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Ennio Morricone, Crime and Dissonance (Ipecac) Rating: 8
Ennio Morricone might be best known for his scores for such films as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars, and his Academy Award-winning work on The Mission, but little do many of us know how experimental, abstract, and downright creepy the prolific composer's music could get. In fact, his soundtrack music for a handful of obscure Italian productions during the late '60s and early '70s ventures as far from "The Ecstasy of Gold" as one could possibly imagine. Brilliantly compiled by Ipecac's resident mad genius Mike Patton, the aptly titled double-disc Crime and Dissonance is less a definitive anthology than an expertly sequenced mix made by someone with one of the coolest record collections around. By focusing on the more surreal moments from Morricone's massive body of work, Patton sheds new light on the Maestro, selecting a mind-bending array of diverse sounds, from dark, gloomy jazz, to strange forays in psychedelia, to jarring moments of discordant notes, to even rock 'n' roll. At one moment, sitars chime exotically, organs sing lasciviously, vibraphones echo, male and female voices breathe and pant in either agony, ecstasy, or both. Another, screaming rock guitars mesh with muted jazz trumpets, like an acid rock band colliding with Miles Davis circa 1969. So well do these songs work on their own, that you wind up forgetting that this music originally accompanied images, and it boggles the mind to figure out just what those old films looked like to warrant such bizarre music. One of the most astounding releases from Ipecac in recent years, this is one that has to be heard to be believed, and if you thought Morricone's more mainstream music was great, this disc will leave you awestruck.
BCRP, BCRP (BRCP Music) Rating: 7
BCRP is the project of Sonny Votolato with a host of backing musicians. Votolato has a style that is half singer-songwriter and part alt. country troubadour, and he walks this musical tightrope deftly on "Rocketship" whose arrangement could be broadened but isn't. He also stays well within his strengths, making a pop number like "Strong" flow as effortlessly as any underappreciated songwriter one could conjure up. He really hits his stride with a gorgeous Elliott Smith-like style on "Reality", resembling the late singer-songwriter with strings sparingly sprinkled about. "Cratered Footsteps" attempts to improve on this but seems a bit forced as Votolato sings about staying the f-k away. The highlight is "Coat Check", a gorgeous McCartney-ish blueprint that has a lovely melody and fine lyrics. But "Imaginary Halos" leaves a bland taste in one's mouth. Through it all though, Votolato maintains a very high level of quality writing and music with the Finn-like "Apathy".
Dana Cooper, Made of Mud (King Easy) Rating: 8
Despite 30-odd years in music, Dana Cooper's pop-folk style manages to sound as fresh and relevant as it did during his early troubadour years with Shakes Russell. On Made of Mud, Cooper applies his sorrowful analysis to war and politics, love and life, and the simplicity of reason and commonsense. His "Sit the One Out", for instance, skewers current policy makers with scathing verses detailing "heartless", "vengeful" political attitudes over a light, addictive pop melody. The great thing about Cooper's songwriting is his ability to be so forceful without appearing enraged or hate-filled. His manner is questioning rather than accusatory. His phrasing can be just subtle enough to miss his topical undertones ("The bravest heart grows weary looking out upon the freeway, / Looking deep inside to free dreams that seem content enough to hide"), while, at other times, it's unapologetically blatant ("I'm back in town with my gun on the table, / Trying to be as diplomatic as an able American can"). Whatever he does, though, it's all curiously and wonderfully Cooper. This one is superb.
Kiln, Twinewheel: Lost Sides + Dusty Gems 1994-2005 (Division Sound) Rating: 5
Kevin Hayes, Kirk Marrison and Clark Rehberg III make up Kiln, an arty electro trio that use blips and bleeps to create their own music that is part Morphine, part M83 and part Spritualized. "Ore Corymb (Bursting Rainbow Concourse)" is a moody, quasi-progressive rock number that weaves a different sonic tale with each interesting, inventive turn. But with the first two tracks, timing is the problem. The opener has Kiln taking too long to wrap up the track while still ahead. The sonic landscapes are gorgeous though on "Kilnplate", an airy, atmospheric instrumental (as the entire album is) that soars to some majestic high. Unfortunately this song ends too quickly. "Malle Slate" features the crashing of waves over light guitar, resembling the opening to a Gilmour lead Pink Floyd track which leads perfectly into the '70s sounding "Autumnalae (Leaf-Pile Divers)". The mellowest moments come during "October" with its jazz hues seeping in and out. And "Amethyst" maintains this mellow, musical interlude perfectly.