Music Reviews

The Strokes

First Impressions Of Earth

RCA

I can’t play guitar very well. I want to, but I devote zero time to doing that. Much like skateboarding, if you want to get good, you have to get out there, or in there, and work on it. The first thing I kept in mind about reviewing an album of new music was, “Marc, you are not as good as these guys at playing music. Remember that.”

I started listening to the sounds but also kept track of the words to their songs. I was thinking, “Okay, this is The Strokes. They made that hot song ‘Last Nite’ a few years ago.” There are fourteen tracks on this album and nothing jumped out at me except “Ask Me Anything.” That song is pretty damn good-the new “Last Nite.” The words are awesome. The thing about that one song is that I’m a Magnetic Fields fan, and that song is basically a Magnetic Fields tune. Someone has been listening to “Holiday” by Magnetic Fields. The thing about reviewing a new album is that it’s only one person’s opinion. I totally acknowledge the talent of The Strokes in all their glory. I’ve seen, on numerous occasions, boring nights in the bars of San Francisco saved by someone playing “Last Nite” by The Strokes. Chicks would get wild when that song came on. Pheromones would fly, and people would forget how much they disliked each other when it played. That’s a hit song if there ever was a definition. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few people who are married now met when it played in some shitty bar in S.F.

Basically, I will tell you, since I was asked to review this album, that downloading “Ask Me Anything” is your best bet. Overall, the singer’s voice annoys me, the lyrics don’t do much for me, and the sound of the band has gotten old. They had a hit, good night. I don’t know much about the band at all besides a few nights in San Francisco bars, but the guitar player is really good, kicks some ass. Other than that, this album doesn’t even phase me. Go get some Bill Hicks on iTunes and laugh your f-king ass off or listen to The Best Of Van Morrison 1 and 2. Anyone can be in a band, but it takes magic to touch a person’s heart. One thing I noticed is that on more than one song, the lyrics were, “I’ve got nothing to say.” The rock-star lifestyle won’t do anything for that problem, bud. Try reading. But keep up that guitar work, whoever slangs that thang. Keep doing what you do. This album is worth lending an ear to for your own personal review. If it puts the wind in your sails, good for you. I don’t own a boat, so to speak.-Marc Johnson

Cat Power

The Greatest

Matador

*****

The seventh album by Cat Power, a.k.a. Chan Marshall, though quite different in every way, is an achievement easily on par with the timeless Moon Pix. On Moon Pix, Marshall collaborated with The Dirty Three, an Australian group much loved for its signature improvisational style and dreamy, haunting aesthetic. For The Greatest, however, she’s gone an entirely different direction, opting to work with a pack of top-notch Memphis studio musicians. The results are equally jaw-dropping. Recorded with Steve Potts, Doug Easley, and the legendary session players Mabon and Leroy Hodges, the album closely evokes the Memphis soul sound of the late 60s and early 70s. On the whole, this is a more in-command Cat Power; the simple, ramshackle arrangements and lyrical fever dreams are gone. Instead, the songs offer beautifully sweeping measures, elegant backing melodies, and lucid narratives comparable to some of the best work by Al Green, Willie Mitchell, and Dusty Springfield.-Arlie Carstens

Jel

Soft Money

Anticon

***

In the experimental spirit of Anticon, Jel brings forth a down-tempo hip-hop instrumental record filled with melodic loops over drum rolls, lightly peppered with quiet white-boy raps. Soft Money is in the same vein as projects by Omega One, Blockhead, and a lot of the Ninja Tune stuff, but it lacks the composition and pacing of RJD2. There are a number of good cuts, buas far as the whole album goes, some of it fades into background music. Soft Money is totally great if you’re a turntable nerd or beat lover, but it might demand too much patience from the average hip-hop listener.-Tom Brown

Test Icicles

For Screening Purposes Only

Domino

***

Jokers far and wide have been flapping their blabbers claiming Test Icicles sound like Drive Like Jehu. Rad, it’s about time another generation of post-punks began biting Jehu’s crazy genius. Sad to say, there’s nothing Yank Crime about this band, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. If anything, the band’s sound most closely aligns with that whole screamo/spazzcore/dance-punk scene popularized by Managra, Blood Brothers, and The Mean Reds. In fact, I’d bet doughnuts these Brits have studied Burn Piano Island, Burn like a map, snarling along feral-weasel style to every note. The result? For Screening Purposes Only sounds like jazz nerds making out with a hardcore band while falling down a stairwell. If they’d just ditch the disco beats in favor of more ass-kicking, they’d have something wicked awesome.-Arlie Carstens

Ben Harper And The Innocent Criminals

Both Sides Of The Gun

****

Ben Harper’s skate roots run deep: Harper grew up skateboarding in Southern California’s Inland Empire with dudes like vert legend Chris Miller back in the 80s, at spots like the original Upland Pipeline skatepark. “It clears my head. I love to skateboard, but I blatantly suck,” says Harper. “I just skate because I love it.”

