Shadows in the Cave

WIDE RIGHT
(Poptop)
Poptop as in beer, not music. Leah Archibald runs a rock band, Jim, as down-the-middle as Mellencamp or the Iron City Houserockers. Straight-speaking voice-guitar-bass-drums is her native language, so ingrained she'd fit right in on a stoner comp if she had a touch of flash. But Wide Right don't or can't preen. They serve up none of the virtuoso macho that make down-the-middle rock fans feel better about their prospects. Some longhaired bozo vaunting his wanderlust over these arrangements would be worse than a bore. Archibald gets over by singing as who she is: a Rust Belt mom who rocks in her spare time and writes fierce breakup songs to a fickle drummer and a jerk at work. She appreciates the simple things. Foremost among them is this generic music that when you think about it is unique in history. A MINUS


PICK HITS

LIFESAVAS
Spirit in Stone
(Quannum Projects)
Words come first in even the best underground hip hop. This Oregon trio leads with a sound, less catholic than that of their teachers De La Soul but still plenty absorptive—jazzlike, with a fluid Jamaican under-current. Although the record would stop dead if beats didn't switch from song to song, the same bounce brands them all. Then come the rhymes, which are witty, humane, political, all that good underground stuff (also Christian, a virtue, and speaking of virtues, anti-obscurantist). In my favorite, Vursatyl fends off annoying visits from a braggart MC ("we're 30 deep and each member's a mutant combination of six animals"), only to realize the egomaniac is himself, and a good thing too—without his secret belief that he's the greatest rapper in the universe, he couldn't be a good one. A MINUS

FANNYPACK
So Stylistic
(Tommy Boy)
In good Svengali-group fashion, they run out of material before they run out of concept, but not by much. From Belinda finding a quarter to Jessibel getting her mom to wake her up for gym, the found skits are set up by the scripted intro that climaxes, "Let's get famous. Let's get famous! LET'S GET FAMOUS!" That's the dream, and until a lawyer examines their royalty statements, it'll be all they want and the least they deserve. Three thin voices rap-sing-chant over the same bare-bones electro that sophisticates equate with two-headed dildos and black leatherette. But here, it intensifies the toughness, naïveté, moralism, sentimentality, ambition, ebullience, and sex drive all high school girls know but few have the sass to project and none have forged into art, especially with a Brooklyn accent. Imagine "I Know What Boys Like," which you remember, combined with L'Trimm, who you should look up. Both are on the mix CD their handlers sent out to beguile the press. I sure bit. A MINUS


Dud of the Month

SOLE
Selling Live Water
(Anticon)
The shortfall of this uprooted state-of-Mainer is generic. Like so many underground rappers, he's actually what his meaner and cheerier coequal Busdriver calls, less sarcastically than he thinks, a "spoken-word artist." He writes poetry designed for declamation. "Never learned to dance because I exercise the right to write," so his beats are his rhymes and meters, and his scant music more atmosphere than rhythm. From a fringe foreseen by William Gibson, sharing cheap food and living quarters with fellow spirits he doesn't entirely trust if he can stand them at all, he speaks for a disenfranchised subculture that knows, as he says in his best line, "jobs ain't nothing but free pens and long distance calls." Certainly he understands things about this society that his better-adjusted contemporaries don't. But he's woefully short on not just empathy but humorous self-deprecation. With him, "I only rap because I ain't smart enough to write a book" is a species of boast. And when he does write a book, which he will, no one will read it. B


Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Sean Paul,Dutty Rock (VP/Atlantic): dancehall crossover at full-bore integrity ("Gimme the Light," "Get Busy"); Eek-a-Mouse,The Very Best of Eek-a-Mouse Vol. 2 (Shanachie): approximating the strangeness of the world with falsettos high and low, instrumental nonsense syllables, and always the same slow skank ("Border Patrol," "The Mouse and the Man"); CherryWine,Bright Black(DCide): Digable Planet as a nicer Basehead, with a healthy injection of Gary Numan ("What Im Talking," "A Street Gospel"); Clem Snide,Soft Spot(SpinArt): hard to maintain that rock and roll edge when you've fallen in love with a baby ("All Green," "Action"); Capleton,The Best of Capleton (Hip-O): at Def Jam, where he strove to combine hard, conscious, and profitable ("Raggy Road," "Wings of the Morning"); Toni Braxton,More Than a Woman(Arista): hell yeah—also a self-made sex object ("Lies, Lies, Lies," "Let Me Show You the Way [Out]"); Rasta Jamz (Razor & Tie): a/k/a Ragga Love (Mr. Vagas, "Heads High"; Super Cat, "Dolly My Baby [Hip Hop Mix]"); Aceyalone,Love and Hate(Decon): binary in the great polarized underground tradition—e.g., lively and tedious ("Takeoff," "Ms. Amerikkka"); Shaggy,Mr. Lover Lover(The Best of Shaggy . . . Part 1) (Virgin): so r&b that for incomprehensibilty's sake he outsources some patois ("Boombastic [Sting Remix]," "In the Summertime"); Brad Paisley,Mud on the Tires(Arista): so much command of Nashville conventions he'd fool with them as soon as feel with them ("Little Moments," "Famous People"); the Negatones,The Heavy E.(Melody Lanes): so much training in the sciences it makes them want to break shit up! ("Tape Machines," "Carbon Freeze"); A.R.E. Weapons (Rough Trade): we will, we will shoot you ("Don't Be Scared," "Hey World"); Richard Thompson,The Old Kit Bag (Cooking Vinyl/SpinArt): and he writes better songs than Clapton too ("Outside of the Inside," "Happy Days and Auld Lang Syne"); Starlight Mints,Built on Squares ([PIAS] America): more confident and relaxed in their Sgt. Pepper retro, which naturally loosens its grip ("Goldstar," "San Diego"); Sonny Vincent,The Good, the Bad, the Ugly (Acetate): punk lifer's ordinary songs juiced by punk lifers' extraordinary guitars ("Busted," "Flower"); Freeway,Philadelphia Freeway (Roc-A-Fella): "victim of the ghetto" shit at its most up-to-date ("What We Do . . . ," "Line 'Em Up").

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