Yearly Archives: 2000

Byrds, meet VU

Nobody seems to have told the Brilliant Green the 60s were over more than 30 years ago.

The hippy vibe on the Japanese trio’s self-titled debut comes out pretty strong with the opening strains of “I’m in Heaven,” and for the remaining 40 or so minutes, it doesn’t let up.

It’s as if the Byrds recorded with the Velvet Underground sometime around 1994.

Not like there’s anything wrong with referencing perhaps the most influencial era of modern music. The Brilliant Green’s sharp songwriting keeps listeners firmly planted in the late 1990s while maintaining a distinctly vintage tinge.

On some tracks, such as “Tsumetai Hana”, “I” and “Baby London Star”, BuriGuri (as the band is known in Japan) sound like your typical pre-grunge, second-generation R.E.M.-influenced alternative pop band.

But more frequently, Kawase Tomoko and company keep matters light and bouncy. The doo-doo chorus of “You&I”, the “There She Goes”-like rhythm of “Stand By” and the white soul of “Magic Place” all evoke more flower-power lovin’ than Edie Brickell on holiday.

Lead singer Kawase has developed a reputation for writing her lyrics mostly in English, delivering her words in a thick, accented mumble. Her English isn’t terribly awkward, but her untrained voice feels more natural delivering Japanese than English.

For a debut album, The Brilliant Green is an impressive work, chock full of memorable, expertly-written songs, done in a style that draws as much from the past as the present.

It’s definitely an disc for the very light-hearted — folks who like a bit of darkness in their rock music might find the band’s sunny-ness a bit too much to handle. (The band’s third album, Los Angeles, is a good place to start.)

A sonic car wreck

<!– Link: LFO (Lyte Funky Ones)

When I say I have an open mind, I really want to back that up. I really want to demonstrate that, yes, I’m really not an elitist.

That means I can’t categorically dis such obvious commercial fair as Mousketeer pop — the Britney Spears and Christina Aguileras and Backstreet Boys and N’Syncs of the world (or rather Orlando.) Not without really giving these gangbuster moneymakers an even shake.

But where to start? How to ease myself into such terrifyingly alien territory that my comfort zone can’t fathom?

I can listen to the Kronos Quartet and John Zorn make instruments do things they were never designed to do, but can I really stomach five pretty boys — or girls — melismatically waxing shallow about (ugh) love? In the interest of fairness, it is my duty.

So I go where my hormones take me — the Lyte Funky Ones, a.k.a. LFO. Out of all the boy bands out there, this trio seems to have the most queer appeal. (What’s with the dreads on that one Backstreet Boy?)

And yet, it’s probably one of the most poorly executed acts musically. Quick impressions at an in-store listening booth dictated LFO was the sonic equivalent of a car wreck happening in slow motion. Further detailed listening indicates the car wreck involves an 18-wheeler and a early 80s economy car.

These white boys can’t rap. One of them can’t sing, and he’s given the most vocal time on the album. And the recycled bits — Yvonne Elliman’s “Can’t Have You” and the Human League’s “Human” — would have probably worked better as straight covers.

And don’t be surprised if many of these tunes sound too familiar. The minor hit “Summer Girls” uses the chord arrangement of Extreme’s one-hit wonder “More Than Words” verbatim. “Cross My Heart”? It was probably on some NKOTB album somewhere, sometime.

And yet. And yet. And yet.

I do have a weakness for this kind of slick pop. Musically, it’s not that bad. Lyrically, it’s pure dreck. If only some clever songwriter could only marry this smarmy, urban pop with Michael Stipe-an poetry, we could have, oh I don’t know — Beck!

And my faith keeps going on the closet belief that slick pop and nonsensical lyrics can really save this crap from being deemed “unartistic.”

Hope springs so eternal.

Mr. Bungle grows up

<!– Link: Mr. Bungle

The first track of Mr. Bungle’s latest long-player might make casual listeners of the group — i.e., anyone who owns only the group’s self-titled debut — think they’ve toned down.

Not fucking likely.

By the end of the 50-minute, 10-track California, Mr. Bungle covers much of the same ground cleared by the group’s aforementioned debut. In other words, everything.

(Disclosure: I missed out on the group’s second disc, Disco Volante, so there are holes in my Mr. Bungle knowledge.)

I did, however, whip out Mr. Bungle while I wandering through my cassette collection — how did anyone ever use those things? — and yes, California is far more polished, far more crafted and far less chaotic than the group’s eponymous outing.

If anything, there’s something rather sophisticated about the album. The mood certainly seems a lot less — how to put this tactfully? — “high school.” How many other rock albums out there include Indonesian kecak chanting?

Like every Mr. Bungle recording — at least the ones I own — California takes numerous listens to grasp the overall arc of the music, emphasis on the word numerous.

Satisfying? Yes. Yes, indeed.

John Zorn’s greatest hits?

Taboo and Exile would have made for a really nice “greatest hits” collection for John Zorn.

Of course, Zorn doesn’t write hits, and Taboo and Exile consists entirely of new works.

The album still serves as a perfect introduction to Zorn. Each track somehow includes everything that’s marked Zorn’s repetoire.

There’s some guitar-heavy, punk-influenced, improvisatory work that harkens to Zorn’s Naked City/Painkiller days (“Shaalapalassi,” “Sacrifist”, “Bull’s Eye,” the latter of which features ex-Faith No More singer Mike Patton.)

There’s some nice, Jewish-influenced works that was probably borne from Masada (“Mayim,” “Seraim.”)

There’s some moody stuff that recalls Zorn’s Film Works series (“A Tiki for Blue,” “Oracle”), and one track sounds like a distant cousin to Zorn’s earlier work, New Traditions in East Asian Bar Bands (“Koryojang,” which also harkens to Zorn’s aborted score to the film Latin Playboys Go to Hell.)

All the best bits that make John Zorn such an appealing musician — in spite his efforts to create some of the most disturbing music on the planet — are contained on this one disc.

See? Maybe it is a greatest hits collection in disguise.

Three-letters: W. O. W.

What makes a good album “good”? Well, if a buyer can pick it up years and years and years after it was made and still go “Wow,” most likely it’s a pretty good album.

The liner notes of Sonic Youth’s final album on independent label, Daydream Nation, are pretty self-congratulatory. Those kind of notes usually serve as a warning: Alert! Preciousness ahead!

No such luck.

Daydream Nation lives up to its well-deserved reputation, and for an album that’s more than a decade old, it still sounds a years ahead of its time. Makes me almost wonder just how mind-blowing this record — and the Youth did release this long-player on two of those black discs — would have sounded in the musical netherworld of the late 1980s.

My own introduction to Sonic Youth started (and ended) with 1990’s Goo, an album in which critics back then gasped over the “tunes” found therein. Don’t know what the fuss was about — Daydream Nation has its share of tunes, albeit buried under long stretches of glorious, mountainous geetar noise.

If I remember correctly, everybody (read: critics) was tripping over themselves to put this album on a pedestal.

No matter.

Daydream Nation is a masterpiece, and years from now, some young, unsuspecting would-be rocker will plug this album into whatever audio appliances exist in the future and say the same word I said when I first heard it.


High art, low art

Sorry. I’m going to have to defer to Kyle Gann of the Village Voice. He’s about the only writer really qualified to tell you much about Sonic Youth’s Goodbye 20th Century.

What can the rest of us — who either haven’t heard the original works contained in Goodbye 20th Century or who wouldn’t know otherwise — expect from the latest in SY’s self-released series of experimental music?

It’s probably easier to answer that question with what not to expect.

Don’t expect any rock music — this is Western art music at the sonic frontiers. Textures more akin to a CRI Emergency Music disc take center stage on this 2-CD set.

Don’t expect any melody. Hell, don’t expect any chords either. The alleatoric premise of most of these piece pretty much do away with those concepts anyway. If noise for art’s sake doesn’t target your demographic, then this disc probably wouldn’t fit in your CD collection.

Back in the late 1980s, I read a profile about Sonic Youth, in which the group was portrayed as a bunch of would-be musicians who, lacking any real formal training, turned their amateur technique into noisy art. In the last decade, Sonic Youth has turned that so-called amateur technique into very high art.

If the Kronos Quartet is classical music’s bridge to popular music, Sonic Youth is popular music’s ambassador to the Western avant-garde. Hell, noted composer Pauline Oliveros wrote a piece for them.

Are we witnessing the foundation of high art embracing its low art counterpart? Let’s fucking hope so.


<!– Link: King of the Hill

Abstracted from its premise, some of the pairings on the King of the Hill television soundtrack sound downright dubious.

Brooks and Dunn covering Mike Seeger’s “Against the Wind”? The Mavericks singing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down on the Corner”? Tonic doing Jerry Reed’s “East Bound and Down”? The Old 97’s retreading Marty Robbins’ “El Paso”? Deann Carter on Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'”?

These are easily some of the most recognizable songs on the planet, primarily because they conjure up stereotypical images of hicks, rednecks and, as Hank Hill’s Laotian neighbor Khan regularly excoriates, “hillbillies.”

In the context of Arlen’s suburban tomfoolery, these songs become anthems for the (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) American dream.

And yet, there’s something tongue-in-cheek in how earnestly these musicians cover — somewhat accurately, in many cases — these rather dated country hits. Perhaps it’s the intra-track commentary provided by the cast of the show that makes the cheekiness of these covers all the more apparent.

“That dang ol’ Mavericks, man, can’t understand a word they’re saying. What they talkin’ about? Standin’ on the corner? Makes no sense …” That from Boomhauer.

The centerpiece of the soundtrack, however, is “Mow Against the Grain,” a satircal take on “Everybody’s Free … (to Wear Sunscreen)” featuring the King of the Hill cast dispensing nuggets of middle American wisdom.

“Enjoy your body,” Luanne Platter says. “Show it off as much as you can.”

“Enjoy your body,” Bobby Hill follows. “You can use parts of it to make farting sounds.”

The remaining tracks feature originals from the well-known usual suspects: Faith Hill, Sheryl Crow, Barenaked Ladies. Although tangential to the album’s core humor, they do make for a nice contrast.

In short, this soundtrack perfectly captures the spirit of the show.

Fun fun fun


So they get their single-name-for-all-members shtick from the Ramones. So they get endlessly compared to Joan Jett’s early band, the Runaways. So members of the band sport Ratt t-shirts in the CD booklet photos.

The Donnas bring rock ‘n’ roll back to its roots. The Donnas take the chuga-chuga sturm und drang of post-1980s youth — channel Square Pegs for a moment or two — and channel the spirit of the 1950s, id est teen rebellion.

This band is all about the microcosmic world of the bored, suburban teen, and it’s not lofty nor artistic nor spiritually enriching. It’s big, dumb testosterone fun comandeered by a bunch of girls.

Until Stephin Merritt came along and compared pretty girls to violent crimes, the Donnas sported the catchiest couplets of 1999.

I tried to buy you a Hostess cupcake

Baby you’re so sweet I got a toothache

— “Skintight”

Am I not old enough am I too young?

You think I don’t know how to eat dim sum

— “You Don’t Wanna Call”

In other words, this group is fun.