BT EMOTIONAL TECHNOLOGY (Nettwerk)
Following on from 2000's Movement In Still Life, the former poster child for American trance continues to expand his musical horizons by bringing a rock groove to his long-proven programming skills. The best songs here are those that let loose, like 'Superfabulous,' 'Somnambulist' and especially 'Circles,' on which Brian Transeau handles screaming duties himself, backed by Psychedelic Furs/Guns'n'Roses guitarist Richard Fortus and former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, to form the kind of cathartic groove all those nu-metal/hip-hop crossover acts aspire to. On tracks like 'The Force Of Gravity', however, BT feels duty bound to persist with the pleasant but increasingly dated techno-trance that brought him his original following. And unless it's become an in-joke that the rest of us remain locked out from, he HAS to do something about those God-awful pretty-boy album sleeves. B+.
THE CARLSONICS (ArenaRock)
As I feared when I saw my quotation stickered on the cover, the raw chaos of The Carlsonics' live show, such as provoked me to wax lyrical a few months ago, loses something in translation to shiny CD. That's primarily because the DC garage rock quintet are more about energy and character than songs and arrangements, which means you spend most of the time listening to this deliberately unpolished debut wishing they were performing for you in person. At slimy, sloppy, simplistic best on 'Ice People' and 'Six Second Kayaking' the guitars kick up a storm and singer Aaron Carlson so successfully invokes the Hives' Howlin' Pelle Almqvist that he actually reminds us that such garage rock had its seeds in the States decades ago. 'Malaria Drive Through' closes out proceedings in fine chaotic style and it's hard not to appreciate the spirit. For now and who knows, maybe for the better - the Carlsonics on CD remain secondary to the Carlsonics in concert. B
THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS SINGLES 93-03 (Astralwerks)
A pause for reflection after ten years on the cultural front line, this Chemical Brothers compilation would be an essential purchase except that most discerning consumers should already own all these songs. (Though as with all such packages these days, there are the obligatory two new songs, of which 'the Golden Path' featuring The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne is as commercial as anything Brothers Tom and Ed have recorded.) Early copies of Singles 93-03 comes with a complimentary disk of b-sides, featuring a number of less commercial, less compromising, but equally effective cuts, from 'The Duke's punky funk through 'Morning Lemon's aggro-electro to 'Loops of Fury's seriously big beats. And those who've seen the Chems perform will know that their music develops an extra edge in the mix, which makes live versions of 'Elektrobank' and 'Piku Playground' even more exciting. If Ed and Tom appear to have lost momentum with the last album or two, then thats only because, as a-sides like 'Hey Boy, Hey Girl,' 'The Private Psychedelic Reel' and 'Block-Rockin' Beats' confirm, how far ahead of the pack they were to begin with. A.
CLIENT CLIENT (Mute/Toast Hawaii)
Sleazy and sinister synth-pop from English female duo whose desire to remain anonymous) lasted only until journalists traced such the strong Halifax, Yorkshire accent back to Sarah Blackwood, formerly of DubStar. (Her partner is Kate Holmes, formerly married to Alan McGee.) With their uncluttered yet pronounced synth-electro arrangements ('Rock and Roll Machine'), radio-friendly tunes ('Rock and Roll Machine,' 'Price of Love') and occasionally aggressive lyrics ("I'm happy, she's happy, so why the fuck are you not happy?"), it makes sense that Client were 'discovered' by Depeche Mode's Andy Fletcher and launched as the first act on his Toast Hawaii label. (It's distributed by Mute, where Client will feel right at home alongside Goldfrapp and Add N To X.) What distinguishes Client from others who have returned to the 'Being Boiled' era of synth simplicity is consistency: 'Love All Night' ends the album just as solidly as the title track starts it. Solid B+.
DANDY WARHOLS WELCOME TO THE MONKEY HOUSE (Capitol)
The most languid and understated Dandy Warhols album to date, Welcome To The Monkey House takes several listens to assure us it means business which is one reason it's taken a while to make it on to the Playlist. Front man Courtney Taylor-Taylor piles on the self-conscious ironic cleverness with titles like 'I Am Over It,' 'The Insincere I' and 'The Dandy Warhols Love Almost Everyone,' but he also knows the songs have to sound as good as they look, and by pulling in Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes as co-producer, the new material gets a smart, sassy, synth-friendly sound. ('I Am A Scientist' is a particularly cheerful ode to the Durannie's old new wave.) Not only do songs like 'We Used To Be Friends' and 'Plan A' get under your skin, but the album sleeve you have to love it climbs out of its own. B+.
FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE WELCOME INTERSTATE MANAGERS (Virgin)
There's something out there called a New Jersey sound, and I'm talking less about Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi's working class rock'n'roll than the power-pop of Nada Surf, The Rosenbergs and dozens of other groups whose songwriting skills are so beholden to tradition that they never quite get their due critical recognition. Fountains Of Wayne are clearly part of this Garden State mind-set they're even named for a New Jersey gift store - but rather than apologize for their suburban formality, they embrace it head-on. Indeed, several songs on Welcome Interstate Managers (the title perhaps a tribute to The Boss's equally Jersey-proud Welcome To Asbury Park?) approach New York City from the view of the commuter. 'Bright Future In Sales' opens with the recognizable late night situation, "Sleeping on a planter at the Port Authority/Waiting for my bus to come/Seven scotch-and-sodas at the office party/Now I don't remember where I'm from." 'Little Red Light' approaches the exit from a different route: "Sitting in traffic on the Tappan Zee/Fifty million people out in front of me
New York to Nyack feels like a hundred miles." 'Hackensack,' named for a Jersey suburb, is something of a reverse 'Don't Go Back To Rockville,' in which the stuck-in-a-small-town protagonist clings to the hope that his former high school sweet heart, who has made it big out in LA, may one day return to her roots, where "I'll be here for you." There's equal naivety on 'Stacy's Mom,' where the singer has a crush on the older woman and a determination to act upon it: "Since your dad walked out your mum could use a guy like me."
Fountains of Wayne's songwriting duo, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlessinger, not only take the Chris Difford-Glenn Tilbrook award for poetic, witty suburban vignettes, but they successfully imitate Squeeze's smartly intellectual melodies and arrangements. Such is the band's confidence that towards the album's conclusion, they embrace a Hall and Oates blue-eyed soul on 'Halley's Waitress' and then turn country with 'Hung Up On You.' But for the most part, these are unabashedly pure pop songs that celebrate the chime of the guitar, the roll of the snare, the brazen announcement of the impending chorus. In its decidedly unoriginal music, and intellectually superior lyrics, it's the best album out of a Jersey band since Nada Surf's Let Go. And that, by the way, is a serious compliment. A.
THE GRIP WEEDS THE SOUND IN YOU (Rainbow Quartz)
I've maintained a soft spot for New Jersey's psychedelic garage supremacists since they caught me by surprise back in October 2001, but they've yet to deliver on record as impressively as they do in concert. The Sound In You rectifies that discrepancy, delivering Action-style white soul alongside that moment in the Who's 1960s career where the power chords started giving way to carefully co-ordinated arpeggios. Kurt Reil is impressive not just as a Moon-like drummer (when the mood takes him) but also as a skilled singer and songwriter. His brother Rick plays guitars, organ, mellotron and even the sitar; Kristin Pinell plays guitars and sitar, and takes over lead vocals on a plaintive rendition of Neil Young's 'Down To The Wire'; Michael Mattboy looks under-accomplished in comparison with a mere bass guitar credit, but he underpins the purposefully simplistic productions with quiet aplomb. The Sound In You peaks somewhere in the middle of its unnecessarily bountiful nineteen cuts, from 'Tomorrow' through the sing-along 'We're Not Getting Through,' on to the seriously Faces-like 'Everything and All You Feel' and poetic if predictable psychedelia of 'Inca.' A closing cover of The Move's 'I Can Hear The Grass Grow' tells you whatever you didn't already know about The Grip Weeds' influences. Though they're far too pleasant in far too many places their idols weren't so eager to please - at least The Grip Weeds' niceness comes from the heart. B+
TERRY HALL & MUSHTAQ THE HOUR OF TWO LIGHTS (Honest Jon's/Astralwerks)
Brits will probably be more familiar with this ambitious album that Americans, and that's understandable, given that both former Specials/Fun Boy Three/Colourfield front man Terry Hall, and ex-Fun-da-mental member Mushtaq, have higher individual profiles in their UK homeland than the USA. But allowing that this collaboration also involves a Tunisian singer, a Syrian flautist, an Egyptian who had settled in Iraq, Hebrew vocalists, Turkish musicians, a 12 year old Lebanese girl, a blind Algerian rapper from Paris, and a troupe of Polish gypsy refugees, this is clearly international music intended for all ears. Mushtaq suggests that the record is "nomadic"; I would offer that it's also belated testament to the now quaintly dated notion of the global village. Terry Hall's distinctively plaintive voice proves perfectly suited for the Middle eastern melodies, which sail slowly over far eastern rhythms recorded in a western, DJ-friendly style; the guest vocalists sing in their own language, and the lyrics are reprinted in Hebrew and Arabic script alongside Hall's English.
