Richard D. James has always had a certain trickster appeal. While '90s big beat had critics salivating over the possibility that electronic music could be rock, James (aka Aphex Twin, AFX, the Diceman, Polygon Window, etc.) was proving that it could just as easily be punk—sonically abusive, independent to the point of isolationism, playfully provocative, and madly irreverent. Whether he was duping the Lemonheads with a hastily faked "remix," plastering his creepy, grinning mug on innocent children and video hos, or self-effacingly and transparently titling his remix compilation 26 Mixes for Cash, the legends of Aphex Twin always included a heavy dose of wicked humor. It's no wonder he's grinning like that.
So it should come as no surprise that his latest project, the Tuss (Cornish slang for an erect penis), comes with another false identity—Brian Tregaskin, whose MySpace blog is an exercise in postmodern hilarity—for fans to decode. But the clues are there, and the Guardian's Louis Pattison ("a twat," according to Tregaskin: "I demand he issue a retraction immediately... totally false") sniffed them out: the Tuss record for Aphex Twin's Rephlex label, some diligent fans recognize one track from an old Aphex Twin live set, and still others claim to hear the telltale "farty" sound of James's ultrarare GX1 synth in the Tuss's tracks.
And then there's the music. Beyond all the smoke and mirrors, the deeper appeal of much of James's work—excepting perhaps his ambient recordings—has always been his uncanny ability to cram a seemingly impossible amount of musical information and invented sound into his songs without busting them completely apart. With some of his guises, that innovative sonic wealth can overwhelm, but as the Tuss, James pins his futurist clicks, cuts, and synths to classically cool electro grids. Vintage drum-machine sounds and familiar, friendly beat patterns underscore the usual digital/analog adventurism and percussive seizures, making for a record that's both a fine installment in James's mind-boggling catalogue and an immediately moving work on its own. Every joke should be this good. ERIC GRANDY
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
So a friend and I were talking, and we decided that if we were 16, this—Spoon's sixth album—might change our lives. As it is, I've listened to the first five tracks for five days in a row: They stick straightaway.
But since you, her, everyone we know, and Sasha Frere-Jones's goldfish is talking about how all 36 minutes sound, I won't add too much to the rustle, except to say it's less faux punk than faux Mo (as in Motown), with hand claps and the sexiest rattled drumsticks since the Surfer Rosa outtakes. Plus "Rhythm and Soul" starts like "U Can't Touch This," but in a good way, and "The Ghost of You Lingers" is exactly like being a teenager too dizzy to do anything but watch lights spike through the ceiling fan.
No, I'll add to what Gax5 says more beautifully boiled than a Lydia Davis short story (the words to "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case" could fit inside a pillbox). "Don't Make Me a Target" is as po-mo as a protest song gets: No longer "fuck you," or "fuck off," now it's just "leave me the fuck alone," with extra points for saying Bush smells bad, too. These are tightly written ditties, each surprisingly heavy and packed with surreally revealed secrets—ex-girlfriends, summer jobs, and pseudo-comical angst. The secret slam-book feeling extends to the liner illustrations, all culled from mysterious places like the Centre Pompidou, the Kandinsky archives, and behind sculptor Richard Deacon's eyeballs.
If I really were 16, I'd totally wear a Spoon patch for six weeks, then give it to my boyfriend at the roller rink. The best part? I'd still be listening now, in my 20s, whether or not dude gave back the patch. To yoink a phrase from Faulkner, you tell the same story all your life, just differently, and so it's thumbs-up rad that Spoon can speak to the kid and the twentysomething, both at once and over time. That's how it lasts, and—holy crap!—now Spoon's using tambourine. MAIREAD CASE
Released in 1961, Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land established a high-water mark in the realm of xenofiction, or science fiction that tells of aliens to sentient animals and how their societies differ from humanity. The countercultural touchstone chronicled the return to earth of Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised by Martians. He brings with him a sense of spirituality built upon free love—Martians are genderless, you see—as well as an odd penchant for going into comas at the bottom of swimming pools when stressed. Were Hollywood ever to attempt a film adaptation of this book, German producer Ulrich Schnauss's third full-length would provide a ready-made soundtrack, as it manages to be aquatic and androgynous, offering a flushed, sonorous palette that's alternately blissed out and diffused.
Schnauss paints with bleary sequencers and shamanistic samplers; over three albums his tracks have become increasingly like Magic Eye paintings that reveal sugar hiccups, recalling Chapterhouse, Boards of Canada, the Cocteau Twins, and Seefeel's dilated spirals. Much like producer Mike Dykehouse, who released acidic whorls on Planet Mu before the smeared pop of 2004's Midrange on Ghostly, Schnauss began concerned as much with loops as with layers on his more minimal City Centre Offices debut full-length. Goodbye (the third in a trilogy of gradually more miasmic albums) is speckled with some progressively wiry percussion within convex guitar melodies (especially "Stars" and "Medusa"), but also devolves into seraphic, doe-eyed wafts of Enigma and Tangerine Dream. Were the alien to land and hear the soft-focus ebbing of this retro futuristic album, s/he might think we humans were amorous, approachable, and rather fey as a species. TONY WARE
Let's Drag Our Feet
If there's anything we can learn from listening to Boat's new album, Let's Drag Our Feet, it's that Boat are really good at being Boat. This time around, as with their debut record, Songs You Might Not Like, the trio have crafted a collection of songs that is saturated with quirky lyrics, jangly pop chords, simple keyboard, tambourines, the occasional kazoo and horn part, and various bah, la, and ooh harmonies. It's all done with a lot of engaging enthusiasm, but it's everything they've done before.
This isn't to suggest the album's worthless, though. It's not. Everything's so charmingly easy and unperfected (read: sometimes sloppy) that it's impossible to take it too seriously, and that's actually kind of refreshing. You're able to forgive the band for their lack of innovation because it's fun, and sometimes everyone needs to have a little fun. (If you think I'm being a jerk for saying the compositions are on the less-than-perfect side, just know the lo-fi outfit say themselves in the album's liner notes that D. Crane—who's also the lyricist—is responsible for "sloppy guitars." They know where they stand, and they've done it on purpose.)
To go along with their indie-pop circus sound, there are lyrics about lobsters, ice-cream trucks, and tiny men holding you by the ankles. It's not absurd like They Might Be Giants, it's not self-deprecating like the Mr. T Experience; it's just some looks at life's usual dilemmas.
If you're looking for something to blow your mind, go light a candle and listen to Tommy. Boat are fun, but they're not going to change your life. MEGAN SELING
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness