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> Built to Spill
> Dead and Gone
> Masters of the Hemisphere
> Kylie Minogue
> Sheryl Crow
> Unwritten Law
Built to Spill
Ancient Melodies of the Future
For a guy who looks like an offbeat uncle, Doug Martsch radiates a startling amount of rock ‘n’ roll conviction. The frontman for Boise, Idaho’s Built to Spill sings nonsensical lyrics with childlike profundity and a minding-my-own approach that demands attention. Intimate arena rock, if you will.
Sneaking into the indie spotlight with 1994’s heralded There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, Martsch revealed a knack for unforgettable three minute pop gems. Subsequent albums featured dazzling guitar work and solidified the impeccable rhythm section of bassist Brett Nelson and drummer Scout Plouf. Ancient Melodies of the Future, the band’s fifth album, encapsulates all the best aspects of Built to Spill, from the spooky, chugging “In Your Mind” to the early R.E.M. jangle of “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss.” The epic “You Are” is awash with Fender dexterity, whereas “The Weather,” a meditative, acoustic ballad, is a rare note from an often thunderous band. Built to Spill may never make the big time, but they seem content making magnificent records.
Dead and Gone
Punk rock has two choices. It can either churn out the same tired sound in near self-mockery, or it can try out new methods with a rejuvenated intensity. While plenty of bands are content to aspire to parody, often in impersonal corporate venues and Warped Tours, Dead and Gone prefers the second approach. And, goddamn, do they do it well.
The 13 tracks on The Beautician, the California quartet’s third full-length, build and break, creating tension and making it explode. Their sound is abrasive. The rhythm section rumbles away, driving each song. The guitar does its own thing, hypnotically noisy but hardly distorted. On top of this surprisingly solid foundation, which never quite falls into chaos, Shane Baker, the group’s vocalist, blurts out paranoia on par with Black Sabbath’s. “When they cut you in your sleep/ When they kiss you on your lips/ When they lick your secret wounds/ You know you’re not alone.” Of course, there’s nothing very uplifting about this record, but aren’t punks supposed to be discontent?
All of the Above
(Triple Threat/Coup de’taut)
It’s exciting to hear someone who is a master of his or her craft. Not unlike Eddie Van Halen or Yo Yo Ma, J-Live is a magician of the rap instrument. Unlike his first disc, The Best Part, which was a collection of singles with great production, All of the Above is a more self-produced affair (with major contributions from DJ Spinna). Yet on this LP, J-Live stretches the limits of hip hop while exploring and twisting is components. The result is a collective masterpiece displaying J-Live’s diversity, cadence and superiority over the wack.
Above’s songs, quite simply, play on the usage of words in both modern slang and hip hop. “Its Like This Anna” turns the rhythmatic flow-starter into a song about a girl named Anna. “Mcee” includes a hot verse in which words bounce from beginning with “M” to beginning with “C.” “One For The Griot” is a sex-tale where a verbal fork in the road determines three different endings, each clever. The album’s title track is truly an apex reached by both J-Live and producer DJ Spinna.
This album is special. J-Live is an incredible lyricist who has perfected a craft so many famous emcees never understood.
Imagine, for a moment, drinking two tablespoons of NyQuil. Then imagine repeating this process over and over for about an hour. Now imagine, if you will, the lethargic state of mind stemming from the consumption of an excessive amount of flu medicine. Listening to Japancakes’ Belmondo produces a similar effect.
But to define Japancakes’ instrumentation as simply sleep-inducing and boring would only be half right. Granted, each of the six pieces of music lag at the pace of a lackadaisical slug, but subtle and well-crafted songwriting deserves patience.
Surprisingly, Japancakes manages to flirt with an almost unchanging melody for an excessively long time while interweaving a refined depth into every song. A tremendous reason for this can be accredited to the lovely, sometimes eerie, cello playing of Heather McIntosh, as well as the hushed pedal steel of John Neff.
Fans of repetition, riding bicycles while drunk, narcolepsy, and bands like Pele, Album Leaf and Tristeza should be pleased as punch with this record.
Masters of the Hemisphere
Protest a Dark Anniversary
With an epic concept record about an evil dog polluting a mythical island under its belt (2000’s often misconstrued, but highly enjoyable I Am Not A Freemdoom), this Athens, Ga., quartet’s third album had the potential to out-weird Of Montreal. Instead, Protest a Dark Anniversary is a straightforward college rock album full of poli-pop/rock and sweet, boyish ballads. Whimsical and offbeat, the sound of these Masters remains one of exploration and forgivable imperfection.
