|Photo by Joseph Cultice|
Opening Credits (Trust Me)
Those who might recall the name Jesse Hartman from his former band Sammy (which peaked with 1996s Lou Reed/Televisioninfluenced Tales of Great Neck Glory on Geffen) will hardly recognize the N.Y. musician-filmmakers new persona. The solo debut from the now-one-man band is a smart, chameleonlike release thats informed by a generation (or two) of influences, some of which are easily recognizable, while others are run through Hartmans twisted blender (or, in this case, laptop he reportedly pieced together the entire record on a Mac PowerBook).
More low-fi and offbeat (i.e., interesting) than Sammys rather predictable indie sound, Hartmans new tunes may use mainly synthetic instruments, but they come off with a refreshing amount of heart, soul and, most of all, cynicism. Greatest Hits is a first-class Brit-white-boy-wise-ass nugget of synth-funk, complete with bent synth-bass lines and Morris Day shuck and jive. And you cant help but love the grand anthem Im So Happy You Failed, which pokes fun at the fate of a fellow musician (Word on the street says your second records dead . . . Im sinking to your level . . . I know Im going to hell . . . but Im so happy you failed). Twisting the knife a bit more, Hartman includes a chorus of taunts from children and, on the I Am the Walrusish coda, he changes the I to we. On End Credits and the pre-techno groove of Nothing To Declare, he affects his voice à la Bowie circa Low, while on A Little Guilt (Nothing like a little guilt to make you feel like you want to die), it becomes a painful satire of Robert Smiths aching croon.
Hartman makes no bones about things like canned drums especially on Another Song, a tuneful gem of a pop song, and his cut-and-paste quilt of sounds and voices turns The Stranger into a helluva dance track. For a one-man effort, Opening Credits is anything but one-dimensional and recalls a time when intelligent didnt translate to boring or sacrificing a groove. (Michael Lipton)
Hell Below/Stars Above (Interscope)
Toadies front man Todd Lewis, son of a Texas preacher, burst out of adolescence like a coiled spring. Teamed with bassist Lisa Umbarger in 1989, they formed a band that would earn platinum sales of their debut album, Rubberneck, on the back of the sweet-and-sour radio hit Possum Kingdom. That was seven years ago an eternity in the music business and more than the lifespan of most bands and only now do the Toadies bless us with their sophomore effort, Hell Below/Stars Above. In certain circles release dates for this album have been like Elvis sightings, amid rumors that the band had left the building altogether.
So why the wait? Firstly, Rubberneck was a slow-
burner, with sales not peaking until 97. Then theres been a change of guitarists, and endless road miles. On first listen, however, Hell Below/Stars Above sounds like a band that
hasnt been away at all, which is a two-edged sword. From its opening war cry, its clear that the Toadies have lost none of their bouncing enthusiasm, but neither have they made major leaps stylistically. Sticking with the production team of Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf has further flavored their latest work as Rubberneck 2. Though the new disc shows more pop sensibility than the bands debut its somewhat sonically smoother, and buttressed with backing vocals (check the Queenesque title track) the same rabble-rousing dynamics and partitioned progressions are still evident. At once aggressive and introspective, the Toadies have an incredible mastery of how to juggle simple four-piece instrumentation to maximum effect, while rarely making melodic sacrifices.
Dappled with religious imagery and not without humor, Hell Below is the sound of a unique band who are doing it for themselves, and will never let us down. Less time between visits, please. (Paul Rogers)
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
Ever since the Ramones revved up Chris Montezs 1962 hit Lets Dance on their debut disc, punk bands have been parodying/paying homage to the golden greats of rocks youth in the same manner. L.A.s Dickies have had a virtual cottage industry, going for almost 25 years, doing just this narrow shtick. Therefore, its no surprise that when Bay Area
smartasses Me First and the Gimme Gimmes make an entire record of 60s/70s classics done as pure pop-punk, they cite both of the master-blasters the Ramones Teenage Lobotomy is musically quoted at the beginning of a masterful cover of Sloop John B., and the fade-in riff from the Dickies You Drive Me Ape (You Big Gorilla) kicks in MF+TGGs version of the Beatles All My Loving.
Because these are great melodies and completely inscribed in the brain pan of anyone whos ever flipped on a car radio, and because these five knuckleheads have the Cali two-step down pat, this record is a guaranteed laugh riot. They lightly jab Cat Stevens Islam conversion at the beginning of the records best take, a rip through Wild World that decimates the original while leaving the hook guitar and piano lines intact; they massacre San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) the way that hokey tune has so richly deserved for 34 years; they remake Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow with a weird reverence; they toss in Three Stooges harmonies on the one Dylan cover; they hit all bases. The biggest yuk is reserved for transposing the intro and groove of London Calling onto the Turtles Elenor, which actually renders that ancient cornball artifact listenable.
Its great. Get it. And boys, on the next one, we await your Slayer-influenced version of Elusive Butterfly like a born-againer awaits the Rapture. (Johnny Angel)
YESTERDAYS NEW QUINTET
Elles Theme EP (Stones Throw)
Music people the world over have cheered the buzz on Otis Jackson Jr. Hes Madlib, the one who stepped onto the stage at El Rey Theater next to a head-to-toe-suited blue-anteater-looking thing. It was the record-release party for Quasimoto the above-mentioned creature as well as Madlibs alter ego. Which made everybody wonder who Lord Quas really was. Maybe Madlib really isnt Quasimoto, many pondered. And how did they get the rhymes to sync from the sped-up analog tapes used to give Quasimotos voice its high pitch? Doesnt matter.
With the heat of Quasimotos first single, Microphone Mathematics, blazing underground radio, the words produced by Madlib began to be something to look for. Madlib had already made an impact with his Oxnard trio Lootpack. Being affiliated with the Likwit crew helped, but it was Madlibs stoned, bobbing rhymes and lush sample-driven beats that made true listeners become faithful fans. And now its a true Madlib Invazion thats the name of his publishing and production company. In the retro interiors of the former Stones Throw house in Playa del Rey, Madlib and Peanut Butter Wolf sat and listened to hours of recordings of Yesterdays New Quintet, yet another Madlib project, to pick songs for an upcoming LP. This process has probably ended by now; Stones Throw has relocated to Mount Washington, with the same decorating and with Madlib still nonstop recording. The one thing they did figure out was what should comprise an YNQ EP.
Many call this EP Sunrays, although the record is actually nameless, with four listed tracks: Elles Theme, Rerev, Herbal Scent and Sunrays. (Though if you were to go to stonesthrow.com, it would appear as the Elles Theme EP.) Its just that Sunrays is the song that has the most going for it. Strings, vintage keys and an incredible broken-beat all stream while James Brown chants about taking some and leaving some. The charm of this project may not be felt by ears hung up on technique. Its a project about hip-hop retracing and flipping styles from its roots, not about virtuosity. This record is funky, jazzy and all that. With Madlibs ventures into playing vibes, bass, guitar, Rhodes and drums, the YNQ records are going to express the feelings of hip-hop in new ways. Yes, there are hip-hop bands, but not many producer/MC/DJs who are a one-man band. (Carlos Niño)