“Between the Devil” (Metropolis)
Sounds like: perfect dance music to make your body jump.
Fixmer/McCarthy comes out with their album of electronic music, “Between the Devil.” It is music you can dance to with much pleasure and motion. There is not much in the way of lyrics, but you don’t need to listen to words with this techno sound.
However, for those folks who pay attention to lyrics, Douglass McCarthy does a fantastic job on that front, particular in the song “Destroy.” His experience as former front man of Nitzer Ebb would explain that. Terrence Fixmer is responsible for the sound, and his 10-plus years on the techno scene makes it credible.
The songs “Splitter” and “Through a Screen” are the highlights more for this sound. That being said, “Between the Devil” is a great dance album. Just don’t be too invested in conversation about the words’ meaning because the music speaks for itself.
“Hypnotic Underworld” (Drag City)
Sounds like: The Flecktones and Tim Leary downing sake.
After a five-year absence, the latest album from the Japanese acid trip known as Ghost retains the same warning label that has accompanied their reputation for the last 15 years. “Hypnotic Underworld,” like Ghost’s previous efforts, is not for pedestrian listeners.
But, for those who value attentive and occasionally patient listening, “Hypnotic Underworld” is a worthwhile album that evolves from the realm of idle curiosity into something pretty satisfying. The opening title track is a four-part opus that dabbles in new wave electronica with hints of acid jazz, African percussion and even Tibetan chants scattered at key moments. It is a lengthy introduction, clocking in at more than 20 minutes. However, it sets the foundation for some exceptionally dynamic work involving countless instruments, and outstanding mixing and post-production work.
Particularly fascinating are the tracks “Piper” and “Ganagmanag,” which interweave rock and roll into a lovely framework of traditional Asiatic rhythm and lyricism.
“Hypnotic Underworld” is never a boring record, but it is a very exhausting listen. While Ghost lives up to their critical praise of the ‘90s, they should consider structuring their tracks better so that completing an enjoyable album will not resemble a chore.
“In Tennessee” (Rainman)
Sounds Like: a 1950s R&B jukebox sprayed with Lysol.
Alvin Lee witnessed the height of his popularity in 1969 when he brought his brand of Boogie Woogie/Jump Blues Revivalism to the legendary Woodstock Festival. Over the years he has been lauded as a blues guitar virtuoso with a small yet excitable fan base. Too bad he couldn’t excite rats at a cheese factory.
While Lee mugs like a cross between Elvis Presley, Bo Diddly and Carl Perkins for “In Tennessee,” his guitar work and vocals are extremely sterile and wholly uninspiring. While he gets every note, nod and twitch that makes his genre great, Lee injects almost no personality into his work. His sidemen do no better, especially with pianist Willie Rainsford laying back at moments when he should be attempting to grab some spotlight and inject some much-needed excitement into the record.
The reason “In Tennessee” doesn’t get a much lower grade is by the thinnest standard of music review, namely competence. Lee and his men play clearly, and there are few awkward phrasings to be found on any track. But playing to avoid getting your fingernails dirty goes against the spirit of the very music Lee tries to inhabit. “In Tennessee,” in that respect, is not a bad album, but miles from exciting.
“Valende” (Sub Pop)
Sounds like: The Zombies and the 13th Floor Elevators, resurrected and mixed with lots of noise.
Jennifer Gentle consists of multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Marco Fasolo and Alessio Gastelldello who, instead of the normal infatuation with ‘80s post-punk, manage to make ‘60s psych-pop-garage rock cool again. Their songs range from pleasantly tight, poppy numbers (the single “I Do Dream You”) to flat-out seven-minute noise drone-jams (“Hessesapoa”).
This band is one of those, along with the White Stripes and many more, that longs for its music to sound as old as possible, because we all know that older equals so much better. The vocals are fuzzed out and filtered, because the lyrics, at least the ones that can be made out, are pretty much nonsensical (“This pack of lips is quite fine/It’s happy all the time/I love you moments full of eggs and eyes/Well I do dream you”), and the rest of the instruments are otherwise fuzzed and degraded to create a swirling, broken stew of nostalgic noise. Add to the pot lots of found-objects-as-musical-instruments - chains and clocks, and a deflating balloon has a bitchin’ solo in one song - and you’ve got quite a hearty meal.
