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June 2004
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RED Reviews
Two Racist Reviews:

The Cure
The Cure


Boom Bip
Corymb

Wilco
A Ghost is Born

Lilies
Arovane

Beastie Boys
To the 5 Boroughs

Junior Boys
Last Exit


'Fahrenheit 9/11'
Moore Puts the Heat on Bush

'Super-Size Me'
Weight-Gain Nightmare Makes for Disturbing 'Super Size' Treat

'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'
Cuaron Brings More Magic to Potter Series

The Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Makes History in the Sun

   
   
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RED Reviews
 
by Brent Sallay

A Ghost is Born
Wilco
Nonesuch

Unfortunately for me, Wilco has reached that ubiquitous place where the band’s releases can really no longer be reviewed. I mean this both in the sense that (1) Wilco is a big enough name that I can’t get away with my usual hokey, pun-addled review format, and (2) a review no longer even suffices—most of you have already heard the album and made up your minds; I’ve got to do a full-on critical analysis to spar with you people. But fortunately for you, I’ve been known to spar my way out of a bear fight. So here goes.

Above all, Wilco is good people. When A Ghost is Born leaked in March, did the band get all Metallica on us and go door to door punching grandmas in the face? No. In fact, the band has since made the album available in free streaming audio on wilcoworld.net, and rather than be concerned with making money off all the “evil downloaders,” Wilco has encouraged fans to donate to Doctors Without Borders—a band-selected charity—at justafan.org (and to huge success I might add).

And then there’s frontman Jeff Tweedy, with a voice like a trailer park angel, whose requisite rock-and-roll drug habit quota was met this year with just a measly addiction to migraine painkillers (I think you’re supposed to do those) and was kicked in a matter of months. Why, the boys from Wilco even offered to help me write this review if it would give me more time to spend with my wife and future kid, though I had to decline, citing conflict of interest and aversion to housework.

And then, of course, there is the album. Twelve tracks, all quite different from one another. How to account for them? Well, eight of them are lovely. Two are interminable. One is unfortunate. One is unforgivable. Though just which songs fit into which categories will vary according to the individual listener.

In many respects, Tweedy is at his lyrical peak. “Hummingbird” boasts some of his most tender lyrics to date (“Remember to remember me/ Standing still in your past/ Floating fast like a hummingbird”), but in the same song, when Tweedy says, “his goal in life was to be an echo,” it seems a bit more than telling of the album as a whole. Because in some ways, A Ghost is Born seems like a pale echo of its predecessor, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, my favorite album of 2002 and an admittedly impossible act to follow.

Both albums open with a conversational relationship song and then close with another one (if you don’t count the tacked-on “Late Greats”), followed by about ten minutes of ambient feedback. But in both cases, the Ghost is Born rendition comes off as far less ambitious.

Still, most of these songs are good enough to distract from any sense of catalogue scraping, or at the very least, good enough to overlook the album’s trickier spots.
brent@red-mag.com


Lilies
Arovane
City Centre Offices

Uwe Zahn’s last proper album as Arovane, 2000’s gorgeous Tides, was one of my favorite ambient/electronic releases of recent years. With a simple sonic palette that featured harpsichords and field sounds, it managed to perfectly encapsulate the passiveness, beauty, and sheer strength of the ocean. At least I’m assuming it did. I’ve only been to a beach, like, twice.

Another place I’ve never been to is Japan. Oh sure, I saw “Lost in Translation.” I saw “Kill Bill.” I even watched a few episodes of “Bansai!” last year before Fox cancelled it. But as I’m sure anyone who’s actually been there will tell me, what I don’t know about Japan could fill up Matsushima. Which is why I am comfortable stating that Lilies, Zahn’s love letter to Japan, perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being there. I mean, it’s like you’re right there. It’s uncanny.

Which is odd. Because evidently, being in Japan sounds a lot like being at the beach. You’ve still got your harpsichords and your cool trance drums going. You’ve still got your keyboard drones. But everything in Japan sounds a bit more manic. Indeed, the progression into darker themes and harder beats between these two Arovane albums is reminiscent of Boards of Canada’s transition from Music Has the Right to Children to Geogaddi. If nothing else, from listening to Lilies, I can tell it’s probably really hard to find a place in Japan to just relax and take a nap.

But if the music’s keeping you up, the least it can do is stay interesting. Which is where Lilies rises above your typical ambient release. Well, for the most part. In truth, the middle third of the album does tend to, well, middle a bit, lacking the bite of the first songs and the conviction of the last ones. But as a whole, for an album that aims to do little more than linger in the background, this is one that leaves much more of an impression than it should.
brent@red-mag.com


To the 5 Boroughs
Beastie Boys
Capitol

[Note: The following review has been written as if I were still in middle school back in the early 90's. So, um, Hello Nasty hadn't come out yet, but Bush was still president. Also, this album was transported back in time and delivered to me by (in order of preference): 1) Doc Brown, 2) Arnold Schwarzenegger (then only a lowly city councilman), and 3) that dude from Timecop.]
[Also, this is not a real review, though some of you may find it interesting as a cultural artifact. For a real review, please read Urb Magazine.]

