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This page last updated
Wed, Jan 5, 2005 12:53 pm


HEDONISM Tony Fletcher's debut novel is available mail order in the USA from Barnes&Noble.com. It's available mail order in the UK from amazon.co.uk or musicroom.com.
More info on Hedonism here.

REMARKS REMADE The first ever R.E.M. biography fully updated with ten new chapters covering Reveal and beyond. Available at UK bookstores, amazon.co.uk and musicroom. Available at select stores in the States and through BN.com.

MOON The American edition of the Keith Moon biography is available in paperback at book stores, amazon.com, bn.com and amazon co.uk. More info here

DEAR BOY The British edition of the Keith Moon biography is available in paperback at book stores, amazon.com and amazon co.uk. More info here.

Limited hardback editions of Dear Boy/Moon remain available through amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and barnes&noble.com.


Never Stop: The Echo & The Bunnyment Story is out of print.

HOME

the iJAMMING! HitList:
JUNE 2004

THE MID YEAR ROUND UP
A dozen featured albums, 15 more in rotation, some 12"s & books.

Click on record company name for link to artist/label web site. Click on the amazon link to order by mail: iJamming! gets a small referral fee if you follow this direct link.

BETA BAND - HEROES TO ZEROES (Astralwerks)
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Welcome return to form for the Scottish quartet after the comparative disappointment of 2001's Hot Shots II. (The Beta Band's album titles tell their own stories.) Fortunately, the group appear to have realized that simplicity and charm are intrinsically related to each other and from the chiming opening guitar chords of 'Assessment' onwards, Heroes To Zeroes comes across with the refreshing appeal of a warm spring day. Even when the naivety is forced, as on the instrumental 'Rhododendron,' built around a standard cheap synthesizer patch sound, it's welcome. And when they rock hard, as on 'Out-Side,' the Betas keep the chord structures conventional and allow their unique ingredients of perpetual harmonies, unusual sound effects, and rolling drums, to separate themselves from other rock bands. It's hard not to conclude that someone in the group – Stephen Mason, one might presume, given that he's the singer – has allowed outside personal happiness to influence the collective interior mood. "I love your way" he sings in 'Out-Side'; "It's about time that we fell in love," he notes on 'Troubles' (admittedly, as some kind of panacea to world wide war); "I love you to pieces" he announces on 'Space Beatle.' The Beta Band make better romantics that they do cynics.

HIGHLIGHT: 'Wonderful.' It begins with slightly off-kilter harmonies to the mantra "She's so wonderful," calls up a hint of 'Paint It Black' via a harpsichord synth settings and quickly heads into the sort of heady, vaguely hymnal chorus at which Beta Band are so adept. Mixed by man-of-the-moment Nigel Goodrich, the aural quality is, of course, equally superb.


DISCOVERY OF THE MONTH

SANDY BULL - INVENTIONS (Vanguard)
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(Read background here)

In the mid-Sixties, as we know, rock groups and producers were pushing music beyond all previously recognized boundaries. They weren't the only ones. On his second album Inventions (1964), the then 24-year old jazz-folk musician Sandy Bull, accompanied only by jazz drummer Billy Higgins, near enough took down the entire history of global pop music in under an hour. Inventions opens with a continuation from its predecessor (Fantasies for Guitar and Banjo), a track entitled 'Blend 2.' Over the course of 24 minutes, it includes elements of Ornette Coleman, Ali Akbar Khan, music from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt, an American folk tune, 'Wabash Cannonball' and 'Pretty Polly,' before closing out with a tribute to Indian ragas – and all on the one acoustic guitar! Bull then closes Side 1 with a brief electric guitar rendition of Bach's 'Gavotte No. 2' at a time when folkies were still smarting from Dylan's conversion to the electric. (The sound is close to a baroque organ - precisely Bull's point in conducting the exercise.)

On Side 2 Bull dives into Latin music with 'Manha de Carnival,' except that he plays the melody on the oud, a Middle Eastern guitar-like instrument he was taught by Nubian expert Hamza Al Din. (Bull overdubs bass and acoustic guitar on the same song.) Not content to have taken us so far around the world already, he then drops back in time to the 14th Century for Machaut's 'Triple Ballade,' playing oud, banjo and guitar. Finally, brilliantly, Bull takes on Chuck Berry's 'Memphis' with a dazzling display of electric guitar such as would have done the song's composer (or Duane Eddy) proud. (Recording on the same label, Vanguard, as half the era's prominent folkies, Bull goes against their parochial worldview by claiming that Berry "may well be the folk poet of America today.")

