SpaceLaunch for Frenchie (self-released)
I drove over the mountains, through Stevens Pass, this past weekend. It was late afternoon and late autumn, and the heavy light coming through the clouds was obscured by cottony fog. As the car climbed, the fog coagulated, creating intermittent globs of three-foot visibility and several hundred feet of clarity. Passing through the clouds of fog was like exposing film: a deep, white opacity creeping over the images you expect and know are there. It was the essence of Kinski's SpaceLaunch for Frenchie, a short album of sedulous dirges swooping and diving over melodies hinted at rather than elaborated. Chris Martin's deadpan vocals are used sparingly, briefly elucidating the droning guitars before disappearing behind the weight of the noise. The songs are, in places, uncomfortably unrelenting (six songs, 44 minutes) and not for the claustrophobic. But overall, it's a beautiful, auspicious debut. ERIN FRANZMAN
Boyscout Superhero (Sugar Free)
It's neat to learn who your idols idolize. I've heard musicians in Seattle cry in their beers that they can't write songs like Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie, and now I've heard Ben Gibbard say that Sunset Valley's Herman Jolly is sexy. Which would not be my first-choice adjective to describe Boyscout Superhero, but it's oddly appropriate to my personal definition of sexy. The album is smart and upbeat, with unassailable melodies. But the hottest thing about Sunset Valley is their confidence. The surety with which they've produced the album reveals an estimation for the songs themselves: They resisted the urge to turn studio geek and bury the music. Boyscout Superhero is one of the few albums in which you can hear the bass and drum parts as well as you might in a live show. It's a sign of security as well that the album skews toward the disco without rejecting indie rock. That kind of genre-bending really gets me going. Looks like Sunset Valley can take credit for the most unlikely nookie album of the year. ERIN FRANZMAN
GORKY'S ZYGOTIC MYNCI
Spanish Dance Troupe (Mantra/Shock)
These Welsh kids are all about 23. Enough time to release five albums of gently spastic, mesmerizing, acid-tinged, electric folk-rock. Enough time to ruin their one stab at the charts (the summery, drop-dead gorgeous "Patio Song") by lapsing into their native tongue halfway through, be chucked off a major label, and release their sixth album on a Spanish label. Enough time to cajole and bewitch an entire generation of festival-goers with their oblique tales of school-time madness and distraught relatives. Album six is even sweeter, even wilder -- more enchantment from Donny Osmond look-alike Euros Child & co. There are violins that recall Dexys' fair Too Rye Aye LP. Brass which recalls the magical Mutton Birds. The pivotal song here is the mariachi-style title track, which tells a tale of almost "Stagger Lee" proportions: "Woke up on Monday/And got ready for school/Put on my uniform/It was three sizes too small/I said, 'Dear dear dear teacher'/I've been six years away/Haven't finished my essays/Because rock 'n' roll rules OK." EVERETT TRUE
Get Together (Murmur)
A great album from Melbourne's favorite snarly/cute guitar band, but not a classic. Get Together is too in thrall to other bands for that. It's clear which bands Automatic enjoy getting stoned and blissing out to. They love to ape the retardo-sexy sneer of Girls Against Boys ("Palace Girls"), play the vigorous subtle hook lines of Pavement ("Science Fiction," single "Psychic Cats"), copy the bubble and blister of Blur (anthemic must-be-a-single "What Comes Around"), and drown in the sweet succor of Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie's soulful "down" moments ("Get Together," "Drunk Times"). Oddly though, this doesn't matter. Get Together has such an enthusiasm, such an obvious LIFE to its infectious harmonies and salacious asides, that it rises above the congregate of its influences to create something new. Australia should comfort and encourage its own. Automatic are something special indeed. EVERETT TRUE
A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
Alongside De La Soul and Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest were part of the original Native Tongues posse -- rappers who refused to succumb to gangsta's hard-ass macho sensibility, and countered the boasting with thoughtful, humorous, jazz-inflected rhymes. Although one could argue you don't need anything beyond the Quest's first two albums (1990's brilliant, deceptively simple debut, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, and the classy jazz-rap of 1991's The Low End Theory), there's still more than enough here to tantalize (even if their later material does degenerate into the insipid boasting of their peers). Rappers Q-Tip and Phife's delivery is immaculate on tracks like "Check the Rhime" and the Lou Reed-sampled "Can I Kick It?": easy-going, stoned, deadpan funny, low-key, and fluid. 1993's "Oh My God," meanwhile, features a Busta Rhymes in full flow (as always). Sheer class. EVERETT TRUE
V.I.P. (Gee Street)
The Jungle Brothers' brand of Daisy Age rap, laced with good-humored beats and samples of arch-funksters Kool & the Gang ("Get Down") sounds sadly out-of-date in 1999, especially when placed next to the forceful, sweet socio-political rap of Lauryn Hill and the Wu-Tang collective. Yet V.I.P. isn't a bad album -- far from it. Rappers Afrika Baby Bam and Mike G are in playful, tuneful form. Tracks like the relaxed, stoned "Early Morning" and booty wake-up call "Sexy Body" resound with a deep-rooted African vibe, funky and engaging. The easy, intricate "Down with the Jbeez" (featuring the Black Eyed Peas) could even be from A Tribe Called Quest's excellent 1990 debut. Even so, V.I.P is disappointingly lightweight. Jungle Brothers still haven't managed to better the straightforward fusion rap of their debut, Straight out the Jungle. EVERETT TRUE
DIE TOTEN HOSEN
Crash-Landing (east west)
If the following facts don't convince you to buy the new album from crazed German agit-punk rockers Die Toten Hosen, then perhaps nothing will....
