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Foghat Does Quaaludes, Wille Does Reggae 

Thursday, Sep 1 2005
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Our incredibly intuitive resident futurist muses on what’s crackin’ in pop culture. Beck’s “Girl” video In the second video for Beck’s listless new album, Guero, directors Motion Theory borrow inspiration from Mad magazine illustrator Al Jaffe’s fold-in back covers: An automobile, a homeless man’s sandwich board and entire city blocks in East L.A. collapse upon themselves. Like every ingredient in Beck’s latest, the singer shows top-notch curatorial taste — his record cover featured Marcel Dzama drawings; a remix EP tapped electronic luminaries such as Dizzee Rascal and Boards of Canada. At the eye of the storm, however, Beck seems like he’s sleepwalking — not the right vibe for the end of the world. Video: http://www.motiontheory.com/work/beck_girl Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (self-titled, self-released ) After a 9.0 rating and copious coverage in Pitchfork, this Brooklyn/Philadelphia quintet is indie rock’s Next Big Thing – all sans record deal. They deserve it. Alec Ounsworth’s voice is in the same register as Gordon Gano’s, David Byrne’s and Tom Verlaine’s, but CYHSY are more than plagiarists. Synth lines go dreaming, guitars jingle-jangle until morning, and layered voices mass and dissociate like a holy youth chorus. After the Arcade Fire and Interpol, I worry about how this group extends the trend of indie superstars fetishizing youthful disillusionment: “They are going into bars/and they are getting into cars,” Ounsworth waxes wistfully, “I have seen them with my own eyes/AMERICA PLEASE HELP THEM.” But then he sings, “They are child stars,” and I’m all, like, Yup, these guys deserve to be. Offical website: http://www.clapyourhandssayyeah.com Kanye West, “Diamonds (from Sierra Leone)” (Roc-A-Fella) Kanye is one indecisive motherfucker. Is he a bling-bound superstar or a socially conscious underground rapper? A sweetheart or an egomaniac? Hell, he’s even turned his new single into a double. When the first incarnation of this track was released in May, it was a celebration of the Roc-A-Fella label’s logo and the jewelry West can now afford. Since then it’s morphed into a protest anthem against “blood diamonds.” (Definition: gems mined in battle zones and sold, clandestinely, to finance warfare and terrorism.) A tight remix released in mid-July features mentor Jay-Z, and a new set of lyrics: “I thought my Jesus Piece was so harmless/until I seen a picture of a shorty armless.” Both are fueled by a sample from the theme to James Bond’s Diamonds Are Forever — the rest is temporary. West performs at the free “NFL Opening Kickoff” September 8 outside the L.A. Coliseum. Gates open at 2:30 p.m. (Requires iTunes) Original song: http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/ viewAlbum?selectedItemId=65429872&playListId=6542 9870&originStoreFront=143441 Remix: http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/ viewAlbum?selectedItemId=75054772&playListId=75054770 Amadou & Mariam, Dimanche a Bamako(Nonesuch) A blind husband/wife duo from Mali, Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia have made the world music record of the year, thanks in part to production assist by Manu Chao, the most charismatic politico-pothead since Bob Marley. Per usual, Chao throttles genres — combining complex Latin and North African rhythms, reggae’s repetitive lilt, watery guitars, the crack-pipe sensuality of American R&B and liberal dips into his proprietary sample bank of chattering crowds, police sirens, etc. You’ve heard a lot of this already if you’ve heard Chao’s records, but I enjoyed this duo’s less drug-addled, African twist. Amadou & Mariam play the Knitting Factory Monday, September 12. Amadou & Mariam Offical website: http://www.amadou-mariam.com/

