Willie's comments: I dont know why this album is such a critical favorite. There are three great songs: "Supersonic," "Slide Away," and "Live Forever," the latter of which is destined to be a classic, but the rest of the album is mediocre-to-good guitar rock. Its not as obviously Beatles-influenced (by which I mean "stolen from the Beatles") as their later work, but still intermittently catchy, I guess. Grade: C+
(What's the Story) Morning Glory?
Willie's comments: This one is, too, a critical favorite, but this time its deserved. Every song on the album is blatantly pilfered from the Fab Four (play the piano part to "Dont Look Back in Anger" backwards, if you can. Does it sound like Lennons "Imagine"?), but theyre such good songs, its forgivable. "Wonderwall" and "Dont Look Back in Anger" in particular capture the simple ease with which the Beatles could forever plant a song in a listeners head. "Hello" (which steals a bit from a Gary Glitter song as well as from the Beatles) and the title track are infectious rockers, while "Some Might Say" and "Cast No Shadow" are beautiful. If only there was some real feeling behind it and it wasnt all so calculated... Grade: A-
Be Here Now
Willie's comments: More Beatles rip-offs, but this time, songwriter Noel Gallagher wrecks everything with wall after wall of noisy overdubs until you want to scream (though vocalist Liam Gallagher has adopted a Johnny Rotten-esque rasp that suits him well). "All Around the World" layers on the horns and changes keys a bunch of times, resulting in the song being a good seven minutes longer than it needs to be (and its reprised at the album's end!), and the hooks are, by and large, missing from this collection. "DYou Know What I Mean?" is deceptively simple and catchy, and "Be Here Now" is as good as anything Oasis has ever done, but this is a real chore to sit through. Grade: C
Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
Willie's comments: As the muffed cliche that serves as its title suggests (if there's more than one giant, shouldn't there be more than one shoulder?), this is an album that is short on both craftsmanship and originality. That's not to say there aren't a few winning melodies here- the Lennonisms of "Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is" and the wistful "Gas Panic"- but it all feels like leftovers. "Go Let It Out," "Little James," and "Who Feels Love?" are overlong and tackled beneath layers of guitars; the bloated carcasses of songs that would've been recorded in shorter and sparer form circa Morning Glory. Infighting within the Gallagher family evidently resulted in Noel singing two of this album's ten songs (the dull "Sunday Morning Call" and the passable "Where Did It All Go Wrong?") as well, and his generic voice robs the tunes of the tension that Liam would've brought to them. Standing on the Shoulder of Giants isn't as unlistenably pompous as Be Here Now, but when the best song on the album is the least Oasis-like of the bunch (the energetic "Fuckin' in the Bushes," which melds an infectious riff with a crushing drumbeat and some samples of film dialogue), you can be assured that you've got an inessential release on your hands. Grade: C+
LoadesC writes: Totally agree with your assessment of Definately Maybe. This group are way overrated and bring nothing new or interesting to music.
THIS ARTIST ALSO APPEARS ON: 120 MINUTES LIVE; SNATCH SOUNDTRACK
THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: CHEMICAL BROTHERS
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That album of songs from the Conan O'Brien show
Willie's comments: Conans talk show has always been edgier and riskier than any of the other late-night fare, so it makes sense that this CD of live performances from his program is much more exciting than Lettermans album or even the Saturday Night Live 25th anniversary CDs. The ever-reliable Bjork, David Bowie, and Matthew Sweet are at the top of their game here, while Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jonathan Richman, and Cake all contribute various goodies. Soul Coughing sound a bit disoriented on a lackluster Soundtrack to Mary, and Ani Difranco and 311 are as grating as ever, but its still a sound investment. Grade: B
WRITE COMMENTS ABOUT THE CONAN O'BRIEN ALBUM
Willie's comments: On the Odds second album, you get more genuinely great songs than most bands produce in their entire careers. Sensitive white guy ballads What I Dont Want and Yes (Means Its Hard to Say No) are disarmingly naked in their emotional content, while boogies like It Falls Apart and Love of Minds are appealing in their casual catchiness. Heterosexual Man is the standout track: an infectious, stomping parody of male machismo (I wanna have every woman I know/ I wanna make them take off their clothes) propelled by the awesome rhythm section of bassist Doug Elliot and drummer Paul Brennan. There are two or three clunkers, but Bedbugs is an unassuming, satisfying ride. Grade: B+
Good Weird Feeling
Willie's comments: Armed with crunchier guitars and brainier lyrics (which occasionally go a tad overboard with the labored metaphors), the Odds traverse quite a bit of musical territory here, from the almost-jazzy remembrance The Last Drink to the grungy Leave It There and the sweet, mellow Well Talk. This stuff is all well done, but the best songs are still the rockers, though: Truth Untold, Eat My Brain, and Radios of Heaven are good, chewy fun. Grade: A-
Willie's comments: Here's a weird Odds moment: recently, Jen and I were listening to Good Weird Feeling in the car, which has been a favorite of both of ours for several years. At the same time, however, we suddenly said, "What kind of music is this, anyway?" It was a funny, random thing to say about an album we're both thoroughly familiar with, but it also made me realize the probable reason the Odds never gained mainstream acceptance: their music isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it is nearly impossible to categorize properly. What do you call it when Beach Boys-derived harmonies mingle with new wave song structures and boogie rhythms, all performed on chunky indie-rock guitars? Whatever it is, it must not be as easily accessible as the Kids in the Hall (who had the band perform the score to Brain Candy) and I seem to think it is, and the band seems enervated by their lack of success on this, their final studio album.
