Music reviews from the pages of Think Magazine...
A Thousand Leaves (Geffen)
I remember the first time I heard Live at Leeds by the Who in 1979. It was the most vicious assault my ears had ever heard, and I promptly unloaded it. Ten years later after growing fond of euphoric distortion and melodic feedback, I bought the record again hopefully.
The difference between the sad tin can rattle of Pete Townshend's most audacious show, and that horrible sound of my youth, was in fact Sonic Youth. Absolute legends of noise control, and pathfinders to the subconscious, Sonic Youth beget the second wave of American punk that led up to the infamous Nirvana.
No one was immune to the influence of the group, including Public Enemy, and including some of the experimental techno of today. After years of leading the pack, Sonic Youth attempted to cash in on their status with a few albums of over thought cool, and seemed to be directionless.
A Thousand Leaves is simply the most loose and inspired they've been since the middle 80's. From the loose free form jamming of 'Hits of Sunshine (for Allen Ginsburg)' to the wild melodic swings of 'French Tickler', this album plays in that space where you are half dreaming and half awake.
There are fewer jarring transitions between pure noise and the sweet 60's (Doors, Byrds, Velvet underground) inspired melodies than in the past, but it all flows wonderfully together. It's a gift from another time and place, and if you like it try Sister, and Daydream Nation as follow ups.
For The Masses: An Album of Depeche Mode Songs (1500 records)
Most tribute albums are cattle calls for record companies to try to create a star on the backs of an established one. The results are usually uneven at best with lots of tracks to skip.
The guys from God Lives Underwater (who produced a surprise hit this year with the haunting 'From Your Mouth') brought together a diverse group of heavyweights to tell the story of another very influential one.
Depeche Mode has always cultivated a certain kind of sound, keyboard driven, and a little soft to give singer David Gahan space to move his fading baritone in.
Lately this phenomena has been most detrimental to Martin Gore's generally unheralded lyrics, despite DM's ability to keep making hits.
The Smashing Pumpkins initiate the proceedings with an understated and elegant version of 'Never Let Me Down Again', leading into GLU's own pumping version of 'Fly on the Windscreen' using layered 303 buildups and a pumping Hammond organ sound.
Only a few of the tracks fail to take the old tracks anyplace new, but most of these tracks subtly rework the originals to outstanding effect, the vocalists free to bring out the power of the lyrics in a way that brings out their quality differently than Gahan would. It brings you closer to the songs to have them come at you from different directions.
There are many highlights, Dishwalla rocks 'Policy of Truth' expresses more brutality than the original, and Gus Gus tweaks out 'Shame' from Construction Time Again in a way that you can hear Marvin Gaye emerging from an electronic coal mine.
Rammstien's 'Stripped' single is mind bending, and newcomer drum and bassers Rabbit in the Moon turn 'Waiting for the Night' into a club anthem. The Cure, Monster Magnet, and Hooverphonic all shine here as well. This is something special, indeed.
LOS AMIGOS INVISIBLE
The New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera (Luaka Bop)
David Byrne's world music label is responsible for finding these 'invisible' friends, and it is one of his most intriguing finds to date.
Most 'world' records (not Guinness book anyway) that include a Latin sound can sometimes feel a bit overly sentimental and trapped in a particular form, and even though there are a fare share of traditional tunes here, there is also plenty of experimentation.
From the Sly and the Family Stone guitar soul of the opening 'Ultra Funk', to the fake record skipping on the ballad that closes the album, we meet a group that actually reverses the concept of 'world', to mean borrowing some light house styling, and adding some Beastie Boys exuberant weirdness to the proceedings.
A little bit of the power of Cuban Jazz here, and some of the lushness of the late Sergio Mendez and his island sounds there, and you have the mix of styles to have a very nice party.
Overall just enough Latin beat, and enough experimental electronics and production ingenuity to keep it interesting, even if I would have lost some of the going nowhere disco soul tracks and kept it down to about 14 tracks, instead of the 19 here.
On the Floor of the Boutique (Skint)
The Big Beat sound dominates a large portion of the UK's club scene at the moment. Alcohol fueled hooligans wait all week to pound the dance floor and make fools of themselves at Norman Cook's (Fatboy Slim) Boutique. They go there because the man's music as well as his pals at Skint is powerful hook laden madness, all good natured fun, and bass pounding fury.
This mix is a testament to a good time being had.
Jumping out it's CD case with panache and power the first six tracks slice your head in half seamlessly, pulling out tracks from groups as far apart as the Bassbin Twins, Mr. Natural's Rude Boy Rockers and New York's Jungle Brothers to prove that the Big Beat lurks in some unexpected corners like hard-core rap, ska and experimental breakbeat.
The track right before his incredible four alarm 'Michael Jackson' single is mindlessly repetitive, probably to highlight his own crowd manipulating talents. The middle part of the disc has a trancey aspect that allows you to space out and catch your breath a little before hammering the last four tracks down your by now dehydrated throats, ultimately summing up the affair with his excellent new single 'Rockafeller Skank'.
Try it after a hockey game, or a pay raise, but use sparingly in the boudoir.
Herehear (Ovum records)
The USA has it's own sound when it comes to techno, even if the masses even have a clue that anything other than MTV exists.
Mr. Wink has been a pioneer of the scene in Philadelphia, a close third to Detroit and Chicago when house turned electronica. Getting this material released on a major label is already a breakthrough in America, but Wink has more fish (or cauliflower) to fry.
Far from the narcotic fuelled European scene, his music is as a calculated as his somewhat vegan lifestyle. This is an immensely enjoyable set of tunes, constructed to instruct the uninitiated (or perhaps uninitiate the instructed), and still delight sceptics who would call its commerciality into question.