Harper’s blazing new album, Both Sides Of The Gun, features some of the best material he’s put down to date. Known for his ability to mix shit up with a wide variety of influences, Harper once again comes through with an album that’s got a little something for everyone.-Jack Spilberg

J Dilla

Donuts

Stones Throw

****

The most respected producer you’ve never heard of has dropped something a bit different: an instrumental break album. There’re roughly 30 cuts on here, so even when you get tired of one track, the next is soon to come-perfect for those lazy people who don’t want to get up and hit “skip.” Overall with Donuts, J Dilla (a.k.a. Jay Dee) has created a relaxing, soulful sound that is reminiscent of Pete Rock, 9th Wonder, or even some projects by fellow Stones Throw beat conductor, Madlib. This album is perfect for those times when you just want to stay at home and eat some cookies or pie-or doughnuts, for that matter.-Tom Brown

Belle And Sebastian

The Life Pursuit

Matador

****

When I was a younger man, a lovely girl made a mixtape for me on which she wrote, “If you’re feeling sinister.” This was my introduction to Belle And Sebastian via the sister of a good friend. Being the good friend that I am, though, I never touched her.

Anyhow, by now B&S have become one of those rare things in life: a no-brainer. There are pitifully few bands around where I know for a fact I will enjoy pretty much anything that they throw out there, but Belle And Sebastian make the list easily.

With The Life Pursuit, they’ve released an album of startling (though unsurprising) strength, clarity, beauty, and empathy-everything you might have come to expect from this group of Glaswegians. Surprisingly, the album is also pretty all over the place in terms of influence and reference. It meanders easily from traditional-sounding Belle And Sebastian ditties to Bowie, Sly And The Family Stone, or weird lo-fi electronica, and then back to B&S. It’s lovely and also easily their best album yet. I don’t care who calls me a pussy.-Andreas Trolf

Bad Wizard

Sky High

Howler

** (2.5 out of 5)

Do you like Deep Purple? If so, you’re gonna be just fine with Bad Wizard’s Sky High. These Brooklyn hair farmers live for 70s cock-rock, which is to say that the radical riffs, candy choruses, loping drumbeats, and boastful odes to sex, drugs, and hangin’ tough all come right out of the hesher handbook circa 1978. Oh, wait, can’t forget the wicked-saturated guitar solos. Yeah, lots of those. On the whole, though, I can handle these kind of boogie jams for all of two songs before the shtick leaves me so ambivalent I just want to lay down (unless it’s Turbonegro-but hey, that’s just me). Provided you’re stoned, a competitive air-guitarist, a sex addict, or a hessian skater, you’ll probably love this.-Arlie Carstens

The Sword

Age Of Winters

Kemado

*****

Having recently signed Sweden’s psych-rock wà…nderkind Dungen, and now Austin, Texas’ The Sword, Kemado Records is on a roll. This latest addition brings a dose of crushing heaviness to the NYC label’s roster. The Sword doesn’t play retro hair metal or even ironic indie-hipster metal, but METAL. We’re talking mind-melting metal, the kind that scared the shit out of you as a kid. Think classics like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Sleep-it’s that good. No need for costumes, corpse-paint, or corny faux-hawks and facial piercings, these people keep things real basic, delivering nothing but enormo-drums, sludgy riffs, behemoth bass lines, and just the right nightmarish, ballsy vocals (I ain’t talking about that generic Cookie Monster moan). Sure, they’re into wacky Nordic folktales (hence, song titles like “Freya” and “Barael’s Blade”), but whatever, it works. Oh, and they talk lots of overly serious nonsense about swordsmanship. Whoa! Dorky as that is, it only adds to their general awesomeness.-Arlie Carstens

Prefuse 73

Security Screenings

Warp

***

Back again with the down-tempo glitch-pop beats is Prefuse 73. With almost no vocals at all, Security Screenings is a pretty relaxed, electronic-noise medley. These light, crunchy electronic sounds left me in a daze-it would be good for people who like Amon Tobin, Autechre, or Plaid, but if you’re looking for hip-hop, this just isn’t it. This is a good album for doing nothing, working slowly, or maybe just zoning out. Security Screenings is very much in the Prefuse sound; however, it lacks that extra oomph to set it apart from his other albums.-Tom Brown