On their previous two albums, the Odds threw out upbeat rock songs and quality sensitive-guy ballads with such ease they might as well have been lobbing tennis balls at you. On Nest, though, things seem a little calculated and forced. The band's brainy lyrics are more scattershot here than ever before: for every clever sentiment like "Close but kind of meatless/ Like actors who play Jesus in movies-of-the-week," there's something trite or uninspired like "It's gonna hurt me as much as it hurts you." Most notably, though, the tunes have suffered. Verses wander like lost kids in a shopping mall, and choruses fail to register. There's nothing here that they haven't done before, and better, with the exception of "Say You Mean It Wondergirl," which is the band's last gasp of greatness (this tight-knit song is the Odds' most disciplined use ever of their exceptional rock smarts). The band broke up soon after this album, and I hate to say it, but they did so one album too late. Grade: C
THIS ARTIST ALSO APPEARS ON: KIDS IN THE HALL: BRAIN CANDY SOUNDTRACK ALBUM
THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: THE TRAGICALLY HIP
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Willie's comments: Thankfully, none of the songs on this album plumb the unbearable novelty depths of later Offspring songs like "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)" and "Get a Job" (except for the unforgivable road rage anthem "Bad Habit"), but whats leftover is basically dull, generic punk. "Self Esteem" is a truly good song, as it evokes actual emotions, and "Come Out and Play" is a noble (and catchy) anti-violence screed, but just about everything else drags like a gym teachers knuckles. Grade: C
WRITE COMMENTS ABOUT THE OFFSPRING
Willie's comments: What if some kindhearted aliens on a planet trillions of miles away suddenly started hearing radio broadcasts of American popular music from the late '30s up to the British Invasion, and then decided to replicate it as best they could? They could re-create the upbeat sounds of Bosco cartoons and early psychedelic pop, but they would have none of our cultural reference points (the Depression, World War II, the Baby Boom) that made the music make any sense, and it would just come out sounding blissfully bizarre. From their search engine-confounding band name to their insanely happy lyrics, Of Montreal comes as close as anyone to attaining this transcendent state of bubbly cluelessness. Although frontman Kevin Barnes and his comrades take obvious musical cues from Tin Pan Alley compositions and the Kinks, they delight in putting the musical pieces together in a way that's just wrong enough to make you laugh out of sheer, enthusiastic bewilderment. Bridges appear 20 seconds into songs. Barnes crams twenty syllables into a musical line that could comfortably accomodate maybe eight. Time signatures and tempos change with no warning, and the melodies- though poppy- sometimes travel a note higher or lower than you'd expect. Rather than being frustrating, though, the effect of these new musical structures is wholly invigorating.
And, oh, the lyrics. Barnes's narrator seems to grasp the rudiments of pop music emotion- love songs particularly- but he can't help drawing out metaphors to nonsensical extremes, indulging his fascination with animals, or verbosely qualifying any romantic promises he makes. The magnificently silly "Everything Disappears When You Come Around," for example, takes a promise of undivided attention to his lover and goes on to proclaim that her presence even decapitates birds and causes the authorities to react in a mixture of intrigue and indifference. "Tim, I Wish You Were Born a Girl" expands on its title in a way that prefers gently twisted contemplation to cheap laughs, and the infectious "This Feeling (Derek's Theme)" immediately follows an expression of excitement to see one's significant other with equally emphatic doubts about their future together. Best of all, Of Montreal manages to pull it all off without any Neil Pollack-esque ironic winks at their own absurdist vision; you totally believe that these guys really are as innocent and strange as they appear. And unlike the relentless whimsy of bands like the Presidents of the USA- practiced optimism that becomes punishing after awhile- Of Montreal's light touch makes a wonderful mood enhancer for even the most bitter soul. Grade: A-
The Bird Who Continues to Eat the Rabbit's Flower EP
Willie's comments: Just a fun and accessible li'l EP from the Montreals, with Kevin mostly downplaying his quirky excesses in favor of big, luscious hooks and simple, Nuggets-style arrangements. Mind you, that doesn't preclude writing an adorably earnest appreciation of homosexuality ("A man desiring a woman is a very common thing/Common and really rather dull/So there's something so strange, so wonderfully deranged about a man desiring a man") or countermanding a Guided by Voices song on "You Are an Airplane," but the whole endeavor is more substantial than you might expect. "If I Faltered Slightly Twice" may be Barnes's best song ever- both silly and sincere, it may feature ululating backing vocals and kazoo-sounding keyboards, but it's powered by gentle, chiming guitars, and the melody takes sad detours that blossom as Kevin contemplates a lost love with a certain lonely resignation. It's for this song alone that the EP becomes a must-have for the Of Montreal fan, though you also get bonuses like cute covers of songs by Pete Townshend ("Disguises") and Yoko Ono (the heartfelt, bluesy "I Felt Like Smashing My Face Through a Clear Glass Window" that winds up sounding like Not Richard, But Dick-era Dead Milkmen), not to mention the joy that comes from observing the band's unwavering devotion to their chipper muse. Grade: A-
The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy
Willie's comments: The first in an informal series of concept albums this band would release over the next few years, The Bedside Drama is both a departure from the upbeat silliness of their other records and the quintessential example of it. Apparently based on the collapse of Barnes's real-life relationship, this record traces the gestation, ascension, and dissolution of one couple's romance, and Of Montreal's determination to try and put on a happy face through it all (with plenty of lyrics like "Please stop bombing my lullabies to pieces, my panda bear" that are so hopelessly sad in their futile attempts to stave off disappointment with innocent fantasy that you'll want to hug the CD itself) just makes the whole experience all the more awful when it crumbles. Don't worry- there's still plenty of inspired goofiness here, though, especially on the first half, where the couple is still courting. "One of a Very Few of a Kind" is another wonderfully literal love song that's illuminated by an orchestra of kazoos, "Little Viola Hidden in the Orchestra" features a hilarious a capella break that's meant to be the sounds of a singing seashell (it's even weirder than that description sounds), etc. But the contrast between the narrators' desire for that unattainable perfect love and their realization of its impossibility becomes more and more explicit and wrenching as the Drama progresses, until finally Barnes is saying things like, "All the devils in the world couldn't think up a more painful thing than to be in love with someone who doesn't love you back." And yet the music retains its tuneful, old-timey optimism, and it's oh so painful I can't even begin to describe it properly. This really is a masterpiece, and if you are at all a fan of twee psychedelic pop that has a lot more on its mind than it pretends to in songs like "Happy Yellow Bumblebee," you need this bad. Grade: A+
The Gay Parade
Willie's comments: Before the American Family Association begins taking out full-page "We are OUTRAGED!" advertisements about Of Montreal's corrupting influence on our youth, I should point out that this album's title- like the music within- harkens back to an era in our nation's history when the word gay did not immediately conjure mental images of Ellen Degeneres or vehement denials from Tom Cruise. The Gay Parade is a sort-of story album that resulted from Barnes's inspired boredom-killing exercise: while stuck in a traffic jam, he envisioned the passengers in the cars creeping by him as participants in a lengthy parade, and he began writing songs about their imagined lives. (While "Fun-Loving Nun" and "The Miniature Philosopher" are charming little entries from this department, one hopes that "A Man's Life Flashing Before His Eyes While He and His Wife Drive Off a Cliff Into the Ocean" was Barnes's own invention.) Recorded over the course of a year with the help of several dozen friends and bandmates, Of Montreal's third album succeeds admirably as a collection of uniquely upbeat parade pop. The arrangements are grand without being grandiose, employing pianos, woodwinds, and unidentifiable sounds to an effect that often sounds like a helium-addled Neutral Milk Hotel playing ragtime in New Orleans ("The March of the Gay Parade" makes a dandy little theme in this vein).
