BECK
Guero
(Geffen)
***

At 34, Beck seems to be a little late on the identity-crisis front. After all, shouldn't it have happened much earlier to this perfectly impure product of multiculti, (p)arty-farty culture, circa early-to-mid-'90s? It seems a long wait for someone who picked up, played with, and discarded styles and signifiers--hiphop, folk, samba, space-age psychedelia, Herbie Hancocky next-wave funk, countrypolitan, Fluxus "R" Us conceptual art, and surrealism, to name a few--with the antsy restlessness of a proto-web surfer, channel flipper, Salvation Army picker.

Encased in archetypally plastic, elastic, and extremely detachable cool as the Pro Tools and Dust Brothers work the cuica-laced Latin party groove around him, Becky boy dusts off and polishes up the halcyon mix of Odelay here, starting strong and heavy on both the beats and guitars with "E-Pro" and closing defeated and slope-backed with the electrified chain-gang trudge of "Emergency Exit." Somewhere between the two, however, the personality split sets in, even as the sequencing smoothly glides the listener toward the darker, dour shores of inured emotion last charted on Sea Change.

Little wonder that amid the minimalist, apocalyptic snap and crackle of "Girl"; the smoky, industrious chug of "Black Tambourine"; and the celebratory fusion of "Earthquake Weather"--tracks like the album's namesake Spanish pastiche, "Qué Onda Guero," and the Midnite Vultures-infectious, Christina Ricci-in-yellow-face banger, "Hell Yes," stand out. They're engorged with the conflicted feelings and racial tension underlying the post melting-pot years since the coming of Beck, the Beasties, "Me So Horny," "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)," etc. Is Beck finally owning up to his decade-plus role as so many white male rock critics' hiphop token? Has some tide finally turned, and has Beck's Sound of the New started to mildew? Despite the generally pleasurable, throwback nature of Guero and its edible hash of musical rehash (a sentiment that's a backhanded tribute to Beck because we have cared so much), this uneasy album gets ahead of itself--as well as the listener--by ambiguously calling out its own maker with its title: Spanish for "white boy." KIMBERLY CHUN

RESIDUAL ECHOES
Residual Echoes
(Holy Mountain)
****

Based in Santa Cruz, California, Residual Echoes are reportedly this group of teenagers who are really into San Francisco acid-rock band Comets on Fire. The moniker "Comets Jr." had been tossed around a little bit before Residual Echoes' record came out. When I saw the band a month or so ago, those reports were somewhat corroborated for me. In fact, I dismissed the band as being too derivative of an already derivative music. This record, however, is a different story altogether. And also I only watched like two minutes of their set, which is always a dick move. Anyway, they don't sound anything like Comets here, and I like them way more on record than I did live.

The first song, "Slant," sounds like British guitar-mania band the Bevis Frond but way meaner and minus the ever-present retro aftertaste. As the record progresses there's tons of VU and Neu! in there and even Eric Gaffney (Sebadoh's ostracized genius). And since Echoes aren't quite as--let's say proficient--as Comets on Fire, they throw fewer changes and ideas into each song, giving things more time to simmer rather than going for big rock changes. So you get this long-drawn, heavy-duty freakout with a real spirit of joy to the cacophony. In between the long songs (two at 12 minutes and one at 9), they put together these little half-ass experiments that go nowhere but sound good on headphones. The last tune is a barely audible rip off of VU's entire third album that puts the pretenders to the VU throne (every "alt rock" band of all time except for Spacemen 3) to shame.

This record has way more going on than simple psyche-rock bashing. Go buy it. MIKE MCGUIRK

ANDREW BIRD
The Mysterious Production of Eggs
(Righteous Babe)
***1/2

A singer, a songwriter, a prodigious violinist, a performer in the Squirrel Nut Zippers--the dashing Andrew Bird is all these things, and his albums reflect a huge array of influences, from early 20th-century swing, to Elizabethan chamber orchestration, to slurry young Tom Waits-ian baladeering. He mixes all these elements on The Mysterious Production of Eggs, his sixth album, without ever seeming contrived or full of himself--impressive, but it's only made possible by his dynamic songwriting. Shimmering gems like "Masterfade" and "Sovay" present melodies that are deceptively lilting, traipsing by on fluffy instrumental clouds, but catching in your head at the last second and growing roots like sprouting seeds. Other tracks like "Opposite Day," with its eerie synth strains and cartoonish bass blasts, are more experimental but no less accessible. Bird's oddball lyrics ("The game is rigged, go fig your/slide show tanked/and your flagship sank/so we're taking all our myths to the bank…") serve more as a backdrop than anything meaningful, but in that sense are an instrument in themselves--one more row in his many-acred musical cornfield. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS

Andrew Bird performs Sun April 10 at the Tractor, 8 pm, $12.

THE HOLY SHROUD
Ghost Repeaters
(Level Plane)
***

If members of Q and Not U backed Challenger/Milemarker's Al Burien, it would sound like a fantastic, cynical dance off to inevitable doom--or a lot like Holy Shroud's debut release, Ghost Repeaters.

The Holy Shroud features former North of America members Jim MacAlpine and Michael Catano, along with Mike Bigelow and Loel Campbell of Contrived. And with the same passionate fire that's burning under bands like Challenger and Q and Not U, Halifax, Nova Scotia's Holy Shroud get their message out via blistering guitar and bass, spitting gang vocals, and sharp, hard drumming that makes the mind and hips spin.

I'd call it a dance record, but not in the same way as ABBA's entire discography. The Holy Shroud are less "Dance cause it feels good" and more "Dance, motherfucker, it's the only way to save yourself!" They slap you across the face, caress the sting, and then punch you in the gut. But then you always did like it a little rough. MEGAN SELING

AL LARSEN
The Hardline According to Danny and the Dinosaur
(Property Is Theft)
***

Whether or not Some Velvet Sidewalk were included in Sebadoh's 1991 genre-defining key players countdown, "Gimme Indie Rock," their stripped-to-the-bone approach certainly gelled aesthetically with acts like Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr., and Beat Happening. After leading SVS for a decade ('87-'97), singer Al Larsen established an underground career as a solo artist, keeping the minimal indie-rock flame burning as brightly as a book of coffeehouse-turned-punk-venue matches. His new release of lo-fi experimentation, The Hardline According to Danny and the Dinosaur, could easily be a relic from early-'90s college radio--especially with the sweetly sentimental "Portland Vibe" and its reference to such past and present musical mainstays from our sister city as the Wipers, Dead Moon, Crackerbash, and the long-gone (RIP) all-ages mecca, X-Ray Cafe. The record is full of earnest, keepin'-it-DIY-real cred (with lines like, "It's just guitars and drums and passion too strong to contain"), but while that may date some of the lyrics, Larsen flushes out his approach with modern, minimal electronics and effects and subtle guest appearances from Steve Fisk and original SVS drummer Don Blair. Landing somewhere between early Guided by Voices and bone-dry King Missile hits, Hardline warps skeletal indie rock into a dynamic collection of touched-in-the-head pop lorded over by a singer only marginally concerned with staying in tune. JENNIFER MAERZ

Al Larsen performs Fri April 8 at the Department of Safety, Anacortes, 7 pm, $5, all ages.

RADAR BROTHERS
The Fallen Leaf Pages
(Merge)
***

With their comfortably strummed psychedelic riffs and hazy harmonies, the Radar Brothers bear a striking similarity to Pink Floyd, at least in terms of compositional cosmetics. However, this Los Angeles-based quartet replaces that group's grandiose concept-album constructions with sophisticatedly simple chamber-pop nuggets. On The Fallen Leaf Pages, the group's fourth album, muscle-relaxed melodies pulse like the leisurely heartbeat of a summer-afternoon snoozer, and singer Jim Putnam drowsily stretches his syllables.

However, there's a subtle darkness to the guitar lines, and the lyrics, filled with wounded animals and injured emotions, are anything but soothing. "You've traveled so far to die in my arms," Putnam croons, delivering a poignant eulogy for a butterfly. Later, he asks, "Hey, is that blood?" during a call-and-response chorus; the backing vocalists respond with a jarringly incongruous round of upbeat "ahh"s.

The steady parade of slow-moving hooks can be entrancing, an effect enhanced by Putnam's use of reiteration. When he patiently pleads, "Remember to remember to remember," or repeats "again" while a note hovers and fades, the songs seem to transcend their three-minute time frames. ANDREW MILLER

The Radar Brothers perform Mon April 11 at Neumo's, 9:30 pm, $8.

