A Kiss in the Funhouse (Le Grand Magistery)
Louis Philippe is, as the English like to say, rather on the "wet" side. A multitalented composer, instrumentalist and producer with a well-stamped passport (born in Normandy, lives in London, vacations in Greece, much-loved in Tokyo), Monsieur Philippe has spent the better part of the past 15 years crafting the sort of records that make Pet Soundsera Beach Boys sound like Judas Priest by comparison. Assisted by such notable pals as ex-XTC guitarist Dave Gregory and Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas, Philippe has made several albums uniformly filled with summery, intricately arranged pop songs that are as light as cotton candy and every bit as sticky.
But to merely describe (or write off) Louis Philippe's music as fey, ornate pop would be to do grave injustice to both composer and compositions. A Kiss in the Funhouse, a 23-track compilation of stuff recorded during this decade for Japan's Trattoria label, could well have been titled Music for Libertines. Even ostensibly downbeat songs like "Sweet Dollar Bill" and "Jealous" are so ridiculously redolent of sunshine, good wine and semiconscious sex that you feel certain his angst -- and, by extension, yours -- will pass within moments. Others, like "Every Day Gone By" and "Ripples in the River," exude the same sort of dreamy romance and lite-soul melodiousness previously heard on the Style Council's finer singles. (And if you don't think the Style Council actually had any good singles, you are hereby advised to stay well away from the present collection.)
Unlike Momus, his prodigiously talented labelmate, Louis Philippe manages to put his own hazily decadent vibe across without seeming arch or silly. Perhaps the secret lies in his voice, a high-pitched, androgynous croon that occasionally flutters in and out of pitch like a mildly intoxicated sea gull; it may put you off entirely, yet you'll never doubt his sincerity for even a moment. But if you can hang with his vocal quirks, and you dig your pop on the Continental side, A Kiss in the Funhouse should make the perfect soundtrack for a long, hot summer. We are going to have one, aren't we?
Johnny Anus, 1960 - 1999
Somebody's poisoning me
Could it be me?
--"Your Poison or Mine"
We can recover
We can survive
Why are we dying?
--"Time Will Tell"
Take your habits and cough them up . . .
Hook a hole, then you stop
--"Plant a Seed in My Head"
So many of Johnny Anus' lyrics seem prophetic in the aftermath of his death in Silver Lake last week from a heroin overdose. Yet for all his caustic examinations of social and self-destruction, there is also the saving grace of sincerely optimistic gallows humor: "Ride it out/Things can only get better."
Bill Henderson, 27, and Johnny Anus (John Orloff), 38, were found dead in the latter's apartment on Wednesday, June 9, by Keith Morris after the two hadn't shown up to work at Millie's Restaurant. Sometime the previous night, Henderson, who played in the bands Menacing UFO Gang and Manifold, overdosed accidentally and died, which apparently caused the grief-stricken Orloff to write a remorseful suicide note and overdose as well. A shrine of candles, flowers and photos now lies outside Millie's, where the pair's shell-shocked friends console each other with stories about the notoriously fun-loving and warmhearted employees.
Orloff's death came just days after his band Anus the Menace, which included bassist/brother Mike Orloff and drummer Phil Colon, played a solid reunion show at Al's Bar. Despite the silly band name, Anus the Menace was not a novelty punk band, but instead fused scabrously arty elements of Gang of Four, the Minutemen, Joy Division and other post-punk bands with Orloff's jagged, dissonant guitar playing and poetic minimalisms. His best songs, as collected on two Flipside Records CDs and various compilations, include "It's Such a Beautiful Day," a Flipperesque look at a Mr. Rogers' neighborhood gone awry, and the more-angry-than-funny "I Wish I Was Gay (So You Would Hate Me)." Born November 9, 1960, in Los Angeles, Orloff, who also played in Corpus Delecti, was separated from his wife, Suzy, when he died. He is now interred in Old Russian Molokan Cemetery.
An informal wake was held on Friday, June 12, at Charlie Hutchinson's (Popdefect) house. A memorial concert for Orloff and Henderson will be held on Wednesday, June 23, at Al's Bar, downtown, with Popdefect, Keith Morris' Midget Handjob and brother Mike Orloff's other group, Gasoline.
--Falling James, with help from Bob Cantu
IX Equilibrium (Century Media)
A standard gimmick for some metal bands, Satanism has become a way of life for others. The Norwegian black-metal scene of the early '90s, inspired by the likes of Venom, Bathory and Slayer, took the anti-Christian side of Satanism very seriously, burning nearly 100 churches in Norway and committing a couple of murders. Emperor's former drummer, Bard "Faust" Eithun, is currently in jail for stabbing a homosexual to death, while current guitarist Samoth did time for burning churches. The small circle of well-bred kids who made up the scene in its early stages were driven by a desire to outdo each other in evil deeds. Later on, black-metal enthusiasts became interested in Norwegian mythology, claiming that Norway's true heathen religion had been crushed by Christianity; Nazism appealed to them as well, because of its ultimate-evil appeal and the standard-issue hatred of foreigners as espoused by nationalist types. Black metal and its widespread influence in Europe is well-documented in the book Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind.
