You Am I
You Am I is a Sydney, Australia, trio that's achieved an oddly impressive distinction during its six-year history: It's somehow managed to build a zealous American fan base without actually releasing anything in America. Hourly, Daily, its third Australian album--following hard-to-find imports on labels like Timberyard and RooArt--was released a year ago in the band's homeland, but it's only now within reach of our collective mitts. As such, it is more than a first-rate collection of retro-pop clamor. It's a belated stateside introduction to one of the most endearing bands on the planet.
You Am I has such a confident mastery of that inexhaustible late-'60s Brit-pop jangle that it makes you question your motivations even as you find your head swaying with every sing-along chorus. Singer/guitarist Tim Rogers--the band's only original member--even looks like a digital morph of Ray Davies and Pete Townshend in their heydays. This down-under mod displays considerable cojones, not only building the ebullient "Mr. Milk" around the bridge to XTC's "Senses Working Overtime," but even aping that tune's background "woo-woos." Just to push the audacity meter into the red, Rogers fades out with chiming "A Hard Day's Night" arpeggios.
Try searching for a dud among this album's power-pop nuggets, and you'll come up emptier than Geraldo at Capone's vault. "Good Mornin'" may be a by-the-numbers chronicle of a working day, but hooks like this don't sprout on every tunesmith's fretboard. And the title song is the kind of achingly beautiful acoustic-cum-string-section track that Noel Gallagher was shooting for with "Wonderwall."
You Am I is a band that you'll fall in love with instantly, then spend countless hours debating about in your mind: Is this music as good as it seems, or does it merely remind us of rock's young and innocent days? What is the value of a band that so skillfully re-creates the vibe of great recordings, when those recordings are still in print? You can try building a case against such retro aesthetics, but eventually you'll succumb. A mere band can be resisted, but You Am I is a walking Poptopia festival.
Tibetan Freedom Concert
(Grand Royal/Capitol Records)
"More people should take the time to know what's going on in the world before it becomes a cool thing to do. The plight of the Tibetan people has been going on for years now."
With those words in the liner notes, "edutainment" godfather KRS-1 sums up the fundamental shortcoming of the Tibetan Freedom Concerts (organized by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in 1996 and New York's Randall's Island in 1997). The cause itself is beyond worthy, but other than the money earned to support the Milarepa Fund, a nonprofit organization started by Yauch to educate people about the ongoing injustices perpetrated by the government of China on the people of Tibet (more than a million Tibetans killed, mass sterilization and environmental rape), the question is whether the kids who attended the shows and who buy this CD give a shit enough to take action after the fact.
The concerts and CDs are intended to "encourage people to disassociate themselves from the violence perpetuated by the current system of global economics." In other words, look at how many products you purchase that bear the words "Made in China." China's president, Jiang Zemin, recently visited Washington, D.C., to discuss the U.S. and China's solid yet still burgeoning economic relationship. Human rights were a minor issue; across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park, a group of demonstrators, including Yauch, Richard Gere and Fugazi's Ian MacKaye, protested Zemin's visit.
So we know the kids will buy the CDs to get their Vedder/Alanis/U2/Pavement fix, but will they really pay attention to where the products they buy are manufactured? Buddhists and non-Buddhists sympathetic to the plight of the Tibetans pray that they will.
Musically, the CDs are hit and miss--Blur wins the Brit-pop wars with its eclectic "Beetlebum," which makes Noel Gallagher's lackluster acoustic solo version of Oasis' "Cast No Shadow" hardly noticeable.
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Pavement offers an uninspired yawner (as seems typical of Pavement lately), "Type Slowly." Sonic Youth's noisy (obviously) "Wildflower" hits high on the rock meter, but hardly makes up for the lack of good rock tracks on the discs. All the alterna-schlock chart toppers are here--Alanis Morissette, U2, Foo Fighters, Stipe and Mills of R.E.M., the Bosstones. If you don't know their M.O. by now, I'm not gonna be the one to describe it; be blissful in your ignorance.
Genre-wise, hip-hop has the upper hand on this collection. KRS-1, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and the Beastie Boys all drop bombs worthy of the cause. Dub master Lee "Scratch" Perry outdoes himself with "Heads of Government," and Cibo Matto busts out the impeccably deranged trip-hop "Birthday Cake" (featuring Sean Lennon, and the Blues Explosion's Russell Simins). The only hip-hop fluff job comes from the Fugees' weak "Fu Gee La."
Altogether the collection is an accurate document of a myriad of artists convened to further an important cause. This in itself is a worthy enough endorsement of the discs; anyone can find at least one song he or she digs, and the profits go to battle one of the world's major human-rights atrocities.
So, where were your shoes manufactured?