Elvis Costello, North (Deutsche Grammophon / Universal Classics)

Elvis Costello - North Elvis Costello
Deutsche Grammophon / Universal Classics
By: Eric G.

Costello has easily proven himself to be a multi-dimensional musician over the course of his 20-album, 26-year career, but his dilettantish forays into anything other than bile-infested rock ‘n’ roll almost always ring hollow. (When was the last time you put on The Juliet Letters?) North is no exception. He sounds ‹ gulp ‹ happy on these piano-based, jazz-inflected love songs, and any music fan knows that happiness never breeds good art. If you enjoyed Costello’s schmaltzy work with Burt Bacharach on their Painted from Memory album back in ‘98, then, perhaps, you will be able to stomach the absurd pretensions that North promulgates without so much as a hint of irony. But this whole record just smacks of the type of insider-music-snob indulgence that the Elvis Costello of ‘80 would just as soon kick in the face as look at. Thanks a lot, Diana Krall.

Various Artists, Redder Records Presents Metaphysics For Beginners (Redder)

Various Artists - Redder Records Presents Metaphysics For Beginners Various Artists
Redder Records Presents Metaphysics For Beginners
By: Eric Greenwood

The art of the mix tape is one that almost any self-respecting, record-collecting music obsessive takes deadly seriously, and record-label sponsored compilation albums, despite the slightly commercial touch (even from the most underground of labels), can sometimes reach that holy grail of intimacy. Rochester New York's Redder Records takes its fist stab at the art of the mix tape with a compilation that draws from a wildly unpredictable breadth of material.

Of course, everyone knows that a good mix has to be diverse, so that means you can't have, say, four pop punk songs in a row, unless of course you work at Vagrant Records. You've got to keep things unexpected. Throw in some imbalance, some non-sequiturs- never let the listener think he's got you figured out. Since the good folks behind Redder Records have brains and all that, you know you won't be spoon-fed some sappy list of has been emo bands. In fact, the line-up on Metaphysics For Beginners is so diverse, it sounds like a cool college radio station that knows what its doing.

After the Ken Nordine-esque introduction by Will And Robert Creely, The Detachment Kit gets things rocking with its angular post-punk and embittered vocals on "Hustle." Rochester's Kalpana takes the rock to the next level with a tense instrumental of noisy, discordant guitars and piston-fire drumming. Letting out a bit of testosterone – so as not to alienate the ladies – The Gloria Record gets all introspective and slightly out of tune on the chiming "L'anniversaire Triste" recorded live at the Metropol.

Snowglobe's ethereal "Comforted" slows things way down, drawing you into the heart of the compilation. The song's soporific hook repeats throughout, as distant noises and blips whiz by your ears. Lazy, languid vocals unfurl amidst a growing chorus of soundscapes. It's one of those songs that just makes you space out completely. Sufjan Stevens goes unexpectedly electronic on "How Can The Stone Remain?" The beat is fairly buoyant compared to his typically downtrodden songs. Machinated clashes fill the space that Steven's usually leaves open for dramatic effect.

From Monument To Masses' wiry, instrumental post-rock contradicts Steven's reflective tone. Figurine's remix of "Rewind" introduces full-fledged electro-pop into the mix, but Saturday Looks Good To Me offers the wildest curveball yet with "Record Store", which sounds like Leslie Gore at the 1958 prom in a poodle skirt as heard through a tin can on a string. Rockets And Blue Lights (Close At Hand) peppers the ebb and flow of its dissonant guitars with random screams and expansive, tense interplay. Summer At Shatter Creek halts your herky jerky dancing with a darkly repetitive, piano laced dirge that yields dramatic crescendos.

You get the idea. Every single song moves in slightly unexpected directions. Even the bands whose music you think you know and have preconceived notions about tender small surprises. Kind Of Like Spitting's "You Got Served" adds a folkish flair and sense of resignation to Ben Barnett's typically emotive and tortured acoustic lilts, and Make Believe's electronic ballad defies any expectations one might have for anything involving Tim Kinsellas. For one, "Brittany's Favorite" is unpretentious, which is a big step for Mr. Kinsellas, and secondly, it's melodic and memorable.

Metaphysics For Beginners proves that compilations from record companies don't have to be self-serving, burdensome commercials for a team roster. In fact, Redder Records goes out of its way to include music it wants to expose you to, which is the real goal of any mix-maker. Well, besides wanting to get laid.