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andee's world: October 2006

andee's world

Hello and welcome to my blog. This space will be devoted to opinions, observations, lists, articles and whatever else I feel like posting. Subjects will include music, human nature, politics, life in NYC, etc. If I paste someone else's writing up here, it is because the author said something way better than I ever could. By the way, I don't claim to be a particularly smart guy; I'm just a musician with some opinions. If you disagree with me, that's cool -- but then, you're probably wrong.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

More, More, More Fall Music 2006!!

Praise Jesus, my CD buying rampage continues unabated! Here's part two of my fall '06 music recommendations. Part one is here.

The Rapture Pieces of the People We Love

Bravo! NYC's The Rapture follow up their debut album Echoes (a somewhat erratic confluence of cowbell-studded dance grooves, derivative, strafing post-punk guitars and Luke Jenner's almost-annoying, Robert Smith-style yelping) with something far more consistent and enjoyable. Pieces of the People We Love roars to life with a first-class opener -- "Don Gon Do It" boasts a fantastic, multi-harmonized vocal glissando as its main hook and I'll be damned if it wouldn't be enough to make the members of Queen break out into uncontrollable grins. Wow. I just love this song. I had no idea they had this kind of thing in them.

Other parts of the album revisit more familiar territory; "Get Myself Into It" augments the quartet's signature hard disco groove with a very nice saxophone motif. Other selections like "The Devil" and "Whoo! Alright Yeah..Uh Huh" also sound like the Rapture we've known (god bless that cowbell!), but it's all tighter, more spirited, more fun. Where their debut meandered and at times lost its focus, Pieces of the People We Love maintains its momentum all the way to the end, winding down with the lovely, hymn-like "Live In Sunshine." Can't wait to see this band live on 10/30.

Chad Van Gaalen Skelliconnection

I heard "Flower Gardens," this album's opening cut, on Sirius' Left of Center and immediately went online to order a copy. It's a barn-burning romp powered by pounding tom-toms and fuzzy, down-picked eighth notes on the bass. But there's nothing else on Skelliconnection that bears any resemblance to this song whatsoever.

Chad Van Gaalen is something of a musical chameleon, a highly imaginative and apparently wildly prolific one-man band who veers all over the place, stylistically, going wherever whimsy takes him. Luckily, he succeeds at most of what he attempts; whether it's metallic bluster ("Flower Gardens"), creepy folk ("Rolling Thunder") indie electronica ("Red Hot Drops"), Appalachian blues ("Wind Driving Dogs") or any number of other musical subgenres that pop up over the course of the album's 15 tracks. Van Gaalen's soaring falsetto occasionally recalls Thom Yorke or Neil Young. The lyrics are usually bizarre (conjuring pterodactyls, headless corpses, photosynthesis and graveyards) and the music jumps all over the place, but it never sounds like he's trying to get your attention.

By the time you reach the end of Skelliconnection, it's hard to believe you're still listening to the same album that started with "Flower Gardens." But the important thing is that you haven't lost interest. I'm still soaking this one in.

Prince 3121

Ah, yeeah. It's always a pleasure to listen to a master as peerless as Prince, even though, at this stage in his nearly 30-year career, he's basically refining his craft rather than relentlessly blazing musical trails like he did all through the 80s. But how could one expect anything more from one man?!

I really wanted to love Prince's last album, 2004's Musicology, but most of it didn't catch fire with me. Not so with 3121, an opulent record which finds the lil' Minnesotan genius in fine, frisky form, as he cuts loose the exhilarating one-two punch of the title track (irresistible funk with the bursts of predictably unpredictable guitar) and "Lolita," a delectable ditty fortified with scrumptious synths and a playful call-and-response at the end.

"Black Sweat" sounds as kinky and inspired as anything from Sign O the Times, and "Love" rides a decadent groove worthy of comparison to 1999's "D.M.S.R." Prince seems happy to reference his past on this album but it never sounds like retreads. The thing is, he's still so engaged, so invested in his work, playing nearly all the instruments and pouring all kinds of meticulous production detail into the proceedings. Pretty amazing, considering how long he's been at it.

Ima Robot Monument to the Masses

Boo, hiss! I hate to be negative but this album is a big disappointment. Ima Robot's first release was one of my favorites from 2003; their fusion of David Bowie and the Sex Pistols (if I may paint with some very broad strokes) was hooky and smart, catchy but subliminally sophisticated. Their new album sadly finds the band dumbing down their approach and settling for some depressingly trite songwriting. I guess David St. Hubbins was right: there's a fine line between clever and stupid.

The whole shebang starts off promisingly enough; the John Lydon-quoting "Disconnect" is an inspired blast, easily on par with anything from the first album. But things go downhill from there. Coupled paradoxically with the band's more conservative songwriting direction is singer Edward Sharpe's decision to push his already quirky vocalisms to the point of irritation. There are some truly horrible "rap" bits that couldn't sound more ridiculous or white, married to some flat-out insipid lyrics.

