meat beat manifesto, "ruok?"
Run (North America) / Quatermass (Europe)
When electronica was supposed to break big, it was en vougue to namecheck the Meat Beat sound as a cornerstone of the big beat electronic party music that took over the media consciousness for a while, and later became the soundtrack for selling cars and toothpaste. But when Meat Beat's newest full-length, 'RUOK' was released, it came as a surprise to many in these parts. "Oh, you mean he's still doing stuff?" Yeah. He is. And if 'RUOK' is any indication, those of us tired of the sample-laden soundtracks designed to sell SUVs should be thankful. Without pandering to the micro-genre trends of recent, critically accepted electronic music, Meat Beat Manifesto has managed to crank out another record that is equal parts deep sound collage, bombastic beats and rolling basslines, and unabashed fun. But that's not to say that 'RUOK' isn't without its disappointments. For starters, Dangers has left the vocalizing to the samples here, stripping the Meat Beat sound of most of its political and conceptual weight. There was a time when an angrier Jack Dangers ran channel after channel of feedback into a track armed with ambiguous half-rap, half-shouting. Vocals harmonized into the sublime on tracks like "She's Unreal" from 'Subliminal Sandwich,' but they've been abandoned here. Instead, the vocal hooks come from the next most likely place for a Meat Beat record, the sampled voices used to introduce a beat or define a chorus as in the anthemic "Supersoul," and the cheeky interludes such as a sampled lesson on jive lingo with just enough interruption to make it fun. Then there's the case of two tracks that don't at all seem to fit in the Meat Beat Manifesto repertoire. The album opener, "Yuri" is all analogue bubble and synthetic percussion not unlike the sound of a DHS record, and its partner, "No Echo In Space" offers the same synthetic, technoid rhythm that trades in the James Brown funk for Kraftwerk minimalism. However, the album quickly picks up with the more recognizable Meat Beat sound with "Dynamite Fresh", a "Dogstarman" redux if ever there was one. Dangers cranks up the tempo and feeds the beat with a quick dub bass and spattering of noodly synth notes that fill up every inch of space. We haven't heard a jam like this since '99%' and yet, with all its ferocity, it demonstrates a level of refinement that most funky break music never even imagines. Meat Beat Manifesto has always offered a little more than could be easily digested, from the art/sound collage of 'Armed Audio Warfare' to the simultaneously funky and pissed off sound of "Nuclear Bomb", and 'RUOK' is thankfully no different. It challenges preconceived notions of what a Meat Beat record should sound like while also playing into expectations by recycling samples from Meat Beat records of the past in the ultimate of sonic inside jokes. There are as many ways to listen to these songs as there are sounds to be uncovered, and with the excellent bonus 3" CD included with the album's initial pressing, this should be enough to listen to and think about for quite a while. - Matthew Jeanes
yo la tengo, "nuclear war"
Let's be honestthree white, nerdy, Hoboken NJ-based alt-rock indie superstars will probably never earn the amount of cred for this song that Sun Ra has earned in his years of groundbreaking musical endeavors. But Yo La Tengo aren't stupid, and I'm sure they realize this. To honor this fantastic call-and-response piece which was originally released in the 1980s (a period considered long after the heyday of Sun Ra), Yo La Tengo have provided four intense interpretations. The first one is a pretty damned slick original mix: only the trio playing drums and percussion. The second one is hands down one of the most entertaining songs I have heard this entire year, as the group is joined by a rhythmic drone and a chorus of young children eagerly shouting back "it's a motherfucker" and "kiss your ass goodbye," amongst many other things. On the third, the group adds a piano part, is joined by horn players, more percussionists, and more vocalists in a jazzed-up 15+ minute jam, while the fourth is a pleasurable remix of the second version by Mike Ladd (also known as Ozone). Yo La Tengo aren't going to change the world, this song will never air on the radio in these versions, but at the appropriate $4 price, it's very cool thing to have. - Jon Whitney
