Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Christian Clown College

"Aksk around: I never liked the circus so I clap a clown (Cuuurrrttttisssss!)"

"When I started this clown thing, I thought it would be nothing but glory. You know, the glory of being a clown."

Monday, 26 February 2007

The Hold Steady, Oxford Zodiac, 25 February

The UK music press has been quick to mythologise the connection that the Hold Steady's articulate blue-collar rock has made in an imagined American 'heartland'. But transposed to the UK (and, Craig Finn complains, deprived of offers of dope as a result), can their bittersweet communal schtick live up to expectations? The show begins well: the band bounds onstage and launches into 'Stuck Between Stations'. The sense of goofy joy is infectious: Finn paws at his beard and grins, while the band summons the spirit of Cheap Trick and Thin Lizzy. The crowd's response is enthusiastic, the entertainment enhanced by the mustachio'd keyboardist's resemblance to rotund scouse comic Alexei Sayle.

As the set progresses, considerable amounts of beer are imbibed, the Hold Steady living up to their reputation as a good-time boozy bar band, much like Guided By Voices before them. The bassist rivals Sebadoh's Jason Loewenstein for impressive rock smoking. For the drummer, bottle-opening duties come before time-keeping. Finn is lost in his indie reverie, spewing his stream-of-consciousness lyrics and bantering with the crowd, allowing songs to tail off rather than ending them emphatically. This is not without effect on the performance: having pushed the stronger tracks off 'Boys and Girls' to the front of the set, the mid-section sags (insert paunch joke here...). . Such boozy communion is not without its attractions, but the band are pre-supposing a connection with the crowd that they haven't quite established.

The band rallies for a finale of 'Southtown Girls', bringing onstage departing-support-band the Checks for a celebratory jam, redeeming the set's looser moments. No doubt the Hold Steady will be back with shorter, tighter sets for the festival season, making plenty of converts. Having done so, their sloppy but passionate headlining performances will be all the more popular. B+

More fun:

Buy 'Boys and Girls in America'

The Hold Steady - 'Chips Ahoy'

Sunday, 25 February 2007

'97 mentality

1997 > 2007

Exhibit B

These days Jeff Mangum emerges from hiding to play 'cow object' for the Apples in Stereo. Ten years ago he was a bit good. Here's his Neutral Milk Hotel at the Highbury Garage, London Town again. Why did I miss this show? I blame the NME: hanging on to britpop as the wheels fell off, they derided NMH as wet Beatles-worshipping acid casualties. While championing Cast and Ocean Colour Scene. Eughhkk, as Pusha T would say. Nowadays, a quick mp3 sets that sort of horseshit to rights. Bloody NME.

Neutral Milk Hotel - 'Oh Comely (Live at the Garage)'

Saturday, 24 February 2007

… And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Oxford Zodiac, 19 February 2007

As the title of their new record suggests, the Trail of Dead are a ‘divided’ band. On record, they’ve departed from their early template of Sonic Youth squall and gothic bluster, in favour of a critically-derided commercial sound, indebted more to Oasis and the Beatles. On Worlds Apart, this didn’t seem to pay commercial dividends, only alienating their existing fanbase. Time will tell whether So Divided, a slightly more successful reconciliation of anthemic punk and more conventional indie song-writing, will do better, or whether the Trail Of Dead’s main income will continue to be soundtracking video games and moments of emotive rage on The Shield.

In a recent Pitchfork interview, Conrad Keely expressed bitterness and frustration at losing money on records and on the road. Considering retiring to a studio to focus on writing for soundtracks, he nonetheless retained an urge to perform. The release of tension involved in performing, then, in palpable tonight. Anchored by their mainstream aspirations and tricksy arrangements on record, live they are a different band completely – the Trail Of Dead of old, still one of the loudest bands on the planet. They announce as much with their opening salvo of ‘It Was There That I Saw You’ and ‘Separate Ways’ from ‘Source Tags and Codes’. The volume pulses, and Jason Reece’s old-school blast-beats propel a wall of guitars forward. Conrad’s stabbing guitar and howled vocals bring to mind the full-frontal hardcore assault of Les Savy Fav, backed by the heart-punching dynamics of Willhaven. In the words of Shakin’ Stevens, “lovely stuff”.

