LISTENING ROOM


 

EARLY DAY MINERS
Jefferson at Rest [Secretly Canadian]

What's troubling about Early Day Miners is their close sonic resemblance to Red House Painters. But once you get over that, the differences become clearer. For one, Early Day Miners stake their aural soundscape on America's south-west. In fact, that's such a big deal, that on Jefferson At Rest, their third album, the lyrics obsess about America's Civil War and the cultural legacy it has wrought. A lot of that is thanks to bandleader Daniel Burton's Civil War historian mother, and his early childhood growing up in Kentucky.

With their name taken from a pamphlet featuring a picture of old miners, the Early Day Miners spun out from Ativin in 1998, the other band that guitarist, Daniel Burton, and drummer, Rory Leitch, came out from. Their sound is Burton's whispery vocals, a slow-core rock rhythm and a rhythm guitar riff that never fails to take over the whole song. Most of the tracks end off with down-tempo Neil Young guitar jams (Ed: take note that this is the third "Sons of Neil Young" bands that we have reviewed after Damien Jurado and Jason Molina).

The songs are gorgeously evocative. As Burton has once said: "I've always been drawn to the open, non-interpretive nature of instrumental music, so it's been a goal of mine with Early Day Miners to try and do as little narrative steering with the lyrics as possible. I like the idea of the occasional audible lyric being much like a vision passing in the night. It might construct an idea and send you thinking in a particular direction, but still manages to remain elusive."

So don't worry if you can't figure out what New Holland is about. The spine-tingling two-part harmony is enough. Or on the final track, Cotillion, when Burton sings: "What can we do to bring us together/to make us one." That could be about the Civil War as much as about a couple but who cares. That elusiveness makes this perfect late-night listening, before you realise that night has become day. - Philip Cheah

 

THE MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO
The Magnolia Electric Co [Secretly Canadian]

Having appeared on more than 50 records since 1996, Jason Molina aka The Magnolia Electric Co, The Pyramid Electric Co, Songs:Ohia, The Amalgamated Sons of Rest and many others is an artiste who doesn't need bootlegging. Almost everything he's got is out there already. Consider this, even his demos for The Magnolia Electric Co is available on the first 1,000 copies of the CD as a bonus.

In fact, Molina and many others such as Damien Jurado are this generation's sons of Neil Young. Young, however, canned most of the stuff he wrote and is a bootlegger's holy grail. But Molina and this generation make the point for cheaper CDs. They don't want to bleed you. They just want their music created and heard.

Magnolia is a band project, sort of Molina doing a Young and Crazy Horse, grooving along. Unfortunately, it's not as great as Young's Tonight's the Night, it's more in the league of American Stars n Bars.

But it is Molina's most upbeat record to date, groove-wise, eventhough it's steeped in melancholia. The first track Farewell Tranmission till the last Hold on Magnolia is Molina watching the end, his own and otherwise. Just Be Simple is a beautiful ballad lamenting a fake friend and a lost love. But the continuity is marred by Molina introducing guest vocalists, one for a genre country number, The Old Black Hen.

The other stand-out track is I've Been Riding with the Ghost where Molina sings: "See I ain't getting better/ I am only getting behind/Standing on the crossroad trying to make up my mind/Trying to remember how it got so late/Why every night pain comes from a different place." (7.5) - Philip Cheah

 

1 GIANT LEAP
1 Giant Leap [Palm Pictures]

1 Giant Leap is what you can call a globalised digital field recording. So the duo, Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Catto (ex-Faithless) travelled to 25 countries from India to Africa with their faithful digital recorder "to explore unity in diversity." What emerges is tapestry of rap, pop and world music in an electronica setting with acts as diverse as Michael Franti, Michael Stipe, Speech to Baaba Maal and Asha Bhosle.

But by way of field recordings, here's the problem. Field recordings historically have been concerned with the local, not the global. From Alan Lomax to Harry Smith, what these early pioneers were more concerned with was understanding local talent and documenting it..

1 Giant Leap is more akin to 1985's We Are the World and that's why you have here the inclusion of world-famous acts such as Robbie Williams and Michael Stipe. And like We Are the World, 1 Giant Leap is a hotch-potch of hit and miss. Last time "unity in diversity" worked was the original Woodstock or even the Concert For Bangladesh.

