soundbites
June '03

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Synchro Series

King Sunny Ade
IndigeDisc

In this packaging of not-for-the-U.S. recordings, King Sunny Ade and his African Beats display what their carefully composed crossover attempts of world music fell short of — real raging Afro-roots music, pared to the bone.

Originally released in Nigeria and featuring some remixes and alternates off more constricted 1982 Island albums for the Western market, Juju Music and Synchro Systems, these loose sessions feature liberal and inventive use of at-the-time cutting edge elements. Electronic drums, dub and such disparate instruments as pedal steel, talking drum and xylophone come together like a summer African rain, full of fury and release.

Hypnotic in many ways, these long songs — the shortest is seven minutes — are buoyed by odd percussive instruments, chimes, bells and the distinctive guitar strumming of Sunny Ade. Some sounds are far ahead of their time. The repetitive opening parts of the final song, “Ja Fun Mi Dub,” could well be mistaken for the backing track to any of the hottest J-Lo or Puff Daddy stylings. That’s no knock; the music’s just that tricky and tight. — Lance Jungmeyer


A Beautiful World

Thicke
Interscope Records

Robin Thicke’s debut album consists of so many styles that it is difficult to even begin to summarize his music. From pop and R&B to soul and salsa, Thicke’s style seems to be an interesting crossbreed of genres that one assumes would not mix well. But Thicke’s vocal prowess comes through so strikingly that it’s difficult to not appreciate the album just for that.

Tracks such as “Make a Baby” and “Lazy Bones” seem almost reminiscent of the Monkees’ upbeat yet comically woven style, and parts of “Suga Mama” could have been recorded by Michael Jackson back in the ‘80s.

The highlight of the A Beautiful World is “The Stupid Things,” a jazzy piece that, without a doubt, wins as the most heartfelt song on the album. The lyrics, which discuss a relationship, are not all about floating on clouds and happy times. “All the stupid things I do have absolutely no reflection on how I feel about you.” –Jessica Chapman


transform

Powerman 500
Dreamworks Records

Back in 1995, Boston-based rockers Powerman 5000 showed a taste for slick, simple rock & roll nicely gilded with head-banging drum work and good, clean Iggy Pop-style vocals. After several albums and a change in the lineup (a new bassist and drummer), the “Powermen” are back with transform, demonstrating they can still produce some damn fine (and no doubt now expensively produced) music. Tracks like “Theme to a Fake Revolution” and “A is for Apathy” thankfully don’t try to preach but instead seem to play on the whole slacker attitude with some much needed whimsy.

Unfortunately, they did do the “We’re a bunch of bad-asses” mega-photo spread (C’mon guys, we know the drill — scowl, stick your hands in your pocket, look constipated), but as long as the sound’s this fat, such foolish things can be forgiven. —Brandon Whitehead



Fear to Tell

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Interscope Records

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs exploded onto the popular punk music scene in 2001 with their debut EP and gig opening for the White Stripes. The group’s vivacious yet extreme stage presence left half the fans with their mouths open and the other half singing along. And the New York trio has kept up the momentum with their first full-length album Fever to Tell.

The force behind the music balances delicately among the nearly screaming vocals, rocking guitar and arm-numbing drums. As for the expressive and explicit lyrics, it is unfortunate that the vocals are almost impossible to understand. Many of the lyrics read more like beat poetry than full thoughts, but this added to their repetitive style seems to work.

It’s interesting to note that the group appears to have a superstition for threes; the repetition occurs in all but one of the songs.

With the more than seven-minute track “Modern Romance,” the Yeahs confirm they can pull off their own flavor of a love ballad, and the less-screaming, more-singing voice of lead singer Karen O. proved to be a nice change. And this is the only song with no threes. Oh yeah. — Jessica Chapman


House of 1000 Corpses

Rob Zombie
Geffen Records

Multi-Platinum Rob Zombie’s soundtrack for his motion picture writing/directing debut House of 1000 Corpses (a film that came and went quickly) is a uneven mix of old covers that have been heavily zombified, a few original tracks from Rob himself and unfortunately quite a few worthless snips of unintelligible dialogue from the movie itself.

While the original “hard rock fright-meister” now often seems to be heading into the unintended self-parody zone at dragster speeds, songs like “Pussy Liquor” (pause for laughter) and “Little Piggy” bring back at least a little of the fun of 1993’s funky Astro-Creep. There’s also a highly touted version of “Brick House” with Lionel Richie and female rapper Trina, which isn’t nearly as bizarre as it should be.
— Brandon Whitehead




January

21 Reasons
SimpleStyle Records

Even if the first three songs on January suffered from an all-thumbs approach at the soundboard and a “poppy” mix of sounds underlining what’s wrong with mainstream radio, the rest of this album by the Parkville, MO-based 21 Reasons makes it worth the buy.

The band starts to kick to life on “Best Part” with Marc Hudson hitting the rims and Bryan Mace’s body-awakening opening bass lines. Vocalist Scott Brown lengthens the stretch on “Come to You,” a ballad about getting through it with interesting lyrics that could be aimed at KC-bashers: “What’s killing you is you and not this town.”

“Can’t Wait ‘Till Tomorrow” shows this band’s quick-change talent in varying beats while bouncing guitar chords off Brown’s awesome vocals. This guy is genuine and simply great. But in my book, it’s “Rain” and the bluesy last cut “Another Bad Decision” that totally invite music-lovers to embrace this very talented and creative group. — Bruce Rodgers

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