JOHNNY CASH

The Man Comes Around

(American Recordings)

***The inexorable approach of the day when Johnny Cash is no longer with us has been weighing heavily on me since listening to his new album, The Man Comes Around. Cash is not long for this world, and he makes that achingly clear on this record, as each song seems like a goodbye in its own way. The opening title track is an exhilarating and terrifying meditation on death and on humanity's inevitable march into apocalypse. The closing track, a cover of the old standard "We'll Meet Again," is such an obvious farewell that it's plain to the listener that this is most likely the last album Cash will record.

Like his past three releases with Rick Rubin's American label, Cash's eclectic choices of cover songs are the centerpiece of the album. By avoiding bombast with the starkly spare production on Lennon/McCartney's "In My Life" and his duet with Fiona Apple on "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," the songs' sentiments are beautifully accentuated by their plain statements. Most stunning, however, is a surprising rendition of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." Cash sings it with the kind of quiet power that transforms the song's protagonist from the somewhat overdramatic "angry young man" of the original into what, at moments, seems like it could even be God itself singing. The track gains the voice of a person who has gone through enough complicated living to deserve the right to sing a song of such resignation and sorrow. Overall, a powerful and fitting farewell to the Man in Black. BILL BULLOCK

RACEBANNON

Satan's Kickin' Yr Dick In

(Secretly Canadian)

****Heroin is so lower class. OxyContin is much more chic. I wanna speak in a thousand languages that only cocaine can teach. How marvelous it is to be seen blacked out clean. A sampling of lines, spat out with vile abhorrence, by the members of avant-hardcore act Racebannon as they race through a multiple-personalitied musical with the fervor of a flesh-eating virus cleaning skin off the bone. The narrative of Satan's Kickin' Yr Dick In centers on the story of Rhonda Delight, a previously media-hungry rocker named Rodney who sells his soul (and his sexuality) to become a starlet named Rhonda, who is in turn consumed by the parasites of reckless divahood: drugs, comas, and the collision of pure evil, pain, and misery. It's a contemptuous tale of a sellout, amplified by the schizophrenic overlaps of bratty storytellers and white noise. Satan's is a bottom-heavy record brimming over the top with the hiss of cultural critiques frying in sound effects. It's an explosion of loathing, sending fragments of instruments and hysterical--almost incomprehensible--vocals flying in every direction. If you're into this kind of aural violence, and I definitely am, Racebannon are pure genius. JENNIFER MAERZ

NIGHTMARES ON WAX

Mind Elevation/The Special Edition (2-CD set)

(Warp Records)

****I have yet to determine why Nightmares on Wax is called Nightmares on Wax. The name says nothing about the act's music (which is primarily dubby downbeat) or the lifestyle it promotes (herb/lounge culture). With a name like Nightmares, you'd expect something closer to the frantic Bomb Squad (the crew that produced Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back) or the monstrous Invisibl Skratch Piklz. Led by George Evelyn, the group has been around since 1991, when it released A Word of Science. In 1995, Nightmares released the classic downbeat CD Smoker's Delight, which was followed in 1999 by more quality downbeat on Carboot Soul. Nightmare's latest CD, Mind Elevation, again offers a pleasant fusion of dub, hiphop, and soul, particularly the early tracks "Say-Say" and "Thinking of Omara." Like Nightmares' previous CDs, Mind Elevation is not outstanding, it's just satisfying. What is outstanding, however, is the bonus CD, The Journey, which comes with the limited edition of Mind Elevation. The Journey is a 39-minute master mix of Nightmares back catalog. The stream of hiphop and dub beats is flawless and perfect for long autumn walks CHARLES MUDEDE

MINUS THE BEAR

Highly Refined Pirates

(Suicide Squeeze)

****How did Seattle, a city known for its freethinking politics, end up with such a cliquish music scene? So many bands waste energy trying to sound "right" for a group of snobbish fans. Not Minus the Bear, though. This conglomerate features members of Kill Sadie, Sharks Keep Moving, and Botch (as well as producer Matt Bayles), but it's hardly milking earlier fame and the loyalty of the hardcore scene. If anything, the unabashed pop of Minus the Bear's Highly Refined Pirates will make longtime devotees toss their vegan cookies. Producer Steve Fisk makes each guitar note (and there are a lot of them) into a crisp point, while a layer of electronic haze lends dreamy softness to tracks like "We Are Not a Football Team." (Did I mention the band's incredibly goofy sense of humor?) If nothing else, Minus the Bear is proof that there are bands in Seattle who aren't afraid to chuck convention into the toilet. TIZZY ASHER

Minus the Bear plays Fri Nov 22 at Graceland.

**** 8 Mile *** 8 Women ** Hard Eight * Eight Is Enough

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