Artist: Album (label, release date) 1-5 stars
Mugison: Little Trip (Ipecac, April 18, 2006) ****
Memphis Slim: I Am The Blues (Passport Audio, April 18, 2006) *****
Rita Lee: Bossa ‘n’ Beatles (Ghordo Music, April 18, 2006) ****
Anaal Nakrakh: When Fire Rains Down from the Sky, Mankind Will Reap as It Has Sown (Earache, April 18, 2006) ***
Mugison: Little Trip
In the wake of Bjork, Goldfrapp, Sigur Ros and other Icelandic electronica acts, the record biz is dusting off some of the second tier of recent electronica albums from the volcanic island nation of 280,000. Given that the entire population of the country is only two thirds that of Fresno, CA, one has to start wondering just how deep the trough can run. Mugison, a former sailor from the northwestern corner of the island, almost a stone’s throw from the north pole, has released three albums over the last few years, and appeared at Scotland’s Triptych festival in 2004, which gained him international interest. He tours with all of his equipment in a single suitcase; he and his family hand-stitched the elaborate packaging for 10,000 copies of his 2003 debut, Lonely Mountain. Little Trip, the soundtrack to Baltasar Kormakur’s 2005 of the same name, has been given a new push in 2006 by Ipecac, and offers a handy jumping-in point. So, is this another boldly innovative Icelander who will teach the continentals a thing or two about the possibilities in music? Well not really, but he keeps some conventions in circulation, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Half of this album is ambient balladry, featuring romantic vocals (sung in English most of the time) like on the fairly irrestistable “Little Trip to Heaven”, which boasts a tranquil almost Pacific Island affected slide guitar, and gentle brushes on the drums. Elsewhere, like on “Alone In The Office” we get a somnambular chillout groove with muted horns that sounds a lot more like conventional British electronica. Still other pieces, mostly on fragments under 2 minutes, we have abrasive white-noise constructs as on “Mugicone, Part 2”, where the disc really does sound like movie music. Those expecting something to grab them by the lapels will greet this with a big yawn. However, it’s certainly inoffensive, and if nothing here is really new, it reshuffles them into a likeable sleepy-time collage.
Memphis Slim: I Am The Blues
Memphis Slim (born John “Peter” Chatman 1915-1988) was a piano player extraordinaire on the Memphis circuit following World War II, where he largely inherited the crown of Big Bill Broonzy as Memphis’ most respected ivory tinkler. His rich, earthy, always in-control voice was commanding, and he was a gifted songwriter as well, penning classics that were covered by Lowell Fulson, Joe Williams, and B.B. King among others. I Am The Blues is a budget-priced 14-song compilation, originally released on Prestige Elite in 2002, that collects most of his best-known sides that he recorded for Chicago’s United Records in the early 1950’s. On all of these cuts, which range from slow to midtempo, Memphis Slim displays a warmth and ambiance that displays an urban sophistication rarely heard outside of Chicago, yet nothing comes across as forced or self-conscious. Instead the good times roll by with numbers like “Ballin’ The Jack”, “I Am The Blues”, “Sassy Mae”, “Ramble This Highway”; all should be accessible to blues novices and favorites of electric blues aficionados. Liner notes are virtually non-existent, but the price is right; a good, concise introduction.
Rita Lee: Bossa ‘n’ Beatles
Rita Lee had been a member of Brazil’s most influential rock group; the seminal Os Mutantes in the late 1960’s. Bossa ‘n’ Beatles is her idiosyncratic 2002 take on the Beatles, with the bossa nova rhythms the title promises, but with a refreshingly iconoclastic art-pop sensibility that makes this more than yet another vanity collection of Beatle covers. The opener, “A Hard Days Night” is given a colorful funk-rock treatment that only hints at bossa-nova in its beats; “All My Loving” is more in the traditional vein of Astrud Gilberto. “If I Fell”, on the other hand, is given a more modern bossa treatment. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, which is based on on electronically treated piano and features blurry whooshes and sound effects is at once sensual and experimental; “If I Fell” and “In My Life” appear in both English versions and Portuguese versions. There’s no shortage of Beatle tribute albums, and most are pretty ho-hum; this one actually merits more than one spin. While the song selection, which also includes “Michelle”, “She Loves You”, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Here, There, And Everywhere” is not the most inspired or eclectic selection of possible songs to cover, Lee manages to infuse enough distinct character into each to get these old workhorses to reveal something new about themselves. Not for everybody, but for those who consider the “Girl From Ipenema” a guilty pleasure will enjoy this stuff.
Anaal Nakrakh: When Fire Rains Down from the Sky, Mankind Will Reap as It Has Sown
An English duo of vocalist V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (Dave Hunt, ex-Mistress, ex-Benediction) and Irrumator (Mick Kenney, owner of Nekrodeath studios and former member of Aborym, Frost, Mistress) Anaal Nakrakh’s stated purpose is to provide the soundtrack to the apocalypse. Formed in 1999, the band adapts Norwegain-style death metal for the English speaking masses, and pretty much delivers the goods. How much you need these goods depends on your tolerance level for demonic roars over hyperspeed metal; with me, I like it in small doses. So When Fire Rains Down from the Sky, Mankind Will Reap as It Has Sown, originally released in 2003, a six-song EP, is good enough for me. “Never Fucking Again” is a great song to play when you’re careening through the hills on a two lane at midnight at excessive speeds. In fact, so are “Cataclysm Nihilism”, “Genesis of the Antichrist”, and the title cut, the best things here. Lyrically, I assume the titles tell the story; very little of V.I.T.R.I.O.L.’s roar is intelligible. But give the machine-gun drummer here some due; and the guitar riffs pound like oppression itself. Can’t say I’ll play this very often, and I imagine the apocalypse sounding more like Jessica Simpson, truth be told, but as far as death metal goes, I got the thrills I bargained for. The reissue pads things out with three more songs; damned if I can tell the difference between them.
Also out this week: A serviceable 2002 hits-oriented single disc best-of, Ultimate Dolly Parton on Sony International; post-rock experimental Chicago band The Race’s 2002 album The Perfect Gift on Flameshovel; some 4-disc boxed collections of old albums by America, Argent, Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone, The Four Lads, The Modernaires, and Jerry Vale, all called Collectables Classics on Collectables; Den of Thieves by the Trews, a 2002 Jack Douglas production that flopped, on Red Ink; Collection: 2006 Edition by Kiwi new-wavers Split Enz on EMI; the U.K. versions of Aftermath, Between The Buttons and Out of Our Heads by the Rolling Stones on Universal Japan; and Constant Pressure, by electronica act Beat Pharmacy, on Wave.