Record Reviews


ENIGMA

Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi (Virgin)

Not much has changed in the Enigma camp since the first CD's release four years ago, which swept across European discotheques before finally catching up to the more fickle U.S. pop market nearly a year after its release. Michael Cretu, the band's driving force and sole official member, is still busy creating the swirly, lethargic lover's music that caught people's attention the first time out, but with Vive Le Roi, he's backed away from the faux-Franciscan friar choruses and branched out into a more ambient groove, relying more on traditional African tribal rhythms and native chants. Life and sometime-music partner Louisa Cretu is again on hand to inject a bit of la femme mystique into the whole affair, to varying degrees of success. Sometimes it's hard not to crack a smile listening to the duo's relentlessly romantic lyrical fluff, especially when it suddenly strikes you that the male of the species sounds more often than not like a cross between Steve Perry and Michael Bolton. That aside, I've always found Enigma's particular strain of music -- waif-pop? ambi-candy? call it what you will -- just perfect for doing dishes on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It's also perfect background sound for that other cherished rainy Sunday activity, but I'm in celibate mode right now, so I'll have to get back to you on that.
2.5 Stars -- Marc Savlov


MOBB DEEP

Hell on Earth (Loud/RCA)

"This ain't rap, it's bloodsport," warn Mobb Deep, a crew smart enough to capture its ethic in one sentence. And on this second album's second track, the pair of gleefully unapologetic thugs deliver their toughest body blow -- to a corpse: Tupac Shakur, who outted the Mobb's Prodigy as a sickle-cell victim on "Hit 'em Up." "Must have been drunk when you wrote that shit," they retort, before threatening that he'll need to "reconstruct [your] face so you can learn to talk again" in a track recorded before Tupac's murder. On it's more timely tracks, Hell on Earth is not only equally raw, but also far deeper lyrically, opting more often for apocalyptic self-destruction than old-school self-congratulation. And while Prodigy and Havoc still sound unaffected by their own tales of horror, their flawless mike-passing nonetheless holds its own against a guest role call of Nas, Method Man, and Raekwon. But Hell on Earth's real legacy isn't its lyrical brutality, but rather its musical vitality: hypnotic soundscapes of big beats and anti-funk organ rolls. Who needs to be funky, they seem to ask, when their overt pessimism plays itself out as so oddly uplifting? And maybe they're onto something with this bloodsport theory, because already Mobb Deep's poor sportsmanship has outlasted the West's Thug Life game.
3.5 Stars -- Andy Langer


BOOZOO CHAVIS

Hey Do Right! (Antone's/Discovery)

The first 10 seconds of legend Boozoo Chavis' "Zydeco Cha Cha" tells you everything you need to know about this man and his music. Chavis lights into one of his patented, swooping accordion licks while his two sons, Rellis and Charles, whip out a boilermaker rhythm on drums and rubboard. Add Guitar Thomas' licks for spice and June Barfield's thick-as-roux bass for bottom, and stir on a dance floor. That's zydeco. That's what Boozoo Chavis has been doing, off and on, for the past 40 years. And is he on. Those first 10 seconds stretch into the rest of "Cha Cha," "Bosco Stomp," the irresistible "You're Gonna Look Like a Monkey," and several other South Louisiana stomps that dare you not to get up and move, man, move! After a slowed-down middle section culminating in the delicate, aching "Crying Waltz," the sweat flies from Hey Do Right! like one of Chavis' racehorses as it nears the stretch, crossing the finish line with the jocular Creole reel "The Spotted Cow Died" and the relentlessly funky "Zydeco Lady." Chavis has perfected zydeco over the years like a fine jambalaya recipe, and hits the jackpot here with as exhilarating a dance record as anything in a London club. Still not as good as a trip to El-Sid-O's or Slim's Y-Ki-Ki, but damn close.
3.5 Stars -- Christopher Gray


SQUEEZE PLAY: A WORLD
ACCORDION ANTHOLOGY

(Rounder)


You may have seen those bumper stickers around town that say "Play accordion, go to jail: It's the law." Well, I have proof here of a longstanding, worldwide, criminal conspiracy, and the perpetrators are beating the music police hands-down. Musicologist Dick Spottswood has put together an amazing historical collection of squeezebox music, ranging from 1920 to 1956, and covering areas of the world that I had never thought of as accordion hotbeds. There's the predictable Tejano, Cajun, and Eastern European music, but I'd been tragically unaware of incursions the instrument has made into South Africa and the Caribbean. In all, Italy, Poland, Ireland, Rumania, Texas, South Africa, Russia, Scotland, Greece, Turkey, Louisiana, Canada, Slovenia, and the Dominican Republic get a sampling here. The only criticism I have is for what's not here; zydeco would've been nice as the only African-American music form to have incorporated accordion. Some South American stuff might've been nice as well. Then again, you can only fit so much music onto one CD. If you're an accordion geek, and prefer the sound of old 78s to hi-fi, this amazing compendium could send you into an apoplectic fit of joy.
4.5 Stars -- Lee Nichols


