Pizzicato Five The Sound of Music (Matador)
Pizzicato Five is the best thing to come out of Japan since Japanimation, with bouncy, quirky pop mixes that make even the oldest fogies grin. The Sound of Music is a fifteen track tribute to all things fun, alternating between the soul sounds of the 70s ("Happy Sad" and "CDJ") to the lounge act panache of "Fortune Cookie". Nomikya Maki and Konishi Yasuharu have spent far too much time watching American TV, but that couch-potato experience makes for some of the most giggly listening fun I've had in ages. The CD opens with a group of children singing, "We love you P-Five, oh yes we do..., " and doesn't stop until it's run the gamut of musical styles. "Sophisticated Catchy" is a techno bit with virtually no lyrics, but with the same astral sound effects that made Dee-Lite's "Groove is in the Heart" a hit. And the spoken-word intro to "If I Were a Groupie" is reminiscent of 1950s bubble-gum girl groups, except P-Five gossips about "...the half-naked boy on TV, biting his nails." Every last track on this CD is delightful: all the kitschy glee of ABBA, and almost as much polyester. (Drema)
Damon & Naomi The Wondrous World of Damon & Naomi (Sub Pop; P.O. Box 20645, Seattle WA 98102)
Naomi Yang and Damon Krukowsi are ex-members of Galaxie 500 (along with Dean Wareham of Luna), and they bring that band's same other-worldly charm to their second solo release, "The Wondrous World of...." Every track is a three-to-four minute trip into solitude and despair, but the scenery is gorgeous. "In the Morning" manages to sound pretty and jangly while still being far from happy; producer Kramer's expert use of something called a "mellotron" gives the track a foreign-sounding quality which enhances the mood. Naomi's breathy vocals are unbelievably powerful when backed by a simple guitar on "Tour of the World", conjuring images of pastel Monet prints and chic Paris apartments. For all its rare beauty, this CD is too much to handle in one sitting. In its entirely, the songs begin to sound the same, and the few up-tempo tracks just sound bad. Nevertheless, you'll want to have it around just to listen to the occasional song or two. A lyric from "Pyewacket" describes the CD perfectly: "Enigmatic harmonies/ The language of the gods." (Drema)Spacehog Resident Alien (Sire)
This is kind of embarrassing to admit to in print, but I've always had a thing for British pop. However, this is where I draw the line. Spacehog are a perfectly nice band, with pleasantly strummed guitars, a crisp pop sensibility, and muy cute vocals on this side of awkward, but after Blur, Ride, Lush, Oasis, Stone Roses, Elastica, and what have you, Resident Alien is just the proverbial straw on this overworked and overbroke camel's back. I don't know; maybe it was the overly clever-yet-oblique lyrics. Perhaps it's just that all the songs sound the same halfway through. Either way you look at it, this is stupid, and it makes me pissy. The thing about bands like Blur and Elastica is that they know they're silly; Spacehog are just trying to start a new subculture or something, and I'm not biting the line. Oh, well, what else do you expect from a band whose biggest press mention has been in moribund fashion magazine Vogue? While I do love the little space creature on their album cover, I hope Spacehog decide to go back to their home planet and leave us Earthlings alone. (Kat)
Freakwater Old Paint (Thrill Jockey, P.O. Box 476794, Chicago IL 60647)
I have to admit, at times Freakwater's latest release, "Old Paint," is too much for even my rustic roots to handle. But even with the overuse of steel guitar and the pleading twang of their two female vocalists, Freakwater manages to keep "Old Paint" just on the near side of country. A couple of faster tracks prevent the band from sounding too droning, but most of the CD is comprised of slow ballads with painfully astute lyrics. You won't find any references to jailed daddies or lost pickups here, just dead-on social commentaries and damn good ballads. While the country-folk feel of this band may not appeal to most, I swear it won't make you feel like line dancing or donning a ten-gallon hat. Freakwater's Chicago roots show through in sad-and-lonely bluesy rhythms which consistently balance the heartbreaking melodies through all twelve tracks. (Drema)