Although the vocal melodies are a bit more hyperactively awry than usual- sometimes to a distracting point- they're redeemed by the innocent yarns Barnes spins. "Neat Little Domestic Life" unironically praises the mundane details of the titular lifestyle and "Nickee Coco and the Invisible Tree" is a Roald Dahl-worthy fairytale, but the most affecting tunes come from a Lynda Barry-esque change in the band's outlook. Many of the songs here present some truly sad events in the characters' lives, but rather than resorting to cynicism, the narrators manage to retain their optimistic, naive points of view despite adversity: "My Friend Will be Me" and "The Autobiographcal Grandpa" consider but ultimately dismiss the singers' loneliness, while the infectious "My Favorite Boxer" is an unbearably sad (but catchy) story about a kid who is treated rudely by an idolized athlete, but vows to remain a fan anyway. At first, this pathos can be jarring, but dour nevertheless continues to be the last word you'd ever use to describe Of Montreal; their music is still relentless in its grin-inducing positivity. Like a real parade, this album is energetic, gaudy, and determined to make you enjoy yourself... and best of all, no creepy clowns! Grade: A-
Horse & Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed)
Willie's comments: After the running-theme hilarity of The Bedside Drama and The Gay Parade, it's refreshing to hear Of Montreal breaking free of the "concept album" bonds and releasing another collection on which none of the songs have anything to do with one another- or anything else, sometimes. Granted, it's a compilation of assorted singles and rarities (or "songles," as the band calls them), so no narrative cohesion could really be possible here, but there's nevertheless an infectious, twinkly energy the band develops when their imagination can be entirely loosed into one stand-alone song. Do you remember that one Monty Python animation entitled "How to Build Certain Interesting Things," where a giant hammer starts beating these random objects until they're magically assembled into some sort of incredibly weird, unidentifiable contraption? That's pretty much how Horse & Elephant Eatery goes. "The Problem with April" is an addictive little pop song that's based around a bunch of woodwinds, "Ira's Brief Life as a Spider" is a spoken-word tale that sounds like something John S. Hall's kid brother would write, "The You I Created" is an ecstatic polka by keyboardist Dottie Alexander, and so on. The band's detractors often get down on them for taking their cheek-pinching happiness too far, claiming that their fey proclamations of love are somehow annoying or cloying. Don't believe them. As much as I love "sad bastard music" like Belle & Sebastian, Nick Drake, or Radiohead, there's something to be said for a band that can be totally unself-conscious in their desire to make silly, innocent, happy noises and songs to cheer you up. Even when the world seems just unbearably sad and hopeless and so miserable that I want to pull my car over to the side of the road and cry until some cop tells me to move along, I can count on Of Montreal to welcome me into their escapist world of cheerful animals, anthropomorphic lighthouses, and righteous, groovy love. Hmm... perhaps I'm being a little too up-front about my neuroses here... You need to check out this band anyway, though. Grade: A
The Early Four Track Recordings
Willie's comments: That's the name of the album, and that's what you get. A collection of sixteen excellent, fully-formed (if tinny) songs that predate Cherry Peel and were surprisingly never re-recorded for any of Of's studio albums. (Apparently, they were never even given proper titles, because the liner notes here identify all the songs by snippets of a bizarre story about Dustin Hoffman: track five is "Dustin Hoffman Does Not Resist Temptation to Eat the Bathtub," track ten is "Dustin Hoffman's Tongue Taken to Police Lab Where It is Used as Toilet Paper and Reading Material While On the Toilet," etc.) It's nice to hear that most of Barnes's songwriting trademarks were present even in the early days, with misplaced solos, joyously hyperactive vocals, and childlike imagery popping up all over the place like a friendly Whack-a-Mole game. However, a great deal of these songs seem to have sprung from an unpleasant break-up, and it's revelatory to hear Barnes despairing so openly in songs like track nine and track five, with stupefyingly poetic lines like, "I could count 100 times that I followed your ghost into bed, or shook the receiver so a hint of your voice might fall out." It's also interesting to hear him exploring the full range of songwriting dynamics that he never fully does on Of Montreal's records, peppering his usual twee-pop celebrations with tinier, more personal acoustic songs. Coming on the heels of Horse and Elephant Eatery only a year later, The Early Four Track Recordings might suggest a certain redundancy- how many rarities compilations does this band need? It really does work as a solid collection, though, and with their studio records becoming ever busier and dizzier, it's nice to have these more basic tracks as kind of a sorbet. (And besides, "basic" as far as these guys are concerned generally means that they'll use either the xylophone or the clarinet, but not both.) Grade: A-
Willie's comments: Like a bleaker follow-up to The Gay Parade, this record finds Barnes addressing issues of mortality and lovelessness in ways that sometimes eschew the band's typical, charming obliviousness to the pain of such issues. Sometimes the results are still skewed enough to maintain the childlike sense of happiness that we've come to expect from Of Montreal ("The Blank Husband Epidemic" paints a semi-suicidal man as a pretty unpleasant person to be around anyway), but occasionally, an unbecoming insensitivity peeks through Barnes's lyrics. "Old People in the Cemetery," for instance, is a shockingly coldhearted rant about how depressing it is to see the titular seniors contemplating their lost loved ones, when "we're all food for worms." I don't want to say that he isn't entitled to break with his tradition of fanciful whimsy if the mood strikes him, but talk about a bubble-burster. Aldhils Arboretum works much better when the band is on familiar ground, as with the goofy "Isn't It Nice?" in which lines about the peacefulness of a country life are interspersed with tossed-off comments about how bothersome the neighbors are ("There's Larry, our alcoholic neighbor, at 10 A.M. asking for a ride to the liquor store"), or the sweet "Jennifer Louise," a catchy hello to a distant cousin. And these guys haven't lost their knack for making totally original melodies out of straightforward British Invasion components, as on the weirdly addictive "Pancakes for One." Ultimately, though, this record doesn't hit the unrealistic highs of their other work, and therefore isn't as effective in its escapist glee as, say, Cherry Peel. Grade: B
If He is Protecting Our Nation, Then Who Will Protect Big Oil, Our Children?
