Self Gizmodgery (Spongebath) Gag me with a tune, he played all his rock music on toy instruments, and what a meaty, squishy sound. This Tennessee peckerwood’s pudding pop is promising, he packs loads of good ideas in his breeches, big-ballin’ thrash-psych-hop beats and brevity, even polytonality, and everywhere: XTC/Beck hover like hams. “Gotta Truck Fulla Amps, Motherfucker” goes “Mother . . . fucker” for emphasis — a Beck parody. Beautiful chocolatey bridges, wondrous shadings, hi-larious/straight version of “What a Fool Believes.” E-Z smartass stuff, all right, but sheer cleverness can teach us things — sometimes.
Doves Lost Souls (Astralwerks) Doves soar, flange out, arc & turn: desire/regret/fear, some kind of passion for mapping emotions. Initially Floydish, like the opening-suite instrumental with its recurring niggling motifs, the songs are never what they seem to be: a Wire-like band high on John Barry and Truffaut; minor keys a dark plus, surprising chord shifts, and all three boys credited with samples, as is often the case with your “groups” these days. Plaintive (as in across the plains) but not hectoring sounds, and it grows and grows irrefutable . . . they are an elliptical band, not jolts but odd swerves, and their overall intent is never clear, which is exhilarating.
Dry & Heavy Full Contact (Beat) Catcha buzz to this tight, phaatt & phunky freaky dub family from Japan, dub suites the way they oughta be — messed up! Nice to hear the language (patois & music) warped even further. They got the timbres right (rounded, muffy, munchie), offer a nice line in lovers-rock, too — flutes — and plenty old-school spring reverb. They’re the Sly & Robbie of Japan, more variety in their stash, though, like “Private Plan”’s seeming Lee Perry/Gentle Giant/ Beefheart/Jethro Tull homage and foolish grow-your-own lyric. Now, can I have a bite of your sandwich?
Freight Elevator Quartet Becoming Transparent (Caipirinha) Gosh, what a prissy name for a record. Straddling art and beat-music, and if A then B also D, FEQ pimps cello, drums, guitar, vocals, straps on electronics till everything’s stippled, chipped, aborted and deep-fried. Copious gentle, dreamy ’scapes, jogging drums, looped and fondled but not horsing around as such. Again, everybody plays and has a hand in effects, samples, etc. (it’s a trend), but if you peeled away the electric devices it’d be liteweight, and tee-jus in melody/harmony. Then they’d say that’s not the point, and I might agree, since, okay, I know that in much music the sound is the music. Fortunately, this album gets heavier, though the drum & bass w/ cello & electronic showing off is deadeningly too prismatic, like nervous-system music that stays in the brain and doesn’t really get into the nervous system. Rather like reading about paintings, though “Connection You Didn’t Think Possible” partly makes up for all of the above because its thicking/thinning and corroding textures are constructed, and don’t settle on one mood — shape is much more interesting than sound.
Björk Selmasongs (Elektra) What it is is presence — you’re in the company of someone with charisma, or at least character. The razzle-dazzle of these orchestrations will throw some Björk fans who haven’t seen the film (sob!), but there can’t be many of those. There’s weird life in Björk, so some of us can’t help loving her — I think you’re supposed to fall in love with Björk to really succeed with listening to or watching her. Along with Björk’s bursting passions on the big show tunes, her own self-performed cooing/gurgling/whispering cuts with celeste and scratchy loops are potent interior worlds — you can’t buy an ear for affecting sound like hers, an affected voice of exaggeration, longing and circumstance, and sex, I guess. Björk the person and the musician is far more useful than any abstract art; she makes a perverse then ecstatic hash of the cold realities that dominate our lives.