A plethora of horns on “Take Time” forms the album’s apex of catchiness and will have you dancing faster than a Bruce Springsteen song. With lovely harmonies and textured instruments abound, Protest a Dark Anniversary has the consistency of a sublime daydream.
This may come as a surprise to many, but there is more to Kylie Minogue than “la la la’s” and gravity defying clothing. Arista is determined to prove this with the release of Hits+. Well, OK, they most likely are just trying to cash in on her recent success in this country, but hey, it was worth a try!
This collection of overseas singles and rarities focuses on Minogue’s work as an indie artist. That’s right: somewhere between “The Locomotion” and “Fever,” Kylie churned out cool rock tunes and indie-dance tracks. “Some Kind of Bliss,” her collaboration with the Manic Street Preachers, is a surreal but successful meeting of the minds, while “Put Yourself in My Place,” is one of the most soulful and heartfelt performances Kylie has done in the studio. There are some snoozers like “Stay This Way,” and a lackluster remix of the usually wonderful “Where is the Feeling?,” but this is all made up for with an unplugged “Automatic Love,” and the breath-taking b-side “Tears.”
This album was originally marketed for Kylie completists, but hopefully it will translate well for the newer U.S. fans of her work.
Sheryl Crow returns with her fourth studio CD, an uneven collection of rock and adult contemporary songs spanning two years of ups and downs for the singer.
She came to us back in the early ’90s with “All I Wanna Do.” Nearly a decade later, she’s grown up faster than her audience. Not that maturity is a bad thing; she spends plenty of time beating on the N’SYNC’s and Britney Spears’ littering today’s music scene on the ironic “You’re An Original,” a duet with Lenny Kravitz: ‘You’re an original baby / Turn around and you’re looking at a hundred more.”
The first single, “Soak Up The Sun,” previews the “classic rock” feel of the CD, as Crow had hoped. She comes close, keeping the rock songs just hard enough. But a few of the songs turn a little too country, like the title track, and the Don Henley duet, “It’s So Easy.”
Crow seems to be going “niche” on her audience these days, and her place is along the same lines as Tom Petty. Thankfully she has her own spin on it and keeps herself interesting and original.
Missy Elliot’s newest protégé, Tweet, hits the R&B scene with a soulful debut album, eloquently titled Southern Hummingbird.
Although the influence of music moguls Timbaland and Missy has an undeniable presence throughout the album, Tweet’s personal style emerges through Timbalands’ attractive beats and Missy’s sultry rhymes, revealing a poetic and novel artist with plenty of talent of her own.
With this album, it can safely be said that no two tracks are the same.
Each track is surprisingly original, featuring a variety of musical selections. Some songs favor traditional R&B rhythms while others lean toward a more experimental side, favoring acoustic guitars and classical arrangements.
Tweet’s first single, “Oops, (Oh My),” for example, is a sexy song with an intoxicating beat attempting to mask its erotic message. On the other hand, “My Place” favors the conventional, but adds a small classical ensemble in the background. Other songs like “Heaven,” “Boogie2nite,” and “Motel” showcase Tweet’s musical energy and flair. Southern Hummingbird is an excellent debut album, worthy of all its praise and more.
Unwritten Law’s Elva runs the emotional gamut from intense highs to heart-wrenching lows. The opening guitar riffs of “Mean Girl” blows the listener out of their chair then slowly pulls them back in with emotional lyrics. Many songs begin with a quiet intimacy, explode into an unbelievable climax, then slowly bring the listener down again … all in four minutes. The lyrics are catchy and extremely honest.
In “Seein’ Red,” singer Scott Russo talks of a lost love, and the hope that one day his lover will realize that he’s still waiting for her. “Actress, Model…” keeps the mood light with tales of a son who leaves home and dates an actress, only to turn into an actor himself. With every song, the band explores a different sound and different emotions, constantly keeping the audience on their toes. They are very tight musically, as they travel throughout the different songs, morphing the sounds to fit the mood. Elva burns with blazing melodies and sincere lyrics. While stirring up intense emotions, Unwritten Law is able to keep that driving rock ‘n’ roll feeling alive.