HIGHLIGHT: The closing ten-minute jazzy improvisation of 'Memphis' is the highlight of Inventions for those of us who love rock'n'roll first and foremost, but the entire album is nothing short of a revelation.

DENISE JAMES – IT'S NOT ENOUGH TO LOVE (Rainbow Quartz)
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The world of retro guitar pop, it has to be said, is full of mediocrity: groups, duos, solo singers and their pet sounds whose music is so devoid of originality that it would have been considered outdated even had it originated in the sixties. Fortunately, Denise James is an exception. Born in France (home of the chanteuse), and raised in Detroit (home of the Motown girl groups), her infatuation with 60s music (think Petula Clark fronting The Shirelles with The Byrds as backing band) is supported by the quality of her songwriting, which has more range than the song titles might suggest. So while the ballad 'Absolutely Sad' finds James harmonizing, double-tracking and otherwise layering her vocals while a Duane Eddy guitar gently weeps behind her, 'Love Has Got Me Crying Again' is as jangly as it is sultry. It's all almost unbearably nostalgic: there's none of Saint Etienne's modern production techniques here. Instead, as with her eponymous debut, James enlists producer Matthew Smith (responsible for Slumber Party's Spector-esque sound among others) and hires various jangly, retro musicians from bands like The Volebeats, The Witches and The Dirtbombs. These backing boys get to demonstrate their chops on the six-minute reverb-drenched surf-like instrumental 'Just Like That,' but despite the lack of vocals, and as with all the others, it's a Denise James composition. This is a girl who knows what she wants.

HIGHLIGHT: At just 2 minutes and 16 seconds, 'Come Home To Me' is the shortest song on an album that barely makes it to 35 minutes. But in those 136 seconds are everything you want from this kind of music: a Byrds-like electric guitar line, acoustic backing, a sultry, heavily harmonized verse, a breakaway bridge and a sing-along chorus, with producer Smith joining in on vocals. Sonny and Cher would have been proud.

WINE: She's a French native doing fine in the States, as are so many of her home country's noble grapes. Indeed, it could be said that "Denise James makes European music in a Californian style." Which makes her the ideal date for our two Oregon wines: a Gewürztraminer from Foris Vineyards and the Witness Tree Pinot Blanc.

ALBUM OF THE MONTH

THE STREETS
A GRAND DON'T COME FOR FREE
(Vice/Locked On)
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Following up a debut as brilliant as 2002's Original Pirate Material was always going to present Mike Skinner, a.k.a. The Streets, with a conundrum. For how do you repeat such success without repeating the formula – especially when that success was built on innovation? Skinner has solved the problem in devastatingly presumptuous manner - by leaping several steps ahead of expectations and recording an urban British soap opera.

It takes a while to appreciate his achievement. On first hearing, the incredibly sparse production and repetitious lyrical themes of A Grand Don't Come For Free suggest a disheartening lack of inspiration. Where Original Pirate Material incorporated ska rhythms and house music themes to expand its appeal beyond the marginal world of British hip-hop and into the homes of a million disenchanted indie fans, A Grand... relies on the bare bone beats of the sparest in garage and rap. This is not an encitement to dance. But as it becomes clear that what we’re listening to is a series of interlocking vignettes in the life of your typical young British wide boy (who loses a thousand quid, finds a new girl, goes on holiday, blows his relationship and falls out with his mates), the genius of it all becomes apparent. Given time, these tracks all stand on their own, but played together, they link perfectly.

Indeed, let's not be skimpy with our compliments. A Grand...'s musical simplicity is on a par with the best of the Wu-Tang: you're inclined to think there's nothing going on behind the clearly pronounced words, except for the obvious skill that it takes to render just a few drum beats and synth stabs so effective. Similarly, the lyrics occasionally throw up dubious rhymes and plot twists that don't fully connect, but that's a common occurrence these days with any soap opera, from The Sopranos on down. Ultimately then, A Grand... works like a great urban novel, whereby our natural sympathy for the narrator's frequent stupidity is a mark of the author's own high intellect.

