CD reviews

This week’s CD reviews are on:  >Arling & Cameron  >Haujobb  >Daniel Johnston  >Alicia Keys  >Matmos  >Slipknot  >Tindersticks  >Richard Humpty Vission Arling & Cameron We Are A&C (Emperor Norton) Grade: D+ When Arling and Cameron sing

This week’s CD reviews are on:
 >Arling & Cameron
 >Haujobb
 >Daniel Johnston
 >Alicia Keys
 >Matmos
 >Slipknot
 >Tindersticks
 >Richard Humpty Vission


Arling & Cameron
We Are A&C
(Emperor Norton)
Grade: D+

When Arling and Cameron sing “There’s no high/There’s no low,” on “5th Dimension”, the opener on We Are A&C, they might as well be singing about the album itself. It’s filled with jazzy rhythms and more techno beeps and whistles than you could shake a drum machine at, but for all its sonic enormity, fails to leave an impression on the listener.

The awful and awfully sparse vocals are all that offer a break from the endless monotony of theremin and drum loops. However, upon hearing lyrical gems like, “The studio is our natural habitat/We’re here to show you where it’s at,” you pray that A&C actually stay in the studio, away from songwriting.

And let’s not forget it is a concept album, complete with the introduction of idiotic alter egos, AC/3D. We Are A&C is another entry into the modern musical movement of Background Listening. It’s music to read to. It’s music to clean your house to. By no means is it music you should pay attention to.

Just like the sex-crazed cyborg in “Dirty Robot”, We Are A&C is an annoying and soulless presence in a cold yet colorful package.

—Robert James Algeo
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Haujobb
Polarity
(Metropolis)
Grade: B+

Its not necessarily an insult to say that Haujobb has gone soft. On the German duo’s new CD, Polarity, driving industrial synths and hard-hitting rhythms have been replaced by sparse keys and the pitter-patter of minimalist D&B beats. It does wonders for their sound.

“Subsonic” and “Sinus Problem” both incorporate soft beats and resonating house-y keys to create a dark, yet soothing mood. At the same time, cuts like “Centuries In Me” take sounds that are separately non-abrasive – bubbling synth, shuffling beats, and ominous strings / samples – and meld them together into an intense whole.

Occasionally, the experimentation with minimalist electronics falls short; on “Demon”, ornery click-clacking detracts from gorgeous vocals by Steffen Keth, and the album’s many short interludes are often turn-offs.

But on the whole, Polarity is quite an impressive feat. It is both an album that you can dance to, and an album you can go to sleep to.

—John Vettese
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Daniel Johnston
Rejected Unknown
(Gammon)
Grade: B+

“Follow your heart and treat your woman well” is the thesis Daniel Johnston seems to base all of his songs around. Although it’s a generally simple premise, things get complicated when Johnston’s protagonists get their hearts broken.

Since the early 80s, this Austin, TX-based singer-songwriter has dazzled the alternative world with tales of love, betrayal and friendly ghosts. Johnston, who has suffered bouts of mental illness for much of his life, still sounds as joyous as he did on his first self-released cassettes. He is a tortured artist and like all the best tortured artists, he happy to let you into his world. “Devinar” is up there with any Dylan classic, and “Favorite Darling Girl” gives the full-band treatment to Johnston’s skeletal songwriting.

Rejected Unknown is the stuff of bedrooms or southern bar & grills (not stadiums), but Kurt Cobain still wore his t-shirts and countless bands continue to sing their praise of the “Sorry Entertainer.”

Once again Daniel Johnston proves, without even trying, that the buzz about his talent is completely sane.

—Neal Ramirez
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Alicia Keys
Songs In A Minor
(J Records)
Grade: A+

In her thank you’s, Alicia Keys writes, “This has definitely been a journey, and it’s not over, it has just begun.” That statement totally represents this talented young celebrity, who is redefining the meaning of music, inspiration and beauty.

Keys’ debut album, Songs In A Minor blends a perfect mixture of the smooth and passionate with the dramatic and hard-hitting. She offers a refreshing sound and style that has everyone across the country talking about the music scene’s new “it” girl.

With her trend-setting braids and amazing soul-filled vocals, Keys is enchanting audiences everywhere and scooping up fans by the handful. The chemistry between her piano, her lyrics and her voice creates irresistible songs, which hit the very core of who you are and touch every part of heart, mind, body and soul. A classically trained pianist, she wrote a majority of the songs and was an executive producer.

