MISSION OF BURMA
In the wake of punk rock's latest boom, seemingly every band with a modicum of influence is reforming, rereleasing, and rehashing the music that made them famous. On this summer's Warped Tour alone, you can catch a Darby Crash-less Germs or emo trailblazers Lifetime—all of which makes Mission of Burma's latest release so refreshing. With 2004's ONoffON (the band's first new studio recording in 22 years), the legendary Boston avant-punk act proved they weren't so much enduring as they are thriving with age. Its follow-up, The Obliterati, takes the band's ambition and inventiveness to dizzying new heights.
It's strange to compare a band to acts they've influenced, but if MOB have any true peer from the past decade, it's Fugazi. Via guitar dissonance, unorthodox arrangements, and seismic drumming, MOB are exploring angular post-punk territory that's been virtually untouched by anyone since Dischord's glory days. The explosive "Birthday" is an instant classic; "Careening with Conviction" features a brilliant anti-guitar solo and reverse-recorded break; and the cynical "Is This Where?" asks the listener, "Is this where I'm supposed to cry?" over a Hüsker Dü–esque cacophony of guitars.
However, the album's most telling line occurs during album's first song, "2wice." "Don't make the same mistake twice," Clint Conley sings over a bed of crashing cymbals and doo-wopping backing vocals. If the band's first two albums of the new millennium are any indication of what's to come, we're ready for plenty more happy disasters. JONAH BAYER
By what standard does one judge Scott Walker in 2006? An iconoclast even at the height of his UK fame, Walker hasn't made "pop" music, à la his sumptuous classics "It's Raining Today" and "Big Louise," since 1969's Scott 4 album. Since the early '70s, entire decades have passed between releases, and his intermittent offerings grow increasingly dense; 1995's Tilt was the most harrowing, hard-to-follow album of his career, but it bore rewards upon intense scrutiny. Perhaps the same will prove true of The Drift with passing years, but at the moment, it seems a letdown.
Walker's melodramatic baritone (a huge influence on singers David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, and Jarvis Cocker) dominates The Drift. What's missing from these performances are melodies and concrete structures; for nearly 70 minutes, Walker warbles one long recitative over a series of changing audio backgrounds: chattering insects, rumbling timpani, electrical-storm guitars. Review copies of the CD were pressed up as a single, uninterrupted track, suggesting that the 10 selections are meant to be listened to as a complete cycle. The pitfall to this approach is that the final work's monochromatic aspects—i.e., Walker's almost unvaried vocal demeanor—upstages its lyrical quirks and sporadic flashes of dramatic power, such as when he pants "I'm the only one left alive" repeatedly during "Jesse," or when a demonic bark straight out of The Exorcist interrupts the final five minutes. Walker remains a remarkable artist, but on this rudderless Drift, his ambition and singular aesthetic will probably alienate all but the most hardcore devotees. KURT B. REIGHLEY
En Garde, Society!
Is a comedian with indie-rock pedigree subject to the same critical clichés as are their guitar-draped brothers in dumpiness? Take, for example, the sophomore slump: Should it be assumed that the follow-up to a creatively successful comedy debut be approached with caution? If we consider the most prominent career arc thus far in indie-rock comedy, that of David Cross, we might be tempted to conclude in favor of such an extension—as Cross's It's Not Funny marked a considerable drop-off from its frantically successful predecessor, Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! Unfortunately, one average comedy record does not a pigeonhole make, so we'll have to turn to the reliably hilarious Eugene Mirman—Cross's colleague and newfound labelmate—to either confirm or dispel this largely unnecessary generalization. The verdict? Well... sort of inconclusive.
As sophomore records go, En Garde, Society! is far from a disastrous follow-up to 2004's painfully funny The Absurd Nightclub Comedy of Eugene Mirman—but it's not nearly as strong as that record, either. Another of those common rock-journo clichés suggests that artists have their whole lives to write their first album, and just six months to write the second one—a principle that's perhaps better applied in this case. The material on En Garde just seems a little half-baked next to its precursor. The jokes are nothing if not consistent with Mirman's hilariously skewed sensibility; but at the same time, there are comparatively few laugh-out-loud moments—with even the recording's two-drink-minimum audience surprisingly subdued this time around. ZAC PENNINGTON
PCP Tornado ranks among history's most brutally efficient, pressure-condensed releases. Originally issued on six-inch vinyl in 1999, this six-minute blur conjures images of assembly-line machinery rebelling against its operators, then warring against an android faction. Scott Hull (Pig Destroyer) and J. Randall (ex-Isis) generate metal-on-metal scrapes, laser-guitar crossfire, and erratic industrial percussion, but they also insert dense grooves into the high-velocity cacophony, and they let ominous notes linger, isolated from the chaos. Much as its unorthodox-sized albums (PCP Tornado makes its CD debut on a three-inch mini-disc) contain unabridged track listings, so do its 20-second outbursts contain every component of an average-length metal song. With repeated playbacks, it's possible to parse these compositions, marking where slight tonal alterations represent entire atmospheric segments.
ANBRX, included on the same shrunken circle, proves Agoraphobic Nosebleed's material can maintain its intensity and riveting abrasiveness ad infinitum. Some of these reimaginings stretch perfunctory slowdowns into plodding, dirge-like passages, while others translate blast beats into fuzz-smothered club thumps. DJ Speedranch apparently recruited a dancehall Rastafarian, an elephant, and the prank caller from Black Christmas as vocalists for his "Thanksgiving Day" makeover, while Drokz & Tails' "Smoke Hard Drugz" merges digitized thrash, a horror-score-style melody and revving-motor effects. True to the unrelentingly turbulent nature, if not the musical structure, of the originals, these remix cuts have a cumulatively aggressive effect, meaning only those with extreme thresholds can absorb them in a single sitting. Perhaps Agoraphobic Nosebleed cap their songs at 30 seconds for the listeners' own protection. ANDREW MILLER
Denies the Day's Demise
As there's been no shortage of star-studded accompaniment to grace his tracks (Mike Ladd, Prefuse 73, MF Doom), Daedelus's Midas touch seems to get him whatever he wants.
But on his new album, Denies the Day's Demise, the L.A.–based producer strikes out on his own with guns ablaze, effectively shattering the subdued forms of Exquisite Corpse, and laying claim to the relatively uncharted land of electro-tropicalia. Through his reinterpretation of bossa-nova rhythms on tracks like "Our Last Stand" and the aptly titled "Bahia," Daedelus's knowledge of Brazilian music as well as his courage to experiment both shine through.
Where the majority of the beats from Exquisite Corpse sounded stripped down in a transparent nod to hiphop, Denies the Day's Demise overflows with a rugged brand of techno loaded with dense, disassembled clips of organic percussion and caustic synths. The album's second track, "Sundown," begins with Amir Yaghmai's gentle singing and Daedelus's guitar plucking, transitions into a sea of hand claps, then finally erupts into an Amon Tobin–like onslaught of frenetic, chopped-up jungle breaks created with a symphony of sampled Latin percussion
Marking a stark departure from its former output, Daedelus's new disc may perplex fans of Exquisite Corpse's decisive hiphop sound. But if you try to wrap your head around its complex layers, you will perceive the real majesty of Denies the Day's Demise. STEVEN SAWADA