Dig Me Out
(Kill Rock Stars)
When a band has been hyped as relentlessly as this one has, there's always a risk that heightened expectations will lead to profound disappointment. After all, Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss aren't doing anything that won't be done tonight at bars, clubs and theaters in various locations between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans: Their music is, at its base, standard-issue rock that's performed using standard-issue rock instruments. As a result, Dig Me Out cannot help but seem a bit prosaic, at least initially. But before long--say, by "Turn It On," the disc's third song--most of you will have surrendered to its simple pleasures. The dirty little secret here is that these women like pop; these thirteen songs contain more hooks than your average meat locker. But rather than allowing this proclivity to render their songs slick, professional and generically Beatles-esque, as have so many performers in the post-Oasis universe, they keep their guitars rough, their lyrics concise and straightforward, and their singing exuberant: "The Drama You've Been Craving," for instance, mates post-punk jangle and mildly pissy lines like "I smell like despair from overuse" with undulating vocals that suggest P.J. Harvey by way of the B-52s. Songs such as "It's Enough" aren't about much else beyond the fun of playing them, and even more complex relationship songs such as "Jenny" don't exactly hold up to literary scrutiny: On the printed page, "I am the girl/I am the ghost/I am the wife/I am the one" is only moderately more profound than the collected poetry of Berlin. Fortunately, Dig Me Out is sung, not spoken, and Tucker, particularly, imbues the words on it with so much zeal that even the least of them make an impact. These performers may not have unleashed the next revolution in contemporary music, but they've made a first-rate album. And today, that's more than enough.
Dub You Crazy With Love
With 131 albums in his oeuvre, England's Mad Professor wouldn't seem to have much virgin territory left to explore. But the reigning master of dub--an instrumental outgrowth of reggae that's known for its studio effects--continues to find new ways to slice, dice and deconstruct. On Dub You Crazy With Love, the Professor combines dub and so-called lovers rock, two mainstays of his Ariwa label that have precious little in common. The genres' disparate natures have prevented most producers from attempting to marry them, but by finding a flow that links them, the Professor (who has worked with everyone from Yellowman to Rancid) is able to make them seem like a match made in heaven. Because lovers rock is primarily distinguished by crooning, the Professor wisely keeps the vocals of singers such as Kofi and Jocelyn Brown intact and up front. At the same time, however, he puts a dub spin on background elements like the delicate harmonies in "Dub My Heart," the sharp rewind that accents "Lovers Rock Dub" and the gently psychedelic synthesizers found on "Pya." In other words, the Professor deploys his entire sonic arsenal, including blasts of echo, reverb and distortion, but he does it with a subtlety that's positively sublime. Dub You Crazy With Love avoids the cold, electronic feel of rote techno, because the Professor understands better than anyone how much studio wizardry is enough.
Martin Phillipps & the Chills
With more water imagery than a Hemingway novella, Sunburnt might more properly be called Drenched. The Chills' signature dreamy melodies surface above rolling piano and guitar riffs in "The Big Assessment" and the cascading "Walk on the Beach," while "Swimming in the Rain" would send Gene Kelly screaming for a life preserver. Through the ringing chimes of the title song, Phillipps equates Old Sol with fame's glory; because there's an ozone hole directly over his native New Zealand, this connation seems especially deadly. With pan flute in hand and tanks of deliquescent verse at his command (e.g., "Now it's barely pouring/And this water tastes of chlorine"), Phillipps dives away from the UV rays while waiting for the skies to open up again.
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Yeah, yeah, the singer, not the song, and all that--I couldn't agree more. And there's no question that lang has a set of pipes for the ages. Stand her on a street corner during a tornado warning and her lungs alone could save every trailer-court resident within ten miles. But since the folks at the Grammys validated her overtly "mature" work with a couple of statuettes a few years back, she simply hasn't been all that much fun to be around. Not even this disc's playful concept--a collection of tunes casually linked by a cigarette/smoking motif--can shake the seriousness out of her. I'm all for radical revisions of familiar tunes, but I can't pretend that I've been waiting breathlessly for a sophisticated reading of Steve Miller's "The Joker," and I'm betting that not many others have been, either. And while the idea of lang warbling "Theme From The Valley of the Dolls" is a delicious one, the execution reminded me of Maureen McGovern, a performer I was hoping would not cross my mind again until I was in the grave. All in all, drag is a pleasant listen: There's nothing on it that will cause you to use your index fingers for earplugs, and lang's cover of the Chet Baker ditty "My Old Addiction" is quite lovely. But the CD as a whole left me pining for the days when k.d. was still channeling Patsy Cline.