Her addicting debut single “Fallin'” is making her into a deadly force on the airwaves. Other break-out cuts such as “How Come You Don’t Call Me,” “Jane Doe,” “Mr. Man” (a duet with newcomer Jimmy Cozier), and “Butterflyz” will definitely transform Keys from the “it” girl into a mega-superstar.

—Kristin M. Boyd
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Matmos
A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure
(Matador)
Grade: B

Who ever said doctor’s offices were a bore? San Francisco’s Matmos base their fourth album around samples of medical technology. From the liposuction of the lead track “Lipostudio … and so on.” to the what-in-the-heck-are-those-beats-from “Ur Tchun Tan Tse Qi” (it’s the galvanic response of skin to electricity, if you need to know), the results are both abstract and infectious. Call them the MacGyvers of sound.

Skittery tones take a siesta on the ambient “For Felix (and All the Rats),” which is a perfect indication of why Bjork chose Matmos to work on her latest album. Along with artists like Kid 606 and Lesser, Matmos’ funky, subdued grooves prove that intelligent dance music does exist.

Remember that board game “Operation?” The one that took so much skill? If they turned it into a video game, this would be the soundtrack.

—Neal Ramirez
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Slipknot
Iowa
(Roadrunner)
Grade: B

Two years after first shocking the pop music scene, Slipknot is back with their much-anticipated albumIowa. Titled in homage to their home state, it has been held up by many as a make-or-break for the band’s future.

Saturated with terrorizing screams, intense drums, and fast-grinding guitar riffs, the album reflects the time the nine-piece has spent constantly touring and fortifying their blistering style. Lyrics range from thought-provoking to utterly terrifying, and show immense improvement.

“People = Shit,” is a fast song that prepares the listener for a fourteen track tour deep into the twisted state of Iowa. “Disasterpiece” and “New Abortion” reflect a similar pace and attitude, while “Heretic Anthem” provides a catchiness similar to their first hit “Wait and Bleed.”

Iowa also takes a surprising turn towards melody. “Left Behind,” their first single, “The Shape” and “Everything Ends” are all priceless tuneful jewels tucked away in the aggressive set, and reflect a stark change in the vocals of frontman Corey Taylor.

The percussion work of the band’s three drummers has also refined, but with the same constant grinding, the guitars sound all too familiar for a band that set out to do something different stylistically. After a two-year uphill struggle to release this album, the band should hope that their message is not lost because Iowa cannot be understood nor appreciated in one sitting.

—Chris Powell
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Tindersticks
Can Our Love…
(Beggars Banquet)
Grade: C

One guarantee can be made about Can Our Love: halfway through the second song, you’ll be on your way to the drugstore to buy some razors. It’s not that this album doesn’t have lush melodies and sweeping arrangements. It’s the fact that this album makes early Morrisey sound like REM’s “Shiny Happy People.”

If you were able to ignore the lyrics (which would not be very complicated as most of them translate to incessant mumbling), this album would be quite a find. The arrangements are relaxing and original. But if you can’t, if you do get sucked into the droning chorus of “Dying Slowly,” your life is in grave danger: “…think I’ll just die slowly, it seems better than shooting myself…”

This album should only be recommended to very, very evil people, like Kathie Lee Gifford. Otherwise, someone you love may get hurt.

—Jeremy Smith
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Richard Humpty Vission
Damn That DJ Made My Day
(TommyBoy Silver Label)
Grade: B

Too many DJ Mix CDs give the listener the songs s/he needs, and hardly anyone bothers to investigate them further. For example, how many albums or singles did you get by the artists featured on the latest DJ Skribble CD? Not many, I’m surmising.

Richard Humpty Vission finds a way to make these one-hit-club-wonders happy while showing off his own mixing skills. Instead of playing songs in their entirety, Vission lets the 34 songs chosen for Damn That DJ Made My Day weave in and out of the overall musical landscape he creates. Each track is about two minutes long, and while this may sound a bit like an exercise in Short Attention Span listening, the segues are smooth and the song portions Humpty uses are tasty. It’ll leave you begging for more, but in a good way.

—Maureen Walsh
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