Willie's comments: Originally available only at the band's effervescent live shows, Then Who Will Protect Big Oil was described to me by bassist Derek Almstead as "a sequel to Horse and Elephant Eatery." And even though the general public can now purchase it at their will, I'd recommend this (third!) rarities compilation only if you're the sort of person who would've gone to see Of Montreal live anyway, since it basically documents the band at their silliest and most slight. That's not to say that there aren't typically cheerful twee-psychedelic joys to be found here: "My, What a Strange Day with a Swede" boasts perhaps the most addictive chorus ever to celebrate the inherent phonetic infectiousness of the name Nietzsche, "Friends of Mine" is a faithfully fruity Zombies cover that's all about love (despite the fact that the liner notes mention that "we used our own friends' names at the end of the song for the couples' shout-out, but in the time it took for this record to be released, they all split up"), etc. However, you also get more esoteric pleasures like the Bright Eyes parody "There is Nothing Wrong with Hating Rock Critics" and the willfully anachronistic lo-fi-isms of "Charlie and Freddy," neither of which would probably thrill newcomers so much as leave them confused as to what all the fuss is aboot. (Canadian newcomers.) It's always fun to hear the band spazz out, however, and these one-offs let them indulge their whimsical urges, even if it sometimes comes at the expense of tunefulness. An oddity among an already odd discography, but I'm sure you can already tell whether this is something you'd dig or not. Grade: B+
Satanic Panic in the Attic
Willie's comments: Retreating to his brother's studio, Kevin recorded and performed nearly this entire album himself, but the absence of his bandmates hasn't toned down the whirligig energy or dimmed the arrangements of his songs. In fact, the most noticable difference between Satanic Panic and Of Montreal's previous albums is how thoroughly disciplined and accessible it is despite all the usual left turns, Vaudeville harmonies, and variety-pack collections of sounds that dot the songs. Now, admittedly, disciplined and accessible aren't necessarily adjectives to describe Of Montreal's overall appeal, but after the disorienting patchwork of Aldhils Arboretum, it's nice to hear Barnes relaxing into hummable grooves like those provided by "Rapture Rapes the Muses" and "My British Tour Diary." A note on the band's official website warned that this album was going to be "more electronic" than any of their previous work ("I hope that doesn't offend anyone," Kevin wrote), but apart from the foundations of programmed beats that support some of these songs, it's all just more great, hooky psychedelic pop. Furthermore, even at its most overtly synthetic moments, such as the addictive opener "Disconnect the Dots," Satanic Panic is a successful variation on the sunny electro-psych-pop hybrid that the Incredible Moses Leroy failed to make compelling on Become the Soft.Lightes. As I said, though, it's still not very far removed from the sound we're used to, which one of my coworkers likened to the Beatles performing the theme to Green Acres.
Oddly, Kevin has now forsaken his trademark lyrical silliness for amusingly overblown sesquipedalianism. Here's an example from "Vegan in Furs": "Yes the dark epoch is over/I've found my efeblum/Then passed Ernst's mausoleum defended by a rook/Who shot a look so virulent it pierced me like a hook/The palaver of Solipsists exploding in my skull." Clever, yes, but any accusations of pretentiousness can thankfully be deflected by the indefatigable joy of Barnes's vocals, as well as a handful of great love-related songs, the most notable of which are the pensive, tender acoustic tune "City Bird" and the foursquare longing of "Eros' Entropic Tundra" ("All I ever get is sad love/Always falling for the ones who feel nothing for me"). Slight by any standard, fans may miss the childlike wonder of The Gay Parade or Cherry Peel, but if you're willing to sacrifice a bit of the old laughing gas storytelling, this is likely the most instantly catchy record Of Montreal will ever release, so enjoy it! Grade: A
The Sunlandic Twins
Willie's comments: If you liked Satanic Panic, it'll be hard for you to resist most of this album, which delves even farther into dancey catchy new-wave disco hooray, but still falls prey to the one thing you'd never expect Kevin to succumb to: sameness. Nearly every song is propelled by programmed beats that incorporate far more synthesized cowbells and hand-claps than you'd ever desire, and way too many of them star melodic-and-unpredictably-high-pitched basslines amid the flurries of synths and intentionally shy guitars. It's Kevin Barnes Battles the Pink Robots, and although the first listen is a fun travelogue through operatic vocal parts and thumbed noses at Brian Wilson (which I do all the time without Of Montreal's help), The Sunlandic Twins half-asses things far too often, with inconsequential instrumentals ("Knight Rider," "October is Eternal" and "Our Spring is Sweet Not Fleeting") and hookless filler ("Death of a Shade of a Hue" most offensively) doing little but spacing out the great material like "The Party's Crashing Us" and "So Begins Our Alabee," a rubbery tribute to his daughter. It'd be easier to recommend The Sunlandic Twins if the two best songs on the bonus EP were included on the album proper- "The Actor's Opprobrium," a truly hilarious bit of happiness in which an aspiring actor decides that starring in snuff films may not be the way to the Walk of Fame, and "Keep Sending Me Black Fireworks," a beautiful tweepop gem sung by Kevin's wife. As things stand, though, it's all sweet but no more affecting than having a lengthy conversation with the hot girl who takes your credit card at the tire-rotation place. You always subconsciously want just a little more than you get. Grade: B
The Satanic Twins
Willie's comments: The remix album is not a weapon that should be unsheathed from the rock musician's arsenal lightly, but my first thought, upon hearing that Polyvinyl would be releasing one such creature for Of Montreal, made up of six repurposed songs from each of the last two records, was that The Satanic Twins could potentially be a truly inspired project. After all, it seems like Barnes's densely packed arrangements would provide ample material for electronic artists to work with... but upon listening, the converse proved to be true: Of Montreal's recent songs have been such fascinating feats of precise sensory overload that any attempts at artistic deconstruction are just going to make them sound unfinished, and they'll resist efforts to rebuild them differently. The result is mushy, lazy leftovers: beats left up to the drum machines, confoundingly skeletal arrangements stripped of any remarkable detail, and Kevin's gleeful yelp sounding severely out of place amid the rubble. The only unqualified success is I Am the World Trade Center's enthusiastically bouncy revision of "The Party's Crashing Us," whose bloopy synths sound designed specifically to accompany the listener dancing wildly in her bedroom. (IQU and Grizzly Bear also deserve a little credit, though, for making the Sunlandic Twins half of the album somewhat less irksome than the Satanic Panic half. On their remixes of "Forecast Fascist Future" and "I Was a Landscape in Your Dream," respectively, they wisely sit back and let some mellow keyboard drones do the work for them. It's nothing special, but it's nice to listen to, which is more than can be said for, say, Rory Phillips's thumping, grating mini-house version of "Climb the Ladder.") For an Of Montreal remix project to be successful, I think you'd need participants willing to go to as many ridiculous extremes as Barnes himself is. Whether that means the barren minimalism of someone like Pan American or the berserk nightmares of someone like Venetian Snares, at least there'd be no danger of the artists being completely outmatched by the source material. As it stands, the crew of laptop DJs that compiled The Satanic Twins leaves an impression as tiresomely cautious as a group of spastics playing a Jenga game while wearing mittens. Grade: C-
Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
Willie's comments: Kevin and his Norwegian wife separated before this album's recording. I don't know their current status and it's obviously none of my business, but Hissing Fauna's bleak contents--as catchy as The Sunlandic Twins but without a single solar power source to add an optimistic gleam--suggest that a lengthy sojourn in a Scandanavian country wasn't the most positive thing for Kevin to endure. The album's 12-minute catharsis, "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," is a stunner, literally: like Neutral Milk Hotel's career centerpiece "Oh Comely," I don't recommend listening to it while driving because it's a ping-ponging epic of misery that is so paralyzingly, nakedly honest that you may accidentally drive off a cliff. ("I need you here and not here too!" Barnes pleads. "Let's just have some fun. Let's tear the shit apart. Let's tear the fucking house apart. Let's tear our fucking bodies apart.") "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" is another one that can only be truly understood from within. Despite its hilarious video (directed by The Brothers Chaps of Homestar Runner fame), Kevin's inner dialogue as he fights off severe chemical depression is as accurately helpless as any man-vs-himself commentary I've ever heard. The latter half of the album is a little heavy on disassociative, lame, pseudo-Beck falsetto soul, but it's mostly forgivable. To go backwards a little, The Bedside Drama, divinely innocent as it is, may be a heartbreak album for people who have never been heartbroken. Hissing Fauna, on the other hand, is a surprisingly danceable heartbreak album for those who have: vengeful, remorseful, and pitifully fucked-up, it does things wrong because it sees no right way out. And it hurts. Grade: B+
SEE ALSO: MARSHMALLOW COAST
THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL, THE SUNSHINE FIX; BRIGHT EYES; BROKEN SPINDLES; I AM THE WORLD TRADE CENTER
WRITE COMMENTS ABOUT OF MONTREAL
Willie's comments: If there were any truth in advertising, the rest of this band's name would read, "Buy a Ramones Album Instead." Boring at best, unlistenably ear-punishing at worst, OK Go's eponymous debut is honestly the worst album I've paid money for in quite some time. I'll grant that, with competent harmonies and a couple cool keyboard lines, these guys obviously work harder on their arrangements than the useless guitar monkeys in, say, Good Charlotte. However, focusing exclusively on those elements of the band's output would be like saying Leni Riefenstahl's work is morally redeemed by her masterful understanding of the F-Stop, since these songs just flat-out suck. There's no clever-critic way of saying it; they suck. Songs like "Get Over It," "You're So Damn Hot," and "Don't Ask Me" are the sort of unremarkable, theoretically "anthemic" bilge that a million post-Blink-182 bands have cluttered our airwaves with, complete with borderline misogynous lyrics. The rest of the tracks basically stick to a mid-tempo "rock" formula that ranges from simply underwritten ("1000 Miles Per Hour") to see-through attempts to write a snuggly-couple song on par with Coldplay's "Yellow," only without the talent ("Return"). It's music for high school jocks to drink to, and do high school jocks really deserve music? Regardless, listen for OK Go in American Pie 3. [NOTE: I wrote this review before they actually had the nerve to make a third installment in the American Pie series. OK Go is apparently not on the soundtrack, but you have to admit, it was a pretty good guess on my part anyway.] Grade: D
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Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See
Willie's comments: Okkervil River may not be part of the Saddle Creek collective, but for their first album at least, frontman Will Sheff would have fit right in with the likes of Conor Oberst and Jenny Lewis: folksy, verbose indie kids as in love with the raggedy edges of Bob Dylan's and Neil Young's music as with the heartache-pocked melodies hiding beneath. Thankfully, though, Sheff stays away from any hipster pigeonholes prizing attitude over songwriting smarts, because his talent for crafting articulate, self-contained musical playlets--though less disciplined on Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See than it would later become--is remarkably expansive. The rollicking "Lady Liberty" manages a convoluted wink at CCR (its refrain is "There's a bathroom down the hall") while venomously laying out the hypocrisies of an ex-lover, and "Westfall" is a masterful modern murder ballad that's shocking in the blithe soullessness that squeaks its way out of Sheff's mouth ("When I killed her, it was so easy I wanted to kill her again"). The album drifts easily from woozy slowcore ("My Bad Days") to stomping Southern folk that would do 16 Horsepower proud ("Dead Dog Song"). (Bassist Zach Thomas deserves particular credit for his ingratiating mandolin playing throughout the album, and I can't think of a better place in the review to mention this, since "Dead Dog Song" shows him at top form.) Even the dilly-dallying "Listening to Otis Redding At Home" is worth sitting through (at least once) for the sinister orchestral bridge that busts through the torpor at the three-minute mark. With no obvious overdubs or studio tricks, slightly out-of-tune instruments and some very out-of-tune vocals, Sheff's songs don't resemble solid structures so much as hastily assembled lean-tos constructed out of necessity. Which is appopriate, since they aren't the sorts of songs you'll dive into for comfort or luxury, but rather for shelter. Grade: B+
Down the River of Golden Dreams
Willie's comments: One of my brain's many short circuits causes me to always refer to this record as Down the River of Broken Dreams. At first glance, that might not seem like a bad title for this collection of musical narratives about unfulfilled adulterers, friendships lost to unrequited love, and worse, but what my brain is neglecting to take into account is Sheff's undying affection for humanity even at its most hurtful. Again throwing his energy into hearty multiperson arrangements as opposed to relying on the sort of one-man-band production he could easily use as a crutch, he honestly peers into the darker segments of our collective heart to mine whatever beauty he can find. (Setting aside Sheff's always-welcome stylistic debt to Neutral Milk Hotel, the two closest melodic comparisons I can think of are Elton John's creative heyday--think the unexpected complexity of "Daniel" or "Tiny Dancer"--and Glen Phillips's unhurried anthems from Toad the Wet Sprocket's fecund Fear/Dulcinea phase.) Besides Sheff's newly confident singing voice--he's learned just how to push his wailing to its dramatic limits without letting his larynx flop confusedly like a landed fish--the real revelation of this record is the scene-stealing participation of keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Meiburg (who records his own fabulous albums under the Shearwater moniker). Though strings and horns heighten the effect throughout, it's Meiburg's piano chords slowly leading "The War Criminal Rises and Speaks" into a battlefield of wrenching musical explosions and back or his gentle coloring of songs like "The Velocity of Saul At the Time of His Conversion" and "Blanket and Crib" with warm accordions and organs that provides the necessary emotional counterpoint to the less hopeful moments. The album that comes out of this alchemy is perversely pretty, full of quotable lyrics ("I really do think that there's probably more good than anger or selfishness, sickness, or sadness"; "If you really want to love me, well, then do it") and a sly lack of 4/4 beats to be found. And if the title is less memorable for its open-minded sensitivity than something grimmer might have been, it's far more appropriate. Grade: A-
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Ol' Dirty Bastard