Having said that, certain moments shine through as on Michael Franti's Passion and Asha Bhosle on The Way You Dream. At its best, 1 Giant Leap encourages you to seek out, say, the original Baaba Maal CDs. At its worst, it makes you think that there is a level global playing field. - Philip Cheah

 

MASSIVE ATTACK
100th Window [Virgin]

For their fourth full-length, Massive Attack explore the fragile tension of everyday life. Vocalists featured are mainstay Horace Andy, founding member 3-D, and veteran newcomer, Sinead O'Connor. This is a dark yet ethereal digital journey, full of depth and dissonance, more than their usual collage of soul, dub, beats and rhymes. Voices surround you in dark atmosphere, effected and delayed into echoing whispers, shards of sound, trails of a soul.

These are lullabies for a world falling apart, shattering into pieces, much like the glass figure on the cover, perhaps falling from the album's title, "100th Window." Digital pulses replace beats while heavy synths and Middle Eastern influenced strings pull at your emotions. Living somewhere between Pole, Radiohead and Sigur Ros, their new album is basically a platform for 3-D to showcase his talents as vocalist, arranger, and conceptualist. "100th Window" is also co-produced by Neil Davidge who helped flesh out "Mezzanine." Nine tracks at over 70-minutes, recommended!! — Pang Peow Yeong


[EDITOR’S NOTE: The album’s title is taken from a book about digital surveillance and online identity theft by US privacy activists Charles Jennings and Lori Fena. Massive Attack’s 3-D was recently arrested and his computer seized for alleged child porn offences. 3-D is also a leading anti-war advocate.]

 

YO LA TENGO
Nuclear War [Matador]

After reading incredibly ignorant pro-war newspaper editorials, my only salvation was playing Yo La Tengo's recent Nuclear War EP (released last November). A cover of Sun Ra's famous 1982 album of the same name, our favourite Hoboken heroic trio take us through four versions of the title track.

It's basically a free jazz free jam, with the first cut played straight with a loose percussive atmosphere powered by Georgia Hubley with James McNew on vocal. But it's the second track that makes you sit up. Here, the band does a call-and-response with an 11-member children's choir. And it's really delicious to hear the kids shout out "motherfucker" because here's the juxtaposition: what's more vulgar - the word "motherfucker" or nuclear war?

On Track Three, World War III takes place with a 15-minute free jazz jam with guests Roy Campbell Jr, Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen on horns and Susie Ibarra and Josh Madell on percussion. That's what all wars should be - glorious dissension on music.

Anyway, here's what Sun Ra has to say to pro-war columnists: "Nuclear war, they're talking about nuclear war/it's a motherfucker, don't you know/if they push that button, your ass gotta go/and whatcha gonna do, without your ass." - Philip Cheah

 

GEORGE MICHAEL
Shoot The Dog [Polydor]

How perceptive. Released a good six months or more before the present drama of war in Iraq, former pop superstar George Michael took a stab at protest songwriting with Shoot The Dog, a dancey-electronica number that calls Tony Blair a "good puppy." It did nothing on the charts and further estranged Michael with a music business he seemingly despises, Shoot The Dog also lacks that chant-along chorus that all good popular anthems have. But the inclusion of the full video is a real treat as the song works better with the visual element. This CD single, with two bonus mixes, can be bought in Malaysia. You are warned that it is really hard to find. It seems these days it's easier to start a war. Why? - Michael Cheah

 

NICK CAVE
Nocturama [Mute]

The extroverted catharsis of Nick Cave has continued to evolve with each record, while his venomous swagger still attains those familiar precarious heights of drama, "Nocturama" comes the closest to revealing something that we haven't been allowed to see before... the real man. I could be wrong but most of the songs, written in the first-person perspective, are overflowing with a strange newfound beauty. Is this what marital bliss sounds like?

