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22 Music Reviews

The Aesthetics, Off (Mental Telemetry)

Call it sub-sub-sub rock, if you will; The Aesthetics' Off sounds like it was recorded in another land somewhere deep under ground. The songs are weird bluesy guitar rock but everything is distorted beyond belief, making it seem absolutely arcane, something miles away from what your average person on the street would think of as rock. A trio from New Zealand, led by prolific eccentric Matt Middleton, The Aesthetics make music that is downright strange: lo-fi rock fueled by a desire to mess with every sound at every step. Songs like "Sufi" sound in part like a sort of punk-rock version of out-there jazz, with the same freeness about it. Other tracks, especially "The Idiot Team," wear an extra layer of noise over them from start to finish. The slower, more spacey "Imbroglio" sounds like a rock song that has been partially destroyed, like big parts of it are missing. The vocals everywhere are nearly impossible to understand on first listen, and the music is also often hard to get your bearings with at first. Too extreme for your average person (your Best Buy shopper), Off is baffling but also exciting, a living work of art which shifts around in ways you won't expect. Listeners in search of a challenge shouldn't turn away, Off is a unique musical adventure. --dave heaton

Animals That Swim, Happiness From A Distant Star (Snowstorm)

Animals That Swim's album cover is just great, there's a real Polaroid stuck over the cardboard package outside the jewel case. The Polaroid on my copy of the album portrays a gigantic ice cream cone splattered on a street, it's funny and ironical, like what's inside the package. The sound of Happiness From A Distant Star is indeed unassumingly happy like the trivial happiness that derives from phoning in sick, from having a walk in the park or browsing through a market of second hand stalls. If the first track on the album "All Your Stars Are Out" is a fine pop lullaby, Animals That Swim prove later in the album that they can also write anthems like the enchanting "Mackie's Wake" or the cyclical ballad "Seven Days" which will probably reap your heart in thousands pieces. This is gentle pop, with lots of guitars and positive lyrics. It's a good day for everyone, especially for Animals That Swim. Rejoice. --anna battista

Asian Dub Foundation, Frontline 1993-97 (Nation Records)

Let's face it, remixes are often dull stuff. In the'80s they were an endless extended version of the original track, often a cheesy thing of unbearable and embarrassing proportions. Then redemption came and remixes became completely different tracks, something totally detached from the original version. The remixes collected here are all taken from Asian Dub Foundation's "Facts & Fictions", "Change A Gonna Come" and "Rebel Warrior." Booming bass, explodes on "Witness" remixed by DJ Scud, which is probably the best track of the whole album together with "Strong Culture". Polyrhythms, tablas and frantic dub beats characterise each track, but the second part of the album is less intriguing than the first and there's isn't any as incredibly recharging track as "Change A Gonna Come." Anyway, I can assure you this is the only thing you'll be able to listen to while waiting for Asian Dub Foundation's next album. ( battista

Beulah, The Coast Is Never Clear (Velocette Records)

Beulah's fantastic third album The Coast Is Never Clear continues a lushness of sound for the San Francisco-based band, who between their debut Handsome Western States and their second album When Your Heartstrings Break added an array of instruments, particularly strings, horns and piano, to their melodic, 60s-influenced, op-rock songs. Here they have an even fuller sound, with vibraphones, violins, flutes, saxophone and much more. This adds depth to the energetic power of their material, giving their music a musical complexity to match the emotional range of the lyrics. Beulah's music has a sexy sheen to it, but their songs are about the most serious of subjects. The Coast Is Never Clear in particular addresses the darkest sides of life. Death, sadness and loneliness lurk behind the sunny scene painted on the album's tropical-themed cover. "What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades?", they ask in one song title, one matching a laidback, loungey tune where lead singer Miles Kurosky pulls off someone's mask to reveal the hurt underneath. "Well if you think it's a joke, then why do you always cry?" he sings, cutting someone's life to the essential truth of it as quickly as this album itself cuts to the quick of life. The second track, "A Good Man Is Easy to Kill," is both the most upbeat and musically fancy track and the most heartbreaking, dealing with a fatal automobile crash. The slower, more meditative (though still tropical-sounding) "I'll Be Your Lampshade" also addresses death, if in more oblique terms. "I'm waiting on the sunrise or Armageddon, whichever comes first," Kurosky sings on one track, resigning himself to the fact that love can lead to disaster at any step. That resignation runs through the album, along with a current of sadness that especially informs a number of songs detailing the collapse of love. Every song is filled brilliant musical stylistic twists and turns which make it easy to imagine that someone could listen to the album on one level and think of it as 100% "happy," and then listen closer the next time and hear an entirely different work. "C'mon stranger, just sing me a song," Kurosky sings on one track, "and if it's sad I'll sing along." Beulah plays sad songs, songs that if you listen closely enough could tear you up inside, yet they dress them with the most sunny sonic flourishes you could imagine. That balance between musical optimism and lyrical realism equals out to bittersweet music filled with aesthetic pleasure, music to comfort you and shake you out of your dream world.--dave heaton