A couple of newer tracks make it onto the setlist, but older tracks get more response, and the set is paced accordingly: ‘Totally Natural’ is an ear-bursting finisher. In some bands this reliance on old material would be an obvious criticism: anybody who came to the Trail Of Dead on the last two albums (anyone?) would be a little baffled and perhaps disappointed. But this misses the point: the Trail Of Dead could have been playing entirely from ‘So Divided’, or a set of Justin Timberlake covers, for all the volume gave away. Reacting against the supposed division of their careers into good early albums and poorly-received new work, they’ve become two bands – the crazy hardcore punk cyclone typified by Jason Reece, making an arse of himself as usual, falling over and inciting the crowd to do some gak, and the pretentious studio indie of Conrad Keely. It will be interesting to see how long the Trail Of Dead can live this double life, but for now, they’re welcome to my money in at least one of their guises.

More fun:

Final-Fantastic homepage

Friday, 23 February 2007

R.I.P. Mike Awesome (1965-2007)

Mike Awesome, AKA the Gladiator AKA the Pro AKA That 70s Guy AKA 'Awesome' Mike Awesome, real name Michael Alfonso, was found dead at his home last Saturday. Pour out a little liquor. Not unlike Bam Bam Bigelow (also RIP), a big guy that could really go. Here's youtube footage of one of his many insane bouts against Masato Tanaka, from ECW's Heatwave '98. To quote Joey Styles, "Just look at this monster!"

In other news:

The Smoking Section has an excellent two-hour Mark Ronson DJ set

The Culture of Me reckons Village Voice has been reading his work on 'Neon Bible' by the Arcade Fire, and your truly's

Chris Eubank is King of Anglia

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Yelping indie round-up: Modest Mouse, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

It’s ironic – not to say somewhat confusing and dispiriting – that two bands so beloved of the comment-friendly blog culture have produced highly-anticipated albums that are so resistant to the formation of strong opinions. For all their qualities – and failings – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s second album, ‘Some Loud Thunder’, and Modest Mouse’s new, Johnny Marr-assisted effort, ‘We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank’ (que?) are united in their failure, or refusal, to produce a strong reaction, in this reviewer at least.

Heightened expectations seem to have hung over both bands, and to have contributed to the impenetrable character of their albums. But they’ve responded to those expectations in opposite ways. CYHSY have turned inwards, and ‘Some Loud Thunder’ concentrates on refining and developing the band’s own sound. There aren’t any obvious singles or dancefloor fillers, but then that’s the point: remember ‘You Could Have It So Much Better’? Instead, this a practice-room album, the doors shut to the outside world, the groove allowed to lead proceedings. The result is often frustrating – long periods with little to show for the noodling – but when it works, as on standout tracks such as ‘Love Song no.7’, it’s all the more rewarding. Less tuneful and less polished than their debut, ‘Some Loud Thunder’ is a grower, suggesting at least that CYHSY is a band in a process of evolution, and one that is likely to continue producing interesting and vital music. (B)

Modest Mouse have taken the road more travelled, and seem to think they’ve raised their game to meet the public’s expectations. U2, the Smiths, Snow Patrol: all are within Isaac Brock’s sights. But here’s the problem: before this, and even on ‘Good News…’, Modest Mouse were impossible to pin down: an O.C. anthem here, a Tom Waits rhumba there. In ironing out their kinks, honing their sound, and consolidating the sound of ‘The Moon and Antarctica’ and ‘Good News’ into an unchallenging mid-paced set, Modest Mouse are aiming for a constituency that only exists in the ‘crossover indie’ aggregates suggested by annual round-ups and last.fm recommendations. Does this sort of thing really connect with anyone? Is there any content, lyrical or musical, to connect with? Of these two underwhelming albums, Modest Mouse’s seems the more focused and ambitious, but the smart money is on Clap Your Hands. (C)

More fun:

Stream most of ‘We Were Dead’ at the hype machine

And likewise for ‘Some Loud Thunder’

which is IN STORES NOW

Buy Modest Mouse at Amazon

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Wu-Tang affiliates round-up: Mathematics, Hell Razah

