Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

MARCH 23, 1998: 

Drew Neumann, Eye Spy – Ears Only: Confidential (Tone Casualties)

Some fine day MTV will drop dead of terminal bloat. And when its history is reviewed in full, inquiring minds will observe that only a tiny fraction of the network’s programming was worth efforts to produce or view it.

The animated series Aeon Flux (created by Korean artist Peter Chung) will surely be counted among MTV’s most successful attempts at providing relief from its standard fare of inane music videos du jour. The Flux installments consolidated great graphics and intriguingly oblique storylines with perfectly matched incidental music by soundtrack composer Drew Neumann. Much of that music is presented on Eye Spy – Ears Only: Confidential.


Drew Neumann’s score invigorated MTV’s Aeon Flux.

This first-rate double-CD set stands as a glowing example of just how multi-dimensional electronica can be when released from the shackles of dance-floor expectations. Although Aeon Flux is often described as “cyberpunk” and “post-modern,” there is nothing punkish about Neumann’s score, nor does he often incorporate the techniques of deconstruc-tion associated with post-modernism. Instead, he’s relatively traditional in his approach to fulfilling his role as the guy who supports and complements the project’s visuals and dialogue. Not that Neumann’s work here sounds like John Williams or Marvin Hamlisch or even Danny Elfman. Utilizing sundry Macintosh-driven synthesizers and samplers, he creates an intensely stylized world of aural cinema, ushering the listener into a futuristic realm of abiding mystery, frequent disorientation, sudden violence, and the occasional glimpse of glory and purpose.

For the first year or two, Aeon Flux featured no dialogue – just animation, music, and sound effects. Which is probably why Neumann’s score is so wonderfully busy and descriptive; you can almost see the music.

High drama for the ears and the imagination. – Stephen Grimstead


Freakwater, Springtime (Thrill Jockey)

To call Freakwater the planet’s best “alt-country” band seems a small compliment for people who make such startling music, but it’s true. If 1995’s career-best Old Paint was a revelatory collection of perfectly realized originals and epiphanic covers, then Springtime is a little out of focus, lyrically. But they’ve never sounded better. The addition of multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston (the secret hero of Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne) has given the music a new, easy grace, and singer-songwriters Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Irwin’s vocal harmonies have never been so prominent or so affecting.

Which is not to say that they’ve forgotten how to get our attention with words. “Lorraine” begins with this image: “Red as the blood from a body that was torn, white as the white sheets that white men have worn.” But the highlights are “Heaven” (in which the women who once proclaimed “There’s nothing so pure as the kindness of an atheist,” begin with a much harsher declaration: “Heaven is for the weak of heart and those who never were as smart as me”) and “Louisville Lip” (a shout out to the former Cassius Clay, the hometown hero who supposedly threw his Olympic gold medal off the city’s Second Street Bridge). – Chris Herrington


Jamie Hartford, What About Yes (Paladin)

Like it or not, Jamie Hartford’s debut album will inevitably draw comparisons with his famous folksy father, John Hartford. The most glaring difference between their respective work is that this CD rocks a heck of a lot harder than anything dear old dad has ever done. What About Yes is country bar boogie at its best, real toe-tapping porch music.

More good news is that Jamie Hartford definitely shares the genes that produced his padre’s distinctive raw-boned, honest vocals. The bad news is that, although he has an ear for arrangements and writing melodies, his lyrical ability is fairly run-of-the-mill, lacking the humor and shots of brilliance that illuminate Hartford Sr.’s body of work.

Despite some weaknesses, though, from a strictly musical standpoint What About Yes is a truly organic aural experience. What a pleasure it is to listen to a CD featuring real band members playing real instruments in a studio together on a simultaneous take, warts and all. No mere hirelings, but a true cohesive group, these guys are tight, yet playful and fresh. And if they can create such an in-your-living-room feel on a recording, then I’ll bet they really burn it up live.

Jamie Hartford can pen a good tune and play like the dickens, and he shows considerable flair in his arrangements and choice of fellow musicians. Maybe with some extra assistance in the wordcraft department, his next offering will be a more totally satisfying listen. – Lisa Lumb


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