Björk, Vespertine (One Little Indian/Elektra)

The princess of ice, victim of a malicious spell, is lying in a crystal coffin. Like the Magi, two mysterious figures arrive to pay her a visit bringing her a music box. But when they start playing it, the weird sounds that escape from the box like birds from a cage, awake the princess who starts singing with a particularly piercing voice. Well, the things didn't properly go in this way, but the eerie queen of glaciers, as the music press usually called Björk, has awoken in her latest album to new life, also thanks to the weird experiments of San Franciscan duo Matmos who collaborated with her. Recorded in Spain and in the States with a sixty piece orchestra and a sixty piece choir, Vespertine is a mess of glowing lights erupting from the utmost recesses of Björk's heart. "Hidden Place" opens the album with mysterious beats, but Björk manages through it to reassure the listener that we're not in the dark realm of Selma's Songs: "Cocoon" is indeed a sort of confession about a new found love whereas "Frosti" is an instrumental lullaby made up by a music box and "Sun In My Mouth" contains some lines from an e.e. cummings' poem. Harps, clavichords and a phantasmagoria of violins do the rest while pearls, love, seagulls, black lilies and a sparkling aurora populate Björk's songs. Björk hasn't got Midas' touch, nothing she puts her hands upon turns into gold, but into prismatic crystals with a pulsing heart of glowing light. "Pagan Poetry" and "Unison" are probably the best tracks, in particular on the former the echo laden chant of Björk repeating "I love him, I love him, I love him" reaches your mind and pierces your heart. Softly she's singing, softly she's whispering: the eerie elf, has finally turned into a swan. (, battista

Blanket Music/Noise For Pretend (Hush Records)

Blanket Music and Noise For Pretend, two jazz-inflected pop groups, are showcased on this 8-song split CD from Portland, Oregon-based Hush Records. With four songs from each band (in both cases one from an upcoming full-length and three exclusive to this), the CD is a delightful introduction to two groups that meld playful styles with superb melodies and musicianship. Noise For Pretend, featured first, are the more overtly jazzy of the two, playing sexy, luxurious songs with hints of swing and bossa nova. Their sparse sound highlights each element, namely classy guitar, bass and drums, and the heavenly voice of singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding. The songs are have a relaxed, after-hours feel that complements lyrics which deal with secrets and mysteries, as on "Momagranite," about a mom who creeps through the streets in fancy clothes after her kids are asleep, and "Pants With His Halfway Down" about a seducer with the devil "deep inside him." Blanket Music's sound is slightly more pop-rock, though with lilting jazz rhythms and subtle programming underneath. With a relaxed but fresh energy, the opener "Hips (radio edit)" is a sweetly crooned request for everyone to loosen up a bit, to "shut up and sway your hips," as the chorus goes. "Bicycle Thief," a cityscape portrait/story, and "Song," a self-conscious take on songwriting, have a more spoken-sung-rambled vocal delivery which conveys just as much style. Each group also has one song without lyrics, where vocals are used as another instrument instead of a communication tool. These tracks help showcase the musical talents of the players, though those skills aren't really in question at any point on the CD. As sweet and luscious as the kiwi on the album cover, the music by both bands here is not only memorable and enjoyable but fresh and downright exciting.--dave heaton