If there's a fault to the Hour of Two Lights, it's that record of such international scope sounds alarmingly similar throughout. And lyrically, it's disappointingly one-dimensional. Clearly fueled by the then-impending threat of war on Iraq, Hall (whose status as a "Polish refugee of Jewish descent" was news to me) sings of how "Someone's cooking up enough hate to fill up the sky" on 'A Gathering Storm,' bemoans tactics that are "ruthless and nameless, brutal and shameless" on 'The Silent Wail' and criticizes "Leaders high above their stations, the state of every nation, leading us into temptation" on 'Stand Together.' Such complaints do at least come with a solution, however utopian; as per the album's closing words, its "name is
love." Hall and Mushtaq may not be able to stop dictators like Saddam Hussein from brutalizing their own people, nor prevent leaders like Bush or Blair from forcing such murderers out by means of unpopular invasion, but by bringing together so many musical cultures on one album in the name of peace and unity, they at least offer a viable alternative. A for ambition, B+ for realization.
LEAVES BREATHE (Dreamworks)
With one new song and two re-recordings, Iceland's Leaves finally bring their acclaimed debut to the American marketplace. The influence of Doves, Coldplay, the Verve, and The Bunnymen is so boldly stated in everything Leaves' front man Arnar Gudjonsson sings and his band mates Arnar Olafsson and Hallur Hallsson play that it's hard to hail them as anything original, but at least these songs rival their icons for passion and atmosphere. Highlights, and there are many, include the new cut 'Sunday Lover,' 'Catch', the re-recorded 'Alone In The Sun' and, especially, the opener 'I Go Down' whose lyrics, "I want to slip inside of you
I go down, all the time, all the way," suggest to me a love of cunnilingus. Other reviewers have compared Leaves to Sigur Ros, as if any two bands from the same far-flung city (Reykjavik) must have much in common. But only on the brooding finale 'Favour' do Leaves come close to such funereal majesty; otherwise, singing boldly in English, playing standard rock instruments proudly and utilizing dark epic arrangements, Leaves are the best northern English band ever to hail from Iceland. B+
LOST IN TRANSLATION SOUNDTRACK (Emperor Norton)
This soundtrack to the new Sofia Coppola film has caused a buzz primarily because it marks the long-awaited return of Kevin Shields, a.k.a. My Bloody Valentine, a.k.a. the man who nearly drove Creation Records bankrupt recording the seminal 1991 album Loveless, a.k.a. the man who has subsequently driven everyone else around him insane by spending years in the studio but failing to emerge with a follow-up. The obvious question begs: Can anything donated to a soundtrack possibly prove worth the wait for a generation of My Bloody Valentine fans? The answer is equally obvious: No. Under his own name, Shields provides four new tracks here, and though 'Goodbye' shimmers beautifully, and 'Ikebama' all too briefly, he's easily rivaled by others who have attempted to redefine architectural sound this past decade, such as Air, whose gorgeous 'Alone in Kyoto' is also a soundtrack exclusive. Squarepusher's ambient synth tracks 'Tommib' and Death In Vegas's mid-tempo 'Girls' help congeal this album into the very definition of 'soundtrack' music, while the inclusion of My Bloody valentine's own 'Loveless' serves as both a reminder of Shields' erstwhile brilliance and reassurance that even the most original music can eventually sound dated. Finally, Lost In Translation closes with another act who are back in vogue, and at their most resolutely commercial: The Jesus & Mary Chain, with the brilliant 'Just Like Honey.' B+.
