Two decades ago, new albums from Cibo Matto, Luscious Jackson and others were spinning away in my portable CD player. Here’s what I had to say about them back then (with some minor editing):
Their name means “food crazy” in Italian — and even though Cibo Matto were founded by Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori, two Japanese female ex-pats in New York, they always live up to their handle. Their appetizing first disc, Viva! La Woman, was a culinary-obsessed outing with kooky indie-hop tunes like Sugar Water and Know Your Chicken. For their second course, they’ve added a couple of cooks, including Honda’s beau Sean Lennon, but they don’t spoil the broth. Stereotype A is still a mouth-watering platter of tastes and textures, from bachelor-pad pop to swirling hip-hop, soul, R&B, and heavy metal — sometimes, all in the same song. Even the food references are still there, albeit a little smarter — “Can’t find the spoon we once had, the sugar cubes will melt no more” is as artsy a love lyric as you’ll hear anywhere. Anyway you slice it, it’s a recipe for success.
They used to be the bee’s knees — but on Electric Honey, New York B-girls Luscious Jackson have definitely lost their sting. It’s been three years since their last CD Fever In Fever Out, but aside from dropping their keyboard player, LJ haven’t changed a bit. They’re still churning out the same breezy, downtown hip-hop, full of simmering, subdued grooves and cool, smoky vocals. The only difference is none of these numbers can hold a scented candle to old hits like Naked Eye or Citysong. As summer beach music, it’ll do just fine — but in any other setting, this reconstituted Honey is less than electrifying.
Wild Wild West
We’ll soon see if Will Smith’s new summer flick does the boffo box office of Independence Day and Men In Black. But already, there’s little doubt the soundtrack to W3 (my suggested acronym, in keeping with ID4 and MiB) will be a blockbuster. Smith’s title cut, a hammy sandwich of Kool Mo Dee’s cowboy-rap classic and Stevie Wonder’s I Wish, is already in heavy rotation. Several other tracks, most of which continue the homeboys-on-the-range theme, will likely follow, such as Kel Spencer’s I’m Wanted, which samples Bon Jovi, or Dr. Dre and Eminem’s G-rated G-funk Bad Guys Always Die. W3 (hear how that rolls off the tongue?) doesn’t always hit the target — too many ballads and no-names make it a mild, mild ride at times — but it’s still sure to score a pop-chart bull’s-eye.
Negativland / Chumbawamba
The ABCs Of Anarchism
You’ve gotta hand it to the quixotic U.S. collective Negativland. Plenty of bands talk the talk about rebellion, but these sonic terrorists walk the walk. A few years back, they went toe-to-toe with U2, who didn’t approve of the band sampling one of their songs. Last year, they took on cola culture with the commercial cutup CD Dispepsi. On this 20-minute EP, they have a new target ripe for skewering — Teletubbies. With the help of anarchists-turned-one-hit-capitalists Chumbawamba, our heroes sample everything from the WWF to the Sex Pistols (and, of course, Tubthumping) into a sonic collage that’s part anarchism primer, part Teletubbies adventure. Uh-oh! Wonder what Tinky-Winky’s lawyer will say.
The Jerky Boys
“Stop Staring At Me!”
If your favourite part of The Simpsons are Bart’s prank calls to Moe the bartender — “Hey, people, I wanna Seymour Butts!” — you might get a chuckle or two out of this latest disc from real-life vulgar Bart wannabes The Jerky Boys. Then again, you might not; unlike the boy’s short, snappy lines, these pranks are long-winded, mean-spirited, racist — and most unforgivable of all, just plain unfunny (“I want to get my ducks cleaned,” har-de-har-har). Time to hang it up, boys.