Brando, The Headless Horseman Is a Preacher (Smokeylung)

Any band with an album The Headless Horseman Is a Preacher has to have a bent towards the fantastical, and Brando does. That love for the mystery in things manifest itself in many ways, from their enigmatic lyrical poetry to the inventive stylistic variety of their music. Generally speaking, Brando plays rock music with psychedelic twists, dreamy tones and a knack to head off into unusual directions. Lead singer Derek Richey's voice especially capitalizes on this surprise factor--at first seeming somewhat one-dimensional, it at times takes off into flight in ways that defy expectations. Brando's music does the same, with guitars likely to bend, twist and explode when you're not looking. There's also synthesizer, acoustic guitar and strings, adding a musical sweetness that nicely balances with the sometimes abstract nature of their music. Lyrically, Brando also likes to switch things up on you. "I was the pilot of this ship/I was the pirate of this ship," Richey sings on one track, suggesting a multiplicity of meanings to match the diversity of style inherent in their music. That complexity runs through all of the album, from the unique rock anthems and sweet ballads that are here, to even more bizarre tracks, like "The Leaving of Ayetch," which sounds like it comes from some bizarre version of musical theater, to "Death of a Disco Dancer," a fuzzed-out rock "revisiting" of the Smiths song. The Headless Horseman Is a Preacher is an elusive, creative mind-warp but one with both sweetness and depth to it.--dave heaton

Malcolm Catto, Popcorn Bubble Fish (Mo'Wax)

Recorded and mixed at Malcolm Catto's studio, The Tardis, Popcorn Bubble Fish sounds as if it had been recorded in a lab rather than in a proper recording studio. Catto makes weird experiments messing around with the sounds filed in his secret studio and the result he obtains is a funky urban soundtrack. "Rock" is a great invigorating mess of bleeps and noises; "Fax" and "Spaghetti" are polyrhythmazes good to use as the soundtrack to listen to while vandalising the whole world with graffiti and "Metropolis" and "Russ Two" are made up of jazzified funkified beats. "I've got to keep experimenting. I feel that I'm just beginning. I have part of what I'm looking for in my grasp, but not all", John Coltrane used to say. Malcolm Catto might be an alienated bastard lost in his world of bleeps and bops, but his weird experiments aren't that bad, he's just got to keep on experimenting.--anna battista

Circulatory System (Cloud Recordings)

The Olivia Tremor Control always struck a balance between psychedelic explorations of dream worlds and Beach Boys-influenced pop. That division generally meant that the pop songs were vaguely psychedelic and the band occasionally wandered used more experimental instrumentals as the ground for really getting into psych terrain. Now that they've split and the group's main songwriters have gone on to their own projects, that division seems even clearer. While Bill Doss' group The Sunshine Fix takes the sunny pop route (albeit while dabbling into a variety of musical styles), Will Cullen Hart is using Circulatory System to take the pop songs into even more psychedelic territory. While Olivia Tremor Control was always obsessed with dreams, here Hart has more directly fused that obsession with pop songwriting. The result is an album filled with pop songs that have both the haziness and the randomness of the world of dreams, while still showcasing Hart's knack at catchy melodies and hooks, as well as his habit of loading songs with instrumentation. Here that instrumentation is supplied by a collective of musicians whose names will be familiar to anyone familiar with the musical collective known as the Elephant 6 Recording Co. While there's as many musicians and instruments here as the last OTC album (Black Foliage), if not more, this album has a much less concentrated feel to it. Everything's slower and feels more open, less focused. The album meanders, but in the way that dreams do, not the way that untrained musicians do. Hart knows what he's doing, and what he's doing is using pop to travel through the worlds of creativity and dreams. "Create your own parades inside the stars and planets," he sings on one track, "reach the heavens just inside." The album also sounds much of the time like it could have been recorded in the middle of the night, with all of the musicians sleepwalking. On mellow tracks like "Inside Blasts" and "A Peek", Hart sounds either half-asleep or highly chemically influenced; in either way, the tone of the album helps capture that feeling of breaking through that you get when creating art or dreaming, the feeling that you're on the verge of entering a strange new world.--dave heaton

