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KRCC’s Delvin Neugebauer reviews new releases from Beastie Boys, Lloyd Cole, Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi, Dum Dum Girls, The Feelies, Sarah Jaffe and The Watson Twins. All the albums reviewed are recent additions to KRCC’s music library. Tune in to any of the Music Mix programs on KRCC to hear selections from these new releases.
Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
When the Beastie Boys’ debut LP Licensed to Ill became 1986’s most popular party album, everyone had an opinion about the New York-based trio. Fans hailed the disc’s success as proof that hip-hop had become a legitimate force in the musical mainstream. Detractors accused the Beasties of using rap as a gimmick, or simply dismissed them as an overgrown juvenile joke. And a lot of parents saw their obnoxious image as the latest pop-culture threat to public decency. Yes, everyone seemed to have an opinion about the Beasties … but it’s a safe bet no one thought they’d still be around a quarter-century later, or that a new Beastie Boys release would still command attention, let alone respect. Mike Diamond, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Adam “MCA” Yauch certainly have earned the right to boast about their status as elder statesmen; in Hot Sauce Committee Part Two’s opening track, “Make Some Noise,” MCA raps, “I burn the competition like a flamethrower/My rhymes, they age like wine as I get older/I’m gettin’ bolder, competition is wanin’/I got the ball and I see the lane in.” They don’t pretend to be staying on top of hip-hop trends as they get older, or even keeping up with the latest slang or catchphrases: in the electro-pop track “OK” (whose vocoderized hook echoes the group’s 1998 hit “Intergalactic”), they actually drop the phrase “Be kind, rewind” as if it’ll mean something to a generation that’s grown up on DVDs, BluRay and movies on demand. The group can even joke about its longevity: at one point, Mike D exclaims, “Oh my god, just look at me/Grandpa been rappin’ since ‘83.” The trio sticks to what it knows and likes best, and pays tribute to its original inspirations and if those references are lost on anyone, well, that’s what Google is for. With its low-down funk groove, cowbell, and metallic echo on the voices, “Nonstop Disco Powerpack” is an homage to the early Sugarhill Records rapper Spoonie Gee (who gets a shout-out in the lyrics). Over the urgent organ and rhythm guitar of “Long Burn The Fire,” MCA name-checks another pioneering rapper: “I’m the type of MC with the most pizzazz/You’re stealin’ my book like I was Grandmaster Caz.” (The Beasties aren’t above lifting from someone else’s book, though: on two different songs, the group takes lines wholesale from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”) “Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament” sounds a lot like Kraftwerk, with its unrushed, funky synth-pop groove and electronically altered voices in the margins. (Oddly, for such a politically charged title, the rap on this track has no message, or even any narrative to speak of.) With its fast beat, thick bass and haze of guitar noise, “Lee Majors Come Again” serves as a reminder that the trio started out as a punk rock band. And the group merits respect from other hip-hop artists even an accomplished one like Nas, who delivers the chorus of “Too Many Rappers”: “One, two, three/Too many rappers and there’s still not enough MCs/It goes three, two, one/MCA, Ad-Rock, Mike D/That’s how we get it done.” The Beasties aren’t breaking new ground on Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, but they clearly weren’t trying to. More likely, their goal was more straightforward: to deliver 2011’s most popular party album. Well done, guys.
On his eighth solo album, English singer/songwriter Lloyd Cole comes up with a set of detailed, literate songs about heartbreak and loneliness, and performs them with sunny pop arrangements that make their lyrical details just that much more startling. The title track is a banjo waltz with steel guitar; Cole sings about a flighty lover always moving on to the next romantic interest: “Not that I have that much dignity left anyway/Nor could I feign great surprise once you finally walked away/Yesterday’s lover will fall for another/And I won’t stand in her way.” The delicate mandolin opening of “Writers Retreat!” leads into a solid country rocker about a preoccupied paramour: “You’ve got nothing today, so you crank out another screenplay/About a writer without ideas/And a lover she pushes away.” “The Flipside” is a slower number that includes this remarkable image: “Five fingernails above the abyss/Hanging on your kiss.” Over an acoustic guitar and rim-shot rhythm, the protagonist of “Why in the World?” tries, in the face of the evidence, to hang onto the dream of love: “You’ve got a working illusion/In the palm of your hand/Why in the world would you want to lose that?/I clung to believing/Just as long as I could/How in the world could you fail to see that?” “That’s Alright” is another steady country-rock number with ringing dual guitars on the break; Cole sings in this one, “Loving you is hard enough/Leaving, just more of the same/Any time I get far enough/Your gravity kicks in again/Till I’m your lonely satellite/Oh mama, that’s alright.” From start to finish, the musicians on this disc perform beautifully, and there’s always a hint of ache in Cole’s warm baritone that makes the songs’ sentiments believable. Broken Record is an excellent, fresh-sounding record from an artist whose songwriting deserves to reach a wider audience. Check this one out.
Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi
Over the past decade, producer/DJ Danger Mouse has racked up a long résumé of creatively fruitful collaborations. For his latest, D.M. has written the soundtrack to an imaginary spaghetti Western with Italian composer/arranger Daniele Luppi. The opening theme sets the mood for the disc, moving on slow, tribal-sounding drums, with a stark acoustic guitar, tight, spare bass notes and Hammond organ; then a martial snare ushers in the orchestra, along with a soulful soprano voice. “Roman Blue” moves to a 3/4 beat, its acoustic guitar strum working as counterpoint against crisp, chopped electric guitar; echoey, twangy guitar notes blip through as the orchestra carries the melody. Spanish guitar trades the melody back and forth with celeste in “The Gambling Priest”; “The Matador Has Fallen,” contrary to its title, is one of the sunnier moments on the album, with a faster beat and an organ motif similar to the one in “House of the Rising Sun.” Several brief interludes sound as if they’re played on music boxes; a listener can picture such a wind-up box sitting near an open window in a house somewhere in the high plains town the only sound to be heard before the climactic gunfight. The musicians on Rome chiefly are Italian musical veterans who performed on classic spaghetti Western soundtracks in the Sixties and Seventies, including the Cantori Moderni choir (which sang on the soundtrack of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly). Two different lead vocalists appear as well, their songs evoking classic characters that fans of those old Westerns will find familiar. Jack White sings the role of the sinister avenging cowboy, facing his own demons over the acoustic guitar and wah-wah accents of “Two Against One” (“Make no mistake, I don’t do anything for free/I keep my enemies closer than my mirror ever gets to me/And if you think that there is shelter in this attitude/Wait till you feel the warmth of my gratitude/I get the feeling that it’s two against one/I’m already fighting me, so what’s another one?”) and vowing to be one of somebody else’s demons in “The World” (“Welcome to your own abuse/Your greed is your own hangman’s noose … Your heart’s what’s left behind you/And I am behind you too.”). Norah Jones sings the character of the lonely young woman in the western town whose worldview (and probably a lot more) gets shaken up when the mysterious stranger rides into town. In “Season’s Trees,” Jones sings, “Every girl gets her dreams cast into reality/Never seemed to bother me/Only just recently.” Eventually, the loner rides out of town when his work there is done, leaving the “Problem Queen” to dwell on him: “I wake up and you’re gone from me/This lonely shell of shock/Helps me to imagine you/But more often than not/I’m all alone.” In “Black,” she sings about going “to the church, no intent to repent/On my knees just to cry,” and assures the listener, “Until you travel to that place, you can’t come back/Where the last pain is gone/And all that’s left is black.” Rome is a vivid, engaging album that works equally well as background music or as listening to get lost in. Highly recommended.
Dum Dum Girls
He Gets Me High
On this brief EP, the Dum Dum Girls offer four songs about romantic obsession. Singing through the fuzzy bass, snarling guitar and thuddy spare drums of the title track, frontwoman Dee Dee sings, “I hold my breath till you come back/The picture’s blank, the picture’s blank/I promise not to call you back/But heaven knows I can’t keep that.” The protagonist of the galloping, twangy “Wrong Feels Right” sings to an illicit lover, “Dream away/The realness of the day/Dream away/The reasons I can’t stay.” In the slower number “Take Care of My Baby,” she sings, “I haven’t seen you for so long/Do you wonder what I’m up to?/Do I ever cross your mind?/We build up these things we cling to/There is never enough time.” The Girls wrap up the EP with a rather sunny rendition of The Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” (It’s a rare band that can offer a Smiths cover as light relief.) With help from Raveonettes guitarist Sune Rose Wagner, producer Richard Gottehrer gives the songs a classic garage-rock sound, heavy on the echo but still a bit clearer than the L.A.-based quartet’s relatively noisy debut. (The garage-rock approach is no surprise, considering that Gottehrer co-wrote such classic Sixties pop hits as The Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back,” The McCoys’ “Sorrow” and The Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy.” As for the echo, well, considering how The Raveonettes’ recordings always sound, perhaps Wagner insists on an echo clause in his contract.) A lightweight teaser from a fun band.
