Artist: Album (label, release date) 1-5 stars
The Residents: The Third Reich ‘n’ Roll (Mute U.S., October 4, 2005) ****
Zero 7: AnotherLateNight (AnotherLateNight, October 4, 2005) ****
Pentangle: Sweet Child (Castle Magic UK, October 4, 2005) ****
Tyrannosaurus Rex: My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (Universal International, October 4, 2005) ****
The Residents: The Third Reich ‘n’ Roll
This is a title that one may draw instant conclusions from, especially when coupled at first listen to the cacophony of demolition going on as well as the album art. Also uninviting is the fact that the album is comprised of two side-long songs with the titles “Swastikas on Parade” and “Hitler Was A Vegetarian”. But no, this isn’t xenophobic punk rock run amok; far from it. Who are the Residents? Nobody knows for sure; the band, now in its 4th decade, has never revealed their identities beyond the inner sanctum of the Cryptic Connection, the band’s representational wing. They are a San Francisco based group of avant-garde dadaist mixed media performance artists who have released mountains of strange, experimental, anonymous music since 1974. Third Reich and Roll, their third album, appeared in 1976 and was accompanied by a single performance, in Berkeley, where the band performed behind a screen wrapped like mummies. As for the concept at work here, we have literally dozens of pop classics strung together and overlapped, being deconstructed and destroyed in an abrasive, fascist orgy of frightening vocals and instrumentation that sounds like Martin Denny, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Sun Ra, and John Cage tripping out together. It’s a tough and challenging listen by any standards, and the unease one feels as the parade of warped, twisted pop ditties march by grows more discomfiting as each old tune, all of which had once been friends, reveals itself in a new ugly light. But it is an interesting and even fun listen nonetheless; and picking out the song fragments can take up a bizarro afternoon. When the expereince is over, you’ll never hear music quite the same way again, and you might feel a little self-conscious the next time you sing along with a meaningless ditty on the car stereo. What did the Residents intend by this epic? You’ll have to ask them.
Zero 7: AnotherLateNight
There’s a lot of misperception about electronica among non-listeners; it’s accused of being soulless, inorganic, outside the pop music lineage and continuum. While this is sometimes true, as a truism it falls short. Zero 7 is a good case in point. Zero 7 is the moniker of producers Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker, who plunder the most dimly-lit corners of soul and hip-hop for reference points in their downtempo chillout music, AnotherLateNight was recorded for Kinetic records’ AnotherLateNight remix series, which had previously issued remix albums by heavyweights Howie B. and Fila Brazilia; it was also Zero 7’s second album of new material, following their extremely well received Simple Things in 2001. Zero 7’s choice of source material is astonishing in its breadth; experimental/avant-garde/part-time Sonic Youth collaborator Jim O’Rourke’s “Ghost Ship In A Storm” is recast as a sultry pop song with a rollicking piano-bass-snare with flourishes of pedal steel and synth, and harmonic vocals that sound like a soulful CSN. Elsewhere, a Matthew Herbert remix of Serge Gainsbourg/Brigitte Bardot’s “Bonnie and Clyde” shows off the technician side of the duo, with its heavily sampled and synthetic instrumentation and vocals. “Real Eyes” by late-90’s cult hip-hop act Quasimoto gets mileage from its bouncy bassline and sampled flute flourish. The closer is the Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round”, with its soulful organ, muted synth, guitar, and backward guitar washes and spine-tingling female chorus that reaches a glorious crescendo. Zero 7’s Anotherlatenight succeeds by always sounding rooted in musical history, finding connections where none seem apparant. While this gets a little overwhelming in places, at its best, it’s a true revelation. Fans of Zero 7’s own albums, Simple Things and When It Falls, would enjoy this, as would anyone with a fondness for soul and rock looking for some chillout space.
Pentangle: Sweet Child
That’s “Pentangle” not “Pentagram”; no, this isn’t an overlooked satanic metal band from the 60’s. Pentangle probably can best be described as progressive folk; their music is largely acoustic, but draws from a myriad of influences shared by the progressive rock bands of its day: English folk, classical, Celtic, jazz. The double-LP Sweet Child is their sophomore album, released in 1968, and is framed by the guitars of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn (who also sing) and vocalist Jacqui McShee, who recall a more mystical and Celtic Fairport Convention. About half of the songs are covers of mostly traditional material plus two Charles Mingus originals, most of the rest are creditied to all band members. At its most glorious, like on the vaguely country-tinged “Touch the Stars”, the chilly island folk of “The Trees They Do Grow High”, and the ethereal acoustic pop of “In Your Mind”, Pentangle is in its own world entirely, the ensemble crafting a music that is instantly accessable by fans of late 60’s psychedelic and progressive music, but without betraying their folk roots. Shel Talmy, known for his work with the Kinks and the Who, produced.
Tyrannosaurus Rex: My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows
Fiona Apple did not invent the unweildy album title. Tyrannosaurus Rex predates the rise of T-Rex and Marc Bolan; Bolan formed it with Steve Peregrin Took, a bongo player, in 1967 and as a duo, they released four albums from 1968-1970. These albums are a far cry from the glam-rock of T-Rex. My People Were Fair… was their debut album, and they reached #15 in the U.K. with it. Pop producer Tony Visconti presided over the sessions, which primarily consist of Bolan’s manic acoustic guitar playing and Took’s rapidfire bongoes, plus an array of peculiar instrumentation, including glockenspiels, pixiephones, gongs, strange harum choruses, and a mystical, eastern-sounding aura and sensibility. Also evident is Bolan’s strange Lord of the Rings fixation (he renamed Took after a character in the trilogy), which manifests itself in a Tolkien recital by deejay John Peel on “Frowning Atahuallpa”. “Child Star” is the best known, one of the loveliest things here, melodic and sweet even as it comes at you from the misty otherworld. Most of the songs are in the under 3-minute range, four are less than 2 minutes. In some respects, this is a quintessential 60’s relic, right down to its title and bongos. In other respects, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the formative years of the mercurial Bolan, who would become the biggest star in England in the early 70’s, before his untimely death in 1977. Not essential, but interesting. The new Universal International re-issue is a deluxe package, full of goodies.
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