Picture courtesy ohword.com

2007 looks set to be a make-or-break year for the Wu. It’s the tenth anniversary of their last critically- and commercially-successful statement, ‘Wu-Tang Forever’. The perceived decline in the genre during the intervening period, brought into focus by the ongoing debate over whether ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’, has provided an opportunity for the Wu to reassert their position at the cutting edge. “How can hip hop be dead if Wu-Tang is forever?” RZA recently asked. A year ago, such a statement would have seemed absurdly out of touch. Now it’s a beacon of hope. For every hopeless flop (Method Man, Inspectah Deck, U-God), there’s a success story (Ghostface, Masta Killa). We’ve already had a look at entertaining new work from RZA and ODB, and expectations for Raekwon’s ‘Cuban Linx 2’ and the Wu’s ‘8 Diagram’ are incredibly high for acts suffering from a ten-year creative slump.

Where the Wu go, so their affiliates are bound to follow. MCs such as Killah Priest, alienated by RZA’s lack of support and creative focus, are returning to the fold. Creative rebirth is at the heart of two new releases from Priest’s Black Market Militia co-hort Hell Razah. ‘Back Into The Renaissance’ is a free mixtape, with Razah rhyming over golden age beats from the likes of Public Enemy and Big Daddy Kane. He makes the purpose explicit on the first track, copping the James Brown sample that Nas used on ‘Where Are They Now?’ Razah’s thoughtful, deadpan, menacing flow fits well with such an approach. Razah is a lyricist, from the same school of thought as GZA or Killah Priest. Thematically, there’s nothing strikingly new here: violent threats, eastern mysticism, radical politics and dedication to the art. But as an MC he’s (huh) a cut above – rhymes a little more complex, themes explored a little more deeply, punchlines a little wittier than your average. (B+)

The mixtape accompanies Hell Razah’s solo debut, ‘Renaissance Child’. As the title implies, the rebirth of hip hop, of the Wu, and of Razah’s career are dominant themes. Lead single ‘Buried Alive’ seethes with bitterness at years of frustration, aiming threats at various record company executives, but it’s never as witty as GZA’s classic demolition-job: “First of all, who’s you’re A&R? A mountain climber who plays an electric guitar?” But as the album progresses, the bitterness gives way to more positive and optimistic aspects of rebirth. ‘Renaissance’ finds Black Market Militia members Timbo King and Tragedy Khadafi, along with RA The Rugged Man, embodying the high points of four decades of black culture: “If I’m not BIG then I’m the closest / I’m Richard Pryor before multiple sclerosis”, tastefully. ‘Project Jazz’, with Kweli and MF Doom is a much more rewarding tale of upbringing in the ghetto than Kweli’s own ‘Happy Home’. Wu affiliation can be seen as a mark of mediocrity, particularly when the group flooded the market with rush-jobs in the late 90s. ‘Renaissance Child’ is a measured, impressive debut that shouldn’t suffer by association with lesser efforts from lesser MCs. (A-)

The same can’t really be said for ‘Mathematics Presents: Wu-Tang and Friends Unreleased’. A hodge-podge compilation reminiscent of ‘The Swarm Volume 1’, this collects so-so remixes from the Wu (‘The W’, ‘Wu Banga’) and its major players (yet more Ghostface, on ‘Maxine’ and ‘Wise’), along with lesser-knowns such as M-Speed, Eyeslow and Hot Flames. Like ‘The Swarm’, there are a couple of standouts – ‘King Toast Queen’ has Theodore Unit soul man Solomon Childs leading an Al Green-style tribute to the ladeez. Shyheim’s two appearances sound impressively menacing, a reminder of his above-average skills. But there’s a lot here that’s pointless or worse: ‘Eggs Hash and Grits’ is the low-point, a misogynistic rant that sets new levels of ignorance. Avoid. (C)

More fun:
Hell Razah – ‘Young, Right & Exact’
Download ‘Back Into The Renaissance’
Buy ‘Renaissance Child’
Buy ‘Unreleased’

Saturday, 17 February 2007

'97 mentality


Exhibit 'A'

For the penultimate track on their disappointing final album, Pavement's 'The Hexx' was an aimless waste of five-and-a-half minutes. God knows what happened, because the live version they were touring in '97 is one of the best things they ever did. Here they are at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London town. Recognise game:

Pavement - 'The Hexx (original version)'

More fun:

Buy Pavement

i got tha hook up

Kwaya Na Kisser: Nico: Live at Ronnie Scott's, London, April 8, 1985.

