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Record Reviews: Juno soundtrack, Carpenters ring tone 

Also: Disco Not Disco, Trus'me's Working Nights

Wednesday, Jan 16 2008
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Various Artists | Juno (soundtrack) | Fox Music/Rhino Here is a list of things that I would rather do than listen to the Juno soundtrack again: be sentenced to a Groundhog Day–like eternity with Richard Simmons, clad in an American-flag unitard, leading senior citizens in the Soulja Boy dance; receive the torture treatment prescribed by Method Man on 36 Chambers, the one involving getting my asshole sewn shut and being fed until I look like Juno; be forced to read a 943-page David Foster Wallace essay on A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila (though to be fair, I would probably theoretically enjoy a 22-page footnote on the tangled emotional states of bisexual MySpace stripper-songwriter reality stars); play badminton.

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Most startling about the Juno soundtrack is how it manages to include some of my favorite bands (the Kinks, Belle and Sebastian, the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, and Mott the Hoople) and yet still somehow possesses the potential to one day be used by the CIA to torture suspected Al-Qaeda detainees. That's just inspired. Part of it stems from the soundtrack curators' inexplicable decision to pick the most mundane songs from great artists. Honestly, the Velvet Underground recorded dozens of fantastic tunes, and you pick "I'm Sticking With You"? There was a reason it wasn't released for two decades.

With its twee, head-in-oven melancholy, the Juno soundtrack is precious to the point of insufferability, cute to the point of cloying. Much responsibility is due to the half-dozen Moldy Peaches/Kimya Dawson songs scattered throughout. Dawson has the eerie ability to approximate the experience of being a morbidly depressed, hormonal teenage girl. Having been through junior high school and watched more Daria than I would've liked, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that no sane person really wants to be subjected to the aural equivalent of the worst of pimple-popping puberty. Ironically, the actual Juno of the film probably would've hated this record as much as me, considering her character declared 1977 the greatest year ever for music and had Germs, Stooges and Damned posters hanging from her bedroom walls. Like the film, the soundtrack concludes with the song, "Anyone Else But You." A more appropriate tag would've read "anything else but this."

The Carpenters | "Rainy Days and Mondays" (ring tone) | T-MobileWhat is this crap? I paid two bucks for a ring tone that's all chords and no melody? What's "Rainy Days and Mondays" without Karen Carpenter's heartbreaking chorus? Nothing, and that chorus is not here. Plus, it's 30 seconds long, but 19 of them are intro, with a barely audible, cheesy keyboard only halfway mumbling Karen's vocal line. I buy ring tones because I need a signifier, something that says something important about me. You can't even tell this is "Rainy Days and Mondays," for god's sake. Richard, you should be ashamed. Is this how you honor the memory of your sister? Avoid this ring tone like the plague.

Various Artists | Disco Not Disco: Post Punk, Electro & Leftfield Disco Classics 1974-1986 | Strut/Soul Jazz UKSince 2000, Strut's Disco Not Disco compilations have served as primers for those enamored by the funk-punk of the Rapture and slick electro of DJ Hell, exposing the blueprints for this new-old sound by bringing together choice cuts from the likes of the Clash and Yoko Ono. But just as the post-punk/post-disco revival of the early '00s wasn't confined to the label rosters of DFA and International Deejay Gigolos, nor were the experimentations of the late-'70s and early-'80s exclusive to the major artists convening in the U.K. and New York City. With this third compilation, the folks behind Disco Not Disco continue on their international, cross-genre excavation of the music that inspires so many of today's acclaimed artists. Wedged between the New York art-funk of Bill Laswell's group Material (the only band to appear on all three compilations) and the British groove of Shriekback are the prototypes for modern synth-pop and the recent rave resurgence courtesy of German electro-pop outfit Liaisons Dangereuses and Detroit techno duo A Number of Names.

This is by far the most thrilling of the Disco Not Disco releases. Wherein the volumes attracted listeners by mixing the known and unknown, the series' third installment focuses almost entirely on the obscure. Among some of the gold unearthed herein are "Launderette," a piece as perfectly pop as it is avant-garde from British music journalist Vivien Goldman (also featuring John Lydon and On-U Sound's Adrian Sherwood), and "Bang 'Em Right," a strange fusion of Italo-disco and industrial elements from Six Sed Red, featuring B-Movie's Rick Holliday (of "Nowhere Girl" fame) and occasional Soft Cell contributor Cindy Ecstasy. Completing this wholly danceable and intriguing disc are extensive liner notes from Bill Brewster, author of the dance-music-aficionado must-read Last Night a DJ Saved My Life.

Trus'me | Working Nights | Fat CityManchester's David Wolstencroft may make soulful house music, but his method couldn't be further from the majority of electronic artists these days. Instead of working from synthesizers, Wolstencroft builds his tracks like a hip-hop producer, stitching old funk and disco records into wobbly, dusty epics. As a result, Working Nights, Wolstencroft's debut full-length under the Trus'me moniker, doesn't groove like many house albums out there today: It flows.

It doesn't hurt that Wolstencroft has a novelist's touch. While many of the album's highlights were already released in 12-inch installments, Wolstencroft alters them for the CD format to give Working Nights a cohesion it might otherwise have lacked. He drops in samples from Tarantino's Jackie Brown; he gently mixes tracks into one another; and he even includes a 12-minute live cut that, among other things, recapitulates "W.A.R.," the album's highlight, to tie the whole thing together.

Like Jackie Brown, Working Nights is pastiche of the highest order. There's more than a healthy resemblance to Detroit's Moodymann and his cobbled-together masterpieces of low-key funk. But like Tarantino, Wolstencroft is smart enough to never sit still long enough for us to see him winking. He's too busy cueing up the next record, continuing his search for the perfect groove.

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