Gary Wilson, "Mary Had Brown Hair"
Stones Throw Records
In the years since his near-miraculous rediscovery in 2002, the author of 1977's cry for help You Think You Really Know Me has taken time off from his busy porn bookstore clerking duties to record a second collection of fear and loathing ridden love songs. For the uninitiated, Gary Wilson is Endicott, NY's ("A very, VERY small town," as if that is ever an excuse) favorite poster boy for neurosis. A legitimate musical phenomenon in his youth, he was proficient with multiple instruments at the age of eight and collaborated with avant garde composer John Cage before the age of 16. But by the time Gary Wilson and the Blind Dates joined the burgeoning new-wave/punk scene in NYC, something happened: no one knew what to make of Wilson or his music. Appearing on stage wrapped in cling film and occasionally accompanied by mannequins, the Blind Dates would tear through their bizarre setlist stopping only to cover Gary in flour and milk, dismember their mannequins, or to destroy their equipment. Frustrated by New York's head-scratching response, Wilson retreated to his parents' basement with a four track recorder and no small amount of repressed sexual energy to record You Think You Really Know Me , a stinging rebuke to any who professed that they did. The album's mere survival is a story in itself. By his own admission, most of the 600 copies pressed were smashed over Wilson's forehead at shows. Soon after the album's release, Wilson packed up and left small town Endicott and literally vanished, dropping off the scene entirely. Thanks to near-constant exposure on underground radio and a few celebrity endorsements, his legend lived on until he was uncovered in San Diego at the turn of the milennium, playing in a house band at an Italian restaraunt and sitting behind the bulletproof glass at an allnight adult bookstore. After playing sold out shows in LA and New York and even releasing a film documentary, Wilson finally releases Mary Had Brown Hair, the follow-up to his cellar opus. Gone are his testosterone-fueled bellows, his uniquely organic synthesized grooves and any vestiges of the delightful soul/punk/funk blend that could get anyone up and moving and singing along to lyrics that are at times near-psychotic. Now most of the 14 original tracks on Mary Had Brown Hair (the album also includes two pre-You Think You Really Know Me cuts, "original" versions of "Chromium Bitch" and a less freaky, more psychedelic cut of the trademark "6.4 = Make Out") are backed by a Casio keyboard, playful but not particularly challenging or interesting. Worse yet a simple drum track keeps the time for most of the album's 30 minutes, a marked departure from his earlier technique (though it might not have been worthy of John Bonham, Wilson would still do his own drumming). Wilson's disco-era voice, scary and mesmerizing, has devolved into a warbly whine, showing the effect the years have had on Wilson both physically and mentally. In some tracks, it is sped-up to provide a sort of duet. (Gary conversing with his inner demons?) The bravado on You Think You Really Know Me is now but a vague memory, perhaps just a defensive front all along. One could hardly imagine the swaggering Wilson of 1977 lamenting "Gary Wilson feels so bad/Gary Wilson feels real sad for you/Cause you're all alone." It appears that when Wilson packed up and left Endicott, he was trying to leave something behind, and failed miserably. His demonswhatever they were, lost loves, departed lovers, the kiss never delivered, a cute girl he saw on the bushave followed him, and their heads are reared for the world to see on Mary Had Brown Hair . Now Wilson, 50 years old, balding, his voice receding, is "all alone to walk the streets of Endicott all by myself." Whatever his personal failings may be, they are immaterial to the listener, as Wilson's teeming musical genius shines vibrantly throughout all of Mary Had Brown Hair. The hooks are infectious, the choruses are the weirdest lines you will ever find yourself singing along to, and Wilson is still a skilled hand at guitar and keys. 27 years later, I am forced to admit that Wilson does indeed "still got it," though what "it" is remains an enigma: just the way Gary likes it. - Chris Roberts
Sightings, "Arrived in Gold"