Not in short supply, but hey, props to Captain's Dead yet again:
Jeff Tweedy Live in '05 Part 1 Part 2

Free mixtape from Hell Razah, on some '88 sheee-it.

Crooklyn's Classics has a double-disc DJ Premier best-of.

More fun:
Wu-Tang Clan - 'Bring Da Ruckus (1991 demo version)'

Thursday, 15 February 2007

ODB - 'A Son Unique'

There’s something wrong with the world when an album like this gets mired in label hell and litigation for the best part of two years, while there’s a new tribute to Tupac every time a label exec can find twelve new rappers who’ve sold more than twenty mixtapes each. Because while grave-robbing the Shakur archives repeatedly throws up ill-matched and uneven collaborations full of false piety, ‘A Son Unique’ – most of which was intended as a proper record rather than a posthumous collection – is the liveliest rap album to (not) see the light of day in a long while.

Rap’s current, bleak obsession with detailing the daily routine of crack dealership is turned upside down, as ODB raps from a crackhead’s perspective and is loving every minute (kids, say no). Unlike the Wu stylings of ‘Return to the 36 Chambers’ or the beserk outer-limits of ‘N***a Please’, ‘A Son Unique’ is a party record, emphasising ODB’s versatility as an MC – for all the wailing and flailing, he could match most, bar for bar. His charisma holds together what could, in other hands, have been a haphazard collection of producers – RZA, Premier, Neptunes, Mark Ronson – and guest spots (Clipse, Lil’ Fame, NORE, most of the Wu, Macy Gray, Missy Elliot, Joe Budden, Young Chris, Fat Joe).

The two-year delay shows: this sounds very 2005, for those of you who are minded to notice – Boola’s ‘Work For Me’ sounds like Lumidee’s ‘Uh Oh’, while the Neptune’s ‘Operator’ recalls their tight calypso funk, with the Clipse sounding slightly sheepish in laying down romantic come-ons against Dirty’s priapic howls. But that’s hardly an objection: when wilfully ignorant party music from the South is highlighted as one of the reasons why hip hop is dead, ODB shows the genre a way forward from beyond the grave.


More fun:

ODB feat. Clipse & Pharrell - 'Operator'


Wednesday, 14 February 2007

good morning, captain...

Cold round here: the lake froze to reveal a sunken bike.

A fine week over at Captain's Dead: first up, a very early Pavement show. Can I get a "lo fi"?

... and also a Twilight Singers show from last year, with Mark Lanegan on board, which is particularly tasty. Roll on the Gutter Twins album. Dirty old men, mind.

On the way from yours truly next week:
New Ol' Dirty Bastard album reviewed
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead live
DJ Mathematics and Wu-Tang album
Might do the Clap Your Hands Album if I can quite be bothered.

Arcade Fire - 'Neon Bible' album review

Arcade Fire’s second full-length is marked by maturity and downbeat lyrics: the results are mixed, but never less than engaging. Win Butler’s voice has developed: instead of the awkward yelp of ‘Funeral’, his vocals are deeper and more controlled – still quavering, but this time not with fear and confusion, but with outrage, anguish and pride. Think Springsteen: Win clearly has done. Behind him, the band’s all-in whistles-and-bells approach has been streamlined: horns and strings work with the rhythm section, rather than against it, creating a new urgency that makes their recent Clash covers seem all the more appropriate. The lyrics drive the point home: “you got your problems, and me I got mine”, declares Butler on ‘Ocean of Noise’, appropriating the stoic romanticism of many a Springsteen character. ‘Antichrist Television Blues’ leans heavily on this sort of imagery: “Into the light of a bridge that burns, As I drive from the city with the money that I earned ... Any idea where I was at your age? I was working downtown for the minimum wage.”

Arcade Fire aren’t the first indie band to latch onto the Clash and the Boss as handy reference points for combining maturity with passion and political dissent with popular appeal. It’s a little surprising to find a band whose debut possessed such a clear and original voice to draw such immediate and obvious comparisons, but for the Arcade Fire, this isn’t anything like a thoughtless short-cut or a straightforward appropriation. Springsteen imbues his characters with passions and dreams that provide temporary escape from worldly responsibilities (or, at least, lend those responsibilities a sort of dignity and nobility). Butler, on the other hand, draws authority from these honest-working-man tropes, in order to root his own lyrical themes (magic, wonder, faith, an unspecified “we” and “they”) in a new context: one of bitter experience, emotional, social and political. In place of ‘Funeral’’s evangelical call-to-arms, we now find Butler criticising one who is “working for the church while your family dies.” A world-weary Butler could be addressing a younger, more idealistic version of himself: “still a soldier in your mind, but nothing’s left on the line.”

The war on terror and the war in Iraq loom large, through repeated references to “soldiers” and “aeroplanes crashing”. Such lyrics invite critical scrutiny, and it is here that ‘Neon Bible’ is most engaging, but also most frustrating. Butler balances maturity with innocence. He is hesitant to generalize, uncertain of his authority, and aware of his own potential culpability (“I’m through being nice … am I the Antichrist?”). This is often a more satisfying response to political awakening than, say, Jack White’s retreat into childish simplicity or bloke-ish conviviality, or than Kele Okereke’s pompous spokesmanship for any self-righteous cause going. But such doubts can equally dominate, prompting a retreat into vague allusions: a girl, a lighthouse, a well, an island, a King, “a house on fire, a rising sea”, “a river so deep … a mountain so high”. ‘Funeral’ was full of these tropes, but they were redeemed by the album’s passion and purpose. ‘Neon Bible’ is occasionally seems divided between groundless escapism and relentless pessimism, neither of which are endearing. On the album’s least successful song, ‘Windowsill’, the ills of the modern world are listed, prefixed by “I don’t wanna”: Butler can see no way out, no equivalent to ‘Tunnels'’ cry of “Look out for love!” Musically, too, ‘Windowsill’ seems like Arcade Fire by numbers, violin figures failing to connect with a plodding riff.

‘Black Wave / Bad Vibrations’ is more successful, featuring the standard Arcade fare: a “black wave in the middle of the sea”, comradeship and danger (“we’ll make it if we run”), some French; but also highlighting poverty and consumption, presented through overstatement and righteous cadence that would make Broooce proud: “I'm eating in the ghetto on a hundred dollar plate”. The album finishes strongly, with a beefed-up revival of ‘No Cars Go’, rediscovering a sense of community, purpose and faith in the face of uncertainty (“Old folks, let’s go! Don’t know where …”). ‘My Body Is a Cage’ marches into the distance, its gloomy organ chords and stadium-sized drums recalling the darker moments of Frankie Goes To Hollywood (particularly their cover of ‘Born To Run’, as it happens), chanting “You're still next to me, my mind holds the key,
set my spirit free”. It’s a defiant assertion of faith and personal responsibility, in “an age whose name I don’t know.” Arcade Fire’s growing pains are compelling: few albums this year will receive as much scrutiny, and few will deserve it.


More fun:

Buy 'Neon Bible'

Arcade Fire - 'Five Years' (David Bowie cover)

Berkeley Place has a live show from 2005.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

i got tha hook up

Bradley's Almanac has a nice Shearwater show. Sounds like Simon Bonney to me.

Aquarium Drunkard has an astonishing picture of Will Oldham and Dwight Yoakam. The goggles, they do nothing.

Passion of the Weiss has a moving tribute to Anna Nicole Smith. Pour out a little liquor.

50 and Cam'ron take it to the studio. 50's video looks like an episode of 'Pimp My Branch Davidian'

Cormega's back. Cormega LOVES guns. Via Nahright.

Excellent Jeru the Damaja comp at Crooklyn's Classics.

New UGK video. "Dr. Teeth Presents", apparently. Pimp C claims "I just can't leave my meat alone". Smirk. Lots of standing about from outsized homies here. Via XXL.

