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By Michael Henningsen

OCTOBER 13, 1997: 

Alibi Rating Scale:
!!!!!= Kitschiest.
!!!!= Kitschier.
!!!= Kitschy.
!!= Not quite so kitschy.
!= Complete absence of kitsch.
Note: Insert your definition of kitsch here and have a ball!

DK3 Neutrons (Quarterstick)

Let's face it, side projects consisting of famous members of famous bands lean toward the hierarchical realm of bullshit just as often as they do the realm of musical legitimacy. Unquestionably, though, the Denison-Kimball Trio--Denison as in Duane of the Jesus Lizard and Kimball as in James, formerly of Mule and Laughing Hyenas--have remained legit over the course of three meticulous albums, Neutrons being the latest. Officially, the trio is a duo, although here they are once again joined by Ken Vandermark on various reeds and, for the first time, by Tom Bickley on recorder for a track. Officially, also, the Denison-Kimball Trio are heretofore known as DK3, and they've moved from Skin Graft to Quarterstick Records. But the song, as it were, remains the same.

Not so much jazz as it is experimental but not so much experimental as it is inspired improvisation, the musical version of the Vulcan Mind Meld created by DK3 is difficult to either classify or define. Denison floats between guitar and bass duties, Kimball sits pensively behind the traps and Vandermark--when the occasion presents itself--wails purposefully over the boiling surge. Call it what you will, DK3 have tapped deeply into the simple purity of expression, the idea of combining musical styles rather than merely setting out to manifest their collective imagination into some cohesive, audible package.

The arrangements are careful and nothing about Neutrons seems particularly random. But there is indeed an element of searching at work here--two guys searching their souls for the music within--all of the music within. And man, if there isn't some badass shit swimming around in there. !!!!

Pizzicato Five Happy End of the World (Matador)

Pizzicato Five have made a career out of taking all the passion and emotion of runway modeling, mall shopping and entertaining guests on deep pile shag carpet and wrapping it all into one, tightly knit musical experiment. In fact, the duo consisting of programmer Yukihiro Fukutomi and vocalist Maki Nomiya have nearly relegitimized the '70s "adult contemporary" subgenre that caused you to roll your eyes at your stupid parents so often back then. Of course, Pizzicato Five have the miracle of modern technology on their side and not a single beat, frequency or sample is spared or compromised as a result.

Happy End of the World opens with a quartet of smooth, pristine pop songs sprinkled here and there with modest amounts of '70s jazz-lite. This segment winds up with the Toni Basil "Hey Mickey"-inspired "It's a Beautiful Day," a song that features--as most of them do--some of the most killer drum programming this side of Everything But The Girl. From there, the record takes a detour into drum and bass, incessant vocal loops and a couple of definitive club mixes. The record continues like this--with forays back into lava lamp pop and swank, lounge-driven grooves--throughout its 64-minute life. And, to be perfectly honest, the whole affair is likely to come off as rather annoying the first time through unless Happy End of the World has your undivided attention. Once it does, though, it becomes quite a pleasure. And the fact that all of the lyrics are sung in Japanese (they're printed in both Japanese and English in the liner notes for you neat freaks) serves to add a quaint air of mystery to the music. And there's simply so much music going on here that it's difficult not to become entranced. "Porno 3003," an opus electronica in three parts, is a prime example--a musical journey that goes in several directions at once.

Happy End of the World manages to cover a lot of ground while never failing to inspire a little wonder at its broad, electronic strokes. Artfully concocted, the album's fusion of technology and the lost art form that is "soft rock" is admirable and, dare it be said, innovative. And latent Sugarhill Gang fans will dig "Arigato We Love You" to the fullest. !!!!

--Michael Henningsen

Next Week: Fluke and Naomi

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