Emperor, one of the better-known black-metal bands, makes no mention of Satan in its press material or in the lyrics to its latest opus, IX Equilibrium, and the band has ditched the frightening corpse paint of its early years in favor of black-leather trench coats and dark sunglasses. Still, the band's sound is intensely evil. Lead demon Ihsahn rarely sounds human, growling and screaming at glass-breaking levels like some beast that has escaped from the netherworld, backed by occasional harmonies from the doomed and dying. He also plays tasteful, creepy keyboards, and his guitar can sound like a harpsichord. There's not much in the way of verses or choruses, giving the songs more the structure of short classical pieces than rock songs. Though wicked, Emperor are capable of an eerie beauty on "Of Blindness & Subsequent Seers," but most of their music is pure, infernal devastation, like the soundtrack to a witch burning. (Adam Bregman)
Ryde or Die Vol. 1 (Interscope)
Bringing out the big guns with bona fide unit-shifters DMX, Jay-Z, the Lox and Juvenile, supercrew Ruff Ryders know all too well that phat beats aren't enough anymore -- you gotta have celebrity power to sell records. In this cameo-studded collaboration (Mase and Jermaine Dupri included), drug profits, marketing savvy and making rhymes are but different phases in the glorious cycle of thug life. This underworld laissez faire is perfectly distilled in "Dope Money," where Lox's smooth chorus "Dope money to rap money back to dope money/We got a house, a car and smoke with the dope money" is like a mantra from Ghettonomics 101. The Ryders' obsession with getting theirs seems like thematic impoverishment, but Ryde or Die Vol.1 pays mad dividends in the audio department. While the ballad "I'm a Ruff Ryder" veers toward schmaltz, sonic alchemist Swizz parries the sentimentality with keyboard-splicing skills masquerading as chopped-up horns, soaring strings and analoguish gadgetry.
Besides the all-male revue "Down Bottom," a call-'n'-response number ("Do you fuck 'em 'til they cum?/Damn right we make 'em cum!") -- where Ryder honcho Drag-On can barely suppress a chuckle through the raunchy locker-room talk -- Ryde or Die plies its male audience with guy humor like a joke that never gets old. (What do you expect from a crew named after the number-one-selling condom in America's truck stops?) But it's the collective's lone female, Eve, who one-ups the brothers, like when she cuts a pretender with "You know what you are? You's a 'Buff' Ryder!" or in "Piña Colada" when she asks, "Where my niggas with the big dicks?"
Not only does she emasculate her partners in rhyme with snappy comebacks, musically Eve's got 'em by the balls, too. On the whole, Ryde or Die is a slick, gleaming monster of production values, but our lady flips the script with the hardcore "Do That Shit," a noisy-ass cut that smudges the record's Teflon sheen with a menacing cadence of whining synth and fractured drums. Not satisfied with that, she pushes Swizz outside his comfort zone in "What Ya Want?," kicking it Latin with sizzling timbales and peppery electric piano. You might fault the Ryders for not being mental enough, but these thrill seekers aren't about that. Slow, fast, hard or soft, these jimmy hats won't bust on you, baybee. (Andrew Lentz)
at the Troubadour, June 14
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Already megapungent in other parts of the planet, Brit melodicrunch band Skunk Anansie now strain to impinge their potency on the universal nose. And judging from the fact that they devoted half their set to material from their third CD, Post Orgasmic Chill (Virgin), which won't even be released here till August, they're confident they've got the stuff.
Skunk Anansie have arrived at that tantalizing career crossroads where musicians known for sloganeering realize that expansion entails broadening their base. In the case of this already rather calculated act (bald black diva "Skin" and dreadlocked black bassist "Cass" balance bald white guitarist "Ace" and muscly white drummer "Mark" to slam out heavy rock), that necessity just leads to exploiting their natural resources. The newer material, while retaining full drop-forge dynamism, nuzzles more frequently into interpersonal crevices on the lyric end; live, Skin's occasional lecture on South Africa is firmly supported by sheer black thong unmentionables under a leather butt-wrap.
And mainly, the songcraft and musicianship are ever stronger. The pre-performance PA music featured X-Ray Spex's 1977 "The Day the World Turned Day-Glo," whose melody the near-operatic Skin virtually quoted in the first song of Skunk Anansie's set. In terms of melody, energy and vocal quality, Spex are a pretty close parallel, except that Skunk, after three or four years of consistent touring, are more aware of what works in concert: Zeppelinesque drum thromp, tight single-string unison riffing and Skin's athletic, lunar-weightless prancing. It seemed as if at least every other song was a highlight, including the vulnerable "Weak" (it's been covered by Rod Stewart!), the determined "We Don't Need Who You Think You Are," and the furious punker "The Skank Heads," which in its Post Orgasmic incarnation ranks as one of the few slabs of pop music this decade to give me chills.
Prediction: Within five years, Skin goes solo (and regrets it). (Greg Burk)