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Brandon's New Music Round-Up

by Brandon Bentley

Thesis statement

Hey, I'm no music reviewer. But I always find myself in possession of new records (or CDRs/mp3s) long before they're released to stores, sometimes long before any "real" reviews are published. I can't push my music on friends or family - they're not interested anymore. But listening by myself and shutting up about it seems like a wasted opportunity. So since it'd be impossible (and/or illegal) for me to send copies of these new goodies to all of you, the least I can do is attempt to describe it... to clue you in so you'll have some more information about these records than their name and release date.

Bob Mould - Modulate (out now) (Granary)

15 seconds into listening to Bob Mould's new electronic album Modulate and I'm already pissed off.

My Bob Mould Back Story:
I loved the last two solo albums. I liked seeing Bob on tour in 1998. Sugar's singles are among my favorite rock songs, though the only albums I bothered to buy are Beaster and Besides (with the live bonus disc). I hear he was in a band called Husker Du also, but I haven't found the time to listen to them.

Back to the present... song 1 on Modulate ended and I kinda liked it... catchy, and still Bob-sounding despite the overwhelming electronica. Song 2 has me pissed off again.

You know how Bob always uses the same drum fills on every song? That rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat drilling at the end of every verse? Unbelievably, he's STILL using it. Even when Bob turned to electro-drum machines, he's using the same drum fill. I can't believe it.

Even this early in the album, I think I can say that it's NOT going to be like that electro-rap song "Megamanic" off the last album. He's not spouting made-up words or trying to sound like Beck. He bought some nicer equipment or software since he recorded that nonsense. He *is* distorting his voice, and I'm not really sure what he's been singing about... though I think I heard him mumble about a "hollywood dream" just now.

Song 4 is an industrial instrumental with horns. An even more disposable track than "Megamanic"!

Song 5 features understandable vocals! "No one as beautiful as you could ever look at me". Why is the track called "Lost Zoloft", though?

I typed "never panic" and "megamanic" into google and got no results.

Next is another experimental instrumental. Don't be fooled when you look at the back of the CD and it lists 14 songs... only 11 "real" ones.

These songs aren't all bad, but if he'd put any of them on last dog and pony show instead of "Megamanic," they would've gotten the same what-the-fuck reaction from fans.

"Slay Sway" is a rockin' guitar tune... which leads into... ANOTHER rockin' guitar tune! These are just the kind of songs that I thought Bob wasn't gonna play in concert anymore... all that talk about how the last tour was his Final Electric Guitar Rockin' Performance made me skip an anticipated Low / Godspeed concert to go see him for the first time instead. So he'd better not still be rocking in concert. Of course, I'm going to skip Bob's show this month to see John Medeski's new jazz trio, so it all evens out.

Favorite lyrics so far (taken out of context): "I don't like your favorite song / So please don't call me anymore / I don't wanna know you". Those last two gave me more tolerance for the electro songs, even though the current one ("Quasar") is really quite bad.

I switched to headphones a few tracks ago to hear the words better, and there's all sorts of interesting stereo stuff going on here. That's not too surprising... one of my very favorite uses of stereo sound is on Bob's 1996 b-side "Doubleface", where short alternate versions of the song float through my head, one after the other, like I'm on a long sideways escalator passing a different Bob every few yards.

Song 10 rocks, yo. Most (all?) of the tracks flow together... no extraneous silence here. Actually, some silence would be welcome after that last pile of tuneless industrial shite (track 11).

Either I'm getting used to the sound or Bob's integrating his sounds better as the album progresses. Instead of straight-up electro-songs, he's playing swirly guitar rock surrounded by programming and keyboards and backed by what sounds like real drums.

Some of the tunes just have this bouncy keyboardy 80's sound to them that annoys me. I mean, I'm still following the music, bouncing my head and tapping the keyboard in time to the beat... but hey, I was tapping in time to a Heart song at the haircuttery today, so it doesn't take much. More horns on this song... or SimulHorns from Bob's laptop. I can't tell.

