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
PAUL BARMAN It’s Very Stimulating (Wordsound)
PRINCESS SUPERSTAR Last of the Great 20th Century Composers (Corrupt)
These two albums from the paler side of the rap spectrum are living proof that 1) being/sounding white is the hottest new trend in hip-hop since parachute pants, and 2) Prince Paul could make fingernails on a chalkboard sound dulcet.Listen to Princess Superstar: Real Audio Format Do It Like A Robot Meet You Halfway
The clown Prince only produces one of Princess Superstar’s songs (“I Hope I Sell a Lot of Records at Christmastime”), but a twisted knack for humor is shared by both. For Superstar, her cup overfloweth with winking witticisms and smarmy self-irony as she updates Deborah Harry’s rap-pop fusions for the ’00s. Crossing Valley Girl drawl, Third Coast flows and porno panting, she slams syllables into songs like “Do It Like a Robot” and “Meet You Halfway,” backed up by a digital storm of electro-funk effects and old-school drum bursts. Sex is a central theme on much of the album, though the most eXXXplicit song, “Come Up to My Room,” is perhaps the album’s most banal. Superstar shines far brighter on “Kool Keith’s Ass,” where her low-end lust for Keith’s derriÃ¨re spooks even hip-hop’s freakiest fellow.Listen to Paul Barman: Real Audio Format Joy of Your World MTV Get Off the Air, pt. 2
If Princess Superstar comes off like a Vivid girl with Lower East Side attitude, MC Paul Barman is more like the cybergeek lusting after her with one-hand fantasies. His It’s Very Stimulating EP is so outrageous in its puerility, it almost seems parodic. It’s easy to dismiss Barman as the Ivy League Eminem for lines like “I like to suck toes/yours secrete fructose,” but if you can get beyond his juvenile predilections and dorky voice, he’s easily one of the funniest rhymers out there right now. Barman and Superstar are made for each other, and they team up on the album’s most hilarious (and sexplicit) song, “MTV Get Off the Air, Pt. 2.” Sample the banter — Barman: “I’ll snack on your pooper-hole/throughout the Superbowl”; Superstar: “I’m like Chase/dip your card in and out/thanks, see, stacks o’ cream are coming out.”
The glue to Barman’s whole shtick is Prince Paul, whose campy sound on the EP accents Barman’s absurdities with a tongue-in-cheek sensibility. Paul’s track for “Joy of Your World” is a silly, happy tune of harps and flutes punctured by a kinetic breakbeat, while “Salvation Barmy” hops along with a nursery-rhyme bounce. Though Barman’s lascivious limericks are amusing in their own right, Paul helps boost his new protÃ©gÃ© from the outhouse to the art house . . . or at least the alleyway between the two.
THE ESSEX GREEN Everything Is Green (Kindercore)
“Meet me in the Sixties,” goes the hook line and title of the Essex Green’s warmest, most inviting song, effectively defining an entire movement’s aesthetic, if not its intentions. Like everyone else associated with Elephant 6, the Athens, Georgia–based label/collective that has brought us Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control and the Essex Green, this band doesn’t so much emulate as replicate the psych-drenched sounds of West Coast and English underground pop circa 1967. What all these bands want from that era, however, is less certain.
More Pearls Before Swine than Pink Floyd, the Essex Green offer a specifically sylvan sort of neo-psych. Each winsome track comes garlanded with flutes, strings, tablas, organ or exotic percussion. On the back of the CD insert, there’s a painting of a gnome playing an accordion in a leafy green glade. If you can hum the tune he’s playing, you probably need this disc. Even if you can’t, the Essex Green’s music is consistently surprising without being willfully quirky, earnest without being embarrassing, and refreshingly melodic. It can rock, too.
There’s just that nagging “why” thing. “It never was our fate/us living three decades late,” goes another lyric in “Sixties.” But precisely what the folky folks in the Essex Green long for remains elusive. Not social commitment or communal protest, because it’s going to be “Darling, just you and me.” If the dream is escape from millennial commodification, digitization and death-of-rock malaise, well, okay. But nothing I’ve ever heard or read, good or bad, suggests that the goal of the ’60s was having a glade to ourselves. (Glen Hirshberg)
NO DOUBT Return of Saturn (Trauma/Interscope)
A lot has been made of No Doubt’s transformation from ska-meisters to new wavers, but that’s not what makes their long-awaited Return of Saturn so disconcerting. While the band deserves credit for exploring facets of its personality that were only hinted at on its breakthrough Tragic Kingdom, the new set lacks Kingdom’s cathartic exuberance, not to mention the myriad bouncy sing-along hits that made Gwen Stefani to the ’90s what Madonna was to the ’80s.
Not that there isn’t enough here to inspire young girls to trade in their bindis and bondage pants for Duran Duran–style makeup and Pink Flamingo hair dye. Stefani’s heartfelt croons are still rich as molasses, still evoke the intriguing duality (bratty little girl or powerful, passionate woman?) that made the feminist teenybopper anthem “Just a Girl” the (ironic) mega-hit it was. The punchy first single, “Ex-Girlfriend,” has the same kind of sultry urgency, with Stefani singing soft and deep about the pain of being another name on her off-again, on-again beau’s list. Introspective cuts like “Six Feet Under,” “Magic’s in the Makeup,” “Artificial Sweetner,” “Home Now” and “Dark Blue” are infused with worthy observations too, but neither Stefani’s emotive vocal style nor guitarist Tom Dumont’s layered riffs nor the relentless rhythms of bassist Tony Kanal and drummer Adrian Young seem able to rescue these largely unmemorable songs from tedium. And thanks to the slick production of Glen Ballard, the harmony-heavy tunes sound too Wilson Phillips–like for their own good.