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
THE CHARLATANS UKUs and Us Only (MCA)
Over the last decade, the Charlatans have persevered like cursed bluesmen, facing down a host of horrors (desertion, jail time, death and financial disaster) while steadily improving their craft, growing from one-semihit wonders to improbable masters of their genre, a band capable of giving compelling, genuinely uplifting live performances free of cheap sentiment. The memory of singer Tim Burgess‘ eternal fist-in-the-air anorak shuffle lingers; this sonorous, triumphant album is the audio equivalent of that vision.
The Charlatans have always been more Boomer Rock than Britpop, closer to the similarly minded (and similarly underrated) Black Crowes than to, say, the Stone Roses, Blur or Pulp. They’re classic-rock stalkers whose sole American radio hit (”The Only One I Know“) is a direct lift from Deep Purple‘s ”Hush,“ who nicked wholesale Pink Floyd’s ”Fearless“ signature guitar line for 1995‘s ”Here Comes a Soul Saver“ . . . etc. The brazen graverobbing hasn’t stopped with Us and Us Only -- one song actually begins with the words ”You‘re my sweet black angel“ -- but it’s as if the band, through their relative longevity and hard knocks, have earned the right to do no more than rearrange rock‘s pre-existing constituent elements.
If the Charlatans’ thievery has remained shameless, the band themselves have become more cunning, and perhaps even blessed, finding new iterations of the same age-old chord progressions, lyrical concerns (love, loss, redemption, rededication) and instrumentation. These are songs that somehow outgrow their obvious indebtedness to the AOR songbook. So the album opens with the band confidently rolling a groove for over two and a half minutes before breaking into the tune proper (in which Burgess reasonably says, ”Oh! I wonder what you people do with your lives!“) and closes with a six-minute lazy epic that features a Mellotron-guided glide across a lovely bridge before falling, perfectly, into one of Neil Young‘s loping ”Old Man“ tempos. Between the bookends, an unusually passionate vocal from Burgess and another gorgeous Mellotron arrangement are breathtakingly combined on the stunning ”Senses“; a fantastic Page-ish guitar lick drops out of nowhere into ”The Blind Stagger“; and ”A House Is Not a Home“ is a simple, continuous crescendo. In short, the Charlatans have gained chops and are now writing songs, fully baked. Hurrah for the late b(l)oomers . . .
INSPECTAH DECKUncontrolled Substance (Loud)
The steel-grilled ruffians of the Wu-Tang Clan face an identity crisis. Since their debut five years back, the key to the Wu’s success has been the balance between the digital dissonance of producer Rza and the street-smart slanguistics of the various Wu rhymers. This chemistry has been upset lately, with Rza doing a minimum amount of work on solo albums by Clan members Method Man, Ol‘ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck. Meth and ODB have survived the separation, largely on account of magnanimous charm (Meth) and a schizoid persona (ODB), but for Rae and Deck, danger remains. Like Al without Willie or Snoop without Dre, the Wu struggle to find themselves in a Rza-less reality.
Raekwon has the greater challenge -- his last effort was 1995’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, widely regarded as the definitive Wu-Tang album. Fans of Raekwon‘s testy verbal style -- flashy rhyme bursts colored by ghetto-stoop wisdom -- won’t despair. On songs like ”F**k Them“ and ”Raw,“ Rae spits a seemingly endless array of verses, full of street-culture signifyin‘ and biting bravado. Yet Rae works exclusively with a squad of no-name producers who largely swing between two narrow musical poles: whiny strings and pensive piano chords, thin shadows of Rza’s dramatic nuances. Despite Rae‘s propulsive vocals, the production can’t keep up, almost slowing Immobilarity to the point of immobility.
In comparison, Inspectah Deck makes the most of his debut disc, Uncontrolled Substance, by producing many of his own songs and enlisting the help of Rza‘s more gifted proteges (True Master, 4th Disciple). Deck rolls thick in the smoky soul touch we’ve come to associate with the Wu, ranging from the impelling drum thunder on ”9th Chamber“ to the moody melodics of ”Elevation.“ Moreover, Deck‘s vivid portraits of rap noir -- ”Word on the Street“ and ”Femme Fatale“ -- are masterful works of lyrical minimalism, with simple phrases conveying the weight of whole paragraphs. While Rae makes a brave move to stand on his own two, Deck shows that staying true to the Wu aesthetic doesn’t mean having to hide behind the abbot‘s cloak. Like the ”Trouble Man“ alter ego he cops from Marvin Gaye, Deck makes his mark with a stylishly dark side unleashed through his twisted metaphors. (Oliver Wang)
CANDIRIAProcess of Self-Development (MIA)
Talk about an identity crisis: Candiria is the Sybil of the aggro world. These Brooklyn cats go for the next multilevel on the shape-shifting new album Process of Self-Development, a feat they pull off with mixed results. Though dubbed a jazz-metal fusion band, Candiria don’t hybridize disparate styles like the nu-skool so much as spontaneously morph into nonmetal entities entirely.
It was tempting to dismiss the sultry trumpets and hot tenor sax on ‘95’s Surrealistic Madness as simply trying too hard, and unfortunately Candiria still seem like dabblers on Process, attempting to be all things to all people. While freeform jazz interludes like ”Work in Progress“ stand on their own outside the context of the band‘s choppy metallic crunch, the horn players are guest musicians, not anyone in Candiria. The comprehensive list of name-brand blowers and legends on the insert is suspect, too -- are they saying, ”We’re not just hard-rock morons, we appreciate serious music like jazz, too“? They also make a big to-do about how no samples are used on the hip-hop track ”Method of Expression,“ but so what? The tune is boring. Too spastic for anything as humdrum as verse-chorus-verse structures, the songs‘ nonrepeating lyrics are divided into multiple chapters, but these are really just arbitrary pauses where Carley Coma can draw another lungful and continue his paranoid, apoplectic rants on everything from germ warfare (”Mathematics“), to political corruption (”Three Times Again“), to general malaise and putrefaction (”Temple of Sickness“). The lyric sheet is cryptic enough, while aurally it’s so much word salad, but Coma‘s warm, growly voice is music all by itself.
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