The last song (a piano ditty polluted by wow-wow-wow synth noise and electro-bendy vocals) just fades out without finding a natural stopping point... which is just what Bob's career is going to do if he doesn't release another halfway decent album before retiring. Fortunately, I've heard that Modulate is NOT the Future Of Bob, but just a regrettable side-step, and that he has another album or two of actual songs in the can already (sorta like another Bob I know of).

Well, I'm afraid I can't recommend this album to anyone at all. I don't believe that anyone would really listen to it enough times to make it a worthwhile purchase. I can't imagine anyone even playing it all the way through after a few months have passed... unless you happen to fall asleep with it on, which is also unlikely. After playing all the way through, I listened to my favorites ("Slay Sway" and "Sound on Sound") again, and they don't hold up as singles. It *might* be one of those records you've gotta play a bunch of times to fully enjoy, but I'll never know for sure.

"We try to find a balance / We try to keep it straight / We try to stay in tune / We modulate". Indeed.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Plastic Fang (April 9) (Matador)

I was surprised that the band got it together and recorded another album after that hollow nothing of a record called Acme. But sure enough, they've kicked The Automator out of the studio and gone back to rock 'n' roll. The songs are solid, Jon's lyrics are intelligible (and not bad at all). Best of all, the first single, "She Said", is fucking excellent, and I've already played it ten times today.

"I'd like to break my poor black heart / Why don't you worship me?"

This record takes it easy, settling me into the pleasant bluesy groove that Acme promised but never delivered, and getting frantic and heavy only when necessary. I'd love to keep comparing the songs with the Xtra Acme USA album, but did anyone hear that thing? Was it in stores? Anyway, it had some rockin' tunes called "wait a minute," "confused," and "chowder" that are very close to the Plastic Fang sound.

"Go ahead baby / I'm gonna stick my head in gravy / right now."

"Mean Heart" is about "getting right with God" and "filling your heart with love". I think that's a new topic for the Blues Explosion... though I can't be sure, cuz I never figured out what Jon was saying on the first three albums. The song "Talk About The Blues" was a major turning point for this band. They used to shout "Blues Explosion!" during all their songs... then to clarify things for the critics and fans, Jon proclaimed in TATB: "I don't play no blues, I play rock 'n' roll." Now in all their songs he shouts "rock 'n' roll". He also likes to tell us to "get with it"... but that one's been around for a while. As long as he's shouting anything, I'm pretty happy.

"I was a... mean mistreater, a genuine faker / But I got struck by lightning / And now I glow"

If I'd never heard the Blues Explosion before, I'd probably be in love with this album. It surpasses anything I've heard by the White Stripes, beats hell out of all Robert Pollard's recent solo albums, and brutally pummels Weezer's dirty green album. I'm a little upset that it's not as varied as Orange or Acme, but I'd rather the band stick to what they do WELL than toss in a bunch of remixed electro-pop tracks for variety's sake. My main complaint is that after the first two songs, nothing is very memorable. Maybe a few more listens will fix that, and if not, well, it'll still be a nice record to play on those half-hour car rides to the city. I'm sure their upcoming concert will shine new light on the record... their live shows always have twice the energy of the albums (which was bloody impressive after the already over-energetic Now I Got Worry).

"Who's your best friend? That's me! That's RIGHT, baby!"

Nice record. Great songs. If it doesn't seem varied / interesting enough, just toss it in a CD changer (or mp3 device) with Orange, Now I Got Worry, and Extra Width and hit the random button. That's what I'm gonna do here in a few minutes. That's right, baby.

Enon - High Society (May 7) (Touch and Go)

High Society is such a cool-sounding album, it makes me feel cooler just listening to it. I get in the car and drive slowly around the neighborhood with the windows rolled down, playing "In This City" on repeat. Men in their gardens, kids on their bikes, pretty young women with bows in their hair all nod their heads to the infectious beat and wonder where they've heard the female vocalist before. This is the indie-rock equivalent of Massive Attack's "Mezzanine". It starts off pretty well, and peaks on songs 3 and 4, then just keeps laying down terrific tracks until it ends (too soon). Alternating between competent singers (male + female). Catchy and technologically interesting. It's like Brainiac gone Top 40 (and I mean that as a high compliment). Pop music extrema. Whups the last album, and stands tall with the best of Enon's singles (Marbles Explode and the Sub Pop 7"). You need this.

