VARIOUS ARTISTS New Groove 3: Deconstruire le Groove Esoterique (REV)
Having researched the subject thoroughly, I'm gonna save you the trouble of figuring out what in Topeka this exotic object is. The midlength answer is that it's a compilation of 17 tracks by (loosely defined) “groove” and electronic artists from Europe and North America, chosen, edited and sequenced by the production team of Dileo and Madison, globetrotting producers of Jack Kevorkian's debut CD a couple of years back. The short answer is that it's good music.
Listen to Marcus Roberts: Real Audio Format Epidemique Zinc Swoon Nuageux Jaune
Download the RealPlayer FREE! Now for the long answer. First, “good music,” the way Granddad defined it, isn't why most techno gets out of bed — it works if it seizes your feet and throws in some fun noises. Fine. What's different about New Groove 3: Reverse Engineering the Esoteric Groove is the way it undermines expectations. Dileo and Madison lay a decoy foundation with an impeccable selection of rhythm-heavy cuts. The complex, gooshy Swoon comes on with “Pomegranate Garrote,” whose lyrical trumpet, hijacked from some 1936 nightclub, fights eloquently against a babel of massed voices and an irresistible aortic groove. The squawky loop, backward synth and sampled scratch of Zinc's “Ishmael in Retrograde” ride a crisp beat. You get dense, surreal layerings and miles of tailored thump from the likes of Paco, Henri Lim and 2″ Crucible.
But soon you're asking questions. What's a groove? Can it be mostly counterpoint? Nuageux Jaune's “Son Ange Complaisant” makes a case. Can you dump the drums? Eleven Shadows and 3rd Coast String Quartet think so. How about solo piano or guitar? Bop Sh'bam and Jézamenco demonstrate. Is a cello modern technology? Is that a quote from Pink Floyd's “The Wall” decorating Corneille's melancholy improvised jazz piano? Is that sampled voice on Épidemique's “Djellaba” an Arab, or is it master appropriationist David Byrne, getting himself appropriated?
The music is laid out mixmaster-style, to pull you from one idea to the next — dancing if you want, but definitely listening. And in the end, all your borders are a little fuzzier. So maybe I shouldn't complain about all the work it took to decrypt this disc's intention, all the squinting at its invisible typefaces, all the puzzling over its eye-bashing graphics (by the aptly named Subterfuge). In our indefinite era, where the resistance must wear disguises, it's a survival exercise. And a pleasure. (www.rev99.com) (Greg Burk)
BASEMENT JAXX Remedy (Astralwerks/Formula)
With a mix of cartoonily filtered voices and diva-ish sex appeal, goofy-ass synths and microscopic attention paid to the most trifling of flourishes, Basement Jaxx are a jolting jaunt through club culture, from Grandmaster Flash to Generation Ecstasy. Remedy culls what it needs to from other machine-music styles without getting patchworky, landing somewhere between house's mindlessly celebratory energy and its accompanying claustrophobia.
If house took disco underground, the BJs seem more intent on letting it roam where it will. The bouncy strum of “Rendez-Vu”could rock the warehouse or a Bulgarian wedding — not since pop aberration Falco has acoustic guitar not plucked by a folkie sounded so good. Obviously, the band's rhythmic ardor is meant to move your body, but the duo of Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe has more in mind than just loft parties. Before the booomp-booomp-booomp has a chance to get tiresome, these ex-Brixton club kids mongrelize it with the oscillating electro-wobble of “Don't Give Up” and the dubby stutter of “Gemilude.” In fact, some of Remedy's tracks are too scatterbrained for cutting rug, such as the schizoid tempos and flatulent bass of “U Can't Stop Me” and the sultry tabla-plops of “Stop 4 Love.” Such mood swings are welcome on an album that gets a bit too light and perky at times.
There's been a lot of hyperventilating in the press about how the Jaxx are shattering parameters, but the fact is they're taking the kind of ear-grabbing risks that live up to the hype. Warmer, more soulful and worldly than the average drug-fueled ravers, Basement Jaxx may not quite have relaid house's foundation, but they've at least redrawn a few of its rules — beat by gleeful beat. (Andrew Lentz)
SPOOKY PIE Poisonberry (Boo Records)
This is the second release by one of the finer bands on the L.A. club circuit, and, like a feast of 40 years of California rock, Spooky Pie serves up distinctively flavored slices of Golden State genres, heavily spiced with an eerie gothic sensibility. There's early-'60s surf (“Phantom Surfer”), late-'60s melodic folk-rock with harmonious male/female vocals (“Thunder” and “Octavia”), '70s'90s punk (“Poisonberry”) and '80s new wave (“Pretty Weird Thing”). They also perform three covers that actually alter the originals rather than just restate them: a metallic, psychedelic version of the Beatles' “Hey Bulldog,” a thrashy rendition of Wilson Pickett's “In the Midnight Hour” and a Shindig teenbeat frugfest of the T-Bones' “No Matter What Shape,” which you oldsters may remember as the catchy Alka-Seltzer theme song from the mid-'60s.