Leonard Cohen, Ten New Songs (Columbia)

What sounds like a mundane album title has special significance here, as Ten New Songs represents the first album of new material that Cohen has released since The Future. That album, released in 1992, was a cynical look at politics, culture, sex, life and death that still retained a glimmer of hope and a wish for love and peace. Ten New Songs, bearing the mark of what Cohen has been up to in recent years--living at a Zen Buddhist monastery-- is all of the latter with a slight glint of the former. It's a work that while not sunny or naively optimistic, is nonetheless a projection of love and faith. From song to song, Cohen deftly considers beliefs and the ways that they are tested, love and the complicated ways it manifests itself. Love isn't Hollywood-ized here; it's still as messy and filled with hurt as on any other album in Cohen's discography, but it is more present, more on his mind than ever. Beliefs are similarly difficult and complex, but also something that Cohen seems preoccupied with. In the final track, "The Land of Plenty," articulately reflects on the indecision and confusion of life, starting off like this: "Don't really have the courage to stand where I must stand/Don't really have the temperament to lend a helping hand." By the song's end, he hasn't figured everything out, but he does have an overriding desire for knowledge and understanding, as he repeats the chorus, "May the light in the land of plenty shine on the truth some day." Musically Cohen is in fine form, sounding much like he did on his last few albums. It'd be a misstep not to mention that this album also represents perhaps the most collaborative of Cohen's albums, with bears presence of Sharon Robinson, who not only co-wrote and sings harmony on every song, but arranged and performed almost all of the music and produced the album. I know nothing about her past releases, but Ten New Songs stands strongly with Cohen's best works as a creation filled both with superb songcraft and an intelligent probing into life's big questions.--dave heaton

Collette Carter, The New Stroboscopic (tbtmo)

Collette Carter's lead singer Wilynda has a great pop singer's voice, one that's both stylish and human, pretty and grounded enough to seem conversational. The duo's debut album The New Stroboscopic probes gently into human emotions through danceable pop songs which are infectious, catchy and sweet. Wilynda sings tales of love, infatuation, memories, goodbyes and other affairs of the human heart with an intimacy and clarity that give the album an immeasurable reservoir of emotional resonance. If the songs and her voice are enough to make The New Stroboscopic remarkable, they aren't the whole story of Collette Carter. While it's easy to imagine these songs over undistinguished, plain dance beats or techno grooves, here they're supported by a wonderfully layered, subtle array of electronics and atmosphere, generated by the other half of the duo, Rod (also of Pacificia). The swirl of colors decorating the album's cover mimic the bright, mesmerizing swirl of sounds decorating the music, giving it depth, scope and pleasure. The blend of emotion with pop talent with right-in-place beats and enveloping musical moods give The New Stroboscopic a fresh, now feeling. Yet the album also has a comforting pleasure about it. It feels like home and adventure, like a quiet night with a loved one and a perfect view from the tallest mountain. --dave heaton

DJ Spooky, Nest (Nest)

