Beats and Breaks From the Flower Patch
Masters of the Hemisphere
Masters of the Hemisphere
Over the past several years, the buzz over indie rock has become a barely audible murmur, and for a very simple reason: The stuff has failed to sell in numbers large enough to capture the attention of a record industry increasingly unwilling to put its money behind anything more complex than the latest by the Backstreet Boys. (Even assorted New Kids on the Block are making comebacks, proving that you can indeed fool some of the people all of the time.) But even as its profile has sunk to subterranean levels, the genre has continued to generate some mighty fine music marked by a melody, charm, and that most unexpected of characteristics, modesty.
Schrasj, a three-piece on Ojet, a Houston imprint, is a case in point. The lead cut, "the missing tenor," doesn't exactly kick off F, the act's latest; rather, it nudges it forward ever so gingerly via tender guitar tones, nimble rhythms and the ethereal warblings of Terri Lowesenthal, who's so cool that she probably works part-time as an ice dispenser. The ditty's tempo picks up at its midpoint, but not so much that it would cause any of the performers to break a sweat. Elsewhere, "connect" proves that distortion and beauty are mutually exclusive; "weathered as the wood it tends" makes Tortoise seem speedy by comparison; and "the birge" rattles along like the Feelies on downers. Nearly as deliberate is the buddyrevelles' September, November, from Wisconsin's Motorcoat Records. Aaron Grant's guitars occasionally nod toward aggression, but his lovely, delicate singing on "c'est super," "mona's pretty" and "six hours on a ladder" ensures that prettiness and hummability maintain hegemony over rocking out.
Pamela Valfer, the Minnesotan behind Kitty Craft's Beats and Breaks From the Flower Patch (on Athens, Georgia's Kindercore) is even less prone toward combativeness: She often employs grooves generated by machines, but she does so with the kind of gentleness that's associated with lullabies and members of PETA. She's not above the occasional affectation: Like Schrasj and the buddyrevelles, she lowercases her song titles, as if the very act of capitalization might somehow break the understated spell she's trying to cast. But "par 5," "alright" and "locked groove" are gorgeous, homemade airs whose simplicity and sweetness are positively intoxicating.
Masters of the Hemisphere's self-titled offering, also on Kindercore, won't sit quite as well with e.e. cummings boosters as will the previous three long-players: Core members Bren Meade and Sean Rawls lowercase some of their liner-note info, but that's about it. However, they are similarly dedicated to pop-craft, layering "Billy Mitchell" with a muted brass arrangement of surpassing beguilement, crooning "Saucy Foreign Lass" a la the Association on a lazy day, and making like minimalist Brian Wilsons on the enchanting drone "Your Ship Looks Like a Captain." These tunes don't grab a listener by the throat, which is probably why you'll never hear them on anything other than a college-radio station: Immediate gratification isn't one of their virtues. But those of you with attention spans longer than a microsecond will likely succumb to the subtle allure of such efforts. Provocative modern rock isn't dead; it's just decided that whispering can be more interesting than screaming.
Prodigy Present the Dirtchamber Sessions,
Despite being credited as a Prodigy disc, this CD is most definitely the brainchild of Liam Howlett, the musical intellect behind the band since its inception. By issuing his first continuous-mix CD for a major label at the height of his fame, he opens himself to easy accusations that he's cashing in on the studio cut-and-paste world of DJ comps made popular by many of the acts on Los Angeles's great Moonshine label, among others. But this amalgamation is quite unlike anything else that has been put out by a mainstream artist to date. Dirtchamber isn't a record to be indifferently danced to in an archetypal sense; rather, it's a virtual composition intended to be absorbed and experienced.
To avoid being dismissed as a one-trick techno pony, Howlett throws down constantly diverse grooves; for example, "The Mexican" sets Babe Ruth's flamenco guitar against a nice Chemical Brothers underbeat that leads to the B-Boys' "Rock the House." This idea is reinforced through the use of standout old-school cuts such as Word of Mouth's "King Kut" and Grandmaster Flash's "Pump Me Up," which manage to sound unexpectedly fresh within the context of Howlett's musical canvas.
Occasional flashes of humor turn up--Howlett juxtaposes the Sex Pistols' "New York" with Fat Boy Slim's "Punk to Funk" (get it?)--as do moments of just plain delicious mixing: Who wouldn't love the combination of the Propellerheads' "SpyBreak" with "It's the New Style," by the Beastie Boys, Prodigy's supposed nemesis? Clearly, Howlett feels that anything with a beat can be united, and by compressing 49 credited samples into a scant 51 minutes, he goes a long way toward proving it. The selections are gratifying yet surprising, and when they're heard in totality, they create a recording that's not unlike a painting by Monet. If you look at it too closely, all you'll see is incoherent spots--but if you examine it as a whole, you're likely to be overwhelmed.