Photo by Simon KingIts going to be headbangin, said Squarepusher, a.k.a. Londons Tom Jenkinson, about his new album shortly before stunning the fried desert masses with his live performance at Coachella a few months ago. Headbangin, however, doesnt truly befit the riotous originality of the jazz-obsessed Pushermans fourth album and his best effort yet.
Though Jenkinsons previous discs played out more like exercises in spliced break beats and noodly, jazz-fueled drum n bass, Go Plastic reaches for something far more aggressive. Squarepushers dub n bass experiments are about absorption, letting the sound soak into every spongy layer of your brain and trying to make sense of it all. Take the records first single, My Red Hot Car, a stuttering, skittery two-step jam that would climb the U.K. charts if Jenkinson werent intent on tweaking the rhythms and layering on effects that distinguish his version of electronic music as experimental. As such, though, its damn catchy. Boneville Occidents delirious beats flail like a silver ball bouncing off bumpers and triggering flashing buzzers. The hyperkinetic Go! Spastic is a dub-drenched slice of jittery drum n bass that employs time-stretching to masterful effect.
Truly on some other shit, Jenkinson takes cues from ambient gurus The Orb with The Exploding Psychology, embarking on an expansive time-space continuum of classic electronic music and hip-hop sampling before the breakdown. The less startling Wish You Could Talk is gripping, atmospheric drum n bass, coaxing the listener into passivity before Greenways Trajectory wakes him from his slumber to deliver some uneasy listening. That track will likely be hated for its dissonance, but its just another adventure in Jenkinsons sound travels, and a sweet reward for patient listeners. Headbanging isnt just for headbangers anymore. (Stacy Osbaum)
VARIOUS ARTISTS Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From the British Empire and Beyond, 19641969 (Rhino)
Three years ago, Rhino Records four-CD expansion of Lenny Kayes renowned Nuggets collection gained massive acclaim and surprisingly strong sales, proving theres still a widespread hunger for garage-spawned American lunacy of 1960s vintage. But while once-obscure U.S. acts like Love, the Sonics and the Chocolate Watchband have now been justifiably elevated to divine status, many music fans remain quite ignorant of their overseas contemporaries the bands that emerged in the wake of the Beatles, the Stones, the Yardbirds and The Who, but which were too freaky, confrontational or just plain clueless to make their mark on this side of the pond. Some, like The Move and the Small Faces, were huge in the U.K. but enjoyed only token U.S. success. Others, like the Creation, the Smoke and the Pretty Things, somehow fared better in Europe than with their British countrymen. And then there were The Mops, a.k.a. Japans first psychedelic band; Los Shakers, the Beatles of Uruguay, who all looked like Ringo; the Golden Earrings, the Outsiders and Q65 from Holland; Thors Hammer from Iceland; Os Mutantes from Brazil; and thousands more. America might have had more garages per capita than any other country on Earth, but the snot-encrusted spirit of garage rock obviously knew no national boundaries.
Nuggets II has the rather unenviable task of trying to make sense of this international explosion of garage and psychedelia. That it actually succeeds (or at least comes close) is a friggin miracle, considering that the licensing issues alone must have been an absolute nightmare. Like its predecessor, this four-CD box makes no attempt to organize its contents by style, origin or date of release; what you get instead is a kaleidoscopic vomit of psych-pop, mod R&B, garage fuzz, freakbeat and other forms of paisley-clad weirdness. Those already familiar with this stuff will quibble about whats missing like, say, Jason Crests Black Mass, or the Lea Riders Groups Dom Kellar Os Mods but the sheer quantity of assembled riches far outweighs any oversights. (And really, how can you argue with a set that gives you gorgeously remastered versions of Tintern Abbeys Vacuum Cleaner, Wimple Winchs Save My Soul and the Open Minds Magic Potion?) A word of advice for newcomers: If youre suddenly seized by the desire to wear frilly shirts while smoking opium and searching eBay for a mint copy of Kaleidoscopes Tangerine Dream LP, dont say you havent been warned. (Dan Epstein)
IKE TURNER Here and Now (Ikon)
Ike Turner releases first new album in 20 years, a recent CNN Headline News bottom-of-the-TV-screen nugget read, wants us to forget he took drugs, beat Tina. The arrogance of such a dismissal is mind-bending. Turner filled an essential role in American music: He played on Howlin Wolfs first recording session, among numerous key Memphis blues dates; hes the man responsible for Rocket 88, generally acknowledged as the worlds first rock & roll song; and he went on to conquer pop music in its entirety with Tina & the Ikettes. Maybe if Ike, as Al Green did after the gunshot death of his girlfriend, had spent a few years doing penance as a rural preacher, media-whitey might be able to take off the blinders and assess him as an artist, rather than relentlessly portraying him as their favoritest batterer. Turners unsavory personal history cant be condoned, but, when considering the sprawl of his extraordinary career, thats another story. Disagree? Then add Sinatra (he bloodied Ava Gardner in 52), Jackie Wilson and Jerry Lee Lewis to your list of violent dastards worthy of eternal vilification. Oh, dont let us forget Jackson Browne.
