(Kill Rock Stars)
Stereo Total is the French/German duo of Françoise Cactus and Brezel Göring. She's a little bit
ye-ye, he's a little bit diskothek. Stereo Total is their international make-out session. And Paris-Berlin is Stereo Total at their best.
With their eighth album, Stereo Total bring the latent radicalism of their borderless free love to the surface, striking revolutionary poses in song and in the album's socialist agit-prop artwork. "Baby Revolution" (cowritten by radical gay filmmaker/author Bruce LaBruce) is a love letter/manifesto full of sweet slogans: "There will be no revolution/without sexual revolution," "The bed is the last barricade/of bourgeois life," "Put your Marxism/where your mouth is," and so on. The gushing anthem "Patty Hearst" paints its subject as a willing situationist savior. "Komplex Mit Dem Sex" is a cool bossa nova ode to gender transgression.
If all this sounds a little too theoretical, don't worry. Stereo Total's mix of punk, new wave, electro, mod, and ye-ye pop is fun and sexy enough to make for some pretty satisfying praxis.
"Komplex Mit Dem Sex" has more than a hint of Serge Gainsbourg to it, as does the breezy funk of "Ta Voix Au Téléphone." Conversely, the band's Gainsbourg cover, "Relax Baby Be Cool," opts for nervous rock 'n' roll boogie rather than Gauloises-smoking mod cool. "Lolita Fantôme" combines the duo's breathy singing with descending chords, bouncing xylophone, and a Timbaland-worthy baby squeal. The duo alternately sing in French, German, English, and other languages, but myriad tongues are hardly a problem. Enough words translate for songs like "Komplex Mit Dem Sex" or "Baisers de l'Enfer de la Musique" to make some rough sense, and songs like "Lolita Fantôme" and "Ta Voix Au Téléphone" may actually benefit from some misunderstanding—their sad subjects sound light and romantic without the proper translation. ERIC GRANDY
Stereo Total play Mon Sept 3 at Chop Suey, with the Octopus Project, Welcome, 8 pm, $10, all ages.
The Scenic Route
The music of Washington, D.C., hiphop duo Panacea is almost achingly soft—quiet storm, yacht-rock soft. Producer K-Murdock's tracks on The Scenic Route, the group's second full-length album, seem to float in the air instead of bump out of the speakers. Other producers have crafted recordings that sound like the hiphop equivalent of notorious '80s ambient-jazz imprint Windham Hill. K-Murdock deserves special mention, however, for not only making incredibly smooth music, but heightening its angelic, otherworldly quality with eerie fade-outs and strange treble effects. "Pops Said," for example, ends with an ambient freak-out worthy of a Boards of Canada album.
But K-Murdock's beats tend to overshadow Raw Poetic's lyrical performance. While not a bad rapper, he lacks a distinct voice, and his cool, even tones tend to get lost amid the lushness of K-Murdock's tracks. Most of Raw Poetic's rhymes seem to focus on personal journey and discovery: On "Bubble," he dreams of drifting underwater and floating in a bubble. "Please splash to the crew y'all/Flashback to backpacks and schoolyards," he raps. Other themes, such as that of the love song "Katana," employ less imagery. K-Murdock tries to craft a few downtempo Blue Note tracks, like "Walk in the Park," to demonstrate some sonic diversity, but for the most part, Panacea's gauzy songs sound all too similar and blend into one another. Still, The Scenic Route is dreamy and atmospheric, the sonic equivalent of a listless Sunday afternoon drive. MOSI REEVES
For a young man, John McCauley has an old voice. It's a voice that would sound best backed by the crackle of old vinyl and the hiss of the ancient, fabric-covered speakers sitting in the corner of your grandmother's attic.
War Elephant, the first album from McCauley's solo project Deer Tick, takes listeners on a voyage back 75 years to the forlorn and dust-driven days of the Great Depression. McCauley tackles the big subjects—love lost and given up, the lonesome American road, death and rebirth, faith—with a sense of gravity and bittersweet humor impressive in someone who's just reached the far side of 20.
The instrumentation on War Elephant is sparse but vibrant; McCauley plays a shambling acoustic guitar that oscillates in tempo between funeral march ("Sink or Swim") and saunter ("Baltimore Blues No. 1") punctuated by shuffling drums and cathartic swells.
McCauley shines when talking about the vagaries of love. He tries to let a lover down easy in the wistful "Dirty Dishes," which ends with a dose of rough comfort: "You wanted more and you got less, and it hurt/But it could be worse, yeah/Things could be so much worse." In "Nevada," he's the one on the wrong side of love, realizing, "you'll always leave me crushed."
The centerpiece of each song is McCauley's rough-edged voice, which traverses the sepia-toned landscape of War Elephant, ascending its gritty peaks and following heartbreak down to its lonesome valleys. He sounds like he's channeling some troubled ghost from the past, and it's only on the last song of the album (the melancholy cover of "What Kind of Fool Am I?") that McCauley's unsettled spirit seems to finally get some rest. CHRIS McCANN