LISTENING ROOM

 

NITIN SAWHNEY
Human [V2/Rock Records]

Nitin Sawhney's new album, Human, just makes you want to reach out to Norah Jones. Like Miss Jones, Sawhney's album is oh so accessible. Each track reeks of pop sweetness. But that's not too bad. If it gets on radio, at least the kids can hear Sawhney's attack on racism in Say Hello, which samples a news bulletin of Enoch Powell getting sacked for his racist views. Or Eastern Eyes, which recounts Sawhney's childhood as the only Indian in an all-white school.

Of course, the downside is that Sawhney is not a great songwriter and you won't be clued in to what the songs are about unless you are reading interviews. Or that Sawhney's choice of young British vocalists tends to leave the depth of his songs untouched. They are able to bring out the pop but not the soul of the songs.

Sawhney's previous albums were equally polemical. Displacing The Priest (1996) criticised organised religions. Beyond Skin (1999) looked at cultural diversity. And this is where his music really clicks. The opening track, The River, effortlessly segues from an Indian sitar into Mississippi blues. While the closing track, The Boatman, uses an acoustic guitar setting for a Hindi song about a continuing journey. And the album's highlight, Fragile Wind, is a whispery ballad set against a Hindi vocal.

As Sawhney says: "People say, 'Oh you're really political.' And I say, 'Well, actually, I'm not at all, I'm just somebody who believes in people." (6.5) - Philip Cheah

 

THE DONNAS
Spend the Night [Atlantic]

Nothing strikes greater fear into the heart of an indie rock fan than to hear that one of their favourite or respected bands has signed on with a major record label. Sometimes that fear is proven unfounded when the band marries its intelligence, creativity, attitude and talent with the use of the bigger budget and superior resources that the major label provides to produce a truly exceptional piece of work, as in the case of Modest Mouse's debut album for Epic Records, The Moon and Antarctica. However, this is not the case with the Donnas' debut album for Atlantic. Spend the Night is yet another pathetic addition to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Infamy of gutsy all-girl groups who turned into totally toothless and impotent corporate schlock-peddlers once they sold their souls for Mammon and turned over their good judgement and artistic control into the hands of the completely clueless and mercenary major label radio-friendly unit-shifting production and marketing machine.

While I may not be familiar with their earlier work on the independent Lookout label, I am pretty sure that the Donnas had more balls and bite on records like American Teenage Rock 'n' Roll Machine and The Donnas Turn 21, which were probably closer in spirit and sound to the blitzkrieg bop-frenzy of the Ramones and the jailbait-teasing power bubblegum pop of The Runaways.

Sure they may still display some of their trademark "hard rawk" power chords and overtly ferocious sexual lyrics in songs like Take it Off and Take Me to the Backseat, but the biggest difference between this album and say, The Donnas Turn 21, is the overall sound production. Spend the Night just sounds way too clean and polished and therefore, excruciatingly bland and uninspired as compared to the refreshingly raw and ragged, celebratory all-out down-and-dirty trash rock of their earlier records. And certainly it doesn't help if every other song on this album mines the same old tired territory of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll parties that's been done much better so many times over by those kings of 1970's party-rock, Kiss.

I'm much afraid to say that if these girls don't look sharp, they're going to end up in the same dump of has-been but previously vital all-girl bands like The Pandoras and the Bangles who once got it right but were then robbed of their shining destiny by corporate fools who couldn't care less. (2) - Ivan Thomasz

 

BINDU
Music From The Heart [Orange Music]

It's always nice to have someone cheery and optimistic around. Someone with a consistently positive view of life, despite the likes of war, aggression and fear, and yet not be absorbed with self discovery, and the inevitable turn to pessimism. The whole album is light, friendly and, through its unpretentious ways, is absolutely charming. For starters, Bindu's technique is faultless, his notes are so accurately stopped, yet his music so freely improvisatory, that it seemed simple. Underneath is a mix of lilting jazzed-up rhythms, and a combination of delightful range of guitar sounds, the gliss, the plucks, and the shakes, stringed tightly one after another. With Butterfly On A Wing, and Trees Are Growing, laze back and enjoy the mellow sounds and the sincere approach to the saying of very simple things. - Sarah Tan

 

TURIN BRAKES
Ether Song [Source/EMI]

Turin Brakes might sound like your typical post-Thom Yorke-post-Buckley, wailing sort of indie bands (see Coldplay, Travis, Kings of Convenience) if not for one important factor - there's something startlingly George Harrison-ish about their songs. Take the popular single 'Pain Killer' - quirky lyrics, nice melodies but it has a refrain that brings to mind "My Sweet Lord'. That doesn't mean its bad, derivativeness has long been a non-issue in the so called 'quietcore' scene (see bands referenced above). Like the Sad One in the Beatles, the second album from ex-choirboys Olly Knights and Gale Paridjania has a certain melancholic charm. Not shameless nor self-pitying, mind, but very hippy and Age of Aquarius-like. A soundtrack for those late night campfires by the beach, if you're into that sort of thing. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

 

THROWING MUSES
Throwing Muses [4AD/Rock Records]

After Throwing Muses' 1996 release aptly titled Limbo, fans were left wondering whether it symbolised the group's impending demise. Singer/guitarist Kristin Hersh released a number of solo records in the interim years, which only seemed to seal the impression. Pull out her Sunny Border Blue and the track Listerine conveys her dismay: "How did I love a breaking thing?/How did I sleep through a kidnapping?/How'd I trust a band who'd leave me one by one?"

