The Boo Radleys should have been contenders. Of all the bands on England's legendary Creation Records roster devoted to reinterpreting the psychedelic '60s through the prism of the postmodern '90s, Martin Carr and company had the goods. More forward-looking than Ride, more danceable than Primal Scream, nearly as challenging and creative as My Bloody Valentine but as pop-oriented as Oasis, the Boos had something for everyone. Oasis grabbed the brass ring in the U.S. with Definitely Maybe, but Wake Up!--the Boos' jaunty, horn-driven fourth effort--was a much better album.
It may all have been for the best, though, since the Boos switched labels in the States, regrouped at Rockfield Studios in Wales, and produced their most ambitious and inspired work yet. C'mon Kids is a spirited invitation to join in a truly modern vision of psychedelic rock, one recognizing that there are no boundaries of any kind in the recording studio and that a geeky Englishman like singer Sice can rap his heart out on a tune like "Fortunate Sons" while chaotic noise-guitars are effectively paired with hip-hop rhythms on "What's in the Box" or "Get on the Bus."
The bust of that last title is an indie-rock tour van, not Ken Kesey's Furthur, but to the Boos, there's not much difference. Acoustic guitars butt up against a wall of fuzz and feedback; theremins swoop and synthesizers swirl; demonic voices whisper in your ear; and your mind is blown even as you find yourself cheerfully humming along. The lyrics match the musical invention: "Meltin's Worm" is an homage to a giant earthworm; "Everything Is Sorrow" is a slacker's take on Buddhism; and the title track is a moving call for a generation to abandon grunge's angst.
A more quiet and introspective affair, First Fruits is a solo side project by Sice, who doesn't have an outlet for his own songs in the Boos because of Carr's prolific nature. Started at home on four-track, Sice's gentle acoustic folk tunes were fleshed out in the studio with lush orchestrations inspired by his hero, the late Nick Drake. Lyrically, Sice grapples with the scars of his Catholic upbringing, but the achingly beautiful string, harpsichord, flue pipe and organ melodies suggest that he has arrived at a more content and peaceful place.
In its latest attempt to grab the attention of musically subliterate twentysomethings, Angel Records has married a classical CD to a nine-page crime novella in the style of Mickey Spillane by way of Quentin Tarantino. This is Volume 1, clumsily titled The Death of the Look of Hope. Each of the nine brief chapters is associated with a musical selection on the CD. For example, the obligatory scene in the tacky Trocadero club ("Dancing girls, dancing boys, drums, bugle beads and monkey fur") is to be read to the accompaniment of George Gershwin's Cuban Overture, and the sultry love scene between the gumshoe and good-girl-gone-bad goes with the purple passion of the Adagio from Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2.
Most people don't associate detective stories with classical music. More like wailing sax and cocktail piano. Still, the Paul Taylor dance company once reset Stravinsky's seminal The Rite of Spring as a murder mystery in Chinatown, so perhaps Pulp Classix isn't such a weird idea. The music, of course, is excellent; four selections by Prokofiev, two by Gershwin, and one each by Puccini, Rachmaninoff and Britten. Note, however, that with the exception of the Cuban Overture, these are excerpts from larger works--just right for Quentin Tarantino fans and moviegoers (today's dime-novel readers?) with short attention spans.
Seven Storey Mountain
(Art Monk Construction)
What was supposed to be the first full-length effort by Seven Storey Mountain turned out to be the swan song for the group's maiden lineup. Singer/guitarist Lance Lammers disembarked after recording this album to throw his emo-punk tantrums elsewhere, which is a shame since his bitter beratements and hostile guitar play were always focal points for this energetic trio. The band's remaining members have replaced Lance with two guitarists--one of them being SSM bassist Jesse Everhart. Jesse has relinquished bass duties to new singer Aaron Wendt, and (whew) how this round of musical chairs will have an impact on this great Valley band is a question only future club dates can answer.
In the meantime, Leper Ethics offers a snapshot of SSM before the implosion. The sound spectrum here is richer and wider than the somewhat claustrophobic self-titled EP Art Monk issued last year. There are windows of clarity in the band's Wall of Noise. The brooding "Soon Forget" takes nearly two minutes to build up to SSM's characteristic froth and could almost be a ballad, while "Fall" has the band lurching further through midtempo land like Sebadoh.
"This is the music of beauty pageants," Lammers screams on the album's best track, "Tarnish." "If I had the time/I'd write you a thousand pretty songs that you cry to." Which in no way signals a soften-up. At least, not on this album. A snapshot of the recent past, Leper Ethics represents SSM's explosive anger at its saliva-drenched best.