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Music Reviews & Other Fun Stuff
by Alan St. Laurent & Kevin O'Toole

Lightning Bolt - Hypermagic Mountain Load Records ~ by Alan St. Laurent
  A drummer, a bass player, and the most vicious yet animated rock racket EVER! These two guys hail from Providence, Rhode Island and have been taking their self-made mayhem all over the globe for quite a few years now. Those that have grabbed hold and taken the ride know that this new album by them is MUCHLY anticipated.
  Lightning Bolt's last album Wonderful Rainbow released in 2003 was the best new rock since Sonic Youth's Bad Moon Rising wove aural soundscapes unheard by human ears in 1985. Both releases had the "WHOAH" effect in the sense that there was just nothing like them before! Now the pressure is on for Lightning Bolt to eclipse Wonderful Rainbow and take their sound to the next level. Mission accomplished!
  Hypermagic Mountain
is so goddamn far out I don't even know where to begin. These guys are not just bashing it out anymore. There's some kind of harmonic craziness going on here and you wonder how Brian Gibson can make his bass guitar do these things! There is no electronic manipulation going on here. It's pure bass guitar and drums. Go figure!
  Brian Chippendale seems to get more limber with each release and LIVE gig that I've seen them perform. His drumming is so inhumanly accurate and fast that there's no need to see it! It's all a blur. On Hypermagic Mountain he takes the percussion up, up, up and into hyperspace where there's no time to consider how these two invented this craziness. The music just careens and cavorts with an intelligence and spontaneity you will NOT believe! One idea leads to another and another then backlashes and spins off in another direction. It's dangerous! It's violent! It's fun! You've just never heard anything like this.
See loadrecords.com and laserbeast.com.

Acid Mothers Temple & The Cosmic Inferno - IAO Chant From The Cosmic Inferno - Ace Fu Records ~ by Alan St. Laurent
  OH NO! Not another Acid Mothers Temple release! Well, this one's truly worth writing about. Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO is no more in case you haven't heard. Kawabata Makoto felt it was time to bury that incarnation of the band and move on to a newer more hellish version of this Japanese psych outfit. They're about to tour the U.S. for the month of October and already have 4 new albums and one more on the way. Three fifths of the band are new under the Cosmic Inferno name but the sound isn't all that much different from the Melting Paraiso UFO. Different enough to keep you interested however.

  IAO Chant From The Cosmic Inferno is the newest release on Ace Fu records out of New York City. One track clocking in at about 55 minutes and mostly a cover of Gong's "Master Builder" at that! This one doesn't just freak out with repetitive electronic blips and bleeps and psych guitar for an eternity that goes nowhere. IAO Chant… starts with Gong's "Master Builder" riff and sails. Eventually the track morphs ever so slightly into a plinking and plunking on the guitar end rather than an all out blurred psych swirl. This moves into a more ethereal and quiet space for a while after that.

  Bass guitar moves in after a few minutes and the track starts to lazily move into a bluesy psych swirl that's a little more free form but not much. The loud noisy psych these guys are known for starts to creep in just a little which then gives way to a chorus of chanting monk-like voices and we're soon back where we started with Gong's "Master Builder" riff.

  This disc pretty much covers all the ground you can cover where psych is concerned. Kawabata Makoto may have made the right move with this lineup. Although they tend to extend themselves a bit too far with the sheer number of albums they put out, this disc isn't one of the potholes to be avoided. If you love extended psych drones, Acid Mothers Temple is the place to be! The Melting Paraiso UFO may be dead but the Cosmic Inferno is just beginning! Catch them at Bar in New Haven toward the end of October. See acidmothers.com

Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine - Epic/Clean Slate ~ by Kevin O'Toole
  The situation that led to Fiona Apple's third album arriving after a six year gap looked, in some ways similar to Wilco's ledgendary problems with getting their classic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot released. On the surface anyway…
  You see, according to recent reports and interviews in Rolling Stone and on MTV, Ms. Apple confessed that the reason her follow up to her November 1999 release (with the 90 word title; I'll spare you), was that she quit, basically. After working slowly on that follow up with producer Jon Brion (who has also worked with Brad Mehldau and Beck, and produced the excellent score to the wonderful film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), she began to run into funding conflicts on the project with Sony, culminating with Sony's demand that she turn over each individual track as it was completed for evaluation and notes. Apple balked at this and simply walked.
  Ah, but in the wake of this decision, a group of rabid fans desparate for the next CD, actually began the so-called "Free Fiona" campaign, and even protested in front of Sony headquarters. Apple, meanwhile, seemed happy to not do anything, until this campaign came to her attention. She was, as she asserts, so moved by people's devotion to fight on her behalf with Sony (though she insists they misunderstood her disagreement with her label), she decided to return to work and start with the same material afresh.

