A Very Good Year

Pick Hit

OOOH! (Quarterstick)
Their best album in a decade doesn't exactly come up and give you a kiss. Half 9-11 fallout, half night thoughts of a band whose heyday is past, it begins with what seems a faux-folk trope until you realize that "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem" is also the new crusade, and ends with the impassive boast, "We pride ourselves that our memory/Will vanish from the memory of the world." It's slow, sour, dark, grimó obsessed with treachery, conflagration, and death. For years the Time Out of Mind fan club has been finding unfathomable fatalism in folk songs that rarely gather the grounded gravity sustained here. Inspirational Verse (really, think about it): "Everyday is a battle/How we still love the war." A

Pick Hit

One Beat (Kill Rock Stars)
Sleater-Kinney is one of three unapologetically political bands to respond to September 2001's world-change with August 2002 albums, and it's remarkable how different they are. The Mekons are cynical and defiant; Springsteen is spiritual and uplifting. Yet both seem worn out, as if neither defiance nor uplift can get them out of bed in the morning. Sleater-Kinney, on the other hand, go for defiant uplift and seem energized by the challenge. Probably it isn't the stance that energizes themóit's their energy that powers the stance. Not only are they a generation younger, they're riding the crest of a wild success burdened by neither the Mekons' quarter-century of subsistence nor Springsteen's felt responsibility to 10 million consumersónot to mention that Corin spent 2001 with her new baby, who plays a suitably small and crucial role in her September 11 song. Throughout they bubble and shriekóliterally in the opener, where Corin's "bubble in a sound wave" is the secret of both social and nuclear fusion, and in the career guitar line Carrie lays under "Oh!" Let "Step Aside" do its thing and you'll "shake a tail feather for peace and love" no matter what your weary self thinks of protest songs. A

Dud of the Month

Heathen (ISO/Columbia)
The "Bowie's back" huzzahs that accompany every one of this music mill's new releases beg the question of what he's back to and from. The reason Englishmen have actually touted him as the greatest rock artiste of all time is that he's the least American major rock artiste of all time, which is one reason his careful brand maintenance isn't filling any arenas over here. Just to be mean I compared his latest phoenix imitation to 1979's Lodger, a certified nonclassic I always kind of liked. Lodger won easy. He has indeed Learned to Sing, thus rendering himself more the chansonnier only art-rockers ever wanted him to be, and the strain is hell on his sense of humor. The textures are nicer now, but whose aren't? And while the songwriting ain't bad, it also ain't that good. Just switch between the Black Francis cover and any other track and you'll know exactly what I mean. C PLUS

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: RJD2, Deadringer (Definitive Jux): Shadow lite, featuring a high keyb-to-bottom ratio, a Steve Reich moment, and a comic robot who's on both "izzle fa shizzle" and the grace of Christ ("Two More Dead," "The Horror"); Sonic Youth, Murray Street (DGC): the diligently realized sound of exhaustion ("Sympathy for the Strawberry," "Rain on Tin"); Rocket From the Tombs, The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombs (Smog Veil): David Thomas and Peter Laughner rehearse and play out, rude and alive respectively ("Raw Power," "Never Gonna Kill Myself Again"); Supersuckers, Must've Been Live (Mid-Fi): alt-rock road dogs unleash country hoo-haw ("Good Livin'," "Hangin' Out With Me"); Blackalicious, Blazing Arrow (MCA): Words of Wisdom from Gift of Gab ("Sky Is Falling," "Release"); the Queers, Pleasant Screams (Lookout): paring down from "I Hate Your Fucking Guts," "I Just Called to Say Fuck You," "Journey to the Center of Your Empty Fucking Skull," "Stupid Fucking Vegan," "My Cunt's a Cunt," and "Just Say Cunt" to "See You Later Fuckface" in just two years! ("I Never Got the Girl," "Homo"); Linda Thompson, Fashionably Late (Rounder): relocating her folk roots with a male musical-domestic collaborator—her son Teddy ("Weary Life," "Dear Mary"); Tony Allen, Psyco on da Bus (Platform): Africa's premier avant-popster breaks Afrobeat into trip-hop ("Push Your Mind Break Beat Remix," "Hand Full of Sands"); Pere Ubu, St Arkansas (SpinArt): there is no joy in Meadville, mighty Ubu has blooped a single to left center—but there wasn't much joy before either ("Slow Walking Daddy," "333"); Reigning Sound, Time Bomb High School (In the Red): Jack White's garage-blues feel without its poetry ("Time Bomb High School," "Stormy Weather"); Arto Lindsay, Invoke (Righteous Babe): never think samba can't accommodate, and indulge, the abstruse ("Invoke," "Ultra Privileged"); Dave Pirner, Faces and Names (Ultimatum Music): from a dynamite soul singer, these would be dynamite soul ballads ("Teach Me to Breathe," "Faces and Names"); Original Sinners (Nitro): better Exene in band than Exene with backup, but the X factor was a Y chromosome ("Who's Laughin' Now," "River City"); Chumbawamba, Readymades (MCA): faux-slick truths about real world horror ("All in Vain," "Don't Pass Go"); Jarvis Church, Shake It Off (RCA): the theory is, if Minneapolis produced a Prince, so can Toronto ("Who Will Be Your Man," "Shake It Off"); Los Lobos, Good Morning Aztlán (Mammoth): back to basics, all because, no kidding, "things are not the way they used to be" ("Good Morning Aztlán," "Maria Cristina").

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