So it's a welcome relief to hear their new record, released in conjunction with Hersh's solo, The Grotto. As listeners will attest, it is their most raw record yet. Whereas before bassist Bernard Georges' distortion-laden melodies passionately washed through Limbo, here they retreat and join David Narcizo's ever-brilliant rhythmic jaunts. Changes in production and mixing mean the album is guitar-heavy, as ever fuelled on by Hersh's sardonic, sexually frank tales of domesticity, love and friendship. The opening tracks - Mercury, Pretty Or Not and Civil Disobedience - are typically Muses, with their quick shifts in pace and angular melodies. "B-side" tracks such as Portia and Solardip sound entirely like they are plucked from the Pixies/Breeders. While the album maintains a consistent edge, not every song has the kind of consistent capacity to surprise which an album like Limbo did flawlessly. It sounds like Hersh is trying a new sound, changing the coordinates of her role as singer/guitarist and emphasising the latter role far more. The shifts, while not always successful, are hopefully a hint of exciting things to come. (6.5) - Vinita Ramani

 

ROBIN GIBB
Magnet [SPV]

Robin Gibb was doing publicity for the album, which was released last year, when Maurice died and, for whatever reasons, the album never got the publicity or the push. Being released on the European SPV label didn't help as the album was initially hard-to-find.

When we get down to it, we may ask ourselves - do we prefer the guitar-based, jangly Robin or the discofied Robin?

However, the presence of producer Deacon Smith (Ce Ce Winans, Dru Hill, Mary J Blige), says it all. The album opens promisingly with Please. Although synthesized, it's also a throwback to the days of My World and Robin's soaring vocals. While the next track, Don't Wanna Wait Forever, has elements of Hall And Oates, it is Wish You Were Here, the only track on the album written by all three Gibb brothers, that lays down the mainframe of the album - blue-eye soul as performed by George Michael! Why reference Wham! when there are so many other great R&B acts?

You'd feel the album has a problem when the most striking song is a cover of Love Hurts. Otherwise, it could have been seen as any other R&B album released by faceless divas or soul acts. But it is a Robin Gibb album and his vocals are more or less intact. It is a voice that fans love, in spite of the songs.

Perhaps tired of doing guitar-based songs for a good part of his career, Robin may find the dance beats more up-to-date sounding. But he might also like to remember that fans would like him to stick to what he does best. (6.5) - Stephen Tan

 

THE CARDIGANS
Long Gone Before Daylight [Stockholm]

I imagine that for a band that considers it indulging in "ironic" pop presentations, to put together an album that most critics would assess as undemanding and straightforward would probably come as a rude shock. Long Gone Before Daylight, The Cardigans' fourth album proper is slickly produced with all the notes in the right place but unfortunately that merely leaves you with a competent ABBA-type album. Gone are the chamber pop, hard rock and electronica elements that enlivened previous works and whilst the band may strive hard to be relevant, what we're actually left with is MOR. — Kevin Mathews

 

ANGER IS A GIFT

The hype on Metallica's magnificent new album, St Anger (Elektra) is that it's a return to the band's roots. Nothing could be further from the truth. Guitar solos? Not a one on this album. The career-long quest to improve James Hetfield's singing, first with echo and then with a generally successful attempt to actually learn the craft? Out the window - Hetfield's vocals are raw and forced and where they go off key, so be it. Multiple tempo changes? Only a few, even though the songs average around seven minutes in length.

What's left roars, with Lars Ulrich's furiously precise drumming anchoring the music. Hetfield and Kirk Hammett construct little gems of riffs that mutate into power chords, then devolve back into riffs that repeat and repeat and repeat. This is no garage band jam - the tracks were cut and pasted together with Pro Tools software, although you may not realize it unless you try to play air guitar to them (you might break your wrist).

Unlike, say, ZZ Top's Afterburner, the use of advanced technology here doesn't create its own aesthetic. The high tech manipulation on St Anger merely enhances the emotion in the basic tracks. Proof of that is the accompanying DVD disc, where the band plays the entire album live in the studio and sounds more like Metallica than ever. This isn't the sound of the past, though. It's a bold step into the future.

As for Metallica's past, especially the attack on its own fans who download music files, it's implicitly addressed here in the two line chorus of Sumkinda. It begins with "We the people" - a hoary cliche that still resonates when it has that throbbing megawatt power behind it - but then flips the script to ask "Are we the people?" Can Metallica and its fans be "we" if they are at war? These questions aren't answered directly but the band seems to be attempting to connect back to its street roots.

For example, the St Anger DVD begins with James Hetfield acting out the role of a graffiti artist. It's partly a goof, but the expression of solidarity is unmistakable and Hetfield's graf writer is just a symbol of all those most hated by official society: taggers, skaters, hackers, and, yes, file sharers. On May 1, in what would have made a great addition to the DVD, Metallica played a show for 800 inmates at San Quentin prison, which is just down the road apiece from the studio where St Anger was recorded. Hetfield, all tatted up like a convict himself, told the real cons that "We are very proud to be in your house playing music for you." At the end of the show, he added: "I'm not afraid to say I love you guys." Did Hetfield feel that without a few lucky breaks he could have been in the audience that day?

That same sense of connection is amplified throughout the new album. Lyrically, it centers on James Hetfield's struggle with drug and alcohol addiction ("My lifestyle determines my deathstyle"), but this is anything but a shiny, happy testimonial to sobriety. The songs are filled with self-hatred, false bravado, fear, doubt, denial and the specter of creeping death. Nothing is resolved, there is no peace, and the attraction to the oblivion of Sweet Amber is still very much present. These feelings are presented with great force and skill, an outstretched hand to millions of Metallica fans ("I'm not afraid to say I love you guys").

Anger is presented as the antidote for all problems: "And I want my anger to be healthy/ And I want my anger just for me/ And I need my anger not to control/ And I want my anger to be me/ And I need to set my anger free." While anger can be cathartic ("You flush it out, you flush it out") it can also become a dead end. Yet heavy metal at its best - which this album certain]y is - makes anger feel like liberation.

