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LAPTOP
Opening Credits (Trust Me)

Those who might recall the name Jesse Hartman from his former band Sammy (which peaked with 1996’s Lou Reed/Television–influenced Tales of Great Neck Glory on Geffen) will hardly recognize the N.Y. musician-filmmaker’s new persona. The solo debut from the now-one-man band is a smart, chameleonlike release that’s informed by a generation (or two) of influences, some of which are easily recognizable, while others are run through Hartman’s 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 Sammy’s rather predictable indie sound, Hartman’s 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 can’t help but love the grand anthem “I’m So Happy You Failed,” which pokes fun at the fate of a fellow musician (“Word on the street says your second record’s dead . . . I’m sinking to your level . . . I know I’m going to hell . . . but I’m so happy you failed”). Twisting the knife a bit more, Hartman includes a chorus of taunts from children and, on the “I Am the Walrus”–ish 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 Smith’s aching croon.

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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” didn’t translate to “boring” — or sacrificing a groove. (Michael Lipton)

 

THE TOADIES
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 there’s been a change of guitarists, and endless road miles. On first listen, however, Hell Below/Stars Above sounds like a band that
hasn’t been away at all, which is a two-edged sword. From its opening war cry, it’s 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 band’s debut — it’s 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
ME FIRST AND THE GIMME GIMMES
Blow in the Wind (Fat Wreck Chords)

Ever since the Ramones revved up Chris Montez’s 1962 hit “Let’s Dance” on their debut disc, punk bands have been parodying/paying homage to the golden greats of rock’s 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, it’s 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+TGG’s version of the Beatles “All My Loving.”

Because these are great melodies and completely inscribed in the brain pan of anyone who’s 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 record’s 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.

It’s 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)

YESTERDAY’S NEW QUINTET
Elle’s Theme EP (Stones Throw)

Music people the world over have cheered the buzz on Otis Jackson Jr. He’s 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 Madlib’s alter ego. Which made everybody wonder who Lord Quas really was. Maybe Madlib really isn’t Quasimoto, many pondered. And how did they get the rhymes to sync from the sped-up analog tapes used to give Quasimoto’s voice its high pitch? Doesn’t matter.

With the heat of Quasimoto’s 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 Madlib’s stoned, bobbing rhymes and lush sample-driven beats that made true listeners become faithful fans. And now it’s a true Madlib Invazion — that’s 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 Yesterday’s 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: “Elle’s Theme,” “Rerev,” “Herbal Scent” and “Sunrays.” (Though if you were to go to stonesthrow.com, it would appear as the Elle’s Theme EP.) It’s 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. It’s a project about hip-hop retracing and flipping styles from its roots, not about virtuosity. This record is funky, jazzy and all that. With Madlib’s 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)

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