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
A hundred years after Debussy’s heyday, this work takes another look at chromaticism, and does so in ways that are variously dry, witty, dreamy (the duo “to be sung on the water” has the restrained, ethereal quality, if not quite the meditative focus, of a Morton Feldman piece), elegant, casual and sprightly by turns. The Stanford String Quartet, based at the university, plays the three works with insight, aplomb and passion. Now let’s get some of Crockett’s orchestral stuff on disc. (Peter Frank)
FUTURE BIBLE HEROES I’m Lonely (And I Love It) (Merge)
Years ago, listening to the first Magnetic Fields CD, I thought of Stephin Merritt as a junkyard magician, collecting scrapped melodies from ’30s pop, ’60s soul and all kinds of rock music, then using gap-toothed toy pianos and hiccuping drum machines to fashion something sweet and spellbinding with them. But over the last 12 months, I’ve begun to believe he’s considerably more. First came 69 Love Songs, 1999’s colossal three-disc Magnetic Fields set, which is most astounding because it seeded a tune-hostile pop scene with shamelessly romantic songfulness, or maybe because at least 45 of the 69 tracks are magnificent. Then came the band’s enthralling performance at El Rey in June. Backed by cello, ukulele, guitar and piano instead of bent electronics, Merritt’s wry songs sounded stranger, funnier, more magical than ever.
And that’s why he can’t get away with clunky side projects like Future Bible Heroes anymore. Merritt has always had multiple aliases (the Gothic Archies, the 6ths, etc.). Future Bible Heroes is Merritt, Magnetic Fields pianist/manager/co-vocalist Claudia Gonson and DJ/electronics luminary Christopher Ewen. Ewen and Merritt write the songs, Gonson and Merritt sing, Ewen programs the music. The music’s the problem. Given a typically goofy, urbane Merritt turn of phrase like “You can find your own messiah/in the pit of a papaya,” Ewen crafts the most predictable and robotic of faux-techno settings. There are mildly bumping drums and sequencers, but no Hawaii, no magic and, most fatally of all, no melody.
At El Rey, Gonson — earthy, alternately cynical and naive — proved ideal ballast for Merritt’s perfect pop balloons. She sings gamely on these leaden tracks, but she’s out of her element; her role seems much more crucial, somehow, once the tunes are in the air. (Glen Hirshberg)
PHOENIX United (Astralwerks/Source)
In 1975, the Bee Gees revitalized a career spent chasing Lennon/McCartney-style respectability by redefining the soul-music utopia of disco as a playground for polyester-clad sweathogs. United, the debut album from French band Phoenix, owes a lot to the Gibb brothers’ soft-rock-disco approach, updating that blend as house-conscious, self-aware pastiche rather than shrewd attempt at riding dance-floor chic to pop-music celebrity.
Thomas Mars (vocals), Deck D’Arcy (bass) and Christian Mazzalai (guitars) first appeared to a wide audience with a disco-flavored house track on 1998’s Source Material compilation. Representing a community of artists including Daft Punk and Air, the Paris-based Source label is usually a home for down-tempo abstraction, instrumental hip-hop and pop-friendly house music, but United is an album more concerned with digging in the crates for the catchy synth styling of ’80s rock. Phillipe Zdar, a part of French house mainstays Cassius and Motorbass (also the producer behind a chunk of MC Solaar’s catalog), helps to round out the rhythmic priorities of the band’s cheery sound with his mix, but beyond the kicky buoyancy of its percussion, Phoenix sounds about as hip-hop as Hall & Oates. “Funky Squaredance” serves as a microcosm of the scattered aesthetic: It starts out as funereal soft-rock vocoder country, and three minutes in it fades into electro beats only to erupt with a guitar solo paraphrased from 1984. It could be a 10-minute-long Beck outtake if he made collages instead of crossbreeds.
Where misread revivalists Ween have been working similar territory with surreal impudence, Phoenix are pretty straightforward: We may laugh at the apparent irony of lyrics about spending summer days sailing and hunting for truffles, but it’s not always clear that they’re kidding around. They’re like a group of French exchange students cruising to the beach bumping “Jive Talkin’“ in their suburban host family’s tricked-out Firebird. (Daniel Chamberlin)