ANGELS OF LIGHT EVERYTHING IS GOOD HERE/PLEASE COME HOME (Young God)
Twenty years after first making an impact with Swans, Michael Gira continues to nibble at the edges of rock with his industrial/orchestral/ambient/avant garde experiments. Musically, his third Angels of Light album is cheerfully all over the place, but on 'Sunset Park' (named, most likely, for an area in Brooklyn just down from Gira's Park Slope home), he brings it down to basics: one riff, one lyric, almost six minutes of repetition. You know you'll love it. Bonus factoid for those who believe in independence: Gira raised the money for this album entirely through the proceeds of a live Angels of Light album, itself released exclusively for that purpose. B-
AXIOM - RECONSTRUCTIONS & VEXATIONS (Axiom/Palm Pictures)
Axiom's creative overseer Bill Laswell takes great pleasure in constantly revising and remixing anything he's involved in. For Reconstructions and Vexations, he hands heavily percussive Indian rhythm tracks from two Tabla Beat Science albums out to such suitable remixers as Midival Puditz, Dr. Israel and Karsh Kale. Tempos vary from heavy dub (4 Hero's 'Orion') to eastern drum and bass (Bedouin Ascent's 'Secret Channel'). A thrill for anyone who likes a little ethno in their electro/techno. B+
BLUEPRINT FOUNDATION (Exceptional)
Delightful late-night chilled-out ambient music such as I thought might be fading from style. Even better, Blueprint is a real band. Alright, so they met at Art School in Devon, but excuse them their prog-rock credentials and tendencies. What Foundation lacks in inventiveness it makes up in sophistication. Sit back, relax and float your mind downstream. B-
CENTAUR IN STREAMS (Martians)
The side project of Hum singer Matt Talbot, Centaur's In Streams starts promisingly, with the plaintive acousticballad 'Life Begins' and the vaguely psychedelic 'Wait For The Sun.' Sadly, the songwriting gets steadily more generic the more the album progresses. To paraphrase Joe Strummer talking about Sandanista!, In Streams would have made a great single. C+
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE MONTH
ERASURE OTHER PEOPLE'S SONGS (Mute)
There was good reason to look forward to this. Erasure have successfully covered 'other people's songs' on both the Abba-esque EP and on various albums and b-sides. Andy Bell has a beautiful voice; Vince Clarke, one of the world's great songwriters himself, is an extraordinarily talented arranger.
So why does Other People's Songs sound so insipid? Part of the problem is the surprisingly conservative, and inherently troublesome choice of material, including two decidedly dated Buddy Holly songs and a well-worn Motown classic. There are also three songs made famous by the newly discredited Phil Spector. One of them, 'Walking In The Rain', benefits from a fresh, lush arrangement and Andy Bell's deliberately queer interpretation of the lyrics, mainting the Ronettes' focus on a dream man. The other two were both hits for the Righteous Brothers and should have been left well alone for entirely different reasons.
I've always felt that 'Ebb Tide' jars with much of the Spector catalogue, as something of an overwrought torch song, and Clarke's lightweight Eurotrance update does nothing to redeem it. As for 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling', pop historians know that this was arguably Spector's greatest hour as a producer and included one of the great vocal performances of all time. In other words, don't take it on unless you can best it. Yet Clarke sounds oddly uninspired at the keyboards, and Bell seems so scared of hitting the high notes that he doesn't even bother to try. I'm reminded of the dreadful version of 'Always Something There To Remind Me' which was an American hit for Naked Eyes in the '80s; yes, it's that soul-less. And as it happens, I just came across a Tom Jones rendition of the same song from 1967: now there's someone with the voice to back up their choice.
Redeeming moments? 'Solsbury Hill' and '(Make Me Smile) Come Up And See Me' are marvelous songs given interesting, though not necessarily innovative, makeovers. And the decision to have a computer sing Buggles' 'Video Killed the Radio Star' was a rare moment of genious. But on an album that otherwise renders Erasure the UB40 of synth pop, why oh why cover 'Can't Help Falling In Love', given UB40's own previous chart-topper with the Elvis-sung standard? Crushingly disappointing. C+
FREAKS The Man Who Lived Underground (Music for Freaks)
Living up to label, title and band name, this third album by English duo Justin Harris and Luke Solomon is hard-hitting, minimalist, sexy, and yes freaky dance music. Equal parts George Clinton, Kraftwerk, Green Velvet and Basement Jaxx, it's also an angry demand for innovation on the dance floor: the Basement Jaxx soundalike, 'What's The Point?' is in fact an attack on what Freaks consider the Camberwell funksters' vacuous content a reply of sorts to 'Where's Your Head At?' Personally, I love the Jaxx, but as long as Freaks can deliver such brutal beats and funky female vocals of their own (as on 'Where You When The Lights Went Out') I'm happy for them to vent. A-
FUNKI PORCINI FAST ASLEEP (Zen/Ninja Tune)
Worth the three year wait? Not really. James Bradell's fourth album as Funki Porcini follows very much his proven formula: laid back beatz for headz, with a particularly stoned nod to the Orb on the opening 'What Are You Looking At?' Worth buying in vinyl form for the fantastic cover image; worth buying in CD form for the bonus DVD. But only worth buying in either form if such music still gets you high. B-
GFS MOUNT VERNON STREET (Sound Gizmo)
I've been grooving to the guitar-driven uptempo floorstomper 'Respect V1.0' since hearing it on a sampler several months back. That track shows up at the end of this Philly duo's debut album, and it's preceded by all sorts of jazzy, funky and ballsy drum and bass. Definite new talent alert. B.
