At precisely one minute and 10 seconds into the first track of the new Supergrass record, I nearly wet myself. The song "Moving" had begun simply enough -- pretty acoustic guitar, some faint strings, a gentle melody -- and then, at 1:10, the chorus arrived and all of a sudden there was DISCO! And not the lame disco that history has left us with, but the real deal. The kind of disco that makes you understand what all the fuss was about way back when, makes you want to get up and... well, move. Because of this, Supergrass has quickly become my favorite record of 2000 -- in turns smart, catchy, and (at times) just plain beautiful to listen to. The band's third release (after the brilliant but ignored In It for the Money) is a leap and bound for a group already approaching the highest Brit-pop plateau. Bent genres have never sounded so good. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
...KIND, CONFUSED MAN...
Waiting on Pardon
(Home Recorded Cassette Culture)
This is the musical equivalent of a handwritten, Xeroxed-and-stapled zine, the kind you tend to be more indulgent toward just on account of the spunky fact of its existence. The jewel box in this case is an actual cardboard matchbox-drawer style box, same diameter of a CD case. Inside you find the CD, a hand-lettered lyric sheet, two printed copies of a poem (?), a dried flower (charming), and a peculiar liner spread featuring blurry photos of various parts of the artist's naked body, with a photo of his dog and what might be him, his dad, and his grandfather on the back. If this is a zine, it's one of those "personal" ones.
How disappointing that the music on this disc strains toward a roughshod effect with what can only be rehearsed "found" answering machine messages, plus annoying faux-dramatic harmonic guitar notes (the "ping!" used to such deadening effect on those old Yes records) and pasteurized angst-singing of the style perfected by Seattle's worst band, Alice in Chains. Bud, you may be in pain, but that's not what pain sounds like.
The rock tradition of answering-machine clips has been used far too brilliantly by everyone from Sonic Youth to the Jesus and Mary Chain. All the more disturbing is that underneath all this, a heartfelt attempt to express passion and hurt can be discerned, but it is so obscured by all these attempts to be cute, it makes for excruciating listening to find that passion. There are a couple of good songs on here, even! It says this disc was recorded in January 1997, which makes me worry that the Kind, Confused Man, understandably, has not been encouraged in his work. He should look at Damien Jurado, who was just awful back then, and last year put out a terrific album. GRANT COGSWELL
TWO TON BOA
Two Ton Boa
(Kill Rock Stars)
Two Ton Boa appeal to the part of me that believes in ghosts. Singer/ bassist Sherry Fraser has been blessed with an amazing voice that can be eerie, sweet, defiant, angry, or funny. The guys that play with her complement her powerful vocals: Drummer Dan Rieser is subtle and subdued at times, but can crack like lightning at dramatic moments. Second bass player Brian Sparhawk fills out the trio, and the two basses twist around and thicken like gnarled tree roots, or spark off each other and leave a bright space that's filled by an organ, voice, or beat. A lot of what Fraser sings about is love, betrayal, drugs, and the hazy, blistering netherworld that people explore when they combine all three. Some of the best parts are where she just sings some ooh-oohs over the rolling, snaky bass lines. This album is an anomaly -- I can put it on and play it over and over and over and never get sick of it. JUAN-CARLOS RODRIGUEZ
Meet the Sea... or Be Washed Up
(Home Recorded Culture)
Ten songs of ominous prophecy and psychological squalor; the title track sounds sort of like an acoustic Nick Cave, minus the theatrics. The quotes from Thomas Mann, Joseph Conrad, and Thomas Pynchon in the liner notes are unnecessary but confirm what the first listen to this record leads one to suspect: an orientation that is literary in the best sense -- that is, serious and unpretentious. None of these songs are less than honest, bitter, and heartfelt. With a more pop sensibility, this record would bear considerable resemblance to Elvis Costello's King of America.
But Spring is happy to substitute depth and sweep for hooks and wit. How long has it been since somebody made a record that erred, if at all, on the side of intelligence, and yet wasn't "math rock"? Not many singer-songwriters understand the acoustic guitar's potential to lead a line of narrative into a recitation of mystical dimensions. Colin Spring does -- to put it mildly. "Disappearing Act" and the elegies "The Old Javelina" and "Let Me Die in the Summertime" shift seamlessly from the personal ("And I got so lonely last night/I sat out in your car/Imagined you were driving me through time") to the political: "Let me tell you 'bout the West Coast/East came and they bulldozed/And they threw up some landmarks on the sides of the roads/When they forgot about those... And they orphaned their histories/And they left strips like these/ Where a man and a woman can come/And start all over again" (from "Aurora Blvd."). These songs come straight out of the current chaos of infrastructural and moral sprawl; Rohypnol rapists, motel TV-junkies, deadbeat dads, and minimum-wage workers stealing wine from their employers are not used as color (nor are they seen from a standard "literary" distance), but together endure a senseless civilization where the singer clings to memory and history in order to survive.