Ann Magnuson The Luv Show (Geffen)
Ann Magnuson is just such the diva. Theatrical, outlandish in a SoHo sort of way, and thoroughly entertaining, the former frontwoman of the art band Bongwater presents her adoring public with a collection of tunes that tell the story of a "small-town girl with big-city dreams." (Hey, I can relate.) A soundtrack without a movie, the schizophrenic musical styles flit from frou-frou Fifties housewife ballads to sarcastic, punk-inflected Broadway spectacle to even a Doris Day cover ("I Remember You." ) And with song titles like "Waterbeds of Hollywood" and "Live, You Vixen!", you know that it's gonna be a damn wild ride. Magnuson sings like a choirgirl with a serious case of arousal and a major Valley of the Dolls vibe, and her lyrics are as funny as hell, too. Man oh man, if this is the musical score, I can't wait to see the play. (Kat)
Red Hot Chili Peppers One Hot Minute (Warner Brothers)
How do you make chili peppers hotter? What I would suggest is marinating them in the fiery juices that seep from Dave Navarro's fingers as he rifles along his guitar. The acquisition of Navarro for the Red Hot Chili Peppers new release, One Hot Minute, has pushed the band into more of a hard rock groove. Although the Peppers have by no means lost their funk feel, on can see definite traces of Navarro's thick, aggressive, Jane's Addiction stix-string style. Rather than forcing Navarro to confrom to their previous funkiness, the Chilis have received thsi sound with open arms, devoting whole songs to the reverberations emanating from Navarro's Marshall amplifiers. What results is a Chili Peppers album that sounds like no other before it, yet never betrays the trademark feel of their previous releases.
The listener's one hot minute begins with "Warped", a song with a slow, hallucinatory beginning that gives way to Flea's slappy bass and Dave's grinding guitar. The song is somewhat portentious, as the album is laden with pensive, belligerent, and funky tracks. Singer Anthony Kiedis has matured as a vocalist, whether exhibitng poise and elegant delivery as on "Walkabout", or displaying his peculiar, off-key yet melodious manner on "Tearjerker." A few oddities come out way in this album, such as Flea's acoustic number, "Pea," and the Soundgardenesque "One Hot Minute," but they are nevertheless greatsongs. The Chili Peppers have always been ones to shock the listener, and the surprsing new additions to their sound ensure that the listener gets much more than one hot minute.
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(Marc)The Mountain Goats Nine Black Poppies (Emperor Jones)
The Mountain Goats have long been a favorite of "bedroom rock" fans, a term my friend Scott thought uyp to describe people recording their own stuff in their homes of four-track. Lo-fi and lovely, I call it. The Mountain Goats are a loose collection of about ten or so people, usually fronted by Alastair Galbraith. This album is entirely done by John Darnielle and Rachel, though, and it's as good as all the others.
Nine Black Poppies is an album with a good amount of variety. True, a lot of the songs are typical Mountain Goats, with muffled vocals in an earnest voice, quirky lyrics, and twangy guitars, but you can never get too much of a good thing. "Cubs in Five" and "I know You've Come To Take My Toys Away" are whimsical glimpses into John's head, and the gorgeous title track has the memorable lines: "and a package came for you today/ from the Hunan province/ the postmark burning jet black/ in the summer sun/ someone was changing/ someone was changing from the inside out/ and I turned around to face you." This album also experiments with sampling and voiceovers on "Pure Money" and "Lonesome Surprise," a Refrigerator cover.
I love the Mountain Goats, and I'll tell you why: they're simple but good, elegant, and they sound like one of your friends recorded you a tape in their room and gave it to you as a present. I always feel like I'm at a summer camp or something, sitting in a circle around a campfire with the Mountain Goats, Alastair just playing away on his guitar and all of us singing along. This is one of the best albums I've heard in awhile, and has been pushed on any of my friends that would listen to me gush about it. (janette)