The song "Cool Universe" wraps all the worst tendencies of the "new" Ima Robot into one unbearable three-minute package. "Chip Off the Block," meanwhile, is nothing more than a paint-by-numbers power ballad that, given a few tweaks, wouldn't sound out of place on a Warrant album. I can't believe I'm saying this but it's true. The least-offensive tunes in the batch are merely decent and certainly not very memorable.

The sad part is these guys can do so much better. They're talented players and very savvy songwriters -- but Monument to the Masses (an ironic title...or maybe not) just sounds like a cynical bid for commercial success. Nobody wins. It all comes down to wasted potential.

Massive Attack 100th Window

I never bothered to buy Massive Attack's last album, 100th Window because I kept hearing that it was just a so-so rehash of Mezzanine. And the fact that Robert Del Naja was the only original core member involved in the project also seemed like a bad omen. But after seeing the band live a few weeks ago I thought it wouldn't hurt to pick up a used copy to see what it's like.

Unsurprisingly, nothing on 100th Window can remotely be called bad; it's just that in the overall scope of Massive Attack's work, which has reached some unbelievable heights, this album just comes off a bit lackluster by comparison. Del Naja's choice of guest vocalist/muse was Sinead O'Connor this time around. Again, not bad, but then not nearly as inspired or thrilling as past collaborations with Tracy Thorn, Tricky and Elizabeth Frazier (although "What Your Soul Brings" is a very lovely piece indeed).

The simmering, slow-burning "Butterfly Caught" should be mentioned as a standout Del Naja track. And while long-running contributor Horace Andy turns in some dependably good performances, the material he's given to work with just doesn't jump out. I'm still listening to this and I'm sure it will grow on me, but I doubt it will ever be a favorite.

Teenage Fanclub Bandwagonesque

I'm not sure why, but this band has more or less flown under my radar until now. I have dim recollections of their videos on 120 Minutes in the early 90s, but that's about it; for some reason I never felt compelled to investigate further. Teenage Fanclub are often cited as one of the great torch-bearers for power pop in the post-Nirvana age, a characterization that has piqued my curiosity a few times but it wasn't until hearing the wonderful "Metal Baby" recently on Sirius radio that I finally succumbed and bought myself a copy of their 1991 album, Bandwagonesque.

I'm glad I did -- what a treat! Bandwagonesque is a grunge-y, garage-y update on classic seventies powerpop that parallels what Matthew Sweet and Material Issue were doing at the same time. There's a sleepy, Evan Dando-esque slacker delivery in songs like "The Concept" and "Star Sign" that could almost fool you into thinking that the band aren't as clever as they really are. Don't be fooled -- these guys know what they're doing.

In hindsight, 1991 was a year chock full of seismic musical events: Nirvana's Nevermind, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, Primal Scream's Screamedelica. It seems that Teenage Fanclub were launching their own revolution as well.


And now, as if all that weren't enough, some of my fave discs from autumns past:

~Poe Hello

Whatever happened to Poe? Ten years ago she was such a promising new artist; her debut cd was fresh and fun, a user-friendly blend of pop, cut-and-paste hip hop production stylings, grungy hard rock riffs, even some jazzy bits. It was one of the first records made in Pro Tools (parts of it, anyway) and was fairly cutting edge overall. Poe's lyrics were honest and clever; she addressed her relationships like a less lewd Liz Phair, with plenty of good humor thrown in.

Hello has more than its share of memorable tunes: "Trigger Happy Jack," "Angry Johnny," the title track -- what's not to like? The whole record is colorful, vibrant and engaging; truly, a musical box of chocolates. Her followup took five years to surface and it just wasn't nearly as enjoyable, I'm sad to say. But Hello was one of my favorite albums of fall '96. Takes me right back to 11th street...Veniero's, Tokyo Joe's, First Flight...good neighborhood, good times.

~Self Gizmodgery

This immaculate indie-pop gem arrived in fall of 2000, just as I was getting my band off the ground. I was anxious to hear Self (aka Matt Mahaffey)'s latest work and Gizmodgery soared above all expectations. Recorded entirely on toy instruments, the album is certainly a unique sonic event, and far more elaborate and detail-oriented than you might imagine. It's nothing less than a production masterpiece -- but more importantly, the songs on Self's third album are Mahaffey's best to date. The music positively explodes with playfulness. The cover of the Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes" is a giddy romp -- one of my alltime faves. Mahaffey has yet to follow this up. Come on, Matt!!

~Veruca Salt Eight Arms to Hold You

I distinctly remember loathing Veruca Salt when they first emerged in the mid-nineties with the (to my ears, anyway) shameless Breeders rip-off "Seether." Much later, I was unwittingly exposed to their second album (thanks, Loni!) and fell in love instantly. Remember, love and hate are just kissing cousins...

Anyway, I couldn't believe how good Eight Arms' songs were and how much the album rocked, raised-fist-style; the record is filled to the top with sparkling pop melodies and gorgeously stacked harmonies, which sound sooo lovely when juxtaposed against the gargantuan heavy rock guitars and Black Album-era Metallica drum sound (courtesy of producer Bob Rock). I also thought it was gutsy of the band to so willingly abandon their indie darling status in favor of hugely overblown arena rock. The opening song, "Straight," is directly responsible for my own song "Black Days, Techno Nights," for whatever that's worth.

Sadly, co-founder/guitarist/vocalist Nina Gordon left the band after this album (and tour) and co-founder/guitarist/vocalist Louise Post has carried on under the Veruca Salt moniker without her. I haven't heard any of the stuff they've recorded without Nina but it seems like it would only be half the fun.

~Foreskin 500 Starbent but Superfreaked

In fall of '96 there were some dudes from Priority Records in town for CMJ, I think, and they were staying with my neighbor across the hall. They were all partying over there one night and I popped in. Seemed like nice enough guys and one of them gave me this cd, which was just-released on Priority. I was pretty indifferent about the gift (yet another CMJ handout, oh joy) but luckily, a few days later, I popped it in for a listen.

I loved it straight away; the opening track "Deliver Me" rocked hard, courtesy of a guitar riff nicked straight from Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla," but also had a massive funk groove and disco diva backing vocals. The lead singer sounded a bit like Rob Zombie. It was was working for me!

The rest of the album is a guided tour through the sleazy, freak-filled, vice-ridden underworld discotheque that is Foreskin 500. High-jacking metal, funk, psychedelia, disco and hip hop and exploiting those disparate genres for their own crude, sordid ends, Foreskin 500 brew a potent, sweaty brine on Starbent. The hedonism only slows down at the end of the disc; the closing track "Pinhead Fantasy" effectively conjures the tweaked-out, party's over melancholy of the morning after.

My roommate Mike and I played the disc relentlessly that fall. We would even take it with us to parties -- "Bring It Down" and "Twister" could ALWAYS be counted on to push the energy level up a notch or two.

~Steve Vai Fire Garden

Steve Vai: consummate guitar hero, master transcriber, rock star, business mogul and self-contained cottage industry. The man who once stood alongside Frank Zappa and invented the 7-string guitar (where would nu-metal be without the 7-string?) is a tireless worker and a prolific artist with hopelessly lofty ambitions. Over the years, I've been inspired by some of his work; his first solo album, the Zappa-esque Flex-able, is brilliant. And who can resist David Lee Roth's Eat 'Em and Smile? But beyond that, it's hard for me to stay with Vai for long. His guitar playing is always breath-taking, technically -- and often very clever -- but after a point, all the instrumental fireworks just leave me cold.

Fire Garden is an exception -- I love it! I'm sure part of its appeal is the fact that I bought it during my first autumn in NYC ten years ago. But the other thing is that Vai sings on this record. Like most of his albums, Fire Garden is lengthy and ambitious, but it's cut into two halves, Phase 1 and Phase 2, which, as Vai himself advises in the liner notes, are meant to be taken in separately. I thought it was cool that even the indulgent Steve Vai acknowledged that listening to 70-plus minutes of his music in one go was asking alot.

So Phase 1 is the all-instrumental half; texturally dense and laden with all the expected mind-bending guitar performances, it easily satisfies any fans of Vai the guitar virtuoso, but at little more than half an hour, doesn't go on long enough to bore regular people. Not that there's anything close to boring on this album.

But the second half of Fire Garden is what interests me the most; on Phase 2, Vai sings for the first time on record -- and happily, he turns out to be a very capable and passionate vocalist. Just as importantly, the songs are really five-star; "Little Alligator" and "Damn You" are fine hard rock workouts but the quieter, more soulful cuts like "Brother" and especially the beautiful, soaring "All About Eve" (my favorite song on the album) are even more effective. Ten years later and I'm still listening to this.

~Death in Vegas The Contino Sessions

I vaguely recall being present when Death in Vegas performed during a giant CMJ showcase at Roseland in 1997 that included Daft Punk, Crystal Method, Fluke, Sneaker Pimps and Aphex Twin. An overwhelming lineup, to say the least. I can't say that DIV made any impression on me that night (I wasn't acquainted with any of their music yet) but a few years later I caught a whiff of The Contino Sessions, their second album, and it smelled gooooood.

Just a cursory look at the list of guest artists on the album -- Jim Reid (Jesus and Mary Chain), Dot Allison (One Dove), Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) and Iggy Pop -- was enough to get my curiosity running high. In the end, The Contino Sessions isn't nearly as electronic as one might expect; there are so many organic ingredients that it never really feels like electronica. It's essentially dark, hypnotic rock and roll stretched across slow, menacing, deliberate dance beats. Gillespie's cameo on the creepy-crawly "Soul Auctioneer" is a highlight, as is Iggy's turn in the supercharged "Aisha." Some of the tracks are little more than atmosphere, but together it all works as one cohesive piece. An autumn record if there ever was one!

~Blur Parklife

The sumptuous slice of dance/pop brilliance known as "Girls and Boys" can easily be filed in the "Songs I Wish I'd Written" department. You all know that one. But how many of you realize that the song is just the starting point of a full album of equal brilliance? Believe it. Parklife is nothing short of a tour-de-force of quintessential Britpop, a dizzying survey of every major pop music movement to sweep across England since the Kinks (punk, new wave, disco, shoegaze). As varied and ambitious as it is, the album holds together effortlessly, thanks in part to Damon Albarn's lyrical vignettes and character sketches, which paint a vivid picture of life in England in the 1990s.

It always annoyed me that the press lumped Blur in with the inferior Oasis. Are you kidding me? Oasis are total hacks in comparison; Liam Gallagher couldn't write lyrics like these in his wildest dreams. Forget about them. And check out Parklife if you haven't already.

~Wool Box Set

Here was a nineties "alternative" band who should have been big. A veritable DC punk supergroup, Wool featured the Stahl brothers (Peter and Franz, from Scream) and Peter Moffett (Government Issue); their debut ep Budspawn was raging heavy rock with moments of pot-enhanced psychedelia and an overall emphasis on nuclear-strength hooks.

Wool's only full length platter, 1994's Box Set, suffers slightly from an ill-conceived framing device but who cares? -- the songs kick ass. There should have been a hit from this batch; "Eden," "Superman Is Dead" and "Black Eye" could have all been huge. Considering the kinds of bands who hogged up the airwaves during this era -- Bush (whose name has only become more repugnant in recent years), Seven Mary Three, Silverchair, Better Than Ezra (ick, I think I'm getting nauseous) -- a band like Wool should have been a shoe-in. Maybe their label just didn't know how to promote them or didn't care.

I saw Wool on the Box Set tour in the fall of 1994 with the Melvins and L7. What a show.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Give the People What They Want

Click the headline to see how the cover of a recent Newsweek differed from one geographical region to the next.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Safe From Harm

Last night a dream came true when I got to finally see one of my favorite bands ever, the mighty Massive Attack. If you're interested in labels, the Bristol, England collective singlehandedly invented "trip hop"; but more importantly, they've made some of the most intoxicating music of the last twenty years: a crawling, highly seductive amalgamation of blunted hip hop beats, doped-out urban reggae, dark soul, and eerie sound design. Their first three albums, Blue Lines, Protection and Mezzanine, are stone-cold classics, and have soundtracked a big chunk of my life in New York.

Massive Attack are in town for a three-night stand at Roseland (the third and last show is tonight) and I would have happily paid the $50 or whatever for a ticket, but the lovely Claudia came to the rescue once again, and, thanks to a connection in the Massive Attack crew, she scored us not only free tickets, but all-access, after-show passes. Weeeee!

Touring America for the first time in eight years, core Massive Attack members Robert Del Naja (aka 3D) and Daddy G are joined by none other than Liz Frazier, who contributed some of Mezzanine's most memorable vocal performances (and who also happens to be the voice of Cocteau Twins) and the legendary reggae singer and long-standing MA collaborator Horace Andy. This was going to be good...

Thanks to our alcoholic dawdling, Claudia and I unfortunately arrived at the venue about 15 minutes late and Massive Attack were already onstage when we hustled in. We snaked our way up toward the front as quickly as possible and found a spot (thanks, Claud!)...and there they were before us, backlit in a haze of in pot smoke: the legendary Massive Attack. It's impossible to describe their music or how it has affected me (and I'll certainly never do a good job of it here) but I have to say that beholding the mighty Bristol posse up onstage together was pretty overwhelming.

The wiry, shadow-boxing 3D/Del Naja fronted the band for most of the show, often processing his paranoid, whispery rasps through an effects box which he manipulated on a stand next to his mic. Meanwhile, the tall, lanky, bedreaded Daddy G stood to his left, delivering those chilly, downbeat raps in his menacing monotone.

A tiny, almost fragile-looking Liz Frazier walked onstage for "Teardrop" and the crowd went wild as her lilting, delicate voice filled the air. This is a voice I've been listening to for almost 15 years. It was incredible to hear it in person. Wow. She came out at other points during the show to sing all her other Mezzanine cameos as well.

It was equally humbling to see and hear the beloved Horace Andy Hinds (no relation!); dancing gently from side to side like the cuddly Rastafarian uncle you never had, he lent his inimitable croon to "Angel," "Man Next Door" and "Hymn of the Big Wheel" and all those other classics. It's impossible to imagine those songs sung by anyone but the man himself. He owns them.

(I was only a little disappointed that they didn't save "Hymn" for the very last song of the show; it would have been a beautiful touch, a really poignant way to end the night. But I'm not complaining!)

Tricky didn't come along for this excursion but the band performed an excellent "Karmacoma" anyway, with Daddy G on the mic. It gives me chills just to think about it. A guest singer named Deborah (didn't catch her last name) walked out periodically to nearly steal the show by singing the living hell out of set highlights like "Unfinished Sympathy" and "Safe From Harm." When the band started "Sympathy" I found myself getting a little choked up -- I never thought I'd hear it in person. What a song. The show ended with a brutal, hypnotic rendering of "Mezzanine/Group Four," which got faster and faster at the end, capping the night with a blinding crescendo.

The grooves were titanic. The bass was enormous. It throbbed and shook the very foundations of Roseland and pushed the clouds of ganja smoke through the air. Aside from the bassist, there were also a guitarist, a keyboardist and two drummers onstage. I found out later that no loops or sequencing were used in the show; the stage right drummer played a kit made up largely of pads that triggered many of the electronic sounds and samples and the keyboard player took care of the rest.

The concert alone would have been enough to make for a brilliant evening but as luck would have it, our yellow wristbands gave Claudia and I access to the "VIP" area and, ultimately, backstage, where a Massive Attack party was going down after the show. Suddenly we found ourselves in the same room with all these legendary musicians. Eeek!

Liz Frazier herself was standing arm's length away but neither Claudia nor I could think of anything to say to her. I suppose I could have gushed, "your voice is one of my favorite instruments in the whole world," but I'd already used that one on Horace Andy, who spent most of the night leaning against the wall in a blissed out ganja haze, smiling benevolently on the proceedings. I gave him a hug and told him we share the same name (something I've always wanted to do!). But he informed me that the "Andy" part was just a stage name (damn!). Still, he seemed really pleased by the connection. What a cool guy! What a voice!

I told the bassist how awesome his playing was and he said something self-deprecating like "Wow, thanks, I didn't think anyone paid attention to the bass player!" Such humility! I mean, in Massive Attack, the bass is everything. Del Naja, on the other hand, made a point to approach me, shake my hand and thank me for being there. I didn't know what to say! How do you tell someone their music has changed your life when they do that? Ultimately we were all just a bunch of people hanging out having drinks.

The party then moved to the godawful Lotus on 14th Street, where a vodka tonic sets you back $11. But luckily Claudia and I somehow got a free first round (including an abandoned mango martini courtesy of 3D). We talked to the guitarist awhile and he confessed that he was really surprised -- pleasantly, but still surprised -- to see people who look like Claudia and I at a Massive Attack gig. He seemed genuinely amazed that we were into the music: "how did YOU guys wind up here?!" I, in turn, was surprised to hear him say that. Massive Attack's music appeals to alot of different kinds of people.

He told me how lucky I am to live in New York ("I'm from Bristol, for god's sake!"). It's so odd to hear that -- I've never been to Bristol but in my mind's eye, it's one of the coolest places on earth. Any town that could give birth to Massive Attack has got to be almost magical.

If you haven't already, fortify yourself with this otherworldly music here.

Some more of my ramblings about this Massive Attack here.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I Love the Fall and Lots of New Music

I'm happy to say that I've been taking in a TON of new music this fall. I owe alot of the inspiration to Sirius Radio's Left of Center channel. Although LOC's programming can just as often annoy the living bejeezus out of me (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Regina Spektor, Death Cab for Cutie) and the snarky hipster attitude of some of the DJs makes me want to go on a shooting rampage, lately the channel's been turning me on to some of my favorite new bands.

I also must credit the arrival of a very nice publishing check for enabling a massive music-buying spree on Here are some thoughts on my new acquisitions:


The Futureheads News and Tributes

About every five years, the music press start spouting off about the latest "Second Coming of the British Invasion." Of all the UK guitar rock bands that have been tossed into the latest round-up of would-be heirs to the Beatles/Who/Kinks throne (Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, etc), the Futureheads are by far my favorite. Why? Because I'm very confident that I will still be listening to this in ten years. There's nothing exactly groundbreaking about The Futureheads (parts of News and Tributes could have been written by a young Joe Jackson or Billy Bragg) but the songs are so damn strong and played so well that it hardly matters. Smart, strident and balls-out, the Futureheads sound like now but feel like they've been here all along.

Sonic Youth Sonic Nurse

A few weeks ago, I had a near-transcendent Sonic Youth experience. They were playing in my neighborhood at the McCarren Pool and although I didn't have tickets, I suggested to my friend Alison that we take a walk up to the open air venue and see if we could hear anything. It was a Friday evening, dusk, and the air was clear as a bell, and cool. The sun was close to setting and the clouds were fiery, orange and grey/blue. Spectacular.

As we got up closer to the venue, we started to hear sporadic snatches of Sonic Youth: floating eddies of sound and noise ricocheting around the buildings and streets of Williamsburg. By the time we got to the source, the music filled the air. We walked around the perimeter of the pool and peeked in occasionally. Couldn't see the band, but could hear them loud and clear. Sounded incredible. I've never seen SY live and I've never been a big follower (a casual fan, perhaps) but at that moment, in that setting, they were the best thing ever. As we continued on toward the water, the sound looped around us in surreal waves of natural echo; it was like the music was coming out of the sky.

A couple weeks later, one of my students brought in Sonic Nurse so we could learn the 7-minute epic "Stones," which I'd never heard before. I loved the song immediately and bought the record. This one was released in 2004, when they still had Jim O'Rourke in the band. As far as I can tell, it's a pretty inspired album. I like it. I can't say that I always follow Thurston Moore's random-associated poetry/lyrics, but I like his laconic singing style and I always perk up when Kim Gordon opens her mouth. I've always loved Sonic Youth's mix of chiming guitar textures and foamy, roiling currents of noise; they somehow combine power and fragility into one unique entity. Hard to describe. But I'm happy to be listening to this band again.

CSS Cansei de ser Sexy

This six-piece, co-ed, electro-garage band from Brazil (five girls, one guy) only annoy me when they remind me of Bis (on songs like "Patins"). But when they tone down the brattiness and ride cool, sexy grooves (see "Music Is My Hot Hot Sex" and the brilliant "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above"), all is forgiven. Besides, they open the album with a song called "CSS Suxx" -- it's hard not to warm up to that (a little hat-tip to KMFDM, perhaps?).

They were alot of fun when they opened the show for Ladytron at Webster Hall last week; the musicianship was charmingly amateurish but CSS's pure, utterly unaffected jubilance and onstage energy made you realize how infrequently you actually see it in other bands. After their set they tore down their own gear.

Curve Come Clean

I've been a fan of this band since 1992 but for some reason I never bought this, their third album. Well, guess what? Now I've got it. It's bloody well about time, innit?! Anyway, I don't love Come Clean as much as their first album or their last album but Curve always sound fantastic. And the completist in me can now rest easy.

Ladytron Witching Hour

D. Bosler, the idiot who penned a blurb on Ladytron in the Village Voice Choices last week not only wrote off the band as a relic of the (now terribly, terribly unhip) electroclash movement, but he reported that the band were in town to support Light and Magic, the album they released four years ago. You really, really don't need to know anything to be a rock critic. Isn't that something?

Anyway, Ladytron's fantastic new album Witching Hour is the least "electro" thing they've done to date; yes, the songs are built largely on richly layered synth lines, but the album also sports a wonderfully live drum sound and a spacious, almost gothy ambience. The impassive, echo-drenched vocals of Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo are just as perfect as ever, imbuing gems like "Destroy Everything You Touch" and "Last One Standing" with ethereal detachment.

Onstage at Webster Hall last week, Ladytron were black-clad and deadpan, wreathed in smoke. In contrast to their openers CSS, Ladytron bathed the crowd in atmosphere rather than energy.

Send D. Bosler your complaints here. I did.

Suicide self titled and Ghost Riders

I've been hearing whispers about Suicide for a long time; adjectives like "influential," "underrated," "difficult" get bandied around quite a bit. Curious, I picked up Ghost Riders first, not knowing it was a live album. Still, it hooked me in and compelled me to dig up more of their stuff and read up on the band.

This decidedly unorthodox New York duo cut their teeth for most of the 1970s before finally releasing their first album in '77. As "punk" as anything else out there, Suicide eschew volume, noise and bombast in favor of cheap-sounding synth-drum loops and super-repetitive, eerily subdued electric keyboard patterns. Over this hypnotic sonic foundation (provided by Martin Rev), vocalist Alan Vega unleashes streams of harrowing verbiage and primal scream therapy. Vega's tortured narratives are as evocative of pre-80s New York as anything by Lou Reed, I'd wager. Check out "Frankie Teardrop" -- yikes.

Suicide's first two albums (both eponymous, as far as I can tell) are packaged on a single compact disc. The first one is better, in my opinion; the band's nightmare evocation of urban decay is best viewed under the harsh white light of a naked bulb, and the debut is as stark and raw and unadorned as can be. But the second album, produced by Ric Ocasek, oddly sounds, in some ways, more bizarre than the first. More conventional-sounding (although nowhere near commercial), Ocasek's production job couches Suicide's desperate worldview in smoothe, schmaltzy, chintzy sonics. It is so weird. In some ways it's more subversive -- halfway between pleasant and unbearable. I still haven't got my head around it but it's fascinating to hear.

The live disc Ghost Riders captures a live performance from 1981 (originally released on cassette-only ROIR) and gets much closer to the vibe of that unsettling debut. I can't imagine how confused the audiences must have been...

