Other People's Lives
In all fairness: It's been at least 30 years since Ray Davies made an all-the-way-good record. Of course, a little more than 40 years ago, he helped invent rock music as we know it, then spent the next four decades pushing its envelope. And though the Kinks kept on choogling well beyond the age of reason, Davies never painted his last masterpiece. All of which is why news of his first official solo album is ample reason for giving Brother Ray the benefit of the doubt. I'm happy to report that Other People's Lives is strong and vital sounding. If the arrangements err on the side of the big and conventional, they also deliver the visceral dynamics and agile melodies you'd expect from Davies, whose urge to rock out has never dimmed. The best songsÑ"All She Wrote," "The Tourist"Ñare inward looking and clever, without overindulging the autobiographical molasses that so often mar elder-statesman rock. When the album is weak, it's weak because Davies is resting on the theater-pop conventions he helped establish. But even missteps like "Stand Up Comic" (with its off-target, crypto-parodic half-rap about Oscar Wilde, Jack the Lad, William Shakespeare, and farts) wind up pleasing, because they come with Davies's familiar voice. "Is there life after breakfast?" he asks, confoundingly, in the song with the same name. "Yes there is," he responds, "after breakfast." It ain't "Waterloo Sunset," (though it does echo the melody of "Sweet Lady Genevieve"), but it's still Ray Goddamn Davies. SEAN NELSON
Fab Four Suture
Impossible to keep up with after a good decade or so, Stereolab prove themselves to be as ageless as Dick Clark. They were one of the first of the '90s bands to prove that melting your record collection together could be your own sound, asphalting the way for similar hyper-referencers like Beck, LCD Soundsystem, Jim O'Rourke, and any number of turntablists. Who else could connect cheesy lounge to deranged Kraut rock, bossa nova, French Ya-Ya, and the Carpenters with heaps of Socialist dogma on top and make them all bubble up and taste yummy? Fab Four Suture, Stereolab's tenth full-length, combines the three 7-inch singles released last year to show yet another coherent outing. "Kyberneticka Babicka Part 1" skips and glitches along like some scratchy moon-themed easy-listening record while "Get a Shot of the Refrigerator" has horns and drum machines pinging about, the band revved up and grooving on some high-octane flubber. "I Was a Sunny Rainphase" and "Excursions Into ÔOh, A-Oh'" read like their titles are from some instant name-generators, but the latter is epic 'lab, cha-cha-ing along languidly before swirls of synthesized strings elevate everything. The band then lock into one of their Autobahn-cruising pulses and they are young once more. ANDY BETA
Stereolab play the Showbox Mon March 6.
Axis of Evol
When Stephen McBean released Pink Mountaintops' self-titled debut, nearly every review referenced the record's libidinous overtones. The observations were accurate, if a little redundant. Musically, Pink Mountaintops mined a subtle bank of '70s-reminiscent druggy riffs and primal percussion, all solidified by McBean's soulful vocals (aforementioned reviews almost always mentioned Velvet Underground, as well). Axis of Evol instead mostly employs a number of skeleton-thin folk hymns, and blatant sexuality is virtually absent from McBean's lyrics. Opener "Comas" starts with whispering acoustic guitar, as spare and dark as anything Leadbelly recorded, while McBean laments, "No, I'm not headed down the highway to hell/I'm through with you devils," and from there he's obsessing over personal demons, addiction, guilt, innocence, redemption, much of it couched in religious terms. Now, I'm not suggesting that McBean is a born-again Christian, but he's addressing some heavy stuff here, and contemplating God, Satan, heaven, and hell only adds to the gravity. Thankfully, we get a few rockers for levity. "Lord Let Us Shine" shows what a talented songwriter can create with a drum machine, a simple, catchy bass line, some basic chord progressions, and a decent vocal range. "Cold Criminals" starts abruptly with every instrument hitting in unison, the kick-and-tom-heavy drums and pronounced bass lines providing a stark contrast to the anemic opener. But Evol ends as it started: "How We Can Get Free" starts with a solo guitar melody bleaker than "Comas," with McBean almost moaning, "Jesus/What do you believe?" I agree; if you're up there, can you give us a hint or something, 'cause Pat Robertson ain't doing you any favors. GRANT BRISSEY
Pink Mountaintops play the Crocodile Tues March 7.
THE MINUS 5
The Minus 5
Songwriters depend on love for inspiration, just like growing kids need calcium to develop healthy teeth and bones. But the occasionally weepy ballad aside, singing about the heart's darker side is less popular, a mere supplement to the real stapleÉ like selenium or zinc. Yet these tear-stained trace minerals have built up in the blood of Minus 5 ringleader Scott McCaughey, and, as a consequence of his recent divorce, come coursing out on what fans have dubbed "The Gun Album" (firearms are a motif). "I'm gonna be an asshole for the rest of my life/I'll never be forgiven by my daughter and wife," he rails in the punk-rock rant "Aw Shit Man," while his later observation that all rockers require for sustenance are "cigarette, coffee, and booze" rings painfully hollow. Musically, the album revisits tropes familiar to McCaughey fans—"With a Gun" evokes the California country-rock of the Byrds, while "Out There on the Maroon" directly quotes the BeatlesÑand the guest list is stellar, including members of Wilco, R.E.M., and the Decemberists. But it's the intermittent flashes into the author's misery and confusion, even amid cheery melodies, that keeps things rolling. The Minus 5 may not be on par with Marvin Gaye's 1978 masterpiece Here, My Dear (made as part of a divorce settlement), or as consistent as his own 2003 full-length Down with Wilco, but it still marks an intriguing addition to McCaughey's eclectic discography. KURT B. REIGHLEY
The Minus 5 play the Crocodile Sat March 4.
Scott Herren's copious output under numerous pseudonyms (Prefuse 73, Savath & Savalas, Delarosa and Asora, Piano Overlord, etc.) makes dude seem like he's never made a track he didn't like. The wickedly talented producer flits between pure hiphop, cut 'n' paste psychedelia, and found-sound electronica with all the focus of an ADD adult. But that's what the fast-forward button is for, and if Herren doesn't know what to cut, your ears will. Herren calls the 17-track Security Screenings a "mini-album," but that's stretching it. Hit stop before the CD-closing "We Leave You in a Cloud of Thick Smoke and Sleep Outro," a pasty bit of ambience featuring the layered vocals of TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe, and skip most of the brief incidental tracks and "Illiterate Interlude," a fake skit in which an interviewer grills Herren over the guest-star-heavy Surrounded by Silence. (Security Screenings is a partial reaction to the mixed response that CD received.) Once you've excised the chaff, you'll get some healthy Herren wheat. "Matrimonioids (For Elvin + Susana Estela)" sounds like the melancholy downtempo work on Prefuse 73's first CD, 2001's Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives. "Keeping Up with Your Quota," "Weight Watching," "With Dirt and Two TextsÑLater Version with Love" and "Creating Cyclical Headaches" (a Four Tet collaboration) have the warm, distorted ambience and time-stretched melodies that seep through headphones like aural honey. If Herren can bust open the Ritalin, and make more tracks like these, your fast-forward button will thank you. CHRISTOPHER PORTER
SUN CITY GIRLS
Static from the Outside Set
Ostensibly compiled and constructed from their massively stuffed archives for a radio broadcast, Sun City Girls' Static from the Outside Set (number 14 in their exhaustive and exhausting Carnival Folklore Resurrection series) sets itself as a continuous scan of the dial, as both snippets of the Girls pursuing a ridiculously wide swath of genres and real and fabricated news bursts buzz by with reckless abandon. While the Girls' passion for a tremendous breadth of music is inarguable, their execution in redirecting these interests into communicative music of their own is frustratingly spotty. While there are segments of great intensity and beauty on the record, much of it comes off as so thoroughly tossed-off and undercooked that it lessens even the bright moments. While Sun City Girls have seemingly intentionally made a shift to rapid-fire releases of all of their archives without much self-editing, they leave one longing for the more cohesive and formidable older records like Torch of the Mystics and Kaliflower. Beyond the basic issue of developed/underdeveloped work, there is at this point such a swirl of issues around SCG's output and motivations (slightly sketchy cultural appropriation, sometimes overbearing wackiness, etc.) that it can be hard to take in much of what they do purely as music. Oakland-based artist Porest's Tourrorists! is similarly afflicted by a dearth of nonmusical baggage, but as music it fares somewhat better. A quasi-concept record dealing, with both eviscerating criticism and Zappa-esque humor, with the post-9/11 glut of misinformation regarding global terrorism, Tourrorists! also packs in satisfyingly grimy synth barrages and acid-washed field recordings. The work of one Mark Gergis (also of Southeast Asian reconstructionists Neung Phak) and associates, Porest manage to indulge in the elemental pleasures of Asian disco and Middle Eastern laptop brutality, but still retain a sense of personality and individual artistic focus. SAM MICKENS