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Tucson Weekly Rhythm & Views

FEBRUARY 23, 1998: 

VARIOUS ARTISTS

This is Reggae
Music Club

ALTHOUGH IT WAS released over 25 years ago, the soundtrack to The Harder They Come still stands as arguably the finest all-around reggae collection by which all others must be judged. With that in mind, This Is Reggae Music is something of a head scratcher where immortal songs like Desmond Decker's "Israelites" and the Heptones' "Book of Rules" rub elbows with island cheese like Greyhound's cover of "Black & White." The ratio of essential to disposable runs about 50/50, so the power of Toots and the Maytals' "Pressure Drop" ends up being somewhat diluted by a reggae Kris Kristofferson ballad (shudder). To its credit, Music Club does an impressive job of gathering licensing so, unlike major label compilations, you get a broader mix of music. The budget price that Music Club manages to offer must also be considered, making the package a pretty good starting point in spite of the filler. With only two songs carried over from The Harder They Come, This Is Reggae still contains enough good music to make it a decent beginning for those curious about the form.

--Sean Murphy


QUESTION MARK AND THE MYSTERIANS

Question Mark and the Mysterians
Collectables

BACK IN THE sixties there was this ruckus called rock and roll. It was played by real party throwers like the Trashmen, the Rivieras, and the subject of our story--the garage godfathers Question Mark and the Mysterians. With their first hit, "96 Tears," they made enough noise to take them from their modest Saginaw, Mich., roots straight to the top of the charts. Oh sure, you can still find some great rock and roll if you look for it--see the Hentchmen, the Fells, or the Makers--but if you want to know where these noble crusaders of good times learned the tricks of the trade, check out Question Mark and the Mysterians. On this release of re-recordings, they demand credit where credit is due. For those who doubt the endurance of the band's frontman, take an ear to his youthful, suggestive crooning on "8 Teen" and "Don't Tease Me." As the Mysterians take off with their trademark organ sound and Question Mark begs some lucky girl, "Don't break this heart of mine," his knees-to-the-ground delivery is testament to the greatness of the Mysterians.

Nothing beats the originals, recorded in '66, but Question Mark and the Mysterians maintain the attitude (hey, that's what rock and roll is all about) that produced the garage hip-shakers in the first place. The re-recordings might sound a little over-produced to the trained ear--of course you can't replace the itchy sound of a needle over vinyl. More than just a forgotten favorite, if Question Mark and the Mysterians seem outdated, it's only because they were kings during a time when style was important and meant everything.

--Nien-fen Hsiao


UNWOUND

Challenge For A Civilized Society
Kill Rock Stars

UNWOUND IS THE unwitting torch bearer for punk rock from a region that has seemingly dwindled in importance. It may be because they simply have outlasted their pals who went to work for Starbucks and Wal-Mart in Olympia, Wash., and who gave up putting out records that might have mattered. There are other bands, but few have stuck to their guns in the same way. Over seven years, Unwound's discography stutter-steps in complexity from a well-structured ennui set to a drum beat to forceful and layered full-on sonic maelstroms swirling around rooted themes. On "Challenge," the ambitious songs address problematic people directly. "Meet the Plastics," sends up people who put up a front; "The World is Flat" tears down people in power, and "Data" spins around a disjointed reality and postmodern lack of warmth in the world. Challenge, their sixth release, finds the band at their most refined and complex. Opening up the studio's full spectrum of tools, loops of tape and guitar overdubs helps their already full arsenal to wind up incredible tension. Summoning the political fury of Fugazi, the charged-art momentum of Sonic Youth, and beautiful, looped sounds worthy of Built to Spill, they remain a guitar band in the best sense. Harrowing notes hang in the air, and the band members go out of their way to set up the most dissonant of the lot. Filled with fury and sorrow as well as dense and swift musical textures, Unwound has risen to their self-made Challenge. They exorcise the problems of a utopian town and a well-developed rock scene, and provide the soundtrack to its demise.

--Brendan Doherty


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