Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Rhythm & Views

OCTOBER 6, 1997: 



IT'S NICE TO see leading musical culture-jammers Negativland are still playing with letters; but these aren't mere word games. They're fighting a righteous battle for public control of our environment. Negativland is out to liberate mass culture from the hands of commerce. And what better institution to target with the group's barrage of manipulated media sound bites and musical parodies than the utterly vapid yet maddeningly ubiquitous advertising assault of cola companies? As with their 1991 U2 release, the question raised by IPSDESIP is: Once something becomes so much a part of the environment that we can't escape it, shouldn't we at least be free to use it in our art? As the group notes in the album credits, "All of the cola commercials that were used in this recording attempted to assault us in our homes without our permission." In true "subvertising" fashion, IPSDESIP looks as much like a Pepsi product as legally possible: The front cover appropriates Pepsi's lettering style and logo, and the back looks like a "nutrition facts" box ("total fat 0%, fairuse 100%"). But more than previous Negativland releases, particularly those culled from their "Over the Edge" radio show, IPSDESIP doesn't neglect its goal of making good music in its crusade to skewer media culture. Besides mocking idiotic "cola wars" and the product/celebrity worship that make endorsements so effective, fake jingles such as "Happy Hero" and "Drink It Up" stand as catchy novelty music. Electronic collage constructions like "A Most Successful Formula" and "The Smile You Can't Hide," with Ricardo Montelban and Michael Jackson cameos, are less musical but fun. They may not be saying anything particularly new or profound, but it's always nice to hear the message again, especially when it sounds this good.

--Roni Sarig


The Nature of Sap

THE NATURE OF sap? Just plain sappy is more like it. Portastatic is basically a one-man band/side project of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Mac McCaughan of scrumptious North Carolina pop-punk legends Superchunk. Unfortunately, Portastatic falls way short of the mark: The Nature of Sap is rife with doodling clarinets, farting trumpets and clunking piano. C'mon, this ain't rock and roll. It's more like whiny, plodding out-takes from a rejected demo session for the latest Ben Folds Five album. Portastatic seems to be what happens when an aging punk rocker and his ambitious musical vision "mature": passivity, depression and terminal boredom. A hint of Superchunk's inspirational distorto-pop is evident only on the abrasive and filthy "Impolite Cheers," and that's where the comparisons abruptly end. Sorry, Mac.

--Ron Bally


deep blue
Eastern Front Records

OCCUPYING THE GRAY space between contemporary, folk and lo-fi alternative (what is the line of demarcation, anyway?)--these days an increasingly crowded dugout--deep blue, Peter Mulvey's sophomore follow-up to last year's Rapture, aims broadly for mainstream appeal. With tracks like "Smoke," Mulvey appropriates blues in much the same way that Sting appropriated jazz, post-Dream of the Blue Turtles, to the same often saccharine and overly sincere ends. In its heavier moments, like "Grace" and "No Sense of Humor," the album struts a musicality similar to Ani DiFranco yet without her, um, teeth. The musicianship is refreshingly solid, with subtle and sophisticated stylings reminiscent of Lloyd Cole and Paul Westerberg, echoing their underground, somewhat "contemporary" appeal. There are even some underexpressed traces of the fervor of Bob Mould's Workbook. Owing perhaps to the very clean production and mixing of Nicholas Sansano (Soul Coughing, Public Enemy), I wanted this album to be truer to its rootsy folk underpinnings and more raw in its inspiration--call it less earnest and more honest. Beautiful tracks like "Every Mother's Son" recollect Richard Buckner's spare arrangements, while "Take This" and the title track share with Ben Harper a bluesy, blousey, soft-spoken sensuality. Despite its lack of angst and accompanying rough edge, deep blue is masterfully articulated, versatile and scattered with interesting details--obviously the hard work of a very talented songwriter.

--Lisa Weeks

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