By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? (Slash/London)
Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta" is the only ditty currently splashed all over KROQ and summer slasher flicks worth its weight in cartwheels. A puddle of sarcasm and irony will form beneath your feet each time this raucous anthem floats onto the stereo - you too will "want to publish zines and rage against machines." But don't expect more of the same on Harv's debut album, Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? After a flaming tribute to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo ("Carlotta Valdez"), the fresh-faced Seattle quartet downshifts dramatically; though enlivened by handclaps and cute choirboy harmonies, the rest of the disc is more anonymous, less exuberant.
Harvey Danger will attract the tortured high school wrist-slashers and slavering college-radio programmers with their patches of Pavement and generous dollops of daydreamy geek guitar. The excruciatingly confessional lyrics about old girlfriends and dying parents become drowsier and drowsier, notably on "Wrecking Ball" and "Radio Silence." Vocalist Sean Nelson sounds like an introspective version of Green Day's Billie Joe, and enjoys envisioning himself as various inanimate objects: "All I ever wanted to be was a woolly muffler on your naked neck," he asserts on "Woolly Muffler." Later, he feels "like a zero drowning in a sea of higher numbers" ("Terminal Annex").
All this moony longing aside, there's something innocent about Harvey Danger's music, tiptoeing as it does between precocious angst and uncalculated, self-deprecating charm. They don't sound altogether naive, but perhaps the sophomore disc will be heavier on the rocket fuel, lighter on the wistful ex-girlfriend noodlings.
Situation: Critical (Strictly Rhythm)
A friend of mine once told me that all he needed to get off on the dance floor was a screamin' black woman and a beat. The nameless sister-girl he was referring to could easily be a lung-heavy house-music icon like Martha Wash or Adeva, or the remixed "I got the spirit in me" holler fests of R&B mamas like Chaka Khan and Patti Labelle. The point is, in the wee hours of a clubland morn, nothing jolts the soul quite like a seasoned disco diva who, mighty of voice and short on subtlety, roars gloriously above a cacophonous symphony of drum machines, blaring synths and wall-jarring bass.
Which is why I don't get all the hype surrounding Ultra Nate. Ultra (her real name) wrote most of the songs that make up her new album, Situation: Critical, with house producers Lem Springsteen and D-Influence alternating production credits. The problem is, dance-music artists and producers should stick to what they do best - making dance music. Instead, Situation: Critical features a hodgepodge of lukewarm R&B-driven tunes that are fortunately propped up by a couple of pop-savvy dance tracks. It should be the other way around, but Ultra, like many dance-music artists before her, hastens to graze in the greener, broader pastures of pop and R&B, and inadvertently highlights her own limitations instead of achieving the sought-after crossover appeal.
Ultra opens the album down-tempo and sluggish with the appropriately titled "Situation: Critical" and proceeds to tread into even murkier waters with "A New Kind of Medicine." But the infectious club anthem "Free" rescues her, with Ultra ordering us - above some righteous backup vocals - to be free and "do whatcha want to do." Along with "Found a Cure" and "Love You Can't Deny," Ultra manages to remind us that her roots are in dance. Which is not such a bad thing.