James Hunter: People Gonna Talk (Go/Rounder) James Hunter is a 42-year-old Sam Cooke sound-alike who’s had a not particularly illustrious career as Van Morrison’s favorite blue-eyed soul singer. Translation: He’s an unknown, middle-aged white guy. Hunter cut records in ’96 and ’01 that are reputedly fine, but no one heard them. People Gonna Talk should change that. Recorded live at England’s all-analog Toerag Studios (where the White Stripes recorded Elephant), it’s like a male answer to Norah Jones, so comfy you’ll feel churlish for disliking it. Unlike Jones’, Hunter’s voice and stripped-down sound (drums, bass, guitar, two saxes) have an antique edge. Best of all, when he sings, “There’s a riot going on in my heart,” you believe him. James Hunter plays Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point, May 20 & 21, and the Mint, May 23.
Shakira (with Wyclef Jean): “Hips Don’t Lie” (Sony BMG) The RIAA recently announced that shipments of Latin music rose 13 percent in 2005. A round of applause (and a corollary boo-hoo) to artists like Colombia’s Shakira Mebarak for keeping the music industry alive! Typically, I’m no fan of megapop, and if I were to express her new single “Hips Don’t Lie” in mathematical terms, it’d give me a conniption, e.g.: Gypsy Kings + deracinated hip-hop + Spanglish + mariachi horns = Hurban (“Hispanic urban”) with an Arabic twist. In practice, though, this song is culturally appropriate (Shakira is half-Latin, half-Lebanese). Its rhythmic momentum can’t be stopped (even by Wyclef Jean, who manages to plug his old/new band the Fugees no fewer than three times). And the lyrics include a novel verbal hook that posits the pelvis as a visual early-warning system for female lust. “You know my hips don’t lie” is hardly poetic in a Dylanesque sense, but it’s sexy in an understated, old-fashioned, Elvis way. Our pop landscape is overrun by punk rock hipsters jerking off to Joanna Angel and coke-dealing rappers lusting after Lil’ Kim, so I appreciate this brand of quasi-conservative sexuality. Unfortunately, the song is marred by Sony’s lunkheaded marketing: The track wasn’t included on the initial November release of Shakira’s Oral Fixation, Vol. 2. The only way to buy it as an individual single is via a complicated download scheme through Sony BMG’s Web site. Yes, that’s the same company scandalized for installing illegal rootkit software on consumers’ computers. Smooth move, Sony. Stop trying to fuck your customers. Dicks don’t lie, either.
Spank Rock: YoYoYoYoYo (Big Dada/Ninja Tune) While we’re on the subject, have you been introduced to the pelvis-intensive Air Cock Thrust (www.aircockthrust.com) dance? The faux phenomenon was launched by Spank Rock, who may be the filthiest hip-hop group since 2 Live Crew. Spank Rock have a fancier pedigree, however: Producer Alex Epton attended two music conservatories and interned with NYC’s DFA production team, while MC Naeem Juwan spent time hanging with Mos Def, the paragon of tasteful hip-hop. How then do you explain YoYoYoYoYo’s lead track, “Backyard Betty,” which asks the listener to “slip into some real bad things” with the story of an “ass-shaking competition champ”? Well, bleeding-edge sexploitation works for hipsters and opportunists. Nothing wrong with that, when it’s backed with space-age production. Spank Rock’s soundscape is dry, precise and cavernous, yet never scrimps on sonic details: tight collages of pizzicato strings, trilled electronics and wild sound F/X. You’ll feel this in the head and the hips. Spank Rock play Spaceland on June 11.
