And finally I decide upon a three-and-a-half rating instead of a four. You must understand, this has been an in-tense personal battle for me for the better part of a week. I’m sure you all have bigger, more pressing decisions racking your brains, like what not to wear, or whether or not you are a “hottie,” but as for me, well, this is the biggest thing I’ve got going right now.
See, I love Stereolab. Always have. And in many respects, this is one of the best albums the band’s put out yet. The band’s members have really refined their sound to something instantly recognizable (if not slightly self-derivative) and yet still fresh, new and entirely enjoyable.
In fact, unlike pretty much every other album in the band’s cata-log, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there isn’t a single bad song on Margerine Eclipse. That’s often the price that comes with experimentation—some things work wonderfully, others not so much. Every past Stereolab album has suffered from at least one track that would have been better left off on the cutting room floor.
Unfortunately, this strong side of the new album is also its downfall—this is the least experimental Stereolab album yet. And so, while the highs on Margerine Eclipse (“La Demeure,” “Marger-ine Melodie”) are still pretty impressive, they don’t come anywhere near “Suggestion Diabolique” from 2001’s Sound Dust or“Miss Mod-ular” from 1997’s Dots and Loops. Instead we’re left with Stereolab’s most average album, which, depending on your perspective, can be either a good or a bad thing.
If the purpose of a new album is to perfect a band’s sound and replace all prior output, then Margerine Eclipse is an undeniable success. If, however, each album in a band’s catalog is meant to rep-resent some unique, grand statement, then this pales somewhat in comparison to its loftier predecessors.
Basically, if you like Stereolab and already own all the rest of the band’s albums, then you have no reason not to add this to your col-lection. I’m sure you’ll be pleased with your purchase. But if you’re looking for a good introduction to the band, you’d be better served checking out Emperor Tomato Ketchup or Dots and Loops.
Pyramid Electric Co.
While I’m out on my limb here making all these outrageous claims, I might as well make just one more: Q: Does anyone in the currently burgeoning alt-country scene have a prettier voice than Songs: Ohia’s Jason Molina? A: No.
Though he’s got some tough competition in Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Palace Music, etc.), Damien Jurado, and (from Smog) Bill Callahan, for my money, it just doesn’t get any better than when Molina sings “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Oh wait, wrong movie.
But seriously folks, this is the real deal. And though it’s a bit of a departure from last year’s excellent Magnolia Electric Co., well, even that was a bit of a departure from Songs: Ohia’s prior work, and besides, if Molina’s about anything, he’s about moving on.
Granted, Pyramid Electric Co. was actually recorded in 2001 and is only now seeing release, but I think my statement still applies. And the great news for any one who grows bored easily of the guest numbers typical to Songs: Ohia albums is that this is entirely Molina’s affair. What instrumentation is included on the album, often limited to just one guitar or piano part, with some very subtle, haunting ambience to boot, is pushed way back in the mix to highlight Molina’s voice and that alone.
Actually, the most immediate precedents that come to mind here are some of the more minimal tracks from Cat Power’s You Are Free (one of RED’s favorite albums from last year). There are very few people (especially in the indie world) who could pull that off. But Molina does so, smoothly and compellingly. And yet, this is not just an easy chill-out record. The lyrics are confrontational (but not of-fensive) and heartfelt (but not whiny).
This is not an album that can be easily pegged or ignored in the background. This is music that defies you to stop what you are do-ing, relax and take in its stark beauty.
Method: Fail, Repeat…
The Kite-Eating Tree
Cowboy Versus Sailor and Suburban Home Records
The Kite-Eating Tree’s forthcoming (March 2004) full length release, Method: Fail, Repeat… is a solid, bass-driven offering from a band that prides itself on not relegating its musical narratives to tired and played adolescent issues.
In fact, there are really no songs to speak of on Method: Fail, Repeat… that are single-mindedly focused on a bad break-up or a misunderstood childhood or disingenuous thoughts—those topics that compose the majority of emo-core/post-hardcore CDs these days. The songs on the album deal rather with larger, more mature issues—ranging from the social commentary of tracks like “Hol-lywood Hates You” and “Lucifer Employed” to the ultra-personal “Save Your Stares for Strays,” which chronicles lead singer Michael Hunter’s experiences pushing his wife’s wheelchair.
Heavy stuff, and sometimes the band’s musical talents can even keep up with its auspiciously poetic lyricism. It really is refreshing to see a serious, intelligent album directed at a demographic of listeners who have been forced to endure mindless cookie-cutter variations from bands rooted in a similar genre. The steady and pervasive stylings of bassist Trent Steinbrugge do well to keep the listener anchored to the songs—in fact, Steinbrugge’s skills as a bassist might even be credited as the under-appreciated diamonds in what is otherwise a pretty rough album.
And the album is rough, no doubt. While Method: Fail, Repeat… is leaps and bounds ahead of many of other albums in terms of its heady subject matter, its musical diversity is somewhat nonex-istent. Take out Hunter’s edgy and well-crafted lyrics and what you’re basically left with is a sound not dissimilar from the noise any number of post punkers are making now.
Overall, the album is worth a listen, though certain tracks (Namely through the “Width of a Straw” and “Retrograde”) can be skipped over so other tracks (“Save Your Stares for Strays” and “Hope is a Passenger”) might be repeated. When The Kite-Eating Tree gets it right on Method: Fail, Repeat… they do so with vision and aplomb—when they get it wrong, they do so like everyone else.
Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf
Stones Throw Records
Don’t believe in life after death? On the 10-year anniversary of his death, Charizma’s first and only full-length finally sees the day of light. Sadly taken away from the game during a robbery, now is Charizma’s time to shine. Some might have picked up the two or three 12 inches that Stones Throw have put out, but I’m sure that for most of you, this is an introduction to the man they call Charizma.
Working with best friend and producer, Peanut Butter Wolf, who also runs Stones Throw, Big Shots was completed in 1993. Due to Charizma’s untimely death, the album was never released by their first record label. Although 10 years old, Big Shots by no means sounds that way. The beats are heavy, solid and jazzy, reminiscent of the Native Tounge era. Charizma’s flows sound like an excited young MC coming into his own, ready to rock the party.
Charizma touches on girls, AIDS, wack MCs, apple juice, and the future, shown on Livin’ Large. His similes stand up to those of any MCs, past or present (I put two hands together like 12 o’clock), but, overall, feeling slightly unfinished. Parts sound like they will be forever stuck in rough draft mode, not having a chance to be revised.
For those reminiscent of when hip hop was about having fun and rocking a party, or for those whose hip-hop history began with DR. Octagon, this album is well worth a listen. Solid production, clever rhymes, and apple juice, everything a hip-hop fan fiends for. Charizma R.I.P.