The Feelies aren’t exactly living legends; they’re more like living fables. Coming out of Haledon, New Jersey in the late Seventies, the band made a name for itself in New York rock circles, even though the group rarely bothered to play outside its home state. That passive-aggressive streak carried over to the band’s recordings: 1980’s Crazy Rhythms was such an engaging debut album, it’s astonishing that The Feelies took six years to record a follow-up (shedding half its original lineup in the interim). Only the group’s fifth album (and its first in twenty years), Here Before features the Feelies lineup that’s recorded each Feelies disc since the debut. Guitarist/vocalists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million are joined by bassist Brenda Sauter, drummer Stan Demeski and percussionist Dave Weckerman. In the opening track, “Nobody Knows,” Mercer questions whether it’s even the right time for the band to get together: “Is it too late/To do it again?/Or should we wait/Another ten?/Nobody knows/But everyone cares/Everyone’s asking/For answers to prayers/Well, you never know/How it’s gonna go.” But from the album’s beginning to its end, things go well for The Feelies. Mercer and Million play a full-sounding blend of acoustic and electric guitars, with plenty of sharp yet economical leads. The guitarists are inventive with their instruments, whether mimicing other instrumental sounds accordion in “Again Today,” ocarina in “When You Know,” droning violins in the title track or delivering a lustrous shimmer of electric notes like droplets, as they do at the end of “Should Be Gone.” Mercer sings a lot like a still-young version of Lou Reed, except with a bit more range (and without the audible sneer). Sauter plays bass with a crisp thump, and Weckerman always adds the right percussion grace notes to Demeski’s energetic drumming. As its title implies, Here Before is an album that feels familiar from the get-go. The band doesn’t try to bowl over listeners, but draws them in with simple songs and unforced presentation. Here’s hoping The Feelies don’t “wait another ten” before returning to the studio.
Even Born Again
Sarah Jaffe originally released this EP on her own in 2008; it’s just been reissued on Kirtland Records, the label that released the Texas-born singer/songwriter’s first full-length album last year. On most of the songs, Jaffe’s voice is framed just by acoustic guitar and a string quartet. The title track includes strong piano chords and a violin to support the melody; a sad accordion solo appears in “Two Intangibles Can’t Be Had.” “Under” is the only song on the disc with a rhythm section or a significant electric guitar presence. As a songwriter, Jaffe strives to uncover the stress, desperation and fear behind people’s actions. Over the quiet acoustic guitar and cello of “Black Hoax Lie,” she sings, “You’re on your way to the bottom/At least you know where you’re going … I never let down and I never let go/Guess that means I’m invisible/And all that time, I really miss my pride.” In the stark “Adeline,” she sings, “You can never know enough about what’s underneath/I keep uprooting myself unknowingly/Until one day I’m driving and I feel my heart implode/And I wonder where it comes from and where it goes.” The protagonist of “Two Intangibles Can’t Be Had” confesses her obsession: “I love you in all the dangerous ways/You keep my heart in shape/For your love/As it turns out, I’m a beggar for it.” She even opens “Backwards/Forwards” with a casual yet painfully familiar dynamic: “No, you first/Well, you brought it up.” As piano notes plink behind her voice, she sings, “I’m just swimmin’ in my temptation/My blood, my wine/I’m havin’ a whirlwind of a time/Confusion is mine, I own it/I can never get to you if I’m goin’/Back, and forth/Backward, forwards.” Even Born Again is a strong, well-presented batch of tunes from a talented songwriter. (The reissued EP adds an echoey remix of “Two Intangibles Can’t Be Had.”)
The Watson Twins
Between the Dum Dum Girls, Sarah Jaffe and this disc, apparently it’s a week for brief musical pleasures. On this EP, Chandra and Leigh Watson cover six songs, ranging from tunes that were big hits in their original versions to deeper tracks by a couple of younger artists. The duo covers The Turtles’ 1969 hit “You Showed Me” with a laid-back California feel similar to The Mamas & The Papas. The versions of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo” both stay fairly faithful to their source material; the twins capture the mournful, bluesy feel of the former, and blend their voices to suit the graceful lilt of the latter. The cover of the Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again” probably departs the farthest from the original, in the way Chandra and Leigh turn the melody around on itself. The twins present PJ Harvey’s “Angelene” with a harmonium over a subdued rhythm section, and lays a phased slide guitar over synthetic-sounding percussion in “Tighten Up” the newest song here by far, having been released by The Black Keys just last year. Throughout the EP, the Watsons build their arrangements mostly around acoustic guitars and classic-sounding electric piano. Night Covers doesn’t offer any surprises, but its song selection and its moody, moonlit feel is pleasing enough to make a listener wish the Watson Twins had extended it to a full-length album.
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