Welcome to Beyond Playlist

Your eyeballs have found a new blog category that will appear every so often in Backbeat Online: Beyond Playlist. The concept is simple. Even in the waning days of the CD era, reviewers such as yours truly are sent far more discs than we can possibly critique in the physical paper -- and while they're not all works of surpassing excellence (to put it mildly), a lot of them deserve attention of one kind or another. Hence, I'm writing Internet-only mini-reviews of the sort found below.

As you'll see, some of the items feature the words "Bailed at." This phrase pertains to a reviewing technique I established when I started working at Westword, back when even the most intelligent members of our species dragged their knuckles when they walked: the three-song rule. Rather than choosing not to check out certain recordings (usually because of the artist's past suckiness), I listen into at least the third song of each album that comes my way. (The exception are discs in which the songs are in extremely long -- say, ten minutes each. Then I sample the first three tracks.) By the third song, I usually know if a disc contains something of value -- and while I've still missed some good stuff over the years due to this methodology, I've also discovered plenty of interesting music that a lot of other scribes may have dismissed in advance. The approach allows me to keep up with the volume of releases (usually) even as it lets me at least sample the vast array of sounds flooding into the marketplace every day.

With that in mind, here are the first five Beyond Playlist submissions. -- Michael Roberts

Handsome Furs Plague Park (Sub Pop) Montreal's Alexei Perry and Dan Boeckner (who's also a member of Wolf Parade) prove that a lot can be done with a little. The two use little more than vocals, guitar and a drum machine to create a darkly evocative soundscape that's frequently disturbing in a good way. Emblematic is "Sing! Captain," featuring the lines "Feed them wire, feed them chrome/We hate this place here, it's our home." Kick back and stay a while. -- Roberts

Kraak & Smaak The Remix Sessions (Quango)

This club-oriented mix collection from a pair of would-be Dutch masters gets off on the wrong foot with Skeewif's irritating reimagining of "Man of Constant Sorrow," from O Brother, Where Art Thou -- and while some of what follows improves on this gruesome beginning, the package as a whole contains far more than the daily requirement of government cheese. Bailed at: track eight, Dorfmeiser vs. MDLA's "Boogie No More," based largely on A Taste of Honey's "Boogie Oogie Oogie," which hasn't gotten any sweeter over the decades. -- Roberts

The Remains The Remains (Epic/Legacy) Garage-rock afficionados remember the Remains -- sometimes known as Barry & the Remains -- as one of the grittiest and most vibrant acts to emerge from the Boston scene circa the mid-1960s. The Remains is a thoroughly enjoyable compilation of their top tunes -- a twenty-song gulp of dirty water that definitely hits the spot. -- Roberts

Barbara Streisand Streisand: Live in Concert 2006 (Sony) Babs' voice hasn't gotten smaller over the years, and neither has her ego. Her third live album in her past nine releases (she's getting to be like late-period Elvis) is a typical mix of showboating and overemoting, albeit by one of the more distinctive voices of contemporary American song. Bailed at: song eight, a new version of "Evergreen" featuring Il Divo (who should be whipped, and whipped good). -- Roberts

Tain & the Ebonix Jeff "Tain" Watts Presents Tain & the Ebonix: Folk's Songs (Dark Key Music) A longtime associate of the Marsalis brothers, Watts pulls together a solid set of post-bop jazz with the help of first-rate players, including saxophonist Christian McBride. Especially worthy are a pair of long-distance dedications: "Rotations," a salute to Dewey Redman, and "Blues 4 Curtis," a nod to Curtis Mayfield. -- Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts