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MUSIC One-Named Wonders
by Gregg Shapiro

This article shared 4436 times since Wed Nov 12, 2003
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**Ilya @ Bottom Lounge, (773) 975-0505, on Oct. 15

With the electroclash movement picking up where new wave synth-propelled music left off almost 20 years ago, I've been thinking a lot about some of my favorite groups from that period. A Boston duo called November Group ranks high on that list. After putting out two independently released albums in 1981 and 1983, November Group released their final album on A&M in 1985. I'm mentioning November Group because Adult, another duo, reminds me so much of them on their album Anxiety Always (Ersatz Audio). Removed, yet dramatic, vocals ride the electronic waves of some songs. Unromantically robotic, songs such as 'The Cold Call,' 'Glue Your Eyelids Together,' 'Blank Eyed, Nose Bleed,' 'People, You Can Confuse,' and 'We Know How To Have Fun,' electronically evoke another time.

Where Adult's songs are distant and cold, the songs on Feast Of Wire (Quarterstick) by Calexico are as warm as the Arizona sun. Beginning with the almost uplifting 'Sunken Waltz' and continuing on to the dark velvet lushness of 'Black Heart,' the drive over the cliff that is 'Not Even Stevie Nicks…,' the Roswell, New Mexico soundtrack 'Attack El Robot! Attack,' the mariachi horns of 'Across The Wire,' and the southwestern jazz of 'Crumble,' you'd be wise to feast your ears on Calexico.

If you are a liner notes reader, you will probably recognize the name Joy Askew for the years that she recorded with people such as Joe Jackson, Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel. Seven years ago she released her long-awaited solo disc Tender City, which, if you can find, is well worth possessing. Echo, Askew's latest musical incarnation, is essentially a duo (with Takuya Nakamura), with the assistance of other musicians. The 11 songs on Echo's self-titled debut (New Line) are a striking balance of Askew and Nakamura collaborations (the best of which include 'Sparks On A Wheel' and 'Surrender') alongside chill-out covers of standards by Cole Porter ('I've Got You Under My Skin,' 'Night And Day,' 'Every Time We Say Goodbye,' 'Love For Sale'), Arlen & Mercer ('That Old Black Magic'), Jobim ('The Girl From Ipanema') and Hillard and Mann ('In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning').

Ten years ago, before he formed the Eels, front man E (a.k.a. Mark Oliver Everett) released a pair of lovely pop albums under the name E. Since then E has had his share of demons that he exorcised over the course of five albums, including the latest Shootenanny! (DreamWorks). A more heavily blues-influenced album than past releases, as is evident on 'All In A Day's Work,' 'Agony,' 'Restraining Order Blues,' 'Lone Wolf,' and 'Somebody Loves You.' Still, anyone who can take a song called 'Rock Hard Times' and turn it into shiny pop song, definitely has a talent worth observing.

Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid (Kemado) is the bright debut disc by NYC glam/garage quartet Elefant. The 10 songs on the album are ideal for the next phase of the new wave revival—let's call it the next wave—that is almost certain to follow in the glittery footsteps of the electroclash scene. Songs such as 'Now That I Miss Her,' 'Bokkie,' 'Tonight Let's Dance' (with its echoes of early New Order), 'Love,' 'Ester,' and the title track all sound as if they are meant to be danced to, so you'd better get busy.

For a band with one name, Francine knows how to give an album a lengthy title. Said album 28 Plastic Blue Versions of Endings Without You (Q Division) is a pleasing, near-lounge (take a listen to 'Inside Joke'), lightly psychedelic ('This Sunday's Revival,' 'Ratmobile,' 'Uninstall') effort that deserves more attention than it will probably get.

Insurgent country band Glossary understands the value of female vocals on its album How We Handle Our Midnights (Undertow). Joey Kneiser's Tennessee tiger's growl is tamed by the presence of percussionist Kelly Smith; it's like pouring honey over gravel. Sneers are softened, but not suppressed, on songs such as 'These City Lights Shine,' 'Remember Me Tomorrow Night,' 'Golden Houses,' 'When Easy Street Gets Hard To Find,' and 'The Rutherford County Line.'

You might say that the pressure was on for Grandaddy to follow up its acclaimed 2000 album The Sophtware Slump with something spectacular. Sumday (V2) isn't spectacular, but it's close. Now that The Flaming Lips have moved beyond cult status, followers such as Grandaddy stand a chance to be heard by a wider audience. Songs from Sumday that deserve such an audience include 'Now It's On,' 'The Go In The Go-For-It,' 'The Group Who Couldn't Say,' 'El Caminos In The West,' 'Saddest Vacant Lot In The West,' and 'Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake.'

Blanca Rojas sounds like a Southern California version of Bjork on Poise Is The Greater Architect (Second Nature) by the band she fronts called Ilya. Her indifferent vocals draw the listener in, especially on more rhythmic tracks such as 'Isola,' Rana,' 'Blatchford,' and 'Disturbed.' The longer (up to eight minutes), down-tempo songs don't have the same energy and may cause listeners' attention to drift away like an ice floe.

I've made a few cross-country driving trips this year—Kaada has been on a couple of those with me. Thank You For Giving Me Your Valuable Time (Ipecac), Kaada's debut disc, is a distinctive blend of samples and beats and deeply soulful vocals. Clearly influenced by the music of the '50s and '60s, Kaada has created a fusion of bizarre sounds that make for great highway music. Especially roadworthy are 'Care,' 'Black California,' 'Burden,' 'All Wrong,' and the particularly suitable 'Honk.'

Anyone familiar with the post-rock instrumental sounds of Tortoise will probably find something to like on Happy Songs For Happy People (Matador) by Mogwai. Songs such as 'Hunted By A Freak,' the cello-heavy 'Moses? I Amn't,' 'Kids Will Be Skeletons,' 'Golden Porsche,' and 'I Know You Are But What Am I?,' sound a bit like Tortoise if they were being produced by Dave (Mercury Rev) Fridmann. Mogwai also doesn't shy away from electric guitar solos (something that makes me think that Tortoise would rather pull their heads into their shells than go in that direction) as you can hear on 'Ratts Of The Capital.'

Like Kaada, Pram's songs are steeped in retro and vintage settings, making them sound like selections from '60s movie soundtracks. The instrumental 'Track Of The Cat,' which opens Dark Island (Merge), comes complete with a haunting whistle, which is eventually surrounded by horns and period guitar. The vibrato synthesizer on 'Penny Arcade' hovers just above Rosie Cuckston's breathy vocals. 'The Pawnbroker' sounds likes it could have been recorded in 1964, at the time that the Rod Steiger movie of the same name was playing in theaters. 'Paper Hats' is the closest Pram comes to party music, even though it may be a pity party and the instrumental 'Sirocco' could be the song that the hostess dances to after she's had too much to drink. The near-tropical 'Leeward' is the appropriate predecessor to the wavy album closer 'Distant Islands.'

Hailing from the innovative land of Manchester, England, Brassy has been polishing up its act for a few years. Gettin Wise (Wiija/Beggars Group) picks up where Brassy's debut disc Got It Made left off by interweaving hip-hop beats and sensibility with snarling garage/punk guitars and confident female vocals, sometimes in the same song, as you can hear on opening track 'Hit 'Em Hard.' The formula works and takes best effect on 'Mine,' 'Dus'' and 'Turn This Thing Up.'

Tricia Alexander Show

Longtime Chicago musician Tricia Alexander performs in concert Sunday, Nov. 23 in an unamplified performance of original and contemporary acoustic music and spoken word with a 'contextual focus on gratitude.'

Coffee and sweets follow the 4 p.m. concert in the Two Way Street Coffee House, First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1047 Curtiss St., Downers Grove. Tickets: $5 at the door;

'There is something very exciting to me about singing unamplified in an acoustically welcoming space,' Alexander said. 'There is an intimacy made possible when the music flows into and resonates the space itself—the concert becomes a tactile AND audio experience for both the audience and performer. We all get such a wonderful vibrational massage. You can't help but feel better!' Alexander is a vocalist, musician and songwriter. She is also a performance poet, a healing arts professional—'and a humanist.'

Photo #1 Echo, #2 Colexico ---------------------------------------- ----------------------------------------

This article shared 4436 times since Wed Nov 12, 2003
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