LEONA NAESS LEONA NAESS (Universal)
On her second record, I Tried To Rock You But You Only Roll, English-born, New York-based Naess experimented with electronic grooves to excellent effect. This time out, she's left New York for the left coast, stripped the accompaniment down to bare folkie basics, and awarded the resulting record an eponymous title, which is always an admission of beginning over. Leona Naess the record starts strong, with the gentle, string-accompanied 'Calling', but the vaguely up-tempo 'He's Gone' and morbidly downbeat 'Ballerina' aside, the songwriting struggles to maintain such consistency. It's hard not to listen to these eleven songs about love, the search for and loss thereof, without thinking of them in context with Ryan Adams, but it's also hard to listen to them without being distracted by more exciting sounds like that of a car driving down the street. Jumping on the acoustic singer-songwriter trend so soon after she climbed on board the groovy train, Naess suggests she is still struggling to find her true self. There won't be too many more chances. B-.
OVERSEER WRECKAGE (Columbia)
You spend the first five songs figuring out that Rob Overseer must be Liam Howlett in disguise, given Wreckage's fondness for tough techno beats and white boy raps on 'Stompbox' and 'Supermoves' (which have, respectively, been used in movies by Oliver Stone and Guy Richie). But then Wreckage gets all sentimental with 'Meteorology' (sung by Sweden's Sandra Pehrsson) and dubby with 'Aquaplane,' and you realize that Overseer is more than a wanna-be air guitarist, that this is someone who embraces any music so long as it excites him. And as Wreckage reaches its conclusion, it gets ever-more epic. On the cinematic 'Sparks', Rachael Gray sings with disturbing moodiness. Then, on the truly mesmerizing 'Never,' a slow, near-industrial backing allows for Jakk Frost to vent his rage at child molesters, politicians and terrorists alike, for vocalist Vicky to sing a haunting chorus with Dido-like sensitivity, and for Overseer himself to see the thing out with a lengthy string ensemble. Following this apocalyptic zenith, the concluding 'Heligoland' a mixed-up British radio weather forecast set to ambient synth strings that gives way to twenty minutes of a ringing phone - seems oddly logical. A-.
PARTY MONSTER ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK (TVT)
The movie was received like a Paul Weller ballad at Disco 2000. But the Party Monster soundtrack salvages something from the wreckage: more than just an easy-option mix CD of upbeat dance songs, the 18 tracks here (drawn equally from modern electroclash and 80s club icons) adhere to the movie plot. So Mannequin's bold introduction 'Take Me To The Club' is followed by Ladytron's reminder that "They only want you when you're seventeen, when you're 21 you're no fun." Likewise, Felix da Housecat's 'Money, Success, Fame, Glamour,' Waldorf's 'You're My Disco,' and Tomcraft's 'Overdose' all seem not just ironic but, in retrospect, also pertinent. Scissor Sisters and W.I.T. add to the electroclash groove, while anthems from ABC, Stephen 'Tin Tin' Duffy, Stacey Q and Nina Hagen satisfy the need for authentic 1980s club hits. Throw in late cameos by Marilyn Manson (as 'Christina') and Michael Alig's former real-life boyfriend Keoki, and Party Monster the soundtrack is every bit as authentic as the movie. More than that, it keeps the dance floor moving while delivering a potent warning to occasionally slow down. A-.
THE RAPTURE ECHOES (Strummer)
The Rapture's full-length debut is both the most anticipated and yet dreaded album of the year. Anticipated because the New York quartet's 'House of Jealous Lovers' was the most important dance floor single of 2002 straddling genres and inspiring copycats across the globe and still guaranteed to get neophytes enquiring about it at the drop of its hi-hat. Dreaded because, well, how could a whole album possibly be equally as good - especially given its lengthy germination and the well-publicized arguments with production team DFA over writing credits?
Echoes, it's therefore thrilling to note, delivers as close to our hopes as humanly possible. No, it's not full of a dozen 'Jealous Lovers,' nor should it be. Echoes is much more diverse than that. Hardcore fans will be familiar with opener 'Olio,' the dance crowd will be relieved to hear the up-tempo house groove of 'I Need Your Love', while the slightly slower new single 'Sister Savior' also shows an ability to stay on commercial track without sacrificing credibility. The group's pre-processed scratchy indie funk is left intact on 'Heaven' and 'The Coming Of Spring,' while the title track is comically similar to Public Image Limited during the Metal Box era with enough Gang Of 4 thrown in to suggest the whole thing is a piss-take. Still, if there are times when The Rapture seem hopelessly unoriginal, like stoned hippy punks in thrall to their producers, the penultimate 'Love Is All' establishes their credentials for eternity. It's a rock ballad delivered free of DFA's synths and drum grooves, Luke's voice soaring toward the stratosphere as he cries "your love is all I need" with frightening sincerity, before the song closes out with the repeated universal refrain of its title, creating a stunning finale that should, by rights, conclude the album on a spiritual high. (They blow it by adding another track.) For all their punk-funk chaos, The Rapture prove themselves romantics at heart. Oh yeah, and 'House of Jealous Lovers' is on here too. A.
WINE? They represent the best of New York, and they can hold their own against the Europeans. The best of New York wines are Finger Lakes Rieslings; try Echoes with the exceptional Hermann J. Wiemer Johannisberg Riesling Dry 2001
THE RAVEONETTES - CHAIN GANG OF LOVE (Columbia)
It's a progression from mini-album Whip It On in that the songs are now in Bb major but, as I elaborated upon when reviewing their live show, the change in key also serves to make the music more optimistic. So while, like Glasgow's formerly infamous Jesus and Mary Chain, The Raveonettes are a duo (vocalist/guitarist Sune Rose Wagner and bassist Sharin Foo) with fuzzed-up guitars set to a deliberate minimum of drums, the Raveonettes leave their petulance at home; this is a group out for the good times. The word 'love' shows up in four song titles, 'girls' in another and 'sex' in one more. The most explicit lyric is on 'Little Animal' with the wonderfully direct line "My girl is a little animal she always wants to fuck, I can't find a reason why I guess it's just my luck." I guess it is especially if the girl in question is Wagner's partner Foo. A sexy, trashy, exuberantly good-natured record that shouldn't be played at anything other than full volume. A-.
THE SLEEPY JACKSON LOVERS (Astralwerks)
I've seen the Perth, Australia band in concert, I've lived with the album, and though I find nothing to offend me, I find nothing much to excite me either. And perhaps that's the problem with much of what passes for rock music at the moment (cf: The Thrills, Starsailor, Ed Harcourt, Kings Of Leon etc.): the tendency to embrace mid-70s ideals means something other than the return of beards as fashion statement; it means an over-riding enthusiasm for nice over nasty. Rock doesnt need to come wrapped in punk aggression to mean something, and I don't have time for the Linkin Parks of this world anyway, but I'm getting increasingly frustrated with inoffensiveness presented as artistry. For the record, Lovers start strong, peak early with the minimal 'Vampire Racecourse' and 'Rain Falls For Wind' at which the harmonies soar above Luke Steele's gravely voice, and the sense of excitement gradually disappears downhill from there. B.
STELLASTARR* - STELLASTARR* (RCA)
So many ecstatic reviews have been heaped on Stellastarr* - and from such disparate quarters of the press that if I was approaching the band as a newcomer, I'd be wary. But I'm not a newcomer, nor am I the only long-term fan; even when I first saw this young New York quartet open for Joe Strummer in April of 2002, the group had a following, and it's been a pleasure to watch it grow commensurately with interest from the industry and press. You always know a band's for real when it's got a crowd jumping around down the front.
All that said, Stellastarr*s debut album could easily have disappointed at both ends of expectations: either too un-evolved to justify the acclaim or too slick to satisfy the underground. Fortunately, it appears that they've got it just right: this is the same album Stellastarr* were recording with producer Tim O'Heir in bare-bones studios while negotiating with the majors: if new label RCA has tarted it up, you'd be hard-pressed to tell where.