Just as often, Spring weaves metaphoric imagery into emotional portraits that never resort to cliché or empty rhetoric. His phrasing is reminiscent of the late Townes Van Zandt, but without that artist's crippling unevenness. Every song counts on this one, and with it, Spring lands in the company of the most important talents this town has produced in recent years. GRANT COGSWELL
Soundtrack to Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Go see Ghost Dog. The RZA's hypnotic, four-note theme is the ideal accompaniment to director Jim Jarmusch's pessimistic take on honor and greed, code and chaos. More than movie music, the RZA's riff, a seeming trifle, generically yet definitively scores the bombed-out landscape of the urban poor; it's an eloquent feedback loop of despair. In a perfect world, the soundtrack to Ghost Dog would consist of a single cut of this phrase cycling over and over for 72 minutes.
Of course, it does not.
Instead, the RZA's theme plays under "Samurai Showdown" -- "Yo! Yo!" says the RZA, "Yo, it's a samurai showdown," -- a four-minute track that layers the film's kung fu with the Wu-Fu "from the slums of Shaolin" that is the RZA's métier. All the tracks are like this; entries from Masta Killah, Jeru & Afu Ra, Sunz of Man, and others lyrically render visual images from the film so literally that it's funny -- if you've seen the movie.
"Strange Eyes," an R&B/rap hybrid, fronts a hook that's dangerously similar to the riff from Bob Dylan's "Tight Connection to My Heart." The lyrics include, "Wha's up nigga/Let's go steal a coupe/And practice kung fu on the roof/Next to the pigeon coop/And keep the stack/Like the big boy Cadillac/Forty-eight tracks/Got my boys on the DAT."
Um, yes. As Ghost Dog, Forest Whitaker steals a coupe, practices kung fu, raises pigeons on the roof of his tenement, and keeps his mixes on digital audio. In the film, Ghost Dog is an assassin attached as retainer to a Mafia underboss. Though Ghost Dog lives by a strict code of ethics, his spaghetti-eating masters have no such regard for honor and constancy. When the mob's murderous will pits Ghost Dog's survival instinct against his samurai training, the story explodes in a lushly choreographed yet strangely sterile orgy of violence.
Ghost Dog's code comes from the Hagakure, an 18th-century handbook of the samurai way that Forest Whitaker reads on the soundtrack in seven fortune-cookie-sized snippets. Whitaker's solemn tone and the shimmering gongs that tinkle over phrases like, "Even if a samurai's head were to be suddenly cut off, he should still be able to perform one more action with certainty," add a dose of wit to the heavy, radically self-absorbed philosophy that applies equally to the assassin and the hiphop artist.
On the better tracks, the RZA's lyrics tease out the darker, more compelling themes of the film, as on "4 Sho Sho": "The birds of a feather flock together/Interlace/Moving more murder messages than me and Leatherface." Here, the RZA's greeting, "Welcome to the world I rock," picks up on the promise of the film score's simple, unaccompanied phrase. Don't get me wrong: All the tracks are listenable, a few even swing, but this album is an oddity -- a soundtrack that works best if you haven't seen the movie. ADAM MAZMANIAN
ON Maybe it's true, and success really does change people. Just as his former band, Failure, was finally receiving all the attention and airplay it rightfully deserved, the band imploded, leaving primary songwriter Ken Andrews to start from scratch. One listen to his new outfit, On, and it's clear that Andrews doesn't seem to be harboring any bitterness over the situation. Compared to the dark and majestic explorations of his former band, Shifting Skin is a veritable dance party. Not only is there no palpable sense of frustration -- Andrews seems set free. Oddly enough, hunkering down in the studio and surrounding himself with synthesizers and machines seems to have allowed him to become more human. "If I Get to Feel You," "Pick Up," and "Building" all delve into interpersonal waters, and while "Slingshot" builds on Failure's fascination with space, the overall mood of the album seems best summed up on the title track, which finds Andrews realizing that "everything is starting to make sense." In fact, you could sum up Andrews' new material with a line from "Shifting Skin": "All I see is everything I wished I could be." Those familiar with his past work will realize that On melds the playful aura of Andrews' one-off covers project, the Replicants, with Failure's serious studio jones. Everyone else will just enjoy a really good album from an exciting new musical entity. BARBARA MITCHELL
Maybe it's true, and success really does change people. Just as his former band, Failure, was finally receiving all the attention and airplay it rightfully deserved, the band imploded, leaving primary songwriter Ken Andrews to start from scratch.
One listen to his new outfit, On, and it's clear that Andrews doesn't seem to be harboring any bitterness over the situation. Compared to the dark and majestic explorations of his former band, Shifting Skin is a veritable dance party.
Not only is there no palpable sense of frustration -- Andrews seems set free. Oddly enough, hunkering down in the studio and surrounding himself with synthesizers and machines seems to have allowed him to become more human. "If I Get to Feel You," "Pick Up," and "Building" all delve into interpersonal waters, and while "Slingshot" builds on Failure's fascination with space, the overall mood of the album seems best summed up on the title track, which finds Andrews realizing that "everything is starting to make sense."
In fact, you could sum up Andrews' new material with a line from "Shifting Skin": "All I see is everything I wished I could be." Those familiar with his past work will realize that On melds the playful aura of Andrews' one-off covers project, the Replicants, with Failure's serious studio jones. Everyone else will just enjoy a really good album from an exciting new musical entity. BARBARA MITCHELL