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Pop the Cork 

Jay-Z beyond reasonable doubt

Wednesday, Feb 9 2000
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But if Television lacked a strong singer, Siobhan Duffy completes the G.D. persona, delivering her Morrisonesqe rock poetry in the impersonal-but-seductive style of Nico. On tunes like "Let’s Play a Game," there’s more than a hint of raging restraint — a squeak of feedback, a crashing chord, not to mention Duffy’s nursery-rhyme line "You won’t get to heaven till the end of your pain." And by the end of "The Repentant Bedfellow," a Brecht/Doors-like cabaret piece with organ stabs and guitar lines over a drum cadence, Bronson and Zastrow finally cut loose.

The band’s pedigree — Bronson served as bassist with legendary noisemongers Swans and drummer Jim Sclavunos did stints with Lydia Lunch, Sonic Youth and Bad Seeds — further explains an obsession with alienation and despair that might not be new but will apparently never go out of style. (Michael Lipton)

STORMandSTRESS Under Thunder and Fluorescent Light (Touch and Go)

Sturm und Drang was an 18th-century German literary movement characterized by rash action and exaggerated emotion. Sturm und Drang is tumult. StormandStress, who adapt their name from the phrase, are cute. That is, they’re cute in the manner of the many latter-day avant-gardists battling it out in the indie-music trenches, or in the manner of a smart-ass kid. They’re cute in that they answer the question that sustained the musical avant-garde throughout the 20th century: What happens when you make music meant to upset every expectation regarding how music is listened to and played? Their answer: You build an audience for it and play to that fan base, as with every other genre of music.

Bands like StormandStress take what was avant — free jazz, the aleatory music of John Cage, serialism — and turn it into a root, just as rock & roll musicians turned blues and folk into roots. As with rock & roll, the resulting music suffers from a lack of what we’ll call authenticity. Did Keith Richards feel what Robert Johnson felt, or was it all heroin and chicks? Do StormandStress think what Albert Ayler or John Cage thought, or are they just fans of their record covers?

Big questions. Small band. It’s a trio consisting of Ian Williams, the guitarist for Don Caballero, a group that made its name crafting precision instrumentals in a heavy-metal vein; bassist Erich Emm; and drummer Kevin Shea, who’s got some actual free-jazz cred. Jim O’Rourke, who is ubiquitous in avant-indie circles, produces. As vertigo rawk, the band’s sophomore album, Under Thunder and Fluorescent Light, is quite satisfying. With specks of guitar sputtering out, the drummer smokes in a quiet, idiosyncratic fashion. Sometimes Williams sings aimlessly, although you’ll wish he didn’t. (The almost soulful guest vocalist on the sixth track sounds nice, though.) Frankly, the slippery rhythms don’t add up to much. You just can’t dance to ’em, or, as a voice interjects on the album’s last track, "It’s like a porno, but nobody takes off their clothes . . . It’s like a book without words." You can, however, test your counting skills.

It’s difficult music by not-so-difficult people. In such cases I usually pick the path of least resistance. Perhaps you’ll feel differently. (By the way, the tracks have names like "The Sky’s the Ground, the Bombs Are Plants, and We’re the Sun, Love." I hope this is, in part, a big joke.) (Alec Hanley Bemis)

THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS "Out of Control" video (Astralwerks)

Against a backdrop of an apocalyptic, sun-baked Mexico City, tattered posters of Ché looking on, two young revolutionaries — one a seeming reject from The Thin Red Line, the other a cross between Bianca Jagger and Jennifer Lopez (Rosario Dawson from Kids) — get ready to fight a riot-geared militia. The pair engage in some tongue hockey and sloppily drink from their bottle of Viva Cola. (Never has so much sweat looked so attractive.) In front of a line of salivating soldiers, she has yet more fun with her bottle, shaking it, vibrating it and all but bathing in the soda as she tries to distract them. Her partner then tosses a homemade Molotov cocktail into the crowd. And bam! "In the heat of the moment . . . Viva Cola . . . serve chilleo." That’s right, this is no battlefield, but a slick Mentos-like commercial for a fictitious soda brand; the real revolución is taking place outside, where rioters smash vending machines and the windows of TV stores through which the commercial can be seen. EZLN posters and a handkerchief-masked girl graffiti-ing "Give me some substance" appear in night vision.

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