May '03

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Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom

Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Hyena Records

With a series of quick-fire sax solos cascading like a Coltrane dream on the opening “Passion dance,” followed by a sweet, delicate version of “My one and only love,” the listener may be wondering what’s up with this jazz. What’s up is that Rahsaan Roland Kirk seems to go everywhere — but nowhere twice — on this session at the Backdoor in San Diego recorded Nov. 5, 1974 and tucked away until now. And then, when Kirk talks, you really don’t know what’s coming next. His bizarre, otherworldly rants rivaled Sun Ra’s.

Before his death in 1977, he made a legend of himself for his ability to play three saxophones at once, occasionally throwing in a nose flute or other odd noises, grunts and plain old call-and-response with the audience.

The funky, outlandish groove of “Fly town nose blues” lays the basis for Kirk to lay it out on the flute. Over the cool bass line of “Volunteered slavery,” Kirk engages in guttural, playful chatter with his band a la James Brown and his JBs. At all times, it seems the band is riding the crest of a wave — Kirk’s imagination. And just when it seems the wave might crash into earnest confusion, a new current of musical notions sweeps along, transcending the mess. But with just eight songs, it’s over all too soon, leaving a wanting for more of Kirk’s odd musical vision.
—Lance Jungmeye

American Life

Maverick Recording Co.

American Life showcases the high quality of Madonna’s musical integrity, from the deeply personal lyrics to the chording and arrangement style. The album’s emphasis lies more heavily on acoustic guitar than any of her previous 14 albums, especially her most recent, Music. However, one realizes the guitar work was not the handiwork of the diva with a quick look at the liner notes.

During “X-Static Process” Madonna layers her voice, creating a harmonious and masterfully blended duet with twice the pleasure of the material girl. This track is void of vocal synthesis along with a good three-fourths of the album. It’s hard to understanding why someone with such a strong, beautiful voice would choose to synthesize.

In the title track, “American Life,” Madonna tries her hand at rap. Although her method and style of execution calls for a lighthearted laugh, she does have something to say. “I’m just living out the American dream, and I just realized that nothing is as it seems.”
—Jessica Chapman

Up the Bracket

The Libertines
Rough Trade Records

The best thing about punk music is its unpredictable results. The worst thing about punk music is, well, its unpredictable results. The Libertine’s new disc Up the Bracket tends to be a little too much towards the latter. For a group called “The best London band since the Sex Pistols” (Entertainment Weekly, no less), these guys have surprising little passion for screaming lyrics and massive guitar-attack licks.

Tracks like “Vertigo” and “Horrorshow” sound almost like cleaned-up versions meant for an appearance on Leno. Punk is like a tractor-pull, guys — if you’re not getting dirty, you’re not doing it right.
—Brandon Whitehead


The White Stripes
V2 Records

The hype surrounding The White Stripes gained much momentum following the release of their third album, Elephant. And what is not to like about it? The duo’s presence together plays off perfectly in terms of steady musicianship and lyrical dialogues back and forth between the two vocalists.

Elephant reveals The White Stripes’ ease in moving back and forth between genres and styles of music. The album swings from British invasion 1960’s rock with “There’s No Home For You Here” to a Rolling Stones-esque beat with “The Hardest Button to Button.” And then there’s a musical and lyrical addition to Adam Sandler’s repertoire with “You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket.” However, even with these varied tones, The White Stripes have hit gold and are sure to make an impression on the industry.

Of note is “Little Acorns,” which features a spoken-word intro written and performed by Mort Crim, creator of the motivational radio spot called “Second Thoughts.” Elephant also included a disturbing version of the Nicky Holland classic “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.”

However, the album makes one thing abundantly clear. The Stripes are having fun making music and doing what they love. —Jessica Chapman

As the Last Light Drains

Vicotry Records

In this strange and prepackaged New World of the next millennium, punk has finally reached the tender age of politically correct cleanliness and responsibility. Freya’s As the Last Light Drains is ten tracks of what you’d expect in good, clean, safe punk, with a sort of social angst replacing the speed-freak mentality. The requisite rapid-fire drums and frog-down-the-throat gurgle are all here, but when combined with the (highly commercial) “Can’t we all get along?” message, the whole thing seems more than a little out of rhythm.

Punk music isn’t supposed to make you think about vegan philosophy or the problems of the Third World. Matter of fact, its not even supposed to make you think at all — it’s supposed to make you want beer and women. Mostly beer.
—Brandon Whitehead


The Emily Shrine
Higher Step Records

While there is far too little elbowroom for any originality in the here-now gone-tomorrow world of commercial top-twenty bands, a few up-and-comers still try to push the envelope, or at least poke it with a stick. The Emily Shrine, while sailing in the safe and shallow pop/thrash waters of the teen angst “Emo” sea, still manage to put together a nifty sound with enough waves to keep the ears perked up.

Rapid percussion and super-short guitar riffs are aplenty in their eleven-track album Alabaster, while the vocals maintain a satisfactory if somewhat lackluster background (who needs vocal training if they have a pretty face, anyway?). Worshiping at the altar of Mixed Styles is always chancy, but if you’re interested in making the pilgrimage, the Shrine will be setting up at the Hurricane on May 31.
—Brandon Whitehead

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