Sightings are keeping music dangerous. At a recent local live appearance guitarist Mark Morgan was not ready to hit the stage until he was almost unable to walk through the crowd without falling over. Arrived in Gold is the sound of a band unafraid to shred the rock 'n' roll rulebook like so much cheese going through a grater. They are capable of being either a devastatingly intense noise outfit or a kick-ass rock 'n' roll band, but their strength is in combining the two approaches. Although track three, "Odds On," hints at a linear structure, not until the fourth track does anything resembling a "song" appear. Because the first three tracks are so abstract and fragmented, "Internal Compass" sounds all the more powerful with its chugging guitar and drums pattern. It's like a train is on an express through the eardrum canals, not stopping for pedestrians. On "Sugar Sediment," the rhythm section is locked into a steady, rolling groove, yet the guitar sounds more like a chainsaw than a melody making instrument. This tension is what keeps the music so exciting. Rather than merely relying on trendy electronics for strange sounds, Sightings achieve a much tougher goal by producing foreign sounds on familiar instruments. They often lock into live patterns that sound looped, such as on "Switching to Judgement." As a whole, Arrived in Gold has just the right production quality, sounding raw and spontaneous without sounding amateurish. The full spectrum of frequencies is certainly represented during "One Out Of Ten," in which throbbing bass and screeching high-end guitar are simultaneously competing to deafen. All of the instruments are clearly audible at all times, yet the set maintains a pleasant grittiness throughout. Ten minute album closer "Arrived In Gold, Arrived In Smoke" is a perfect distillation of all of these elements. During the first five minutes Sightings gradually build layers of grinding, repetitive patterns until they arrive at all-out feedback mayhem. The remaining five minutes of sparse pitter-patter electronics and rumbling guitar feedback are a necessary come-down from the intensity of the album's preceding 33 minutes. - Jim Siegel
JOBRIATH, "LONELY PLANET BOY"
In July of 1983 the emaciated corpse of Cole Berlin, a world-weary lounge singer and occasional prostitute was discovered in his Chelsea Hotel apartment, an early victim of AIDS-related illness. He was 37 years old, and his passing from this world went largely unwept and unsung. None of his neighbors could have guessed that a decade earlier, Cole Berlin had been Jobriath, an internationally hyped glam diva and the world's first openly gay rock star. Jobriath Salisbury was born Bruce Wayne Campbell, a classically trained piano prodigy from an early age, who joined a hippie rock ensemble called Pidgeon. There he was discovered by Jerry Brandt, who had previously signed such talented luminaries as Patti Smith, and, er, Barry Manilow. Brandt saw in Jobriath the opportunity to create a stateside equivalent of David Bowie, and wasted no time signing the youth to Elektra and recording a pair of albums that showcased Jobriath's songwriting skills and piano virtuosity, as well as his Broadway-style vocal flamboyance, complete with thinly veiled lyrical references to homosexual love, male prostitution and sadomasochism. Jobriath's songs were wrapped in cataclysmically huge arrangements including overwrought orchestral interludes and a bevy of female backup singers. Monumental space oddities like "Morning Star Ship" rubbed shoulders with emotive piano ballads like "Inside" and utterly bizarre, campy Jack Smith nightmares like "What A Pretty." Though his two LPs sound amazing even today, he was inevitably viewed as a Bowie-come-lately by the music press, who cruelly dismissed the artist with a series of contemptuous gay jokes. The public, who had been initially interested in the hype surrounding Jobriath's outlandish costumes and confessed, unapologetic homosexuality, soon unleashed a backlash of ridicule and indifference upon the young man. And thus his LPs, treasured by many collectors (including me) as forgotten gems of the original glam era, went out of print for thirty years, with Elektra seemingly uninterested in reissuing them on CD. Luckily for those not willing to shell out hundreds for the original LPs, everyone's favorite Mancunian miserablist Morrissey, has decided to lead the Jobriath revival by releasing Lonely Planet Boy on his Attack label. Boy is a compilation of tracks from Jobriath's two albums, plus an unreleased track from the artist's permanently shelved third album. Though the Moz could easily have fit both albums, in their entirety, on one disc (including the bonus track), he has decided instead to reshuffle the albums and leave a few tracks out It's an unfortunate choice, as this is the only Jobriath reissue the world is likely to see. Still, it's hard to complain when the music itself has been so lovingly remastered, the deluxe packaging filled with affectionate, informative liner notes and loads of rare pictures (including some nudie cuties of the diva himself). Lonely Planet Boy has given me the chance to experience anew such amazingly rendered miniature glam epics as "I'maman" and "Inside," and mourn the tragic unsung passing of such a bright, shining, ephemeral superstar. - Jonathan Dean
Kilo is deconstructed techno made by two guitarists. This fact makes their abstraction from and disregard for the rules of techno immediately understandable, but it doesn't automatically explain how they can craft such beautiful tracks out of so many fragments. The guitar is the new laptop, I'm sure of that. For a while, almost every disc that came across my stereo was obviously and proudly the product of a laptop or desktop computer, created by musicians flying in the face of traditional instruments and methods for composition. Now, as the obvious and clumsy backlash, every indie electronic record coming out has some sort of guitar playing or sampling or abusing it, and it's become almost a calling card of artists who want to be taken seriously as musicians rather than simply known as accomplished button-pushers. That's okay though, as records like this give the trend successes that are worthy of the bandwagoning. The loops and pieces of guitar are everywhere on Augarten and yet it sounds very much like an electronic, synth-driven record. The rhythms are all minimalist techno constructions, something I would have expected from a label that's tied into the Kompakt stable. The melodies, however, are tied to that familiar six-stringed instrument that has grounded the majority of all popular western music for decades. There are slivers of folk and rock and blues and even country twang woven in amongst the ribbons of deep bass and techno structures so that the record feels grounded in tradition while still being completely fresh. Well, maybe completely fresh is a bit of an exaggerationKilo don't stray tremendously far from the formula of clicks and pulses and thumps that drives most of the Kompakt, ~scape, and Ritornell rosters. Still, there is a warmth in these songs owed to the guitar that makes them not only accessible to people who might otherwise shrug off sparse electronics, but gives them a kind of time and place to call home. Other people are making clicky minmal techno, and others still are fracturing guitars through software, but I've not heard a recent attempt to bring the two together that succeeds as well as this. - Matthew Jeanes
CHARLIE TWEDDLE, "FANTASTIC GREATEST HITS BY EILRAHC ELDDEWT"
This album is a true oddity even by outsider music, vanity-press standards. Recorded and released in 1974 by Charlie Tweddle, a Kentucky native and metaphysical haberdasher, the album encompasses introspective Dylanesque folk, Appalachian music, psychedelia, field recordings and radical tape experimentation. Tweddle was an art-school dropout and an ex-member of Kansas City garage band The Prophets of Paradise when he decided to embark on a three-year lysergic tour through Haight-Ashbury. When he returned, his head still full of acid, he became convinced that he was a real life prophet with the mission of bringing his peculiar brand of primitive hillbilly concrete psych to the world. And so he got together with six guys that look like extras from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and recorded an LP combining his off-kilter songwriting with sudden, frightening excursions into alarmingly atmospheric tape music. He dubbed the prophet part of himself Eilrahc Elddewt (Charlie Tweddle backwards) and wrote some astoundingly boastful liner notes: "Eilrahc is to music what Christ is to religion. This album will reach into the dustbins of your mind." The album definitely reaches into something, but it's not my mind, it's a deep toybox of warped, drug-addled insanity. The opening track sounds innocuous enough, a low-fidelity recording of a Dylan-influenced folk song, but soon there are strange things afoot: odd time signatures, strange tape effects, weird percussion. The second track, which I will call "Hot Tamales" (all eight tracks are untitled), takes a jaunty Tex-Mex tune and distorts it with sudden launches of time-compressed mariachi music. On track four, Tweddle and his pals perform a primitive, ramshackle rendition of the gospel standard "This World Is Not My Home" (Incredible String Fans take note), adding a soundtrack of chirping crickets to the background. Tweddle's obsession with UFOs reaches a nightmarish zenith on track six, which distorts field recordings of seagulls into a menacing alien noise, while Tweddle narrates his close encounter story: "In the darkness of the night, a light came dropping from above...The ship was landing on the shore/And coming from the ship...three creatures pointed to the sea...as you enter from beneath the ship, the figures follow you/It was a night of love/You stood gazing into the eyes of your future/As the sea sang the song with no words." The lysergic vocal mutations are dizzying, and adding to the confusion, Tweddle's narration competes with a recording of himself playing "Blue Bonnet Lane." I figured that was about as strange as this album could get, until I reached track eight, which is a 22-minute field recording of crickets chirping on a still, peaceful country night, as music plays in a far distant background. It's an absolutely haunting end to one of the most idiosyncratic non-Jandek works of outsider music I've ever heard. Companion Records does a great job with reissuing a record that was previously only available to the most diligent flea market crate diggers, adding six bonus tracks of equally inventive music by Tweddle and retaining the original design of the packaging. Just when I think it's safe to be completely jaded and disillusioned by the glut of over-hyped reissues of vinyl artifacts, along comes an album like Fantastic Greatest Hits, forcing me to wonder what other bits of unhinged genius might be hiding out there in history's dustbin. - Jonathan Dean
"But Then Again"
It's been five years since the birth of Stefan "Pole" Betke's label, ~scape, and in that time the artists he's chosen have had a bit of a chore living outside of the shadow of Pole's near-genre defining version of minimalist dub. Early ~scape releases were easily linked to the "Pole sound" of clicky, spacious percussion, filtered melodies and deep, dubwise basslines. With the Staedtism compilation series, Betke didn't help things at all by selecting artists and tracks that were more than happy to color inside the lines established by the growing roster of artists like Kit Clayton, Jan Jelinek, and Deadbeatall of whom managed to spin Betke's sound into something unique, but certainly linked to the aesthetic. Now, with the fifth anniversary collection, ~scape appears to be making a decided break from history, and a departure from the forumla that has thusfar guided its sound. The results, as with most label comps, are mixed. It's easy for laptop prodcers all over the world to grab onto frgments of hip hop culture and front like they are a part of that tradition, but it's another thing for them to successfully groove without sounding like they are simply borrowing what is fashionable. David Byrne probably had it right when he named his compilation "The Only Blip Hop Collection You Will Ever Need," as the sound has already worn out its welcome. Still, ~scape is moving in different directions, and with some amazing successes. John Tejada's "And Many More" is the first truly memorable track on this disc, and it's a wiggly slab of melodic electro that wouldn't sound out of place on a Bola record, but is somehow more fleshed out too. Triola's track "Neuland" is a bit too new agey for my tastes, but Jan Jelinek more than makes up for it with his brushed broken jazz homage full of looping detuned guitars. Andrew Peckler also plays with the Jazz references, perhaps bridging the gap between fans of sample-based and improvised music even better than mid-1990s era acid jazz. Deadbeat continues to shine as one of ~scape's most talented artists, even if "We Like It Slow and Steady" is immediately familiar as "old school ~scape" with it's wandering synth stabs and filtered percussion over dub backing. In Triosk, ~scape is even working with a band, Manitoba, and the sound is both warmer and more mature than many of the tracks with a similar vibe that more obviously hatched out of someone's hard drive. The ~scape version of pop music complete with vocals is less successful than it should be, but will likely find an audience all the same. "But Then Again" shows a label willing to flex its stylistic muscle a bit, even if there are a few bumps and bruises in doing so. With the number of good to great tracks here relative to the duds, it's impossible to fault the effort. - Matthew Jeanes
The Room, "In Evil Hour/Clear!"
The Room thrived in the late 1980s and embraced a variety of sounds: British new wave, jangle pop, alt-pop, and others. One of the hallmarks of the original In Evil Hour LP was that it was originally produced by Tom Verlaine but this only provides a minor understanding of the disparate sounds contained. The opener, "A Shirt Of Fire," sparks the album with a panoply of layered and melodic guitar lines and breathy vocals. The chorus of the song concludes each time with an utterly compelling tempo change, transitioning from a brisk sprint to a deliberate and contemplative waltz, guitars all the while mimicking the pace. After the downshift, the song then collects itself back into the original tempo with an ascending wall of frantically-strummed guitar. "A Shirt Of Fire" instantly recalls bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and The Chameleons. The similarities persist throughout the album, as well. Signature breathy vocals, the angularity of the guitars, and imploring lyrics are all distinctly Echoey and Bunnyish at the same time. Perhaps the premier song on this collection is the tingly "New Dreams For Old." The song is prudently represented twice, once as the original album cut and then as a version featuring horns from a 7-inch release. Both times, it is impossible to deny the brilliance of the song. The first 20 seconds are enough to turn heads: a shimmery guitar intro is swept up by an organ almost too soon and sure enough everything else thereafter falls into place. The rest is pure Brit-pop, reminiscent of Britain's finest labels who peddled such sounds: Sarah, Creation, 53rd + 3rd, Subway. On the contrary, the worst moments come when The Room acquiesce to a temptation which corrupted many of their Brit-pop contemporaries. The introduction of lounge music into indie Brit-pop was a truly abhorrent development which cauterized some unlucky alt-pop bands, largely British, in the late 1980s and early 1990sand it wasn't just Brit-pop which suffered under this detestable hybridization. By the mid 1990s, trip-hop, acid jazz, and a host of other musical subgenres popped up which had lounge music as their root evil. Even hermetic hip-hop had a perhaps less noxious flirtation with lounge, seen in bands like Digable Planets. Along those same lines, The Room were not savvy enough to resist the urge of lounge music in some of their compositions. Songs like "Numb" and "Never" are Bossa Novean belchings which sound like something Getz and Gilberto might have coughed up in their better moments. It could be that The Room were merely partaking in that universal pastime to which all bands are eventually drawn, what most will call "growing as a band and maturing musically." Generally, this is just obfuscation for an unfortunate divergence from a well-honed sound in favor of a less-palateable direction. Such is the case here. Thankfully, the lounginess tends to pop up only in the later material, songs which were taken from the Clear! EP. Intermingled with these rather disappointing cuts are crisper songs which are unassailably new wave ("The Ride," for instance) and have a much easier time meshing with the overall sound of The Room. In the end, the power of the jangle and synthesizers is largely able to dissipate all that is smoky, jazzy, and upholstered with plush red velvet from The Room. - Joshua David Mann
CRISTINA, "DOLL IN THE BOX"
As part of Ze Records' ongoing excavation of their extensive back catalog, they have recently reissued two albums by Cristina, the internationally ignored disco superstar should-have-been but never-was. Cristina Monet was born into opulence and wealth, attending Harvard and London's School of Drama, floating freely between flats in London, Paris and New York City. In 1978, while working at a theater critic for the Village Voice, she met her future husband and founder of Ze Records Michael Zelkha. Zelkha was itching to get into the NYC underground punk/disco scenes, so they recorded a single called "Disco Clone," an incisive, if irritating satire of disco culture for which they enlisted the production talents of John Cale and hilariously corny vocal narration by actor Kevin Kline. Thankfully, the music improved by leaps and bounds by the time Cristina was recording her debut full-length Doll in the Box, but "Disco Clone" pretty much established Cristina's modus operandi: sleek, downtown Studio 54 jams with Cristina's haughty, detached, Brechtian vocal style; demonstrating her cool disillusionment with nightclubs full of "bored-looking bankers dancing with beautiful models." That early single is included as a bonus track on this reissue, along with some other early singles and the entire August Darnell-produced debut. Darnell was soon to unveil his Latino-flavored mutant disco ensemble Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and much of that influence is evident on Doll in a Box, with heavy-handed African and Latin rhythms, Caribbean overtones and a jaunty brass section. Check out the African tribal chanting that forms the basis of "Jungle Love" for a laugh. Listening to this material more than 20 years later, it can't help but sound somewhat dated, suffering from aging problems that Cristina's contemporaries (and labelmates) such as Was (Not Was) and the Aural Exciters were able to sidestep. Most of Cristina's appeal lay in her sarcastic, world-weary vocals, sounding years beyond her actual age. However, for much of Doll in the Box, those amazing vocals are overwhelmed with an overactive, technicolor production that wears a thin after a few listens. The singles are much better, with the aforementioned "Disco Clone" presented alongside hilariously witty covers of Peggy Lee's Lieber and Stoller-penned "Is That All There Is?" and The Beatles "Drive My Car." On the latter, Cristina alters the lyrics of the Lee classic into a darkly humorous monologue set against incongruously bubbly music: "And then I fell in love with the most wonderful boy in Manhattan...we'd take longs walks down by the river and he'd beat me black and blue and I loved it." Doll in a Box is very far from a lost classic, but the inclusion of Cristina's classic early 12" singles more than makes up for its shortcomings. - Jonathan Dean
CRISTINA, "SLEEP IT OFF"
For her 1984 follow-up, Cristina enlisted the production genius of Don Was, who brings to Cristina's vocals a musical backdrop every bit as bizarre and infectious as his own Ze Records project Was (Not Was). Forgoing the extended disco excursions of her debut, Cristina and Was instead created ten radio-ready pop songs, trying to outdo Madonna at her own game, perhaps. Along with originals penned by the singer herself in conjunction with Was, Doug Fieger (of The Kinks) and Robert Palmer (!), Cristina also performs distinctive covers of songs by Van Morrison, Prince and obscure country singer John Conlee. The album features excellent guest contributions from contorted punk saxophonist James Chance and jazz legend Marcus Belgrave. With all this star power, I partially expected Sleep It Off to sound like smooth, competent 1980s new wave pop. Well, it doesn't sound like that at all, but what it does sound like is harder to nail down. Producer Was adds stacks of keyboards and synthesizers, wacky loops and sound effects, creating a densely populated architecture of sound that at times threatens to steal the show from Cristina's vocals. Perhaps in order to cement the Brecht comparison, Cristina and collaborator Ben Brierly perform a gothic-y cover of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil's classic ode to purchased love "Ballad of Immoral Earnings." With some of the tracks recalling the sophisticated disco of her early singles, and some taking utterly bizarre tangents into electro-Country ("She Can't Say That Anymore") and cheesy 1980s pop balladry ("The Lie of Love"), the overall effect of Sleep It Off is pure eclecticism. As such, it never becomes boring, although it does lack a certain focus, which probably explains the public's indifference to the album at the time of its release. The lack of any obvious single normal enough for radio airplay probably also contributed. "Don't Mutilate My Mink" gleefully rips off the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK," for one of the album's funniest, most confrontational tracks. Bonus tracks include horrible session outtakes, a bizarre Christmas song, and a really nifty cover of Prince's classic "When You Were Mine." Sleep It Off is an interesting mess, one I don't think I'll be returning to any time soon, but that I am nonetheless glad has received the deluxe reissue treatment from Ze. - Jonathan Dean
While the debut solo CD by Volker Kahl of German duo Beefcake runs the gamut of electronic styles, the album is a unified, enjoyable listen. Through 60 minutes, styles move from breakcore to sweeping ambient soundscapes to melodic electronica, but by naming the tracks "Place1" through "Place11" he adheres to the concept of travel. The juxtaposition of moods from track to track makes Places feel like an actual journey. "Place1" recalls a city environment, with its quick tempo invoking the fast-paced nature of urban life. "Place2" features cut-up voices and rapid-fire beats, and contrasts sharply with the orchestral "Place3," during which an eerie narrator asks to "listen for my voice. I will tell you what to do". With this track Kattoo creates a sweeping, epic sound that resembles a landscape seen while soaring high above. The combination of excellent source material and skillful production make "Place4" a stand-out track. Here he pits heavy metal guitar riffs against intricately programmed live drumming, with swirling ambience lingering in the background. "Place5" is a mellower affair, and recalls Kahl's work with Beefcake in that it features soulful, albeit manipulated, vocals. The sedate, melodic quality of this track balances the heavy beat-oriented "Place6" which follows it. The only part of the set that loses me is the closing seven minute "Place11," which consists solely of a man speaking in German. If he had made this kind of piece as a link track it would have been less disruptive to the flow of the album. Since I don't understand German, the importance of the text is lost on me, although at one point he says something about President Roosevelt. The addition of a remix of "Place7" by Flaque after this monologue is a welcome return to music, with tinkly beats and synthesizer washes interspersed with recordings of a roomful of people talking. Although the landscape photographs on the sleeve are appropriate for the theme, it is surprising that the usually inventive graphic designer Salt has used a layout that so closely resembles that of the Azure Skies CD from 2001, which also depicts landscapes on its cover. - Jim Siegel
Skating Club, "The Unfound Sound"
Aubrey Anderson takes things back to basics on his latest album for a new label, after some critical upset following his sophomore LP. Sadly, even though the methods are the same as his debut, the disappointment continues on par with its follow-up, as the songs and vocal performances rarely escape radio-friendly safe pop territory. Anderson is no doubt a talented musician, arranger, and producer, exhibiting a great deal of self-motivation and a strong work ethic. He's even shown sparks of breaking out with a massive and timeless record, either in Difference Engine or on his own. The sparks have never caught into the raging inferno and they merely pop and fizzle on these songs. Maybe it's the Jack Johnson-like photos that make up the digipak packaging, but there's a general feeling of "check out this new artist who has a lot of emotional things to say" that seeps out of every pore. It's like the anxiety to try out some bold flavors in a cereal, only to open the box and find that nearly half is air. The opening track starts this trend: following two verses and roughly three minutes of music, "The Long Hot July" continues for another minute and a half of the same refrain and gentle almost-moan. It's unneeded, as though Anderson thought the track wasn't long enough, so just dragged it out to fill time. His vocal delivery is very much that of the sensitive singer-songwriter mold, and the melodies are all bittersweet happiness, as though it didn't work out as planned but a certain rolling with the punches will be a growth experience. Not that it's all a waste, as certain songs "San Francisco" or "Panic and Doubt" have moments of grand adventure, like chilling harmonies and squelched guitars or odd instrumentation. For the most part, though, the lyrics are pedestrian and to be avoided (talks of Tarantino matinees and being around a friend's house at sixteen are not terribly interesting); and the songs veer into the bland and formulaic, like the title track, or even worse "Summer Time." This is touted as the "true voice" of Aubrey Anderson, but I doubt that's true. With the hints he's provided in the past, I'd think his true voice would be far more sensational. If the best moments of this CD were expounded upon, perhaps that's what will come out. - Rob Devlin
Blueprint, "Chamber Music"
For a recording artist, the release of their first solo albumafter numerous guest appearances or group releasesranks high on the list of rights of passage, up there with other crucial, life changing or life affirming events: a bar mitzvah, loss of virginity, or your first kidney stone. Unfortunately for veteran hip hopper Blueprint (Columbus, OH native Albert Shepard), Chamber Music is more like the latter than any other milestones. It's labored and painful, there's no idea what caused it, and it's relieving when over. It's especially frustrating and disappointing when considering that Shepard, a former computer programmer and systems analyst, has received nearly universal acclaim on the underground circuit as an MC, most notably for his Soul Position project. With RJD2's unique production style mated to Blueprint's rhyming stylecerebral and challenging one minute, flowing raunchy and handing out disses the nextSoul Position garnered nothing but well-deserved respect for the duo. On Chamber Music Blueprint takes a complete 180, choosing to abandon the mic for the producer's studio. While it's not completely unfamiliar territoryhe has produced tracks for Illogic and others beforeit's not his strong suit, a fact that becomes painfully obvious deep into Chamber Music's poorly conceived sixty minutes. The obligatory guest MC appearances include Aesop Rock, Illogic, and Cannibal Ox's Vast Aire all taking turns, and Blueprint himself isn't totally silent, providing a few verses on "Mr Hyde." Eight instrumental tracks remain, proving to be simply too much time for Blueprint to fill with anything of interest or even quality. Most of the record's sound can best be described as the background music to a hip-hop themed Spooky World. Blueprint creates dark, barren four part sonic landscapes that meander without really getting anywhere, making the listener almost yearn for a party anthem or a holier than thou indictment of the record industry (almost). Usually such sins aren't enough to sink a track, but Blueprint commits suicide with his sample selection. He of all people must be aware the high standard to which loop diggers are held, so it's inexcusable then for him to sample what sounds like B-list session musicians or to make an entire track out of a played Richard Pryor routine. The Pryor track, "Hot Sex," is actually one of the album's better tracks, but it's hardly impressive to hear little more than background music for a 30-year old joke. That being said, Chamber Music is not without its merits. However, they come frustratingly late, as it's not until the eleventh track, "Sacrifice," where a mournful piano skitters through a blissfully dismal montage of drums, occasionally comforted by a softly wailing flute. It is pretty, poignant, and with a strong bass line, kick, and snare it's actually stompin'. It's too little too late, as on the whole Chamber Music feels like a very dedicated, motivated and intelligent man sat down and did his best with a limited collection of run-of-the-mill samples and the latest copy of Pro-Tools. It may work sometimes, but Chamber Music is cold, uninspiring and at times, simply boring. To sit patiently through the entire record is a challenge; hip hop anathema. It has none of the soft and welcoming organic familiarity of a Shadow tune, the controlled anarchy of a Prefuse track or the dusty crate-dug accidental genius of a Madlib beat. Worst of all, Blueprint does show flashes of talent, but they are scattered throughout the album, and diluted by mediocrity so much so that almost too hard to find to be worthwhile. He may yet produce a gem, but with his solo debut Blueprint has put his name on an unhappily average album. - Chris Roberts
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