Unkut on the mooted 'Where Are They Now' weed carriers rrrrrrrrremix. Very amusing.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

RZA – ‘Afro Samurai OST’

Delayed gratification has been the keynote of RZA’s career for the best part of a decade. His touted solo “masterpiece”, ‘The Cure’, has been promised since before the release of ‘Wu-Tang Forever’ in 1997, and currently resides in the same bracket as Dre’s ‘Detox’, the new My Bloody Valentine record and (surely nobody really believes) ‘Chinese Democracy’. In the meantime, RZA hasn’t been lazy – contributing to Wu albums, solo joints, soundtracks (in particular, to ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Ghost Dog’), and albums as RZA and Bobby Digital. But all of these releases came with a pre-loaded defence mechanism against heightened expectations, be it the cartoon persona of Bobby Digital, or the stylistic constraints of a soundtrack for somebody else’s project. Nothing is allowed to be a ‘true’ RZA solo album, so nothing is quite as good as ‘The Cure’ surely, must be.

Given this pathological tendency, RZA must’ve been salivating at the prospect of Afro Samurai – a project so silly, and so ‘RZA’, as to cast Samuel L. Jackson as a jive talking blaxploitation anime hero, questing to become the ‘Number One warrior in the world’. No sweat, no pressure: a license to indulge his favourite tropes. Accordingly, we are treated to silky-smooth RnB pastiches (forgetting that R. Kelly’s light years ahead on this bonkers path), sword-swinging nerd rap with Talib Kweli and Q Tip, an underwhelming Big Daddy Kane appearance on ‘Cameo Afro’, and the over-familiar dialogue snippets: c’mon, “give him his sword” already. It’s nice enough, but nothing new, and hardly a stretch. RZA only steps from behind the boards on a few tracks, and on most of those he retreats into his diminishing-returns, misogynistic Bobby Digital persona. “C’mon, Bobby, let’s get some sleep,” suggests an unnamed lady. “Unh,” says Bobby. Only on ‘Fury In My Eyes’ does RZA allow a glimpse of the awesome potential that still lurks: over a melody reminiscent of Kill Bill’s Meiko Kaji moments, RZA’s slurring flow combines with Thea’s feline hook to inspiring effect: “I’m the master of the clan, you can see by the headband / spirit of God becomes one inside man.” It’s enough to sustain those who believe he still has the classic in him to rival ’36 Chambers’.


More fun:

RZA - 'Fury in My Eyes'

Couple of mp3s at So Much Silence.

Buy 'Afro Samurai'

Patrick Wolf – Live, Oxford Zodiac, Tuesday 6 February 2006

It’s easy enough to lump Patrick Wolf in with fellow travellers in the new-weird vanguard such as Antony, Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart. But in the live arena, what’s common to those three is a focus for the more outré aspects of their music: for Antony, the voice, often accompanied by minimal instrumentation; for Joanna, the harp; for Devendra … it’s the beard. Patrick Wolf is as much hindered as he is aided by his range of talents and ideas, and outside the studio this shows. The voice occasionally commands: a combination of Scott Walker’s gravitas and Jarvis Cocker’s directness that comes as a surprise from such a young performer. But mostly, tonight, it’s leaden, and fails to lift his complex, multi-part songs. The costumery, too, is arresting: Ziggy Stardust’s trousers, Adam Ant’s naval tailcoat. But Wolf never completely embraces the idea of an ‘in character’ performance, undercutting the theatrical presentation with his often raw, personal lyrics. This would work if the songs could carry the sentiments, but too often the performance is incoherent, and the presentation seems to serve as a necessary, but unsatisfactory distraction. On record, Wolf is, at times, a staggering talent. But live, as with most performers for whom ambition comes before achievement, a leap of faith is required. For tonight’s similarly-dressed teenage crowd, that doesn’t look like it was too difficult.


More fun:

Good review of the album at Resonator.

Apples In Stereo – New Magnetic Wonder

Having toyed with the avant-garde, twee, and noise-pop, extremes of the psychedelic genre across their twelve year recording career, the Apples in Stereo return after a four-year hiatus with the controls set for the heart of the indie mainstream. ‘New Magnetic Wonder’ sets its store out early, with the energetic ‘Can You Feel It’ – an introductory celebration reminiscent of ‘Turn It On’ on Flaming Lips’ ‘Transmissions (From The Satellite Heart)’, or the opening track of practically any Cheap Trick album. From there on, the tone is positive, inclusive and unchallenging: the Apples aim to do for the Beatles, the Beach Boys and ELO what the Hold Steady do for the Boss. For both acts, Weezer took a wrong turn after the ‘Green Album’. In the place of bad drugs and post-grunge comedown, we have teary-eyed sentimentality as maturity from beer-drinking boys of a certain age.

