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Circles/Cycles 

Wednesday, Feb 21 2001
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MIA DOI TODD
Zeroone (Cityzen)

L.A. spellbinder Mia Doi Todd’s previous album, ’99’s Come Out of Your Mine, was committed to tape in a cathedral at Yale University in a single late-night session. This time, she’s traded sacred space for cyberspace; Zeroone was recorded, according to a prominently placed liner note, “on a Macintosh G4.” But this is no trendy trip into the laptop chop shop. Beyond the canny use of digital reverb, and one song (“Ziggurat”) that features a conspicuous chorus effect and a glimmer of second guitar, the basic elements of Todd’s intimately scaled art remain unchanged: cautious but sturdy acoustic picking, ambiguously confessional lyrics and, most of all, her rich, impossibly mannered voice.

But if the surface of Zeroone presents smoothly unified performances, what’s going on underneath, in the songs themselves, is more fragmented than ever. Todd’s central theme remains her own struggle for self-sufficiency — which may be the real point of her new recording method — and in several of these songs it’s none too clear that she’s winning. “Obsession” moves from romantic vulnerability (“I wear the clown’s nose, but the elastic band sometimes goes . . . snap”) to a seemingly unrelated meditation on the image of Princess Diana, with a few lines of French slipped in for good measure. “Bound Feet & Feathered” is similarly lopsided, traveling from pillow to nightclub to “my neighbor’s wet purse,” despite a portentously repeated chorus (“I keep my mouth shut, so no one will mess with me”). If anything holds such songs together, it’s the singer’s calculated phrasing — check the way the final “t” of “feet” becomes both an extra syllable and a rhythmic device.

The far-flung pieces don’t always cohere: With its little-train-that-could chorus interrupted by randomly accessed memories (“Grandma, hold my hand now”), the 10-minute “Can I?” is brave but diffuse. (I’ve seen her pull it off live, though.) More successful is “Digital,” an only slightly shorter trip that ambitiously strings everything from agribusiness to ancestry along a single two-chord pattern. Here, and on the explicitly political “Tugboat” (“There’ll be silence in the factories, just you wait”), Todd eloquently demonstrates that the outside world is at least as fractured as her own inner landscape

MELLOW
Another Mellow Spring (CyberOctave
)

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Zut alors!” you exclaim, “more Frenchmen toting vintage keyboards?” Well, mon petit chou, in the wake of Air’s surprise infiltration of the mainstream (even the current TV ad campaign for ITT features music that blatantly plagiarizes Moon Safari’s “All I Need”), such developments were pretty much inevitable. Of course, Versailles trio Mellow come by their Air-isms honestly; after all, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Woodcock did co-write “Ce Matin La,” one of the trippier excursions on Air’s full-length debut.

But where Air’s brand of retro-futurism generally seems as sleek and slyly humorous as an Eero Saarinen airport terminal, Mellow set their controls for the heart of your aural pleasure center, joyously frosting the 11 tracks of Another Mellow Spring with a giddy array of pulsating Mellotrons, soothing electric pianos, ’70s-cop-show bass lines, phased breakbeats and squelchy flanger effects. For Woodcock and collaborators Pierre Begon-Lours and Stéphane Luginbühl, subtlety is clearly not an issue; “Shinda Shima,” the oddly haunting track that kicks off the album, pulls out most of the aforementioned tricks within the very first minute, then trumps them with an impossibly twee Vocoder vocal. The cello-stoked “Sun Dance,” the plaintive “Another Mellow Winter” and the hypnotic instrumental “Mellow, Part 1” all work the same side of le boulevard, combining the vintage sounds of “Strawberry Fields” Beatles with the synthetic pop drama of the Electric Light Orchestra, and wielding them with the kid-in-a-candy-store irreverence of the Rutles. Other songs, like “Violet” (whose protagonist “goes around with a whip in her hand”) and “Lovely Light,” betray an obvious debt to solo Syd Barrett, while “Paris Sous la Neige” and “Instant Love” seem designed to parody (however tardily) the louche Britpop stylings of Jarvis Cocker and Pulp.

Unlike Moon Safari, Another Mellow Spring is probably too weird to provide the SUV set with evocative background music for their Starbucks reveries, but it still casts a heady spell. When the reprise of “Paris Sous la Neige” kicks in seven minutes into the closing track, it snaps you back to reality like the closing credits of a particularly intense film. All of a sudden you realize you’ve been somewhere else for a while; you’re not sure where, exactly, but you want to return there as soon as possible. And off in the distance, you can hear three Frenchmen giggling. (Dan Epstein)

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