ALBUM OF THE MONTH:
GROOVE ARMADA - LOVEBOX (Jive Electro) Read full review
MARY LORSON & BILY COTÉ PIANO CREEPS (The First Time)
Former Madder Rose front duo turn to late-night, laid-back, vaguely psychedelic and slightly jazzy instrumentals - and succeed. 'World's Fair' is especially haunting. And there are three elegiac vocal tracks to keep things interesting. A nice complement to the Scenic album also reviewed here. B.
JOHNNY MARR & THE HEALERS - BOOMSLANG (ArtistDirect)
Everyone who's ever heard him play guitar especially in the Smiths - wanted Johnny Marr's first solo album to be a classic. I'm not sure that anyone fully expected it to be. In that sense, then, it's hard to view Boomslang as a disappointment: it's much what you would expect from one of the world's greatest guitar players somewhat reluctantly (and definitely belatedly) thrust into the limelight and told not just to write his own songs without help, but to sing them, too. Marr is a man who thrives on partnerships and his weaknesses are all too apparent now he tries to go it alone: crucially, an indistinctive voice and an inability to write hooks. That said, Boomslang starts strong with 'The Last Ride' and with the Manchester soul of 'Down On The Corner' Marr shows that he could always sign up for The Charlatans as singer and a songwriter if rumors of Tim Burgess' departure turn out to be true. B-
NADA SURF LET GO (Barsuk)
(The possible double entendre of the title only occurred to me after writing the following sentence.) Listening to this exceptionally beautiful album, you have to wonder why nada Surf were let go by Elektra after one album and one hit (the tongue in cheek 'Popular'). The New Jersey trio fought long and hard to gain back ownership of their second album The Proximity Effect and finally released it in 2000, rebuilding their reputation with consistent touring. Now completely rejuvenated, they've unleashed an album that most record companies, of any size, would kill for. The press release asks us to imagine Wilco, victims of similar corporate short-sightedness, and the opening song 'Blizzard Of '77' does bring to mind Jeff Tweedy's everyman vocals and detailed lyrics. But it's more obvious that Nada Surf have been listening to Coldplay: on 'Inside of Love' possibly the album's highlight vocalist Matthew Caws achieves an uncanny Chris Martin imitation as he sings how "Watching terrible TV...kills all thought." 'Treading Water' has a similarly tragic sense of yearning, while on an album mostly devoted to such bitter-sweet melancholy, 'Hi-Speed Soul' dares to get Lightning Seeds-like exuberant. A superb album stuff from start to finish and a rare case of reject's vindication. A
NEVER HEARD OF IT LIMITED EDITION (Unmotivated)
The ten advertised songs are your standard cheerful Californian pop-punk tales of alienation (including a brisk version of the Foundations' 'Build Me Up'). The bonus cut is a 12 minute acoustic singalong, entitled and dedicated to 'Tequila.' I tried swearing off the stuff years ago (though I occasionally lapse!) but I can understand their motivation. And it gets funnier the more you get into it. C+
THE ORB BACK TO MINE (DMC)
Ever since the concept of late-night chill-out, home crib mixes was launched, we've been waiting to see if The Orb, ambient pioneers and wicked wits that they are, would contribute their own selection some day. Finally they have done, and this overdue compilation lives up to Alex Paterson's reputation: a few experimental electronica cuts set the mood, the brilliantly rhythmic ''Ow Much' by Creature ups the pace, and then we veer all over the place with the likes of the Chi-Lites, Julee Cruise and of course, the Orb themselves. Schnieder TM's synth-pop version of 'There Is A Light' is the final inspired touch. One of the finest in the series and confirmation of my previous claim that these mixes work best when compiled by proven Djs. A-
JOSHUA RYAN BY DESIGN (System)
From the uplifting techno-trance of his UK hit 'Pistolwhip', through the Moby-esque hard house of 'Damage' to the edgy, rhythmic, Underworld-like vocals of 'Yield', Pittsburgh's Joshua Ryan gathers a number of his singles, collaborations and remixes and segues them such that they form a coherent, mature and sophisticated debut album. I frequently think get that this music has had its day, but every time I hear a new artist like Ryan keep making it all of it - with such passion and imagination, I know it's definitely here to stay. A-
SCENIC THE ACID GOSPEL EXPERIENCE (Hidden Agenda)
As the title perhaps hints, Scenic's latest album (their first since '96) frequently sounds like an instrumental Spiritualized. Which is no bad thing in my book. But Scenic have more than one ambient-psychedelic trick up their flared sleeves. Does a 19-minute track entitled 'A Journey Through The Outer Reaches of Inner Space' not make you think of Pink Floyd jamming with the Orb? Then you'll be glad to know that Scenic don't disappoint. B+