Like their Fort Thunder brethren, Forcefield's music is usually best supplemented by their performance art, which features the band (members Patootie Lobe, Meerk Puffy, Gorgon Radeo, and Le Geef) in full-knit suits which look suspiciously like afghans lifted from grandma's couch twenty-three years ago. 'Roggaboggas' is supposedly a companion piece to the Forcefield art collective's appearance at the 2002 Whitney Biennial (they were one of the few fresh sights at the Biennial), which was itself a symptom of the art world's tardy adoption of the deceased Fort Thunder. The sound is akin to early explorations in electronic music mixed with noise: plenty of sound processors to adjust and tweak. 'Roggaboggas' can be broken down into component sounds, not songs. The conventional idea of songs is abandoned on this album, as thirty-second blips flow seamlessly into longer fifteen-minute musings, creating a pastiche of sound particles which compose the atom that is Forcefield. Here are some exciting sounds I was able to extract: what sounded like the spastic gagging of a choking robot; percolating electronic bubbles not unlike a child's approximation of a motorcycle sound with vibrating lips processed through an oscillator; a screaming squirrel; various whirlwind sounds. Though I like the sound of this record very much, it is sometimes hard to be enveloped by it. It loses me occasionally by not offering the visual stimulation of Forcefield's live show. In some part, I need the polychromatic afghan people bustling around and I need the dancing audience about me to appreciate the project fully. The album insert provides a number of pictures, but it is no proper substitution for the real thing. Surprisingly, it was the minimalist parts in the longer numbers which really engaged me. The final track, "2nd Annual Roggaboggas," deceives you about seventeen times into thinking that it will end, as the sound gets almost imperceptibly soft, and its life recedes. But it persists for twenty minutes, and you begin to realize that what you are hearing is actually the pulse of the band Forcefield, faint but still consistently pounding. - Joshua David Mann
The second release from this German label is available just in time to combat numerous other obnoxious holiday releases. Attention record store clerks: demand this gets played instead of those goddamned 'Very Special Christmas' or Mariah Carey albums. While a number of these songs appear elsewhere already (see Mobile's other collection, 'Asthmatic Worm'), the selection is a fine one. Low have gratiously provided "Long Way Around the Sea," from their 'Christmas' EP while Hood have given the fantastic acoustic + violin number, "Winter Will Set You Back." Saint Etienne have lent their organ and reverb-heavy "My Christmas Prayer," from their 'I Was Born on Christmas Day' single while Badly Drawn Boy's "Donna and Blitzen" (last year's one-sided Christmas 7") appears for the first time on a CD. New songs include (Kings of Convenience singer) Erland Øye's tasteful acoustic rendition of that trecherous Wham! abomination, "Last Christmas," some tasty morsels from Morr Music superstars: the instrumental "Catch a Snowflake," by Herrmann & Kleine, "Snow Story," by Opiate, and the album closer by Múm, "Nóttin Va Svo Ágæt Ein," which makes me feel like I just got lost in the snow and am being buried alive in shivering cold white powder. Once again, Mobile's compilation comes in a book format: this one includes a printing of "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story" (see the film 'Smoke'). I can't wait to have another hot cider party this year and play this record. Yum. (For the hot cider recipe, dig through The Brain archives.) - Jon Whitney
Mogwai, "5 Track Tour Single"
Good luck still finding this one, as if you didn't get it while they were on tour, your only chance is off their website, where they may still have a few copies left. Available at the merchandise counter on their European tour, this EP is a collection of studio tracks the band has released as bonus tracks on import releases of the album or on other tour releases, as well as a couple of live recordings. Two of the studio songs were on Mogwai's split US tour single with Bardo Pond, including "D to E", which they performed on that tour as well. So if you have the US tour 10" already you know what to expect. It's "Close Encounters", the first track, that most US fans will be unfamiliar with. A Japanese bonus track added to 'Rock Action', "Encounters" is a very pretty, mellow number with lots of Rhodes piano. In fact, all three 'new' songs showcase keys more than Mogwai usually does on record or live. Fans of 'Come On Die Young' and 'Mogwai EP' will appreciate hearing this side of the band again - the somber, melodic side with sparse guitar playing and occasional musical sidesteps like horns and drum machines. These tracks might not have fit on their last studio release, but they work together very well here. The live tracks are from Mogwai's very special show at Rothesay. They even chartered a ferry to get fans to and from the show and to party on, and Gruff Rhys appeared to sing his lines on "Dial:Revenge", making it a very special engagement indeed for true fans. These tracks offer a glimpse at the ferocity Mogwai can unleash live, as well as the cohesive wall of sound they generate. "Helicon 1", in particular, is a live staple that fans love, as its recording on 'Ten Rapid' is a bit shoddy. What appears here is a far superior recording with guitar wash and hammered drumming in where you can even hear the fans recognize the track shortly into it and start applauding appreciatively. New tracks and live staples for about seven dollars make this a must for completists. - Rob Devlin
betty davis, "betty davis" / "they say i'm different"
These two onslaughts of hard, relentless, unapologetic female funk could very well be the most brilliant albums I've bought all year. Born in Pittsburgh, PA, Betty Mabry's musical career began as a professional songwriter before she had even reached the age of 20. A brief marriage to Miles Davis gave her a new last name and turned Miles on to musicians like Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix (by the way, that's her on the cover of 'Filles de Kilimanjaro'). Her eponymous debut was released in 1973, four years after the divorce of her and Miles. For this, Betty gathered a fierce ensemble of some of the hottest musicians and backup singers, including members of Sly Stone's band and Santana, the Tower of Power horn section, and the Pointer Sisters. The result was loud and raw at times, with forceful drums and vocals like the opener, "If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up," as well as sultry and dirty with songs like "Anti-Love Song," with a fabulous slap bass and banging piano complimenting Betty's up close and personal voice. The response, unfortunately was rather lukewarm.
Her second album followed a year later and unbelievably featured even more intense and direct vocals, like the gangsta-bitch classic, "Shoo-b-doop and Cop Him," and a song rumored to be about John Coltraine, "He Was a Big Freak." ("I used to beat him with a turquoise chain!") The guitar breakdown on, "Your Mama Wants Ya Back" combined with the outlandish costumes Betty's wearing on the front and back cover gives me strong reason to believe David Bowie was a big fan of this record. Once again, however, the mainstream world wasn't ready for a forceful, powerful woman singing about things like S&M. Even worse, religious groups forced cacellations of numerous shows of hers. A third album followed in 1975, 'Nasty Gal,' and unfinished recordings from the later 1970s have surfaced, but Betty retired from the music world and has lived a very quiet life since. In 2000, these albums were issued on CD from the UK-based MPC, and, while the artwork looks almost bootleg-quality, the sound is fabulous and well-worth digging up. While I don't have her third album yet, I can safely say these two albums have made nearly everything I've heard this year sound, well, insignificant. - Jon Whitney
fennesz, "Field Recordings 1995:2002"
Kicking off with the previously unreleased track "Good Man", Christian Fennesz treats us to a taste of what's to come: warm, earthy textures in the digital whirrs and purrs, handled with his usual careful composition. This is followed by the four pieces from the out-of-print "Instrument" 12", released by MEGO in 1995. Created using guitar-based sounds, these early tracks are marked by unusual juxtapositions of moodswitching from swift, controlled grittiness to bassy, dreamy, brittle washes. Among the tracks culled from various other compilations is "Menthol" from Mille Plateaux's 'Clicks and Cuts Vol. 2', which is slightly uninspiring, standand glitchy fare. This, however, is the only low point on 'Field Recordings'. Other standouts include "Surf" from the Ash International compilation 'Decay' with its epic walls of sound and Fennesz's remix of a Stephan Mathieu and Ekkehard Ehlers track from their collaboration 'Heroin'. Those hungry for a follow-up to Fennesz's acclaimed 2001 album 'Endless Summer' will have to wait a bit longer, but in the mean time, this compilation serves as an excellent appetizer. - Jessica Tibbits
The stuttering jagged rhythms of the buzzing guitars set up a hypnotic rhythm and then suddenly, the first screams of a totally abstracted rage come from the new Isis disc's opening track, "The Beginning and the End". Straight off, an impressive start. One of the recent spate of signings to Ipecac Records, Isis have been around for a while, though not in as high-profile a setting. Instead they've been building a fanbase slowly. Their sound is often described as heavy metal ambient, which can be summed up like this: vocals = heavy metal, instruments = post-rock ambience. Instrumentally, they're pretty straightforward: guitar, bass, drums and a few synth-y noises every now and again, and on top, a raging voice bellowing almost unintelligible lyrics. The combination works really well, better than one would maybe expect, with the intense emotion behind the vocals brought into a sharp contrast by the head-nodding rock. The liner notes themselves have a few of the lyrics transcribed, although it's not word for word, and the packaging is very well done, if a bit plain. Although the intensity of the delivery of the vocals conveys a sense of conviction behind their intent, the lyrics themselves and the very unintelligible quality of them gives them a cold feeling, with the steady washing of the guitars and drums' pounding behind them, make the record's title seem less pretentious and more like just a descriptive term. Because of the vocals, ISIS will no doubt be tossed off as just heavy metal, but there's a depth to the musicvocals includedthat goes beyond common aggro-"ooh I'm angry at daddy" metal. It's good, and it has it's moments of space-rock-ness that I think would appeal to more than a few brainwashed readers (especially the almost-vocal-less "Weight", if you're particularly turned off by the vocals). - Dave Piniella
Halon, "Assault on Tower 61"
It is no surprise that Halon is receiving props and comparisons to Trans Am. Their sound is very much a combination of electronic beeps/synthesizer glory and rock aggression. Slowing it down here and there, Halon let the groove settle in, and even throw in the odd field vocal for good measure or sing a bit. Their sense of humor is also firmly in check, like on the aptly titled "Conan Main Title". Their debut release, 'Assault on Tower 61' is the makings of a great band at its genesis. Matthew Taplinger and Rob Levally in particular, two-thirds of the band, show themselves to be extremely talented individuals, playing whatever is needed (guitar/synth/laptop or drums/sequencer) from one track to the next to get the sound just right. I'm not discounting bass player Jed Robertson, though, as it's his low end that holds most tracks together. Tracks vary in sound, though not wildly, as the album progresses, from the eerie keyboard pulse and steady rhythm of "Power Plant", to the angry Black Sabbath wail of "Ver Magnuson", to the mild interlude or frenetic dissolution of shorter tracks like "Big Sky" and "Word to the Wise". Not surprisingly, the recording quality also varies, which seems to be a conscious and planned thing with Halon, where with others it just depends on where they recorded. Even if it is accidental for Halon, it adds an interesting dimension to their already diverse sound. 'Assault' is everything you want in a debut release: a fresh sound, good songs, and a feeling like there's so much more room to grow. It won't be long until Halon won't be compared to other bands, but other bands will have to be compared to them - Rob Devlin
Who needs Japanese editions when bonus tracks end up surfacing on singles anyhow, right? In an interview this year, Alan Sparhawk described one of their more cheery, poppier sounding tunes, "Canada," as being all about death, materialism and Heaven. "You can't take that stuff to Canada" is the repeated line in the song, and Canada is up north for most people in the USA,... Maybe it makes more sense to him, but it's still an enjoyable tune with a catchy hook and very loud guitars. An alternative version of Low's album closer, "Shots and Ladders" rounds out the single. This version starts off intimately, with the vocals very close and personal and the music completely void of the lengthy reverberations which characterize the album version. However, Low's further adventures of trying to be noise artists just makes me shiver. The spooky keyboard sample is so grotesquely out of place that my face squints as I try to bear the whole tune. Numerous multi-tracked acoustic guitars grace their version of Pink Floyd's "Fearless," which, surprisingly for Low stays quite true to the original, adding only the female vocals of Mim and leaving out the Rogers and Hammerstein chant at the end. This is probably the best reason to buy this single and it isn't even on the 7" version! - Jon Whitney
The Vacuum Boys, "Songs From The Sea Of Love"
The hilarious packaging for this release would have us believe they're a clean-cut, fun-loving rock'n'roll band getting into scrapes and solving mysteries Scooby Doo-style. They're actually experimental improvisers who've made a successful crack at differentiating their record from the hundreds of others which opt for a dour, minimalist presentation.
Consisting of Icelandic superstar Heimir Bjorgulfsson, of Stillupsteypa ("He's usually got the best girlfriends"), sound artist Guy Amitai ("a great addition to the club because he's a master of disguises and costumes"), MIMEO member Gert-Jan Prins ("goes to a special science camp every summer"), and guitar improviser Dan Armstrong ("I suppose that I am the one that usually gets us into trouble"), The Vacuum Boys are surely the team to clear Amsterdam's Staalplaat shop of the hauntings caused by the Carl Michael Von Hausswolff spirit communication LPs in the racks. The Vacuum Boys sound isn't exactly rock'n'roll, but it might just be on the edge of post-rock. They're perhaps a more improv, and less serious, version of Austria's superb Radian, arranging glitch, earth-hum and white noise sounds, as well as guitar, keyboards and drums, into tracks that are abstract, but warm and friendly too. The sense of humour in the booklet is reflected so well in the music that it'd be mean to call the Vacuum Boys concept gimmicky. It's definitely a lot of fun, at least for fans of hair-raising musical experiments; maybe the girls in Amsterdam cafes will be slightly harder to impress. - Andrew Shires
peaches, "the teaches of peaches"
Peaches has a little secret. She doesn't want you to know that deep, down inside, she's not a filthy slut, but a respectable Canadian-born music teacher living in Berlin. However, in the three years and three incarnations of this release, she has gone from what seemed, at first, to be a campy underground joke to an internationally-renowned dirty post-disco diva. The third version of this release is a North American edition by XL Recordings. It includes the entire first EP, which was later expanded to the full-length Kitty-Yo release, plus a second bonus disc of six tracks and two versions of the "Set it Off" music video. The success of Peaches hasn't come without a noticable amount of backlash, from both the nerdy serious electronic music fans and a group of uptight women who feel she might be "objectifying" her body. Consider this, however: not only did she create her own persona and control her own image, but she created all the music on her debut (with the exception a couple additional drum programs here and there). Furthermore, her music is undeniably catchy, and more fun than any German laptop "artist". From the boob-bouncing, only radio-friendly song "Lovertits," to the raunchy guitar licks of "Rock Show," there is never a point where the original album gets old, even now, two years later. The bonus disc includes her cover of Berlin's "Sex," and Jeans Team's "Keine Melodien," along with Kid 606's mash-up remix of "Fuck the Pain Away." While the jaded side of me wants to advise you to wait until next year's fourth release of this disc, a 4xCD retrospective, but the honest side says that if you don't own this yet, the time is now to get the cheapest and most complete version. - Jon Whitney
The Catheters, "Static Delusions and Stone-Still Days"
The Catheters craft hard, agressive, and at times completely merciless rock in the strongest traditions of the genre. Their sound is menacing and fast-paced, while vocalist, Brian Standeford sounds like he either wants his vocal cords to bleed, or your head to explode starting with your ears first. Something seems to be a bit lost here. These songs sound incredibly rushed in creation, recording, and execution. There's no polish, which some might say is an admirable quality, though I'm not so sure. Like recent albums by other larger acts, it sounds like the band set up their instruments, microphones, amps, and boards at the same setting and recorded a whole album without changing any settings over the course of a few days. There's no variety. There's no change in the aesthetic, but, in a lot of cases on this release, there's really not much change of tempo or presentation. Everything sounds remarkably the same from one song to the next. It's the few changes that make the record worth it if only for a little while. "Clock on the Wall", the album's longest track, is also its most interesting listen, with a fine melody and mild turns, all with the driving force of a band with nothing to prove. "The Door Shuts Quickly" is also a slower tempo song, and not as much of a departure, but still not the same montonous pounding of the other tracks. In fact, the only thing that seems to be missing is a variation in arrangement. The songs aren't bad, the band clearly has talent and the subject matter/lyrics/vocals are just as crushing as the music that backs it. - Rob Devlin
