HINTERLANDER Hinterlander (Snail on a Stick)
Hinterlander’s first release is sweet Hawaiian music: the melodies of baby dolphins suckling their mother’s teats, and bees drinking wild-ginger nectar. This album’s bliss may have arisen from singer and Los Angeles native Heidi Nelms’ switch to island life after being a crucial part of a mid-’90s Echo Park music scene. I used to ask myself what the hell went on over on Maui, until I heard that musicians including Nelms and bandmate David Hamma (Burning Softies, Puritan) were busy recording songs between surf sessions with new producer Jay Paxton, on his label Snail on a Stick. They’re living in huts, breaking new ground to create a true Hawaiian-indie sound.
What is that sound? Beauteous harmonies on tunes like the “Rhiannon”-ish “Bird Song,” and traditional ukulele chords jabbed with Casio beats on “Spanking Good Time” and “Glory of Crockery.” Crisp guitar and bass plucking is taken to a nearly Japanese-tea-party level on “Paper Crane,” about a fantasy monster who likes to lick icing off oatmeal cake. There’s also a disconcerting tendency to multitrack vocals, taking Marc Bolan’s pioneering to a girlish extreme: Heidi sounds like 10 little geishas singing simultaneously.
Between her L.A. roots and her penchant for horror-movie soundtracks that utilize both minor chords and lyrics about blood and loneliness, Ms. Nelms gives Hinterlander just the edge it needs to separate itself from the hippie bongo drumming and classic/blues rock that has dominated the island scene forever. Hinterlander is the first release in its genre, female-punk gone ecstatic — not in an Ani Di Franco way, thank god. It’s about moving away to a lovelier place and discovering psychedelic new dreams.
RINÔÇÉRÔSE Music Kills Me (V2)
Jean-Philippe Freu and Patou Carrie — the two French psychologists who, along with producer Johnny Palumbo, make up the core of the house outfit Rinôçérôse — like the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls about as much as they like cedillas and circumflexes. Freu and Carrie describe their sound as house music played with guitars. They’re into the Velvet Underground, they’re into François Kevorkian, they love AC/DC, they love 808 State. But it’s Some Girls that they like the most, because it’s where the whiskey-spit swagger of Mick and Keith’s honky-tonk runs up against the flash cocaine hedonism of the disco dance floor.
It makes sense, then, that Music Kills Me, their second album of guitar-driven house, bears song titles referencing Jimi Hendrix, riffs derived from Angus Young, and Peter Frampton–y talk-box vocals. But set all this discussion of classic rock aside for a minute. If house music is (at its root) disco deconstructed into samples and synths, and if Rinôçérôse are playing house music on live instruments, then this isn’t some new microgenre of house. It’s classic disco redux.
Disco’s most radical concept — the idea of the producer (e.g., Giorgio Moroder, Larry Levan) as artist — still thrives in electronic music and hip-hop. But Rinôçérôse represent the traditional component of disco where live bands played weird dance music, a place where Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, Chic and Shuggie Otis made their between-the-lines sounds. They’re really on when they sound like psychedelic soul man Otis, because on record, Rinôçérôse’s music is often indistinguishable from good sample-based house music. It’s on the more open instrumental jam sessions — “Dead Can Dance”’s pseudo-bossa tempos and especially the bluesy twang of “Highway to Heaven” — that they distinguish themselves as live players eagerly retrofitting rock/dance hybrids. (Daniel Chamberlin)
THE DIVINE COMEDY Regeneration (Parlophone/Nettwerk America)
Only in England would Neil Hannon and his delicate, decidedly un-pop Divine Comedy come close to being “pop stars.” Though they’ve charted numerous Top 20 U.K. hits and shared bills with the likes of Robbie Williams, they have yet to crack the U.S. market. (In 1997, TDC toured Europe with a 30-piece orchestra while the American leg was downsized to acoustic shows.)
Hannon’s songwriting and production, after growing to grand proportions, have now come full circle. Devoid of the cartoonish cabaret crooning of 1997’s breakthrough Cassanova, Regeneration is more down-to-earth, with less grandstanding and more adventurousness. The opener, “Timestretched,” is a dreamy exploration of time and space with Hannon singing like a thoughtful songwriter rather than a dandy. “Lost Property” unfolds like an epic, both musically and lyrically. While singing about losing such nonessentials as “gym kits and trainers, asthma inhalers, Silk Cuts and bennies,” Hannon also poses deeper queries like “I just cannot seem to keep hold of anything for more than a short time.” Although the songs are mostly confessionals of some sort, Hannon is more of a sentimentalist than a misanthrope. There’s still plenty of faux grandeur (“Dumb It Down” and the charming “Perfect Lovesong”), but on the soaring “Love What You Do” and “Mastermind,” a grand, Scott Walker–style ballad (with a dash of Love’s Forever Changes), Hannon drops his guard and opens up vocally and lyrically. Meanwhile, his trademark odd observations (“Every nose is a vacuum cleaner in the loved-up London scene”) lurk around every turn.