Dianogh - Missions of Brazilians (April 15) (Southern)

I just listened to the entire Dianogah album, but all I remember is the last 20 seconds or so. I'm sure even that will fade as soon as I play something else.

Have you ever listened to a Tortoise album... TNT, for example? Notice how it's full of interesting sounds and catchy tunes? I used to catch myself humming the title track and "I Set My Face to the Hillside" during class. Each time the record is played, new sounds are revealed. It doesn't sound like ambient MUSIC, it sounds like a solid collection of SONGS. I'm biased against instrumental records, since I like to sing along with my music, but TNT is as good as they come. Well this, my friends, is no TNT.

Dianogah has got two bass players and a drummer. All are good at what they do, and it's a treat to see them play live. The drumming is especially good, both in concert and on this record. What they lack is enough songwriting skills to keep the music interesting. I think songs like "Pinata Oblongata," "The Smallest Chilean," and especially "Goto Dengo Loses the War" are short enough that they could maintain interest on a mix tape, perhaps as cool-down tracks among some more powerful music. And maybe if you're looking for an unobtrusive record to play at a low-key party, this would work well. But in most other circumstances, you'd be better off with Tortoise or Ui.

Turns out John McEntire of Tortoise produced this record. I am so not surprised.

Weezer - Maladroit (April 30) (Interscope)

Weezer is not cool anymore. One of their best members quit and they hired a mediocre replacement. The days of "Buddy Holly" are long gone. The annoyingly untitled "Green Album" had a few great moments ("Simple Pages", "Island in the Sun") but was mostly dull and sometimes painful. Don't even bother with Maladroit... time to move on to better things.

That's what I'd like to say. I'd like to fit in with the crowd, join my peers in turning up their noses at the newly reformed Weezer. But it was only a few years ago that we turned the volume all the way up in the car whenever a Weezer song came on, singing along with all the singles... and this new record keeps the spirit of those songs alive.

The production is nice, slightly less oppressive than on the last record (and no, I'm not listening to the unmastered copy that's been circulating - this is the real thing). Weezer has always been good at mixing the songs up slightly so we don't get bored of the same ol' sound, but while the last record eclecticized its sound by throwing up the hateful "Hash Pipe" and some more (mercifully) forgettable numbers, Maladroit keeps it interesting while maintaining high quality throughout. Damn near every song is a fun singalong pop masterpiece. The longest track on here is barely over three minutes, and the album is just over half an hour - just short enough that you're not tired of Weezer by the time it's over, and might just play the whole thing over again.

There's not much I have to say about this, as we all know plenty about Weezer (more than we'd like to know), and you'll probably hear this record eventually whether you want to or not. Look for these singles: Dope Nose, Keep Fishin', (maybe) Love Explosion, and (hopefully) Slave.

Mum - Finally We Are No One (May 20) (Fat Cat/Bubblecore)

The song "K/Half Noise" starts out with a bit of a drone, then adds a light beat and Buffalo Daughter-style "la la la" vocals. The vocals disappear quickly, replaced by a lovely violin tune and an ever-changing clicking/scraping rhythm sound. It gets into a pleasant groove, and just when it's threatening to stay in one place for a full minute, a swelling musical jet engine rises up then vanishes abruptly, stripping the song back to the basic tune and half of the rhythm track. And that's just in the first half of this 9-minute song.

The rest of Finally We Are No One works in the same way. These mostly instrumental songs don't march forward in a straight line, they evolve and expand. The sound moves seamlessly between organic and electronic, defying categorization (it's not ambient, IDM, classical or rock, but has elements of all these). The music video / CD single track "Green Grass of Tunnel" features gorgeous vocals, and a tune that brings to mind old Peter Gabriel songs.