'Ownliness' sounds like an experiment of sorts. Most all of the tracks are built upon looping rhythms and repeating phrases of simple melody. The album begins with a sampled loop that could be ethnic percussion as easily as it could be the sound of someone scraping a stick down a flight of stairs. More rhythms and a melody slip into the mix and then disappear into the looped field recording ambience of "With Anna You Get Eggroll," which later becomes a kind of psuedo-trip hop number. Sometimes the repetition manifests itself as full-on beats and songs, and other times, it simply serves as a cadence that roots the wandering tones and abstract noises like a ballast. In its more obscure moments, 'Ownliness' finds a balance between wandering and reflecting that allows the simple repetition and the experimental pallete to elevate the compositions into something complex enough to warrant repeated listens. In its more direct moments, the album sounds a bit like experimental guitarists trying to adopt a style or groove to their own way of working, and it is in these moments that the album doesn't always measure up. There's nothing embarassing about the songs that are more obviously structured, but they play into a stereotype of slow, manipulated drum loops and painfully simple melodies that never allow the repetition to transcend into something more. The layered melodies are sometimes bogged down by a breakbeat that seems out of place in a sea of otherwise strange and unidentifiable sounds. Still, it's highly listenable and would probably make a great primer for someone who is interested in experimental instrumental music but is afraid to stray too far from the beat-oriented songs with which they are more comfortable. By the time the soft guitar and harmonics of the last two tracks are over, I'm waiting for another track, which is always the sign of a record worth keeping. - Matthew Jeanes
His Name Is Alive, "Last Night"
I haven't listened to His Name Is Alive for about six or seven years, so I wasn't sure I had
the right disc in my stereo when I pressed play and expected to hear the new album, 'Last Night.' The recent blitz of 4AD releases which all look thoroughly similar (computer-blurred images on a dark background digipak) didn't help my confusion, either. Instead of the dreamy His Name Is Alive indie pop I expected, what I got was a soulful, jazzy hybrid of funk and R&B with female vocals I did not recognize. Apparently, His Name Is Alive is on a path to reinvent itself from record to record, the mark of a band which either gets bored with its sound or cannot execute the music with enough conviction to sustain it. The core of the band is now Lovetta Pippen (unrecognized soulful female vocals) and leader Warn Defever, a core lineup much like last year's 'Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth' (a problematic prophesy when considered with this release). I tried to listen generously, but by the third song I was confused and cringing. A song like "Crawlin'" makes me cringe specifically because the lyrics seem so intent on conveying the jazz and R&B and funk sound which the band is trying to appropriate but without following through in the actual music. As a result, the lyrics appear overstretched and threadbare, exposing their own inadequacies by trying to cover the music's shortcomings. The repetition of the line "You got a lot of crawlin' to do" in conjunction with the soupy bass and wanky guitar makes my stomach ache. Songs like "I Can See Myself in Her" and "" even make brave excursions into what sounds like urban pop. All this is too large a jump for me, from my more familiar His Name Is Alive reference point of 'Mouth by Mouth.' The last straw was when I realized that the songs I could tolerate were covers: The Equals's "Teardrops" and Ida's "Maybe." On the one hand, "I Been Good Up Till Now" is a stark contrast point on the album, notable only for its retreat from the funk and the jazz and its return to repetitive bedroom ambience. On the other hand, "Someday My Prince Will Come" is an interminable eleven-minute indulgence into faux-funk, replete with horns. The majority of 'Last Night' follows this latter formula, albeit with slightly more restraint and coolness, and I am just not sure that His Name Is Alive should apply for any patents for this reinvention. - Joshua David Mann
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