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Oct. '04

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Elliott Smith
From A Basement On The HillAnti

Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith’s swan dive sounds as elegant as it is disquieting, its beauty vibrating as fiercely as its ugliness. Smith was recording From A Basement On The Hill when he committed suicide in October 2003. The ache resonates as bluntly as an Ebow through an amplifier, as the fifteen tracks left behind display everything he had and showcase everything he might have become.

With songs like “Twilight,” “Memory Lane” and “Let’s Get Lost,” Smith’s last release is a posthumous kindling that will forever burn his talent into memory. His passing makes the melodies sound more poignant, the guitars more hollow, and the words more resonant.

Smith’s integrity as a songwriter shines through on Hill, as he exposes the nasty demons that are the source of his ethereal music. “I’m going on a date with a rich, white lady. Ain’t life great?” he shouts sarcastically on “King’s Crossing.” “Give me one good reason not to do it,” he eerily replies.

Smith exhausts himself writing about the drugs that might have once alleviated his pain, but now only exacerbate it; and love that used to soothe him, but now only makes him want more drugs.

Hill documents Smith’s decline into a losing battle with himself; it’s disconcerting that it had to sound this lovely. —Gillian Titus (Posted 10/29/04)


Split Lip Rayfield

Split Lip Rayfield
Should Have Seen It ComingBloodshot Records

One of the best things about living in the Midwest (other than tornados, Fred Phelps and people who don't believe in evolution) is the occasional appearance of the strange musical mutant know as "Contemporary Bluegrass."

While country music is currently sweeping across the uber-hip West Coast scene, the good old pickin' and grinnin' boys of Split Lip Rayfield have faithfully plunked out their bluegrass-punk on stages alongside Nashville Pussy (best name ever!) and the Reverend Horton Heat since '01 or so.

Should Have Seen it Coming, their first CD in several years, is 16 tracks of a rich man's biscuits and gravy, baby. With the ever-present ker-thunk ker-thunk of Jeff Eaton's one-string gas tank bass (called appropriately "The Stichgiver") and Eric Mardis' finger-bleedin' banjo playing, the infectious nature starts thumpin' your boots from the first notes of "Hundred Dollar Bill", an ode to truck-stop lovelies, and doesn't stop 'till the last notes of "Just Like A Gillian Welsh Song" (whatever that means...). —Brandon Whitehead (Posted 10/28/04)


Marilyn Manson
The Best Of Marilyn MansonInterscope

Marilyn Manson

Ah, how best to describe the...well, band, and of course the...uh, person that is Marilyn Manson. Goth-Dadaist icon, bizzaro burlesque superstar, '90s production-based pseudo-band flotsam? Frankly, this updated (and of course remixed, as if you can tell the difference in most of these synth-pop tunes) Best Of album answers few if any questions, although it will be happy to take your money, thank you.

Best known for Manson's hyper-decadent behavior (bet you can't find a single interview where he doesn't mention Absinth, having sex with conjoined twins and his own superhuman creativity) and poor make-up choices, the music mostly takes a backseat to the scene, and frankly, that's probably a good thing. Mimicking a barrage of toneless industrial house music mixed in a blender, with a side of crappy post-angst pothead philosophy, these tunes quickly devolve into parodies of themselves before most of the songs are half through.

This is the white suburban kid's equivalent to hard-core gangsta rap: It's meant to shock their parents and contemporaries more than anything, and it succeeds...for a little while. Wonder if Manson wears the makeup on the way to the bank... —Brandon Whitehead (Posted 10/28/04)


Libertines

The Libertines
The LibertinesRough Trade

The Libertines are a band that has lived up to its name. Unfortunately for part-time vocalist and guitarist, and full-time heroin addict and crack fiend Pete Doherty, he’s taken the media focus off the band and placed it squarely on his left arm, which looks rather supple and in need of a quick fix on the cover of the band’s latest, a self-titled follow-up to it’s 2002 debut, Up the Bracket.