Black Mountain, Black Mountain (Jagjaguwar) Every few years Canada produces another “collective”: It was Montreal’s Godspeed You Black Emperor in 1998 and Broken Social Scene in 2002; now this Vancouver group has won the indie-rock lotto, parlaying a well-received debut into an 18-date swing with Coldplay. Sure, they’ll play to half-empty arenas, but hand it to Chris Martin and company for challenging their fan base. Black Mountain plays chooglin’ rock, mood enhanced by peeling guitars, drum-circle percussion, druggy male/female duets and a languid vibe that turns hours into days. Charitable listeners compare them to Black Sabbath with a college education; detractors say they sound like Foghat on Quaaludes (See: “Druganaut”). I think their tightly structured jams sound like a krautrock take on American stoner metal. Well, maybe “stoner” is the wrong word: Four of the five members are employed as social workers. Official Black Mountain Army website: http://www.blackmountainarmy.com

New York Rock: A Critical History This self-published rant originated on a blog called A Good Life Spoiled (http://theduffer.blogspot.com) and takes a page from the Jim Morrison and R. Meltzer school of rock-as-philosophy. The author claims modern frontpeople (Karen O is mentioned prominently) act as “shaman.” He then proceeds to share profound thoughts about the most obscure corners of the underground rock scene (i.e. Orthrelm, Excepter). “Sarcasm from one end to the other?” asks one commenter, “or the best piece of writing ever in which I’ve disagreed with every word? I’m not sure, but it’s interesting.”

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Richard Swift The Collected Works of Richard Swift, Vol. 1 (Secretly Canadian) Los Angeles’ Richard Swift may come into his own with this September release. Disc one, The Novelist, is reminiscent of producer Jon Brion’s imaginary Tin Pan Alley orch-pop; Walking Without Effort is a throwback to the aerodynamic ’70s rock of George Harrison. As with many pop formalists, the music engages your intellect before your emotions, but it’s intriguing to hear a songwriter emerging from anonymity so fully formed. Swift Official Website: http://www.richardswift.us Rhianna: Would you stay if she promised you heaven? Rihanna, Pon de Replay (Island Def Jam) Barbados-born Rihanna is a cipher, as light-weight divas are supposed to be, but listen closely to her backing tracks and you’ll realize there’s something interesting going on. No, she’s not the first artist to join urban American bounce with the Caribbean’s stuttering, sunkissed dub — see M.I.A., Shaggy, Sean Paul, Gwen Stefani, even 50 Cent — but she may be the first entrant whose main alliances are uncertain. Is this pop-dancehall, or dancehall-pop, or none of the above? Rihanna performs at the free “NFL Opening Kickoff” (see Kanye West blurb for details). Record Label Website: http://www6.defjam.com/site/artist.php?artist_id=586 Podcasting: iTunes vs. KCRW Look, dude, podcasting ain’t the revolution, it’s a radio show delivered as a very long MP3. Sadly, the vast majority have done without music because of litigation fears. Instead, most feature random people’s spoken-word rambles. So, while it’s cool that Apple has integrated podcasting into iTunes, what’s cooler is that KCRW has started releasing Morning Becomes Eclectic sessions in this format. Let’s hope this represents a great leap forward for the medium, the first step in making music-by-podcast legit. And let’s hope the revolution does not belong entirely to Nic Harcourt’s indie-yuppie amalgam. How to Podcast: http://podcast411.com/ Willie Nelson revival! The Dukes of Hazzard has put the spotlight on Jessica Simpson’s stark, dance-pop cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking,” and her star turn as Daisy Duke put the spotlight on the ass those boots were meant to move. But it’s also brought us Nelson’s redneck comedy as Uncle Jesse. (“What do you get when you cross a donkey with an onion? A piece of ass that’ll bring a tear to your eye.”) It’s incorrect to say his career is resurgent, but his continued efforts to twist his image should serve as inspiration for all musicians enslaved by the past. Last year Nelson teamed with Toby Keith on the cheesy mainstream hit “Beer for My Horses”; his latest, Countryman (Lost Highway), is a Don Was–produced reggae (!?!) album. Tracked in the mid-’90s and completed last year, it sounds as confident and strange as Bob Dylan’s early ’80s Christian albums or Willie’s 2001 children’s album The Rainbow Connection. Unfortunately, it’s as likely to be ignored. Official website: http://www.willienelson.com/

Reach the writer at alecbemis@brassland.org

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