Proof positive, not only why old men can lay claim to sexuality (the title track positively drips with lust), but why the rest of us still find Leonard Cohen so damn soulful at 70. Whether re-visiting the country-western classic 'Tennessee Waltz' on stage, setting poetry by Frank Scott ('Villanelle For Our Time') and Lord Byron ('Go No More A-Roving') to music, adapting a Québecian folk song ('The Faith'), or merely crooning one of his own self-composed works of subtle majesty, Cohen is the standard by which we should all set our Septuagenarian standards.
Lyric: "Because of a few songs wherein I spoke of their mystery, women have been exceptionally kind to my old age." ('Because Of')
Highlight: The shortest is also the sweetest. 'On That Day' pays a sentimental, earnest visit to New York, 9/11.


Next to Leonard Cohen, John Cale is a relatively sprightly 62, and acts as if he's yet younger: on Hobosapiens, his first album in almost a decade, the former Velvet Underground founder delves into the world of contemporary chill-out-'tronica with the aid of Lemon Jelly's Nick Franglen. But while this collaboration brings a distinctly modernist bent to tracks like 'Zen' and 'Archimedes,' Cale never loses his avant-garde touch: 'Magritte' finds him rattling his viola as intently as ever, and on 'Letter From Abroad,' his avant-garde instincts alternately jar and gel with the electronically arranged foundation. For some unfathomable reason that seems like an insult to the admittedly crusty Welsh-born New York resident, Hobosapiens only just saw American release a full year after its British unveiling.
Lyric: "They give you a host of reasons to go/You come back marked, Address Unknown." ('Caravan.')
Highlight: 'Caravan' is a beautiful ballad that balances Cale's signature viola drone, a few ambient sheens, a series of majestic chord changes, and a heartfelt vocal delivery.


A mere 55 years old this December 3, Tom Waits is virtually a baby next to such esteemed company as Cohen and Cale. But having built a career on sounding ancient before his time, what with that gnarly, twisted, fake alcoholic backwoods redneck growl of his, he deserves his place in this old codgers hall of fame. On 'The Day After Tomorrow,' he even stares death in the mirror, penning a love letter from the war front in which his protagonist longs for the simple things back home ("shoveling snow and raking leaves") while pondering "how does God choose" which of His believers should die in battle. This, admittedly, is a subject that has vexed war poets since time immemorial, which means that some listeners might find more originality in the ten-minute epic, 'Sins Of The Father,' with its allusion to the current President and barely veiled suggestion that the Supreme Court rigged the 2000 Election. (Though Waits is too poetic to ever names names.) Those who would sooner focus on the music will take immediate note that Waits' trademark piano accompaniment is entirely absent on Real Gone, with drums also kept at a premium. Instead, Waits relies primarily on the distinguished and often minimalist guitarist Marc Ribot, the equally pedigreed and more typically jazzy bass of Primus' Les Claypool, and his own son's turntablism. These arrangements are so claustrophobic that they sounds like theyweremixed in a biscuit tin in a coal mine, which can be good or bad depending on your mood. Certainly Real Gone goes on far too long – in the pre-CD age, it would have been a double album by necessity – but when it's good, it's very good, and when it's great, it's superb.
Lyric: "I am not fighting for justice/I am not fighting for freedom/I am fighting for my life and/another day in the world here." ('The Day After Tomorrow.')
Highlight: 'Sins Of The Father' is clearly the centerpiece. But at half its length (a mere 5 minutes), I prefer 'Don't Go into That Barn,' a more typically twisted Waits tale of mystery and potential murder set to a restrained backing track that could honor any horror movie.


Neither the passing of the years nor the departure of long-term band member Blixa Bargeld can slow Nick Cave, whose output appears to be picking up at the very point most other artists in their mid-40s slows down. Fortunately, quality is not being sacrificed here for quantity. Less a double album than two individual albums released within the same package, Abattoir Blues and The Lyre Of Orpheus find Cave and his Bad Seeds scaling new career heights across all spectrums: music, lyrics and performance.

The strength of the songs lies in a newly defined sense of purpose that even included the occasional formal rehearsal. The vitality of the actual recordings lies in their origins: Paris in spring, in an old analogue studio formerly used by such greats as Nina Simone and Serge Gainsbourg, with producer Nick Launey capturing proceedings as spontaneously as possible. (Cave himself was recorded playing piano and singing live simultaneously.)