He is joined again by the two Bad Seed lifers Blixa Bargeld and Mick Harvey, with help from Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos, Thomas Wydler, Martyn Casey, and Chris Bailey of the Saints (who sings on "Bring It On"). "Nocturama" is brooding, explosive, reflective, and possibly Nick Cave's most fully realised and consistent record to date. I look forward to the rumbling torrent that these songs will churn up live when they on tour later this year. The initial copies of the CD are packaged with a limited bonus DVD that contains a performance of "Babe I'm On Fire." - Pang Peow Yeong

 

SONGS: OHIA
The Magnolia Electric Co. [Secretly Canadian]

Recorded live with a backing band in Steve Albini's studio, Jason Molina's latest Songs: Ohia album is filled with soulful rock for the working class. Opening with "Farewell Transmission," the slide of a lap steel guitar introduces the record and when the whole band kicks in you expect to hear Molina sing "Old man look at my life" in his best Neil Young voice. His lyrics are intimate and paint a nostalgic picture of the good days passed and hope for better days ahead.

Albini's production is flawless, warm but far from overcooked you could hear these songs comfortably sandwiched between the blue collar anthems and odes that would blast from a juke box above the din of cue ball smacks in any smoke-filled Midwestern dive bar, circa 1977. Jennie Benford (Jim and Jennie and the Pinetops) returns to add some mandolin and vocal backing, but it's two guest appearances that, for a few minutes, steal the album spotlight from Molina. Lawrence Peters steps up to the mic during the country/western ballad "The Old Black Hen," his deep swaggering croon could easily be mistaken for Merle Haggard. "Peoria Lunchbox Blues" follows with Secretly Canadian staple Scout Niblett giving a haunting, almost Chan Marshall-like performance.

Amid the slower sentiments and some rocking moments, Molina's soul-searching is always heartfelt. "Hold On Magnolia," finishes the record with one last bit of lonesome hope. Molina explains in a throaty waver, "You might be the last light I see, before the dark gets a hold of me." Includes limited edition bonus CD with home recorded demos of several album tracks and more. - Pang Peow Yeong


DAMIEN JURADO
Where Shall You Take Me? [Secretly Canadian]

 

In his fifth outing, singer-songwriter Damien Jurado is taking us to his badlands - his land of darkness and semi-darkness. As he once said: "I write two kinds of songs: either really happy sounding with semi-dark lyrics or sad-sounding with dark lyrics." With his voice a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, the sound ranges between the former's stripped-down Nebraska and the latter's rocking band, Crazy Horse. But the music lifts above that with some gorgeous bluegrass harmonies, as on Window. And the melodies are truly haunting, as on the mysterious Omaha.

But what's more mysterious are the dark themes. Amateur Night seems like a rape about to take place, Intoxicated Hands sounds like a drunken confession while Bad Dreams is a desperate plea to wake up. Where Shall You Take Me? is Damien Jurado's invitation to his secret places, where the music resonates at 3am, and only seems brighter because of the moonlight. And as in the song Omaha, if you journey enough over Jurado's bleak terrain, it will know you by name. - Philip Cheah

 

NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS
Nocturama (Mute)

There is something fucked-up about Nick Cave that makes him as classic and compelling as Tom Waits. It's something that you can't quite say about the recorded works of Frank Sinatra and it's something that even Pat Boone tried to capture on his heavy metal album a few yeas ago.

Yet Cave still feels the need to up the ante on his fucked-upness. Hence unlike the previous No More Shall We Part, the new Nocturama, his12th album, veers away from pre-arranged songs with detailed parts. Instead, Cave wrote songs spontaneously and put them aside. The music was created entirely in the studio. One of the great successes is the Dylanesque-closing track, Babe, I'm On Fire, which at 15 minutes, features 39 verses. It's a rock 'n' roll stream-of-consciousness with hilarious and sometimes brutal lyrics: "The brave Buddhist monk says Babe, I'm on fire, Babe, I'm on fire." It's a desperate love song that encompasses all sorts of desperation and you can imagine this in numerous live concert settings in innumerable permutations.

The album begins in classic Cave tragic realism. Wonderful Life says it all: "It's a wonderful life if you can find it." The gentle piano ballads, He Wants You and Right Out Of Your Hand, are still warm and moving.