Ultimately, A Grand... works like a great urban novel, whereby our natural sympathy for the narrator's frequent stupidity is a mark of the author's own high intellect.

Those who've only heard the Blur-like 'Fit But You Know It' should know that single's overt upbeat appeal is highly unrepresentative of an album that is frequently slow and thoughtful. Skinner as protagonist generally internalizes events, rendering even a track like 'Blinded By The Lights' - about taking ecstasy in the pub while waiting for your mates to show - both serious and soulful. The humor, and there is plenty, is found instead both in the over-riding plot and the most minute details. "It's hard enough remembering my opinions without remembering my reasons for 'em," our spurned narrator Mike adlibs at the end of 'Get Out of My House,' attempting to cite his girl Simeone's faults and failing miserably. On 'Such A Tw*t,' meanwhile, he recounts the holiday with the lads on your typically malfunctioning mobile phone, as per this throwaway line before the third verse kicks in… "Yeah I think we got cut off, I've got crap reception in my house, I have to stand in a certain spot in my kitchen or it cuts out."

While both those verbal examples will resonate wildly across Continents, the following chorus from 'Could Well Be In' is so full of casual British lingo that you can imagine listeners in countless other nations scratching their heads in confusion. "I saw this thing on ITV the other week, said if she played with her hair she's probably keen, she's playing with her hair well regularly, so I reckon I could well be in." Rather than worry about the lyrics getting lost in translation, we should remember how little sense Run D.M.C. and Public Enemy made to listeners unfamiliar with New York vernacular in the 1980s, and how that did nothing to slow their international appeal. The Streets may, on the surface, seem as British as warm beer and cold custard, but A Grand Don't Come For Free is a work of working class art, up there with Quadrophenia and Trainspotting.

HIGHLIGHT: The question is not which songs are most instantly appealing, but which we will still be listening to in five years time. My money is on 'Dry Your Eyes,' the penultimate song and the one real ballad, in which Mike cries into his beers to the sound of an acoustic guitar, a crisp snare drum and corny strings. His "friends" sing the chorus – "Dry your eyes, mate, I know it's hard to take but her mind has been made up, there's plenty more fish in the sea" – and the manner in which these cumbersome words are lined up to form such an effortlessly memorable chorus are testament to Skinner's songwriting skills.

WINE: Mike's a brandy drinker and a spliff smoker: the only wine he mentions on the album is the four or five free Chardonnays he gulps down on an airplane. But that's only because, like so many of his mates, he's intimidated by red wine. We've made it easy for him: next time he takes Simeone to the local Italian restaurant, he should play safe while acting knowledgeable, and ask for a bottle of Chianti Classico. The Aziano 2001 would be ideal.

MOCEAN WORKER – ENTER THE MoWo! (MoWo! Inc)
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Three previous albums under the name Mocean Worker found Adam Zorn combining his upbringing in jazz and his enthusiasm for electronics to work primarily in the world of drum and bass. Older, wiser, and minus a record deal these last three years, Zorn uses Enter The MoWo! to expand into a more conventionally cinematic world of spy themes ('Only The Shadow Knows'), torch ballads ('I'll Take the Woods,' with the gorgeously named Ambrosia Parsley on vocals), warped jazz themes ('That's What's Happenin Tonight') and just the occasional dance floor slam ('Move'). Such variety may ensure his continued public anonymity, but his sophisticated production skills, newly tempered rhythms and A-List musical guests (Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bill Frisell and Hal Willner, along with a full vocal sample from Nina Simone on 'Blackbird') should see Zorn finally find a more mainstream following. Enter The MoWo! is exactly the type of record electronic music heads were meant to make as they matured.

HIGHLIGHT: A toss-up between the album's polar opposites, each simply and appropriately titled. There's the funky floor-filler 'Move,' and the chill-out vibe of 'Float.' Rare is the album that can and pull off both genres with such aplomb.

