DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
We Have the Facts And We're Voting Yes
(Barsuk)****Let's see, how many ways can I say this album is great? Great like Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great, the Great and Powerful Oz. Great as in magnitude; great as in majestic; great as in fearsome.
I say fearsome because it's scary how this album is both archetypically Death Cab for Cutie and an augury of what they might do in the future. Now they have a lot to live up to.
As ever, the lyrics palm your heart and apply constant pressure, most efficiently on "For What Reason," an indignant rant that doubles back on itself. "When all apologies fail to ring true/so slick with that sarcastic slew/of phrases like 'I thought you knew'/while keeping me in hot pursuit." The bitterness comes not just from being wronged, but from feeling complicity in your own undoing. We drown, fixating on the ways we failed to halt the chain of events, and "For What Reason" echoes that with watery mellotron over the bridge. It's that fluidity between words and music and production that provides evidence of Death Cab's unerring sense of purpose. Their choices are neither spurious nor staid, and though a split second before a chord or lyric you couldn't say what's coming next, once it comes, you think, "Yes, of course!" The music is actually correct.
There's a song on We Have the Facts And We're Voting Yes called "Lowell, MA," after Jack Kerouac's hometown. Kerouac was concerned with wringing all the potential out of the present, making every moment count. He's a perfect hero for Death Cab right now -- there's an open road in front of them. "Lowell, MA" is classic Death Cab: a weightless melody tethered by the bass line and breezy literary allusions. Every moment of "Lowell, MA" is given its appropriate weight by the preternatural fillip of Chris Walla's production decisions. The song's refrain "I thought that you had come to expect more" is reflexive, in that it begs "How much more you got?" ERIN FRANZMAN
OASISStanding on the Shoulder of Giants(Epic)*Oasis never were much of an album band. Definitely Maybe plodded, weighed down by one too many power ballads. Be Here Now wasn't much of anything. Only What's the Story Morning Glory lives up to (some of) the hype. Their fourth one, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, starts promisingly enough, with a dance-style instrumental called "F -- -ing in the Bushes," which writhes and moans with desire like it's been created by Primal Scream. The single "Go Let It Out," too, is memorable enough -- if clearly Oasis-by-numbers. After that, it's all downhill.
"Put Yer Money Where Your Mouth Is" borrows from the turgid Doors; "I Can See a Liar" has a wooden, hard rock sound not unlike new guitarist Gem's old band Heavy Stereo. Noel's two vocal tracks, "Where Did It Go Wrong?" and the otherwise anthemic "Sunday Morning Call," sound like he's lining up a career as vocalist with Foreigner once the inevitable Oasis split occurs. Liam's first-ever Oasis song, "Little James," is utterly risible. Dedicated to his stepson, it includes such gems as "You live for your toys/Even though they make noise," "You swam the ocean like a child" (he is a fucking child!), and "I'm singing this song for you and your mum, that's all" (that's why it's on a guaranteed million-selling album). Final track "Roll it Over" is a mercifully shorter version of last album's "All Around the World," whose guitar in the middle section sounds uncannily like mid '70s-era Pink Floyd.
Oasis still produce great singles, but they should stick well clear of albums. There's only so far you can take your one idea. EVERETT TRUE
WARREN ZEVONLife'll Kill Ya(Artemis Records)***It's fitting that Warren Zevon's musical reincarnation should be a record about the terror (and comedy) of death. Even goth-death-metal bands don't hold a candle to Zevon's Life'll Kill Ya when it comes to matters of existential angst, because most goth-death-metal bands dilute the potency of their lyrics by burying them in screeching synths and bar chords. But Life'll Kill Ya is stripped bare. "I kept the production level down," explains Zevon, "so I could faithfully re-create [the] album playing in saloons in Korea, when my career goes down the toilet."
The result is devastating. There's nowhere for Zevon's morbid sense of humor to hide; nothing to help you ignore the fact that someday -- maybe soon -- you are going to die. Consequently you are confronted with a record that, although funny, is not always fun: Life'll kill you indeed.
"Well I went to the doctor/I said 'I'm feeling kind of rough'/He said, 'I'll break it to you son, your shit's fucked up'/I said 'My shit's fucked up? I don't see how'/He said, 'The shit that used to work, it don't work now.'"
Reminiscent of Lou Reed's own confrontation with the reaper in Magic and Loss, Zevon similarly tackles -- rather, gets tackled by -- life's greatest stumbling block. And like Lou Reed, he offers no hope; no shimmering gates at the kingdom of Heaven; no provocative angels who give blowjobs on fluffy clouds; no concert halls with Jim and Janice and Jimi and Kurt. No nothing: just like in real life. ED DECKER
BOWERY ELECTRICLushlife(Beggars Banquet)****Appearances shouldn't mean as much as they do, but the fact is that most crappy records you can see coming a mile away, and any album with a really terrific, subtle jacket is always at least decent. Luckily the confusing, and possibly accidental, jazz reference of this CD's title wasn't enough to discourage me from listening to what was behind its simple, beautiful cover. Turns out I stumbled across a gold mine.
