Stereo Type A
The latest serving from Cibo Matto has a tough meal to follow. The band's debut, 1996's Viva! La Woman, was a smorgasbord of wonderfully twisted hip-hop for the Food Channel set: selections included "Apple," "Beef Jerky," "White Pepper Ice Cream" and a cover of "The Candy Man." The beats were artsy fun, the vocals by Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda were a study in exuberance, and the lyrics stuck intriguing images into what at first blush seemed like amusing mistranslations (e.g., "Your hands are like a rusty knife/Are you gonna keep on peeling me?" from "Artichoke"). As a result, Stereo Type A, a more polished and professional effort that prefers pop to rap, initially seems like a minor disappointment. But on subsequent listens, the album reveals its charms even as it provides Cibo Matto (which appears Tuesday, July 20, at the Bluebird Theater) a way out of the novelty trap.
The band doesn't entirely eschew hip-hop--check out "Sci-Fi Wasabi," in which Hatori announces that she's "feeling Stromboli, not ravioli." But "Flowers" is positively Bacharachian, "Lint of Love" goes for sassy funk, "Clouds" floats away on a wave of space burbles, "King of Silence" sports the swankiest of horn charts, and "Spoon" goes for a lounge-by-way-of-Stereolab vibe in which couplets such as "Can't find the spoon that we once had/The sugar cubes will melt no more" are crooned, not chattered. Such eclecticism would doom most acts, but the strong musical personalities of Hatori and Honda (supplemented by bassist/famous boyfriend Sean Lennon) hold the album together. The disc is not without missteps--the swoony "Moonchild" is tedious in the extreme, and the Yoko Ono impression on "Blue Train" isn't much of an improvement on Yoko Ono. But for the most part, Stereo Type A goes down smooth, with no bitter aftertaste. Yummy.
According to a longtime fan, the biggest difference between Cat Power now and Cat Power circa 1995 is that guitarist/vocalist Chan Marshall, the only permanent member of this "band," says "I'm sorry" a lot less frequently than she once did. But Marshall's use of the phrase was prompted by her susceptibility to stage fright rather than any musical failings. She never trespassed against her audiences--and no one ever asked her for an apology.
Recorded with guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White of the Dirty Three, Moon Pix, Marshall's fourth CD, is her sparest and most despairing yet. Despite the fact that the new compositions rate low on distortion and tempo (no songs approach the Sonic Youth-esque grind of mid-Nineties offerings such as "Itchyhead," "We All Die" and "Nude as the News"), the aeolian voice she uses to sing them achieves an indie-punk intensity. The album is minimal but decidedly not mellow--and although it begins without a bang (picking up only briefly near its end, with "Cross Bones Style"), it's just as much about action as words. Marshall's often multi-tracked voice contrasts exquisitely with haywire guitars and bluesy swaggers while her curiously gorgeous delivery forces us to invest our own longings and regrets in her suggestive lyrics. On "American Flag," crisp guitars laced over primitive beats support this interpretation of her musings: "My new friend/Plays drums all the time/Her magic heart feels everything/She plays the difficult parts/And I play difficult." And on the piano alone for "Colors and the Kids," Marshall musters her most compelling convergence of slight melody and slippery meaning: "Must be the colors and the kids that keep me alive/'Cause the music is boring me to death."
A sobering interview remark by the often flippant Marshall reveals where she might be coming from these days; she was recently quoted as saying, "I worry about our generation. It's depressing to see us care so much about music instead of the actual reality of living." Indeed, she had all but given up on the music scene after her last stint in New York City, prompting moves to Prosperity, South Carolina, and eventually Atlanta. So maybe it's appropriate that our heroine's latest record, a comeback of sorts, is so unsettling. Perhaps now we should be the ones making amends. If so, Moon Pix is all the incentive we might need.
The Irresistible Force
It's Tomorrow Already
DJ Mixmaster Morris, an acid house and ambient legend in the U.K., is back with his third full-length under the Irresistible Force banner--and it's a welcome return. After stumbling badly on 1994's Global Chillage, Morris has returned to the dub/techno territory he explored on Flying High, his glistening, psychedelic debut long-player, and The Underground, a 1993 EP. "The Lie-In King" offers a fresh take on dub plates and drug-fueled techno, while "Another Tomorrow" is one of several tracks to feature sublimely mixed whispers of world beat and Central Asian meditation sitar. Add startling vocal snatches, digital keyboard noodling and a synchronous, no-breaks flow and you've got a disc that should entice clubbers to abandon the dance floor in favor of the nearest bong.
Evil Genius Orchestra
Cocktails in the Cantina
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Raising the bar for Star Wars exploitation gimmicks, Cocktails puts a lounge spin on selected numbers from the soundtracks of the first three George Lucas space operas. While there's some justification for the concept (specifically the cantina scene in the original movie, which featured a host of weird musical characters that probably seemed quirky in 1977), it's notably feeble--and listening to the album in one sitting demands the patience of a Jedi master.
Throughout, the Evil Genius Orchestra aims for something akin to the space-age bachelor-pad vibe of Martin Denny or Esquivel, and had the musicians accomplished this goal, their efforts might have yielded something quasi-memorable. But the disc never gets beyond its allegedly clever idea, largely because most of the thirteen instrumentals on hand are tepid synthesizer montages that sway limply in lounge time. "Han Solo and the Princess" is almost tolerable, thanks to its use of a Latin-fueled rumba, and the "Star Wars Main Title" stands out if only because it's one of the few tracks that will be recognizable to non-Star Wars fanatics like me. But "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)" sinks into full Muzak mode, and the snooze-inducing material on the rest of the album would sound perfectly appropriate being piped into your dentist's office.
At least the platter cops to its own silliness: The cover features porn star Jasmin St. Claire holding a martini while clad in revealing, retro-futuristic lounge-wear, and the liner notes thank jazz-pianist-turned-composer John Williams for being "a swinger of note." But such gags aside, this album is as flat and uninteresting as the Tatooine landscape.