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RED Reviews
 
 

By Jamie Gadette, Eryn Green and Luciano Marzulli Vargas

 
 
 

Paper Monsters
Dave Gahan
Reprise Records
(out of 5)


Like so many other popular musicians, Dave Gahan has been to hell and back. The Depeche Mode frontman has been exposed at his worst, captured in the grasp of an ever-present limelight.


Note the infamous photo following a near-fatal overdose with the rocker’s head pressed against the rear window of a cop car—nose caked in blood. Gahan overcame heroin and returned to the studio to work on his solo material. The resulting debut album reinforces the notion that intense suffering inspires painfully beautiful art.


Gahan’s vocals gave Depeche Mode a much-needed depth typically absent in other synth pop bands. That same haunting baritone is what drives Paper Monsters to astonishing heights. However, ascension originates in the murky depths of a troubled psyche. This is not a jovial celebration of endurance, but rather a somber reflection on a life that vainly cheated death. “I won’t always be around/ So call before you drown,” Gahan warns on “Bottle Living.”


The song reeks with disgust over one’s past, a tone that also drives opening track, “Dirty Sticky Floors.” There is an overwhelming sense of reverence permeating the album, binding each element into a gracious whole. On “Stay,” Gahan gently begs a lover not to go, terrified of losing the light guiding him through an abyss. The appreciation is more explicit on “Hold On,” as he expresses a somewhat unexpected acceptance: “You keep giving me all these things, I think I’ll stay awhile.”


Gahan never asked for any pity. He didn’t run from his problems, and for that, he deserves a little respect. But it is the music he’s created that pays testimony to his resiliency. Paper Monsters is more than just a pleasure for the senses—it is a soothing balm for any soul that has ever danced with destruction.—JG


 

Straight From The Crates Vol 1.
National Vinyl Association
Avatar Records
(out of 5)


The title to the recently released Avatar Records hip hop compilation is an obvious play on NWA’s Straight Outta Compton album, but while NWA will be remembered as the group that defined West Coast gangsta rap, this compilation will have a lesser influence on the course of music history.


The pitch behind the album is that all the tracks are singles previously released on vinyl only. So the CD offers the turntable illiterate a dose of underground hip hop otherwise out of reach.


The album is worth going to your local record store just to hear “Hard Times,” the best musical and lyrical track on the album, a collaboration between The Pharcyde, Charli 2Na and Akil of Jurassic 5. Besides the laid-back electric key vibe that backs the track, the lyricists score major points for their innovation on the mic.


Rakka and Babu of Dilated Peoples deliver a solid opener with “Speakin’ The Truth.” Slum Village’s “Da Villa” stands out as another monster track on the compilation. The intricate beats match the intelligent rhymes and the syncopation sounds great.


Mos Def’s “Workin’ It Out” is a weak example of the master MC’s capabilities on the mic, but its interesting beats save the track. Rass Kas featuring Scipio’s “Verbal Murder” demonstrates a strong sense of rhyme, but the beats lack luster and the chorus bites a line off of Blackalicious’s “Shallow Days.”


Despite the album’s underground mystique, the tracks get tired as the album progresses with too few diamonds in the rough to shine through. —LMV


 

Shadows On The Sun
Brother Ali
Rhymesayers Entertainment
(out of 5)


Brother Ali’s follow up to his cassette-only 2000 debut Rites of Passage solidifies the MC’s storytelling abilities. In the opening track “Room With A View,” Ali declares himself a “modern urban Norman Rockwell,” a true statement considering his ability to paint verbal pictures about his reality with a wide array of words on his palette. There’s also a somewhat decent DJ to set the groove and match the tone of his themes.


Ali’s cunning on the mic is what brings strength to the album, but DJ Ant needs to learn how to change the record  now and again because listeners shouldn’t be forced to listen to a 10-second tape loop for four minutes straight with no hooks, a capella sections or changes in the beat, bass or anything else. The prime examples of this are on “Blah Blah Blah,” “Forest Whitaker” and the title track. The rhymes demonstrate intelligence and wit on behalf of the MC, but the beat stays the same, slowly driving the listener insane.