DJ Spooky's Riddim Warfare, his first release to receive attention from mainstream media, was a successful attempt at pushing the underground into the media spotlight, melding hip-hop with more avant garde styles. Most of what Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky does gets less attention than that release did, but everything he does should be listened to by anyone looking for artists who continually push what they do in different directions. Both a DJ interested in pure hip-hop, electronic music and experimentation and an academic conceptual artist obsessed with the philosophical implications of language and everyday life, Miller's work has taken him in all sorts of directions. Nest, a CD created as a soundtrack to the current issue of the interior design magazine Nest, is one of the many recent projects he's undertaken. Closer in tone to the Viral Sonata he did under his own name than any of the more overtly hip-hop influenced releases he'd done as DJ Spooky Tha Subliminal Kid, Nest is both an interesting aural accompaniment to a magazine and an independent sonic space. As Nest Literary Editor Matthew Stadler indicates in the magazine's intro, the music was created by Miller after he read the magazine from cover to cover. Stadler also calls Miller "one of the great sonic decorators" and compares the musical space within the CD to the intriguing physical spaces covered by the quarterly magazine (which in this issue include a treehouse, a house in the hills of Morrocco, Prousts' bedroom, an English estate, a mobile home redesigned as an art project and the set of As the World Turns). As a sonic environment, Miller's Nest is calming yet always in motion. It's a journey through styles and states of mind, moving from distinguished, classic-sounding instrumental music to sci-fi hip-hop, from melodic dub to weird jazz. As fitting an album where the titles correspond to magazine articles, the CD makes the listener feel like a traveler. Each track indicates a new environment--some are immediately relaxing ("An Embarrassment Artist," "Drinking"), others unsettling and wild ("Asylum," "Ganges River"). The number of levels there are to Nest the CD is awe-inducing. It's a mix of genres which somehow gels as one piece, an accompaniment to reading which mixes with the words in all sorts of unique ways, and a personalized sonic space with many doors to open and nooks to explore. And above all, it's one more amazing work from DJ Spooky, a musician who never runs out of ideas to explore or worlds to take us to.--dave heaton

David Dondero, Shooting at the Sun With a Water Gun (Future Farmer Recordings)

On his latest album Shooting at the Sun with a Water Gun..., David Dondero's perspective is that of the traveling outsider. Often lonely and heartbroken but always pushing the boundaries of life, this type of character is a historically familiar one, yet Dondero carries with him suitcases filled with songwriting talent. His songs are vivid, lively, smart human stories, about what people do with their lives and how they treat each other. He's both a cynic and a romantic, watching others with a bitter eye while always looking for some kind of genuine human connection. Dondero might be a troubadour, but this isn't a folk or blues recording. It's a pop album with personality, one that integrates gospel, folk, jazz and other genres while sticking mostly with voice and guitar. While the first two tracks, "If You Break My Heart" and "The Real Tina Turner," roll along with a catchy pop energy, songs like "Rosary" and "This World Is Not My Home" tap into the country-gospel tradition to explore more spiritual yearnings. There's a darker edge to a few of the songs, especially the weird, jazzy "Pied Piper of the Flying Rats," which depicts a sort of urban hell, and "The Waiter," a folk story-song with a wicked sense of humor to it, about a waiter using a corkscrew to kill a potential mugger. Amidst the darkness and loneliness of Shooting... there's a romantic sense of the power of love. "The Lonesomeness That Kills" carries with it an acknowledgement of what will save, as Dondero sings, "I want you here with me to help me to escape the loneliness I hate." Similarly, the brilliant "Analysis of a 1970's Divorce," which apparently tells the story of the Dondero's parents' marriage, from his perspective, ends with a hope for real love: "I believe in love/protect your innocence/don't give in to be bitter." By the album's end, after traveling through feelings and stories dismal and optimistic alike, Dondero is looking to the future. Perhaps the album's highlight, the pretty "Now & On" sees him trying to forget the past and move on with his life ("It's only now and on"). At the same time that he's moving away from his past, he's got me moving towards it; each time the album ends I make a mental note to search out every other album Dondero's released to date. If the others are even half as good as this one, they're treasures.--dave heaton

Four Tet, Pause (Domino)

Domino recordings are well known for issuing records that the average cheesy music lover might consider proper music miscarriages, but that particular listeners with a refined taste for music know are just like rare comets in a boring night sky. Four Tet's Pause is one of those rare comets, Kieran Hebden's music is indeed a sort of soulful electronica. Just try and listen to "Glue Of The World", the opening track, a beautiful nostalgic melody that towards the end breaks in thousand pieces and in hundreds guitar chords. Four Tet's lullabies are made up of sampled noises of crashing waves, voices or recycled tins clashing together while being moved by the wind. The lovely melody on "Parks", "Untangle" and "No More Mosquitoes", with a mosquito buzzing here and there and a kid's voice chanting will confirm that Hebden will probably become the next big thing.--anna battista

