By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
1. Radar Bros., The Singing Hatchet (SeeThru Broadcasting). Sad and majestic, like early Pink Floyd or Mojave 3, but with a West Coast vibe. Songs seem to rise up out of the ground like fog, making Hatchet the kind of small, delicate record that seems to be of no specific time period.
2. Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow, Brainfreeze (Sixty 7). Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow recorded this album during a practice session for a live set where they only used seven-inch records. This is a semi-bootleg, self-released by the artists in a limited quantity. These two big names working together is the DJ equivalent of Al Green and Marvin Gaye doing a full concert of duets. Any fan of late '60s funk will find some familiar hooks at work as the record ebbs and flows in intensity, just like a DJ's set. (Sold new for $15.98, they go for three times that on eBay now.)
3. Macha, See It Another Way (Jetset). This is what Cornershop would sound like if it came out of the Elephant 6-influenced psychedelic indie rock community of Athens, Georgia, instead of the dance music and punk rock scenes of London. Southeast Asian instrumentation adds a trippy, hippie dimension, but the group doesn't skimp on Western melodies or power hooks. It grows in stature with each listening.
4. Tram, Heavy Black Frame (Jetset). Let it go, let yourself go, slow and low, that is the tempo. Somewhere between Neil Young's country and Neil Armstrong's moon walk, Tram's first was surprisingly mellow gold.
5. Lilys, Zero Population Growth (Darla). Head Lily Kurt Heasley changes who he plays with and what the group sounds like with each release. Here he makes like Neu circa 1974 on an EP for Darla's always-beautiful Bliss Out series.
6. Quickspace, Precious Falling (Hidden Agenda). There once was a band called Th' Faith Healers who merged Velvet Undergroundy jams with repetitive, circular riffs. They broke up five years ago, reportedly because after the suicide of Kurt Cobain, being in a rock band was "redundant." Healers guitarist Tom Cullinan changed his mind and started this droney, drifty angular rock band.
7. Various artists, Bombay the Hard Way: Guns, Cars & Sitars (Motel). Sort of Shaft flavored with lots of curry. This is a collection of brownsploitation themes and incidental music from India's Bollywood soundtracks with beats from DJ Shadow and Dan "The Automator" Nakamura. More than a novelty record because the funky Western rhythms and Eastern melodies collide in just the right way. Bonus points for song titles that get into the spirit: "Fists of Curry" and "Punjabis, Pimps, and Players."
8. Muse, Showbiz (Maverick). The same guy who sat behind the board for Radiohead's The Bends and tons of British psychedelic rock produced two-thirds of this group's debut. No wonder Muse is often more Radiohead than Radiohead. The British band channels Queen and Jeff Buckley for the good stuff, but also wanders into Placebo territory at its pretentious worst.
9. Various artists, Gravikords, Whirlies, & Pyrophones (Ellipsis Arts). Okay, truth be told, I had heard one song; Gomez played the first track for me while I was interviewing them. But this is a compilation of 19 tracks from musicians who built and played their own instruments, so each song sounds completely different. Leon Theremin, Robert Moog, Don Buchla -- they're all here. Weird, wild and wonderful, since no two tracks or instrumentation are even close to the same. Deluxe packaging with a foreword by Tom Waits and bios of all the builders/musicians.
10. Caetano Veloso, Livro (Nonesuch). South America meets North American pop from the highly recommended guy who is supposed to be the Brazilian Bob Dylan. The melodies are just foreign enough to sound exotic and close enough to familiar to go down smooth. I don't love it, but it's certainly worth listening to now and again.
Top 10 Records That Warrant More Than a Quizzical Look
Having freelanced for many years, I've become the darling of a number of record-company mailing lists. Before you cry corporate sellout, I should add that most of the corrugated mailers that end up in my hands aren't stamped by Sony or Capitol but probably come from companies with names like Earwig and Flying Fish, and for good reason. The kind of records I really treasure tend to fall into the overlooked, off-the wall and obscure categories. Forget the high-profile reissues, the buzzed-about boxed sets, I love to get my hands on the things that most people would probably toss aside without more than a raised eyebrow or a shrug. Here, then, are my Top 10 Records That Warrant More Than a Quizzical Look.
1. Buckethead, Monsters and Robots (Cyberoctave). This anonymous post-metal guitar wizard claims to have learned guitar in a graveyard while being raised in a chicken cage, which accounts for the KFC bucket topping his Michael Myers' Halloween mask. His 90 mph fret-whacking avoids Joe Satriani comparisons thanks to the guttural input of the nasty trio of Bill Laswell, Bootsy Collins and Les Claypool. Turn up the bass and it'll get you pregnant.
2. Johnny Dowd, Pictures From Life's Other Side (Koch). While this countrified folkster's sophomore effort occasionally sounds a bit too much like a diluted mix of Captain Beefheart, John Prine and Tom Waits, he's cranked out an album meaner than any of the three of them would venture to create. Country music has made a cliché out of love being a chain, but only Dowd sings of love making him sick, of being sexually committed to a comatose wife, of obsessing about a schoolgirl to the point of getting a tattoo of her name. His next album ought to be seriously frightening stuff, assuming that before then he's not caught on a building with a gun.