  In another seeming similarity to Wilco's story, Apple's album seems merely to have jumped from one corporate organ of Sony to another (from Work label to Epic, like with Wilco's jump from Reprise to Nonesuch.
  This time, she employed Mike Elizondo as a producer, which, it would seem, would be a distinct change up from Jon Brion's exquisite chamber-pop styling. Elizondo, after all, is more known for work with Dr. Dre, Xzibit and Christian Aguilera. Though Brion still remains a major presence on the new CD, the change would surely mean a move further toward pop and away from the soulful vocals present on her first two albums, wouldn't it?
  Apple fans need not worry. Extraordinary Machine (****1/2, Epic/ Clean Slate) marks a further development of Apple's voice as a songwriter and a performer. The hints of a sense of humor behind her bad girl posing on tunes like "Criminal," have matured, musically and lyrically, and she has lost none of her power to deliver powerful vocal melodies and energetic, powerful piano playing. The amazing thing before was that she was belting out all this deeply emotional and powerful music at age 17. Given the burnout tendencies for artists working this long in the business, it's just as amazing that she can bring her more mature 28-year old emotional perspectives to bear now, confirming what fans have long suspected about this notoriously unprolific artist: she displays a depth of heart and wit rarely seen by any artist at any age. She just has a few years on Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Have they aged so well as artists, having put out a few more albums than Apple?
  That answer, by the way, is "No."
  The title track opens the album. It's a tune about empowerment (a seeming constant in Apple's work, though one might understand why given her back story), set to a loping Jon Brion orchestral arrangement. The "Machine" she's singing about is herself, and the tune recalls both Annie Ross and Tom Waits.
  On Get Him Back, she finds herself swearing revenge upon previous romantic disappointments and betrayals, and then dealing with the adjustment to a man who treats her right (she intones "I think he let me down, when he didn't disappoint me"). The music is a welcome uptempo gloss on such pieces as "Shadowboxer" from her debut album Tidal. ?uestlove from The Roots offers a powerful rhythmic backbone.
  In Apple's world, pain and happiness travel in uncomfortable proximity to each other. "Better Version of Me" is Apple grappling with her self destructive nature ("I don't want a home, I'd ruin that/ Home is where my habits have a habitat" she wryly acknowledges, as she promises she is trying to recreate herself. That song is followed by "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)," where she wonders aloud whether she's is love or mentally ill after a brief intimate encounter. The production is layered with mellotron, chamberlain, vibes and optigan (a sort of low-rent mellotron), and dabbles in marxophone, a sort of hammered dulcimer variant, played (mostly) by Zac Rae.
  It's just Fiona and the piano on the next track. "Parting Gift" is part tender ("I opened my eyes while you were kissing me, once/ more than once") and sardonic (as she compares her lover's look to that of a dog "when it's the food on (its') lips, with which it's in love," and declares loudly "Oh you stupid silly pastime of mine"). And just when you might imagine a tune like Johnny Rotten's "No Feelings," she confesses an attatchment, with some regrets ("all the signs/ said 'stop'- but we went on whole hearted/ it ended bad, but I love what we started.").
  Apple also seems to get into trouble when dealing with emotional attachments and detatchments. On "Window", she tells of a painful break-up, where the pain was warping her perspectives ("It wasn't the outside world I could see/ just the filthy pane that I was looking through"). She decides that even when the "window" seems "clean", "it's so clear/ I can't tell what I'm looking through." In the chorus, she decides to break that "window" to keep from heading down a path of greater destruction, of herself and others close to her.
  "Please Please Please" finds her struggling with the temptation for artists to remain in a form of stasis. For as many of those that grow itchy at Apple's (or anyone's) self-confessional, seemingly self-absorbed storytelling style, there are as many absorbed into it and hoping for more of the same. It's probably the latter folks she's talking to when she sings "me and everybody's on the sad, same team/ and you can hear our sad brains screaming: "Give us something familiar… that will keep us steady… steady going nowhere."
  "Not About Love", the album's penultimate track, again has her struggling with the politics of love. She moans "It doesn't seem fair/ I should fall for the kingcraft of a meritless crown/ It doesn't seem right/ to take information/ given at close range/ for the gag/ and the bind/ and the ammunition round." Then, as she and the spare band launch into a faster and more raucous middle section, she trills "I miss that stupid ache." Reasserting herself, she insists "This is not about love/ because I am not in love/ In fact I can't stop falling out."
  The album ends with a breezily orchestrated "Waltz (Better than Fine)." It also features jazz waltz brush work from old hand Jim Keltner (who has worked with a legendary who's who of rock over his 25 year-plus career) and Benmont Tench on organ (who has likewise worked with greats, including Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Elvis Costello).
  I suppose the strongest critique I can offer of her work is the Stanley Kubrickian lengths of time it takes her to create it. Is it worth the wait? Yes. Can we stand another six year wait between albums? More importantly, can any music career survive such a wait? I hope for more, and I hope for some longevity for Apple.
  And what did Fiona Apple spend her time doing between recording this album with Jon Brion and re-recording it with Mike Elizondo? What was Fiona Apple doing when she "quit" for a time?
  According to her MTV interview, she spent her time hanging out in a bathrobe and slippers watching Columbo. So that's it. That's her secret. Never underestimate the inspirational powers of Peter Falk. Hey, Wim Wenders knew it…

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CULTURE DOGS CORNER By Kevin O'Toole
Be sure and listen to Sam Hatch and I on CULTURE DOGS every Sunday night, your weekly video and movie news and review program from eight to nine on U-H Radio for the latest on how to survive your summer on home video and out at the movies! See you on the radio!

WWUH: November / December Program Guide 2005 ©

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