Bowery Electric are a two-person band with female vocals, soft hiphop beats and scratches, bass, and synth; territory already well explored by Massive Attack, Portishead, and most recently, Heather Duby. But it is not impossible to create wholly original work out of familiar sounds and styles. Remember a couple of years ago when Modest Mouse seemed like a simple hybrid of Built to Spill and Pavement? They went on to make a record far beyond the reach of either of those bands (The Lonesome Crowded West, possibly the best album to come out of this region), without moving to discard those influences in the least. That kind of astonishing appropriation seems to have happened here. Instead of getting in your face, Lushlife slips under your skin, holding your attention from start to finish with absolute authority.
This record never raises its voice, yet there is not a dull moment. On "Soul City" the vocals disappear altogether, while a warbly guitar moan borrowed from My Bloody Valentine's Loveless (also a key influence -- of mood, rather than style) rises like a transmission from the spirit world. The space on this record comes from the heavy psychic presence of dead serious, deeply given music, rather than an effect button on a studio console. The hypnotic trance that the breathless hush generates gives the vocals the intimacy of one's own unspoken thoughts -- particularly during "Freedom Fighter," a keen perspective on the surreal days of the Gulf War. This is spooky, intense stuff, and it is very hard to turn off before the record is finished. If the usual echoey, sultry, drum-machine music just bores the crap out of you, Bowery Electric will take you places you didn't even know you wanted to go. GRANT COGSWELL
VARIOUS ARTISTSNext Friday Original Motion Picture Soundtrack(Priority Records)*Soundtrack releases are inherently evil, especially in this age of cross-merchandising, when songs are chosen for their popularity and demographics rather than for aesthetics or support of a theme. The result: Soundtrack discs suffer from Best-of-itis like those K-Tel dance records of the '70s, discs that are guaranteed to "get that party going!"
Ice Cube has the first track, "You Can Do It," which sets the stage for the disc's mediocrity. It matters only because it is the lead-in to the disc's biggest disappointment -- the long-awaited, revamped N.W.A. (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, and Snoop Dogg filling Eazy-E's slot). In hindsight, the new N.W.A., or N.W.S.D. (Niggers With Snoop Dogg), was bound to fail. Straight Outta Compton is one of the most important records in rap history -- check that -- in music history. However, there is nothing the newer, richer N.W.A. (Niggers With Airplanes) could do to break any new ground. The result: N.W.A. is a cheap rip-off of itself with an eye on cashing in. But you knew these guys were always about the money, didn't you? Shug Knight would be proud.
"Chin Check" begins with a bang (literally), followed by the old members doing a sort-of roll call.
"Yeah, I'm here. Where's Ren?"
"Right here," and so on.
Then Dre says, "Unleash the hound," and the others say, "What!?" and Snoop jumps in.
Kind of cool, huh? But this song, like the others on the disc, die hard and fast. Snoop sings, "I'm a Nigga witta attitude, thanks to y'all [he's initiated into the gang]... I'ma fight for my side and the CPT, God bless the memory of Eazy-E." Huh? What was that? God bless who? Wasn't it Snoop and Dre who engaged in a public war with Eazy before he died? Didn't they sing on Dr. Dre's album The Chronic, "Eazy-E can eat a big fat -- diiiiiick"? Didn't they viciously parody him (not that he didn't deserve it) in their videos? Hmmm.
More evidence that this disc is a kettle of shit is the abundance of rappers who intentionally spell their names wrong in an unoriginal display of mediocrity: Big Tymers, Eminem, Pharoahe Monch, Kurupt, Soopafly, Bizzy Bone, and Krayzie Bone. "Yo, G. I'm not just crazy, I'm KRAY-ZIE!"
Strike fuggin' three.
"Mamacita," by Frost (formerly Kid Frost), stands alone as a thoughtful, intense hiphop tune. This Latino rapper has more soul in his nail clippings than everybody on this record combined. I recommend his 1992 release, East Side Story, for those who don't know him. Remember to look under Kid Frost. Why he changed his name to Frost remains a mystery. But at least he didn't change it to Frawst, you know? That would be a laugh. ED DECKER
SUPREME BEINGS OF LEISURESupreme Beings of Leisure(Palm Pictures)**A trip-hoppy mix of live instrumentation and electronica, the debut disc from this quartet is immediately reminiscent of Morcheeba. Sneaker Pimps also come to mind. Derivative? Well, sure, but you can never have too much of a good thing. Besides, they're from L.A., not Bristol, which counts for something, right?
Like Morcheeba's Skye Edwards and former Sneaker Pimp Kelli, Geri Soriano-Lightwood's lyrics lean toward the sullen end of the emotional spectrum. Geri's big on fucked-up relationships and feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. You may find her words deeply poetic; you may find them trite. Or you may not really listen that closely. Regardless, her wistful, seductive vocals are always nice aural wallpaper for moody, seductive tracks.
Highlights include the sublimely entrancing "Never the Same" and "Golddigger," a slice of futuristic lounge-soul where Geri plays vampy bitch with tongue-and-cheek lyrics about a "pretty bird who always catches the worm."
For variety, Supreme Beings of Leisure pump up the volume a few notches with post-disco grooves like "Strangelove Addiction" and drum-'n'-bass-infused ditties like "Ain't Got Nothing." But Geri's melancholy disposition doesn't quite match with the up-tempo stuff. The band fare better when they keep things leisurely. DAVID WOLLOCK