SUBURBIA

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (DGC)

In deejaying, nothing matters as much as the segue, having one beat stitch seamlessly into the next. Richard Linklater, whose slacker opus Dazed and Confused was a masterpiece of editing -- wasting not one single frame of film -- has a firm grasp on this. Besides assembling a soundtrack that's flawless in its indie-rock pedigree (Elastica with Pavement's Stephen Malkmus, Sonic Youth, Beck, Girls Against Boys, Boss Hogg, Superchunk, Butthole Surfers, The Flaming Lips), local boy made legend, Linklater, who had a hand in both gold and platinum-selling Dazed and Confused soundtracks, has now, with subUrbia, put together a mix tape so singular in sound that it could only be termed the soundtrack to Lollapalooza nation. There may not be a single song on subUrbia (quick, all you non-fanatics, name a song by Pavement, Sonic Youth, or Superchunk), save possibly for Ray Davies' "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" (Boss Hogg) or the Lips' "Hot Day," but the sound herein is so completely of one mind -- one tuning -- that were you to slip into reverie, you'd swear it was all one group. And what exactly is that sound? Try that same maddening rant that disguises the dead cold heart of subUrbia's author Eric Bogosian. And isn't that, after all, what being trapped in the 'burbs is all about?
3.0 Stars -- Raoul Hernandez


PAVEMENT

Brighten the Corners (Matador)

Cool. Pavement is cool. Indie cool. Almost too cool for words. Pavement has gotten so cool that they're boring. The unrefined, unpracticed, meandering guitar sounds together with Stephen Malkmus' unenthusiastic vocals had always been the cornerstone of the band's hipness; but now, on Brighten the Corners, Pavement's efforts to be nonchalant sound, well, chalant. You can't do the exact same things for four records and still be "inventive" or "refreshing." I've got nothing against stagnation. AC/DC has made a career out of it. But in the past, particularly on Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, at least Pavement's disenchantment was focused. Corners is mostly them inventing more unusual phrases and stringing them together with things like Geddy Lee references or obvious facts about U.S geography. Often the lines are just silly: "One of us is a cigar stand/ And one of us is a lovely, blue, incandescent guillotine." Funny, this is the same band that two albums ago, in reference to the then-budding superstar Smashing Pumpkins wrote, "I don't understand what they mean/ And I could really give a fuck." Me too guys, only now you're the referent of your own sentiment.
2.0 Stars -- Michael Bertin


TRANS AM

Surrender to the Night (Thrill Jockey)

A friend recently loaned me a bootleg videocassette of some juicy, jaw-dropping Seventies ephemera: H.R. Pufnstuf, The Partridge Family, Lidsville, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, even a Sno-man Sno Cone commercial I hadn't thought of in 20 years. Great fun, for sure, but within limits; the tape works because the excerpts are short enough to cut out before discomfort sets in. That's how it is with the Seventies -- big fun in small doses, big drag in larger ones. Maryland's post-rock power trio Trans Am understands that; like their self-titled debut, Surrender to the Night takes a few of the longest-winded Seventies genres -- progrock, metal, kraütrock -- sucks all the hot air out of them, and offers up freeze-dried, bite-sized nuggets of irony and devotion. Unlike, say, Soundgarden, who treat the melodramatic clichés of Seventies with the utmost reverence, Trans Am stretch out climactic metal riffs until they take on a trance-like quality, then bump them up against some cheesy Casiotone figures. If this was a tonier publication, I'd award them the sobriquet post-modern, but since this is a family paper, I'll just call them the bastard love-child of the Ventures and Ash Ra Temple and leave it at that.
3.5 Stars -- Jeff Salamon


WINDSOR FOR THE DERBY

Metropolitan Then Poland (Trance Syndicate)

This gem of a five-song EP manages to be both more cohesive and more outgoing than last year's Calm Hades Float without missing a tick of the metronome. While the minimalist electronic numbers "Exposito" and "Slow Death +" bleep and hum like something out of a David Cronenberg movie on the horrors of high-tech corporate feudalism, the live track "Moving Florida" resounds with a creeping, hypnotic effect accentuated by the muffled crowd noise in the background. "Slow Death" and "The Electric Co." then delve into a warm mine that sparkles with New Zealand-flavored psych-pop. Metropolitan Then Poland is an informal yet highly effective pastiche that taps a myriad of Windsor for the Derby's strengths without ever falling prey to creative inertia. When it's over, you'll be sorry that WFTD abandoned Austin for the more ambitious climes of the Big Apple.
3.5 Stars -- Greg Beets

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