Anti-Gravitational Boots

Some very rough guides to living in a nation that won't share and will never be the same

Pick Hits

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JON LANGFORD
All the Fame of Lofty Deeds
Bloodshot

Purportedly a concept album in which Mr. Deeds goes to Nashville because he's outgrown his band, and life will never be the same because fame can do that (also death). Actually a bunch of songs in which Mr. Langford goes to Chicago because he can't stand Margaret Thatcher, and life will never be the same because George W. Bush can do that (also Satan). The "hard road that always brings you back" has brought him back to where he once escaped, so now he's considering Switzerland, yodel-ay-ee-oooo. True love aside, how the hell did he wind up in America? "The country is young . . . not too good on the sharing," so let the zombies tear it apart. Only he loves its music, which sustains him even in the absence of one of the ad hoc bands he'll never outgrow—the arrangements, early Cash with extras, are as committed as the singing we've learned to assume. The glory of America at war with its shame, and don't bet it'll hold up its head forever. A


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THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF ETHIOPIA
World Music
Network import

Finally, after umpteen volumes of Buda Musique completism, a peaky, fluent introduction to one of the European diaspora's stranger and more consistent national musics. Sonically, horns dominate. After World War II, instructors from Austria, Armenia, and other non-Abyssinian places imposed themselves along with the sway of victorious swing on military brass bands that never abandoned their indigenous scales. These bands only went pop decades later, and on Buda, a sameness besets them. Here, in contrast, solid vocalists show off their best tunes, and incongruences like the émigré with King Curtis's taste for major keys merely shift the mood. Smack in the middle and right in a row, an old master of an ancient lyre that sounds like a bass zither, a future émigrée backed by quasi-classical piano, and an instrumental with string section disrupt the vocals-with-horns norm, never alarmingly. Then the norm bounces back refreshed. From beginning to end, what a sound. A MINUS


AUTOMATO
Coup de Grâce

A hip-hop band, only not funky like Stetsasonic and the Roots. Or then again, a rap-rock band, only not heavy like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. White, I assume—I'm positive about the rapper, who I met before he became an alienated teenager, and Jewish names predominate among his bandmates. The DFA production is enhancement only—the music is Automato's. Less accomplished and sensational than the Rapture's, it's a lot trippier when it comes together and also when it threatens to jump the tracks, both of which happen plenty. Usually the chapstick-packing rapper figures out what to do with it, too. "All I ever wanted was truth, peace, harmony, and anti-gravitational boots," he confides, only then: "Truth is a bitch when you're living in sin." So be glad he got the boots. A MINUS


THE MAGNETIC FIELDS
i
Nonesuch

The concept is, not only do all these deadpan titles start with an i, they're performed (in alphabetical order!) by the deadpan I in question. When the songs are not just clever but lively—most spectacularly on the unrelenting "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend"—Stephin Merritt's demo-ready monotone could pass for a singing voice. When they're not—often not lively, and once or twice, heaven forfend, not clever—he sounds as if he's waiting to be swept off his feet by Sophie Von Otter. At which point we who were rooting for more "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend" sneak out the back door. B PLUS


THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF KENYA
World Music Network import

Kenya isn't just diverse tribally, the way all African nations are diverse. Among the larger ones, only Nigeria sustains such a pronounced Christian-Islamic split, with the Muslims holding sway over pan-African Swahili and the arriviste Christians aligning with the animists their grandparents once were and also with Congolese rumba speculators come east to rake in the shillings. Traversing generational boundaries as well, this is a travelogue. But Kenya is a populous place with a prosperous history whose music has made few international inroads, and compiler-annotator Doug Paterson has ears. So here's chiming benga never heard stateside, traditional Swahili taarab and upstart Swahili rumba, distinctly Muslim hooks, rappers worthy of the name, and—best of all, really—three modern female voices on the first six tracks. The country's a mess; Daniel arap Moi saw to that. But its spirit would appear to be strong. A MINUS


PIPI SKID
Funny Farm
Peanuts & Corn

From secret hip-hop hot spot Winnipeg, just what the genre needs—an angry Caucasian with space and germ issues and rotting teeth he can't afford to fix. Plus, for that urban touch, a producer from Vancouver. By adding elegance and eloquence to Pipi's congested utterances and anti-American analysis—check the basslines, which are sometimes organlike, once I think bowed, and always mixed to accentuate melody—McEnroe makes the rapper seem fully socialized. No hip-hop lyric this year will get more done than "5:20 AM," which is when Pipi wakes up for his job in the nursing home. A MINUS

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