But the single, Bring It On, signals a throwaway ordinariness that many of the following tracks suffer from. In recent times, Cave's Murder Ballads and The Boatman's Call are highs that seem insurmountable. Nocturama tends to admit that. (6.5) - Philip Cheah

 

THE ROLLING STONES
Let It Bleed [ABKCO]

The Strokes, The Libertines, The Hives, The Datsuns all wanna rock with guitars. Searching for the lost chord to return the masses back to rock music’s roots — downtown NYC, circa 1979. They miss by a moonlight mile.

Ten years earlier in ‘69, the Stones were in similar dire straits, brooding after the massive letdown of Their Satanic Majesties Request and the non-existence of any hits from the Beggar’s Banquet album. Let It Bleed arrived - begged, borrowed and stolen - from their American friend Gram Parsons. Its country honk was the persuasive harp and slide guitar that Parsons impressed upon Keith Richards. It was a slice of what Parsons called the Cosmic American Music. What we now term "Americana" or "alt.country".

If the Stones were to break America, Jagger and Richards reckoned they had to do it with "American" music. Let It Bleed roared with a rebel yell [compared to the Beatles’ artful White Album]. It also waved goodbye to the idealism of the ‘60s with a graceful final track, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, complete with Al Kooper’s French horn, and the London Bach Choir arranged by Jack Nitzche.

The front cover, a decorated cream cake, represented ‘60s idealism. On the back sleeve, a slice had been removed on the fragile, crumbling cake, the visual of You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

Let It Bleed was a historical bookend. It summed up the end of the hippie dream, it made one last desperate plea with Gimme Shelter and bowed out with the prophetic title track to let it bleed.

Their comeback tour of America in ’69 was a riot. Jagger crafted an image of himself as Mr D, lascivious and dangerous. The shows drew on the darker songs from the Beggar’s album and Let It Bleed. But he was playing with fire. The recently reissued Gimme Shelter DVD* showed how it all got out of hand at Altamont, with the drugs and fights and one brutal murder in front of the stage while the Stones were playing Under My Thumb. Here was the visual for Let It Bleed.

They’d move on to their drugs phase with Sticky Fingers and Exile before decamping to become pop icons for the ‘70s and to be part of the industry that promised to make them superstars and celebrities.

Forgotten in all the hoopla was Gram Parsons. But on the album his influence was everywhere, in the guitars’ twang, the blowing mouth harp and the country feel of the music. The vital ingredient the Stones added to Americana was a stylish power that neither the Burritos nor the Stone Ponys nor the Buffalo Springfield then had. There was menace in Midnight Rambler, a double edge threat in You Got The Silver and the macho chauvinism in Live With Me. The record sleeve brayed — PLAY IT LOUD which Americana wasn’t.

Their lesson was how to co-opt and use new sounds with an unbridled energy that you’d think it was theirs. Eminem has figured this out from rap. The Strokes and company don’t mouth their insouciance with any authority or integrity. When The Datsuns from New Zealand sing Mother****er From Hell, you wonder which sheep they are referring to.

The new reissue comes 16 years after Let It Bleed was first issued on CD. It boasts a brand new digital remaster on the Super Audio CD format. The sheer presence of Jagger front and centre is a visceral experience. Then you’d have to contend with both Keith and Mick Taylor’s guitars and the always hard-hitting Stones rhythm section. Frankly, if ABKCO had just bothered to carefully remaster Let It Bleed, they could have put it out in this quality a long time ago. Thankfully, we are facing falling prices right now, so if you shop around wisely in $ingapore, you can pick this up anywhere from S$19 to S$27.

A word of caution — our copy was sticky on the CD’s edge indicating that the glue binding the aluminium to the plastic may one day turn all gooey and wet as has happened with some laser disc pressings. — Michael Cheah

[*The Gimme Shelter DVD is banned in da $ingapura]

 

MASSIVE ATTACK
100th Window [Virgin]

When I heard Blue Lines, Massive Attack's first album, I was struck by the ironic appropriateness of the group's name. Indeed, the beauty of the band lay in their understated attack, so gentle yet so massive its effect on one's emotions. Drawing from rap, hip-hop, soul, dub and a host of invisible black influences, Massive Attack created a sound that was utterly their own, yet so universal. This was to carry through into their following work, including the brilliantly soulful dub album with Mad Professor. However, something started going missing with Mezzanine.