If you're still not free when anger subsides, that doesn't mean the feeling was false, just that liberation is more complicated. Metallica's insistence that we can openly acknowledge our demons and wrestle with them, even to the death, takes us at least halfway home. St Anger is a gift. — Lee Ballinger, Rock & Rap Confidential

 

ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION
Enemy Of The Enemy [EMI]

The fourth full-length release from ADF cements what an inspirational force the band has become. The UK collective's empowering and civil work is well documented but what's remarkable is that the spirit still resonates strongly in their songs. It’s hard to sit still to this album, the two opening tracks are a perfect blend of dub, drum ‘n bass, rock and techno, the get-up-and-go type of songs you just can't help but pogo to. A minor setback is the absence of longtime vocalist Deedar Zaman, who moved on to do social activism full time. His replacements, MC Spex and Aktarvata are competent and blend well with the driving rhythms but fail to ignite the spark left behind by their predecessor. The presence of Sinead O'Connor, who lends her beautiful wails to the track '1,000 Mirrors' and another new addition to the vocal department, female Indian chanteuse Sonia Mehta more than make up for the MCs shortcomings though. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

 

JOAN ARMATRADING
Lovers Speak [Telstar]

Nineteen albums since 1972, singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading continues to burn brightly with her pleasing folk-jazz pop and proves that good old-fashioned songwriting never quite goes out of style. Oh sure, if you're under the age of 35, I'll wager that you've never heard of Ms Armatrading. But that should not deter you from checking out Lovers Speak with its mix of pop savvy (the title track, "Waiting"), ballads ("In These Times," "Fire and Ice") and upbeat belters ("Love Bug," "Tender Traps").

If nothing else the positive, feel good sentiments of "Blessed" deserve special mention - "But if you can feel the sun/If you can feel the rain/Life can't be bad/If you've got food to eat/All your dreams to dreams/Life can't be bad/If you can walk away/And fight another day/life can't be bad." Simple truths from unlikely sources.- Kevin Mathews

 

GILLIAN WELCH
Soul Journey [Acony/WEA]

For Gillian Welch's fourth album, Soul Journey, the bad reviews have started appearing. But that's really because her standards have been so high. Time (The Revelator, 2001), Hell Among the Yearlings (1998) and Revival (1996) were just classics in the country canon. So Soul Journey is just good, not great. If the first three albums showed Welch bleeding, Soul journey is just a graze.

As Welch admitted in an interview: "This really is the sunniest record I've ever made." A part of this change is explained by the recording process. Instead of intense scrutiny, Welch opted for a more spontaneous approach to the production. Aside from one takes, unplugged performances, Welch also included three tracks where she sings and plays solo (she has never done this before on record). One of these is the gorgeous One Little Song where she pleads to hear a truly original song, where you can find "one little word that ain't been abused a thousand times/In a thousand rhymes."

Another reason is her approach to her songs. It is in the end a nostalgic album, just not a painfully nostalgic one. For example, I Had A Real Good Mother and Father is exactly that. Or the fact that Make Me A Pallet on Your Floor and Lowlands are bluesy country numbers which exist more as singalongs than gut-wrenching tracks.

Still, there's one new classic, I Made a Lovers Prayer, which can easily rival many Bob Dylan or Neil Young love songs. As Welch sings so poignantly: "Help me rise above what I'm thinking of/Just a little more love, just a little more love." (7) - Philip Cheah

 

YEAH YEAH YEAHS
Fever To Tell [Dress Up/Polydor]

If you go by hype and raving column inches alone, nu-garage bands like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes and The White Stripes should be moving gazillion units by now. But of course, no one's that naïve anymore - critic darlings and the alumni from the cool club rarely make an appearance in the Billboard Top 10 (with the exception of Radiohead maybe). Listening to Fever To Tell, it doesn't seem like much of a concern to Karen O and her boys though. It is noisy, messy and has enough of all the little no-wave, arty bits to make sure that it doesn't exactly end up mainstream fodder, not even in the way The Strokes or the Stripes have done in their excursions into the pop world.

Ms O might steal the spotlight with her rabid delivery that's a like a dirty blend of Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde and a Kathleen Hanna who spent more time in art class rather than grrrl school but look behind her and you'll see that guitarist Nick Zinner is quite a gem of an axe man, alternating between Sonic Youth noise bits to Tony Iommi style riffs and everything else cacophonic in between. You don't notice that it's just him and drummer, Brian Chase, making all the racket either - the production’s a little more slick than the usual guitar/drum duo but it suits them just fine. Don't be afraid if they come across as art school brats - this album's a good indication that the trio understands that above all else, rock ‘n’ roll should be about reckless fun. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

 

MIKE FELTEN
Landfill [Landfill Records]

In a moment of sincere self-deprecation, singer-songwriter Mike Felten sent his new CD, Landfill, together with a roll of toilet paper. In his liner notes, Felten says: "What you have here isn't perfect, by any means. Life is flawed and uneven, I'm just trying to get after the truth." And yes, Landfill is flawed. It isn't musically stunning and isn't lyrically breathtaking. But it achieves what Felten has aimed for, getting to grips with stories about ordinary people and their worries of domestic violence (Sister), unemployment (Save Her Old Man) and dashed hopes (Life Goes to Hell). Still, there are at least two worthy tracks, the catchy Talking 66 Summer School Blues, where Felten outlines his generation against that of Columbine. And the beautiful title track, Landfill, which unlike most of the other songs, is written powerfully and succinctly: "Landfill, landfill/Bustin' tail, paying bills/ Landfill, landfill/ On this earth by force of will." (5) - Philip Cheah

 

PEACHES
The Teaches Of Peaches [XL Recordings/Kitty-Yo]

It's easy to dismiss Peaches the way that punk rock was dismissed in the beginning. It's easy to dismiss Peaches the way that Singaporean Annabel Chong still gets dismissed. Both are women who talk about sex the way that men do, get as much fun out of it and make interesting statements from it.

Peaches is Canadian Merrill Nisker who moved to Berlin after stints in folk and punk. Now part of the electroclash trend, she shows just how stunning this fusion of hip-hop influenced electro and punk rock can be. Her tour with Elastica, her Lovertits single and her ability to draw gays and transsexuals to her obviously heterosexual performances suggest her pulling power.

