Luna's imaginatively titled concert release "Live" is a delightful surprise. For a band that's released five albums of subdued Velvet-y pop, Luna knows how to kick it up a notch (albeit a small notch) for their audience. It's a tricky balancing act to perform gently colorful melancholy music to the bar crowd, but Luna pulls it off. Fans of Galaxie 500 will love Luna's absolutely fiesty take on "Fourth of July."
"Girls Can Tell"
Spoon have made a literate, rocking, breakthrough record that occupies a funny place--the songs are not unconventional, per se, yet they're somehow really special. Girls Can Tell displays the emotional resonance and big rock power of, say, Thin Lizzy and Mott the Hoople; the sonically referential, indie-rock smarts of a band like Versus; and amazing hooks that recall Colin Blunstone of the Zombies. This is one of those life-affirming pop albums you know you'll return to in years to come.
"Got It Made"
Brassy's immediate claim to fame is that they're led by one Muffin Spencer, younger sister of blues-strangling, pants-on-fire rock reverend Jon Spencer. And anyone picking up their debut album in hopes of hearing a family resemblance won't be disappointed; with a wink and a snarl, Muffin shoots down inflated egos with the same swaggering, hey-baby-I'm-in-charge strut as the elder Spencer. (They must have played King of the Hill a lot as kids.)
"Standards," Tortoise's fourth proper studio album, is the Chicago supergroup's least categorizable effort yet. In this kaleidoscope of sound, adventurous jazz fusion glides serenely past contemporary electronica and into genres of music that haven't yet been invented. It's really rather great.
You can't dispute Liliput's status as pioneers of feminist art punk: Along with fellow travelers like the Slits and the Raincoats, this (mostly) female Swiss group took advantage of punk's anything-goes attitude and created jittery and spirited pop that was both in step with the times and completely singular. This double-CD retrospective gathers 46 songs recorded under five different lineups from 1978 to 1983. The early material is a riot of exuberant energy, taking stylistic cues from peers like Gang of Four and Wire (propulsive bass, skittering pop rhythms, slashing guitars) and adding distinctive overlapping vocal patterns, which are sung, shrieked, and hiccoughed in three languages and made-up dadaistic slang.
Fab crooner Duncan Sheik's third studio album is his sparsest and most affecting work to date. Starting where Nick Drake left off, Sheik's plaintive vocals and bittersweetly romantic and spiritual lyrical content are expertly augmented by a rich yet subtle instrumentation and sonic palette.
"A Rollins In The Wry [PA]"
Musclebound alterna-pundit Henry Rollins throws many punches and nearly all of them connect on his latest spoken-word album, recorded from a series of weekly shows at the Cafe Luna club in Los Angeles. "A Rollins in the Wry" is, without a doubt, a comedy album. While he may not be quite as incisive as Dennis Miller, as prone to screaming as Sam Kinison, or as pissed-off as Bill Hicks, Rollins combines elements from all three in a way that assures you'll be laughing and, later, playing your favorite cuts for your friends.
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OUR CUSTOMERS RECOMMEND
Gang of Four
A customer from Middletown, Delaware, recommends Gang of Four's "Entertainment!": ""Entertainment!" is a study in stripped-down punk music. There is no weak track on the album. Each title makes one think about his/her place in the world. Each song makes you want to bounce around the room like a balloon that was just released without tying the end."
"The Kingsbury Manx"
The Kingsbury Manx
It strikes us that there may be some people who haven't heard the North Carolina-based Kingsbury Manx, whose debut album came out early last year. This group combines the expansive worldview of the pop-based post-everything groups (Olivia Tremor Control, Lambchop, and the Beta Band) with the focused, song-centered, slowed-down approach of Low, Bedhead, and the Willard Grant Conspiracy. They're on the up-and-coming Overcoat label, which has also put out cool records by Richard Buckner, Knife in the Water, and International Airport.
ONE FROM LEFT FIELD
Are you down with the inventive, finger-picked acoustic guitar work of John Fahey, Peter Lang, Robbie Basho, and Jim O'Rourke? It was all the rage with the indie-rock kids a few years ago. If so, you have to check out Bola Sete (if you haven't already). Djalma de Andrade, a.k.a. Bola Sete, finally sees the release of his most fluidly beautiful work with the revelatory collection "Ocean Memories," a double-disc set of half reissued, half unreleased material. Brazilian and American folk, classical music, flamenco, bossa nova, jazz--they're all wrapped up in his entrancing, strange, thoroughly beautiful music. It's melancholy and totally beautiful at the same time.