THE SEA AND CAKE ONE BEDROOM (Thrill Jockey)
Is One Bedroom more approachable than the Sea and Cake's previous five albums? Or did I just never fully appreciate the Chicago-based band until now? Perhaps a little of both. Clean yet creative, slightly warped synthesized pop, though I have toa dmit that after half a dozen such similarly crafted songs, I'm ready to move on. B
SIGUR RÓS () (MCA)
Yes it's been out a few months, but I've listened, listened and listened again, waiting patiently for it to hit me as did its predecessor Ágætis Byrjun, and I've finally given up on the possibility. It's a common story: an entirely original act emerges apparently from nowhere (alright, Iceland), makes a record almost unanimously hailed as breathtakingly brilliant (it was probably my top album of 2001), then signs to a major label and makes essentially the same album again, only not halfway as innovative or inspired. It really hurts me to say as much about Sigur Ros. And I'll grant that, were this the first time I'd heard the act, I would be bowled over by 'The Nothing Song' and 'The Death Song' (and yes, I did use I-Tunes to retrieve the song titles). So if you've just been introduced to Sigur Ros via this album and like what you hear, please do us all a favor and pick up Ágætis Byrjun to hear what they're really capable of - and implore on them to return to such impeccably high standards. B.
SKY CITY GOING
GONE (Sound Gizmo)
Those who know the New Jersey native Jamie Myerson's name will probably associate it with drum and bass. But there's a lot more to his oeuvre than frantic beats, as his second album under the Sky City moniker reveals. Inspired by a cross-country trip, it's quite visual in its scope, incorporating the full range of dance grooves from trip-hop to drum and bass, all the while searching for a movie for which to call itself the soundtrack. With the possible exception of 'Walk Alone', one of just a few vocal tracks, Going
Gone lacks a standout track, but it certainly isn't short of ambition or enthusiasm. B-
SUPERGRASS LIFE ON OTHER PLANETS (Island) Read live review here
Supergrass have never been prolific: they just make it sound that way. Life On Other Planets is only their fourth album in eight years, and it's well worth the wait: this could be their most consistent record to date. The T. Rex influence is frightening at times (on 'See The Light', both Gaz Coombes' voice and guitar riffing are a ringer for Bolan), while the finale, 'Run', is too close to 'the Long and Winding Road' for anyone's comfort. The main thing is that throughout LOOP, the group are clearly having as much fun than ever. 'Funniest Thing', 'Grace' and 'Brecon Beacons' are all instant singalongs, and if I lament the lack of something so dynamic as 'Sun Hits The Sky,' I take great relief in the fact that there's not a single disappointment among the dozen cuts. A-
MIX CD OF THE MONTH
TIGA DJ KICKS (!K7) Read full review
VARIOUS ARTISTS - BARE ESSENTIALS VOL. 2 (Naked)
San Francisco tribal house classicists Naked Music failed to fully impress with their first two artist albums last year, from Miguel Migs and Blue Six. But in assembling 13 various 12" singles, unreleased remixes and a couple of brand new tracks from across the label's roster and then sequencing them seamlessly - the Naked crew shows that the label remains unparalleled for a certain brand of feminine funk. Weekender's 'Weekenderstyle' is particularly beguiling. B.
VITESSE YOU WIN AGAIN, GRAVITY! (Hidden Agenda)
Simple and sincerely nostalgic lo-fi, deep-vocal American synth pop duo that recalls early 80s Cherry Red artists like Felt and Eyeless in Gaza, and modern bedroom antiquities like Magnetic Fields. It's also uncannily like Long Island's equally retro-friendly contemporaries My Favorite. Plenty to sing along to; less to remember once the music's turned off. B-
PAUL WELLER- ILLUMINATION (Independiente/YepRoc)
We've talked about this album a few times before on iJamming!, but it's finally out in the States and deserves another plug. People often assume I'm a die-hard Weller follower, when nothing could be further from the truth. I stopped listening to his solo out put in the second half of the 90s. But with Illumination, I think he's regained an admirable edge. 'A Bullet For Everyone' rocks especially hard, and 'It's Written In The Stars' has a welcome post-modern touch. All said and done though, I'm still but a casual fan.B+
ZWAN MARY STAR OF THE SEA (Reprise)
Can't say I was the world's biggest Smashing Pumpkins fan, but with their new band Zwan, Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlain have come back blazing. It's guitar dominated, of course, and its got its share of familiar solo work. But it's also fiercely melodic, especially on open cuts 'Lyric' and 'Settle Down'. Who knows? They may have found a new fan. B+