Mixing traditional Eastern music like Javanese Gamelon Gong with experimental indie rock sounds like a bad idea, but this quartet from Athens, Georgia makes a strong case for it on its second album. The impact of Macha’s music is far more effective live than on record, but recorded music still impacts unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Just watching these guys switch from xylophones and electronic steel drums and organs to traditional bass, guitar and drums is pretty amazing. The authenticity is easier to convey in a live setting, whereas on record it can sound prefabricated or contrived.
These guys are amazing musicians and the blend of spacey rock with ancient Eastern tones is an unique sound, particularly for an Athens band. I admit I cringed at the thought of this band before I saw it perform because I immediately lumped it into that whole Elephant 6 fad of awful hippie jam rock led by bands like the Olivia Tremor Control. But Macha is not masturbatory jam rock. This band finds strange grooves and harps on them, but it’s more like Stereolab’s repetitiveness than self-indulgent jam rock.
See It Another Way is an engrossing albeit short record. The dense songs are segued with purely ethnic sounding interludes. “Salty” has a droning, snaky feel with breathy vocals, and it manages to balance the Eastern sounds in its percussive backdrop. “Until Your Temples Are Pounding” mixes fuzzy bass tones with an Indian snake-charmer melody that is very uplifting. The finest moment on this record is “The Nipplegong” with its heavy-lidded vocals that float like flakes in a snow-globe. See It Another Way lures you in deeper with every listen. See this band live and then listen to its records; it might not be the same the other way around.
Beck has abandoned all sincerity for Midnite Vultures, but that hardly matters given that this might be his best record yet. Odelay overexposed Beck. It wasn’t his fault, though. He got way too many amazing reviews for any ego to remain grounded. It took the public a while to catch up with all the hype, and by the time it did he was everywhere. Mutations was the perfect follow up. He avoided the path that Odelay laid out for him with an album full of introspection and subtlety. Midnite Vultures, however, is the result of what would have happened had he taken the obvious and easy road right away.
Beck is a player on Midnite Vultures. He’s out to entertain the ladies. His super-charged sexed out ego rivals Dirty Mind-era Prince in all its glory. With songs like “Sexx Laws”, “Milk & Honey”, “Peaches & Cream”, and “Pressure Zone”, this guy is on the prowl. Beck is the ultimate purveyor of junk rock. He melds and meshes so many styles and keeps his songs so busy that it takes several listens just to digest it all properly. Midnite Vultures sounds like a retro-futuristic new wave funk soul hip-hop collage of beats and rhymes.
Beck’s singing voice has developed into an impressive instrument. His falsetto is a lady-killer, and he drops hints at his new secret weapon in several songs throughout the record, but he doesn’t fully unleash it until the final track. “Debra” might be the best song of his career. It sounds like a genuine Jackson Five hit, but the lyrics are dripping with Beck’s tongue and cheek humor. He hits unfathomably high notes and even dances around in the upper register like an old soul pro. The lyrics are amazingly funny: “I met you at JC Penny/I think your nametag said ‘Jenny’/I cold stepped to you with a fresh pack of gum/and somehow I knew you were looking for some.”
Midnite Vultures makes no apologies for its bravado. Beck is playing up the image of what would happen to an artist after having a Grammy award-winning album. It works on several levels. He’s made one of the year’s best records, and it blows away Odelay for sheer audacity and innovation. The Beck on Midnite Vultures is the character Beck Hansen feels like playing for a while. He’s proven himself a brilliant songwriter on Mutations, so he can afford to be a cheesy womanizer when the records are as good as this.
Things were looking grim for Pierce Brosnan’s turn as James Bond as both Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies were relatively disappointing, but The World Is Not Enough finally gets the Bond franchise back on track. The problem hasn’t been with Brosnan- he makes a great Bond, but the stories have been less than stellar. Part of the blame goes to the PC nineties for making Bond such a wuss in Goldeneye, and Tomorrow Never Dies was just a fiasco. The World Is Not Enough is the best bond film since Sean Connery’s unofficial last hurrah in Never Say Never Again.
