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November 6, 2007

CD Reviews 11-07

In Rainbows Radiohead (SELF-RELEASED)    Possibly a preview of the future for buying recordings: You go onto www.radiohead.com and are given a choice: Download the album’s tracks (which were made available as soon as possible) at low price, or pay more to wait for shipment of an audiophile-quality package with artwork and extra audio and video material. Radiohead went even one step further: Each listener decides how much to pay for the download. So here is one of rock’s most respected acts adopting a daring business model previously found only with indie bands with much less to lose. The music of In Rainbows could get lost in the business tumult. There are many strong melodies arranged with an ear-catching mix of lo- and hi-fi elements. But the set overemphasizes the dynamic percussion overdubs, unexpected angelic choirs and nimble-but-sketchy guitar duels. Particularly missing in action is another hard-edged tent pole to balance out “Bodysnatchers.” Still, singer Thom Yorke is in fine form — every circumstance pulling back a scab to reveal a refreshing new take on his ever-tortured soul. —T.E. Lyons Washington Square Serenade Steve Earle (NEW WEST)    This is a transition album, and that’s something to be grateful for. Earle, a quintessential musical rambler, can get creatively lackluster when nothing of note is up his ass. But right now there’re lots to drive him to productive tension. He compares bygone Nashville to new home New York (he lives on the street famously photo’d for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan). With producer/Dust Brother John King, he diddles with samples to mix up the rhythm (often one of Earle’s weak spots). He’s finding new levels of tuneful expression for his latest marriage (Allison Moorer is now the missus, thus brightening both harmony and songwriting collaboration). And of course, those pesky capitalist pigs will still fight or oppress anyone who might take away a lazy American’s job or gasoline. The former Mr. Guitar Town revels in how quality time in a Manhattan studio can yield extra oomph to put across some songs that don’t have quite enough of their own. But the opening kiss-off “Tennessee Blues,” playfully arranged “City of Immigrants” and both love songs are absolute aces. —T.E. Lyons Lose All Time You Say Party! We Say Die! (PAPER BAG)    You Say Party! We Say Die! continues their march to bring the ’80s back with their latest release Lose All Time. A fitting title considering they’d like you to forget the last two decades existed.     Although I’m vaguely reminded of Romeo Void while listening to this disc, those heartwarming, cherished memories aren’t enough to overcome the generic quality of this wear-your-neon-colors, dance-like-Molly-Ringwald, pretend-you’re-starring-in-“Valley-Girl” disc. The band takes a jarring leap into Cat Power territory on “Dancefloor Destroyer” and, honestly, I’m perplexed as to why they bothered. Good thing maybe, as it’s the best track.     You Say Party! We Say Die! also commits the unpardonable sin of having a 23-minute dissonant instrumental wankfest called “Quiet World” close out the album. I’m hard-pressed to find 175 words to describe how grating this record is, which is kind of sad considering my fondness for new wave and general affection for Canadians, but my apologies to Becky Krista, et al. You say party! I say bye. —L. Park Anonymous Tomahawk (IPECAC)    If you have followed Mike Patton’s journey from late-’80s backward-baseball cap-wearing, funk-rocking frontman for the never truly understood Faith No More on to Century 21 middle-aged, experimental, underground art screamturbator, then you’ve been witness to an ever surprising, uniquely inspiring voyage of risk-taking and discovery.     Tomahawk has existed, arguably, under the beer-belly shadow cast by Patton’s other heavy music supergroup, Fantomas. The latter, under Patton’s direction, has had more unique concepts. Tomahawk, led artistically by guitar ace Duane Denison (Hank III, The Jesus Lizard), has stood out as a (relatively) more subtle prog/jam/space project.     Anonymous bills itself as a collection of early 1900s songs from Native American tribes, found while researching their culture. Representative song titles include “Ghost Dance” and “Song of Victory.”     Most vocals are predictably wordless and/or screamed, at times chanted. When the vocals are understandable, as in the suggestive “Mescal Rite 2,” they seem inauthentic as native hymns. While respectful in general, the band often brings their fast and heavy rock sledgehammer to the ceremony, which might be misunderstood by teen boy fans as mockery. —Peter Berkowitz Tenebrae Mike Mangione (SELF-RELEASED)    Mangione is a blue-eyed, folk singer-songwriter from the Chicago area, and this 12-song collection is a wonderful set of heartfelt tunes with unmistakable soul. Mangione, who works alongside his brother Tom on most cuts, weaves a considerable amount of pain and introspection throughout Tenebrae. Comparable in some ways to Irish troubadour Damien Rice, Mangione’s acoustic songs resonate with a warmth and passion (and the violins and cellos don’t hurt, either). The flow here is gorgeous and measured, and the organic production works in his favor as well. Standout tracks, you ask? There’s the biting “It’s Me, Not You,” or the more upbeat “You Don’t Wanna Leave.” “Slowdown” is a romantic plea that will find favor with the ladies, and “Now That It’s Done: Won’t You Come Back?” is an even catchier tune full of lonely regret. And how about the relaxed “Mama, Be Not Afraid,” which ends the release on an appropriately anthemic note. These extraordinarily fine songs make Tenebrae a world-class album that will melt hearts everywhere. —Todd Zachritz Feel Good Music Basement Upstairs (DUBTAPE)Frankfort’s own Basement Upstairs releases their first, full-length player Feel Good Music, 20 tracks of club and street anthems (“In KY,” “Franktown,” “Go Stupid”), and self-professing to take hip-hop to the “next level.” Now, with 12-plus years of music industry experience behind me, most of it in hip-hop, I find it unbelievable that rap can consist of so many levels, as nearly every rapper refers to their creation as moving to this very same “next level.” Listening to Basement Upstairs, I picture that episode of “The Simpsons” with the elevator that goes nowhere, full of people riding to the top, only to fall back once they hit the apex. It’s not all disappointing. Emcee Phorensicz is the star of the group, and his solo shot “I’m-a Show You” shows him to be an agile lyricist. I look forward to a full-length. The production, acknowledging the budget considerations of DIY artists, is adequate, though I hope producer Hybrid can expand his palate. MPC’s (drum machines) are only as remarkable as the hands controlling them. —Damien McPherson