On the current album, this has become more obvious. The unique yet traditions-infused sound has given way to a generalised electronica common to many second-rate groups out there. The music is suitably atmospheric but lacking any real punch. In earlier work, the lyrics and the way Horace Andy and company vocalised them aroused emotions that were hard to pin down but felt very real. Here, in attempting fractured and oblique lyrics, what came across is not so much an openness of meaning but an emptiness of it. The emotional core of the music is empty.

This seems to be a problem too in one too many bands out there today. One cannot fault Massive Attack for trying to move beyond their earlier successes, but in attempting something new they seem to have lost the edge that kept their music vital. Ultimately, I see Blue Lines as a great blues album, with themes that are eternal and a sound that is now. The blues are nothing without the emotional edge, and currently Massive Attack have lost that edge. – Sim Pern Yiau

 

ERIC SKYE
Acoustic Jazz Guitar Solos [Standard Jazz]

You don't have to know about Eric Skye's problems figuring out the "moving bass line" or his finger picking technique to appreciate this. As Acoustic Jazz Guitar Solos so vividly explains, here are 12 pop and jazz standards [by Richard Rodgers, Ellington, Jobim, Gershwin etc] made to sound simple, yet played with such finesse it will be much appreciated by guitarists fearful of playing acoustic jazz. Skye has a way of making it all sound so simple. And your wife or girlfriend won't walk out the room when this jazz is played. For audiophiles and lounge lizards making out. - Michael Cheah

 

MIRANDA SOUND
Engaged In Labor [Standard Recording Company]

If you've been missing Losing My Religion era R.E.M., this four-piece from Columbus, Ohio comes close to replicating those quirky melodies. In singer Billy Peake, they have found a Michael Stipe. But Engaged In Labor, their sophomore effort, adds that power pop ingredient with catchy tunes, vocal harmonies and artful production. This band knows how to use cellos, pianos, synthesizers and a vintage organ to make them sound grand. The one word that best describes Miranda Sound is smart. - Michael Cheah

 

LL COOL J
10 [Def Jam]

Probably the only survivor from the mid- to late-'80s "Golden Age of Rap" to still be around and active in making music (not to mention the odd Hollywood foray or two), James Todd Smith aka "Ladies Love Cool J" has a Teflon-like ability to let the usual career-killing perils that dog premier hip-hop star just slip off him. Album number 10 is a reason to celebrate for any artist and in the imaginatively titled "10," LL raps, brags and looks back at his adventures in the rap game with a little bit of self-inspired awe. Perhaps it's his middle ground stance that keeps him in line; he likes girls, not ho's and he's pretty careful not to tread into gang-bangin'.

In Born To Love You, he spouts a little about his philosophy: "The family man that got one baby mother/The way I brainwash y'all to love one another/And got the whole community bouncin in unity." It gets cringe-worthy at times ("It's a brand new me/a brand new you/A brand new day, sky so blue/Hold my hand while I walk with you/Sit on my lap, lemme talk to you/No more games callin' you foul names/Actin' like females is all the same/I'm gon' love you better/my mentality changed" - Luv U Better). No Glocks, no Uzis, just a good guy rapper making his millions. Of course, there's also the obligatory nod to Brooklyn and Queens, plus the inclusion of NY homies like Method Man and P Diddy.

Being derivative is usually a minor crime in hip-hop but a pioneer like LL should have his wrists slapped a bit for borrowing too much, production-wise on some tracks - especially on the aforementioned Born To Love You, which sounds too similar to N.E.R.D.'s Lap Dance for comfort. And it might be akin to felony to not have at least one Neptunes track in any respectable post-millennial hip-hop album (brilliant though the track, Niggy Nuts, is) but LL could have been more adventurous in picking beatmasters, given his stature. Then again, the rapper has long ceased to be an originator back in the day and perhaps it's his MOR stance that will see him through a few more albums yet. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

 

INDIA.ARIE
Voyage To India [Motown]

Neo-soul might not sell as much or match the seedier and raunchier side of R&B in terms of worldwide influence but India.Arie’s not about to let that bother her in her sophomore effort. And it doesn’t look as if she’s in any way disappointed with the 2002 Grammy drama where her debut album, Acoustic Soul, garnered seven nominations but won nothing. The woman with the Ghandi-inspired moniker has a beautiful voice, like a less tawdry Beyonce Knowles or Erykah Badu minus the kookiness. The songs are stripped raw — most of the tracks feature just acoustic guitars and subtle shuffle beats — and it accentuates her vocals nicely.