MIX CD OF THE MONTH

ARMAND VAN HELDEN - NEW YORK: A MIX ODYSSEY (Tommy Boy)
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The contrarian of the international house scene hopes for a return to favor with a mix that aims for nothing less than the encapsulation of everything golden about New York dance music. That's an impossible task even before Van Helden veers off from an apparent focus on the Roxy/Funhouse/Danceteria era of the early 1980s (opening with Blondie's 'Call Me') to include British synth-pop standards like Soft Cell's 'Tainted Love' and Yazoo's 'Don't Go,' the depressingly dated 'Talking in Your Sleep' by The Romantics, a new cut from Felix Da Housecat, an electro-clash cover of Wire's 'Three Gil Rhumba,' three of his own new productions and Heavy Rock's initially entertaining (but quickly tiresome) new underground release '(I just Want To Be A) Drummer.' The fact that he can mix these various styles and sounds together onto one continuous-play CD is testimony to Van Helden's brilliance. The fact that several of the chosen cuts fall short of perfection and some of them stop the party dead is testimony to another part of his character altogether.

HIGHLIGHT: Give the guy credit. Perhaps the strongest party track on an album supposedly full of them is the new Van Helden production 'Hear My Name,' featuring the voices of female East Village electro duo Spalding Rockwell, and a throwback to the days of beautiful Balearic ecstasy. More so than the album as a whole, this is the track to put him back on the map.

ALANIS MORISSETTE – SO-CALLED CHAOS (Maverick)
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You either love her or hate her. And apart from the overblown sophomore album Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, in which she took an excruciating 17 songs to get her point across, I've always been in the former camp. So-Called Chaos, much like 2002's equally enjoyable Under Rug Swept, offers ten songs of intensely involved self-analysis, all of them lyrically elaborate but musically direct. For Alanis Morissette, her critics be damned, never loses sight of melody – nor has she lost any of the energy that made her such a compelling star upon her arrival on the international scene a decade ago.

You could laugh at the self-imposed cliché of the album's opening line - "How to stay paralyzed by fear of abandonment" - but Ms. Morissette is mostly positive, indeed even love struck, on So-Called Chaos. 'Knees Of My Bees' offers overt confirmation of her new infatuation, and 'Out Is Through' suggests she's willing to buckle down and not abandon her new love, "Every time you raise your voice." Moving ever closer to full control of production, Alanis ranges musically from the furious angst of the opener 'Eight Easy Steps' to the relative power ballad of the title track, stopping in for some sitar and hip-hop beats on 'Knees of My Bees.' Though there's little by way of surprises, and few would be hard-put to guess at their author, that just puts us back where I started the review. As a fan.

HIGHLIGHT: For all the above indications of newfound maturity and content, I can't help but be drawn to Alanis at her most cynical. On 'Spineless' (which musically is anything but), she offers herself as the classically acquiescent woman, ready to abandon her old self to appease that of her new lover. "I won't see my dear friends as much/Male friends especially I'll no longer be in touch." I imagine there are millions of women who would instantly identify with those lines. Which is why we and they need her to articulate them and render them redundant.

REDISCOVERY OF THE MONTH

GLAD ALL OVER: A TRIBUTE TO CRYSTAL PALACE & SUPPORTERS (Cherry Red)
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Released in 1997, it's safe to say that most of the songs on this album - as with the rest of Cherry Red's football team compilations - are terrible. But we don't listen to our sporting heroes sing for the music, do we? We listen for the memories, the emotions – and, when opportunity presents, for mutual encouragement from other fans. Which explains why, digging it out on occasion of Crystal Palace's promotion to the Premiership, I found that, rather than the official club songs from over the years ('Glad All Over,' 'Claret And Blue,' 'Power To The Palace'), it was those composed and performed by the fans that have stood the test of time.

'We All Follow The Palace' by Eastern Eagles is a chirpy mockney trip down memory lane for my age group, with its references to Bert Head, Ray Bloye, and the wondrous rhyme of "Palace Guard" with "looking hard." And 'Eagles Are Flying High' by The Garage Mechanics is a functional piece of home-produced (garage) house, short on lyrics but reasonably well-endowed with Todd Terry-like synth stabs. Nothing excuses 'I'm In Love With Harry Bassett' by Lady Helen Of Selhurst – except the thought that she may have actually meant it at the time. To drop a music term into appropriate football vernacular, this one's for hardcore fans only.