With a few exceptions, James Bond avoids much of the laughable implausibility and silly cartoonish villains of Tomorrow Never Dies and instead embraces a slightly less comic book persona. Sure, there are still a few ridiculous getaways and corny one-liners, but on the whole The World Is Not Enough allows Brosnan to play it tougher than he has in the last two pictures.
The supporting cast is particularly good here. Denise Richards may make the most unbelievable nuclear physicist ever portrayed on screen, but she makes a kick ass Bond girl, complete with ridiculously short shorts and cut off T-shirt. Robert Carlyle is one of the scariest Bond villains in the canon with his deformed face from a bullet wound to the head, and jungle-ist Goldie is hardly a stretch as a seedy thug. Judi Dench brings a certain level of credence to the ‘M’ character, and John Cleese makes a perfect protege and sidekick for ‘Q’ since Desmond Llewelyn surely can’t live forever.
The World Is Not Enough is paced like an action film with amazing stunt scenes and the usual level of gratuitous violence. Like the Bond of the sixties and seventies, Brosnan gets to bed almost every girl he encounters here except (most unfortunately for him) the Italian villainess from the boat chase at the beginning. Evidently, the pressure to be PC and keep Bond monogamous in each film has, thankfully, subsided. Let’s hope that was a just a lame early-nineties fad.
Tim Burton returns to theaters with a return to form. Mars Attacks! was an amusing satire, but it was hardly what Burton does best. Sleepy Hollow is not exactly the most exciting tale ever told, but Burton makes it funny and scary in this mock horror story. Andrew Kevin Walker took great liberties with Washington Irving’s classic story for the script to incorporate a comedic side. Burton relishes in the absurdity of the violence and even some of the dialogue: “You must be a witch, for you have bewitched me.” Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci both manage to keep from bursting out laughing at such exchanges. Depp’s character, Ichabod Crane, shines as a comic foil who is scared of spiders, incompetent under pressure, and susceptible to the charms of a woman whilst on the job.
Burton’s direction is feverish as the action races by, balancing suspense and surprise. The look of the film is patently the work of Tim Burton, where only dream sequences feature any semblance of daylight. The cinematography is stunning. The film has such a distinct look that even if the action were boring the film would be worth seeing just for the scenery. The violence is almost a character in the film. There are so many beheadings that it becomes almost comical when they occur. Spurting blood is portrayed as a farcical incidence. And Christopher Walken’s portrayal of the Headless Horseman is the funniest aspect of all. He is featured only in a handful of scenes, but he has no lines other than making grunting noises, which is a running joke by the film’s end.
Sleepy Hollow is quintessential Tim Burton, and Johnny Depp pads his already impressive list of offbeat characters with a cleverly cartoonish impression of Ichabod Crane. Miranda Richardson and Christopher Walken are both vital to the tongue in cheek comic horror that Burton envisions. Christina Ricci makes her first appearance in a major studio production in several years, and almost leaves behind her ice-queen indie image as a witch that woos Depp’s dithering Ichabod Crane. How Burton has managed to make a film this stylized into a commercially viable enterprise is a mystery, but Sleepy Hollow manages to go light on the usual film staples like plot and characterization, keeping the audience entertained instead with visual trickery and gothic ornamentation.
Moviegoer proves that presentation goes a long way. This CD comes in a translucent wax paper casing with Japanese writing on the outside. The case itself has a Japanese ocean scene screen-printed on a brown paper digi-pak, so it is almost impossible to guess what type of music is inside. Turns out its D.C. punk. Jawbox to be exact. No, Moviegoer doesn’t share any members with Jawbox, but it shares enough similarities musically (and geographically) to be subjected to the comparison. This quintet plays angular, minimalistic punk like the aforementioned Jawbox with strained, guttural vocals and a pounding rhythm section.
