Poe holds a séance

Wednesday, Feb 7 2001
Photo by Cleo Sullivan

Haunted (Atlantic)

Okay, it’s a concept album. And if that isn’t enough to scare you off, the concept is a dialogue between Poe and her dead father, revered lecturer and documentary filmmaker Tad Danielewski. It’s an ambitious if macabre endeavor, one that only Poe could have turned into such a brilliant and enjoyable album.

Propelled by her aggressive but seductive voice, Haunted walks the line between dark, beat-driven trip-hop and warm, melodic pop. What separates the album from its competition is Poe’s smart and emotionally charged songwriting, rife with raw energy balanced by gorgeously understated hooks. The first half of the disc is heavy on attitude. “Control” is a Garbage-style pop anthem of defiance. On “Terrible Thought,” Poe’s voice creeps under your skin as she jumps from cool, spoken-word-like observation to impassioned pleading. Catchy grooves drive “Hey Pretty” and the dark yet melodic title track, two of the album’s highlights. The irresistible “Lemon Meringue” and ballads such as “5&½ Minute Hallway” and “Spanish Doll” benefit tremendously from Poe and right-hand man Olle Romo’s mature but playful arrangements; the duo’s rich, adventurous production adds a depth to Haunted that’s not found on Poe’s 1995 Hello.

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Samples of her father’s voice from old cassettes are interspersed throughout, creating a dreamy and at times eerie continuity. Those without patience for such abstractions (brief though they may be) may find Haunted tiresome. The rest of us can rejoice in its originality and thank our lucky stars that Poe had the confidence and imagination to make it.

Call and Response (Kindercore)

Call and Response has done significantly more than just jump on the bandwagon of bell-bottomed pop. This delightful S.F. quintet — boasting a trio of femme players and singers — delivers its breezy confections with relaxed and guileless conviction. Sure, the bouncy “Blowin’ Bubbles” and “Nightflight” recall the pleasant naiveté of ’60s-’70s bands like the Carpenters, but add dashes of lounge, Caucasian funk, pedal steel, cello and close, siblinglike harmonies, and you’ve got futuristic pop that doesn’t need a spoonful of sugar to go down. And if you dig past CAR’s linear-pop pedigree, the rewards grow exponentially. Even for music fans who could give a G major 7th about the mechanics of a combo, bassist Terri Loewenthal’s playing will be a source of joy. In almost every tune, she takes the reins, shaping the sound and setting the mood. She punctuates “Blowin’ Bubbles” and “I Know U Want Me,” for example, with syncopation rather than stiffly plucking the downbeats; drummer Jordan Dalrymple often plays the straight man to her animated fretwork.

The band’s fortes are simplicity and taste: the delicate picking and strumming on “Rollerskate,” squishy Moog effects on “Colors” (plus neo-psychedelic lyrics like “red, yellow and blue and green and I only see them with you”), the marimba on “Rollerskate,” and the Wurlitzer piano and backup vocals on “The Fool.” “Lightbulb” could be a soft-rock take on the Bangles; “Stars Have Eyes” sounds like a pumped-up version of New Jersey’s Speed the Plough; the wistful “California Floating in Space” will remind you of Stereolab. And if the hippie-trippy tunes aren’t proof enough of CAR’s earnestness, the liner notes even thank “all of the plants and animals.” Well, thank you. (Michael Lipton)


I Wah Dub (LKJ Records)

Dennis Bovell was standing at a crucial crossroads in 1980, when his I Wah Dub came out. As bassist/producer with Matumbi and later as a collaborator on Linton Kwesi Johnson’s dub poetics, he was a key player in shaping early British reggae, ranking as the credentialed dread producer of choice for first-wave punk offshoots the Slits and the Pop Group. Bovell became a pioneer U.K. dubmaster behind records like this; he was almost certainly a homeboy inspiration for Mad Professor and Adrian Sherwood/On-U Sound, and in turn can be called a godfather of contemporary dub.

Back then, Lee Perry was sorta known, King Tubby wasn’t (outside the serious cognoscenti), and dub was this mysterious new thing less than a decade removed from its cost-cutting origin as B-side instrumentals on Jamaican 45s. The notion of playing sonic reducer by stripping songs down to bare essentials, then reshaping and distorting the musical skeleton, was a tantalizing entry into a whole new world of pure sound science.

The eight tunes here are rudimentary: Aswad’s Angus Gaye handles most of the drumming, and Bovell pretty much one-man-bands the rest. He doesn’t drop out the bass or drums much, keeping the rhythmic spine intact to let the tough-enough melodies to “Electrocharge” and “Oohkno” sink in. Harmonica on “Steadie,” melodica on “Blaubart” and distorted dread munchkin voices on “‘Nough” supply colors beyond the keyboard echo washes and reverb warps sailing off into the purely sonic realm. It’s deceptively understated — after 20 years of virtuoso mixology turns and hip-hop/sampler aesthetics, it may be hard to hear that some fundamental early blueprints were being drawn up here.

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