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, How I Long To Feel That Summer In My Heart (Mantra Recordings)

The sun feels great on your face, the wet grass gently caresses your feet and the sky is blue and adorned by little clouds by the most disparate shapes. You wouldn't want to ask anything else from life but a band to provide the soundtrack to this happy moment. And you'd know that only one band would be able to provide it, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Eighth album for Welsh combo by the horrifically difficult to pronounce name, but with the most enchanting lullabies ever done in the last one hundred years. Those of you who've followed the Gorky's career since their first steps won't be disillusioned by this album which bears their typical imprint. There isn't any schoolboy flying away with a troupe of Spanish gypsies here, but the psychedelic pastoralism of "Where Does Yer Go Now?", the acoustic lullaby "Honeymoon With You", the duet "Can Megan" and the minuet "Hodgeston's Hallelujah." are all the result of Gorky's refined lyrics and lovely music. On the album there's also the by now ubiquitous Norman Blake who, bless him, provides some vocals. In a world invaded by new acoustic minstrels, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci must be praised for having been pioneers of their own genre the psyched out psychedelic pastoralism. --anna battista

Gorodisch, Thurn & Taxis (Leaf)

Gorodisch's debut EP Thurn & Taxis is the sound of being outdoors--not literally, but in terms of feeling. The instrumental tracks here have a crisp, alert tone about them, and engulf you with a big, open sound. From the first track, "Setting Sail," on, Stephen Cracknell, who essentially is Gorodisch, lays down layer after layer of sounds, mostly coming from guitars but also strings, piano horns, percussion and programming, in a way that feels like a soundtrack to living, like music that emulates the feelings you have walking outdoors. By "outdoors" I mean not just rural or pastoral scenes, but urban as well; "Moth to the Flame" has a field recording of crowd noise running under the beginning that gives the bossa-novaish shuffle an air of daily life in the city, while the jazzy "The Strangest Feeling" has a similarly fresh feel to it which conjures up the hipness of a big city. The final two tracks, "Blues for Pable Money" and "Homeward," take the music into spacier realms, the first with busy rhythms and weird vocals, the latter with calming vocals and otherworldly chimes accompanying tuneful guitar. That brief track ends the EP with one minute of absolute relaxation, a comforting end to the journey that the rest of the recording took us on. --dave heaton

Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson & Sigur Ròs, Angels of the Universe (Fat Cat)

Angels of the Universe is the title of the Fridrik Thor Fridiksson film that this music is taken from, but it could as well fit the image that will be conjured up by the music itself. Heavenly, beautiful, haunting...Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson's score to the film stands alone as an accomplished piece of music. Delicate and relaxing yet still capable of evoking fear, sadness and anger, the 15 tracks of this album that are his score have both atmosphere and melody in droves. Though I haven't seen the film, it's music that I'm sure works perfectly to accompany visual images. Yet it works independently to conjure about images of its own. Five musicians perform the score, with guitar and violin figuring as the key instruments, yet it all flows as one immersive sound in such a way that the listener doesn't pay much attention to how many players there are at a given time, or which instruments are playing when. It's all seamless and gorgeous, a trip through the sky. The album ends with the two tracks most likely to attract obsessive indie-rock fans--two songs by Sigur Ròs. Both previously available on the impossible-to-find Ny Batteri EP, the two exemplify the mind-blowing, gigantic sound the band projected on their already legendary second album Àgaetis Byrjun, though the material is different. "Bium bium Bambalò," is a slow, moody meditation based on an Icelandic lullaby, while "Death Announcements and Funerals" is a grand take on music that runs underneath funeral announcements on Icelandic radio. In both cases, Sigur Ròs' spellbinding music nicely augments the mood and majesty of Hilmarsson's score. -- dave heaton

Hot Little Rocket, Danish Documentary (Endearing)

