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Turn On's "Turn On"; New Mexico Rockabilly Sampler's "This is Albuquerque, Not Roswell"

By Michael Henningsen

DECEMBER 29, 1997: 

Alibi Rating Scale:

!!!!!= Excellent.
!!!!= Very good.
!!!= OK.
!!= Why bother?
!= Shit.

Turn On Turn On (Duophonic/Drag City)

Stereolab's Tim Gane and Highest Llama Sean O'Hagan collaborate all the time. O'Hagan was a full member of Stereolab for The Groop Played Space Age Batchelor (sic) Pad Music and Transient Random Noise Bursts With Announcements (the albums many Stereolab fans treasure most, though no matter what Henningsen says, this year's bossa-novaish Dots and Loops is pretty faboo as well). And in between High Llamas records, he's contributed to all Stereo Lab's albums since then as well. But Turn On is the first time the two of them have actually sat down and written together.

You can hear immediately what O'Hagan brings to the party: All 11 of the tracks segue; many of them are quite short, and the overall sound is more Farfisa than Moog. O'Hagan's usual nods to pop history are present as well--there's a '70s-soundtrack vibe to "RU Tenone," and "Triple Cause of Poetry" features some boinging sitar-like sounds.

Otherwise, the strictly instrumental (except for Laetitia Sadier's wordless vocals in "RU Tenone," the most Stereolabby song here) album is mostly structured around Gane's patented drones ("Electrocation of Fire Ants") and sound-for-sound's-sake tone poems (the lovely "Gimmickry Hoax Sensation"). So Turn On mostly looks and feels like a salute to Stereolab's krautrock roots minus the Astrud Gilberto/Ray Conniff strand of their musical DNA.

Of course, some of us feel the Conniff/Gilberto side is what makes Stereolab one of the greatest bands in the history of pop. Without that, Turn On could have been just another Windy and Carl record, and good lord, who needs more of that? The (ironically?) bland band and album name and stark cover suggest that this album is just more faceless electronica, but thanks to O'Hagan's immense pop gifts, there's a lot more going on here than hypnosis. !!!! (SM)

The Broadway Elks, the Breakers and the Jet Girls This is Albuquerque, Not Roswell (Big Spartan)

This isn't simply a compilation of various rockabilly artists of the early '80s, these are the artists that virtually started it all when it comes to what most of us regard as the beginning of Albuquerque's on-again, off-again recent music scene. And while each band represented here varied stylistically, the common bond they shared was that they were the creators of some of the most chaotic, blazing live shows this city has ever known. Not to mention the recipients of more feverish praise and fan loyalty than most of the current crop would like to hear about.

Containing 29 tracks, most of them previously unreleased and all but forgotten, This is Albuquerque ... offers a blast from the past that's both historically important and musically satisfying. Beginning with 12 Breakers' songs, the record sets out to explore what once was: a thriving chapter in the local music scene. The Breakers' set here is alive with the energy of a band who were quite aware that they had something special. And when confidence is the main ingredient (followed closely by rockabilly prowess), the music tends to transcend--as it most certainly does here--mere genre exercise.

The Jet Girls'-nine song contribution of Cramps-esque psychobilly is the most interesting segment, even though the quality of the recordings is lacking in comparison to the more professionally tended Breakers and Elks sets. There's a distinctive live feel to songs like Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't" and "Nervous Breakdown" that makes the Jet Girls' songs as creepily familiar as the Kennedy assassination as depicted on the Zapruder film.

Winding up with eight tracks by the infamous Broadway Elks, perhaps the best-known band of the three, This is Albuquerque ... is definitive in concept and execution. The Elks tracks are the most polished, more dance-oriented in several cases than the frenetic Breakers' set and far more musically serious than the Jet Girls ever hoped to be.

Overall, the track selection is thoughtful and presents a varied slice of Albuquerque's musical past. Rockabilly fans and students of the local scene alike will froth at the mouth over this one. Excuse me while I wipe my chin. !!!! (MH)

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