Philip K. Dick
Nobody but Philip K. Dick could so successfully combine sci-fi comedy with the unease of reality gone wrong, shifting underfoot like quicksand. Besides grisly ideas like funeral parlors where you swap gossip for advice from the frozen dead, "Ubik" (1969) offers such deadpan farce as a moneyless character's attack on the robot apartment door that demands a 5-cent toll: "I'll sue you," the door said as the first screw fell out. Joe Chip said, "I've never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it."
"Things We Lost in the Fire"
The breathy, subtle, haunting brilliance of the Midwestern trio Low has never been in such full effect before. "Things We Lost in the Fire" is a delicate yet intense record that simply will not leave your brain once you let it in. Songs such as "Dinosaur Act," "Sunflower," "Whore," and "In Metal" fuse the moody transcendence of ambient music with the sweet melodies and quick fix of the pop song. Whether you've been a fan since their birth or just heard them in the Gap ad over Christmas and thought they sounded really cool, the new Low album is for you. It is the perfect companion to the coming winter months; curl up with its soothing melodies under a thick comforter.
"That's Not What I Heard"
The Gossip ~ more
Restraint and polish have their virtues, but the Gossip's punk-blues debut preaches a powerful sermon on the value of raw, honest emotion and reckless abandon. Limiting themselves to vocals, guitar, and drums, with absolutely no studio wizardry, first names only in liner notes, and a total running time of less than 25 minutes, this threesome has no tolerance for non-essentials. Guitarist Nathan and drummer Kathy lay down a stripped-down retro sound reminiscent of the Flat Duo Jets and Bratmobile, providing gospel-shout singer nonpareil Beth with a perfect pulpit from which to deliver her frank discourses on lesbian love, lust, and leverage.
Coldplay ~ more
With their debut single alone, the emotion-fortified "Shiver," Coldplay prove they can shift between elated and crushed in a breath, as singer Chris Martin explores music's oldest chestnut (unconditional yet unrequited love) with the shakiest of voices and a backdrop of epic guitars. For 10 tracks on "Parachutes," he adds newfound meaning to the most tired and overused rock sentiments--love found, love lost, love unrequited--over acoustic guitars and emotionally fraught rock. And for once, all the cliches ring true because Chris Martin genuinely sounds like a man picking over the bones of his life, coming up with just as many reasons to be cheerful as seriously depressed.
"Swansong for You"
The Gentle Waves ~ more
First line: "Oh, loneliness." Last line: "There was magic." Isobel Campbell's lyrics, alternately starry-eyed and bleak, seem borrowed from the notebook of a tragically romantic poetry student. But she has the sense to set her words to the music that best suits them: the Francoise Hardy school of mid-'60s French pop, built from earthy guitars and lush orchestration, suitable for both mellow abyss-gazing and cheerful squinting into the sunshine. Its best moments--the darkly chipper "Falling from Grace," the warm piano-folk rambler "Loretta Young," the Northern Soul-ish "Sisterwoman," and the Bond-theme homage "There Was Magic, Then"--transcend the album's blend of awkwardness and charm.
"The Ice in Me"
Enemy Mine ~ more
Although Enemy Mine refer (jokingly?) to their full-length debut "The Ice in Me" as "Slint Bizkut," they prove adept in retooling a particularly potent offshoot of hardcore punk. At times, this trio sound reminiscent of "Meantime"-era Helmet, whose coldly intricate mesh of hard rock and hardcore served as a blueprint for a decade's worth of angry bands. Enemy Mine (two bassists and a drummer) is less concerned with tricky time signatures than with playing with utterly brutal finesse. And this is it should be--bassist-vocalist Mike Kunka's former band Godheadsilo were masters of bludgeoning squall. Enemy Mine roar through these 13 songs as if barely able to control their fury.
"Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven"
Godspeed You Black Emperor ~ more
Canada's Godspeed You Black Emperor raise the ante on their already ambitious orchestral rock by releasing a double CD of material as their second full-length album. The group combines the drums and guitar of typical rock-band instrumentation with horns and strings to create a music built around drones and slowly evolving melodic figures. It rises and falls from delicate introductory passages to unabashed grand climaxes. Their juxtaposition of drums with violins and lush romantic tonality brings to mind Rachel's, but their compositional scale and the pounding repetitive intensity of their dynamic peaks evoke Glenn Branca's "The Ascension." Fans of Godspeed's previous work will be very happy with this further exploration of their signature sound.
"Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska"
Various ~ more
While it is a law of physics that tribute records invariably reek, here is one of those rare examples that mix plenty of sweet in with the sour. It was with "Nebraska" (1982) that Bruce Springsteen fully affirmed himself as a literate everyman steeped in the tradition of John Steinbeck and Flannery O'Connor, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. And that's the side of Springsteen that clearly appeals to Johnny Cash, Los Lobos, Hank Williams III, and the dozen other artists who participate in this remake of his dark classic. Chrissie Hynde, Ani DiFranco, and Deana Carter all deliver haunting performances, but as far as the men folk go, the album's most striking covers are outtakes that Springsteen recorded for but left off the original "Nebraska": "I'm on Fire" sounds even creepier with Cash's craggy vocal, and "Wages of Sin," in the hands of Damien Jurado and Rose Thomas, shows Springsteen can be just as depressing as your favorite emo idol.
"The Mark, Tom and Travis Show (The Enema Strikes Back)"
Blink 182 ~ more
Punk rock is meant to be played loud and snotty. Blink 182 are a San Diego punk rock threesome whose arrested development has led them to a sparkling array of sex jokes that cover everything from anal sex to masturbation to... well, you get the idea--and that's just the between-song banter. This live collection features a slam-dunk collection of the band's hits, fan favorites from their various studio albums, and new tunes ("Blew Job" among the enlightened tracks). With the added appeal of a color booklet and about seven minutes of "stage banter" tacked on at the end, it's guaranteed to either leave you in stitches or have you grounded for a month.
NOT YET RELEASED: TORTOISE, STEPHEN MALKMUS
Tortoise ~ more
Formed in 1990, the Chicago-based art-punk/prog-funk/post-rock collective Tortoise were easily among the most influential bands of the '90s. "Standards" is, predictably, all over the place in unpredictable ways; Bundy Brown, McEntire, and the rest continue to push the envelope. This record is mostly spazzy yet melodic and dubby space jazz; in some ways it is reminiscent of Medeski, Martin & Wood's last CD, [B00004ZDM5] "The Dropper." It is pretty amazing, though on a few tracks they sound eerily similar to groups that have been influenced by them (likely just one of those chicken-and-the-egg things).
Stephen Malkmus ~ more
Depending on which aspects of indie-rock pioneers Pavement you liked best, Stephen Malkmus's solo record is either refreshing or disappointing. If the wry delivery of post-John Ashberry grad school wordplay is what floated your boat, you're in luck, as it abounds here. But if either the ragged, ramshackle brilliance of the early group or the thinking man's jam band that the act evolved into is what you dug about Pavement, this record is likely not for you. "Stephen Malkmus" is, on the surface, a close relative to "Terror Twilight," a neatly polished showcase of shambolic art-pop, with a grinning, brotherly Malkmus dropping wisecracks every inch of the way. And while the surfaces are perhaps a tad too neatly polished, it is a testament to how great Pavement truly was that Malkmus's first solo record is so heavily scrutinized.
EDITOR'S CHOICE: THE MINUTEMEN
"Double Nickels on the Dime"
The Minutemen ~ more
Singer-guitarist D. Boon, bassist Mike Watt, and drummer George Hurley were the Minutemen, one of the most politically charged, artistically uncompromising, just plain amazing bands of the '80s DIY alt-rock scene. Their 1984 double album, "Double Nickels on the Dime," still packs a mighty wallop--funny, insightful lyrics spit and sung atop an exquisite fusion of funk, jazz, and punk sensibilities. Boon died in 1985 before he could save American music.
RECOMMENDED IMPORT: CLIENTELE
The Clientele ~ more
A customer from Brooklyn, New York, recommends the import CD "Suburban Light" by the Clientele: "An exquisite collection of songs: majestic, delicate, gorgeous, and timeless. The echo-laden production is oft (and justly) mentioned in other reviews. Each track sounds as if it is beaming through your walls from a distant room; the songs remain elusive at the same time that they burrow deep into your brain, to resonate throughout your day. Not as heartbreaking and frail as Nick Drake, nor as self-consciously wry as Belle and Sebastian, these 13 songs are really quite magical."
BOOK NOTES: RAYMOND PETTIBON
"Raymond Pettibon: The Books, 1978-1998"
Raymond Pettibon ~ more
No visual artist has epitomized the brutal beauty of punk rock like Raymond Pettibon. Brother to SST label cofounder Greg Ginn, his lyrical, often hilariously captioned drawings have graced thousands of fliers and covers of albums by Black Flag, Mike Watt, and Sonic Youth. The 992-page "The Books, 1978-1998" collects the artist's photocopied pamphlet output; Charles Manson, Elvis Presley, Ringo Starr, and Patty Hearst guest star.
RESOLVE TO SAVE: FIND USED CDS IN AMAZON.COM MUSIC
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