techno. You realize that this is because, after hearing sounds like these -- phased synthesizer swoops, clattering drum machines -- so many times before, they're just not interesting any more. For all the fancy terminology, Temple at Dawn doesn't do much that a 15-year-old Tangerine Dream album couldn't do better.
      — John Bergstrom

Lori McKenna, Bittertown (Signature Sounds Recordings)
If you were to take a tablespoon of Buddy and Julie Miller and mix it with more of an Americana style, you might have an idea of where this album is coming from and where Lori McKenna might be going as a result. The glowing "Bible Song" has that arrangement all acts try to pull off, but few do as well as this attempt. And, er, the fact Buddy Miller adds vocals might have something to do with it sounding like Buddy and Julie. Backed by musicians who have worked with Mary Chapin-Carpenter and Kathy Mattea among others, McKenna rocks out a bit more on the melodic pop of "Mr. Sunshine" and on the drum brushed "Silver Bus". "One Man" takes things down a notch and rides off into a folk-ish sunset while the dusty and ambling "Pour" slows things to a jazzy crawl. However, the slow building and brilliant "Lone Star" puts the album back on solid footing in the vein of Natalie Merchant. One huge plus is McKenna never takes a breather during the album, especially on the lovable Lucinda-like "Stealing Kisses" or the barren "My Sweetheart" (or "My Sweatheart" as it says on the album's back). "You're no worse off than anybody else/Don't you even know yourself," she sings on the melodic tune of leaving the small town only to come back. Kathleen Edwards comes to mind on the album's centerpiece "If You Ask". That highlight is one-upped on the tender pop country of "Monday Afternoon".
      — Jason MacNeil

Polysics, Neu (Asian Man)
Leave it to a trio of Japanese rockers to completely turn three decades of Western music on its ear. Polysics mixes equal parts krautrock, new wave, and old school punk rock and filters it through the unique perspective that only Japanese pop culture provides. Though these fourteen tracks careen wildly all over the musical landscape, plucking pieces from almost any genre you can think of, Polysics somehow manage to create a cohesive, utterly unique vision. It's difficult to think of any North American groups that come close to the sheer inventiveness found in Polysics. Perhaps the kitchen sink compositions of Need New Body or the astro-rock of Man or Astroman? come close, but they don't quite capture the Barnum & Bailey atmosphere that pervades Neu. Polysics take fun quite seriously, and though their second album comes off as nothing less than spontaneous, you can't shake the feeling there is a Kraftwerk-like work ethic going on here. Anyone looking for a little danger and adventure in their punk rock need look no further than Polysics.
      — Kevin Jagernauth

.: posted by Editor 11:53 AM