Played on a Roland 505, the album begins with the anthemic Fuck The Pain Away. This is the track where electroclash reminds you what punk rock was all about, in the same way that punk rock reminded you just what early rock 'n' roll was all about. Fuck The Pain Away could be I Wanna Be Your Dog as well as Tutti Frutti. It's that basic. It's that fun. As Peaches raps: "Sucking on my titties like you wanted me/Calling me all the time like Blondie/Check out my Chrissie behind/It's fine all the time like sex on the beaches." The clattering cymbals just pumps the song along.

And this is not a novelty one off. The next track, AA XXX, just seems like a porn romp until Peaches announces: "Some people say that I keep my self-respect hidden in my cervix."

Then the other anthem, Set It Off, which is not a sex tease because it's a sex taunt, where Peaches calls all of us "motherfuckers" who want to jump her. Don't believe me? Just check out the two videos of it included in the double-disc special edition. One of them has a hilarious scene where her pubic hair keeps growing out of her underwear.

Musically minimalist, Peaches creates rhythms which are varied and unexpected. It never becomes a drone. She knows just where to tickle your ears. Peaches would be a metaphor that old blues singers would savour. As she says on Diddle My Skittle: "There's only one peach with the hole in the middle." Only now, the metaphor is in-yer-face. This is sex that doesn't get boring. - (8.5) Philip Cheah

 

ALUMINIUM BABE
EP [Motherwest Records]

I simply can’t get enough of their five song EP. With the longest tracks being 2:38 minutes, it’s sweet simple and direct. Aluminum Babe’s songs give a shot of life into the Punk Rock genre. It’s like going back to the no-bullshit spirit days of the Ramones and early Blondie. Also featuring AJ Novello and Pokey of legendary ‘80s hardcore band Leeway. The squashing infectious opener, Oh Yeah, at times reminded me of The Go Gos especially with Anna Soder’s cute vocal crossings with Belinda Carlise and The Cardigans. You should get and hear this before they are gone. Nearly all of the tracks captivate hope and the humour of love with mild yet flowing Punk beats and layered vocal harmonies. It seems who you know and what you express has a lot to do with your success in today’s music industry. How an audience and a world full of critics react to your album makes or breaks any artist no matter what status. "I’m no sweet thing/ no deep thing/ no cheap thing/ I am real." But these three guys (who wear their stage attire dressed as priests) and a girl doesn’t care, do they? Naahh. - Adam Md Yusop

 

CHANTAL KREVIAZUK
What If It All Means Something [Sony Columbia]

Paving the way to her fame are her contributions to the Armageddon and Dawson's Creek soundtracks, or more currently, Providence. For those familiar with her style, this album is a treat that offers more of the easy going good stuff. Most songs are delicate yet wistful and soul searching and their overall appeal is a rather an acquired taste, but rewarding. The one thing that mars this appeal perhaps is the monotony of the arrangements, and yes, the seemingly endless repetition of the same words. Boredom will creep in but a few such familiar pop-style numbers as Weight of the World, and Miss April, with its innocent music-writing will also keep one glued to her voice. There are also the priceless In This Life and the title track What If which will grow on anyone not already absorbed by her style. - Sarah Tan

 

RADIOHEAD
Hail to the Thief [Parlophone/EMI]

Not as experimental as the previous Amnesiac and Kid A, Hail to the Thief is nevertheless more elusive than the art rock of OK Computer. It straddles a middle ground for both new and old fans of Radiohead to find each other.

The band's guitarist, Jonny Greenwood, has denied that Hail to the Thief is a clear reference to George W Bush (the phrase was one that protestors chanted when he took office). But it is an unlikely point to believe, considering that the band's singer, Thom Yorke, was an active anti-war protestor in the weeks leading up to the war on Iraq.

And lyrically at least, this album feels like George Orwell meets Edgar Allan Poe. The Orwellian sense of big-brother political machinations, heard brilliantly in the opening track, 2+2=5, matches the poetic fairy-tale-like horror of Poe in tracks, such as The Gloaming (the sub-title of this album) or We Suck Young Blood.

However, what makes Hail to the Thief enigmatic is the band's refusal to be taken literally. But the references are clear. The first two lines of 2+2=5 is a giveaway: "Are you such a dreamer/to put the world to rights?" or in Sit Down Stand Up, where Yorke repeats Bush's threat: "Anytime. Anytime/We can wipe you out."

Still, even if you choose to ignore all that, the album is musically transcendent. Scatterbrain is the killer track, a luminous melody with an even more luminous Yorke vocal. And the closing track, A Wolf at the Door, swells with warm string synths.

But finally, the road map, not to peace, but to war, stares you in the face. The special edition is designed as a traveller's map and Radiohead have inserted all the anguish of this world on it - poor, military, murderers, generals, president. (8.5) - Philip Cheah


 

STAIND
14 Shades Of Grey [Warner]

"What ?!? You listening to second rate Alice In Chains?" That’s what my pals, the ever so-called purists told me when I yanked this CD out. Is it due to the band’s association with Fred Durst’s FLIP label that they were branded as "whiny sell-out babies"? Well, don't buy this album expecting a super-heavy, nu metal sound. Buy this album if you want to hear down to earth, melodic music. It’s still heavy, but it’s not "metal" anymore, with the exception of a few songs. Break the Cycle, the band’s second album was depressing, like Alice In Chains but none of that foreign substance was prevalent. I can honestly say that I’ve listened to the first and second songs of the new album for about five days, then proceeded to hear the rest. Price To Pay and How About You are just two that define the band’s mega status. I can listen to this album without skipping one single song. Can’t say that about the past two Staind albums.