HIGHLIGHT: 'Where's Joyce' by The Lower Tier, which uses genuine crowd samples and a relatively riveting electronic background for a series of observations delivered in a wry spoken style, not entirely unlike Half Man Half Biscuit's 'The Referee's Alphabet.' If you're a Palace fan, you'll crack up at every one: "Shampoo and conditioner, no, just Fiona RichmondWimbledon, don't be late with the rent this month… 4-3 Liverpool, you couldn't even get ten past us…" and this gem: "Fifty-one thousand, four hundred and eighty-two, May eleven, Seventy-Nine." We were promoted to the top flight that night. Hello, hello, we're back again.

START TROUBLE – EVERY SOLUTION HAS ITS PROBLEM (Columbia)
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They're a four-piece punk/pop/hip-hop/rock band from Florida who sing "I want to fuck non-stop, baby I think you're beautiful" ('Non Stop'); "Love is a chemical, straight from your genitals" ('Chemical'); and "I ain't got shit to do in the morning, fuck the Surgeon General's warning" ('Let's Get F****d Up).' Other songs concern stalking and drugs. Their front cover shows two rhinos humping; the back cover two elephants doing likewise. Yet given the opportunities, they each profusely thank their parents on the liner notes. (Example: Singer/bassist Luke Walker credits "My role model family for always supporting me no matter what.") This means either the generation gap has disappeared entirely, or that Start Trouble's parents simply aren't paying attention. And I don't know which is more worrying. Fortunately, Start Trouble have a sense of melody to match their irreverence. 'Psychotic For You' shows real songwriting skills, while 'Let's Get F***ed Up,' with its use of string quartet sample over crisp hip-hop beats, is simply hilarious. There's another nine or ten tracks that will either twist your melon or bore you stoopid depending on your age, sex, and enthusiasm for juvenile American punk rock.

HIGHLIGHT: The mid-tempo 'Non Stop' is brilliant, a truly horny paean to testosterone, and as honest a confession of sexual drive as 'Orgasm Addict.' It follows its hormonal intentions with the line, "You got to tell your pops I'm cool and I'll be good to you, I'll drop you off at your curfew, it's true…" Which brings us back to this strange respect for their elders, and the question, What does Luke's own "role model family" think of this anthem? And how would they feel if he showed up to pick up their own daughter on a date?

NEW YORK ALBUM OF THE MONTH

SECRET MACHINES: NOW HERE IS NOWHERE (Reprise)
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From nine-minute opener 'First Wave Intact' to finale theme-reprise 'Now Here Is Nowhere,' from front cover picture of unaccompanied equipment (it's about the music, man!), to interior shots of transplanted Texans Ben Curtis, Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza as meninblack (and half-silhouette), and from first lyrics to last, Secret Machines' infatuation with 1970s prog-rock psychedelia would be hilarious if they weren't so damn good at it. For this is an album of such sublimely powerful self-confidence and sonic superiority that it may yet single-handedly kick-start the revival we all dread. So even though I occasionally become bored by drummer Garza's relentlessly repetitive style and while I lose interest when the trio wonders too far from psychedelia and off into prog rock, I've found myself repeatedly playing Now Here Is Nowhere for its exuberance, its arrangements and its constant exploration of new textures.

HIGHLIGHTS: Depends on your taste. Some may prefer the soft-spoken 'The Leaves Are Gone,' others the thunderous lengthy introduction 'First Wave Intact', and others yet the ambient-trippiness of 'You Are Chains.' As a sucker for a good tune, however, I'm all over tracks four and five, 'Nowhere Again' and 'The Road Leads Where It's Led,' each of which uses a repetitive simplistic riff in its verse to emphasize its sense of urgency, each of which builds to a resounding chorus, and each of which delivers such delightfully trippy couplets as you can't help but love them for. "Angels stole the show, the roaring seraph, singing thunder, called the mother's children home" indeed.