First, let me clarify something. I like all types of music. In fact, I've been seriously thinking about starting a club. It'll be a music club where we listen to music of course, but we'll probably also do some sort of word problems too, you know, to enhance the listening experience. Some people like to do drugs to enhance the listening experience, but not us. That'll also be part of our club. I'm thinking of calling it D.A.R.E. to D.R.E.A.A.M. I think that first part says something about drugs, but the second part stands for Doing Rigorous Exercises And Also Music. Do you like that? I just thought of that right now. I'm not even getting paid to think that up. So I think it's pretty good. Do you want to join my club?

Anyway, as I was saying, we'll let people in who listen to all different types of music. Well most of them anyway. First off, no country. Because, well...I think that goes without saying. First off, I don't like the music. But also, when you're running a club, you have to keep in mind certain practical concerns, and frankly, cleaning up boot scuffs, chaw stains, and gallons upon gallons of horse manure off the ceilings and walls is an expense that D.A.R.E. to D.R.E.A.A.M. can do without.

Also, no rap music. I know this is a touchy subject, so I want to clarify here that I am not a racist. And I especially don't want to come off as some pasty old white pro-censorship senator-type guy who doesn't like rap music just because he's out of touch with what's actually “cool.” Look man, I grew up on the streets too. I just have different ways of dealing with it. Like I don't need to degrade women and promote drugs and violence to feel good about myself. I have my own ways of getting “high.”

BUT...I think To the 5 Boroughs should be allowed in our club for the following reasons: First of all, the Beastie Boys are pretty awesome. My friend Robbie got me into them in the 7th grade. My favorite songs are “Girls” and “Brass Monkey.” (That funky monkey--ha! Where do they come up with that?!)

Also, I've listened to it a few times and I think it sounds pretty cool. There's maybe a couple times where it sounds like the lyrics were written by a ninth grader, but from what I understand, ninth graders have a lot of stuff to deal with besides writing awesome lyrics and therefore they should be commended for their efforts. I know I'm not looking forward to all that responsibility.

But most importantly, I think we should listen to this album in our club because it is from the future and therefore we should study it and learn how we can be better people in the meantime. For one, it sounds like cheese is really important in the future, like maybe we've exhausted all of our natural resources by then and had to resort to dairy products. It's a shame what some people are willing to do to hurt our planet. I'll really miss the cheese.

In conclusion, To the 5 Boroughs certainly sounds a lot more futuristic than Paul's Boutique, but in a lot of ways it still sounds like the good 'ol Beastie Boys. And that is why Huckleberry Finn was the best book ever written about the South. Thank you for your time.


Last Exit
Junior Boys
Kin

[Note: This will just be a normal review. Sorry.]

Critic speak has got to be one of the easiest languages in the world. There's been enough landmark bands by now that most every new band can be described by a combination of any two of them (occasionally with another band placed in the denominator), or if a band has enough of the corporate machine behind it, it may even be described by just one band. Coldplay...sounds like Radiohead. Modest Mouse...sounds like Nirvana. It's like playing Pictionary but you're allowed to write words. Lame.

So what have other publications been comparing the Junior Boys debut full-length to? Here's just a sampling: New Order, the Neptunes, Talk Talk, Kompakt, Timbaland, Hall & Oates, the Orb, Depeche Mode, Throbbing Gristle, Underworld, OMD, My Bloody Valentine, Frank Sinatra, The Postal Service, The Notwist. (Okay, a few of those are mine--guess which ones and you may win a prize!)

The only problem with this sort of guerilla journalism is that every once in a very small while when someone truly great and unique comes along, the Band Comparisonator malfunctions and just randomly spits out band after band after non sequitur band.

What people think when they hear the Junior Boys is 1) that they like it very much, and 2) that it sounds very familiar, and yet they are at a loss to pinpoint where they have heard it before. And so, in an utter act of desperation, they spout off the names of a bunch of bands they love in lieu of a proper review. It's like going up to a really hot girl (or guy) and saying, “Wow, I couldn't help but notice you from across the...rrrbllluuuuh...Joy Division! The Beatles! Kraftwerk!” Pathetic.

Not that I'm any better. The only reason I've resorted to this type of a militant review is that I couldn't think of my own band combination first. And so I am bitter, and so I lash out against other critics--the same critics who turned me onto Junior Boys in the first place.

And yet, I am also decidedly unbitter, because I am listening to Junior Boys now even as we speak, or rather, even as I type, and quite possibly as you read this, though I do not pretend to listen to Last Exit 24 hours a day without ceasing. But that is besides the point. Just what do Junior Boys sound like? I personally think the New Order produced by the Neptunes comparison is most astute. But I think an even more important question is this: Who is going to be the next Junior Boys?

[Note: Due to overwhelming response, the contest regarding which band names Brent made up has closed. The names of all 500 contestants will be placed in a large hat, of which three will be selected for a chance to win a free music download. For those interested, the answer was, of course, all of them.]
brent@red-mag.com

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