Wink highlight technics from all across the genre, throwing in jazzy horn jams, house beats, long ambient breaks, and even Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails fame) into the mix. He suckers those rockers and traditionalists with well arranged 'songs', exposing them slowly to the unfamiliar rhythms and beats, and by the time the familiarity of scowling Trent fades away after 5 tracks, Wink slowly cuts loose and unravels another universe they are helpless to stop, no matter how close their thumb gets to the fast forward button. Killing rock and roll is an eternal toil.
Cabin Fever (Mantra records)
There is little by the way of identification in the jacket of Cabin Fever, the players and knob twirlers just want to take you far away to a blissful palace, haunted by huge tight break beats, analog and early Yamaha keyboards, and interludes from other acoustic instruments.
Through nine tracks and 65 minutes, Muki runs your bath water and washes away everything that you didn't get done that day. A little bit like David Holmes, more groove oriented tracks on Let's get killed, but with an airy oriental beauty, and less of a four beat structure.
It's hard to describe it, except in terms of itself, it's a little like a classical piece, each song title simply informing a change in sonata. Like the David Byrne and Brian Eno album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, multiples of polyrhythms keep you alert while washes of sound chill you out.
Two Pages (Talkin' Loud)
The third release from the mysterious group of drum and bass heads who have worked closely with Roni Size and remixed Courtney Pine amongst others. The lushness and spirit which 4hero shows on the first of the two pages, matching the ambient minefield of the raw hard step jungle in page two.
I rate 'Loveless', and the stern lament for the children of the "3rd planet from the star we call Sun" sung by former Reprezent vocalist Ursula Rucker as one of the best singles this year, if not the most provocative.
Songs like 'Wormholes' and 'Star Chasers' as well as 'Wishful Thinking' reflect their titles with subtle twists in the word play to keep you aware that they are 'dropping science' rather than tenderly caressing you into a happy cat.
The melodies of page one will greet you on trams, elevators and while you are doing laundry, even if you don't wear an ipod. A steady growing tension is released on the mostly instrumental page two. Walking a fine line between the crunching Jazz of Reprazent and the lush ambient feel of Bukem's Logical Progression series, 4hero might be right up your alley.
Psyence Fiction (Mo' Wax)
The much hyped collaboration between James Lavelle, DJ Shadow and a team of the world's most popular alternative lyricists will surprise most knowledgable listeners with its understatement.
Besides the opening rap and scratch, and a breakbeat jam near the album's end, the only moments of turntable madness here are the rest of the tracks that fit into a category I can only describe as trip-rock.
Layered guitar, and subtle rhythmic grooves manipulated by heavyweight Shadow create haunting soundscapes that are unsettling and often captivating.
Featuring vocalists Thom Yorke (Radiohead), and Richard Ashcroft (the Verve), who were half their current stature when this project started more than two years ago, U.N.K.L.E. shows that the Mo' wax records founder has interests far from his labels roots in Jazz, hip-hop, and electro. If fans of individual contributors can loosen their expectations, they will enjoy a very moody, complicated ride.
Mark Hollis (Polydor)
This entirely acoustically recorded offering from former the Talk Talk crooner is a far cry from the electronic pop of that seminal group.
A well balanced mix of simmering jazz flavored torch songs, and slightly less impressive spare atmospheres, the eight tracks here are better together (with a hangover, a bubble bath or both) than any one, and the playing is crisp (in places I would wager that the instruments here have been looped, despite the album sleeve's denials) and never over the top.
At least half of the tracks are near perfect, with the more subtle pieces here requiring more time to ingest. A pleasant surprise, and perfect for those who are tired of noise.
A very worthwhile tribute to one of the original creators of electro music (We are talking 1978 here!) by some of the artists and producers influenced by the group. The dense mix of Heaven 17 early electro-pop lends itself freely to being torn apart and reassembled in any number of combinations.
Singles like 'Temptation' (used in the Trainspotting club scene), 'Penthouse and Pavement', and 'Let Me Go' are all given respectful and radical face-lifts by names like Adrian Sherwood, the Rhythm Masters, and Freddie Fresh among others.
It is actually probably more educational for old fans who might snub modern dance music's lack of lyrical substance, than for those who don't know the group. That said, there is some very innovative arrangements and lessons for house producers about mixing intelligent vocals in intelligently.
Worthy of the group.
THE BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA
The Dirty Boogie (Interscope)
The most amazing thing about Setzer's latest cloning of the frisbee he put out before this one, is that any musician who would include himself in an orchestra would work with this no talent.
As if another version of his 1983 hit 'Rock This Town' wasn't enough, play the tragic 'This Old House' (in store, of course), for some real laughs.
The Threat is Real (Ignition)
The threat is real, huh?
These chumps probably really loathe the lowest common denominator crowd who puts the bread on their table.
If a hundred monkeys, played a hundred guitars, for let's say, a year and a half, they wouldn't be half as weak as these homo moronicus are.
Random lyric: "Do I have to give up me, to be loved by you."
She started off by imitating the Throwing Muses' siren Kristen Hersh, got a chip on her shoulder and kicked everyone but Natalie out of the band, and now pawns off her self-obsessed tales on unsuspecting college students and nice people.
The inadvertent champion of the self identified ignorant.
Oh yeah, now she wants to be Carly Simon. She's like inexpensive ketchup.
Remixed Dance Classics (Atlantic)
Although there are some cool remixes of popular disco hits here, and you could be fooled, if you listen to it by yourself a lot, that its indispensable.
A friend of mine sat me down and had a long talk about the effects of ageing on the brain, as well as the weaker aspects of pyramid economics.
The next day I felt normal, perfectly fine, except that I felt really sure that this pretty much sucks.