It's been a long time (going on a decade) since Chris Kowanko released his 1993 debut album, Kowanko. But with Spell, the mood hasn't changed much. "Monument," for example, is a brief, mid-tempo folk/pop rumination on love and desire: "I, in this awkward way, have come to say I love you/No camera captures all...." The lyrics pulse with the awkwardness and immediacy of desire, and the guitar-based accompaniment is as catchy and easygoing as Kowanko's very natural singing voice. "Net," the loveliest song on Spell, offers wisdom, even as it is romantic and fearful: "I'm afraid of love/'Cause I can't stop time/I'm ashamed and appalled/At the things I'll do... I'm afraid of love/'Cause it's all so fair/Somewhere down the line/Meet another's breath/Want to kiss to death."
Later on in the album, Kowanko reasons,"It's better to belong to someone than be nobody's fool" ("Nobody's Fool"), though in the end it's just a thought: "Let's exchange duplicate keys to hell/tattoo our knuckles with love/You and I know all the moves too well/We should cut a better deal." Kowanko, as his lyrics reflect, is a reasoned, sophisticated songwriter. Steve Fisk does a fine job with production, and when the songs are left simple and poppy, Kowanko shines. "Angel Uh God" and "Heaven Again," by comparison, are too spaced out and production-heavy to really reveal Kowanko, who gets lost in the atmosphere. Like Robyn Hitchcock, Jules Shear, and Camper Van Beethoven's David Lowery, Kowanko is best when his sweet simplicity is left to its own devices. JEFF DeROCHE
The Secret Life of Harpers Bizarre
Harpers Bizarre 4
Everyone knows Paul Simon's "59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)"... right? Well, even if you don't, Harpers Bizarre is the band responsible for making the tune a hit, and whether you can stand it or not, it's one of the most well known and... (ahem) best theme songs of the now-idealized '60s "flower" era. Ho boy... BUT this is a tough group for me to get around. I mean, they weren't a rock band--they didn't even try to ROCK... they were a super-soft harmony pop group that often, willfully, sat in a pop "vocal" situation. Hmmmmm, I like to think of 'em as "sike" for the Lawrence Welk set. HOWEVER, there are some cool songs which DO work quite brilliantly, in any context. It's just hard to dig pseudo- psychedelic versions of "Sentimental Journey" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo"! MIKE NIPPER
American Rock 'n' Roll
(Twenty Stone Blatt)
Ramma-lamma, they done dropped the HAMMA! Yerp... that's them RC5s! I know I've said it before, BUT in case YOU don't dig... the RC5 is the Rob Clarke Five, tho' there's only FOUR in the band... and yeah, the name IS a take-off on the MC5! There... and I didn't EVEN mention the DC5! Anyhoo... these fellas, they play heavy, tight, no-nonsense punk ROCK... like, they all about the Thunders and Iggy/Ashton... but they added speed and an updated HEAVY crunch on it all... for a bit of "reinvention"... soundin' kinda like the '90s SoCal hardcore.
However, AR'n'R stands out from other SCHC LPs as it don't sound too damn overproduced, as is the case with MOST newer, heavier punk recordings. AR'n'R sounds a bit more live, and therefore fresher... um, so what the hell's happenin' to "PUNK" nowadays that bands get OVERPRODUCED? MIKE NIPPER
Standard Sounds: Straight Up & Dirty
This is Neverstop's second compilation for the Standard hotels, the two ultra-modern hipster hotels in Los Angeles. A "creative collaboration" between these like-minded enterprises, this disc is unsurprisingly well mixed and packaged. The sleeve art features the beautifully lit Purple Bar from one of the two hotels, and the cover art shows a martini that's both futuristically lit and eerily embryonic. From the onset it appears that the Neverstop crew isn't fucking around, and the songs within the package are ample proof for that argument. Compiled and produced by Nasir, the mix is clinical, and each selection is given a stark, modern polish.
The CD begins with a hard, funky house mix of the Jackson Five ("Hum Along and Dance" by United Future Organization), and is followed by Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady." And while both tracks are fun, the actual magic begins with Richard Dorfmeister's mesmerizing, otherworldly remix of Aphrodelics' "Rollin' On Chrome (Wild Motherfucker dub)," a deep, sexy groove that only the most arrhythmic of listeners could refrain from dancing to. The remix of Mystic's "The Life," by Nasir and Plastiq Phantom, is the album's other highlight. The most important thing about this mix is how austere it is kept: A funky guitar line is isolated and repeated over a sharp beat pattern. Then the sweet vocal ("This is the life, the life, the life...") is given its turn. A smooth bass line is given equal treatment, as though the DJs are as interested in showing the listener, piece by piece, what makes the song beautiful as they are in simply tailoring it to their fancy. The disc also includes King Britt's lovely "Summer Mix" rendering of Si*Sè's "Cuando," the MJ Cole remix of De La Soul's "All Good?" (featuring Chaka Khan), Plaisir De France's "Toi qui cours l'aventure," and Lady Miss Kier's "I'm Not Staying at Home," among its 16 well-selected tracks. If you're looking to dance (or if you need a martini recipe--of course there's one on the inside of the sleeve), Straight Up & Dirty is a smart bet. JEFF DeROCHE