Thankfully, she doesn’t dwell too much in reactionary "I am woman, hear me roar" type songs that counter against misogyny in contemporary black music but if you get irritated by the semi-New Age self empowerment type of songs of love and hope ("I release all these disappointment/ From my mental physical spiritual and emotional body/ Cause I know that spirit guides me/ And love lives inside me/ That's why today I take life as it comes" — Healing) then it's probably wise to skip this album. Voyage To India is already nominated for the 2003 Grammy Album of the Year award but it would be ironic if the snooty judges decide to give it to her, as her debut had a bigger relevance to the female urban singer-songwriter scene. — Eddino Abdul Hadi

 

JUSTIN VOLLMAR
Every Place Is Home [BlueSanct]

Justin Vollmar is a young man who grew up in the American West, and this album is a collection of new contemporary folk songs. One can compare his singing style to early Leonard Cohen, all effortlessness masking a profound depth. But while Cohen's simple style carries great passion, profundity and the richness of biblical myths, Vollmar's voice and themes are more directly married in that a highly untheatrical singing style conveys an equally undramatic, almost blase mood. The 11 songs here are strung together loosely by the concept of a young man searching for a home and discovering himself in a journey. Such themes have resulted in much struggle and angst-filled music from the West but here instead of tension the young man is almost like a detached pilgrim observing life and his place in it. The music is generally simple, affective and the found sound elements contribute to the unique character of this folk album. The only grouse is that at times the lines feel oblique rather than profound, and that is always a fine line to tread. — Sim Pern Yiau

 

SEA AND CAKE
One Bedroom [Thrill Jockey]

Put on any new Sea and Cake album and without looking at the cover art, there's no question who the band is. Their signature sound of breezy, jazz inflected pop with light touches of spacey electronics and, of course, Sam Prekop's breathy melodies is instantly recognizable, yet after almost a decade, the group still sounds fresh with every recording. Obviously, when your band includes seasoned Chicago music vets like Archer Prewitt and John McEntire, there's no shortage of creativity and on their latest, "One Bedroom," the reconvened ensemble play with new energy.

Frequently, the beats skitter while the electronic textures shimmer more than ever and the melodic interplay between Prekop and Prewitt's guitars continue to weave around delicate synth sounds. McEntire's percussion styling is immaculate, frequently blending live drums with loops; "Hotel Tell" bounces along a pseudo-house beat and is complete with blips and gurgles. The album's overall feeling is sunnier, especially when Prekop's breathy croon draws out the word 'summertime' during the verse of "Shoulder Length". This AM radio friendliness continues during the backing 'ahhhhhh's' in the slower, drifting "Interiors," which half-way through suddenly picks up the tempo and races to its finish, egged on by a fuzzed out guitar. The sweet icing on this cake comes when the album closes with the vocal assistance from the Aluminum Group's Navin brothers during a pretty faithful version of David Bowie's "Sound and Vision." - Pang Peow Yeong

 

JA RULE
The Last Temptation [Def Jam]

The lead-off single from Ja Rule’s fourth album says it all — Mesmerise is cast almost from the same mould that made his previous "thug" radio friendly hits like Always On Time. Get the highly-bankable Ashanti on the hook and rap in that gravely voice about how’d he’d like to take his woman "witcha skirt on/On the backstreet in the back seat of the Yukon." Hey, it worked really well on the past two albums so let the royalties roll right in. It’s not a secret that Ja Rule isn’t exactly blessed with a flow futuristic; he keeps on telling us how thug he is but he’s smart enough to know that the easy goin’ R&B formula will appease his tunes to both ladies and the fellas.

