Axiom Altered Beats:
Assassin Knowledges of the Remanipulated
Available mostly in specialty shops, surreptitiously packaged in black record jackets, the art of the deejay has spent years in the underground. Finally, the record industry is warming to the deejay trade, and the result should be mutually beneficial. London's Mo' Wax, one of the most swooned-over experimental hip-hop/club labels, recently signed a distribution deal with PolyGram, unleashing its first two stateside recordings--first, Mark's Keyboard Repair, featuring the chintzy Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark, and now Meiso, the third full-length outing from former Tokyo gangster DJ Krush.
Krush's style of "turntablizing" is a link between old-school beats and the new school that erases boundaries among techno, dub and jazzy swing; the mix encourages headphone head-tripping without stripping the music of its forward mobility. The two-minute instrumental "Blank" is aptly titled--its all-purpose hip-hop stride could serve as a foundation track for the hippest karaoke joint in town--while "Ground" demonstrates Krush's ability to fuse ancient history with the future-is-now, as he folds an unearthly Moroccan drone into another straight-up rhythm track. Though Guru and the Roots are among his guest vocalists here, it's Krush's nine-minute collaboration with Davis, California's DJ Shadow, "Duality," a balletlike hang glide through the inner city, that most effectively demonstrates the adventurousness of the Mo' Wax roster.
Krush also appears on the forthcoming Axiom Altered Beats, a consistently engaging collection of sonic collages produced by Bill Laswell, head of Axiom, an Island Records subsidiary. In addition to Krush and Laswell's material are two variations on Hendrix's "If 6 were 9" theme, along with the Bay Area's DJ Q-Bert and Invisible Scratch Pickles (whose "Invasion of the Octopus People" originally appeared on the black-jacketed Return of the DJ compilation on Bomb Recordings).
Though the Axiom project's subtitle, Assassin Knowledges of the Remanipulated, may be a semantic mouthful, the music it encompasses makes perfect sense in a world that does so less and less. The human voice carries little currency here, and when it crops up, it's an embarrassment--like the sample of Dateline NBC's Stone Phillips reporting that the Oklahoma City bombers were said to be Middle Eastern.
Though the intro, "Temporary Power Surge," serves as a broadcast warning ("The American dream is over/The American nightmare is here"), the music of Axiom Altered Beats suggests that any impending doom co-exists with upturns in creative ingenuity.--James Sullivan
1000 Mona Lisas
Andy Warhol would have loved this band, and not just for the name. By replicating pop icons and splashing them with improbable colors, Warhol painted celebrities as mass-market products, blurring the distinction between Mick Jagger and a brand of soup. He also successfully spliced bites of the familiar into something new and intriguing.
Similarly, this trio of raucous bashers from L.A. draws from a variety of ready-made power-pop/SoCal punk sources and weaves them into one loud whip crack of a debut album.
Just because people had seen Mao Tse-tung on the evening news long before he appeared in Warhol's work didn't mean they weren't startled by the artist's handling of the Communist leader. Likewise, just because bands like HYsker DY, the Germs and Black Flag have long served as punk templates doesn't mean a band can't reconstitute those influences into a startlingly good sound. Which is just what 1000 Mona Lisas accomplishes on new disease, where they manufacture a roaring set of diverse rockers that plays like a loud-as-hell pop-punk show squeezed through a killer sound system.
Armando Prado, the Mona Lisas' singer/guitarist with the museum name, spearheads the band's attack with urgent vocals that give a trajectory to Disease's concise playlist (several cuts here clock in at less than two minutes). Prado's guitar whines and chimes, leaving enough room for Gianni Neiviller's melodic funk-rock bass to slither through. Drummer Rocco Bidlovski journeys into double-time as easily as he lays off the snare for a jazzy feel. The trio locks together to make loud, witty rock that leaves a few bruises.
Case in point: "Girlfriendly," the album's first single, is as taut and catchy as any Foo Fighters song. The rich, metallic guitar tone on "Maybe It's All Forgotten" and "Clarke Nova" (all 57 seconds of it) makes them noteworthy efforts that strongly recall HYsker DY. Even the hidden-track cover of Paul McCartney's "Jet" isn't a throwaway. The band blows through the tune like a brush fire, but Prado still pays homage by approximating McCartney's vocals (last year's hurricane cover of "You Oughta Know" was a minor alternative-radio hit).
1000 Mona Lisas almost named themselves the Nietzsches. The band picked the right handle. Its brand of beautiful, quick-moving noise has none of the dry ascetic quality of 19th-century German philosophy, and all of the postgrunge pyrotechnics that make new disease a hell of a lot more hummable than Unzeitgemasse Betrachtungen.--Matt Golosinski
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A Pogues album without Shane MacGowan: The perfect gift for everyone who loved those Doors albums without Jim Morrison.--Michael Roberts
New Moon Daughter
Wilson's melancholia may be a touch monochromatic, but it remains a bracing antidote to the insubstantial nature of so many current jazz vocalists. Rather than offering up the same old scat tricks that have kept undemanding audiences cheering since Louis Armstrong was in his youth, Wilson stretches and pulls her expressive, throaty voice, drawing not only from forerunners like Billie Holiday but from soul and gospel pioneers as well. Just as important, she's developed a band sound that proves the ideal accent for her mournful swoops; guitarist Brandon Ross and bassist Lonnie Plaxico create an eerie, atmospheric backdrop that is both rich and restrained. Wilson's originals--especially "A Little Warm Death," a modified samba that's erotic in a discreet, affecting way--take full advantage of these attributes. Her choice of outside material seems cynical--did she choose to cover U2 ("Love Is Blindness") and Neil Young ("Harvest Moon") for artistic or commercial reasons? Whatever the answer, Wilson's eccentricities give a boost to both songs. Even her painstakingly deliberate version of the Monkees' hit "Last Train to Clarksville" exerts a nearly tangible fascination: You have to smile when she drags out the line "Don't be slow" as achingly long as she can.--Michael Roberts