Lansing-Dreiden The Dividing Island

This enimgatic trio from Florida (but based in NYC) caught my ear when I heard their stunning single "A Line You Can Cross" on satellite radio; it was more than enough to justify buying the album. It turns out that Lansing-Dreiden's music falls somewhere between sixties psychedelia, shoegazer and languid 80's synthpop (sometimes they remind me of China Crisis). Then, as if that weren't enough, they come off like some kind of European black metal band on the closing song, "Dethroning the Optimyth."

Cursive Happy Hollow

From the fabled midwestern gene pool that birthed Bright Eyes and The Faint, Omaha's Cursive sometimes sound more like a DC band to me. What I like about them is they rock hard but never sound like "hard rock." Plus, for an indie band, their sound is really big and they never come across as precious. The lyrics, smart and conversational, attack heady subjects like religion and politics, but make it all personal and anecdotal rather than preachy. They throw some new wave and even the occasional bit of ska in the mix, but none of these ingredients is ever presented in a rote way; it all sounds like their own thing.

Bireli Lagrene & Friends Live Jazz a Vienne (dvd)

I don't know whether to thank Dave Adler for turning me onto this gypsy jazz genius or be mad at him -- watching this dvd has made almost want to give up playing guitar. I defy any six-stringer to take in this blinding display of virtuosity and not come away with the same reaction. Viloinist Florin Niculescu is almost as mind-blowing in his own right. Django has a worthy heir in Lagrene. The rest of us have a lot of work to do. Ouch.

Gene Loves Jezebel Immigrant, Promise and Discover (deluxe reissues)

I've gushed at length about Gene Loves Jezebel's classic first three albums, Promise, Immigrant and Discover already here. And I could not resist splurging on the recently-reissued versions of said albums. Remastered and repackaged with great liner notes from the band, photos and a bonus disc of extras for each album, this trilogy of re-releases is a veritable treasure trove of GLJ oddities, demos and lost b-sides (like the ultra-rare "Shaving My Neck," from the Promise days). These things make me very happy.

The Knife Silent Shout

This shadowy, bemasked duo from Sweden make creepy, quirky, ice-choked electro distinguished by synthesizer and electronic drum sounds straight outta 1981 and voices almost exclusively treated with vocoders and other processing. Silent Shout is great night-time or cloudy day listening.

Dresden Dolls Yes, Virginia

I just love it when bands have their entire presentation -- music, image, packaging, etc -- honed to this degree. The Dresden Dolls, consisting of pianist/lead vocalist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione, channel the sound and spirit of pre-WW2 German cabaret and make it edgy and current. I know those last two adjectives are lame, but I don't want to give the impression that the Dresden Dolls are on some kind of sepia-toned retro/nostalgia trip. These songs are incredibly fresh and powerful and the lyrics are deadly -- as lascerating as anything by Nellie Mckay. I'm floored.

Basement Jaxx Crazy Itch Radio

I have to say I am disappointed with Basement Jaxx's fourth album. Crazy Itch Radio is brilliantly produced, as usual, and bears plenty of the English duo's sonic trademarks, but it lacks the loopy dynamic range of Kish Kash or the monster hooks of Rooty. The vocalists all sound similar (a big let-down, considering that the last record featured talents as diverse as Meshell Ndegeocello, Dizzee Rascall and Siouxsie Sioux). I've listened to it four times already and I still don't know how it goes. Oh well, maybe next time. Three brilliant records is still more than you get from most artists these days.

Motorhead Kiss of Death

Speaking of disappointment...well, I'm not exactly disappointed with Motorhead's eighteenth (I think) studio album. It's certainly good. I just don't like it as much as the last one, Inferno. But let's face it: a Motorhead album will never suck. At worst, it will just sound like another Motorhead record.

One thing about latter day Motorhead (which is to say, the Motorhead of the nineties and beyond) that bugs me a bit is how proficient they've become. Ever since Mikkey Dee's been on the drum throne, the band has gotten disconcertingly tight. Can you imagine?! I tend to prefer the shambling, drunken sloppiness of the Philthy Phil/Fast Eddie era. But what can you do? People get better, sometimes, whether they want to or not. This album is loud and fast and Lemmy's lyrics are sharp as always. I'm still listening. It could grow on me.

The Sisters Three self titled

I was down in Dewey Beach, Delaware last weekend for the annual music fest they have there. My band had been invited to play and we couldn't do it but I went down anyway to hang out with my old friends Sal and Pam for a few days. A relaxing weekend away from the city in an off-season beach town seemed like a good idea.

So on Friday afternoon I was sitting out on the back porch of our condo, reading, and this beautiful singing wafted toward me from next door. Three-part harmonies, the kind of blend that only siblings have. There was acoustic guitar, some electric keyboard and simple hand percussion. Really pretty -- the stuff was folky, but with a little Jeff Buckley, a little Patsy Kline. I assumed they were rehearsing for a performance. I didn't really know who was scheduled to play at this conference and wasn't all that interested, honestly, but I decided that whoever lived next door was already my favorite act of the weekend.