“Star Quality” samples a snippet of an early Funkadelic tune so you know that the DJ has done his/her homework but just hasn’t applied the proper DJ skills (acquired in DJ school).


On “Soul Whisper,” Ali does a couple verses in what sounds like Arabic, which is something that would be cool to explore more, but this album doesn’t.


Brother Ali is another fresh voice among the underground and has already toured with contemporary greats like Mos Def, El P and De La Soul among others. He offers some decent social commentary as well as some good old shit-talking, which at times seems to go overboard, but all in all it’s a good effort for a sophomore release in the underground.


Aside from Brother Ali’s skills on the mic, he doesn’t appear to try and portray himself as anything he is not. The album and the lyrics are honest and straightforward, which is the best thing that a rapper can do to have staying power with true fans of the medium.—LMV


 

Bang
green rode shotgun
8 ohm Records
(out of 5)


Bang is gooey bubblegum on a hot side walk getting stuck to the shoe that is rock and roll, relentlessly clinging while  the shoe owner’s attempt to discard the unwanted attachment is to no avail. OK, maybe that’s going overboard, but there is definitely a little bit of bubblegum stuck on the soles of avant-rockers green rode shotgun, along with some pop and a plethora of energy.


Comprised of Jason T. Johnson (vocals), David Henderson (six and 12-string guitars/vocals), Shea Callahan (six-string guitar), John Lane (bass/vocals) and Don Sergio (percussion/harmonica/vocals) the band creates a sound that’s oddly nostalgic.


“My Will,” is one of the more rockin’ tunes, featuring a fast paced guitar solo towards the end. Some of the songs have an air of modern day hippiedom in the backing vocals or through the drum circle-style interlude in “Nothing Is Good Enough.”


The band has an up-front sound in which all the instruments and vocals are clearly audible and some what in your face.


One of the band’s strengths is that it knows how to put breaks in the music to keep it interesting for four or five minutes instead of just playing the same monotonous line or series of lines over and over. The high energy playing also works in the band’s favor. Some songs sound like they have an angst-like quality, but just don’t quite have the edge on them to qualify in the angry category. They come across as more whiny than anything else.


Overall, the sound produced by green rode shotgun on Bang is pretty catchy, and easy to access, and in less than 45 minutes, the band delivers an 11-track dose of their sound.—LMV


 

Everything Must Go
Steely Dan
Reprise Records
(out of 5)


The black background of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s newest album as Steely Dan, Everything Must Go, holds—I am convinced—a secret, subliminal message, reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.


The seemingly random yellow letters that are sprinkled throughout the predominantly light blue text on the cover and inside packaging, when placed next to each other without spaces, read ‘steelyhsohslliiicockaaegreenxunhso.’


Er…well, there goes that theory. But I don’t get paid to pontificate.


Following in the wake of their 2000 Grammy-winning record, Two Against Nature, Everything Must Go has some lofty expectations to live up to.


The band—which was reportedly named after a vibrator in William Burroughs' novel, "Naked Lunch"—released its first record in 1972 and has been putting out its own brand of culturally aware pop/jazz fusion ever since.


And to the duo’s credit, despite the fact that the CD is short (nine tracks), Everything Must Go is a fine album that will not disappoint fans of the band’s earlier work. Present are the suave guitar licks and the sophisticated lyrics for which Fagen and Becker are famous.


Songs about misguided modern consumerism ("The Last Mall") precede songs about love and loss ("Things I Miss the Most"). Some of the most clever lyrics critiquing pop culture surface on “Pixaleen,” as Fagen croons about a Shaft-esque female: “Your pager starts to throb/ It’s your as-if boyfriend Randall/ Better keep it real—or whatever.”


Becker, the usually quieter Dan, lays some intense, sexually charged vocals, contributing to the record’s overall smooth and passionate vibe.


Best advice: Sit down with a lovely lady, sip some merlot, put this record on—give Barry White a rest for once, champ—and, uh, listen.—EG