Hairy On The Inside
Like a British version of cranky ex-Plimsoul Peter Case, guitarist Miles Hunt ditched his gig in a big-time rock band — ’80s British popsters The Wonder Stuff — for the life of a curmudgeonly troubadour. But also like Case, Hunt is a grump with a heart of gold. Sure, he sounds tightly wound on these edgy acoustic ballads as he introduces us to the ghosts that haunt him, obsesses on his many failings and tries to convince us that “all is not well — not this time.” But even all that acidic venting can’t sour the sweetness of his voice and hook-sharp melodies. You can take the boy out of the pop band …
Hell On Stage Live
This isn’t just the second two-disc live album from veteran viking metal foursome Manowar — it’s the second one in a row! And no wonder: With tracks that routinely hit the eight-minute mark, it takes them two CDs just to get through a 16-song set of their intricate, Iron Maiden-ish metal. But that doesn’t seem to bother the rabid fans who chant along with every vocal, shout along with every hunk of taped dialogue, and presumably play air-guitar with every Flight Of The Bumblebee-inspired solo. With a crowd like this, their next release could very well be the triple-live CD Hell On Stage — The Third Encore.
Hard To Kill
This trip-hop husband-and-wife team from Vancouver (by way of Romania) takes great pains to point out that its name was inspired by a garden in Geneva and not the potent potable. Fair enough; it’s an easy mistake to make for anyone who’s heard this debut CD — 50 minutes of head-rush electronica that puts the trip in trip-hop as it bounces between paranoid-android dance tracks and blissed-out chill-outs that float on kaleidoscopic synth waves and mellifluous female exhalations. Bottom line: Weed’s Hard to Kill is intoxicating enough to give you the munchies.
Morbid Latenight Show
If the cover picture is anything to go by, Bertine looks like your typical Nordic ice princess — samoyed blue eyes, straw blond hair, cheekbones sharper than a north wind. She’s also the first Norwegian pop star to cross over to North America since A-ha. Putting those two facts together gives you a pretty fair idea of what her undistinguished debut disc Morbid Latenight Show is all about — 40 minutes of icy-cool vocals that send a shiver up your spine, laid over funky pop grooves that are too bubbly by half. Although her Tori-meets-Sinead voice comes close to melting your resolve at times, mostly it’s as out of place as Snow On A Hot Day — which just happens to be one of her songs.
City Of Daughters
There’s quirky and then there’s quirky. And then there’s Dan Bejar. The eccentric singer/songwriter of Destroyer is so oddball he makes Jonathan Richman look like John Denver. With their lazily strummed acoustic guitar and Pavementesque, warbling vocals, Bejar’s twisted, romantic tales of cyclopses, gnostics and crimes against the state of our love, baby, could easily come off like some sort of goofball parody of ’60s folk. But his infectiously wordplayful humour and wide-eyed delivery — not to mention his sly sense of melody — save the day, making City Of Daughters a place you want to visit again.
The press kit dubs this alt-rock quintet the “Jane’s Addiction of the new millennium.” Fair enough. Irish vocalist Declan O’Shea’s adenoidal yowl and penchant for lewd lyrics (“Would you be my whore?”), along with brother Ciaran’s metal-flaked, post-glam songs, would get these lads into the Perry Farrell Fan Club. Thing is, they also seem to have joint membership in the Britpop Appreciation Society; plenty of these 11 tunes start off strong, then seem to stall, settling for the catchy, big-hook chorus, but never really reaching JA’s level of hedonistic abandon. They may claim to be Jane junkies, but sometimes it seems Cyclefly are just as addicted to Oasis.
Jesse & The 8th Street Kidz
One advantage to not having MTV is that we haven’t had to endure the idiotic ramblings of Jesse Camp, an androgynous, stick-figure space-cadet who won a job as a VJ a while back. Now, Jesse’s trying to prolong his 15 minutes of fame with this CD of low-rent glam rock and teen-metal odes to cutting outta class, smoking in the boys’ room and necking behind the gym. Like Camp, this 14-track disc does have a certain goofball charm (not to mention decent guest spots from rockers-for-hire like Rick Neilsen and Stevie Nicks). Ultimately, though, it’s the sort of dated hair-metal — imagine your little brother’s band trying to write Poison songs — that MTV wouldn’t be caught dead airing these days. And rightly so.
