Poison the Hood 

Wednesday, Oct 3 2001

SYSTEM OF A DOWN Toxicity (American)

For a band that‘s only been around since ’95, System of a Down is quite an advanced machine, and Toxicity is a welcome mat into the modern metaldom. Hold this album close to your bosom, snuggle with it under a warm blankey and set a place for it at the dinner table, ‘cause something this good needs special attention.

Cast in layers upon layers of aural intricacy, Toxicity charters new frontiers, yet it’s still grinding rock at its most deafening. Bassist Shavo Odadjian and guitarist Daron Malakian have a knack for the abrupt, dislocating their schizoid riffs with memorable melodies and mellow tempos (“Chop Suey!”); “Science” beautifully lilts mid-thrash amid singermulti-instrumentalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan‘s blowing on Coke bottles. “Bounce” is a full-on health hazard, with drill sergeant Serj Tankian repeatedly ordering “Pogo, pogo, pogo, pogo!” -- it just don’t make for safe head-bangin‘, man. Tankian is the rare bird of a metal singer with a wide vocal range and the wackiest of styles; his pit-bull attacks and maniacal fits of anger sound like the male equivalent of giving birth. But in those hellish pipes lurks a balladeer, someone who raises his hands to the heavens as if to pray (which he does onstage) and humbly ask for your attention. Why, he’s practically wailing on parts of “Shimmy,” a sort of metal version of an Armenian church hymn.

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Their politics? Tankian expectedly gives a mouthful on the public school system, religion, anti-technology and the drug war (“Minor drug offenders fill your prisonsYou don‘t even flinchAll our taxes paying for your warsAgainst the new non-rich”) on “Prison Song.” But as socially conscious musicians go, System are neither the first nor the greatest, nor should they be -- although “Pull the tapeworm out of your ass” from “Needles” is funny. The musicianship is more than capable of saying everything Toxicity wants to and is: dirty, polluted and lethal.

DAVID S. WARE QUARTETCorridors & Parallels (Aum Fidelity)

Oh yeah. Right here in this spooky, insinuating, brain-blessed album lies the secret of how free jazz stays exciting after 40-some years. The method: Now and then, it can turn itself on its head, shake out its pockets and find new wealth.

Phil Freeman concludes his book New York Is Now! (reviewed here last week) with a description of the sessions that produced tenor saxist David S. Ware’s Corridors & Parallels, and it‘s a good way to end a narrative about improvisers -- spotlighting the risks that let the music grow. Freeman was a trifle apprehensive when he saw keyboardist Matthew Shipp setting up synthesizers instead of dusting off his usual acoustic piano, when he learned that Ware had prepared no material, and when he noticed that the ensemble sound wasn’t coming together at first. But he knew that the long-running team of Ware, Shipp, bassist William Parker and (more recently) drummer Guillermo E. Brown was virtually infallible. So he wasn‘t surprised when great music emerged.

Ware successfully tested a new direction away from his shred-blasting signature sound with his last release, the melody-oriented Surrendered (Columbia). But aside from one beautiful song based on chord changes, “Mother May You Rest in Bliss” -- his mother died this year -- Corridors is something else again. The most obvious novelty is Shipp’s synth playing, which incorporates mostly single-note runs and drones, not chords, and exploits sound programming that can make him sound like a windstorm, a computer in an old sci-fi movie, or an African thumb piano. Brown picks up the African theme, laying down strong festival grooves; just as often, he concentrates on subtle accents. Parker, whether bowing, accenting or grooving, always does what‘s appropriate in a big, big way. And Ware shows a keen ear for proportion, backgrounding his Albert Ayler--Archie Shepp improvisations or foregrounding his dramatic shrieks with an overall sound in mind, not his own ego. When he likes the way the others sound without him, he just disappears.

Even if Ware didn’t arrive with blueprints under arm, his hand in arranging is unmistakable. Individual roles of droner, timekeeper and commentator shift from track to track with amazingly consistent results, even when the combination seems illogical, as on “Spaces Embraces,” where Ware blares soul sax against space-echoing keyboards, while Parker thumps arrhythmic bass notes as the inspiration strikes him.

New moods don‘t hit the market that often. When they do, you gotta invest in the laboratory. (Greg Burk)

SUVDesert Rose (Full Cycle)

Suv is one of the four producers in the compelling U.K. drum ’n‘ bass collective Reprazent. The association is an unavoidable point of departure, certainly necessary during this Reprazent downtime (the group’s second album, In the Mood, was released nearly a year ago) that‘s all about making cases for the members’ solo identities. After the group‘s debut, New Forms, Reprazent mastermind Roni Size and teammate Die formed Breakbeat Era and pinpointed the most shockingly fresh moment in d’n‘b with Ultra-Obscene, an album that delivered its revved-up rock licks and sex-punk vocals (by Lennie Laws) as the future mosh for people blessed with funk. Shortly after, Krust released his debut full-length, Coded Language -- so coded, in fact, that hardly anything came through in its desolate lunar expanse.

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