A few hours later, my friends and I wandered into happy hour at one of the venues and immediately, I heard those angelic female voices -- they were onstage. What luck! While most everyone else in the room chattered away at eachother about "the industry" and swallowed as much free food and beer as humanly possible, I sat down in front of the band. Then I quietly melted in my seat. The three sisters sang their songs together and smiled and radiated such heartbreaking innocence and pure love for music...and the lead singer was absolutely stunning to watch. Her voice slayed me. I was smitten.

I instantly made friends with the Sisters Three (Anna Christie, Cassandra and Beatrice), their hippie/manager dad and younger brother Max. They were all so cool. We hung out alot for the rest of the weekend; we drank together and I watched them rehearse. I went to see them perform again on Saturday night and melted all over. I bought their CD and it's one of my favorite new records.

Click here to check out the Sisters Three on myspace.

The Glove Blue Sunshine (deluxe reissue)

Here's another album I've already yakked about on this blog. But now it's out, remastered, with bonus disc, with new liner notes and new pictures, and of course now I must buy it again.

I love Blue Sunshine and the remaster is terrific but one thing bothers me. Ok, for those of you who don't know, this record, made in 1983, was the one-off side project for Steve Severin (The Banshees) and Robert Smith (the Cure), operating under the moniker The Glove.

The lead singer on most of Blue Sunshine's tracks was an obscure lady called Jeanette Landray. But on this bonus disc of the remaster, "original demos" of all the tunes appear with Robert Smith on lead vocals (this is a big selling point for the deluxe reissue, as you might imagine).

What bugs me is this: the Smith vocals don't sound like the Robert Smith of 1983, they sound like they were sung by the Robert Smith of TODAY (I've listened to everything the man's done, and I think my ear is pretty well tuned to All Things Smith at this point). Which makes me wonder if they didn't overdub new vocal tracks on these old demos just for the occasion, and pass them off as "original." Hmmmmm....I swear, I can't get it out of my head. Will we ever know for sure??

Lady Sovereign Vertically Challenged

Pint-sized British rapper Lady Soverign may be my favorite hip hop artist since Eminem. She brings it back to the basics, dispensing with all the overproduced R&B-isms that poison so much current rap. The grooves are fat and simple, the hooks are large and she's witty and self-deprecating. A breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant genre.

Nina Hagen Band self titled

Lil' Nina Hagen's very first album. The teenaged operatic punk priestess was still getting her sound together here (understandably) and the music sounds like a relic of the 70s, but her completely unique singing style and bizarro/eccentric persona are as clearly defined as ever. There's no one else like Nina. Appropriately, I picked this one up in Berlin in late August. All German lyrics, vinyl.

Love/Hate I'm Not Happy

After getting turned on Love/Hate's sophomore albumWasted in America in 1992, I've been fascinated by these angry, mangy, misunderstood LA metal castaways. I'm Not Happy, Love/Hate's out-of-print fourth album, paints a rather grim portrait of a band on its last legs. Long gone is the nasty confidence that flowed through Blackout In the Red Room or the sharp, humorous misanthropy of Wasted; in their place are desperation and pure bitterness. A handful of strong tracks recall the old panache ("Superfragilistic," "Hey Man" and "Ola Mola") but the material is undermined by flimsy production values, courtesy of the band itself. Overall, not a barrel of monkeys but kind of compelling anyway.

Lily Allen various

This cheeky lass from England is a real firecracker, with a voracious musical appetite and an abundance of sheer talent. Fearlessly throwing punk, britpop, ska, glam and whatever else strikes her fancy into the musical pot, Allen cooks up a brew that doesn't taste quite like anything else. Her melodies bounce all over the place and the lyrics are witty and at times biting. Sometimes the ironic marriage of her vindictive messages (usually pointed at unfortunate ex-boyfriends) and cutesy pop comes off a little too clever for its own good but you can't deny how much this precocious pup has her act together. It's damn impressive. Thanks to my roomie John for hooking me up with this collection of singles. The proper album is called Alright, Still.

Death from Above 1979 You're a Woman, I'm a Machine

They've got one of the coolest names around and thank god the music is just as cool. There are alot of bass-less bands out there today, championing minimalist garage aesthetics and the magic of midrange (The White Stripes, The Yeah Yeahs, The Kills, etc) and I can't say that's a bad thing. But DFA '79 take this less-is-more spirit in the opposite direction, courtesy of a singing drummer named Sebastian Grainger and a resourceful fellow named Jesse Keeler who alternates between crunchy synths and processed, super-compressed bass. Grainger pummels the skins with punky (but controlled) abandon and delivers scratchy, two- and three-note melodies. There are no chords, no solos and very little layering of any kind. It works. It works well.


Please enjoy the autumn of 2006 and listen to lots and lots of great music.