The new songs are just amazing. Initially, I was a little worried that I couldn’t take the depressed tones. And Lo & Behold! another new change, not all of the songs are about Aaron's bad relationship with his parents *gasp*!! That was one of the biggest complaints about this band that they kept whining about their family life. None of that angsty family matters on this album. Overall this is a great album, the songs sound very different from each other and very diverse. Zoe Jane - definitely the softest song on the CD, just like Lennon and Creed’s Arms Wide Open, a beautiful song about Aaron’s daughter. While Layne (a nod to the late Layne Stanley, Alice In Chains’ tragic vocalist who died of an overdose) plods triumphantly just like a track played by the mighty Alice themselves. You can even sense the eerie vocal similarities when Aaron gives out his low bellows, it’s like Layne helping out on backing vocals. It could be the next single, and Intro - nice name for the final song. It's a nice finisher. Though Aaron's voice sounds a bit distant, it works. A good way to close the album which also functions as a DVD-audio in multi-channel surround sound. - Adam Md Yusop


A PLACE FOR PARKS
The Bright Period [Unique Records]

Imagine Red House Painters composing a score for Mogwai and you have A Place For Parks. This French trio composes melancholic instrumentals (Open All the Windows, Our Screwball Concerto) which sometimes burst with violent fury (Apparently Empty Room). The best track is Hidden Landscapes, where a trombone and sax are added for a long-drawn, melodically beautiful climax. File under children of Godspeed. - Philip Cheah



LUNT
Lunt [Unique Records]

Gilles Deles aka Lunt is a French avant-noise singer-songwriter. Alternating between distorted soundscapes and songs of heartbreak, this self-titled album unfortunately also suffers from constant unevenness. Loretta Is Dreaming, a foreboding moodpiece and Love Is Wasted Time, a melodic tale of yearning, begin the album well, but then self-indulgence takes over. - Philip Cheah

 

CLASSICS
The City of Prague Philharmonic [Cafe Del Mar]

Pop classical music was last seen in the Gregorian chant setting, and then the New Age setting, which was not that long ago, just that the void was never fully filled. Perhaps it is an inherent problem in pop classics that they do not lend themselves too easily to being "updated" in its entirety, and most who entered this realm lacked the boldness and courage of a different mindset. Most tend to leave untouched the impressions and interpretations of the classics, so what's left is, as with many such recordings, classical music set to some rhythm or another. A new rhythm pattern, a new album. For this album, very sadly, although the opening was pleasantly startling, it ended there, and it joins the rest of the other artless attempts. It does not offer any stylistics, or insight of real value, although a little bright moment in Cest Lamour qui reticent, a more elusive piece, and a slightly different harmonic approach to Mozart's Romance, were a few saving points. As a piece of entertainment, and easy listening, it fares sufficiently well but will probably not meet up with high expectations. - Sarah Tan

 

YO LA TENGO
Summer Sun [Matador]

There are many red herrings to note when approaching Yo La Tengo's new Summer Sun: That it's just a light, pleasant record. That it's tackling the jazz palette again with such distinguished guests as bassist William Parker, trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr and saxophonist Daniel Carter. That it only gets interesting in the second half when more instrumental passages and jams take place.

Well, I started out thinking all of those things until I tried to just hear the songs as songs. And there are some simply gorgeous ones. The jazzy lounge number, How to Make A Baby Elephant Float, is part High Llamas and part Stereolab and it has this lovely lyric: "I like to hold hands when we walk/I'm not averse to pillow talk/But I prefer a private joke/The memory it evokes."

That same tenderness, from guitarist/vocalist Ira Kaplan appears again on Don't Have to be Sad: "Last night I was trying to read in bed/I got to watching you sleep instead/Even when I got tired I couldn't stop/Because I love you so/ And I pray you know/ But I'm not one for praying/You know I couldn't say that without making a joke." The gently slicing synth beat and the late-night jazz piano perfectly matches Kaplan's whispered vocal.

On Nothing But You and Me, Kaplan broods further: "I don't know how I lost control/ But I now know that it's true/ That the hurt I aimed at me misfired and came back to hurt you." The bass is atmospheric and brooding while a synth thunders at various points to add to Kaplan's misery. These songs are almost and could be confessions to his wife, drummer Georgia Hubley.

He cheers up more on the pretty, chiming pop of Season of the Shark. The song almost explains the album's title, Summer Sun, that it's time not to be afraid anymore, to come out and play, after all the darkness.

Which fits in with Hubley's bubbly retro instrumental, Georgia Vs Yo La Tengo, and her catchy Little Eyes, which is a plea to wake up and not waste the day. Even bassist James McNew gets in on the act with a rare vocal contribution on Tiny Birds, another tender love song.

Make no mistake. Summer Sun is not brilliant in the way that ...And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000) was, but it's not a throwaway album. You just have it play it more and then the words begin to ring as much as the guitars. - (7) Philip Cheah

 

59 MINUTES
Knowing You [Straits Records EP]

This "emotional Punk Rock" quintet lets out the passion in those shouting vocals, menacing/smooth guitar riffs, pulsating bass lines and hard hitting beats. Upon first listen, 59 Minutes could possibly be passed off as another radio-friendly rock band trying to cash in on other band's ideas, but on further examination, this band is much more and their tight musicianship and the way they tackle the issue of love brought a smile to my face. The lyrics, though honest, is a little bit floppy for my taste but it is something that every guy can relate to. "Do you want to play this one little game? To me, it's really hard with someone as lovely as you/Day by Day, keep asking me why that I don't have the guts to tell you that I love you." The special thing about this EP is the inclusion of their Knowing You video. You can watch the band's brand of wackiness, clips of them recording, and playing live at the Esplanade. Do try to catch them whenever they play. - Adam Md Yusop

CLICK HERE
to download an MP3 version of 59 Minutes' Knowing You.

 

FLEETWOOD MAC
Say You Will [Reprise]

All right rock fans, you know the drill by now. Classic rock band reunites to record reunion album to support reunion world tour, to maintain stately mansions, flashy vehicles, various chemical addictions, assorted playthings - ah, the lifestyle of the rich and famous!

What does it have to do with the music? Everything, if it's the business end you're talking about, if not...?

Case in point, Fleetwood Mac, with their most successful aggregation (viz. Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, well almost, as Christine McVie has now retired and is described only as "additional musician" in sleeve) returning after a 16-year absence (not counting The Dance live album) to deliver a prolix album that just about spans the full 80 minutes possible.

