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September 4, 2007

CD Reviews 9-05

All I See is GreenRuffside Playaz(RUFF SIDE PRODUCTIONS)In 1993, there was a group out of Flint, Mich., the land of MC Breed (and Michael Moore, but I don’t think they hung out much), called Top Authority. They released what became a hood classic called Somethin’ To Blaze To. In the early ’90s era of gangsta rap that showed the repercussions of gangsta activities (did you know there’s no such thing as an old drug dealer?), Top Authority stood out as a novelty of careless irresponsibility — (“ Pop Him” and the brilliant “ Ain’t Worth No Cash”). Being ignorant had never been so fun.    Fast forward to 2007, Jeffersonville’s Ruffside Playaz are not Top Authority. They do, however, share the same sense of careless irresponsibility as Flint’s finest. Songs like “Kiss the Sky” and “Don’t Ya” are club anthems straight outta 1995. The standard dope and pussy lyrics and never-ending high-hats, as well as the clichéd strip-club cartoon cover pain me. These guys are probably my age, and while I still enjoy occasionally going back to my childhood days of musical gangstaisms, I do so without trying to recreate it, especially in such watered-down, impotent tracks such as the ones on this sampler disc. —Damien McPhersonSpellsThe Comas(VAGRANT)Since 2004’s acclaimed album Conductor, The Comas have migrated from Chapel Hill to Brooklyn, Yep Roc Records to Vagrant and revised their lineup. All of this suggests frontman Andy Herod hopes Spells elevates the band to the status of, if not Modest Mouse, at least The New Pornographers.    To win our hearts, the band has crafted a power-pop pastiche of The Dandy Warhols, The Jesus & Mary Chain and Self, ably mimicking indie-mainstream rockers whose ranks it yearns to join. In fact, this mimicry is the album’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The first track, “Red Microphones,” is catchy, a little heavy and instantly likeable because it’s familiar. But when the band borrows from The Beatles twice in “Thistledown” — guitar riffs from “Hello Goodbye,” flute-y quarter notes of “Strawberry Fields Forever” — the familiarity is less charming. However, it’s obvious The Comas want us to love them, and to that end, they’ve created an enjoyable album that, if not original, is fun. —Andrea HuntA Tribute to Joni MitchellVarious Artists(NONESUCH)A well-compiled tribute to the music of Joni Mitchell is a welcome and necessary thing. To discuss her in full takes a book, or at least a well-lubed long night at a bar — issues of gender, race, nationality and psychology all become intertwined. This record merely hints at such themes but helps spotlight her influence on some surprising artists.    Bjork — a fellow icy Northern country oddball who also paints her songs outside of the lines of pop music — makes “The Boho Dance” her own. Cassandra Wilson, Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello demonstrate how much she freed them to also travel outside of their border genres. Brad Mehldau beautifully reminds the listener of her years spent playing with jazzbos. Caetano Veloso makes sense of the Afro-tribal drums that outpaced her in “Dreamland.” Prince takes “A Case of You” and proceeds to melt panties and make gay hearts flutter simultaneously. Sufjan Stevens misses his mark, but should at least give young hipsters a reason to examine her catalog. —Peter BerkowitzI Can’t Go On I’ll Go OnThe Broken West(MERGE)I’m not going to lie. When I got this CD in the mail, I was terrified that it was going to be some As I Lay Dying/Motion City Soundtrack emo crap. And, really, let’s be honest, this is a reasonable concern. The word “broken” is in their name. The record title voices doubt at to whether the band can continue to live. I was very reasonable in my assessment.    Fortunately, it turns out that The Broken West is anything but. They’re a cheerful indie-pop outfit from Los Angeles, and they’ve produced a very accessible record of fun songs that you’ll like listening to. This is not music to slit your wrists to. This is music to listen to in a top-down convertible when it is very sunny but not hot (you can’t, in good conscience, complain about anything while I Can’t Go On I’ll Go On is on). Frankly, it borders on too happy at times. Every time it flirts with that line, though, it pulls back. The Broken West is always sweet, but never saccharine.     The only real complaint one might have about The Broken West is that all the songs sound about the same, but that might be the point of the album. When you’re driving down the highway, wind in your hair, you don’t really want a mournful ballad tossed into the middle of your vacation soundtrack. You just want tambourines and major keys, and that’s what I Can’t Go On I’ll Go On is going to give you. —Kirsten Schofielda CHILD but in life yet a DOCTOR in loveMagic Bullets(WORDS ON MUSIC)The debut from these San Francisco punks-gone-indie is a sly collision of jerky new-wavey vocals (think David Byrne or that guy from Dexy’s Midnight Runners, maybe ... gone lounge!) and melodic indie pop in the upbeat guitar-interplay vein of the Feelies or Yo La Tengo.    “Heatstroke” is my favorite — with a resolutely Krautrock-type metronomic drum/farfisa groove, guitar drones and the enigmatic, twisting vocals of Phil Benson. I must confess that the neurotic, semi-shrill vocals are kind of hard to stomach in spots, but they do lend a distinctive angle to Magic Bullets' refreshingly energetic sound. “Short Circuit” states its business in little more than a minute but works well as a kind of tone-poetry (and effectively makes for a nice mid-album break). “Tender Throes” is another track that is shimmery and summer-sunny amidst a world of affected, manufactured angst. The final track, “Spent Nights,” is yet another highlight, providing a sense of positive introspection and closure. If you’re seeking an indie rock experience that stands outside of genre boundaries, and is cool by way of being uncool, then may I introduce Magic Bullets. —Todd Zachritz