Most of the tunes are the creation of lead guitarist Willy Banta, whose fretwork has a Dick-Dale-snarl-meets-Lou-Reed-loose feel. He shares vocals with the sensuous Phyllis Teen (the nom de rock of Weekly staffer Miriam Jacobson). While the influences are varied, the platter has the creepy feel of trashy, moonlit, red-velvet Hollywood nightlife. Memorable stuff — this Pie is in your face. (Michael Simmons)
POLARBEAR Why Something Instead of Nothing? (Polar Bear Records)
Several years into their partnership, former Jane's Addiction bassist Eric Avery and veteran drummer Biff Sanders have created an incredibly deep, dark and smoky album that defines a new step in the world of funk-rock. Two guitarists, Dani Tull and Andy Troy, support the rhythms, along with a squadron of scratchy samples.
The opening song, “Lick,” slams as hard as “Mountain Song” from Jane's Nothing's Shocking. It alternates sprightly bass and jangly guitars under Avery's just-shy-of-mumbling voice with hard instrumental crashing power chords and heavier, driving bass. Avery delivers his vocals serenely, his wonderfully visual yet open-ended lyrics recalling the poetry of Lorca; “Sharkeye” examines unknown relationships through “one big black shark eye looking down from the sky.” Barely intelligible samples lead into a paced-down, low-tech groove, creating a sense of calm just prior to a summer storm at the beach. The goopy organ that serves as the underbelly of “Farm” supports a pack of lo-fi samples exquisitely stitched among raucous guitars, a ponderous bass line and crashing drums. Unexpected layers, sounds and sparkles reward repeated listens.
Polarbear originally released the Chewing Gum EP on their own, hoping to spur fan and label interest. Fan interest they found; a satisfying record deal they did not. Undaunted, they wrote new songs, refined their amazing live show and self-released Why Something, their debut full-length. While the CD's limited availability at www.iuma.com, local independent stores and at their shows will make this album a bit of a Where's Waldo?, it's a stellar prize for the quest. (Simon Rust Lamb)
LAURYN HILL at Arrowhead Pond, July 22
Having hit the international concert trail only two months after giving birth to her second child (daughter Selah), and then churning out music videos while doing massive promotional press, fledgling icon Lauryn Hill is beat. In her concert at Arrowhead Pond, she gamely danced, sang, and fought the good fight against a dissipating voice and an energy level that ebbed and flowed. While familiar song intros roused the crowd into deafening screams, Lauryn was only rarely able to sustain their enthusiasm. That's not to say there weren't stellar moments in the show. The band-vs.-DJ segment of her set — a seamless blend of inspiration and raw skills — has justifiably become a defining moment of this tour. Going toe-to-toe in battle, the DJ dropped “The Ruff Ryders Anthem” only to be met by Lauryn's take on Eve's current Ruff Ryder hit, “What You Want”; a turntable medley of Cali hip-hop was met by a clever reworking of TLC's “No Scrubs” (though the shitty sound muffled most of the retooled lyrics).
But for every moment of fierceness, there were two of fatigue. The machisma of “Lost Ones” came nowhere near the power of the album version or Lauryn's delivery when she played the Universal Amphitheater a few months back. “To Zion” seemed a chore for her to get through. And while the rapper-slash-actress' signature loose-limbed, scarecrow-on-acid dance moves (a clear nod to the influence of her would-be father-in-law, the late Bob Marley) are still dazzling to watch, there were times in the show when her shoulders sagged wearily. The band also often seemed to be struggling just to get through the show, only really blazing during their brief, introductory solos. By the time she closed the show with her new single, “Everything Is Everything,” Lauryn's voice was ragged and she was plainly ready to leave the stage. We can only hope that the huge success of both her album and this tour have afforded the singer/rapper the luxury of saying no to her record company's promotional demands, that she's gonna take some time off to play with her kids, chill with her man and take care of her voice. What's the point of being all that, otherwise? (Ernest Hardy)