Well, if nothing else, you could argue that that's value for money but again, that's a business perspective and I refuse to discuss rock music purely on those terms. Ostensibly, Say You Will comes across as a split solo LP from Buckingham and Nicks (artists in their own right), especially so in the absence of Christine McVie's usual songwriting contribution. On that ground alone, this album succeeds if only halfway as Buckingham's songs are almost all winners with their pop savvy, strong melodic qualities and upbeat vibe while Nicks' materials displays too much of the new age hippie jive that is now pretty passé.

In that respect, songs like the breezy What's The World Coming To? the rustic Miranda, the fragile Red Rover, the driving Peacekeeper, the Arabic confessional Come and the pleasing folky Steal Your Heart Away reveal that Buckingham's muse remains vibrant. Not that Nicks is wholly in her ex-lover's shadow, as the likes of the shiny title track, strident Smile At You and the atmospheric Silver Girl attest.

In places - far and between, it must be said - Fleetwood Mac are able to evoke former glories but by and large, Say You Will pales in comparison with its illustrious predecessors. Still, diehard fans will not be disappointed and sophisticated pop lovers will thrill to the work of Lindsay Buckingham. (7) - Kevin Mathews

 

CESSPIT
Best Before 050403 [Straits Records]

This is actually a compilation of two EPs. This is the band where you can see and hear their musical growth. Their 1998 EP consists of seven ska tracks that do get a little bit samey. In their case, the absence of the horns works because if not played properly, it would be like listening to a Chinese funeral band procession. And even they can play better tunes. Don't get me wrong, Cesspit dish out good and infectious tunes, like School and, lyrically, the track, Question, stands out: "If We can say No, Did we disobey, your rules too much for me, Make life a misery."

Meanwhile, their five new tracks are great! With horns added, influences clearly audible, they have started to colour their canvas with various music genres. In The Pit is a delightful instrumental that grabbed my attention - like a Big Band turned Ska turned Rock. It's fresh and worth the price of the CD. Sad Asia, their second track, boasts the sexy teasing guest vocal by Mas Mellisa of Pop Whizzee. In The Sun has a metallish guitar intro and Latin percussion interlude then finally a reggae ditty that No Doubt could be envious of. The group's vocals are more relaxed and have improved. Wake Up and Kao Play Ska only solidify the fact that they're capable of achieving something more. Along with Fishtank, these guys are learning and mastering their craft. - Adam Md Yusop

CLICK HERE
to download an MP3 version of Cesspit's Wake Up.

 

VARIOUS
Readapt [+cross]
MILS
Mils [+cross]
YUZO KAKO
Distillation [+cross]
AKIRA TANAKA
New Town [+cross]

Since 1999, a small Japanese/French label, +cross, has been putting out experimental electronica. Most of their artistes can be sampled on the new Readapt compilation, a remix album of +cross artistes remixing other +cross artistes. Founded as an art project by Lulie Kutsuma, Benoa Berger and Narushisa Matsuoka, +cross is an attempt to fuse art and emotion into electronica. The result is like walking into an art installation with music for the inner space of your mind. Artistes such as Mils uses skipping CD loops and distortion to continually jolt you out of any notion that this is just pleasant electronica. Mils has released a three track EP, Lit Clos. Yuzo Kako works in a highly rarefied sound environment. Cool, detached and postmodern, Kako's work can be described as "super post-electronica", also the title of one of +cross' earlier compilations. Kako's album release is titled Distillation. But of the +cross acts, the most melodic and aurally beautiful music comes from Akira Tanaka. His album, New Town, evokes the French influences of Stereolab, but instead remains largely instrumental. - Philip Cheah

 

SIR CHARLES MACKERRAS
Mozart: Symphony No. 10, 42, 12, 46 and 13 [Telarc]
Mozart: Symphony No. 25, 28 and 29 [Telarc]
Mozart: Symphony No. 36 and 38 [Telarc]


Telarc has a treat for all classical ears, dishing out recordings at mid-price range, a handful a time. Featured this time is Sir Charles Mackerras, with his portfolio of associations with Sadler's Wells, the Vienna Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, to drop a few names. Covering other such composers as Janacek and Benjamin Britten and Dvorak's works, his fame and the bulk of his recordings, ironically, lie in conducting Mozart's works. These albums showcase Mackerras directing the talents of the Prague Chamber Orchestra.

Written during Mozart's early teen, Sym No. 10, 42, 12, 46 and 13 show a more experimental period where his music appeared more programmatic and where his thoughts seemed fleeting and unsettled. Such works are difficult to handle, and even harder to appreciate except to say that they fulfilled the function for which they were written. To this, Mackerras seemed conservative and there was not much opportunity to witness any charm or quirks.

Symphony No. 25, with its infamous syncopated introduction, was a bit faster than I have heard anybody play it, but this feature turned out quite endearing as justified by the skillfully paced and rhythmic precision at which the players handled the final section. However, the performance of Adagio seemed predictable and offered little in terms of freshness and, after some time, the lively tempo became an obligated factor that held the movement together. The Menuetto: Trio was interesting in the way the piece was serious, but the scope for various textures was not exploited, so what resulted was quite a drag. And even in Allegro, the orchestral texture seemed too heavy to convey anything musical or emotional. A lighter touch, to begin with, would have provided more scope for textural shadings.

Saving the best for last, Sym No. 36 and 38 remain the best. Opening with Adagio is the ever interesting topic of speed. Called Adagio but wonderfully performed at a scintillating one-one speed where vigorous energy is contrasted with beautiful warm colours and melodic contours. The second movement's Poco Adagio is a nice show-off little piece for the strings, displaying every bit of refinement and sensitivity for harmonic and timbral shades. And in irony, the last movement's Presto has a stronger paced feel where long melodic lines flow around effortlessly, playfully interwoven with the rhythmic punctuation.