Willie's comments: Nigga Please is one unlikely hip-hop record to have achieved cult classic status. ODB, the member of the Wu-Tang Clan who can charitably be called "the crazy one," is perhaps not the most technically proficient rapper ever born. His feel for rhythm is tenuous at best, his lyrics make no sense, and he has a habit of multi-tracking his voice as he simultaneously shouts several unrelated, sloppy vocal lines (occasionally, he'll angrily demand that his vocals on the other tracks "shut the fuck up"). Nigga Please is hardly as accessible a listening experience as, say, Eminem's economical, catchy vocal cadences; it's basically a big mess. But the thing of it is, it's an indisputably hilarious mess. The album opens with a bewildered-sounding Chris Rock, announcing that he is in "the wrong place at the wrong motherfucking time" (he was apparently in an adjoining recording studio when ODB requested his presence on this album), and the goofy non-sequiturs only pile up from there. "I Can't Wait" takes an anxious sample from the TJ Hooker theme song and fashions something that sounds like a psychotic newscast, with ODB rattling off a stream-of-consciousness list of thank-yous ("I wanna give a shout-out to, um... um... um, what's them niggas? OutKast!"). "Got Your Money" has a wonderful vocal hook performed by Kelis, and a bassline to match, but Dirty pushes it into the realm of genius by rambling about his id's ceaseless craving for money and sex ("I don't have no problem with you fucking me, but I have a little trouble with you not fucking me," he waxes), and the aptly-titled "I Want Pussy" continues along those same lines. For good measure, there are also stoned karaoke covers of a Rick James song and "Good Morning Heartache." The album's production is scattershot, since the tracks produced by the Neptunes have a funky insistence that some of the other songs (particularly "Gettin' High" and "You Don't Want to Fuck with Me") lack. But that's really not the point. The beats and rhythms are there just to ground the songs as ODB's inimitable rap stylings flail madly about like a swarm of bats. As cheerfully uninhibited as Wesley Willis, but a million times more dangerous, ODB will have you mesmerized, appalled, and in stitches. Grade: A-
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The Olivia Tremor Control
Music from the Unrealized Film Script Dusk at Cubist Castle
Willie's comments: If you begin your investigation into the Olivia Tremor Control with the masterful Black Foliage, as I did, their debut album can't help but seem a bit wan by comparison. Artsy song titles like "Define a Transparent Dream" and "Theme for a Very Delicious Grand Piano" seem rather contrived; the ambient excursions of the "Green Typewriters" suite are too brief to be really effective; and the straight indie-rock numbers are, for the most part, unmemorable in the generic style of bands like Elf Power (who is also a part of the Elephant 6 collective, along with the OTC). However, Dusk at Cubist Castle is unfailingly listenable, and scattered over the course of the album are some really great power-pop tunes like "The Opera House" and "Jumping Fences." Those occasional saving graces aren't enough to redeem an album that feels like 90% filler, though. Grade: B-
Black Foliage- Animation Music, Vol. 1
Willie's comments: Is it pretentious to make an indie-rock album that samples portions of its own songs into other songs; mucks up perfectly accessible Beatles-esque psychedelic rock songs with bizarre, clattering arrangements; and includes an eleven-minute collection of random, tuneless sounds (The Bark and Below It) as well as a four-second snippet of static thats titled The Sky is a Harpsichord Canvas? When the result is this mind-blowingly amazing, who cares if its pretentious?! If the OTC had simply released the 18-or-so real songs contained on Black Foliage as forthright pop nuggets, it wouldve been regarded as another routinely terrific album from the Elephant 6 consortium. However, by jamming these songs with Zappa-esque found noises, swirling tape effects, odd production, and every instrument they can get their hands on, while also including various running themes throughout the album, theyve created a modern masterpiece in the classical tradition. A New Day, I Have Been Floated, and A Peculiar Noise Called Train Director are the catchiest of the lot, but all 70 minutes of Black Foliage is thoroughly engrossing. Grade: A+
Singles and Beyond
Willie's comments: This self-indulgent compilation collects two of the band's early EPs as well as assorted odds and ends which were released between 1992 and the release of Dusk at Cubist Castle. A handful of catchy songs- "Love Athena," "Beneath the Climb," and "Shaving Spiders"- allow the band's British Invasion influences to transcend the poor quality of the recordings. More often than not, though, the OTC just horses around with sound collages and tape splicing without integrating it all into a meaningful whole a la Black Foliage. Wait for their next studio album and skip this mess. (NOTE: Evidently, the OTC broke up recently, so I guess you should just stick with Black Foliage after all.) Grade: C-
SEE ALSO: THE SUNSHINE FIX
THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: APPLES IN STEREO; NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL
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Words for Living
Willie's comments: The best that can be said about the second album from my fellow Michigander P.J. Olsson is that it's promising. Musically, he horns in on a lot of Soul Coughing's turf, with reasonably good pop songs hiding behind drum-and-bass rhythms, but he doesn't often hit on a melody that's substantial enough to warrant repeat listens. "Visine" is the most notable exception here- with a midtempo groove that's as smooth as a bottle of Colt 45 and twisted, non-sequitur lyrics (not to mention expert production by the Dust Brothers' John King), it's a definite keeper. In fact, Olsson's lyrics are the best reason to hear Words for Living; he's frequently hilarious. It's not often you hear a synth-pop song that opens with the lead singer stating, "I think I'm gay," as on "Thorazine." It's also not often you hear the sentiment, "Some men have tied pink ribbons on the trees I see- I want to steal them/ Put them on the owner's car and let him be chopped up and fed back to the earth," as on the frenetic "Good Dream." However, the tunes themselves are generally negligible throughout the album. "Ready for a Fall" is a Dawson's Creek-ready ballad that stops just short of being mawkish, and "Good Dream" has energy to spare, but those, along with "Visine," are the only three songs I can totally recommend. The penultimate track, "I am the Sun," illustrates the problem more clearly. The song contains two musical breaks: one is minimal, downcast piece that the eels would be proud of, the other is an a capella flourish, but both make the main part of the song look bland by comparison. There simply aren't enough hooks to go around on this album, but maybe Olsson has a masterpiece in the making. Grade: C+
THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: FOREST FOR THE TREES
WRITE COMMENTS ABOUT P.J. OLSSON
Willie's comments: Remember the song "How Bizarre" from the summer of '98? It really was a great single, with its Beck-derived folk-hop rhythms, accordion/harmonica flourishes, instantly singable chorus, and the mushmouthed rapping of frontman Pauly Fuemana. Sadly, like Fastball's "The One," "How Bizarre" was a single that was never actually released as an EP, so if you wanted it (without downloading an MP3, which I still resisted at the time), you had to go buy the whole stupid album. Disappointingly, nothing else on How Bizarre is as inventive or catchy as the title track. With the exception of the cheeky "She Loves Italian," the songs stick stubbornly to the rap/folk hybrid formula, without incorporating any of the strange musical touches that the single had. Any enthusiasm you might have had for "How Bizarre" was probably killed by the song's overexposure, but if you still want it, my advice is to find the MP3 somewhere. Grade: C
Wesley Parish writes: I loved the song. Still do.
