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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
15 February 2006
Moodfood, Ice (Soulfood) Rating: 7
Do you like Moby? Or rather, did you like Moby in the era of his sample-happy landmark albums Play and 18? If you do, chances are good that you'll like Moodfood, too. It's an overly simplified comparison, to be sure -- Moodfood's Ice actually features a massive integration of styles and cultures that's as subtle as any created in the past year. It's the type of album on which a track like "Shaken Not Stirred" can explore jazz chord progressions with a hip-hop backbeat while effortlessly coexisting with a song like "Pain" (which features highly-regarded vocalist Julia Messenger), a song that mostly amounts to female adult contemporary with thick synthwork and an electronic backbeat. There's a tremendous variety of instrumentation on the disc as well, given that instruments as disparate as steel guitar, spike fiddle, flute, and accordion are used throughout. While it's obvious that Moodfood principals DJ Free and Peter Schimke like to incorporate as many influences as they can while making music (no less than 17 individuals are granted a musical credit here), none of it comes off as challenging, difficult, or particularly striking, which may actually be to the producer's credit. Ice is like a beginner's guide to jazz, pop, and world music all wrapped in a candy-coated mellow electronic shell -- chillout music for the open-minded, and a fine attempt at that.
Vulgar Pigeons, Burning Episode (Deepsend) Rating: 6
This EP opens on a straightforward grindcore note with "Violence Begets Violence," but around the two minute mark the unrelenting abrasion gives way to a doomy sludge. Like fellow grind absurdists the Locust and Cephalic Carnage, the Vulgar Pigeons enjoy perverting formulae; "Operation: Assassination" offers a case in point, as bassist Paul Pontikoff abruptly hijacks the song for a clever little prog run near the end. Without a lyric sheet it's impossible to say what the songs are about, though titles like "Baseskull Bat" and "Coffin Honeymoon" speak for themselves. Vocals alternate between barked hardcore shouts and death-metal Cookie Monster growls, and the recording is so insistently lo-fi that the drums fade into the static, punctuated by shrill cymbal-smasing and hi-hat abuse. The Vulgar Pigeons have been around a while, and even 2001's Summary Execution (on the immortal DeathVomit Records) sounded better than this, so Burning Episode can be heard either as a sign of band poverty or as a tribute to the formative 1980s period of grindcore. I'm going with the latter; this is a band that knows what it wants and gets it, and seven tracks in 13 minutes roar past with suitable brevity.
Various Artists, Sound of the Underground (Time Life) Rating: 5
With so many great modern rock anthology series available, like Pop & Wave, Living in Oblivion, and Sedated in the Eighties, it is hard to rally behind the one-off compilations that focus solely on the widely circulated hits. What the Time Life Music's Sound of the Underground single disc offering has going for it is the generous 18 track listing, but there is little here that hasn't been captured in better compilations elsewhere. Some less predictable inclusions (Camouflage's "The Great Commandment", for example) do provide a couple of nice surprises, but for the most part, the song selections are conservative and limited to the artists' big hits. "Lips Like Sugar" from Echo, "Here Comes Your Man" from the Pixies, "Blister in the Sun" from the Femmes, "Pretty in Pink" from the Psych Furs, "How Soon is Now?" from the Smiths, "So Alive" from Love and Rockets, "Blue Monday" from New Order all appear here. There are so many modern rock compilations available today, you have to really look closely to find one that is unique enough to stand out. Unfortunately, Sound of the Underground's shortcomings are revealed by simply looking at some of the same label's other offerings.
Ladybug Mecca, Trip the Light Fantastic (Nu Paradigm) Rating: 3
It's fair to say that world-wide pop music market is saturated. Becoming even a blip on the radar is more difficult now than ever with thousands of artists from dozens of music genres vying for those few slots on the varsity team. As a pop artist, netting your moment in the spotlight requires breaking free from the pack with a fresh direction, new look, or plain-and-simple concrete talent. Once a member of the ground-breaking hip-hop outfit Digable Planets, Ladybug Mecca's debut solo release doesn't quite make the cut. Mecca's recently released album, Trip the Light Fantastic, is average in pretty much every way. Standard sounding pop songs with a smattering of R&B and hip-hop for flavor keep this album from emerging from the vast sea of artists who are 'on the brink.' The album's production and Mecca's style as a performer aren't terrible, but are without any discernable emotion leaving them with a plastic-like quality. Being outright horrible may actually have helped Mecca as at least it would distinguish her in some manner from the glut of pop-wannabes destined for a spot on Team Muzak in the not too distant future. Better luck next year.
.: posted by Editor 6:02 AM