Tortoise And Bonnie “Prince” Billy

The Brave And The Bold

Overcoat

****

What we have here is Tortoise teaming up with Bonnie “Prince” Billy (a.k.a. Will Oldham) on a wildly incongruent, occasionally goofy covers album. Pairing Chicago’s premier post-rock outfit with Oldham’s dusty folk troubadour vibe may seem a bit odd at first; however, with repeated listens, the match turns out to be a surprisingly near-perfect fit. Oldham’s warbly, laid-back vocal phrasing sort of forces Tortoise’s otherwise claustrophobically tight playing to open up a bit, especially on tracks like Melanie’s “Some Say (I Got Devil),” and Quix*o*tic’s “On My Own.” Yeah, it’s damn weird, but it all somehow comes out making sense. From Elton John’s “Daniel” to Lungfish’s “Love Is Love,” the songs selected are truly all over the map, which is purposely why this thing works. Additional standout tracks include Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” Richard Thompson’s “Calvary Cross,” and Devo’s “That’s Pep!”-Arlie Carstens

UPCOMING RELEASES:

THE MAGIC 8-BALL SAYS, “YOU HAVE AN EAR-SOOTHING FUTURE AHEAD OF YOU.”

February 21, 2006

Destroyer

Destroyer’s Rubies

Dilated Peoples

20/20

Sometime In March, 2006

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Coco Beware

April 4, 2006

Elefant

Black Magic Show

April 11, 2006

Tortoise

R,R,C

April 18, 2006

NOFX

Wolves In Wolves

Secret Machines

Ten Silver Drops

April 25, 2006

J Dilla (a.k.a. Jay Dee)

The Shining

n’t forget the wicked-saturated guitar solos. Yeah, lots of those. On the whole, though, I can handle these kind of boogie jams for all of two songs before the shtick leaves me so ambivalent I just want to lay down (unless it’s Turbonegro-but hey, that’s just me). Provided you’re stoned, a competitive air-guitarist, a sex addict, or a hessian skater, you’ll probably love this.-Arlie Carstens

The Sword

Age Of Winters

Kemado

*****

Having recently signed Sweden’s psych-rock wà…nderkind Dungen, and now Austin, Texas’ The Sword, Kemado Records is on a roll. This latest addition brings a dose of crushing heaviness to the NYC label’s roster. The Sword doesn’t play retro hair metal or even ironic indie-hipster metal, but METAL. We’re talking mind-melting metal, the kind that scared the shit out of you as a kid. Think classics like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Sleep-it’s that good. No need for costumes, corpse-paint, or corny faux-hawks and facial piercings, these people keep things real basic, delivering nothing but enormo-drums, sludgy riffs, behemoth bass lines, and just the right nightmarish, ballsy vocals (I ain’t talking about that generic Cookie Monster moan). Sure, they’re into wacky Nordic folktales (hence, song titles like “Freya” and “Barael’s Blade”), but whatever, it works. Oh, and they talk lots of overly serious nonsense about swordsmanship. Whoa! Dorky as that is, it only adds to their general awesomeness.-Arlie Carstens

Prefuse 73

Security Screenings

Warp

***

Back again with the down-tempo glitch-pop beats is Prefuse 73. With almost no vocals at all, Security Screenings is a pretty relaxed, electronic-noise medley. These light, crunchy electronic sounds left me in a daze-it would be good for people who like Amon Tobin, Autechre, or Plaid, but if you’re looking for hip-hop, this just isn’t it. This is a good album for doing nothing, working slowly, or maybe just zoning out. Security Screenings is very much in the Prefuse sound; however, it lacks that extra oomph to set it apart from his other albums.-Tom Brown

Tortoise And Bonnie “Prince” Billy

The Brave And The Bold

Overcoat

****

What we have here is Tortoise teaming up with Bonnie “Prince” Billy (a.k.a. Will Oldham) on a wildly incongruent, occasionally goofy covers album. Pairing Chicago’s premier post-rock outfit with Oldham’s dusty folk troubadour vibe may seem a bit odd at first; however, with repeated listens, the match turns out to be a surprisingly near-perfect fit. Oldham’s warbly, laid-back vocal phrasing sort of forces Tortoise’s otherwise claustrophobically tight playing to open up a bit, especially on tracks like Melanie’s “Some Say (I Got Devil),” and Quix*o*tic’s “On My Own.” Yeah, it’s damn weird, but it all somehow comes out making sense. From Elton John’s “Daniel” to Lungfish’s “Love Is Love,” the songs selected are truly all over the map, which is purposely why this thing works. Additional standout tracks include Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” Richard Thompson’s “Calvary Cross,” and Devo’s “That’s Pep!”-Arlie Carstens

UPCOMING RELEASES:

THE MAGIC 8-BALL SAYS, “YOU HAVE AN EAR-SOOTHING FUTURE AHEAD OF YOU.”

February 21, 2006

Destroyer

Destroyer’s Rubies

Dilated Peoples

20/20

Sometime In March, 2006

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Coco Beware

April 4, 2006

Elefant

Black Magic Show

April 11, 2006

Tortoise

R,R,C

April 18, 2006

NOFX

Wolves In Wolves

Secret Machines

Ten Silver Drops

April 25, 2006

J Dilla (a.k.a. Jay Dee)

The Shining