|Photo by Cleo Sullivan|
Okay, its a concept album. And if that isnt enough to scare you off, the concept is a dialogue between Poe and her dead father, revered lecturer and documentary filmmaker Tad Danielewski. Its 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 Poes 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, Poes 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 albums 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 Romos mature but playful arrangements; the duos rich, adventurous production adds a depth to Haunted thats not found on Poes 1995 Hello.
Samples of her fathers 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
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 youve got futuristic pop that doesnt need a spoonful of sugar to go down. And if you dig past CARs 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 Loewenthals 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 bands 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 Jerseys Speed the Plough; the wistful California Floating in Space will remind you of Stereolab. And if the hippie-trippy tunes arent proof enough of CARs 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 Johnsons 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 wasnt (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: Aswads Angus Gaye handles most of the drumming, and Bovell pretty much one-man-bands the rest. He doesnt 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. Its 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.