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By Michael Henningsen

OCTOBER 5, 1998: 

Komeda What Makes It Go? (Minty Fresh)

The fourth album and second U.S. release by Swedish popsters Komeda stays on the course set by 1996's modestly-titled The Genius of Komeda. The foursome play an intoxicating variety of pop, equally influenced by '60s film soundtracks (the band is named after Polish soundtrack composer Krzysztof Komeda who scored many Roman Polanski films, including the film this album's ultra-atmospheric "Cul-de-Sac" is named after), continental jazz-pop (the wordless vocals of "Our Hospitality" strongly recall Francis Lai's classic "A Man and a Woman"), Krautrock (it's their shared fondness for analog synths and the mekkanik rhythms of Neu! that gives Komeda their occasional resemblance to Stereolab, as in "Flabbergast") and ironic New Wave.

If there's a difference, What Makes It Go? is a bit perkier than the more low-key U.S. debut. Tracks like "Binaria" and "It's Alright, Baby" are downright bouncy, in fact. The album is also considerably more concise than earlier releases. Only the final track, "A Simple Formality," breaks the five-minute barrier, and nearly half of the 11 songs are less than three minutes long. As a result, the hooks are more immediate and insistent. This is certainly Komeda's most overtly poppy album, and it's a style that suits them.

However, as a longtime fan of the band, I have to admit I miss a couple of elements from Komeda's previous work. Their two Swedish-only releases, Pop Pa Svenska and Plan 714 Till Komeda, combined more expansive arrangements (songs regularly clocked in at well over six and seven minutes), hypnotic rhythms and lyrics in Swedish, a gorgeous language that practically none of the country's multitude of exceptional pop bands use. What Makes It Go? is a great album, but it would be nice if Komeda's next release combined the best qualities of this and their previous work. !!!!

Ray Mason Band Old Souls Day (Wormco)

First off, we're not related, though I admit my first thought when I got the press kit was "When did my dad's twin brother move to western Massachusetts and start a band?" Turns out that this Ray Mason has been hanging around Northampton for years, becoming something of a local legend in the area's rootsy pop and alt.country scenes. (He was a guest musician on some of the Scud Mountain Boys' albums, for example.) Old Souls Day is his first CD after years of self-released cassettes, and it's an impressive mix of folk, country and British Invasion-style pop. Mason's songwriting shows an instinctive feel for his chosen genres, never lapsing into simple cliches and occasionally, as on the title track and "When She Walks By," capable of greatness. Fans of Don Dixon, Bill Lloyd, the Spongetones and Lucinda Williams should pay heed. !!! 1/2

The Posies Success (Popllama)

Ten years on, power pop heroes The Posies chose to say goodbye the same way they said hello: Their final album, Success, features the same producer, studio and label as their 1988 debut, Failure. In between, the band released three other albums, 1990's all-time classic Dear 23, 1992's inappropriately produced but otherwise stellar Frosting on the Beater and 1996's severe disappointment Amazing Disgrace. Each album has its own sound, the only constant being the tremendous songwriting skills and Hollies-derived harmonies of Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer.

Success builds on elements of all the previous Posies releases--the angelic pop of Failure and Dear 23 ("Placebo"), the harder edges of Frosting ("Fall Apart With Me") and the seething anger of Disgrace ("Every Bitter Drop"). The impressive thing is how what had always been disparate parts are finally integrated, summing up a decade of music in 12 songs. It's a shame that Stringfellow and Auer have decided to end their partnership, but at least they ended on a high note. !!!!

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