I've played this record three or four times, but just sat down and listened to it intently for the first time, and it struck me how deceivingly complex this quiet music is. This is one of those records you can play a hundred times and still notice new sounds, tunes and instruments on the 101st go-round. I guess the best point of comparison would be Dntel's latest, Life is Full of Possibilities. That record perfected the vocals, the beats and the IDM / glitch sounds while throwing in some outside tunes and effects once in a while. Mum takes the same laid-back soothing approach, but doesn't focus as much on any one aspect of the music, shifting and blending sounds carefully into each other. This ultimately results in a record that's more generic than Dntel, yet somehow more satisfying.

White Hassle - The Death of Song (July 2) (Orange)

White Hassle's first LP was an unlikely success (artistically, not commercially). It tossed the distinctive voice of Marcellus Hall and the pots-and-pans drumming of Dave Varenka (both of Railroad Jerk) at a bunch of country blues covers and some classic-sounding originals.

After one more tour Railroad Jerk broke up, and soon afterwards, a whole new White Hassle emerged. An EP was released, with a second guitarist (Matt Oliverio) and some more upbeat songs. Nothing happened for a while... then an Atlanta band signed to the same record label as WH, and started inviting them down south to play. I got to see their "fiery" live show last Spring, and again last week, where they had an advance-advance (CDRs and photocopiers) copy of the new album for sale.

The Death of Song is a logical progression from the last two... more band-oriented songs than solo guitar & harmonica numbers... but the same lyrical style, same intricate percussion, same joyous head-bobbing hand-drumming singalong action when I listen to it. Same solitary lo-fi guitar-picking song at the end of the album. More classic covers ("My Favorite Lies" by George Jones is a standout track) and more catchy originals ("I Was Sleeping", "I Will Be Thine").

This is another solid release from NYC's most criminally overlooked trio. Guitar slides and harmonicas, vocal harmonies on sharply-written lyrics, simple tunes that leave lasting impressions. Other than the turntable-scratching on one song, this music is timeless. Buy it this summer, learn the songs, sing along with Marcellus on "The Indiana Sun" ("she left in a hurry holding a handgun / she left me standing under the indiana sun") and "Jealousy Will Get You" ("I pull my hands up into the fire / I listen to the walkman when I'm tired"). Five years from now, when The Strokes seem boring, Neutral Milk Hotel have lost their magic, and Guided By Voices have released so many songs that it's impossible to concentrate on any one of them at a time... pull this one out and notice how fresh it still sounds. I'm not just guessing here... the Five Year Freshness Theory has held true with the band's 1997 debut, National Chain.

What would have been the best original song on this album, "Lazy Susan", was instead put on a 7" single on High Maintenance Records, backed with a nice (but unessential) Violent Femmes cover. The label doesn't do mail order, but try White Hassle is too unassuming to achieve sudden worldwide fame... in fact you may never hear about them again. Do yourself a favor and order that single now, or you'll never know what you're missing.

Plaid - P-Brane EP (April 30) (Warp)

You haven't heard anything by electronic laptop gurus Plaid? Then go get this EP - it's damned good, and will probably be cheap. If you only listen to rock, you should buy this also. Then you'll at least know what people are talking about when they mention the "IDM" genre/style (no I won't tell you what IDM stands for - it's stupid).

What's that? You HAVE heard Plaid? You have one of their albums already? Go listen to it again... that's about equivalent to playing P-Brane twice.

Plaid is a fine group, fine enough that I've plunked down the cash for a ticket to their concert tomorrow night... but come on now, let's admit that their songs aren't different enough to justify buying the whole discography.

I don't know how to describe this kind of music anyway, so let's let allmusic and pitchfork do the talking: "melancholy beatbox"... "rangy"... "atmospheric"... "escaping description"... "ambitiously complex"... "elements of chaos"... "popcorn electronica"... "solidification of the IDM sound"... "a growing sense of spirit"... "Each maddeningly unquantized element totters on the brink of collapsing into a synthetic stammer."