The songs are structured with staccato guitars and discordant melodies. The instrumental “Eskimo And Butterfly” reveals a musically tender side to the aggressive punk exterior. The band experiments with various noisemakers, distorted voice boxes, and the occasional sample. Moviegoer sounds angrier than it really is. Don’t be fooled by all the guitar chugging and noisy interludes because the vocals can’t help harmonizing and fishing out melodies wherever possible much like, ahem, Jawbox.
Moviegoer is not really my cup of tea, but it’s not clear to me why exactly. I never really liked Jawbox all that much- too boring and self-indulgent. I know it has something to do with the tone and presentation of the vocals. Also, the music is too stilted and stringent. If you deconstruct it piece by piece it sounds okay- it’s just when you throw it all together that it loses its effect. It’s been done before, but for those who can never get enough Jawbox in their diets then this might be the album of the year.
Bike features Andrew Brough formerly of Straightjacket Fits as its vocalist and songwriter, and his pristine voice and chiming guitars make his band’s debut album a swirling pop tour de force. The guitars are jangly and fairly noisy in a Ride/Byrds sort of way, and the vocals are packed full of melodies and immediate hooks. Straightjacket Fits was one of New Zealand most successful exports, but Brough left his secondary role in the band after two albums to get his own stuff together. He relocated to Auckland and underwent many line-up changes, trying to attain a solid rhythm section for his wall of guitar sound.
Take In The Sun is an apt title for Brough’s bittersweet, symphonic pop that takes many cues from sixties, psychedelic pop as well as early nineties shoe-gazing. Most of this record was recorded three and four years ago, but it’s just now seeing an American release. Bike’s music doesn’t subject itself to any trends other than vintage bliss-pop, so it could have been recorded yesterday and it would hardly matter. This record has been heavily lauded overseas as one of the most essential guitar pop albums of the decade, which is understandable considering how infectious the songs are.
The title track is an instant classic with its fast paced guitar jangle reminiscent of Ride’s early Creation EP’s. “Circus Kids” shows Brough’s balladeering side, which showcases his unwavering voice. The music has a dark strain that fights Brough’s overwhelming pop tendencies, and it balances out perfectly. “Welcome To My World” has a strong Beatles influence with its downbeat harmonies and psychedelic guitar line. The guitars in “Old And Blue” get pretty aggressive like Oasis without the bullshit. Like The Wedding Present, Bike plays an old romantic foil to the current self-aggrandizing pop scene, and Take In The Sun is a striking debut.
The music that comprises this album was created as seven individual improvisational pieces that were then handed over to various remixers for interpretive interference. The result is a lucid forty five minutes of light electronic noodling. Charles Atlas is a trio of sorts led by Chicago-based instrumentalist Charles Wyatt- former guitarist in San Francisco’s Dart. There are several melodic themes that surface throughout this recording that sound like the instrumental bits of a Disintegration-era Cure song. Electronic noises flutter amongst the minor chord arpeggios while almost danceable beats envelope the atmosphere.
Alan Sparhawk of Low handles the remix of “Duluth” and gives it his patented ‘slow’ treatment. It doesn’t seem like he had a lot to work with, though, because the tones are sparse like a distant tape loop, and it drones on for almost nine minutes, gradually getting louder but never really reaching the surface. Definitely not for the dancefloor. This record gets weirder as it progresses- “The I S A N Municipal Sculptur E Mix” is as strange and off-kilter as its title with a detached female voice reciting strange code while a looped xylophone repeats ad infinitum.
“Stasis And Fingernails” is a deliberate change of pace and starts off with a stark piano line playing against an acoustic guitar. Static seeps its way into the mix slowly, but for the most part the song is devoid of any electronic tampering. Two More Hours is a difficult album to get a handle on. The music hardly demands attention with its gray tones, but it still manages to lure you in.