Angels With Dirty Faces
Anyone can build a majestic structure if you give him unlimited materials and resources. The real test is what you can achieve with the sparest of tools. Tricky, the Bristol studio alchemist who brought trip-hop to the ears of dance mavens before the term itself had been coined, can hypnotize you with a primal beat, a snatch of rubbery bass, a whispery rap and an eerie keyboard loop. Like his obvious forebear Brian Eno, Tricky makes music that's ambient, mind-altering and wildly explosive at the same time.
Following up his much acclaimed, hugely influential 1996 album Pre-Millennium Tension, Tricky continues to brilliantly explore the frontiers of space and texture on Angels With Dirty Faces, making live instrumentation sound like digital samples and vice versa. Drummer Perry Melius particularly shines, offering proof (check out the frenetic "Money Greedy") that techno breakbeats have irrevocably altered the way live drummers approach their instrument.
No individual track approaches classic status, though the foreboding "Demise" and the soulful "Carriage for Two" (with a lustrous "God Bless the Child" cop from Tricky's longtime vocal cohort Martina) come close. But Tricky's not really about individual songs or linear thoughts. His albums are about creating, building and sustaining a mood, and with Angels he succeeds in making pure dread feel exhilarating.
The X-Files: The Album
With all of the hype that's been put into the summer blockbusters, it's nice to see somebody finally deliver. Contrary to the belief of the promotions executive who recoined the catch phrase "Size Does Matter" for the Godzilla movie and album, there is only some small truth to that. Size does matter if: You're an insecure male, you're a big eater, or you're a pumpkin farmer who grows your prized possession every year in hopes of bringing home the blue ribbon at the state fair. Otherwise, it means little.
Thankfully, with The X-Files: The Album, quality heavily outweighs size with 14 glorious tracks ranging from reggae to trip-hop, and everything in between. Throughout the soundtrack, artists go out on a limb to make their music fit the mysticism and intrigue of the film. The Cardigans are the perfect example of this, breaking away from their signature sugary pop mold to offer a darker, deeper song to the mix with "Deuce."
Dave Grohl and the rest of Foo Fighters provide the prettiest moment of the soundtrack with their remixed version of The Colour & the Shape's "Walking After You." With a sweet, mellow voice rarely heard from Grohl, and a new boyish beat from Taylor Hawkins, the band surpasses the original version, leaving the listener in a trance as the song fades. Only seconds later, the effect is shattered by the explosive pop of Ween's "Beacon Light."
In the emerging tradition of summer soundtracks, the X-Files album has its share of revamped classics with an added twist. The most intriguing collaboration comes from a newly reformed X, which teamed up with ex-Doors' keyboardist (and former X producer) Ray Manzarek for a new take on the Jim Morrison lament "Crystal Ship." Although not nearly as slow or spooky as the original, the track does prevail in the creativity department. Punked out at blazing speed, the song clocks in at a whopping two minutes and 15 seconds, providing just enough sonic information for listeners to figure out that they've probably heard the song before.
The only major downside to the album is its first single, Filter's warped cover of the Three Dog Night/Harry Nilsson tune "One." Stretching far from the hit version with a variety of screeching guitars and bloodcurdling yells, the only thing lead singer Richard Patrick proves is that he's probably going to need a bottle of Robitussin to get his throat back to normal.
But while Filter foils, Oasis' guitarist/vocalist Noel Gallagher shines. Taking a break from his British supergroup (or traveling soap opera, if you prefer), Noel makes his solo debut with the seven-minute trip-hop extravaganza "Teotihuacan." Could this signify a career change for the older, wiser Gallagher? In any event, Noel should surprise disbelievers with his spacy, triumphant take on trip-hop, a wild card that nicely rounds out this stellar soundtrack.
10 More Years
A couple of years ago, a compilation album proclaimed that Memphis Ain't What It Used to Be. True enough, the most important city in the history of Western pop music isn't exactly the bastion of wild musical mavericks it once was, more often offering a home to desultory cover bands and slick tourist-friendly blues hacks. But Sherman Willmott knows that the essence of Memphis isn't dead, it's just hidden from view. So a decade ago, Willmott--the owner of a fab record store called Shangri-la--decided, in the spirit of Sun and Stax records, to start recording some of the great bands he saw in local clubs.
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Almost 30 releases later, Willmott compiles the highlights of his Shangri-la label on 10 More Years. Predictably, the collection is heavy with material from the Grifters, Willmott's favorite and best-known discovery. Particularly wonderful to hear are rare early Grifters singles, like the buzz-saw pop-punk of "Soda Pop" and the colloquial moodiness of "Thumbnail Sketch." Also noteworthy are three tracks from the wacked-out Grifters side project Hot Monkey.
But the biggest surprises for non-Memphians come from more obscure sources. Linda Heck's "Dig My Own Hole" (opening with a guitar line right out of the Who's "A Legal Matter") sounds like a great lost nugget from the early days of punk, while the underrated Simple Ones offer ample evidence that they deserved the same level of acclaim as the Grifters. My personal favorite, though, comes from secret blues master Wilroy Sanders, whose live recording of "Green's Lounge Shuffle" delivers the kind of effortless groove that could only come out of the Delta. Most important, this kind of raw soul sounds like it's cut from the same uncompromising cloth as the Grifters' lo-fi indie rock. One senses that's exactly what Willmott had in mind.