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Burn, Li'l Debby, Burn 

Wednesday, Sep 30 1998
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DEADBOLTZulu Death Mask(Headhunter/Cargo)

For centuries, the jungles of "darkest Africa" have exerted an inexorable pull on the psyches of American and European explorers. Time, technology and National Geographic have gradually diminished the region's mystery, but there are still unexplored corners of the Congo that play host to unexplained forces and unimagined pleasures. Deadbolt's latest musical travelogue finds the San Diego psychobilly quartet hacking their way through these hidden territories, armed only with a reverb-drenched guitar, two basses, a rudimentary drum kit, two chords and an impressive command of tribal dialects, this last apparently acquired through an intensive study of Tarzan flicks. Their mission: to help a French poet, a San Francisco witch doctor and a mercenary from Botswana track down the titular mask, whose powers will enable anyone who wears it to control the world . . .

Yep, Zulu Death Mask is a concept album. But this ain't no Lamb Lies Down on Sgt. Pepper hobbit-rock bullshit, baby, it's about real men with real tattoos and real beer guts, kickin' ass and takin' what's rightfully theirs. Unlike the rapacious explorers that preceded them, however, Deadbolt are down with the nature and native culture of these verdant lands; their deadly wrath is directed elsewhere. In "Macombo's Revenge," a whole boatload of British tourists gets eaten by alligators, as a Hugh Grant sound-alike whimpers in the background. Haight Street hippies are beheaded in "Watongo," while circus clowns and snack-cake mascots meet their appropriate ends in "Return of Patches" and "Burn, Lil' Debby, Burn," respectively.

Deadbolt's pals don't get off any easier. Dig the unblinking character study of one "Swahili Bob," who winds up getting his tongue ripped out by bikers: "Swahili Bob was a real scumbag/He did his phone tricks dressed up in drag/The filthiest things would come from his mouth/He ran a bisexual puppet show way down south." When head honcho Harley Davidson theorizes (on one of the record's hidden bonus tracks) that it's a "creepy world," you'd best be believin'. Do they ever find the mask, you ask? Like they say in poker, you gotta pay to see. (Dan Epstein)

PULLMANTurnstyles & Junkpiles (Thrill Jockey)

Depending on your point of reference, this instrumental quartet's deconstructionist debut will seem a heavy nod to the warm, stark work of acoustic players like John Fahey, or a refreshing attempt to reach a purity of both sound and structure in the vein of Lullaby for the Working Class and Josh Rouse. Based in Chicago, New York and Boston, the band is made up of members of Tortoise, Eleventh Dream Day and Brokeback (Douglas McCombs); Come (Chris Brokaw); Rex (Curtis Harvey); and Directions in Music (Bundy K. Brown) - although almost all of the members have, at one time or another, collaborated with each other.

Pullman has taken Tortoise's successful instrumental philosophy a few steps further: Dismantling the rhythm section, the group uses only acoustic instruments - assorted guitars, basses, a mandola and a dobro. But where Tortoise chops, cuts, layers and edits, the entire Pullman disc was recorded direct to 2-track (meaning no overdubs) with just two microphones. The effect is living-room warmth rather than studio-control-room sterility. Of the 14 tracks, the best moments are heady, pastoral pieces like "Sagamore Bridge" and "To Hold Down a Shadow," which rely on intuitive interplay and counterpoint. But if the tunes seem to wander aimlessly through open fields, after a few listens they reveal gentle melodies and interesting chord patterns. While more structured tunes - such as "Barefoot," which brings to mind a hobbled Leo Kottke, and "Lyasnya," written around a "Zorba the Greek"-like melody - don't fare nearly as well, beautiful nuggets such as "So Breaks Yesterday" and the haunting, Fahey-inspired "Fullerton" more than make up the difference.

Make no mistake, this is not a Strength in Numbers CD. There are no Bela Flecks, Sam Bushes or Jerry Douglasses to blind you with acrobatics - and that's exactly why it works. The point wasn't to impress, emulate or break new ground. And rather than songs written for a record (as is usually the case), the record is a vehicle for songs that came about for all the right reasons. (Michael Lipton)

GOATGoat (Ruffhouse/Columbia)

Free your inner child and your ass will follow. Goat (a he not a they) arrives on the scene just in time to soothe your pre-millennial anxiety with an album so unabashedly life-affirming that a self-help book can't be far behind. Though funklike in its relentless syncopation and joy-in-repetition, the grooves here are designed to help those of us with two spiritual left feet through a little dance they call the 12 Step.

In a mangled, attenuated voice recalling both Al Green and Randy Newman, Goat sings songs of inspiration and healing and more healing. "I Will Fly," "Free," "I'll Be Good" and the minor hit "Great Life" politely encourage the listener to leave the pain of yesterday behind, start appreciating "our lives, our loves, our liberty," and just basically get your shit together. Producers Joe and Phil Nicolo (a.k.a. the Butcher Brothers) craft a subdued sound, minimalist and bone-dry. For all the mildly jolting samples, backward guitars, distorted whispers and phase-shifting feedback, Goat is strictly funk lite, appropriate for the boomin' system in the Volvo of the album's target audience. Goat - a former Juilliard dance accompanist and Otis Blackwell sideman - is clearly more interested in self-realization than booty-shaking revelation.

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