The rapper might also have felt obligated to have Neptune banger Pop Nigg*s on the album — and it’s a good thing he did because it’s a sure-fire club razer. Otherwise the only other standout track is The Pledge (Remix) — it features NY wonder boy Nas’ first initiation into the Murder Inc clique. It’s weird to hear Nas rep his new label’s props shamelessly but as a lyricist he’s still exceptional: "you cowards/Y'all want the crown from the black power man of Asia" (Albert Anastasia) puts the album owner’s own verses to shame. The song also features the ghost of Tupac Shakur as Ja Rule brags about how akin they are — down to copping Tupac’s trademark chuckle. Ja might have a divine-inspired moniker for the album and portrayed himself in a holy fashion all over the album sleeve but the man looks like he certainly needs divine intervention if he’s to take rap to another level. — Eddino Abdul Hadi

 

ELK CITY
Hold Tight The Ropes [Talitres Records]

It's strange that after their debut album, Status, which was not only delicate and magical; Elk City should turn rockist with their recent album, Hold Tight The Ropes (2002). Basically an indie psychedelic folk trio from New York, Elk City started getting rave reviews with Status (2000). The songs were emotional and atmospheric, almost ethereal. But on Hold Tight The Ropes, that fragile feel has been shattered by a straight-ahead rock sound. The subtlety that was such a defining quality of Status has been bludgeoned into overstatement on such tracks as Don't Fight What You've Become or Summer Song. Anthemic ain't how Elk City should be remembered. Skip this one and check out Status if you haven't heard Elk City yet. — Philip Cheah

 

WILLEM MENGELBERG
Johannes Brahms, Syms No. 2 and 4 [Teldec]

Known for his over-interpretative style, Willem Mengelberg's recording is immensely dramatic, to an almost cinematic style. Dwelling deep, there are some passionate playing which seems very nice at first, but later too passionate for real, and sometimes, sadly, monotonous. For most of the movements, the strings take centrestage but so much more could have been made of the different orchestral textures. More of the woodwind and their pastoral voices, for instance, would have made a difference. More patient pacing of the music would have given a better experience, and a little more detail from different perspectives would have given this recording a better stand. Much too has to be excused on the reproduction of this historical recording, and, most of all, it is a rare find. For any serious music lover, this will make a nice nostalgic trip. — Sarah Tan


An EP you shouldn’t miss out is Yo La Tengo’s Nuclear War [Matador CD or 12"]. We failed to get a copy at the local Borders and our copy is in transit at the moment. But here’s a review of that Yo La release from Wire by David Keenan.

"Yo La Tengo’s take on Sun Ra’s recently exhumed apocalyptic street rap Nuclear War is a beauty. The first track features the YLT trio of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew laying out on percussion, while Kaplan leads the call and response. He milks the lines about kissing your ass goodbye for all they’re worth, before passing the mic to Hubley with a ‘tell them about it Georgia’. By way of response she pricelessly deadpans, ‘If they push that button, your ass got to go’.

"Version two adds a riotous chorus of kids and amorphous electronics, and it’s a blast to hear said kids getting righteous about the fate of the planet with gleeful cries of ‘It’s a mother****er, don’t you know?’. Version three is a big band blowout, with Kaplan adding a simple piano motif, a percussive backline swollen to include Josh Madell and Susie Ibarra, and the horns of Roy Campbell Jr, Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen, who blow some startling solos half way through, while disrupting Kaplan’s choral arrangement. Who knows, maybe this time round Nuclear War will finally achieve the crossover success that Sun Ra always predicted for it?"

 

PEARL JAM
Riot Act [Sony]

I will admit that on first listen I was not overly excited about the album, but it grows on you. Riot Act is the work of a mature band, and while it's not Ten, the intricacy behind the album makes it a delight after a good 33 listens. Love Boat Captain is a beautiful, fast-paced tune of triumph with lyrics such as "if there is one word I still believe, it's love." It almost shows a man who had lost all hope in the world, but rekindles the flames of happiness with the feeling of love.

Ballads do dominate the album, but they are in good taste, evolving from the Bianural moments of boredom. Help Help has a haunting feel to a psychodrama trip, while nice breaks in all the right moments make Cropduster a great rock song. The president gets a deserved poetic tongue-lashing in Bushleaguer, one of the very few political-protest rock songs around today.

