Boston Phoenix CD Reviews
OCTOBER 25, 1999:
*1/2 The Wiseguys THE ANTIDOTE (Ideal Records)
The debut album by this British-based beatmaker proves that the English aren't totally inept when it comes to hip-hop. The Wiseguys' sole member, DJ Touché, cooks up tasty beats that bob and bounce like a rap track should, and his cut-and-mix technique piles on call-and-response chants that would satisfy any crowd. But don't expect to hear Touché's beats on hip-hop radio anytime soon. The album's silly and all-out stoopid attitude feels like a blast from the D.A.I.S.Y.-age: Touché is on a late-'80s Native Tongues trip instead of a late-'90s pre-millennial tip. At an attention-span straining 70-plus minutes, The Antidote also makes a good argument for the return of dance music to the 12-inch bin. Although most of the 15 tracks have enough British sample-delic cheek to rock the discotheque, the disc barely deserves to make it past the halfway point on the home stereo.
-- Michael Endelman
Vocalist Mark Fontana and cohort could be poster boys for the post-"Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing" khaki exotica movement -- they merge lounge, spy, and surf into a collection that, like most Gap apparel, is wrinkle-free and delightfully insidious. Savage Night offers a mishmash of pop-culture reference points (secret-agent theme music, noir lyrics) that keeps the sex in surf but ditches the sun. A bluesy, one-two combo of Hawaiian steel guitar and Hammond B3 organ threads through a slew of sly covers, allowing Tom Waits's "Jockey Full of Bourbon" and Henry Mancini's "Experiment in Terror" room to loll about menacingly.
A few of the originals don't rock the hammock quite so smoothly. The band's lyrics are generous to a fault with dark desert drives and dangerous dames, proving only that they know lots of hard-boiled clichés. "Lonely Star" and other pompadoured entries emulate the Elvis/Orbison/Isaak trinity with Fontana left grasping for a jukebox classic well out of his reach. But the Hawaiians deliver on most promises, making sportive tiki elixirs like "Swing" do exactly that and atoning for lapses in charm in the meantime.
-- Joseph Manera
The trick to krautrock -- and to any pop music built on repetition -- is making the listener listen more carefully with each beat. Just as your eye sees hubcaps rotating backwards at some speeds, your ear fills in the spaces between the sounds -- provided the spaces are interestingly shaped.
Precious Falling, the second US release by Quickspace, has one foot firmly in the krautrock camp of Neu! and Faust, and on tracks like "Quickspace Happy Song #2" or "Coca Lola" they weave patterns in beguiling and energetic fashion. Later, on "Hadid" and "Walk Me Home," the band -- led by former Faith Healers frontman Tom Cullinan -- try their hand at pomo reassembling, cutting up the riffs into smaller and smaller pieces. It's less effective than the bash and pop of "Happy Song," but maybe that's because you can't sense the band rocking -- and blissing -- out behind their instruments.
Much of the rest of the album owes more to the Velvet Underground and Low than to Stereolab or Tangerine Dream. Quickspace also have a way with an ominous shuffle -- as on the album opener, "Death + Annie" -- and, ably aided by the second guitar and vocals of Nina Pascale, the dreamy, sleepy ballad. Somehow they manage to knit together the thumping with the wispy, and Precious Falling holds together.
-- Ben Auburn
I put off writing about Onda Sonora for several weeks because I wanted to see whether it really was as splendid as it seemed. But tested in the car and on the beach and even in the boudoir during this glorious Indian summer, August's initial conclusion sustained itself -- damn if this AIDS-fighting compilation doesn't conflate Portuguese culture's myriad offshoots with a near-perfect blend of trad and pomo.
As far as albums go, successful integration is usually the product of flow, and for most of the 23-track disc, savvy segues titillate as much as the music itself. Several of its pleasures are based on drastic shifts. By the end of the drum-intensive collaboration between General D. and Funk n' Lata', you need a breather. Like a curtain being wafted open by a evening breeze, there's Lura, a Cape Verdean newcomer pining her way through "Nha Vida."
Some relationships seem natural. Madredeus's ethereal harmonies beg to be laced with ambient electronics, and Spanish producer Suso Saiz does just that. But other gems are out of the blue. I never thought I'd have to go to Portugal to (finally) be convinced by k.d. lang, but she sure fados better than she twangs. And I didn't even mention the ghostly love song made by Vasconcelos and Cantuaria. One of the year's best albums.
