It is unavoidable to consider Thom Yorke's excellent new solo debut, The Eraser, as part of the continuum of his monotheistically beloved band Radiohead, despite the album's low profile and semi-indie-label release. Sonically, it is most akin to the electronic halves of Kid A and Amnesiac, but its lyrical content and general songwriting focuses feel refreshingly new in Yorketown. On cuts like the self-titled opener, he takes a bare and more directly empathetic lyrical stance than on anything since The Bends. Indeed, many of the songs seem to deal with mental waste and drugs in a much starker, simpler way than the now-standard Yorke opacity. His singing, too, feels rejuvenated and free of any wariness about explicit emotional communication.
Throughout, his capacity for both inky, inward-pointed critical theory and unearthly beauty remains vital and upfront. "Analyse" fixates on the heartbreak of sensing revelatory secrets that are either impenetrable or nonexistent, and boasts maybe the most beautiful example to date of the sort of arch, smudgily Middle Eastern–sounding melody with which Yorke has been experimenting of late. The somewhat lighter "Atoms for Peace," meanwhile, weds warm, conciliatory electronics with airy, Joni Mitchell–esque vocal flights.
On The Eraser, more than perhaps ever in his band's history, Yorke wields programming artfully in the construction of deft, lean songs. If it could be faulted for a certain degree of sameness, The Eraser is possessed too of a keen focus that makes it a great record, regardless of its pedigree. SAM MICKENS
(Discipline Global Mobile)
Exposure marks a key point in King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp's career, as its backstory essentially prefigures Fripp's ongoing campaign (via Discipline Global Mobile) to keep his recorded output alive on its own terms.
Spawned by an epiphany Fripp had while working on David Bowie's Heroes, Exposure indeed sounds like a freshly uncorked stock of material the guitarist had kept fermenting since ending King Crimson and turning his back on the music business in 1974. It doesn't hurt the album's eclectic brilliance that Fripp is supported by a stellar ensemble, including Phil Collins, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, eventual Crimson bassist Tony Levin, Van der Graaf Generator singer Peter Hammill—and, perhaps most crucially, singer Daryl Hall, who here sows his wild Oates with a range that extends from blue-eyed soul to futuristic art-punk.
Ironically, Exposure's original 1979 issuing once more found Fripp in the industry's maw, as a contractual snafu left Hall's more interesting tracks (see the asymmetrical, dissonant "Disengage") being redone by Hammill and others; but this two-disc reissue presents two different editions of the album plus Hall's lost tracks, as well as characteristically meticulous liner notes by Fripp that document Exposure's curious evolution from 1979 to now. And while it's perhaps the only album from that era that bridges R&B ("You Burn Me Up I'm a Cigarette"), protoambient guitar (via Fripp's "Frippertronics" methodology), and cubist funk (see the title track), it's more interesting as the moment when Fripp, unshackled from the music business's bottom line, once more found his muse. AARON BURGESS
JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS
Joan Jett is a Swiss watch, a German train schedule, the Energizer Bunny. In a word: dependable. Jett may have been an inspiration to, and peer of, riot grrrls everywhere (Bikini Kill vet Kathleen Hanna shares four songwriting credits here), but it is unlikely she will ever attempt anything as ambitious as, say, Sleater-Kinney's The Woods. With the exception of "Black Leather," an ill-advised flirtation with rap from her 1986 full-length, Good Music, she hasn't deviated off-course for 31 years, content to turn out high-voltage rock and roll since her adolescent days in the Runaways.
While Jett has remained an exciting live performer, her last widely distributed U.S. album was 1994's Pure and Simple. Thus, after several lackluster tour- and internet-only releases, Sinner is a welcome return to form. And while it reprises many songs from the 2004 Japanese import Naked, this 14-track set includes a few key cuts unique to the U.S. title. For openers, there's "Riddles," an anti-Bush rant and Linda Perry co-write that nails the essence of what Jett does best: injecting punk rock's rebellious energy into commercial chart pop. Then there's her take-no-prisoners cover of the Sweet's "AC/DC," yet another glorious fit of the gender-fuck she's been peddling since her 1981 revamp of "Crimson and Clover," and the surprisingly positive "Change the World," the best song the early Go-Go's never wrote. Sinner isn't a stone classic à la Jett's early-'80s masterpieces, but it's everything a Blackhearts record should be: edgy, fun, and reliable. KURT B. REIGHLEY
Joan Jett headlines Warped Tour, Sat July 15 at Gorge Amphitheatre.
Most Americans may find this hard to believe, but Italy in the 1970s was a fecund source of maverick progressive rock. Groups like Pierrot Lunaire, Area, and Goblin put a flamboyantly eccentric spin on rock, but received scant critical attention in the Anglo-American press.
In his home country, Franco Battiato is a huge pop star. An expressive vocalist with a rich tone, Battiato also knows how to wring astonishing sounds from analog synths and is a dynamite arranger. Like some unprecedented combination of Scott Walker, Brian Eno, and Terry Riley, Battiato has raised the art-pop song to rarefied heights beyond the capabilities of nearly everyone in the U.S. and UK.
The recently reissued Fetus (1972) is Battiato's breakthrough album. Hailed by underground-music tastemaker Jim O'Rourke, Fetus ranks as one of the greatest examples of soaring orchestral-pop beauty and courageous textural exploration. The opening title track is an oddly alluring, dramatic ballad with shrieking, clarion synth motifs that would give Keith Emerson ivory envy and that portend momentous events. The rest of Fetus lives up to that auspicious beginning, especially "Meccanica," which whips the melody from Bach's "Air on a G String" into a modern-day synth freak-out.
Battiato's specialness derives from his music's ability to stir profound emotions while still sounding compositionally and tonally cutting edge. In his work, pop and avant-garde instincts work in perfect harmony. DAVE SEGAL
ARRINGTON DE DIONYSO
Breath of Fire
The instrumentation for Breath of Fire, the first proper solo album from Arrington de Dionyso of Old Time Relijun, reads like a list from some sort of bizarre Victorian parlor game: voice, newspaper, copper kettle, bass clarinet, and khomuz (more commonly known as Jew's harp). Aside from "some birds outside," de Dionyso is the sole performer, and no electronic effects or overdubs were utilized to alter the music, which was all recorded live.
What does it sound like? Devotees of Tuvan throat singing shouldn't be startled by the opener, "Emptiness and Void," but fans who associate the K imprint with indie rock may recoil when they hear this extended vocal drone, which suggests a cross between a didgeridoo solo and the teacher from old Peanuts cartoons using circular breathing to chant one long, uninterrupted om. Other pieces evoke small woodland creatures signaling intense discomfort via a series of squeals and pants ("Holotropic"), or a youngster suffering from gastrointestinal distress while mimicking a storm at sea ("Xibalba"). Such wordless vocal cuts are punctuated by playful interludes rendered on bass clarinet, plus several sonic outbursts that simply defy easy identification. This primal and often mesmerizing disc will either have you clawing for the STOP button within minutes, or it will ignite vivid flights of imagination to rival those inspired by one's initial exposure to the innovations of Brian Eno and Sun Ra. Either way, Breath of Fire is undeniably powerful stuff. KURT B. REIGHLEY