As others have been keen to note, there are plenty echoes of The Cure in both Shawn Christensen's yelp of a voice and Michael Jurin's goth-influenced lead guitar, but there's a lot more to Stellastarr* than taking their turn in the '80s revival. Amanda Tannen counteracts the guitars with a firm funk bass and frequently wordless backing vocals while Arthur Kremer underpins it all with a rush and a push but rarely anything so obvious as a 4/4 beat. It's no surprise to find that three of the group met at art school (Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn): the rhythms are edgy, the melodies angled, the lyrics impressionistic. And yet, the whole is perfectly formed: this is a band without any missing links.
Stand-out songs include the singles 'Jenny' (with the evocative line "there's a girl in Woodstock now, and she'll never be your wife") and 'Somewhere Across Forever', while anyone coming to the album from the live shows will be listening out for the anthems: the dreamy build-up of 'My Coco' and the cheerfully punky finale 'Pulp Song,' with its chorus, "We're lying, we've lied to you, we lied to make our point of view," which will be interpreted as desired by anyone looking for an attitude. 'A Million Reasons' and 'Untitled' indicate that Stellastarr* can tone it down when the mood takes them, but everything's relative with Stellastarr*: there's barely a song in which Shawn's voice doesn't threaten to explode. Finally, the whole thing clocks in at only just over 40 minutes, a perfectly appropriate length. A-.
WINE? They're crisp, acidic, sharp in all the right places, and though they have obvious reference points back in the UK, there's something indelibly American about them. Try the New York State Seyval Blanc from Cascade Mountain.
STEREOPHONICS YOU GOTTA GO THERE TO COME BACK (V2)
I should preface this by stating that I've never been truly sold on the Stereophonics, including the two occasions I saw the band live. Even so, their new album takes the cake for tedious self-indulgent irrelevance. Entirely devoid of anything approaching a melody, totally up its own screeching hard rock arse, You Gotta Go There
is one woe-is-me-the-rock-star-cos-I-lost-my-girlfriend dirge after another. Adding insult to injury, the lyrics come accompanied with notes as to how the songs were "written travelling (sic) through Sri Lanka" or "written waiting for a plane to take off in London
" when none of them are any better than anything Kelly Jones could write after a night down the local boozer. Sadly, albums like You Gotta Go There To Come Back are inevitable when newly minted millionaire front men demand total control, not just to put their break-ups on paper, but also to turn them into song and single-handedly produce the results too. Early on, Jones sings "maybe tomorrow I'll find my way home." But for the rest of the album, he sounds completely lost. Contender for worst major release of the year. C+
THE VERTEBRATS A THOUSAND DAY DREAM (Reaction)
I was thinking how refreshingly dated this cheaply recorded 22-strong collection of power-pop garage-rock anthems sounded like something I used to hope to hear from the better mod revival bands of 1980 when I figured I'd better check the sleeve to find out what it's all about. And there was confirmation of my instincts: "re-mastered 22-track CD reissue of the band's studio recording 1979-1981." I'm excused my ignorance: according to the copious inner notes, the Vertebrats didn't make much impression outside their Champaign, Illinois roots during those years, let alone across the Atlantic. But despite - or more likely, because of - the seriously limited recording quality, there's a simplicity of purpose to these songs that renders them relevant twenty years later. I'm most taken with the demos that open the collection, especially 'Don't Think About It', with its lines "I've been thinking about it, baby, maybe you'd be better off on your own, I've been drinking about it baby, maybe I'd be better off with you all gone." Twenty more songs without such immediate hooks stretch my patience, but those with persistence may find some charm at the back end of the album too, among demos recorded "for the purpose of copyright
we never thought anyone but the Library of Congress would hear them." A Thousand Day Dream is testament not just to the 'Brats, but to all those garage bands, prior to R.E.M.'s breakthrough, who dominated local scenes at a time when that was the most they could hope for. And if none of the above inspires you to check out a song or two online, let me leave you with the group's own posthumous recommendation, which presumably comes from gigging memories: "We've found through experience that most of these songs sound best when played at ridiculously exaggerated volume on a Friday or Saturday night, in the company of a great many people, most of whom you don't yet know." B+