The second major work, the Prague, has an overall more serious tone, with sombre harmonic work, and well-spaced juxtapositions of orchestral tones, and dramatic pivoting of tonalities. The second movement's Andante seemed a bit long-drawn, and was dragged. Presto, however, is taken at lightning-speed, though it seemed unnecessary. A few details would have been appreciated at a more comfortable tempo.

Compared to the other two collections, this one seemed the most poignant and enjoyable, proving to be more so with each listening. With good music writing, good performances are easily inspired and appreciated. A mind that understands and conveys compassionately is all important to the success of any undertaking. The warmth of Mackerras reaches out and the experience overall was nothing short of enjoyable and this gives him one incomparable name. - Sarah Tan

 

VARIOUS
Non-Conformity Vol 1 [Knot Records]

The not so old Malaysian Tourism board's slogan was "To Love Malaysia, is to know Malaysia." But it's actually "To love Malaysia is to know its music." This compilation - made by a group of no-nonsense music lovers of the underground movement whom really practice what they preach - is not only great BUT breathtakingly superb! No plastics, no image manipulation, just good ol' lovable rock 'n' roll. All 22 tracks filled with all natural goodness - no non-toxic drum triggers, guitar mixers and layered vocals. Totally raw stuff that made me shed a tear. Openers Toxin 99% has a strong hold on the punk rock genre, flirting with Green Day and Sum 41. The songs flow loosely, sometimes downright sloppily drunk, the perfect raw sound that you can probably only find in a roadhouse dive.

There's a lot of ground covered, and this compilation shows its range when it switches between the driving ruckus of Colors by Angst and the subtle Pink Floyd-like tripping-out of No Reason by the KL-based Terengganu boys, KunchaLana. While this group never really goes out too far on a limb, it occasionally takes a sharp left turn, like on the reggae-tinged rhythms of Brand Not Product. Then there is the pure primal wildness of ReflectionOfLife's Salt Lake City and The Bollock's excellent The Revolution, which will remind you of a cross between Motorhead and D.R.I. With Disaster Funhouse, Freygyle,. In-A-Sense, Pusher and Carburetor Dung, for many, this CD is a true excursion into the essence of rhythm and sound. And it's only RM12! - Adam Md Yusop

Visit http://dungpeople.sevcom.com/knot/


 

WAYNE SHORTER
Alegria [Verve]

At times, Wayne Shorter's sax tone is so gorgeous you have to stop whatever you are doing just to take it all in. Alegria (Spanish for "joy") is a stunning album, his first studio release in over eight years and his first as a bandleader since 1967. Recorded as a rehearsal for his Footprints tour (released as a live album last year), Alegria broke in his band consisting of pianists Brad Mehldau and Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummers Brian Blade and Terri Lyne Carrington. As Shorter revealed: "This recording was really the only rehearsal we had."

In spite of only one new composition, Sacajawea, Shorter proves what his genius has been all about - a brilliant player who brings out colours against contrasts. From his beginning with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in the late '50s (where he became musical director); to his stint in the Miles Davis Quintet in 1964 (where he was one of the rare composers whom Miles never re-wrote); and his '70s electric jazz excursion as co-founder of Weather Report; Shorter has also made a classic jazz bossa nova album with singer, Milton Nascimento, in Native Dancer. He could fit into any setting and still be himself.

For Alegria, Shorter's acoustic quartet (pianists and drummers alternate in turns) plays against a string orchestra. This is lovingly established on Serenata, a romantic serenade that recalls the best of the Native Dancer album. On Vendiendo Algeria, a Spanish flamenco tune that Miles once suggested to him, Shorter brings out the tune's natural sweetness. For Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, Shorter fuses Bach and jazz in his reading of the Heitor Villa-Lobos' song, about his trip down the Amazon, recording Tupi Indian melodies.

Several old tracks are brought back, Angola (from the Soothsayer LP), Capricorn II (from his Miles Davis period) and Orbits. Wayne Shorter turns 70 this year. His tone has never aged. (9) - Philip Cheah


 

THE JAYHAWKS
Rainy Day Music [Lost Highway/American]

After the greater pop emphasis of Sound of Lies and Smile, the Jayhawks return to the roots rock approach of their earlier albums (especially Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass) with this, their first album on the Lost Highway label (also home of that other alt-country standard bearer, Ryan Adams).

Generally speaking, this change of approach (albeit a fairly minor one) works wonders as Rainy Day Music at times touches the brilliance of former glories viz. Tomorrow the Green Grass and Sound of Lies with a sequence of excellent songs (mainly penned by chief songwriter Gary Louris) that mark Rainy Day Music as a notable modern rock album.

The opening "Stumbling Through The Dark" (co-written by Matthew Sweet) is gorgeous country-folk which, while ostensibly is masked in lovelorn terms, contains a serious message - "The men who proceeded us here/Left only questions and fears/The vanity formed by beauty lies/You know it's a crime." The latter day Byrds-evoking "Tailspin" holds even heavier imagery as Louris describes a relationship gone seriously down the tubes - "I'll be damned though I held your hand/They felt a need to crucify you," guitar freaks, watch out for the great Neil Young-ish solo!

The dreamy and fragile "All The Right Reasons" finds Louris in reflective mood - "Like a tired bird flying high across the ocean/I was outside looking in/You made me live again" and the poignant "Save It For a Rainy Day" offers a note of encouragement.

References abound no doubt, but CSNY come strongest to mind with the rocking "Come to the River," the catchy "Angelyne" and especially the folky "Madman." Across these three songs, pseudo-spiritual themes surface - "Turned back, had a fall from grace/Now we find each other face to face," "Hopes haunt me like ghosts/They point their fingers" and "Rage on, rage on my brother/Time to lay down my arms."

Much to appreciate here for all fans of the alt-country/country rock genre and while it sometimes evokes the early '70s a tad too close for comfort, the sheer emotional intensity of the music will win you over. No contest. (8.5) - Kevin Mathews

 

YEOW
This Generation [Chemistry]

Yeow is a man of many talents - singer, songwriter, musician, engineer, producer - he played guitar in the Singapore outfit, Zircon Lounge and released a commendable first album (What I Require) almost a decade ago.