(Footnote: the record company bio is itself a triumph of psychedelic pretentiousness, while successfully highlighting the group's admirable work ethic. Fortunately, in these days of web sites, you don't have to take my word for it: it's available in all its glory at thesecretmachines.com. Just click on 'about.')

tweaker – 2 a.m. wakeup call (Waxploitation/iMusic)
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Second album from former Nine Inch Nails man Chris Vrenna features guest singers such as Robert Smith and David Sylvian. Fears that it will be the usual musical hodge-podge from a producer-instrumentalist struggling to establish an identity are immediately disproved by the presence of a theme, for 2 a.m. wakeup call is all about insomnia. Vrenna invited his guests to offer their own take on "the things that keep us up at night," and the results range from the obvious ('Sleepwalking Away' from Nick Young, 'Crude Sunlight' from Jennifer Charles) to the subtle ('Pure Genius from Sylvian,' 'Ruby' from Will Oldham). Vrenna intersperses these vocal contributions with his own instrumentals, which themselves bravely marry his industrial rock past with an ambient present – an appropriate reflection of the paranoid calm we experience when lying awake at nights. As often the case with these projects (witness XL Junkie in the April Hitlist), the songs are not always as strong as their A-list singers might suggest, but, and this is rarely the case, 2 a.m. wakeup call works resoundingly well as a coherent whole.

HIGHLIGHT: Shouldn't be the case, but one of the more obscure guests – Mellowdrone – offers up one of the most intriguing tracks. 'Worse Than Yesterday' is grandiose and cinematic without being either ponderous or melodramatic.
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COMPILATION OF THE LAST SIX MONTHS

ZEN CD – A RETROSPECTIVE/ZEN RMX – REMIX RETROSPECTIVE
(Ninja Tune)

In 2003, several acts (Chemical Brothers and Underworld among them) and labels (including Wall Of Sound) took stock of their catalogue and released retrospective compilations. Few had as much gold to mine as the Ninja Tune/Zen labels, founded by members of Coldcut back when that act was still on a major, and responsible for such pioneers in the over-lapping worlds of trip-hop, acid jazz, global techno and extreme electronica as DJ Food, Amon Tobin, Bonobo, Mr Scruff, Wagon Christ, Kid Koala, Luke Vibert, DJ Vadim, Cinematic Orchestra, Funki Porcini and The Herbaliser. Not even the most anal-retentive of musical trainspotters is likely to have all 32 cuts that form the 'Zen – A Retrospective' double CD, several of which have been remastered for this compilation anyway. And in the unlikely event that there's a DJ somewhere in the cosmos who has already collected the 20 remixes assembled on the 'Zen RMX – Remix Retrospective,' he/she will no doubt still appreciate the opportunity to hear them on one double CD. (Most remixes are farmed out to other Ninja artists, but Ashley Beedle, Four Tet and Sixtoo also get in on the acts.) Listening to both the originals and the remixes, hearing so much forward-thinking music that consistently experiments while constantly entertaining, it would seem that Ninja Tune has a valid claim as the most important independent label in dance culture.

HIGHLIGHTS: Unlike most compilations, every one of these 52 cuts is worthy of inclusion, and there are so many different strands and styles, it seems unfair to find favorites. Of the originals, Coldcut's 'More Beats And Pieces' made it all the way to #37 in the UK charts in 1997 (the label's biggest hit!) and the same act's 'Atomic Moog' has proven highly influential. Among the remixes, it's hard not to be blown away by Squarepusher's remix of DJ Food's 'Scratch Yer Head,' in which Tom Jenkinson cuts up and resequences jazz drums to create a frenetic futuristic rhythm – and create the blueprint for a million Cubase/Recycle owners to imitate.

IN ROTATION:

ATHLETE – VEHICLES & ANIMALS (Astralwerks)
Finally released in the States, the South London band's debut is promising for sure, especially on the similarly charming and equally eclectic 'El Salvador,' 'Westside' and 'You Got The Style,' all of which sound like a welcome South London response to the Beta Band.
LLOYD COLE – MUSIC IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE (One Little Indian)
Something of a disappointment. Maybe his most sparse recording to date, Cole wallows deep into the dark, druggy heart of Los Angeles – a subject matter already worn deep by countless novelists and lyricists. A cover of Nick Cave's 'People They Ain't No Good' hardly elevates proceedings.
THE CRYSTAL METHOD – LEGION OF BOOM (V2)
Meant to mention this one months ago. America's Chemical Brothers have the same problem as their British counterparts – perpetuation of a style that's fading fast from public attention – except that they do it so bloody well they really shouldn't have to change with the fashions.
CYPRESS HILL – TILL DEATH DO US PART (Columbia)
If only for Tim Armstrong of Rancid singing 'One More Cigarette' to the tune and sample of the Clash's 'Guns Of Brixton.'
dios – dios (Startime International)
Quintet from Hawthorne, California, who resurrect the ghost of that town's most famous sons, The Beach Boys, on 'fifty cents,' and Dark Side Of The Moon-era Pink Floyd on 'the uncertainty of how things are.' Oddly enough, they do this a markedly lo-fi fashion. FRENCH KICKS – TRIAL OF THE CENTURY (Startime International)
One of the few New York bands who defy pigeonholing, French Kicks come very very good on this, their second full-length. You may hear a Radiohead influence. They'd sooner cite Fleetwood Mac. Either way, songs like 'Oh Well' and 'Don't Thank Me' are charming, infectious curiosities.
FUNKSTORUNG – DISCONNECTED (!K7)
German glitch-hop pioneers deliver up first album in four years, and thanks to their warped production skills, they're able to place the vocal talents of Lamb's Louise Rhodes, New York rapper MC Tes and their own discovery Enik on the same album without confusing any more hell out of us than we would expect. A perfect blend of form and function.
GOMEZ – SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE (Hut)
Split the difference between Beta Band (see above) and The Coral (see the April Hitlist), and remember that Gomez preceded both. On their fourth studio album, the Lancashire band, still almost criminally young, seems to have grown louder, angrier, more diverse and more confident. Not every song comes off, but at least half a dozen rank with their best work to date.
JODIE HOLLAND – ESCONDIDA (Anti-)
Following the exceptional acclaim afforded her "demo album" Catalpa (read my own praise here), Escondida will only disappoint if you attempt to play it in the background. Afforded undivided attention, Holland's voice of the ages, her reverent songwriting and yet her modernist approach to folk and the blues confirms a supposition I had with Catalpa – she really could be the new Michelle Shocked. That's meant as a compliment of the highest order.
BEN KWELLER – ON MY WAY (ATO/RCA)
Kweller finally delivers in the faith so many have had in him with a varied, live-in-the-studio set that showcases his pop sensibilities and his band's enthusiasm. For fans of Ben Folds Five. And New Yorkers will all love 'My Apartment.'
MORRISSEY – YOU ARE THE QUARRY (Sanctuary)
Still struggling to figure out if it's a return to early form or merely to the form in which we all lost interest in the late 1990s. A lyric like "Where taxi drivers never stop talking, under slate gray Victorian skies," would have pricked up the ears in 1984; now it sounds like a painful cliché. But sometimes we need Morrissey to state the obvious, as on the musically meandering opener 'America You Are Not The World': "Where the President is never black, female or gay, and until that day, you've got nothing to say to me." It's not exactly "England is mine, it owes me a living," – unless you're 16, in which case the return of Moz from several years in the wilderness may just be the greatest event of the 21st Century. Musically, it's adept, and occasionally even exciting. But still I feel the same way about Morrissey solo as I do about Weller, and if you need me to explain that one further, you're probably reading the wrong writer.
ROBOTS IN DISGUISE – ROBOTS IN DISGUISE (Recall)
…Initially charming English electro-pop female duo whose electro-pop preceded Client and Goldfrapp but whose appeal fades quickly. The overdue American release of their 2002 UK debut needs a follow-up fast if we're going to keep paying attention.
PATTI SMITH – TRAMPIN' (Columbia)
I can't say she ever changed my life the way she did countless other peoples back in the 1970s, so I don't get a hard-on when she returns every few years with more of the same. But Trampin' should work for almost anyone on any number of levels. And few will fail to make the connection between her Radio Ethiopia album of eons ago, and the relevant song 'Radio Baghdad' here.
SQUAREPUSHER – ULTRAVISITOR (Warp)
In his first full album for three years, our favorite extreme electronic artist Tom Jenkinson reveals an increased sense of musicality without sacrificing his desire to take risks. Which means that while there's still some of the mutant hi-speed drum and bass ('Menelec'), there's yet more by way of avant-garde cinematics ('50 Cycles') – and plenty opportunity for Jenkinson to show off his renowned bass-playing skills, as on 'District Line II', and drumming abilities, on the subsequent 'Circlewave.' An album that challenges without offending, Ultravisitor remains just one necessary step away from the brink of insanity.
THE WANNADIES – BEFORE & AFTER (Hidden Agenda)
File the Swedish pop band's latest under my April heading for The Poster Children: BANDS THAT DON'T BREAK UP JUST BECAUSE THEY'RE NO LONGER FASHIONABLE, AND CARRY ON MAKING GREAT ALBUMS REGARDLESS. Years after the one-hit status of 'You And Me Song,' they're still churning them out by the bucket load. 'Little By Little,' 'Piss On You,' 'Skin' and 'Happy' are all worth the price of admission.