EARTH
Legacy of Dissolution
(No Quarter)
***

Seattle's Earth will go down (way down) in history as the creators of ambient metal. On albums like Earth 2 and Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions, they forged drones that were as vast as galaxies yet also intensely claustrophobic. Earth took metal to its ultimate point of stasis, fossilizing dirgey guitar tones in tons of tarred amber. In the process, they drained all cartoonishness from metal's doom worship. Earth's sole constant, Dylan Carlson, helped to choose the remixers on Legacy of Dissolution. The chosen artists reverently, subtly rearrange the atomic structure of Earth's indomitable music, but the enterprise seems redundant; it's like trying to augment the Rocky Mountains. That being said, at least half of the six versions on Legacy interestingly tinker with the blueprint. Russell Haswell makes "Tibetan Quaaludes" sound like a beast croaking out its last moribund exhalations--or maybe a tape of a Tony Iommi guitar solo circa 1971 soaked in molasses and left out to dry in the Mojave. Jim O'Rourke's rendition of "Thrones and Dominions" zones out like the enveloping, well-manicured drone output on the Touch label (Christian Fennesz, Philip Jeck, etc.), while a bruised guitar motif rumbles into earshot like Bardo Pond on downers. This is a metallic throb of monumental proportions. Finally, Sunn0))), once an Earth tribute band, do the pioneers justice with a sublimely ponderous dirge drone that makes most metal sound like the pathetic bleats of Lilith Fair main-stagers. Sunn0))) capture the mournful desolation at the core of Earth's art. DAVE SEGAL

VARIOUS ARTISTS The Best Mashups in the World Ever Are from San Francisco
(No Label) **1/2

The novelty of bastardizing one fully formed, popular song with an aborted form of another--i.e., the mash-up--sometimes wears a little thin. Just because you can stick some Kylie in our New Order, or whatever, doesn't necessarily mean the results retain their pop-culture cachet the 10th time you chew them over. Bad mash-ups are threatening to turn the spoiled flavor of electroclash. Of course there are exceptions--The Grey Album's now-classic "99 Problems" hybrid underscores Jay-Z's hard-knuckled rap with manic Beatles rock. But at this point it's getting tougher to find songs that truly push past the kitsch.

Even though the expiration date on much of The Best Mashups in the World Ever Are from San Francisco feels five minutes ago halfway into the disc, there are, if nothing deeper, a couple dance-floor goodies to be had here--mostly because they hit the nostalgia button hard. Bay Area mash-up DJ Tripp's "Maniacs Emerge" pits Flashdance against Fischerspooner, while Jay-R's Kelis-Car crash "Milkshake It Up" gives the Harlem hiphop queen new-wave reign. And remix master Matt Hite delivers a stinging double bitch-slap on "Fuck My Bitch Up." But there's also a lotta filler; Lil' Kim's perversions are prime candidates for a cheap chop-and-paste job--but with "Brick House"? Though planting the Scissor Sisters inside George Michael's "Faith" takes subtle strikes at the similarities between both, you wish the thrills lasted longer. Party Ben's "Another One Bites da Funk" at least complicates the textures a bit via Daft Punk. Overall, though, The Best Mashups feels too little too late for its hyperbolic title, but for mindless hip candy, you could do worse than, say, Ice Cube banging the Clash. JENNIFER MAERZ

CLEM SNIDE
The End of Love
(SpinArt)
***

After the inauspiciously received Soft Spot, Brooklyn's Clem Snide have rebounded with a record that shares its predecessor's aesthetic gentility but reaches back to the caustic tenderness of the band's earlier triumphs, Your Favorite Music and The Ghost of Fashion. It's hard to finger what makes the new LP different from (and better than) the last--Clem Snide is a band that pretty much does one thing: short, funny, sad, country-flavored songs about relationships and culture with lyrics that are both super-clever and surprisingly poetic. Perhaps that counts as several things, but regardless, singer-songwriter-guitarist Eef Barzelay's formula hasn't varied much through the years.

The songs on this record--"The Sound of German Hip Hop," "Tiny European Cars," and "Jews for Jesus Blues" in particular--are among his very best. "Made for TV Movie," which launches off the metaphoric platform of Lucille Ball's torrid story, delivers trademark Barzelay throwaway cruelty ("I hear he used to beat her/like she was a conga drum…") alongside knowing homilies ("the chocolates move too fast for us all"); the song's strength, however, lies in its evocation of an ordinary couple at home, relating (or not) through the challenge of finding something they can both stand to watch. It's the kind of detail that makes the band's collision of irony, sincerity, and straightforward C&W pop craft so rewarding. SEAN NELSON

Clem Snide perform April 9 at Neumo's, 8 pm, $13-$15, all ages.

**** Jackie Hell
*** Jackie Chan
** Jacki-O
* Jackie Gleason

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