Katharine Whalen’s Jazz Squad
On her own, jazz vocalist Katharine Whalen isn’t exactly a household word. But perhaps you’ve heard of her day job: singer for the retro-chic Squirrel Nut Zippers, whose renditions of ragtime classics feature her smoky, sophisticated vocals. Here, Whalen steps into the solo spotlight (and, once again, back to the past) with this splendid set of Prohibition-era standards, backed by a zippy quintet of Zippers and friends. Listening to Whalen wrap her Lady Present-Day pipes — she has the same nasal moan and catch in her voice as Billie Holiday — around classics like Deed I Do, My Old Flame, Now Or Never and My Baby Just Cares For Me is like a visit to a speakeasy. All you need is the bathtub gin.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
If “New Orleans brass band” still makes you think of old guys in red vests and straw hats tooting When The Saints Go Marchin’ In, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band will open your eyes — and ears. This N’Awlins septet’s sound is based as much in Funkytown as Dixieland. Greasy bayou groove straight from The Meters are the main ingredient in their Creole musical gumbo, with heapin’ helpings of clattering, bumptious percussion, joyously disjointed horns and organ-jazz jive (courtesy of producer John Medeski of Medeski, Martin & Wood). Rollicking, jumping and wailing, the Dirties are like some tipsy marching band strolling the French Quarter at Mardi Gras, playing anything from Louis Jordan’s Run Joe to Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues — and picking up fans like the Pied Piper wooed mice. They’ve got the jam; give them your bread.
Orange County quintet U.S. Bombs are like the Squirrel Nut Zippers of punk — new traditionalists recreating the music of their forefathers. But instead of Fats Waller and Eubie Blake, the Bombers’ musical roots reach back to Mick Jones and Joe Strummer. And The World could be the missing Clash album between their debut and Give ’Em Enough Rope. Singer Duane Peters has Strummer’s razor-blade rasp and rabble-rousing rhetoric, while the rest of the lads have mastered the classic punk moves — chugging power chords, ambulance-siren solos and gang-vocal choruses. Heck, they even cover a Strummer number called Joe’s Tune. The only difference: The Clash never sang about skateboarding.
Man Or Astro-Man?
“It’s the same series of signals over and over again,” proclaims the B-movie sample at the launch of space-surf combo Man Or Astro-Man?’s latest disc. And for the most part, it’s right — EEVIAC (which stands for Electronically Embedded, Variably Integrated Astro-Console) is chock-full of their trademark amalgam of twangy licks, midnight flicks and SF shtik (the boys have handles like Birdstuff and Coco The Electronic Monkey Wizard and claim to be aliens who crashed on Earth). On this mission, however, the astro-nuts have altered their orbit a tad: A few tracks dump the Devo-does-Dick Dale ditties for nifty sonic weirdness, backwards-tape space oddities and even trippy lunar rock. See you on the dark side of the moon, fellas.
As rock star causes go, the Kosovo crisis is, sadly, no Ethiopian famine. Think about it: That event produced not one, but two chart-topping singles and a giant concert. By comparison, this 16-track disc is a real band-aid effort — a set of rock star odds ’n’ ends that feels like the audio equivalent of digging behind the sofa cushions for change. Sure, some tracks are inspired, like Rage Against The Machine’s grinding take on Bruce Springsteen’s Ghost Of Tom Joad or Pearl Jam’s cover of Last Kiss (“Where, oh where can my baby be?”). But others are just kinda weird (Black Sabbath? Korn? A Jamiroquai instrumental?), while way too many are the sort of live tracks and remixes that artists don’t even bother to put on their own albums. Hey, I can only imagine how hard it is to rhyme anything with Kosovo — but somebody should have tried.