Nine Even Shorter Reviews of Music
[Apples in Stereo, Billy Bragg & Wilco, Peter Brotzmann Sextet/Quartet, Del the Funky Homosapean, Fiver, Jurassic 5, Looper, Mirah, Spring]
by Dave Heaton
Apples in Stereo, The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone (SpinART)
Another nice pop/rock album from the Apples, filled with catchy songs about everyday life, songs that keep me singing all day. There are a couple of surprisingly funky, almost disco-ish songs, some really pretty ballads, and two Hilarie Sidney songs that prove her to be as good a songwriter as Robert Schneider. Overall a really fun album. The Apples are slowly adding new dimensions to their sound, which I like to see. And as long as they keep writing songs these catchy, I know I won't be able to resist listening to them again and again.
Billy Bragg & Wilco, Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2 (Elektra)
The second compilation of Woody Guthrie lyrics made into songs by Billy Bragg and Wilco is more even more diverse than the first, though not as consistently good. Mermaid Avenue is one of the more interesting musical projects of recent years, and I'm amazed at the new perspective it gives not only on Guthrie, but on the songwriting abilities of Bragg and Wilco. There's some fabulous rock songs here; some goofy, some touching, some dark and forboding. Some of my favorites include "Secret of the Sea," a rocking Jeff Tweedy-sung love ballad, "Aginst Th' Law," sung by Corey Harris, and the short but beautiful closer "Someday Some Morning Sometime."
Peter Brotzmann Sextet/Quartet, Nipples (Unheard Music/Altavistic)
I'm no free jazz expert, but this CD (a reissue of a long-rare recording from 1969, featuring the only performance by this particular sextet, including not only crazed saxophonist Brotzmann but also Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and other legendary musicians, and another performance by four of the members) sounds great to me. It dispels the notion that free jazz can't be both "out there" and easy on the ears. The musicians play all over the place, all at the same time, and what comes from it is both wild and pretty. There's as much energy here as any rock band, and more of a sense of creative freedom than most.
Del the Funky Homosapean, Both Sides of the Brain (Hieroglyphics)
It's been a while since Del's last album, but, believe me, he has grown in leaps and bounds. As much as I love his first two albums, this is a whole lot more consistent. Del has a unique rapping style, point of view, and knack at picking interesting musical tracks, and all three are displayed prominently on this album. Like always, he shines most when he's battling wack MCs and phony hipsters or when he's throwing completely off-the-wall topics at you, like the track about the junkie ho thinks he's a superhero, or the one about how much Del and his friends like playing the newest video games. A fun, energetic album from a talented oddball.
Fiver, Strings for Satellites (devilinthewoods)
Modesto, California band Fiver's style of rock has lyrics filled with poetic images, a lead singer whose voice can be sweet and savage, and a great sense for atmosphere. All in all, their music has more mystery and complexity than most rock (making them somewhat reminiscent at times of bands like Radiohead and Built to Spill). This album has subtle rock anthems, mood pieces about cross-country traveling and a great Ennio Morricone-ish theme for an unmade movie.
Jurassic 5, Quality Control (Interscope)
Jurassic 5 are another in the great "underground" hip-hop groups rising to the mainstream, and being unfairly touted as hip-hop's saviors. They make hip-hop which is old school in tone and style, yet not overly nostalgic. They use the sing-song choruses and tag team rapping style of the Cold Crush Brothers, The Treacherous Three or others of that time period, but they don't sound dated or corny. They're looking back, but are talented enough and have fresh enough sounds to be moving forward even more so. This is a fun, concise album featuring four talented MCs (my favorite is the deep-voiced Chali 2Na) and two amazingly talented DJs, Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark (yes, there's 6 members in Jurassic 5) who provide lots of soul texture and uptempo beats.
Looper, The Geometrid (Sub Pop)
Looper's Up The Tree was filled with Stuart David's little dance tunes and story-songs which neatly captured the beauty and mystery found in life's little moments. On their second album, The Geometrid, Looper is dealing in the same thematic terrain (and hurray for that) but is now a solid four-piece band, so the songs have added musical texture which fits them nicely. This is evident right from the first track, the great dance number "Mondo `77." David's also writing more with melody in mind, and some of the tracks here ("These Things," "On The Flipside," "Bug Rain") have as much depth and beauty as a catchy little pop song can have. Overall, I love the direction Looper's heading in and enjoy this album at least as much as the last one, if not more.
Mirah, You Think It's Like This But Really It's Like This (K)
On her debut CD, You Think It's Like This But Really It's Like This, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlya writes songs which articulate entirely personal emotions in a beautiful, poetic way. She adds new life to the much-trodden genre of love songs, breakup songs and confessionals through astute, direct and visually suggestive lyrics, a stunning singing voice and a sense for melody and harmony. She also has a knack at interesting musical accompaniment, something usually missing when you're working with mostly one musician. This is singer-songwriter-type music, but it's intelligent, catchy and pretty.
Spring, The Final Goodbye (March)
Spring play smooth, cosmopolitan pop mixed with light bossa nova, romanticism and eccentricity. This is a really pretty album. Lead singer Alex has a gorgeous voice (she sings at turns in English, French and Spanish), there's lots of relaxing acoustic guitar, and the occasional surprising musical turns. The Final Goodbye was originally released in 1999 on Spain's Elefant Records. Now it's been released in the U.S. by March Records, who lately have been putting out all sorts of great pop music from all around the globe.