Goldfrapp Felt Mountain (Mute) There’s a Björk in Alison Goldfrapp, too, in her love/unlove singer-songs, lovely insular wishing. But she Goldfingers it on this mood music’s quietude-into-panoramas and foreign intrigue, Shirley Bassey high on pine in the Alpine sun, a stranger with binoculars. This thoroughly modern production drips with twice-removed emotion, florid not fetid tone colors of Morricone/Barry/Portishead and everything widescreen, where sultry females roam; the strings and brass are pretty unto audacious, electronic effects itch and guitars subtly mock — a far-reaching romanticizing of a certain type of feeling, something alluring but ill-fated . . .
U2 All That You Can’t Leave Behind (Interscope) “I’m just trying to find a decent melody,” sings Bono. Something has happened: U2’s song — the one they’ve been filling albums with for 20 years — is nagging in my head . . . Amnesty. Greenpeace. They’re good guys, like Springsteen, and somehow I never enjoy bagging on ’em (and a great rock drummer is Larry Mullen), but I just can’t hear Bono’s soul-striving style, which directly affects my ability to value his believably heartfelt though somewhat banal lyrics (stay the course: questions of faith, organized religion, “righteous” wars). Their music is strong but gray (small Eno/Lanois production seems very subdued and adult). Then comes “New York,” where the grayness is grand, addressing failure even as a glint of hope peeps through.
High Llamas Buzzle Bee (Drag City) A legacy of loveliness extending back to Brian Wilson, “Let’s Go Away for a While” . . . Llamas celebrate the what-we-would-really-like-to-hear-if-we-were-being-honest (well, some of us) type of thing, toke it up into MOR-concrète that explodes mellowness of the sort declared out of bounds by rockcrits past. But times have changed. We now know the value of music to dawdle with, and that music must be good-vibes-soaked music, girls going “la-la-la” and the whole thing feeling orange-sunshiney and smelling peppery. TV & film music of the ’60s and ’70s, frappéed under afternoon-nap dreams, in a side-door maybe next to Air and their Mike Post fantasies — it’s fun to like “bad music” made good. The Niceness Wave is squeezable, also pleated and double-layered for added protection.
Etienne Charry 36 Erreurs (Kindercore) Eclectic montage is the ordure of the day, but this Gallic goofus has enormous technical skills and an active-culture cheese mind with which to ringmaster his variety show of hugely entertaining pop irritations. It’s when French people wildly misinterpret rock-pop or force it to stink of chanson or musette that it gets fun again, that’s for sure. But Charry’s just a kid, and appreciates bleeps, belches, whirrs and splats, trumpeting xyloid tones, then bolts on brass & winds & strings, superbrief, stained with colors of Westerns, circus musik, TV themes, blaxploitation, cartoon music, applause on cue. Stylish, happy themes for young people to make them optimistic and nostalgic for a short attention span.
Ego Plum Anthology of Infection, Vol. 2 (Ebola Music) It’s a well-known fact that in three out of four Los Angeles bedrooms, people are huddled over computers making music. This local combo, if it is one, offers a Residents/ Devo/Beefheart instrumental weirdness of, yeah, more psycho-cirkus sounds (pump organ, marimbas, sinister waltz times) but spills into medieval noir, samurai pizzicato, Turkish sambas and a Roman holiday on ice. Got your themes for theoretical, unreleased or otherwise obscure films, such as “La Besta De Cargo,” which is, of course, from The Jolly Man. It’s very focused and disciplined, and the liner notes are also printed in Braille (heh-heh): that odd thrill you get from art that’s got humor mingled with solidity. It can take you someplace unclean and enlightening.
Caspar Brötzmann Mute Massaker (Thirsty Ear) Unclean, unclean. Caveman Brötzmann make art, you listen. The overdrive-seepage guitarist’s blasting-gelatin rock strafing tone comes in long modal workouts of . . . an expression of . . . something core. His Hendrix/univibe heat bombs are not indigestible, your dark-adaptation takes over, you accept the relentless loud interior probe, a burning conical brown-gray arrowing into black-green wilderness. Brötzmann’s aggressive excavations are recorded live, and every note is intuitive but, he says, composed, not improvised. Be prepared for a bottle-brush up the, well, the ear, then a glow like after a sauna.