On this long overdue follow-up, Yeow proves that he is a Singaporean talent with an eclectic collection of material that range from heartfelt ballads ("Impossible," "Run," "Bubbleman"); slick mid-tempo rockers ("This Generation,"); moody jazz-soul pieces ("Skin," "Same One Sky," "Hole") to electro dance numbers ("Pure").

The highlights include "Impossible" as Yeow waxes lyrical about love and a special relationship with a chorus that will stick in the memory for time to come; "Bubbleman" attempts to comment on politics with a style that recalls Oasis in one of their pleasing Beatlesque folky moments and the opening title track where R&B inflections are suitably emphasized by bluesy guitars and female backing vocals (ala the Stones' "Gimme Shelter").

Considering the state of the moribund Singapore music scene, This Generation is timely and I would highly recommend it to music lovers who require sophistication and erudition in their pop diet. - Kevin Mathews

For more, visit http://www.chemistryteam.com/yeow

Click here for a free MP3 download of Yeow's This Generation. Download is available for a limited period only.

WRITE IN AND WIN YEOW CD/T-SHIRT: The five best letters sent in to singbigo@singnet.com.sg over the next two weeks will each receive a copy of Yeow's This Generation CD and T-shirt, courtesy of Chemistry. Closing date: June 20, 2003.

 

THE MAHARAJAH COMMISSION
Dialogue Amoureux [Monkey Records]

They segue into the epic, which in turn gives way to the staccato edge. The sound can be described as Pink Floyd being battered by Sonic Youth. There's an industrial harshness to it as well, which bites with a metallic edge, while the tribal sounds of Disco Sludge are very organic and earthy. Emotionally wrenching, yet quietly controlled.

The Maharajah Commission have created a world of exotic beat patterns surrounded by waves of aural atmospheres. The combination mixes into an almost visual landscape, revealing layers of depth within a simple package of four players. My fave track, Bullit's Requiem sounds like those quirky French movies that I watched but forgotten. From the gentle solitude of fear and love to the uneasy strumming of La lunaire parisienne et talamena etuark, they wear their proverbial hearts on their sleeve, and with passion to spare. Malaysia Boleh indeed. Visit http://www.yat.ch/mc. - Adam Md Yusop

Click here for a free MP3 download of The Maharajah Commission's Bullit's Requiem. Download is available for a limited period only.

 

MONO
One Step More and You Die [Ryko/Arrco]

Not to be confused with the ambient pop band, Mono, this Mono is a Japanese post-rock outfit, formed in 2000. Impressed by them, jazz avant-garde saxophonist, John Zorn, released their debut album, Under the Papal Tree, on his Tzadik label. Unfortunately Mono never got bigger because if you wanted a more intense noise, there's always Merzbow, and if you wanted a more expansive atmospheric noise sound, there's Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It's not that Mono are inept. Their epic track, Com(?) produces a respectable squall and Mopish Morning, Halation Wiper and Loco Tracks are quiet mood pieces. It's just that they need to sound like no one else. (5) - Philip Cheah

 

THE FLAMING LIPS
Fight Test [Warner]

Any fan who enjoys the loopy laidback-ness of The Flaming Lips will react to each of their EPs as a thrilling lucky dip. This new seven-track EP doesn't disappoint. Not only do you get a live cover of Beck's The Golden Age (from last year's Sea Change LP) but a cover of Radiohead's Knives Out as well. Then there is their infamous cover of the Kylie Minoque hit, Can't Get You Out Of My Head, and a techno remix of Do You Realize?? The best is at the end with two unreleased tracks. The Strange Design of Conscience is a gorgeous piece of electronica where amidst pulsating synths, Lips' Wayne Coyne sings about cosmic karma. Thank You Jack White is an affectionate country tribute to fellow touring band, The White Stripes. It's funny, irreverent and surprising. It's why we love The Flaming Lips so much. - Philip Cheah


 

CHEVELLE
Wonder What's Next? [Epic]

Nope, I'm not going to tell you the good and not so good stuff about the album, because to me, it simply takes away from its power. You have to listen and figure it out for yourself. Give in to the force of the guitar intermixed with the driving beat of drums and Pete's screaming melodic voice. Or take Comfortable Liar, with moody vocals intertwined with awesome harmonies. Sure, it's a little repetitive around the edges and not original, but it's still interesting. The last track, One Lonely Visitor, though has me baffled. It is an acoustic track with only the vocalist, and it sounds like the group is playing live in some small club somewhere (you can hear an audience singing along, like it's a worship at some Christian concert). It doesn't fit in with the earlier driving, but it's not that bad of a tune overall. And it's easy to get lost in the art that Chevelle have created on this album. - Adam Md Yusop


 

RICHARD GOODE
Bach Partitas Nos 1, 3 & 6 [Nonesuch]

18th-century keyboard music needs tremendous patience for the listener, and even more demands on the performer. It seems to be all ornaments and strict harmony, with little music, and most performers fail to come out of this mindset. It takes one bold and confident pianist to break all rules and, so far, none has come close to disclosing a fresh view of the kind of passion beneath the core.

Richard Goode tackles these pieces with undisputed technique but comes across with mixed reaction. His slower numbers captures the essential rubatos and shape and, in some places, he managed some connection and emotions. In Toccata, he even had some exciting places where his music was varied and dramatic. The lovely range of tones was mystifying, and the true passion captured was totally captivating.

However, in most of the faster-paced pieces here, his playing lack warmth, and his touch was uncomfortable to the ear as it was too harsh and too cold. In the Scherzo, rhythmic life was wasted, the sound was too thin and not much of a statement was made.

This cannot be heard with too critical an ear as the dazzle wears off fast. Without the soft furnishing, what's left is an unsatisfying earful of notes. Macho playing can be exciting but perhaps not on these. Perhaps his concern for the inner essence of music and its architectural balance has made him too introspective an artist. - Sarah Tan


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