What the band isn’t in need of, however, is a sneering attitude, which comes through brilliantly on such tracks as “Can’t Stand Me Now” and “What Became Of The Likely Lads.” Fittingly produced by legendary punk agitator Mick Jones, who twiddled the knobs on Bracket, The Libertines feels loose.

And while it feels spontaneous and ramshackle on tracks like “Last Post On The Bugle,” and polished on songs like “What Katie Did,” it can just as quickly fall apart into self-indulgence. Lyrically incoherent, “Don’t Be Shy” is an irritating track that ambles as smoothly as a drunk with his pants around his ankles as it stupidly challenges the listener “to shine, dance and hear your song.”

At its best, the Libertines have a fractious lineup that can build its tension into a timeless sound that recalls late ’70s acts like the Damned. Yet the band also has a wasted, one-more-round kind of appeal that was patented by the Stones in the ’60s and has been selling ever since.

And just like the Stones, the joke could be on the Libertines, who are on the precipice of oblivion. While the band may have two good LPs under its belt, it could just as easily record its destruction next. —Gillian Titus (Posted 10/15/04)


e.s.t.
Seven Days of Falling215 Records

EST

Music is transformative, maybe jazz more so. Sometimes the process isn’t overly apparent, a subtle cerebral envelopment rather than pure emotionalism. But with good music, there’s always the intuitive factor...something happens when listening, be it internal or just a questioning of how such sounds were created.

Much is at work when listening to e.s.t. and their new release Seven Days of Falling. This Swedish trio, with Esbjorn Svensson on piano, Dan Berglund on bass and Magnus Ostrom on drums, is building critical acclaim and expanding its cult-like following.

The first cut, “Ballad For The Unborn,” pulls the contemplative strings and after a surface listen, it’s easy to write it off as one of those coffee-in-hand, rainy afternoon, stare-out-the-window, lost-in-thought kind of intimate jazz compositions. But Svensson’s deliberate pacing on the piano, the vibrating cymbals and the deep, slow interjection of Berglund’s bass takes the music beyond a kind of fog-on-the-window profundity.

The title cut, “Seven Days of Falling,” follows a dominate repetitive bass riff as the drums and piano build then break then build again the composition with improvisations and electronics that remind me of Cusco. A more traditional piece is “Mingle In the Mincing Machine” — a loud jazz train and full-room explosion with a drivin’ piano run in front of a bass/drums push.

“O.D.R.I.P." is the most bold in its delivery, almost tangential with Svensson’s piano leads, as if demonstrating the contradictions inherent in higher-level jazz — music that brings an awareness wrapped in mystery. —Bruce Rodgers (Posted 10/8/04)


Interpol

Interpol
AnticsMatador

What’s black, white, and red all over? While this is just a rhetorical question only meant to point out the starkness of the cover of the New York quartet’s latest, it also denotes the mood of the work, which swells with desperation, unrequited love and loneliness — subject matter mined before on Interpol’s 2002 debut LP Turn On the Bright Lights.

Unlike Bright Lights, however, which had a melodic warmth to it even as it sent chills down the spine, Antics is more bleak, with guitarist Daniel Kessler’s effusive riffs cutting into the stop-start dynamic of bassist Carlos Dengler and drummer Sam Fogarino.

These sounds are illustrated nicely on such tunes as “Public Pervert,” which almost sounds like Joy Division covering the Association, and “Narc,” which has a churlish rhythm that boogies while vocalist Paul Banks bristles.

Lyrically, Banks doesn’t mince words as he extrapolates on the misery that is his love life on songs like “C’mere” (It’s way too late/To be this locked inside ourselves/The trouble is that you’re in love with someone else/It should be me) and “Slow Hands” (Can’t you see what you’ve done to my heart and soul/It’s a wasteland now...).

As it has been repeatedly pointed out, Interpol does sound like Joy Division, especially when comparing Banks to the late Ian Curtis. But if that’s the worst thing it can be accused of, then it’s doing something right.

Antics may lack some of the swagger that made Bright Lights so lovely, yet one would be remiss to accuse it of being a sophomore slump. —Gillian Titus (Posted 10/1/04)

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