Music Reviews - Sloan, Other Dimensions in Music, Smith and Mighty, Ultra Bide
Listen to ODM: Real Audio Format For the Glass Tear
Download the RealPlayer FREE! OTHER DIMENSIONS IN MUSICNow! (Aum Fidelity)
When the first track is a 33-minute improvisation, you know you're dealing with absolute fearlessness. Then you get to the booklet notes and read bassist William Parker speculating, "What if you could play ballads . . . that would never end? . . . Is it possible to stay in one groove - one color - and burn? No dead spaces, no lulls. Now that's a challenge."
Sure is. And what if, you're wondering, we could grow hydroponic vegetable gardens in our ears and live off the proceeds? You begin to suspect Parker and his three Other Dimensions in Music cohorts need a little vacation in Happytown. So it's remarkable that they succeed as well as they do. Not that Now! is a triumph, but it provides enough moments of rarefied convergence to make you wonder what else sheer will can accomplish.
If these four were just idealistic kids, it would be easy to blow them off. ODM's association goes back a decade and a half, though, and Parker especially, with his powerful In Order To Survive recordings, has shown he can rip human emotions out of his ensemble and hurl them bleeding onto the table. Here the goal is more purely musical, with trumpeter/ flugelhornist Roy Campbell Jr., windman Daniel Carter and drummer Rashid Bakr closing their eyes and imagining new worlds together, a process that requires enormous concentration and mutual respect.
Still, individual moments make a stronger impression than the whole. In the epic "For the Glass Tear/After Evening's Orange," the breathy opening trumpet-sax interplay is an apt welcome, and Parker molds a solid thing in the air with his plucked solo before squealing his bow into a conversation with whispering drums and a buzzy, ghaita-like trumpet. The highlight of "Blue Expanded" is a flash of the two horns' incidental harmony over a quick bass-drums pulse. And the clusters of high timbres that form around Parker's bowing on "Dawn" are unrepeatable. The spaces between tend to stay in the "one color" Parker was talking about - a probing energy that reveals little beyond the commitment of four skilled players to a shared notion. That's not something you'll want to hear every day, but it ain't hay. (Greg Burk)
SLOANNavy Blues (Murderecords/Never Records Group)
"We're still the same after all these years" goes the chorus to "Iggy & Angus," one of the standout tracks on Sloan's new Navy Blues. The song is an obvious tip of the hat to the gladdening consistency of Messrs. Pop and Young, but the sentiments could also easily apply to the men of Sloan themselves. Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia (the rock & roll capital of, um, eastern Canada), bassist Chris Murphy, drummer Andrew Scott, and guitarists Patrick Pentland and Jay Ferguson have somehow managed to sweat out six years of label upheavals and frustrating semi-obscurity while continuing to make excellent pop records. Navy Blues, their fourth album, is no exception. While its 13 tracks vary stylistically (all four members write and sing), they still form a coherent whole; the record's warm, uncluttered production (courtesy of the band and Daryl Smith) highlights Sloan's eccentric but impeccable playing, as well as the band's collective gift for inspired tunesmithery.
Not all of it is immediately absorbing, but Navy Blues baits the hook by opening with three of its catchiest numbers. "She Says What She Means," a pun-filled rocker that recalls the angular brittleness of Big Star's Radio City, is followed by "C'Mon C'Mon (We're Gonna Get It Started)," which in turn sounds like the Nazz doing the theme for a Saturday-morning cartoon. Up third are the chugging power chords and harmony-guitar runs of the aforementioned "Iggy & Angus," which deftly straddle the precarious line between Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" and Orleans' "Still the One" before drowning sublimely in a sea of overactive phase shifters.
If the above sounds good to you, chances are you'll stick around for such modest gems as the piano-driven "Chester the Molester," the wistful "Stand by Me, Yeah" and the sunshine pop of "I Wanna Thank You." And frankly, you should; whether you get off on tasty drum fills and oddly placed minor sevenths, or you just appreciate perfect pop songs, Navy Blues totally delivers the goods. (Dan Epstein) Listen to Ultra Bide: Real Audio Format Super Milk Capitalism Sleeping on Bowery Street
ULTRA BIDÉSuper Milk (Alternative Tentacles)
While Japan has left its mark on the pop map in a variety of subgenres - from turntablists DJ Honda and DJ Krush ravin' it up, to Pizzicato 5 and Cornelius flirting with retro, to noisicians Masonna and Zeni Geva making our eardrums bleed, to cutesy trip-hoppers Cibo Matto charming our socks off - what of the mighty island's contribution to "rawk"?