On this subject, of interest is the influence of drummer Matt Cameron, formerly of Soundgarden, who greatly enhances the band's sound. His beats are solid throughout, and his composition, You Are, is a standout with a pulsing, almost electronica distorted guitar and atmospherics reminiscent of the more adventurous grunge of his former band, circa Superunknown.

Musically, this album continues the experimentation with rhythms and world music that emerged first on Vitalogy. (Eddie Vedder's attempted qawwali singing on Arc brings the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to mind.) There are some crowd-pleasing, ready rock classics in Get Right, Ghost and Half Full, with wah wah-pedals and signature solos that characterised the band's early works. However, there is nothing that quite matches the anthemic status of Alive, Jeremy or Black from Ten, but comparisons are not always helpful. This is a new era, and the songs are fresh avenues of experimentation. You’ll see a picture of a band constantly reinventing itself and rejuvenating what in other hands would rapidly degenerated into tired, old repertoire. — Adam Md Yusop



GOODBYE GIRL FRIDAY
Mr. and Mrs. (SUS4 Recordings)

One of the nicest aspects of jazz-pop trio, Goodbye Girl Friday, is their use of the Rhodes electric piano. It’s a retro '60s instrument and its classic, mellow sound is still cool today. It also sets the trio’s music in a laid-back mode. But pleasing jazz pop with smart lyrics (for example, the title track is an indictment of hypocrites) still isn’t enough when the whole sound is too obviously reminiscent of Steely Dan in their Gaucho period. — Philip Cheah


 

GOOD CHARLOTTE
Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous [Epic]

They are fun, cuddly and even bring in a few wise words to their album. Some claim they put the spunk back in punk! Their second full-tilt album suggests both the humour and swagger of the Beastie Boys and the punk angst of Everclear. They might have swiped their name from a children's story, but with their thoughtful lyrics and thrashing guitars, Good Charlotte's pop-punk is hardly kiddie fare. Good Charlotte have made a brilliant pop-punk record proving them capable of being atop today's hottest pop-punk groups like Blink 182, New Found Glory, Saves The Day and Sum 41.

On these 14 new original songs, all co-written by GC founding members and identical twin brothers Benji and Joel, the melodies are more diverse and the playing edge is more aggressive. The album starts with a beautiful classical piece, reminiscent of a Disney’s fantasy movie, quickly launching into the three-chord guitar madness that gives the song some similarities to NoFx's peaking styles. Shortly after, the introduction blends in with the distorted guitar effects of as frontman Joel begins to sing The Anthem — a song for the so-called "losers" in every junior high and high school across America, the ones who are shunned and mocked for their appearance or their foreign background or their lack of money, "a song that would help them get through the day. It's a song that could help them say, 'hey, bring it on-it won't bother me because I don't wanna be like you'." Every track reveals new textured maturity, expanded creativity, and hard-won wisdom.

Whether sincere or just wanting to make money, this simply doesn't matter, as Good Charlotte's lyrics are quite inspirational for today's youth and are capable of bringing upon higher learning for those fans that like to pay attention. — Adam Md Yusop

 

SERGEI NAKARIAKOV
Echoes From The Past [Teldec]

Trumpet music is fine, but to please any ear at all, it must be handled with great care very few can offer. For a nice surprise, Teldec offers a world-class performer and, as a subtle celebratory act, this album marks 10 years of Sergei Nakariakov's recording career. A high-flying trumpet player who has performed widely, been guided and played with big names, he offers a repertoire quite out of the ordinary. This album in particular features works from Hummel, Mozart, Weber and Saint-Saens, of which the first three works were written for bassoon and orchestra, and the last, for cello and orchestra, and all of which were transcribed for the trumpet, and flugelhorn.

All are pretty and charming works which are tackled with great taste, patience and sophistication. His playing is always gentle, never blasting, generously filled with tonal shape and beauty. His faultless playing not only gives long lavish vocal-like melodic lines, but also light staccatos in arpeggiation. For his soft passionate charm, this album is highly recommended; it redefines an instrument's beauty in a way that is far and few in between. — Sarah Tan


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