Nobody Soulmates (Ubiquity) A calmness prevails in Nobody, it often whispers, it has a beautiful feminized virility. He does it with burnished sample heaps (acoustic guitars and pianos played off soothing beats, mutated mallets, fluffing flutes), and consistently hits just a perfect tone — galactic but earthy, gossamer and cheesecloth, texturized but clean and so tasty. He does short bits of audio bliss-interspersal like little roundlets or phonograms of feeling, then the kool jazz reconciles the space-lounge and, dang, the off-time bass riff & drums of “Tone Therapy” are simply funky. With sexy Medusa, Abstract Rude and a farcical Freestyle Fellowship. Full of surprises, is that so much to ask?
Mstislav Rostropovich Kancheli: Magnum Ignotum (ECM) For the space between the notes, and for reconciling the old and new (dissonance v. consonance), and how these prolonged stretchings of tones invite you to participate. Like Caspar Brötzmann, it grasps at something deeper, and you learn patience by adapting to its very personal language. Great blasts of orchestral sun, or nearly inaudible cello moan, or close, dark harmonies weaving from taped Georgian voices, all slot in for strange lyrical effect. Kancheli emphasizes hope over happiness, and feels a moral and intellectual sympathy for the work of the old masters.
Win friends and influence people with:
Add N to (X) Add Insult to Injury (Mute)
The Aluminum Group Pelo (Hefty)
Fontella Bass Free (Fuel)
Jim Black Alasnoaxis (Winter & Winter)
John Cage The Seasons (ECM)
Kevin Coyne Room Full of Fools (Ruf)
Oscar D’León ¡En Vivo! (RMM)
Ekkehard Ehlers Betrieb (Mille Plateaux)
Electric Company Exitos (Tigerbeat6)
Robert Farnon and His Orchestra Melody Fair/Canadian Impressions (Vocalion)
Rubén González Chanchullo (Nonesuch)
Skip Heller Couch, Los Angeles (Mouthpiece)
William Hooker, Christian Marclay, Lee Ranaldo
Bouquet (Knitting Factory)
Ib Pop Artificielle (Shadow)
Isotope 217 Who Stole the I Walkman? (Thrill Jockey)
The J.B.’s Pass the Peas: The Best of the J.B.’s (Universal)
Kreidler Kreidler (Mute)
Like a Tim Red and Blue Boxing (Rephlex)
Metamatics SpookTinselShoal (Hydrogen Dukebox)
Microstoria Model 3, Step 2 (Thrill Jockey)
Mountain Consolidated The MC Stands for Revolution (Acid Blues)
Annette Peacock An Acrobat’s Heart (ECM)
Pizzicato Five The Fifth Release (Matador)
Pluramon Bit Sand Riders (Mille Plateaux)
Scenic Spheres (Independent Project)
Raymond Scott Manhattan Research Inc. (Basta)
Mohammad Reza Shajarian, Kayhan Kalhor Night Silence Desert (Traditional Crossroads)
The 6ths Hyacinths and Thistles (Merge)
Chas Smith Nikkowolverine (Cold Blue Music)
Species Being Orgone Therapy (Chaosophy)
Splattercell Remiksis Ah (Celldivision)
Tomasz Stanko From the Green Hill (ECM)
Surrealestate Contrafactum (Acoustic Levitation)
Roosevelt Sykes Raining in My Heart (Del.mark)
Terre Thaemlitz Fagjazz (Comatonse)
Simon Fisher Turner & Robin Rimbaud Travelcard (Sulfur/Beggar’s Banquet)
Ultra-Red fs59: an otobiography (Transparency)
Dr. Walker, Thee Joker, et al. Escape From Cologne (Tone Casualties)
The Warlocks The Warlocks (Bomp)