THE WEAKERTHANS RECONSTRUCTION SITE (Epitaph)
A little bit pop, a little bit rock, The Weakerthans are neither safe enough to make it on to radio, nor risqué enough to become cult rockers. But persistence is a virtue, and the Winnipeg, Canada four piece excels on its third album with songs like 'Weaken' and 'The Reasons' that hint at the subtle majesty of similarly understated bands like Four Non-Blondes and Crowded House. Lyrically, the group is nothing if not ambitious (indeed, some would say pretentious), naming 'Time's Arrow' for the Martin Amis novel and titling another song 'Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961)'. The group's ultimate politeness shines through when a song with the chorus line "I Hate Winnipeg" is entitled, sarcastically perhaps but cowardly for certain, 'One Great City'. B
RICHARD X PROMOS HIS X-FACTOR VOLUME NO. ONE
There's been much talk about Richard X and his mash-ups, some of which topped the UK singles charts, but compared to the energy of 2 Many DJs, X-Factor is a damp squib. As much as anything, for official release, X-Factor merely "reworks" standards like 'Walk On By' and 'You Used To.' The exception is Sugarbabes performing 'Freak Like Me' over the synth of Gary Numan's 'Cars', itself an overly reworked track in recent years. A low-energy electro-clash mish-mash. B-
VARIOUS ARTISTS STAR GAZING (Guidance)
A compilation intent on capturing a contemporary moment, Star Gazing is all mild-mannered ambient-electro love songs. The niceness that's hurting rock music is plainly present here but not so (in)offensive, perhaps because the artists in question are searching out new rhythms and sounds behind their pleasantly inoffensive melodies. Maximillian Hecker's 'Infinite Love Song' is breezily repetitive; Handpolished's airiness is reminiscent of all that made that French band's Moon Safari album such a groundbreaker; New Yorkers Soviet indicate they're more pop than electroclash on the ludicrously commercial 'Candy Girl'; and Liverpool's Ladytron respond with predictable but pleasant synth-octave-bass lines on 'Play Girl.' Throw in the semi-established Alpine Stars, Telepopmusik and Blue States, and the cover of 'Blue Monday' by Norwegians Flunk that was the only selling point of their otherwise rightly forgotten album, and you've got something approaching a perfect compilation. B+.
VARIOUS ARTISTS DFA RECORDS COMPILATION #1 (DFA)
As the buzz on DFA production duo James Murphy and Tim Goldworthy reaches fever pitch, this simple compilation four artists, two tracks each helps explain much of the fuss. The Rapture are referenced by the classic 'House of Jealous Lovers' and the down tempo, deeply experimental (but nonetheless groovy) 'Silent Morning.' Murphy's own LCD Soundsystem offer up their tongue-in-cheek dancefloor anthem to New York musical elitism, 'Losing My Edge' and also its Fall-like 7" follow-up, 'Give It Up.' And Black Dice make nasty with two typically obtuse instrumental offerings: the nine-minute 'Cone Toaster' and the fifteen-minute 'Endless Happiness.' All these acts have received considerable acclaim, which may be why The Juan Maclean threaten to steal the show with the future electro of 'By The Time I Get To Venus' and the nine-minute plus house orgasm of 'You Can't Have It Both Ways,' as near to a real song as DFA are loathe to get. Every bit as disjointed as the line-up indicates and that's a good thing in such a homogenous era the DFA compilation clearly demonstrates why New York is back in the forefront. B+
NEIL YOUNG GREENDALE (Warner/Reprise)
Love the singer, not the song. Neil Young's ambitious multi-media project it's an album, a DVD, a concert, a collection of short stories - fails in the very area we can normally rely upon him for: the music. Track after track on Greendale repeats a depressing formula: the sound of Young and Crazy Horse recording live with barely a recognizable riff between them, Young similarly struggling to find a melody as he verbalizes his vaguely apocalyptic story about a fictional American every town and its cast of curious characters. Neil Young, an icon for so many reasons, has never previously struggled to tell one good story in one good song, which suggests that with Greendale he simply over-reached. That the album was released alongside four repackaged 1970s albums, including the monumental On The Beach, only emphasizes the extent to which Greendale suffers for solid material. A for ambition, B- for realization.