Maybe a little too rich, though. Three or four out of 10 of the tracks on “Valende” really stand out, while the rest are belabored with too many instruments or simply boring arrangements. What Jennifer Gentle has is an idea that they just can’t capitalize on for a whole record. Some songs get too long, tediously overburdened with instruments and busy production. Sometimes they lose themselves in their own songs, like an “I Love Lucy” episode in which Lucy bites off much more than she can chew. Jennifer Gentle is stuck at the conveyor belt, and the chocolates are coming out too fast.
- CHRIS DeWITT
“Sleep With You” (TMG)
Sounds Like: a really dirty, and not very talented, college rock band.
Transcendence’s “Sleep with You” truly transcends almost all critical review. Surely it can’t be taken seriously. Unfortunately, one’s ability to recognize irony proves that this band is almost always totally serious. Even when it sings lyrics like “I can make you come like it’s never been done.” Or even when it has an entire song revolving around its devotion to actress Minnie Driver(!). It’s really a shame that the band takes itself so seriously; the music isn’t half-bad. Fans of intertwining guitar and synth will enjoy the heavier numbers, as Transcendence truly has mastered the art of the kick-ass riff. It’s a shame that their efforts to go soft only sound like Coldplay or Better than Ezra retreads. And they try to go soft an awful lot. Their lyrical content is also subpar, as it mainly revolves around popping Vicodin and receiving fellatio before hitting the stage.
“Sleep with You” may not be for just any casual rock fans, but those who are really into seedy music that conjures up images of a dirty band playing a small bar might just actually appreciate Transcendence. But please don’t listen expecting lyrical nuggets of wisdom or anything that could even be remotely referred to as higher art.
- LESTER ALLEN
“The Great Destroyer” (Sub Pop)
Sounds like: Low with the amps turned up to 11
Low has just made their most polarizing record. When the quintessential slowcore band gets rowdy loud, surely some of its fans must be confused. Produced by Dave Fridmann (you know, the guy whom Wayne Coyne owes his entire existence to), the minimalism of the past, prevalent on Low’s trifecta of near-perfect records (“Long Division,” “Secret Name” and “Things We Lost in the Fire”) is replaced with lush instrumentation, thick organs, drum machines and the occasional string section. “California” is one of the many totally awesome moments of “Destroyer,” but feels a tad out of place, coming off less as trademark Low and more as the sun-dried pop of Big Star and Teenage Fanclub. Whereas the aggressive tracks like “Monkey,” in its distorted bass and muffled drums glory, sound nothing like the band we’re used to. They’re louder, faster, harder - and maybe having an identity crisis. But this change isn’t a bad thing, unless you’re a whiner.
- COSTA CALOUDAS
“Saul Williams” (Fader)
Sounds Like: raw, early Mos Def mixed with an urban, black male Ani DiFranco who doesn’t talk about vagina (much.)
Rap, rock and hip-hop are laced together with slam poetry on Saul Williams’ second album. The genres swish together and spit from the speakers a powerful, transcendent listening experience. The songs are closer to slam than jam. They’re highly focused on the lyrics with choruses minus the hip-hop standard of women’s voices, men shouting catchphrases, or gimmicky sound effects like dogs barking or babies crying. This means they won’t be played in clubs, but the tracks are ambient enough for great iPod walks. After the cellophane crackle frees the CD from its packaging, just put that pretty thing on repeat because one listen only skims each song’s meaning. However, after the initial five or six cycles, one would probably shelf this album and only queue it up every couple of months. It’s “Oh, wow this is cool,” versus “This is the new soundtrack of my life.” “List of Demands (Reparations)” is already a MTV2 hit, and deservedly so with its thrashing energy. The bitter, coming-of-age ballad “Black Stacey” is a diamond born from compressed coal.
Williams’ music career comes from poetic roots. His allure was first glimpsed on the 1998 film “Slam,” awarded Sundance’s Best Feature Film. The movie launched the discussion on rap as modern poetry, and Williams still pulls at the edges of intellectualism with his work. The self-titled album is a sophomore effort following Rick Rubin-produced “Amethyst Rock Star.”