I haven't quite figured Hot Little Rocket out yet, at least not as far as understanding what their songs are about. Their lyrics have a sort of cynical wit to them but above all are just mysterious to me. The songs evoke ideas and images more than they tell stories or clearly relate feelings. "Maybe you ought to change your name to something that I can't even say," lead singer Andrew Wedderburn sings repeatedly on "Let's Play in Traffic," and I'm not sure what he means. Is that a problem? No. From the album title, Danish Documentary to songs like "Vive death!" and "Maybe You'll Learn to Drive," Hot Little Rocket manage to be cleverly ambiguous to me, to get the wheels in my brain turning even if they never quite grasp onto anything concrete. And I like that. They have an ability to completely confuse me while leaving me completely happy with that fact. In part it's because the lyrics are still undeniably intriguing. But it's also because of the music. With a punk-ish intensity, a tight guitar assault, and beautiful melodies that shine through a cloud of equally beautiful noise, Hot Little Rocket have elements that make their music feel truly special. Like everything else about the band, it's hard to pin down, but there's the presence of a certain something here that makes everything feel unbelievably right.--dave heaton

Kaye, Pink Sky at Night (Best Kept Secret)

On her cassette Pink Sky at Night, Kaye and her band Polopop create music that has a graceful restraint reminiscent of classical music but also bears the fun, "cuteness" of current indie-pop and 80s new wave. Containing both instrumentals and songs, Pink Sky is pretty and quite charming throughout. Kaye's outlook on life is, to say the least, romantic. Her songs deal mostly with relationships, and generally are more about love's vast promise than its reality. Though "The Rain" does describe love in a more ideal form ("I'm satisfied just being bored with you"), many of the tracks are more expressions of what love would be in Kaye's perfect world and longings for love to be realized. On the slightly more dance-oriented "Feel," she sings "Oh, I can feel my emotions bursting from inside," but then adds, "and I don't think that you appreciate." These expressions of repressed feeling are aided by Kaye's voice, which at times floats overhead in a blissful way and at other times, as on the folk-story-song "Blackbird," simultaneously bares deep feelings of melancholy. In fact, the one place on Pink Sky where the album feels less real is also the one track where Kaye gets away from such feelings and dwells more on coming across as cute ("Princess of Twee"). Nonetheless, on the whole, Pink Sky is about both celebrating the boundless capacities of love and realizing the more complicated realities of it. Kaye's songs get at those myriad sides of it while also giving listeners pretty sounds and songs.--dave heaton

Alex Keller, The Four Hundred Boys (Mictlan Recordings)

Silence, static, grumblings, buzzings, whirring, people speaking...these are some of the myriad sounds that make up The Four Hundred Boys, a collection of seven pieces, recorded between 1995 and 2000, by Seattle-based sound artist Alex Keller. Manipulating sounds in all sorts of ways which will not be easily understood by listeners (but are detailed in the linter notes for those with a need to comprehend what's going on technically), Keller creates sonic art which is complicated in the best way--meaning it is difficult in the way that gets your brain moving in various directions, not in the way that means what's going on is too abstract to enjoy. While not filled with surface-level aesthetic pleasures of the empty sort that people listen to top-40 radio for, these pieces are layered with unique sounds and juxtapositions of sounds. The opening track, "And the walls became the world all around," delivers an intermittent but creeping wave of sound, at times metallic, at times electronic, at times almost nonexistent but not. The second, "Decades II," uses something like a chime or a gong in the background and a squirming buzz/siren in the front. Both increase in loudness, unity and pitch until they collide like a train; then the track cuts to ancient-sounding tones and eerie silence, feeling like the spooky aftermath of something (with metallic ghosts lurking). From there the track continues to build like a cloud in different ways, with various sorts of clanging going on. All of these pieces can be appreciated on numerous levels. "Decades II," for example, is awe-inspiring in one way while listening the first time, and in a completely different way after reading in the liner notes that it was an exploration of the sounds that can come from an electric guitar. That multiplicity in listener reaction is part of the appeal of these pieces; another is simply the mystery which lies behind such a breadth of sound. From "Landscape: Still Life With Bug Lamp," an ambient track with a consistent buzzing sound, to "Gun," a cut-up story where someone is speaking but nothing makes any logical sense, Keller relies on all sorts of techniques. Each technique, and each track, has a different background and sounds different from the next, yet each has the effect of getting listeners to try to figure it out on their own. Art which will likely mean something different for each listener, The Four Hundred Boys shines with a striking intricacy which should please listeners looking for something to intrigue, mystify and challenge them.--dave heaton