Haven't seen the cd, probably won't bother. But that d*** tune and the words sure stick, don't they! It's making me crazy, every time I look around ...
WRITE COMMENTS ABOUT OMC
One Fluid Ounce
Willie's comments: You know you're dealing with a quality jam band when the songs that grab you the tightest are the ones whose running time pushes the double-digit mark. That's the case with the fourth album from One Fluid Ounce: roughly half the album is a document of their live performances, and these guys are obviously at their most inspired when onstage, working in tandem to crank out the sort of sprightly, flexible funk-rock that Phish has been meting out in smaller and smaller doses lately. (It makes me think, for no clear reason, of the Ghostbusters all crossing their streams to defeat the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.) "I Said She Said," "Sissy Strut," and the Steely Dan-ish "One Blue Eye One Green" all bop along as stellar examples of the laid-back, casual noodling that elicits enthusiastic interpretive dances from many jam fans. Even a drawn-out cover of the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," while not enough to make me rethink my knee-jerk opposition to Beatles covers, gets by on its own amiable instrumental interplay. It's kind of a letdown, then, when the band retreats to the studio for a few regular-length pop songs that sound like a structured cross between the Barenaked Ladies and the Sea and Cake, with all the instrumental proficiency and wishy-washy, nondescript melodies that implies. (It doesn't help matters that a few of these songs- most notably "Beer Bongs, Baseballs, Beer Can Helmets" and "Breathe"- are marred by weird, garbled distortion in the production that makes them sound like badly-encoded MP3s; these guys might want to think about remastering those tracks.) Frankly, I wish they'd just released a proper live album, because while concise melodies aren't One Fluid Ounce's strong suit, and their jamming style probably won't win over anyone who's already anti-jam, Highlights' highlights are a tuneful dessert for the converted. Grade: B
deedee writes: I caught your review of One Fluid Ounce's "Highlights" cd on your website. I became a fan of OFO 2 years ago after I saw them live at Farmapalooza. I am hooked on their music. Just wanted to let you know that I bought Highlights and I don't hear any distortion at all, maybe you got a bad quality cd.
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On the Floor at the Boutique
Mixed by Fatboy Slim
Willie's comments: This is the first in a series of compilations from the British rave club the Big Beat Boutique, in which a celebrity from the electronica world mixes a bunch of songs into one drum-heavy, CD-length suite. In this case, the celebrity is founding BBB artist Fatboy Slim. Now, I know next to nothing about the rave scene- I'm not even certain whether I'm using the word rave correctly- but Fatboy Slim seems to have a canny musical worldview that appeals to people whose tastes lie all over the musical spectrum, as evidenced by his ubiquitous single "The Rockafeller Skank." And his skills at mixing songs from artists as diverse as the Jungle Brothers, Buzzthrill, and Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns never lose that song's exhilarating blend of rock, hip-hop, funk, and melody. How much of the album's genius is attributable to Slim and how much to the artists represented is debatable, but it's an enthralling ride. Slim's mix covers a lot of ground, from the cheesy, Black Box-esque repetition of CLS's "Can You Feel It?" to the twisted, infectious keyboard noise of Aldo Bender's "Acid Enlightenment," and he makes seamless- logical, actually- transitions between the songs. If you're into the club scene, you'll doubtlessly love this album, but even if you just want some good driving music, I would highly recommend picking this up. Grade: A+
WRITE COMMENTS ABOUT ON THE FLOOR AT THE BOUTIQUE
Never Mind the Mainstream... The Best of MTV's 120 Minutes vol. 1
Willie's comments: As the only non-cartoon thing on MTV worth watching (NOTE: This review was written before the debut of The Tom Green Show), 120 Minutes shows the good videos that they never show at any other time (like Yo La Tengo's "Sugarcube"), and the people behind the show evidently decided to compile their favorite featured songs/bands onto an album. This compilation, which dates from around 1990, was my introduction to many artists that I now am rabidly devoted to, such as Camper Van Beethoven, Robyn Hitchcock, XTC, Bob Mould, and Sonic Youth (They Might Be Giants' classic "Ana Ng" also appears on this album, but I was already a fan of theirs when I got this album). Most of the rest of the bands on here, such as pre-"Under the Bridge" Red Hot Chili Peppers, pre-"Runaway Train" Soul Asylum, and pre-Pope scandal Sinead O'Connor, turn in songs that you'll be happy to have in your collection without having to buy their whole album. It's a good introduction into pre-Nirvana modern rock, when "alternative" was still alternative. Grade: A
Never Mind the Mainstream... The Best of MTV's 120 Minutes vol. 2
Willie's comments: Basically, Vol. 2 is more of Vol. 1, only not as consistently good or interesting. It contains the one good song from the Ramones' End of the Century ("Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?"), and other good songs from X, Violent Femmes, Public Image Ltd., and Husker Du, but the contributions from Ministry, Faith No More, and Morrissey are irritating or boring, and sometimes both. And who decided that "Orange Crush" is the definitive song from R.E.M.'s oeuvre? Grade: B-
120 Minutes Live
Willie's comments: First things first: If you plan on buying this album to hear They Might Be Giants' live version of "Particle Man," put it right back where you found it. Easily the worst of the seven-or-so live versions I've heard of that song, TMBG use a lazy acoustic guitar-and-accordion format for this two-minute butchering of a wonderful song- they play the song as though they're late for a plane and have to leave right now. That said, 120 Minutes Live is a pretty cool compilation. You get unlikely gems from Porno For Pyros and PJ Harvey, a dose of Bad Religion's energetic bombast, and a killer version of "Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead. I could, of course, do without the Verve Pipe's "Villains," but, then, this is MTV. Grade: B+
WRITE COMMENTS ABOUT 120 MINUTES ALBUMS
The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
Willie's comments: Dr. Alex Paterson conceived the Orb with the KLF's Jim Cauty (who soon left the band), and the Orb's music is every bit as calculated and emotionless as the KLF's. Trafficking in what they refer to as "ambient house," the Orb's songs can be as motionless as Brian Eno's or built around a bassline in the same boring way as the songs on the Pet Shop Boys' Introspective. When the songs work, however, and Paterson locks into a groove, the results can be heavenly. Both the good and the bad are well-represented on this career-making double album. "Little Fluffy Clouds" was the big hit single in England, and it's a good, funny slice of dance music, featuring a sample of Ricky Lee Jones prattling on (possibly stoned) about clouds. Nothing else on disc one is particularly interesting, however, dealing more with the ambient side of things than the danceable side. You can decide for yourself whether "Spanish Castles in Space"- essentially a four-note bassline repeated over and over for fifteen minutes- is an ambient masterpiece or a dreadful waste of time (HINT: It's the latter). Disc two is better, with "Star 6 & 7 8 9" grafting a memorable hook onto a funky beat, which is then improved upon by the classic "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain that Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld: Live Mix Mk 10." I guess if you're hovering between sleep and alertness, the Ultraworld might be useful, but really, I can't imagine pulling this album out too often for any other situation. Grade: B-
Rick Atbert writes: I think you're missing the point of this album. "Spanish Castles in Space" isn't a waste of time...it's a great ambient track if you ask me, very soothing, and really gets the whole idea of floating in space out in aural format better than any other artist I've heard (besides maybe Brian Eno, whose Apollo album this album owes a lot to). Same goes for the last track...simply breathtaking...you really get the sense that you can't tell what's going to happen. Probably my favorite track here is "Star 6 & 7 8 9"...I could listen to it on repeat for hours...
THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: THE KLF
WRITE COMMENTS ABOUT THE ORB
Willie's comments: It's sad that Beth Orton is best known for her vocal cameo on the Chemical Brothers' Dig Your Own Hole, because Central Reservation (her second LP) is a nondescript joy. "Stolen Car" is a great acoustic rock song, but it's an anomaly on this album of mature pop songs that glance off of both jazz and electronica. "Sweetest Desire" is the best example of this- an utterly gorgeous song that is in no particular hurry to get anywhere. "Stars All Seem to Weep," "So Much More," and the "Then Again" version of the title track are all standouts as well. Orton's voice is a pleasure to listen to, also. Rather than indulging in any sort of melismatic vocal gymnastics, she just sings with a clear, pretty-but-unremarkable delivery that doesn't overpower her songs. If you're looking for a trancey pop record that's more pop than techno, Central Reservation will do you nicely. Grade: B+
THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: CHEMICAL BROTHERS
WRITE COMMENTS ABOUT BETH ORTON
The Other Leading Brand
Milkshake x Infinity
Willie's comments: The art of musical sampling has an odd stigma attached to it for a lot of people. Not just purists who want their music recorded live in the studio, but music fans who have trouble seeing the act of taking a bit of someone else's song and implanting it into your own as a legitimate artistic tool. Sampling, these folks reason, is a cute parlor trick at best (the defiant collage of the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique or disposably playful homemade mash-ups like DJ Dangermouse's The Gray Album) or lazy pandering at worst (rappers like Puff Daddy or Vanilla Ice talking over a famous hook and calling it a new composition), but more a crutch than a respectable musical technique. They're wrong, of course- not only is it just as easy to make lazy, pandering music with a guitar as with a looped Rick James sample, but when properly and creatively assembled, sample-based music, be it hip-hop, electronica, or just weirdo rock like Soul Coughing, can result in brilliant juxtapositions of sound that you could never have otherwise conceived.
And in the hands of one Mike DeFabio (a.k.a. The Other Leading Brand), samples have formed the basis of what may be the best electronic album I've ever heard. Though nearly the entire album is made up of other chopped-up sources, the sprawling, two-disc, and very illegal Milkshake x Infinity is such a masterpiece of obsessive program-and-tweak wizardry that to call it derivative would be missing the point as much as applying the same label to T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland. Like Beck's Odelay, DJ Shadow's Endtroducing..., µ-ziq's Lunatic Harness, and David Byrne and Brian Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts all played simultaneously, this is a rhythmic, eclectic, viciously intelligent illustration of how it's possible to make other people's sounds your own. (Though Mike has great success on the two tracks that he recorded himself: "Desk Drawer," which is a playful slice of To Rococo Rot-style IDM made entirely from samples of Mike's office supplies, and the spooky "Outrageous and Contagious," featuring a guest rap by Wes Fredenburg, who sounds like a vulgar televangelist.)
Mind you, it's not as though the snippets of other songs are used in an overly obvious fashion, either. Though it's easy enough for the rock geek trainspotter to pick out bits of Pink Floyd, Bjork, Public Enemy, The Smiths, Ween, The Fall, Deltron 3030, Devo, Rush, and Disclaimer- to name just a few- Mike's record collection is nonetheless more present as a guiding influence than as a chunky trail mix of familiar musical Chex. The sublime, ten-minute "Piso Mojado Redux" slowly builds from a jazz-pop waltz into an odd psychedelic shuffle, "Please Pass the Funk" is a beat-heavy take on the titular genre, "Extra Sugar, Extra Fat" recalls DJ Krush's minimal breakbeat style, and "Burrito Truck," well, is just a flat-out weird little critter that actually does sound like a burrito truck, but they all work together as an original, head-spinning, rump-shaking unit. DeFabio also displays a wicked wit throughout, skewering stoner drone rock on "Salute the Smoke" (which sounds like The Orb's "Little Fluffy Clouds" busting into an opium den), managing to make the phrase "All your base are belong to us" funny again on the giddy "Positive Dance/Friend Feel" (a parody of hipster fascination with all things Japanese), and following the sound of a reactionary lunatic raving, "I'm from the old school!" with a few bars' worth of an 808 drum machine on the aggressive "Ritalin Rock." By the time the finale "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Later" draws to a close with a sample of a pissed-off Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, you will basically have consumed all the great popular music of the twentieth century in convenient electronic pill form. I really can't say enough about Milkshake x Infinity; you'll just have to hear it for yourself. (To get the album, e-mail Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org. He doesn't make any money off it- the retail price goes toward shipping, CD-Rs, jewel cases, and printing up the really cool artwork- so it's really not that illegal. Also, as he writes in the liner notes, "Unauthorized duplication is a good idea," so share it!) Grade: A+
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