-- Jim Macnie
Social Distortion's head cowpoke moseys out on the range and rounds up a dozen more rockabilly and country humdingers for his second solo album in less than six months, this one composed entirely of covers and cranked out on the fly with the line-up he took on the road in support of last June's Cheating at Solitaire. Some of the repertoire will register as willfully obscure to those unversed in backwoods C&W discography: journeyman Wayne Walker's "All I Can Do Is Cry"; honky-tonk gal Jean Shepard's "A Thief in the Night"; Billy Lee Riley's tearjerker "One More Time" as opposed to the obvious "Flying Saucer Rock 'n Roll"; a lost Wanda Jackson single, "Funnel of Love." As such, Under the Influences occasionally comes off as a résumé -- all right already there, cowboy, you've got a nice record collection -- but the big problem is that the disc finds Ness sounding less like the rock-and-roll primitivist he imagines himself to be than like a sculpted, middle-of-the-road ranchhand: he's all hat and no cattle.
The band, including the excellent guitar and pedal-steel player Chris Lawrence and some uncredited fiddle, props Ness up on his horse like a punk-rock Lash LaRue, and inasmuch as Ness's own guitar playing is buried a bit deeper here (the guy still refuses to disconnect his friggin' stompbox), the disc sounds passably honky-tonkish. That'll probably be enough to satisfy the faithful, but just in case it isn't, Ness includes his cover of the Bobby Fuller/Clash hit "I Fought the Law" -- fine, but redundant, and he knows it -- as well as a disappointing, drawn-out rehash of Social D's hit "Ball and Chain." Which isn't to say that "Ball and Chain" wouldn't make a fine country song -- like a lot of Ness's own best material over the years, it was practically a country song to begin with -- but this version ain't it.
-- Carly Carioli
Live's next slab of platinum sounds like their preceding mega-sellers Secret Samadhi and Throwing Copper. Spiritual imagery and self-affirmations abound; so do the usual clichés -- phoenixes rise and rivers rage. The snare-and-kick drums rattle like tanks advancing on the big guitar chords. Frontman Ed Kowalczyk's voice rises in tremulous, overwrought bellows of insight as he plays visionary.
That said, there's something undeniably appealing about the way they wear their hearts, pacifism, and utopian ideals on their brown deliveryman's uniforms. Not just in the single "The Dolphin's Cry" (where Ed observes that, "Life is like a shooting star/It don't matter who you are"), but elsewhere. Maybe it's because no matter how obvious their revelations are, they're unremittingly positive. Maybe it's the passion Kowalczyk always invests in his soaring tenor, which is full of curlicues of phrase and dynamics. Or maybe it's the simplicity of their music, which makes every detail of Live's sound and songwriting plainly accessible. Yeah, that's it: Live's gift is a tuneful, refreshing lack of irony.
-- Ted Drozdowski
James Anderson, a newcomer to full-length DJ records, kicks up, in these 12 segued tracks, all the big beat, look-good chatter, echo effects, and huge, popping joys that full-tilt house music is capable of. Less plush than Junior Vasquez, not as oratorical as Danny Tenaglia, drier than David Morales, and less syncopated rhythmically than Little Louie Vega, but given to sparkling beat breaks and cute voices, Anderson nonetheless manages, with his sparer melodies and frisky beats, to evoke all of the glamor, happiness, and diva drama that his more famous rivals have established as central to house music's soul. Credit his taste in what to program: club-crazy gems like Charlotte's flamboyant, clothes-conscious "Skin," Christian & Rizzo's "You Got My Love," Blackout's traxx-styled "Got To Have Hope," Dave Moss & Ian Rich's lascivious "Slut," a remixed version of Deborah Harry's "Command & Obey," and Kim English's "Unspeakable Joy," whose title sums up Anderson's ecstatic set.
-- Michael Freedberg
Boston guitarist extraordinaire Reeves Gabrels has joked, with insight, that melody is "the last frontier" in contemporary exploratory music. Here, drummer Greg Bendian -- whose avant-garde CV includes stints with Derek Bailey, John Zorn, Tom Cora, Mark Dresser, and others, plus years leading his own adventurous ensembles -- approaches that turf with brilliance. In performances like "Jill Cyborg" and "The Moisture," his hot trio (with bassist John Lockwood and pianist Steve Hunt) blend arrangement and improvisation. They tinker with dynamics and direction with unflagging finesse and utter devotion to melody. That makes their "out" playing as breezy and digestible -- and as quietly intelligent -- as "cool"-era Miles. Grooves and breathy passages abound in Bendian's eight original compositions, as does silence. Hunt in particular phrases beautifully. And Lockwood ricochets between propulsion and pure texture, reprising his role in the Fringe. It's a reminder that jazz need not be thorny or raw to be provocative.
-- Ted Drozdowski
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