Kuhinja, Various Artists (Studio 21)

Kitchens are interesting places: you can eat there, watch your TV there, read a book, have a chat, have a drink, have sex (that is if you have a table comfortable enough…) and, of course, why not, play music there. No, wait, I didn't intend to say that you can listen to your fave music there, but that you can actually record some stuff with a proper band in a kitchen. "Kuhinja" means "kitchen" and the kitchen in question is Serb comic writer Sasa Rakezic AKA Aleksandar Zograf's. The Kitchen workshop, as Zograf explains in the booklet, existed between 1998 and 1999, the group was formed by cartoonists who didn't limit their inspirations to write comics, but also to play music. What came out of their workshop was this album in which bands near and from Pancevo played, most of the material was produced shortly before, during or after the bombing campaign, so it was all done just for the sake of it and not for profit. On this CD, produced by Studio 21, a club in Pancevo, where different cultural activities such as exhibitions, cinema or rock concerts take place, there are fourteen lo-fi tracks that go from the opening song "Kuhinjia" which is just brilliant in its sheer madness and rough production, to the punky "Dve Godine Pre Smaka Sveta" by Nup or the electronic experiments "Kosovo's Future" by Saved Ass, "Sonda" by 2 and "Ninja In Space" by 1024X1024. Other honourable mentions got to the funky "Disco Führer Episode 1" played by Potus Ikar featuring Vladimir Andrejevic and the organ interspersed "Leather Girl" by Fancy Frogs. The CD comes out with a booklet with some illustrations done for the various songs by members of the group of cartoonists (Nup, Zontag, Potus Ikar, Fuzz). This is a compulsive collector's item, but above all it is the proof of the "variety and vitality of the local underground music production, despite the continuing crisis in Serbia," as Zograf writes. So, get all in Zograf's kitchen, there's some good stuff boiling there. (For further information write to: battista

Jeff Mangum, Live at Jittery Joe's (Orange Twin Records)

The story of Jeff Mangum in the last few years is one of music fans jonesing bad for a reclusive artist to return. After following up a unique, solid debut album with an outright musical and literary masterpiece, Neutral Milk Hotel pretty much dropped out of view. Its leader/songwriter, Mangum is therefore a wanted man. While there's still no signs of a third Neutral Milk Hotel, Mangum has recently re-emerged in small doses, via his record label Orange Twin. While previous releases included instrumental experimentation and a field recording from Bulgaria, Live at Jittery Joe's is more directed related to Mangum's musical past, and therefore more of a pleasing offering for the aforementioned eager fans. A live recording taken from right before the release of Neutral Milk Hotel's masterwork, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, it contains a decently long set of Mangum solo. With just one guitar and his expressive, resonant voice, Mangum delivers a relaxed set of songs from both Neutral Milk Hotel albums, plus a few other songs which I don't recognize (the CD cover gives no song titles, just a drawing of an elephant). He's in fine form--the versions here capture the richness of the original songs while giving them an extra starkness. So it goes without saying that for die-hard fans this is one of those "must get" releases. But the real joy of it is that, unlike most live albums, it works equally well as an introduction to his music. While the recording quality isn't perfect (more like the sound of a particularly good bootleg), the performances are straightforward enough to really capture what Jeff Mangum's songs are all about--that is, folk/pop music which encompasses histories and mythologies within the scope of minutes. The physicality of the world is vividly captured in his songs, as is the myriad of human stories that are waiting to be told. Live at Jittery Joe's gives us all of that with aplomb, while giving obsessive fans something to put smiles on their faces for a while.--dave heaton

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