Following the death of John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner is one of the very few veterans left with any legitimate bite and drive, so Here and Now, a throbbing return to the pure R&B style Turner first made his name with in the early 1950s, comes along at just the right moment. Opener Tore Up, a boozy grinder he originally cut for Federal in 56 with vocalist Billy Gayle, sets the tone with a little down-home anguish and an atmosphere of world-weary funk that pervades the entire album. Ike throws in some deliciously flipped-out, whammy-hammering guitar solos, calls for breaks with Rumble! and Get nasty now, and sings with admirably grizzled authority. Featuring guest turns from Little Milton (whom Ike recorded with at Sun circa 53), the album also grooves through a fistful of instrumental gassers.
While Here and Nows not exactly perfect (why dredge up Rocket 88 again?), its Turners piano pounding that elevates the set. After years of flashy guitar work (an instrument he took up as a concession to public taste, but plays with unrivaled mastery), his long-overdue return to the keys signals a sort of rebirth for Turner a romping version of Albert Ammons Swanee River Boogie showcases a natural power far too long buried. Even with a few misses, this record is as potent a mess of fresh-cut blues as were likely to get in this lifetime. (Jonny Whiteside)
ORI KAPLAN PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE Gongol (Knitting Factory)
Listen toOri Kaplan Percussion Ensemble
: Real Audio Format Slow Boat Gongol
Ori Kaplan has invented a whole new way to play music. This saxist from Israel has great helpers, but he picked em. The Filipino-descended Susie Ibarra served an impressive stint as New York bassmentalist William Parkers percussive colorist. Geoff Mann is one of those ridiculously versatile musicians (here on drums, mandolin and djun-djun) who can make intuitive leaps from C&W to avant jazz. And pianist Andrew Bemkey, out of Trane bassist Reggie Workmans band among other places, wields classical chops without restricting his universal mind.
Kaplans compositions often hang on the simple lines of his dark, sandy alto; whats different is the way he supports the melodies not with chord structures and tap-yer-foot rhythms, but with confluences of texture. Slow Boat mixes Ellingtonian African-Asianisms with indefinable metallic fleshiness and Bemkeys dramatic sprays. Prayer for Ramón starts out plucky and folky (mandolin and sax), then layers all kinds of cymbals and piano rumbles till its really surfing through your head but ultimately its the emotional tunefulness of the thing (think Gato Barbieri) that keeps you listening. Shadow is the ultimate in spatial design. And Crisis Dream sounds like Kaplan told everybody to listen to his line and then to each other, in series, so its both logical and individual; like some other pieces, it also stops suddenly, like a snapshot, putting all previous moments in perspective.
If this sounds too conceptual and weird, believe me when I tell you Gongol is very listenable and often even hummable. Its a sin to tell a lie. (Greg Burk)
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MARK EITZEL The Invisible Man (Matador)
As front man for American Music Club and more recently under his own name, Mark Eitzel has been rocks reigning singer-songwriter maudit, a six-string-toting Baudelaire with the Mission District as his Montmartre. Ending a three-year recording gap, The Invisible Man follows the career arc of other ex-acoustic artists (David Gray, Everything but the Girl), supplementing the trad production values of his previous solo work with digital editing and prominent drum loops.
This move comes too late to be fashion-forward, but while one senses that, no, he wouldnt mind a hit (who would?), its not entirely cynical either. Eitzel uses the new technologies as a cloaking device, not as a clown mask, and hes gone to the trouble of learning Pro Tools himself rather than relying entirely on outside producers. (One song credits him with staring at a screen.) The elegiac To the Sea and one or two others are based around fairly stock samples, but most songs are more inventive: The Boy With the Hammer wraps its gay-culture lyrical references (Midnight Cowboy, no less) in competing, out-of-sync percussion tracks one evokes jungle, the other jackboots. The effects-laden guitars and overall air of disorientation on Christian Science Reading Room (in which the narrator and his cat become disciples of Mary Baker Eddy) and elsewhere is, if anything, closer to the stumbling-drunk haze of midperiod AMC than it is to Eitzels two sonically safer Warner Bros. records. (Ex-AMC guitarist Vudis presence helps as well.)
One thing the computer hasnt changed, fortunately, is Eitzels writing. The title refers to his choice of Halloween costume (in Shine), and much of the disc revisits pet themes: loss, the desire to disappear, self-awareness edging into self-loathing (In bed, I was just a sweet nothing). The single Proclaim Your Joy, a taxonomy of the human zoo (Some keep bunnies, some pump tummies, and some court disaster) with an intentionally no-brainer hook, is too tossed-off to dispel the gloom, but the combination of compassion and vengefulness driving Seeing Eye Dog (Im your . . .) and The Global Sweep of Human History is far more convincing. Eitzels written with genuine warmth before, but its been several albums since hes backed it with sounds that stand on their own this well. (Franklin Bruno)