Wolfmother: s/t (Modular/Interscope) The mid-’00s Wolfrock phenomenon (Wolf Parade, Wolf Eyes, AIDS Wolf, We Are Wolves) has left us with little music of lasting value. Wolfmother, though, is a superior act. Yeah, the Afro-ringlets of lead singer Andrew Stockdale border on self-parody, as does his vocal style, which blends the strangulated wail of Ozzy Osbourne (e.g., “Dimension”) with the melodic rigor of Jack White (e.g., “Apple Tree”). But this is stoner rock as I’ve always wanted it to sound. Baked, mellow, paranoid . . . yet catchy and energetic enough that you’ll enjoy it if you’re not baked, mellow or paranoid. This album is so consistent it contains a minimum of six singles. Point of L.A. pride: While the band hails from Sydney, Australia, this debut was recorded during a long spell in our city with local producer Dave Sardy, and sounds inspired by our deserts, not theirs.
Current 93: Black Ships Ate the Sky (Duartro/Jnana) Some trends reach for the sky, others suggest those heavens may envelop us in 1,000 years of darkness. While freak-folkers Devendra Banhart, Animal Collective and Joanna Newsome all made amazing records in 2004-05, they show signs of stalling artistically as they get caught in the black pits of their own navels. Viz., Current 93’s David Tibet. Now 46, Tibet is embracing his role as freak-folk godfather, and his first new album in four years features guest appearances by Antony, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Shirley Collins. I admire Tibet’s commitment to an idiosyncratic vision (early Christianity, apocalypse, Charles Wesley’s 1793 “Idumea” hymn). I don’t admire 76-minute albums so unrelentingly dire they make me laugh out loud. Recommended for earnest art-school grads and especially gothic high-school kids.
Neil Young: Living With War (Reprise) At the South by Southwest music conference last March, festival co-founder Roland Swenson introduced Neil Young with a heartfelt homage to his song “Ohio.” Swenson said it was a tipping point that helped a generation revolt against the Vietnam War. He pleaded: “Mr. Young, if you can hear me back there, we need another song.” Then Young went home and recorded a new album, Living With War, in nine days. I’m fascinated by the blog-born anticipation for this 60-year-old’s next move, as well as Reprise’s speed at getting it into stores. (That turnaround time is, perhaps, this project’s most potent flashback to the ’60s and ’70s; according to legend, CSNY released “Ohio” 10 days after the Kent State shootings.) I’m skeptical of Young’s politics, though. He was an avowed Reagan supporter in the ’80s, and 2002’s Are You Passionate? had jingoistic, post-9/11 undertones. But musically speaking, the new album is a live one. The shambolic vibe and weird little facets (a 100-voice chorus!) make it a familiar yet unique addition to Young’s discography, and it certainly has more life to it than similar musical protests by Pearl Jam and the Rolling Stones.
Tony Brummel vs. Steve Jobs: In an e-mail thread circulating the Web, Victory Records president Tony Brummel tries pummeling Apple CEO Steve Jobs into offering the label a “proactive and revolutionary” way of selling downloads through iTunes Music Store. Victory, a Chicago emo/screamo label and one of indie music’s greatest success stories, has resisted most opportunities to sell digital downloads. Brummel’s oft-expressed opinion is that Apple reaps a disproportionate benefit from digital music, while the iPod implicitly encourages piracy. Unfortunately, Brummel concludes the exchange with a typically ham-fisted, music industry–style bon mot: “As a human being — congratulations on beating cancer last year. Take Care.” Yeesh.
Be Your Own Pet: s/t (Ecstatic Peace/Universal) Could this be the most satanic recording scheduled for the once-in-a-lifetime 6/6/06 release date? Lead singer Jemina Pearl, 18, is an exceedingly hot, barely legal blond. The other three drag the band’s average age closer to 17. Their freak-outs have the same youthful energy as Arctic Monkeys, and Pearl has a wail worthy of Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna. However, they possess neither band’s rage nor (more important) articulation. Punky music doesn’t need to be political or personal, but songs like “Adventure,” “Bicycle Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle” and “Bunk Truck Skunk” aren’t about much of anything. By sheer force of will, Pearl may become a female role model, but my guess is that she’ll be masturbatory fodder for a far larger number.