I should also mention that there's a track called Diddymousedid. And Merriam-Webster says that rangy means "having great scope."

Bardo Pond - Purposeful Availment series #1 (or maybe #2) (out now)

RARE!!!! Limited to 700 copies, only available when you subscribe to the complete series of CD EPs from Three Lobed Recordings!

See packaging + press release at

Cardboard slipcase looks even BETTER than it does on that page - and comes with a jewel-case-sized page with track info! Glue holding the slipcase together is wearing off (arrived from record label in this condition), but that can be easily fixed.

Two EXCLUSIVE tracks from this unjustly acclaimed psychedelic group - over a half hour of music!

The first track is a seven-minute fuzzy guitar piece with female vocals that float about the entire song, never quite settling long enough to form words and sentences... just voice as sound, another instrument in this dreamy, but ultimately unsatisfying mix. The production is VERY nice - these aren't some half-assed demos, this is Quality Psychedelia!!

With the second track, "Thalay Sagar (Torture Tortures)", Bardo Pond pulls off an impressive technical feat. They fit over THREE HOURS of jazz-drone madness into a 24-minute song. That's right... this song (named after a Himalayan mountain) just never seems to end. I got tired and just fast-forwarded to the gradually-speeding-up drum-pounding finale, but who knows how many mirthless minutes I could have spent listening to this song if I hadn't found the fast-forward button. More than 90, that's for damned sure. If that's not value, I don't know what is.

Bidding starts at $5. Shipping is an additional $2.50. This is a RARE item, so bid high and bid often! Check, MO and Paypal accepted. Please check out my other auctions, multiple items save postage.

Cex - Tall, Dark and Handcuffed (release date unknown) (

I've got a problem here. I have little experience writing record reviews. See the ones I wrote above this one? That's my entire portfolio right there.

I also have little experience listening to rap and hip-hop. If I tried to compare this new Cex record to anything, I'd be limited to Kool Keith and A Tribe Called Quest... and Cex doesn't sound like either of them.

So how can I convince you that this is the greatest record of the year?

I could describe the song that hooked me, "K-12 Days of Hell", a year-by-year account of the adolescence of the alternating vocalists, Cex and Height. It has the innocent storytelling qualities of The Fresh Prince's "parents just don't understand" - and no, I'm not grasping for comparisons here - it really does. "Third grade, lunch is Cex's favorite subject. Me and the boys engage in endless discussions. Nintendo, we love it. Girls don't mean nothing. Every day late waking up and rushing for the bus."

Or I could throw out some lyrics from my current favorite, "Bad Acne" ("Is what you say true 'cause there's a beat underneath your voice / realize I'm a liar when I rhyme a white noise / but for the rest of my days, on the stage is where you'll see me, 'cause that's the place I get my therapy for free / So I propose to cut off my tongue and wear it into my sleeve so you can see and be sure I never speak with it in cheek"). I could go on and on... it's all so quoteable.

I could also take the electronica approach. See, Cex is a young white guy on a record label mostly devoted to instrumental music (Tigerbeat6, operated by another young white guy). Cex has released quality instrumental albums himself, so the backing tracks on this record aren't your standard stolen beat patterns... it's all good, original stuff with high-quality production.

I could give the always unconvincing Personal Testimonial... tell you how I run out of patience for most hip-hop, and how even the records that sound so appealing at first (All Natural's "Second Nature", Dr. Dooom & Dr. Octagon) seem excessive when I listen to them more than a few times a month... but that *this* record has been playing in my car almost nonstop since I got it two weeks ago. I could mention the Prefuse 73 album and say "if you liked that, you'll like this", but I can't prove that's true since they really aren't similar at all.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if I convince you of anything. You go on listening to your White Stripes, your Mobys and your Badly Drawn Boys. I ordered all the Cex music that's still in print from last week, so I'll be here listening to that. When "Tall, Dark and Handcuffed" comes out for real (got me the pre-advance mp3 edition), I'll be first in line to pick it up. Hope to see you there.

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