Abattoir Blues is the more rambunctious, sprawling and verbose of the two albums, thanks in part to the aggressive drumming of Jim Sclavunos. Calling cards include 'Hiding All Away,' a lengthy, dirty blues jam reminiscent of Cave and guitarist Mick Harvey's early 80s noise merchants The Birthday Party at their pinnacle; 'There She Goes, My Beautiful World,' a lengthy roll call of artistic fuck-ups (from Nabakov to Johnny Thunders and Karl Marx); and 'Let The Bells Ring,' a poetic tribute to the late great Johnny Cash, including the apparently straight-faced couplet "There are those of us not fit to tie the laces of your shoes." The Lyre of Orpheus is altogether more restrained (such things being relative in Nick Cave's world), thanks to a different drummer, Thomas Wydler, playing with a much lighter touch. Less outstanding lyrically, it's also a little easier on the ears, with 'Easy Money' and the grand finale 'O Children' both Bad Seeds ballads to treasure. The London Gospel Community Choir, who've been gracing white peoples' records since Madness' 'Wings Of A Dove,' show up on at least half the songs to add the necessary dose of earnest spirituality.
Abattoir Blues: A-
The Lyre Of Orpheus: B+

Highlight: At odds with the rest of Abattoir Blues, 'Nature Boy' is a pure pop song, written in homage to Steve Harley's 'Come Up And See Me' though reminiscent to my own ears of Hothouse Flowers and their early career classic, 'Don't Go.' Grand piano lines accompany an exhortation of ethereal beauty – "she moves in the shadows" - set to the most conventional female backing vocals Cave has ever endorsed.
Quote: "I see myself, more or less, as a comic writer these days."
Web Site:
Free Download: No MP3s at the nick cave site, but plenty videos to view online, at least as far back as 'The Ship Song' at which time Cave was only "a month out of the clinic." Which reminds me: Cave is still the only interview subject who's ever fallen asleep on me!
Wine? An iconoclastic Aussie is an obvious choice: Charles Melton's genre-busting, hedonistic Rosé Of Virginia will surely do the trick. But considering that these albums were recorded in Paris, you may want to drink French, in which case head down south to the warm climate of the Rhône and get lost inside a heady, rustic red. The 2001 Domaine Roger Perrin Châteauneuf du Pape is as fine a choice as any.


I have a firm, fond memory of a post-dawn DJ set Freq Nasty played in the courtyard of Space at the Winter Music Conference in Miami in 2000; I happened to peaking and his beats happened to be breaking and the combination was, well, euphoric to say the least. Bring Me The Head…, Freq Nasty's second studio album, doesn't carry quite the same emotional rush as his DJ sets, but it's not for lack of trying. Recorded in the New Zealand native's adopted hometown of Brixton - and finally out in the States some eight months after its UK release 0 it's a deliberately iconoclastic adventure through a landscape primarily of his own considerable imagination. This refusal to fall into any easily-categorized bag (such as the nu skool breaks scene the Freq helped spearhead five years ago) makes for a fascinating real-time journey, but many of the beats, breaks, vocals and synth stabs fail to stick around after the record's finished.
Still, several cuts enliven in the short term. 'Fresh,' 'Boomba Clat,' 'Amped' and 'Punkadelic' all live up to their titles. The ballsy-named 'Clit Licka' includes predictable (though, surprisingly, not gratuitous) sounds of female orgasm. And 'Mad Situation,' with Junior Delgado on vocals, ends matters almost exactly the same way the Dub Pistols, with Horace Andy singing 'World Gone Crazy,' kicked off their last album Six Million Ways To Live. Which is to say perhaps, that if Bring Me The Head lacks occasionally in originality, it makes up for it with intent of purpose. B
Highlight: As someone who lives in the one place and spent every day of his teens in the other, the title 'Brooklyn 2 Brixton' has great personal relevance; fortunately, it's also the album's standout track. MC Kovas shouts out vocals in a hip-hop party fashion, ensuring that this down-tempo, dub-friendly break-beat is one song you'll be singing long after the album's stopped spinning.
Free download: The Skint Records site streams all Darin Mcfadyen's singles. (Yes, Freq Nasty has a real name.) But you're better off at Darin's own site: enter through the door marked 'The Video Nasty Experience' and you'll find a world of remixes boomin back atcha, along with an online magazine that using each song title as a launching pad for anti-corporate screeds. For example, while listening to a loop of The Freestylers' take on 'Brooklyn 2 Brixton,' you read Darin's opinions on the subject of 'Bling©'. As follows:
Quote: "Would you let your grandpa dress you? No? Then why are you letting Tommy Hilfiger? There’s nothing ‘Bling’ about having some poor, malnourished sweatshop kid slaving over heavy machinery for no money so some fat middle class kid in Manchester can look like a big ho." Love it.