On the surface, Ultra Bide seem like the world's most incompetent garage band. Vocalist-bassist Hide, drummer Tada and guitarist Satoru hammer out their scruffy punk rants with the grace of kamikaze avatars shitting all over the American musical patrimony. Prettifying the a-melodic tendencies of God Is God, Puke Is Puke from 1995, Super Milk is awash in bobbling bass, squalling guitars and bedrock drums finessed with cymbal crashes and cowbell syncopation. My friend, there's nothing callow or workmanlike in the deliberately clunky aggro-rock of this power trio, domo arigato!
Depending on their mood, Ultra Bide run the gamut from whimsical gags like "Super Milk," in which Hide becomes a caped hero after a few swigs of that magic elixir, to buzzkill lyrics such as "Very easy end, two seconds then heaven" in "Where We Go Now?" Did these Pac-Rim expatriates come to New York looking for bigger and better things, only to find a twist on the rigid conformism they left behind in Tokyo? The songs "Capitalism" and "Lomein Blues," lamenting unrequited American dreams, or the cursed Jerry Springers and Paula Joneses cluttering our brains on "In the Middle" would lead you to think so. But then they find their bliss in "Sleeping on Bowery Street," in singing the praises of kickin' it on the Lower East Side homeless-boho-style, while "Molt," a paean to anti-linear progress, urges us to cast away control: "Just let it go . . . You'll find something, something super cool, it's gonna be amazing."
Maybe in this country we're so anesthetized by workplace tedium, creature comforts and advertising that it takes three dudes from Japan to see how we are. For their part, Ultra Bide learned the hard way that sometimes a change of scenery is just that. But aren't the results beautiful? (Andrew Lentz)
SMITH & MIGHTYDJ-Kicks (K7)
Trip-hop and drum 'n' bass are more than casual acquaintances, but the music press demands that each season bring a new trend, that what's hot right now be posited in opposition to last year's rage. That works fine if you're peddling designer frocks, but it batters the fine points of music lineage, evolution and influence. The problem starts with the naming of music (trip-hop, drum 'n' bass, big-beat, etc.), pulling it out of context and shaping it into a marketable "phenomenon." It's almost always the media that obsess on labels, which would be fine if this led to an examination of the racism, sexism and classism in the media, and from the A&R guys who determine what gets played. Instead, it feeds into a hierarchical ranking system, with new music that most easily triggers memories of the old shit getting the hype. The artists pay none of that any mind - sometimes to their detriment.
Smith & Mighty, innovators of the "Bristol sound," have failed to get their due not only because of protracted legal battles (following an ill-fated attempt to tango with the majors) but because they simply make good, category-defying music. Listen casually and you're wrapped in the riddims of reggae and dub; you hear an organic, left-of-center take on hip-hop. Long before it was hip to own up to being under the sway of Burt Bacharach, they released versions of "Walk On By" and "Anyone Who Had a Heart" that were cool, classy and from some planet where R&B was still soul food. DJ-Kicks is a comprehensive survey of their work in Bristol, a must-have for anyone interested in trip-hop, drum 'n' bass, the origins of Bristol's sound, or just brilliant music. A nonstop mix of 24 tracks, including the long out-of-print Bacharach covers, the disc opens with the raw emissions of an old-school, underground U.K. sound system in "Amid the Ether," touches down on the scathing "Mr. A&R Man," and closes with a handful of drum 'n' bass tracks such as "Rainbows" and "Bass Speakers," squeezing urban bliss from the stuttering beats.
Perhaps the best thing about Smith & Mighty is how they show that it's heart that leads real talent, and that heart makes genre distinctions nothing more than a handy shopper's guide. (Ernest Hardy)
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