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The Sun Unplugged 

Beats, blood and Infesticons

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THE INFESTICONS
Gun Hill Road
(Big Dada/Ninjatune)

If Mike Ladd got out of his Bronx home more often, he’d be an Infesticon. (He calls himself a Domesticon.) Still, he’s leading the war against the Majesticons — you know, the glamorous people: “It’s about pretty vs. ugly/and eons of struggle/are about to culminate/right up the street/on Gun Hill Road.” Takin’ clippers to the Jheri curl come the Infesticons, says Yazeed on “Cinderella Theme”: “I’m only one of the few/sent to keep this shit live/ I mapped out my plans/plus my mission/broke down the whole system/now can you understand my oral tradition?” Ladd’s roommate and fellow slam-poet-MC-scribe-creative Mums the Schemer spits about other kingdoms of con on “Grinder Theme”: poeticon, eclecticon, intesticon, decepticon, etc., further delineating this thematic album’s view of how modern life represents its inhabitants.

In the spirit of Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves, Gun Hill Road is a conceptual voyage, a fun and intriguing one that’ll have you studying its liner notes and abstract speech in search of the keys to unlock the basement door. Not exactly a scripted film in recorded form, it’s more like a musical saga whose 13 “themes” represent battle glories, exploits and ascension. Equipped with an MPC 2000, a couple of keyboards, some effects modules, and a cast that includes Beans & Priest (Anti-Pop Consortium, Blank Slates), BMS & Dana, Eric M.O., Myster Bruce and others, producer-arranger-professor-wordicon Ladd, a.k.a. Infesticon #0, scores each track as a gritty garage epic, employing a twofold approach of drum charges like rhinos and light synth reflections. Infesticon Saul Williams perhaps sums up the aesthetic on “Monkey Theme”: “I’m the om nia merican born/of beats and blood/ concert of the sun unplugged.”

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Zooming in on several vantage points of the coming war, Ladd’s Infesticons take it all in, with Sonic Sum’s Rob Smith letting loose on “barcodiacs shreds in the trail mix/takin’ refuge in the zodiac,” and Majesticon 69 sobbing about the days when he was able to enjoy a few of his favorite things, “Like PM Dawn/in sequin thongs/like singing songs/by Celine Dion/ . . . Kenny G.” It’s all about now and the future and boom! You’ll never be the same again.

THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS
Hot Burritos! The Flying Burrito Brothers
Anthology 1969–1972
(A&M/Universal
)

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The subject of two tribute records and countless testimonials from everyone from Emmylou Harris to Wilco, the late Gram Parsons has become such a sacred cow that one is tempted to poke through his charred remains for proof of his fallibility. Tempted, that is, until somebody slaps a copy of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ Gilded Palace of Sin on the stereo, and you have no choice but to marvel at the tremendous breadth of the Nudie-suited dude’s talent and vision. Sure, Gram was a spoiled, self-destructive rich kid, but he also knew how to connect the dots between country, soul, rock, gospel and even psychedelia better than anyone else in the Woodstock era, and he could sing his goddamned ass off.

Gilded Palace makes up a full 25 percent of Hot Burritos!, a 43-track compilation that contains every single Burritos track you’ll ever need, and then some. Also included are Burrito Deluxe, Gilded Palace’s solid but unexceptional sequel; 1971’s Gram-less Flying Burrito Brothers; and a handful of rarities that have been circulating in various combinations for nearly 30 years. Some of these latter tracks are stone-cold amazing — who else but Gram could have known that the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” was as poignant a country ballad as Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home”? — while others (a turgid reading of Merle’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”) are less so, but Burritos fans will be psyched to finally have them all in one place.

Recorded after Gram left to go solo, Flying Burrito Brothers is definitely a product of its era, a mellow-in-the-extreme slide into the sort of country-rock territory the Eagles (and others) would successfully mine in the years to come. Time has been much kinder to Gilded Palace and Burrito Deluxe, both of which are included in their entirety on Disc 1. The former sounds especially glorious on headphones; listen to the way “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel dances nimbly around the far-out Everly Brothers harmonies of Gram and Chris Hillman, and just see if you don’t get goose bumps. Despite the all-star cast of players that surrounded him on G.P. and Grievous Angel, Gram would never again find a band — or a mission — as compelling as that which inspired the making of Gilded Palace. Sometimes there’s just nowhere else to go but down. (Dan Epstein)

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