Musically, the gang’s all here, including Tremor Controllers Bill Doss and W. Cullen Hart, and Milk Hotelier Jeff Mangum on ‘cow object’. Lyrically, as is typical of Apples albums, the clue is in the title: the positivity and sense of ‘Wonder’ would occasionally benefit from an injection of Mangum’s troubled, dystopian bile. Songs such as ‘Play Tough’ and first single ‘Energy’ are reductive and borderline inane in their repeated vocal hooks, bringing to mind fellow Wilson-freaks Papas Fritas. But, those reservations aside, Robert Schneider has corralled his talented team of Elephant 6 eccentrics into making a focused yet expansive, enjoyable album, as instrumentally rich and compositionally mature as anything to come out of the Elephant stable in recent years. Though this is perhaps not an album that justifies taking two discs to perform the same musical tricks as Dinosaur Jr. tossed off, more effectively, in one single ten years ago.


More fun:

Aquarium Drunkard has 'Skyway' and a nice rarity, 'Avril en Mai'.

You Ain't No Picasso has their ode to Stephen Colbert. Bonus points for mentioning Cheap Trick.

Talib Kweli & Madlib – Liberation

Talib Kweli’s been solid but stolid since his critical high-point, the 1998 conscious-rap classic ‘Black Star’ collaboration with the similarly-frustrating SUV salesman Mos Def, almost a decade ago. In advance of his slightly-anticipated new album ‘Ear Drum’ he’s decided for a change of approach: throwing his ouevre at the wall and seeing what sticks. So we get impresario-veteran Kweli, showcasing his Blacksmith protégés (including the impressive Jean Grae) on the ‘Movement’ mixtape, which boasts an odd and slightly exhausting mixture of clever wordplay and gangsta posturing. And then we have the crossover-potential Kweli on UGK’s ‘Country Cousins’, in which the man behind ‘Brown Skin Lady’ defends himself for consorting with the likes of Pimp C. Then we have comic-book geek Kweli, guesting on RZA’s ‘Afro Samurai’ soundtrack to decent effect. Finally, giving the backpackers what they want (according to, um, Kweli), here’s our man rhyming off nine of Madlib’s tasteful indie-soul concoctions.

Whether this glut of releases represents astonishing versatility – stylistically and commercially – or directionless desperation depends on your sympathy for Kweli’s artistic agenda and for his MCing. The former is commendable and appealing: Kweli is a hip-hop purist, a one-MC-one-DJ performer in love with language and eager to raise the tone and the profile of his art-form; but he’s also broad-minded and keen to embrace the range of forms that hip-hop can take. ‘Over the Counter’ is a winning reversal of Clipse’s nihilism, as we find Kweli “on the corner selling it” (political enlightenment, that is!). In this respect, he’s a fellow traveller of Nas, but without the self-importance, and with better beats. Madlib is on fine form here, laying warm, flute-heavy samples over his trademark loping, looping rhythms. Madlib’s consistency occasionally encourages Kweli to raise his game, as on the urgent corner-store robbery narrative ‘Engine Running’, or to loosen up (through slightly awkward references to “the ladies” and “ass”).

On the down-side, Kweli’s MCing is, as usual, worthy and wordy, often piling on similes for their own sake, to little effect (“tripping like Cameron Diaz in Tanzania … using poetic license like onomatopoeia”). Kweli’s often so humourless that you’d swear the Ying Yang Twins were created to restore the cosmic balance. This undermines his artistic ambitions: on. The song that best encapsulates this tension is ‘Happy Home’ – a Black History Month family story of hope, education and love set against the backdrop of Dylan and Vietnam: it’s hard to loathe the sentiment, but that’s what it is: sentiment, not far removed from that ‘60s’ TV movie from a few years back.

Kweli cuts himself a little slack with the format: it’s a stopgap, and it was released for free – a disposable product you’ll want to keep (it's available on retail from February 20th). But his problem since ‘Black Star’ remains the same, in spite of his recent productivity: without Mos Def’s witty, elastic flow as a counterpoint to his stiff, righteous bluster, Kweli may be good for you, but he’s no fun.


More fun:

Macktronic hook you up.