1. Dusseldorf, Friday 2/13/82, 12:35 a.m. Andreas Frege fancies a pizza. His roommate Adreas Meurer fancies one too. At 1:17 Andreas von Holst from Pronto Pizzas delivers two pies and claims to be able to play the guitar. This was the moment that Die Toten Hosen -- today one of Germany's biggest rock bands -- was born.
2. Back in '84, NME's Chris Bohn was seriously touting the Toten as the new Sonic Youth, the new experimental art noise pop happening. All right, so the Hosen (their name is grammatically incorrect German for "the dead trousers") may have veered a little down the path of true-and-tested, humorous, witty hardcore since then, but their music is still close to the angry, rhythmically righteous metal of Holland's anarcho collective The Ex than any peroxide-from-a-bottle posturing of America's Rancid.
3. With their inebriated brand of full-on, smart, funny rock 'n' roll they've sold millions of CDs in their homeland -- this, in a country renowned for its Teutonic attitudes and lack of humor. There is no parallel to draw with this achievement. With their money, Die Toten Hosen have bought players for their local football team, Fortuna Duesseldorf, conquered Helgoland, battled the Leningrad Cowboys at ice hockey, and played countless concerts (including a seven-hour carnival parade stint) against right-wing extremists.
4. On this new album (or on any of the previous) they don't stick with simple guitars and punk songs. Oh no. "Big Bad Wolf" is a subtle, creeping, lurking beast fleshed out by careful use of violins. "Bonnie & Clyde" is a pop song, period. The cover of "I Am the Walrus" pisses over Oasis' tepid show-closer from the roof of a very tall building.
5. And is that punk '77's most underrated lyricist, the Adverts' TV Smith, lending a hand on most of the songs here? Oh, please say it's so.... EVERETT TRUE
From Here to Eternity (Sony)
For many years the Clash have been touted as "The Greatest Live Band in the World"; the only surprise about this live album is that it's taken so long to appear. Recorded between '78 and '82, it captures the London punk torch-bearers in all their fury: Strummer spitting out vocals like every breath is his last, the guitars of Jones and Simenon taut and abrasive. Even after all this time, songs like the debut album's scathing "Complete Control" and the dub-fired "Armagideon Time" blister out of the speakers, sending streams of scouring, abrasive guitars and taut, chunky reggae rhythms into the atmosphere. Two complaints: No "White Riot," and no songs from Give 'Em Enough Rope, the underrated second album. Instead we have material from the sprawling Sandinista and the disappointing Combat Rock. These are minor flaws, though. Buy this record for the first 12 tracks alone. From the angry, articulate dub of "London Calling" to the full-on force of "I Fought the Law," this is punk at its pinnacle. EVERETT TRUE
Clever bastards. Supergrass is a subtle, smart record, full of insidious little hook lines and veiled musical references to past eras, particularly Supergrass' beloved '70s. Oddly, it doesn't really hit home until the fourth listen. At first, it seems too riff-oriented -- gone are the cheeky, punky schoolboy melodies of I Should Coco's "Caught by the Fuzz" and "Mansize Rooster." Gone is the brash humor, the juvenile musical delinquency. Gone is the slightly awkward "seriousness" of second album In It for the Money's "Richard III." In their place is something far more enduring... adult humor. Songs which linger. Songs which charm. Songs which delight in their intricate, easy harmonies and cozy organ sound. Single "Pumping On Your Stereo" is a Costello for the post-Nike generation, "Your Love" pays tribute to '70s TV themes like The Bionic Woman and Morricone's dust-laden visions. "Mary" and the mischievous "Jesus Came From Outta Space" could almost be Supertramp (without the hippie cynicism) or Cheap Trick. Gaz, Mick, Danny, and new member Robert (Gaz's brother) on keyboards make the art of creating a classic rock record look so easy, you wonder why everyone can't do it. EVERETT TRUE
Black Black (PNMV Records)
Those familiar with this Hawaiian four-piece's previous three records should prepare for another landslide of emotional devastation set to soft-then-driving guitar-drenched rock. Black Black is sung and played from the standpoint of someone who has had the romantic rug ripped out from under him -- with so much force that he's left standing barefoot, afraid to tread anywhere but the awful spot he's stuck to. Each song is a gut-wrenching exploration of the fucked-up feelings that linger in the aftermath of an exploded relationship, ranging from despair and hatred to the unavoidable self-loathing. Fire images abound as singer Troy Bruno Balthazar sifts through the breakup: recalling driving home from a house whose once-inviting hallways are now filled with flames ("Valentine"), accusing his tormentor of sounding like a falling airplane ("Alaska"), and wailing "I died in a fire" over and over on album opener "Speed of Sound." Guitars rage and stutter as Balthazar drags his lover over the coals, making Black Black a tremendously cathartic breakup album. KATHLEEN WILSON