Photo by Pat PopeGORKY'S ZYGOTIC MYNCI Spanish Dance Troupe (Beggar's Banquet)
"We don't live together in a big mushroom or anything," insisted Gorky's Zygotic Mynci front man Euros Childs when I interviewed him about 1997's Barafundle, his band's last U.S. release. I'm still not sure I believe him; after all, "tiny," "lovely" and "Welsh" are three words that invariably come to mind whenever the subject of Gorky's pops up, and rare is the reviewer who hasn't used the phrase "elfin magic" at least once to describe the quartet's beguiling ways. There's nothing grandiose, epic or remotely wide-screen about Gorky's Zygotic Mynci; their lyrics, when decipherable, revolve around small matters of personal concern, and their music radiates all the gentle tranquillity of a rural family whiling away the evening on ancient homemade instruments. Compared to the arena-ready anthems offered up by fellow Welshmen the Stereophonics and Manic Street Preachers, Gorky's records might as well be made in a secluded glade by industrious elves.
Alas, there appears to have been a bit of trouble in Tiny Town. Mercury, Gorky's previous label, grew tired of waiting for the band's indie buzz to blossom into Top 10 hits and pulled the plug before Gorky 5, the follow-up to Barafundle, could even come out in the States. Bloodied but unbowed, the resilient band pooled its resources and recorded Spanish Dance Troupe, an album that, for all its unbridled loveliness, sounds like it served as an extremely therapeutic experience for its creators. "Desolation Blues," which slyly sandwiches the record's most accessible melody between Beefheartian guitar-and-horn freak-outs, tells of "writing songs held so dear, that no one wants to hear," while the mariachi-inflected title track laments "playing a tree trunk in a forest of fools," and dreams of running away to a place where "wine, dance and music is the name of the game." In other words, somewhere other than an executive boardroom.
Happily, the various industry-related hassles haven't affected the band's music, which remains as defiantly idiosyncratic as ever. "Faraway Eyes" could be a forgotten early-'70s country classic done by Teenage Fanclub, and "Poodle Rockin'" (which actually rocks rather nicely) sounds like the Syd Barrettera Pink Floyd jumping in a time machine to cover Bowie's "Diamond Dogs." But mostly, Spanish Dance Troupe just sounds like Gorky's Zygotic Mynci -- 15 tracks of sweetly hummable weirdness, clocking in at just a hair over 37 minutes. Share it with the elf or wood nymph of your choice.
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
ONEIDA Enemy Hogs (Turnbuckle Records)
If the "sophomore jinx" haunted bands of the '60s and '70s, the jinx du jour appears to be premature releases (or just plain too damn many of them). The debut from Brooklyn's experimental noise-rockers Oneida was a spotty, self-indulgent effort that would have served the band better as a work tape. Still, among the formless garage jams, there were definite signs of intelligent life. Careening from freeform noise to nearnew wave and sludgy pop, Enemy Hogs goes well beyond simply solving those problems and, in the process, pays homage to the cream of '80s punk/new wave.
An improvisation over a repetitive one-chord riff, "Whitey Fortress" introduces a screeching, squawking wah-wah guitar, feedback and a fuzzy mishmash of delay. It's a hypnotic, neo-psychedelic instrumental that owes as much to Blue Cheer as it does early Pink Floyd, and the kind of music-as-noise that (at the proper moment) can be almost soothing. "Primanti Bros." and "Gettin' It On" are frenetic pop tunes that recall the glory days of the Akron-Cleveland new-wave scene, while "Little Red Dolls" hints at the intensity of Boston's Mission of Burma. "Ginger (Bein' Free)" and "Turn It Up (Loud)," which begins with an a cappella minichoir singing the chorus over a monstrous gloom-'n'-doom riff, are a pair of the most intriguing cuts, with the band putting its influences in a blender and effectively coming up with something totally different. Best saved for last, the live, eight-plus-minute "Wicked Servant" offers a generous dose of the kind of brain-numbing cacophony the band can dole out in its live shows.
There's little here that hasn't been done before. On the other hand, what hasn't? And most bands would hock their G-strings for half of Oneida's confidence and conviction. (Michael Lipton)
GAY DAD Leisure Noise (London/Sire)
With a name like Gay Dad, you know it just has to be an English quintet that blends glamourama pyjamarama ramalama long ding-dong rock from back in those halcyon daze when Bowie was Ziggy Stardust, Roxy Music still had Eno in the band, and nobody needed TV 'cause they had T. Rex with the sort of pure Britpop for now people that starts with the Kinks and proceeds to Blur (back when they were good). And yes, the overall sound is as arch, as layered, as carefully constructed as you might expect from not only that last tortured sentence, but also a band whose members include someone named Nigel (Hoyle, the bassist) and whose front man/guitarist is semifamous U.K. rock journo Cliff Jones, all bleached-blond hairdo, dark sunglasses and breathy, whisper-to-a-scream vocals.
Leisure Noise, the band's debut album, features 10 songs in 47 minutes, highlighted by their recent U.K. Top 10 hit "To Earth With Love," which advises listeners to "get your platforms on" and that "Aerosmith rules!" Speaking of offbeat lyrics, "Oh Jim" and "Different Kind of Blue" appear to address the sort of sexual-identity issues you might expect from a band whose members include a female guitarist named Charley Stone. (Drummer Nicholas "Baz" Crowe and keyboardist/guitarist James Risebero complete the lineup.)
Polished production aside -- and listening to this shiny beast is not unlike watching someone building ships in bottles -- the rest of the best 'n' brightest moments come on the self-explanatory "Joy!"; the full-tilt, retro-rockin', music-is-my-life "Dateline"; the character-driven "My Son Mystic"; and the memory-still-haunts-my-reverie "Pathfinder." Elsewhere, "Dimstar" lives up to its title; the moody, midtempo "Black Ghost" meanders around to no great effect; and "Jesus Christ" (an original hymn, played straight-faced à la the Velvet Underground's "Jesus," recorded back when Lou Reed was still good) will have you saying just that.
In the U.K., where the words "limp biscuit" thankfully still refer to an underdone cookie, records like this have as good a shot at the toppermost of the poppermost as any surgically enhanced ex-Mouseketeer's. Here in America, people will either find it insufferably bloodless and twee, or they'll want to fall asleep each night with a copy tucked underneath one of their Union Jack pillows, the reverse side of which has been lovingly embroidered with the legend, "Gay Dad, one of England's stately homos." (Don Waller)
CHILLDRIN OF DA GHETTO (Priority)
This ear candy from brand-nubian trio Chilldrin of Da Ghetto is a full-on plunge into superfast word-shred -- syllable-torquing, alternately compressed 'n' stretched verbiage that's irritating at first but ends up as addictive as the crew's head-nodding rhythms.
CDG's motormouth flow contrasts severely with their languid beats (thumpy snail's-pace kick-drum behind crackly snare, smoldering like a spit-soaked blunt), samples and sonorities (jangly guitar, syrupy R&B piano, spooky keyboards), and at times it's pretty, at others it's Cliché City. The most cynical track, "Intention To Kill," is speech-tic catchy with its mock stutter. Lyrically, the tune seems to glorify mindless thuggery, until Problem Child, Bad Seed and Goldiiz belt out "Gotta get away!" over gauzy organ and funereal harpsichord. In "Luv at First Sight," Problem Child matter-of-factly recounts a virgin's defrocking, whereupon a pang of conscience makes him ask, "Should I pass this up?" before his homies cut in with a resounding "Hell, naw!" On the earnest tip, "Wilde Side"'s refrain, "Nigga, you got your health/you got your strength," warns knucklehead gangbangers -- whether in lockdown or sipping Dom with Versace-clad hoochies -- to appreciate just being alive. "Drug Lord" takes life on Chicago's South Side and boils it down to its heartbreaking essence with the line "Gotta go by the crib and explain to moms why I'm gettin' high/It's self-explanatory: I'm black and I'm unda pressure." With that reality check taken care of, we welcome the sonically awful but spiritually uplifting "Party," which kicks off with the sound of bubbly spilling into champagne flutes to high-volume shout-outs of "par-tay!" Considering their dark tales and sadder-but-wiser reflections, this bit of escapist mirth is a well-deserved respite -- these kids will take it where they can get it. (Andrew Lentz)
JAZZ VESPERS At First Lutheran Church, Glendale, October 17
Glendale's First Lutheran Church is home to one of those open, modern edifices and ministries that began to arise during the ecumenical movement of the '60s. The church's cross is big and simple, with no twisted, tortured, lanced and bleeding image of the crucified Christ. More than just a fashion, the modern visual presentation symbolizes a de-emphasis on guilt (look what we did to Him) and blame (look what they did to Him), and a shift toward a more abstract spirituality that can respect the genuine strivings of religions throughout the world. Pianist Shelly Berg's version of jazz vespers (an idea that originated in Greenwich Village) fits right into the concept, bringing an improvisational, individualized art form into a context where the union of various elements is encouraged.
In addition to Berg's small ensemble (saxist Benny Maupin, drummer Aaron Serfaty, bassist Tom Warrington, vocalist Tierney Sutton), this special World Festival of Sacred Music program featured a choir drawn from three local units, and scriptural readings by representatives of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Christianity. The music offered gentle, tuneful interpretations of compositions by Berg, Horace Silver and the Beatles, among others, with only Maupin's hallucinatory solo on the Duke Ellington standard Caravan pushing the edge (and getting an exceptional audience response). Since the event's rubric was peace and harmony, it's probably fitting that Berg didn't venture into the kind of proud thunder that the host religion's founder pealed forth in his most famous musical effort, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." Still, a little more passion wouldn't have hurt.
The readings -- interpreted in Berg's music by the combo and choir -- were a nice touch. Especially notable for its non-Christian slant was the Buddhist notion that "All phenomena are made of the mind." And I will take to heart the Koran's admonition "Let no man mock another man, who may perhaps be better than himself." But I admit I was confused by another passage from the same selection (49:10): "Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Surely you would loathe it." I encourage any reader who can offer an explication to contact me care of this paper. (Greg Burk)
Burat Wangi, Emekeke, Songs From the Soul Singers At the L.A. Craft and Folk Art Museum, October 15
A death among the Native American Cahuilla Bird Singers kept them off the stage tonight -- tradition requires that they not sing for nine months. Another recent passing, that of museum founder Edith Wyle, added to a mood of reflection. And visa-expiration problems kept the Afro-Cuban jazz band Sinthesis away. But those of the few hundred waiting outside who were eventually able to wedge into the museum's modest courtyard got a more-than-compensatory shot of spirit.
Most members of the Emekeke ensemble spring from a single family in Matanzas, the Cuban village where their drum-and-voice praise songs extend a line of prayer and healing practice that originated in Africa. And in keeping with the museum's folk theme, these performers, dressed all in white, their two-sided lap drums draped in embroidered cloth, are just what you'd expect to find in a rural community: not slick syncretists, but people for whom this expression is a way of life. The drumming usually avoided grooves, with off-accented beats chosen for message rather than propulsion, as a young woman singer's cutting plaint answered a man's rough calls.
CalArts' ever-evolving Burat Wangi gamelan orchestra proved again why it's not just some regional band of amateur enthusiasts. The sight and sound of this costumed troupe, whanging away with hammers and mallets on three tiers of bells, metal plates, gongs and drums as one or two pairs of dancers executed ritual choreography, was stunning. Drawn from a variety of ancient and modern Javanese and Balinese traditions, the complex extended compositions were performed with a subtlety and a precision that rendered questions of "authenticity" irrelevant: This is powerful music whose lapping overtones and harmonics penetrate listeners' bodies and minds. The polite crowd responded with almost unseemly enthusiasm.
Shirley Massey's Songs From the Soul Singers makes a big impression for just three women vocalists (one on piano) and a drummer. Arrayed in outrageous purple-and-gold dresses, the singers stressed their microphones with mighty testifying that ranged from Aretha-style gospel belting to close R&B harmonizing to Disneyesque balladry. This is unashamed populism at work behind the kind of faith that gets folks through their lives every day. No complaints. (Greg Burk)
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