Up front, uplifting and, let's be honest, essentially unoriginal four-to-the-floor crossover dance music from the Amsterdam-raised Jesse Houk, who has been nurtured by underground house maven Roger Sanchez since moving to New York in 1997 - even though his music lends itself more to the mainstream marketplace of Basement Jaxx, Chemical Brothers and co. In fact, there's a decidedly rock'n'roll feel to Simmer's many vocal cuts: the title track has a bluesy guitar riff underpinning it, and Houk sings 'Come On' as aggressively as any other 21st Century garage rocker imitating Mick Jagger. (It is not, however, an actual cover of the debut Stones single of the same name.) But The Scumfrog – love the music, hate the monikor – is also capable of arms-in-the-air anthems to rival his neighborhood peer Armand Van Helden: the album stand-out 'One Thing' manages to invoke the atmosphere of a Twilo/Space all-nighter, while casually delivering a message of positive determination. Only the dirty call-and-response of 'Bacon' (with Lucy Woodward) falls flat, and there are few listeners don't have a CD remote button on hand for such moments. B+
Quote: "Let me apologize for the voting behavior of most of my fellow Americans by offering a new free download."
Web Site: offers steady streaming of Jesse's music, though it crashes Netscape.
Free Download: Jesse regularly posts new tracks for his audience. Current offering is the nine-minute instrumental, 'Desert Bound,' from his Burning Man performance earlier this year. Safari downloaded it perfectly and transferred it straight to iTunes.


The production/label duo DFA, on the other hand, are heroes of the indie rock underground even though their own tastes lean increasingly towards deep house and retro disco. As they say in New York, which (like The Scumfrog), DFA also call home: go figure. The casually titled DFA Compilation #2 features two CDs, nine songs a piece, collecting together the label's various limited edition 12" singles. (Hipsters will know most of them; non-hipsters can take comfort in the fact that DFA actually hate hipsters.) On the surface, there appears to be an astonishing, sometimes awkward range of music here, from the simplistic deep house textures of Delia Gonzalez And Gavin Russom to the funk-punk celebration of The Rapture, from the experimental white noise of Black Dice to the self-mocking anthems of LCD Soundsystem.
What unites these tracks emotionally is the guiding hand of DFA individuals Tim Goldsworthy (bespectacled Brit, graduate of MoWax supergroup UNKLE) and James Murphy (gleefully disheveled New Yorker, shambolic DJ, even more shambolic LCD Soundsystem front man). What unites them musically is the cowbell, which shows up in everything from LCD's 'Beat Connection' to The Rapture's 'Echoes' to, not surprisingly, the reformed Liquid Liquid's 'Bellhead.' And what unites the DFA productions physically is the continuously mixed third disc, which begins with Pixeltan's 'Get Up'/'Say What,' ends an hour later with LCD's superb single 'Yeah,' and which archeologists may dig up in future years as a representation of a brief moment of communion on the (strictly underground) New York dance floor. A-
Quote: "We were eternal runners-up to people like David Holmes, who can't do anything but was so much more aggressive to succeed." James Murphy disses the Belfast Boy in the DFA bio.
Web Site: Be warned, DFA prefer producing to surfing.
Free download: DFA mixes have been widely copied and bootlegged, especially during the period the Rapture album was on hold. The web site offers the DFA Compilation #mix disc – but only as a stream.

They're too shamelessly retro to ever make it mega, but New Jersey's Grip Weeds distinguish themselves from the planet's glut of Little Steven-sanctioned 60s revivalists by sheer professionalism. Giant On The Beach, like their previous album The Sound In You, is profoundly well produced, its psychedelic melodies, Merseybeat riffs and surf harmonies resonating with a clarity that, while stubbornly refusing to bring anything new to this genre, remind us of all that's good about the old. You can't see it on record, but drummer Kurt Reil doubles up as lead vocalist, though Les Paul-clutching Kristin Pinell sings her share too. And bassist Michael Kelly has clearly studied at John Entwistle's school of rock. If you never had the joy of watching Let's Active cover The Who's 'I Can't Reach You,' a Grip Weeds album may be as close as you'll ever get. B-
Band Web Site:
Freebie: You can hear lead song 'Astral Man' at Giant magazine's online Jukebox.

The High Dials, who hail from Montreal, wear their Sixties influences as proudly as any of their Rainbow Quartz label-mates, but they're less reluctant to embrace the present. The song 'Fields In Glass' owes much of its melody to The Beatles' 'Rain,' but it comes with two extended remixes, with the Stained Glass Mix moving heavily into shoegazing territory. Thanks in part to singer Trevor Anderson's naturally soft voice, 'City Rivers' follows suit, proving particularly reminiscent of the ever-influential Ride. And the instrumental 'Things Are Getting Better' blends funky sitar, a 'Taxman' beat and a brass-ridden riff to exuberant effect. At such moments, you could almost mistake them for contemporaries like VHS or Beta or The Go! Team. Almost. B.
Band Web Site:
Freebie: You can download the original mix of 'Fields In Glass' from the Rainbow Quartz website.

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Fri, Jan 21, 2005 12:48 pm

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