Version 2.0 (Almo)
Three years ago, this Madison, Wisconsin-based four-piece cannily combined three notable producers (Steve Marker, Butch Vig, and Duke Erikson) and a Scottish fireball (Shirley Manson), and produced an album so good (Garbage) that it left the inevitable question, "Can they do it again?" Version 2.0 is an unqualified "damn straight." When on the opening track Shirley Manson nakedly sings "I'll tell you something, I am wolf, but I like to wear sheep's clothing," you've been forewarned that this valentine to just about every era of lush pop-rock is really Garbage's tribute to Blondie. That's the band Garbage most resemble in sound and appearance; just listen to "I Think I'm Paranoid" or "Sleep Together" and try to deny the spectre of Debbie Harry & Co. This is no black mark against Garbage; on the contrary, the band's bald affection for Seventies New Wave-disco is highly commendable; it was a grossly maligned genre without which industrial and contemporary dance music would not exist. Throw in some Patti Smith ("Hammering in My Head"), Pretenders ("Special") and oh yes, even the Beach Boys ("Push It") and you can be sure Version 2.0 will resonate throughout summer 1998.
3.5 Stars- Margaret Moser
Playback Singers (Sub Pop)
Halfway through Playback Singers, it sneaks up on you - it being both the pillow-soft, aching grandeur of "I'm Yours" and the stripped-down beauty of the whole album. Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang have traveled this path of less resistance ever since being two-thirds of Galaxie 500. Like fellow Boston band the Pixies, Galaxie 500 was a supergroup before anyone realized it. While Dean Wareham has sinced pushed his Luna into the limelight, Damon and Naomi have quietly been making quiet albums since Galaxie called it quits at the start of this decade. Recorded in their house, Playback Singers has delectable intimacy to it; songs as home-baked bread. The formula is much the same one that Galaxie employed: stark songs, spacious arrangements, subtle hooks. The occasional flute or odd instrument pokes up from the structure every now and then, but mostly it's acoustic guitar, shakers, brushed drums, and bass. If you don't listen attentively, half the album will sneak up on you and pass you by, through no fault of its own. Damon and Naomi might not be indie royalty enough to be a feather in Sub Pop's cap, but they're solid, consistent, and staking out the sort of tender territory that few bands work this well.
3 Stars - Phil West
The One That Got Away (New Shoes)
The one that got away is always the best one. An irreplaceable loss that grows in scope and legend with each remembrance until it becomes the ideal, the recollection is not a tragedy so much as a glimpse into the realm of the highest possibilities. Diana Jones' appropriately titled second CD (she will have relocated from Austin to her native New England by the time you read this) examines these possibilities as through an old slide projector, grainy images cast against a wall, larger than life and only slightly faded with time. The places she describes in "When You Come Home," "Like I Do," and in the title track are built on memory, and though the details may have changed, home will always be the same place you left. Jones' airy voice carries grim determination instead of emotional turmoil, and her forward-leaning folk music speaks to the lonesome comfort of a snow-covered street in a quiet neighborhood late at night - a still-life from home, in New England. Billy White played a number of instruments herein, having also helped produce The One That Got Away, a beautiful and bittersweet daydream that will only become more so with the passing of time.
3.5 Stars- Christopher Hess
Live at the Knitting Factory (Knitting Factory)
In Carterian Fashion (Atlantic)
Hamiet Bluiett is a master at kicking up a ruckus, piling up fat slabs of sound like a bricklayer, and blowing them down with joyous abandon. From his time in latter-day Mingus bands, through his decades in the World Saxophone Quartet, his tone his been an aural force to be reckoned with, melodic, but arresting; he explores registers where no baritone saxophone has gone before. Bluiett's Baritone Sax Group - four baris and a drummer - lock down and punch out a hard groove on this stirring live date, marching, growling, and propelling a knockout performance. Former WSQ bandmate Julius Hemphill's shadow looms large over the proceedings. Like Bluiett, another in the Baritone Sax Group was strongly influenced by his time with the late alto legend: James Carter, the ferocious young multi-reed talent from Detroit. Though still shy of his third decade, Carter, too, is known for a take-no-prisoners assault on the saxophone; he and his own imaginative group have dropped jaws worldwide. Yet, on his albums, Carter often erects conceptual fences. In Carterian Fashion, his fifth album, at first seems locked in, featuring saxophone/organ combos grooving to some laid back Gene Ammons-style soul jazz. It doesn't stay there for long. Wisely choosing pianists to man the Hammond, lending a fresh approach, Carter delivers a building rhythmic fury and an astounding emotional range; he pops, spurts, wails, and like Bluiett, puts jazz saxophone's best foot forward.