ON THE TURNTABLES

She's Beyond Good And Evil – GHOST EXIT (The Social Registry)
Yes it's The Pop Group song, but you could be forgiven for thinking you're listening to a Happy Mondays demo. Especially given the tempo: a 'Hallelujah' friendly 102 bpm.
Pardon My Freedom - !!! (Warp/Touch And Go)
More assertive and aggressive than its predecessor 'Me And Giuliani', this time !!! take on the entire American government – and demand that you dance (at 122bpm) to their 45rpm revolution. Astounding stuff. And yes, I give a fuck.
Party Crashers – RADIO 4 (Astralwerks/City Slang)
On this 125bpm teaser from the forthcoming The Healing Of A Nation, Radio 4 have a go at those who've jumped on the New York revival. And demand that you dance while doing so.

READING LIST

RECENTLY READ
I've got through a ton of music books in the last month or two, for reasons of research. The one that blew me away was POSITIVELY 4TH STREET by DAVID AIJAUDO It's a four-way biography of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mimi Baez and Richard Fariña, who were intrinsically linked to each other by romance, family, music, words – and of course, by the times that were a-changing. If most people come to this book for details of the unlikely love affair between Bob and Joan (of which it's hard to conclude anything other than that Dylan was taking advantage of the notoriously plain Joan to further his own standing), they will surely find themselves riveted instead by the life of Richard Fariña. A Brooklyn-born character of Irish-Cuban descent, Fariña was generally mistrusted by those he ran into, and for what initially seem like perfectly good reasons: his over-exaggeration and under-sincerity. Yet his ability to fill a room with his personality, and to then turn that room into a party, made him the stuff of legend – which he then turned into a marriage to Mimi Baez, perhaps the prettiest girl in the folk firmament of the early Sixties. As it turns out, Fariña was not only a good musician, but a genuinely great storyteller: his debut novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, attracted an endorsement from the notoriously reclusive Thomas Pynchon and is now considered one of the American classics. If, like me, you don't know what became of Farina after its publication, Positively 4th Street will maintain your suspense like the greatest of thrillers. The fact that it's all true – and that Aiju received co-operation from most of the major players (the great Dylan excepted, of course) - makes it all the more remarkable.

CURRENTLY READING:
THE ACCIDENTAL CONNOISSEUR by LAWRENCE OSBORNE (North Point Press).
Sub-titled 'An Irreverent Journey Through The Wine World,' and written by a perpetually tipsy Brit on a global search for the definition of "taste." Why didn't I think of it?
NEW YORK ROCKER: MY LIFE IN THE BLANK GENERATION by GARY VALENTINE (Pan/MacMillan).
The sub-title – "With Blondie, Iggy Pop And Others 1974-1981" - makes former Blondie bassist and co-songwriter Valentine look like a bit player. And maybe he was. But he turns out to have had a keen eye for detail, a good ear for music, and a fine way with words. As yet, he hasn't shown an axe to grind, though I sense it's waiting in the wings for the day he's sacked by Blondie. In the meantime, I'm learning lots. And enjoying every moment.

CURRENTLY TRYING TO READ
HOW TO BE GOOD by NICK HORNBY (Penguin Putnam).
Old news I know, but I was wary of this one in the first place. Here's how I see it after a few pages: Imagine a competition to write the opening chapter of a novel in a caricature of Nick Hornby's style. Imagine someone winning it by having Hornby adopt the female perspective for novelty value. Imagine it being published. Under Nick Hornby's name. That's How To Be Good. I'm struggling.


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