(Live at the Knitting Factory) 4 Stars
(In Carterian Fashion) 3,5 Stars - Jeff McCord
He Got Game (Def Jam)
In its relatively brief lifespan, hip-hop has done and been a lot of things, yet hasn't proved its artists are capable of aging gracefully. After all, the game's two biggest stars, Tupac and Biggie, have stopped aging altogether. It comes as a surprise, then, that a pair of new soundtracks effectively use veterans to push hip-hop forward via a few steps back. On Bulworth, a stunning collection fueled by all-star collaborations, veterans like LL Cool J and Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Mack 10, Public Enemy, KRS-One and Cypress Hill's B-Real offer up tracks that could have been lead-off singles on proper solo albums. Of the newcomers, only the Fugees' Pras Michael holds his own with his Wycleff Jean-produced "Ghetto Superstar," but even as the feel-good hit of the summer, it's no match for KRS-One's 60-second cameo on the title track. To then hear "The Teacher" make the jump to He Got Game and join Chuck D. for "Unstoppable" is to finally experience hip-hop's old school dream team - although just the 13-track restoration of Public Enemy, Flava Flav, and the Bomb Squad is classic in itself. Some of the movie's tie-in basketball references get tiresome, but nothing gets in the way of the fact that Chuck D's lyrical approach is his most coherent and consistent of the decade. Once again, back is the incredible rhyme animal, proving along with Bulworth that real hip-hop superstars are capable of not just longevity, but continued vitality.
(Both) 3.5 Stars - Andy Langer
Purely Instrumental (Arhoolie)
Corridos de la Frontera (Watermelon)
While conjunto albums are generally ghettoized in the "File Under: Tejano" section - the likely resting place for any album with Spanish vocals - the roots of conjunto are decidedly multicultural. Who knows this better than Santiago Jimenez Jr., who grew up watching his legendary father play to halls of waltzing Deutschlanders? At times on Purely Instrumental, a collection of wordless polkas and waltzes, you'd swear you wandered into a German beer hall, so fierce and faithful is the music; yet no sooner is the mood set than a sonorous Mexican melody is laced over the top. It's not genre-bending, it's the birth of conjunto and Purely Instrumental confirms Jimenez's reputation as an accordion virtuoso, as scarcely a measure goes by without one of his lilting leads. It's the perfect album for those monolingual conjunto fans confounded by the fact they can't understand a damn word the artists are singing, but they'll be missing out on Jimenez's voice, which fits over those seductive accordion leads like beans on rice. Fans of that combination would do better with the more straightforward Corridos de la Frontera, Jimenez's latest effort for Watermelon Records. Here, you'll find him singing songs of vida y amor over a slightly smoother set of waltzes and rancheras. Don't look to either album to break new ground - Jimenez is more archivist than revolutionary - but count on both to tread worn paths wisely.
(Purely Instrumental) 4 Stars
(Corridos de la Frontera) 3.5 Stars- Jay Hardwig
Bristol pioneers of languid trip-hop beats and club sensuality brought home, Massive Attack remain one of the most influential groups in Britronica history. Yet while earlier works like Blue Lines had a playful glide to them, this new outing is darker in tone, and while it's not quite as brooding as co-Bristolite Tricky, Massive Attack '98 seems to share some of that artist's pre-millennial tension. They've always been nighttime-is-the-right-time music, and with Sara Jay and Deborah Miller's soaring, lofty vocals, Mezzanine is a paean of sorts to the long walk home from clubland. These sorts of shadowy spider beats have been succeeded (and popularized) in the interim by Morcheeba and Sneaker Pimps, among others, which is not to say Massive Attack is lacking; it's just that these pioneers have become their own genre, with their name iconic in all the wrong ways. "Man Next Door" comes off as the CD's strongest track, but much of the rest of the album feels like filler, outtakes from previous works that don't quite measure up to past glories despite the work of core-members Mushroom, Daddy-G, and Andrew Vowles. It's still a deeply affecting rainy-day love-in of a disc, just not quite the ripping orgasm we were looking forward to.
2 Stars - Marc Savlov
Close Your Eyes (Golden Hour)
When your subconscious mind enters through the closet door of your dreams, its cat burglar grace never hides the footprints found in the morning. Close Your Eyes, Glorium's third CD, leads a trail back to the arms of Morpheus - a dream that probably meant nothing - but not before leaving some tantalizing visions. Like this stalwart Austin indie band's previous full-lengths, Cinema Peligrosa and Eclipse, the group's latest somnambulant disturbance envelopes strange, creepy melodies with cold, sharp riffs. Opening with four shoegazers that segue like a suite, the album nearly dozes off with the rather sophomoric whine of "Us + the Bad Past" and "Mnemonic Me" (Lino Max and Paul Vodas are usually good for better fare), but hits its dream cycle on the instrumental "The Spiral Moat," which starts as a tumble in the air lock, and ends in space station chapel where the "Moonbeam King" punches in with some electric shock. "Apeman at Sea" follows with some potent modern rock blast, and after two pointless instrumentals, "Hold Still" saves the best for last as an uneasy ballad. Close Your Eyes might not yield memorable dreams, but it will linger with you long after you wake.
2.5 Stars - Raoul Hernandez
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