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The University of Hartford

By Sam Hatch

Dogs love the summertime, but Culture Dogs have their problems with the humidity. So I figure I might as well throw down my two cents on recent compact disc releases whilst I sweat myself silly. And if you suffer from the same solstice malaise, remember not to sweat directly onto the surface of your compact discs or they may not function properly. Roll on deodorant is not an acceptable cleaning solution either. So with that knowledge secured firmly in our brains, let’s get to it…

Radiohead – COM LAG (2plus2isfive) (Parlophone Japan)

Friends and family all know that I’m an oversized Radiohead freak, and they often make fun of the fact that it seems I’m buying a new release of theirs every three months or so. And they have a point, for these nice Oxford gents are quite the prolific songwriters. They’ve released six studio albums to date, but the amount of ancillary material released on singles over the years could easily double that number. In the case of their most recent release (Hail To The Thief), three songs from the disc have been released as singles, with a host of b-side material and remixes to go along with them. The good news is that the Japanese market has saved you the trouble of hunting down all five CD singles from Europe by collecting all of the bonus material (save one – a demo of ‘There There’ from disc one of the British 2+2=5 release) on one nicely done digipack release. The package is adorned with Japan-inspired Stanley Donwood pen drawings, with one artsy inner booklet attached to the inside front cover. The other booklet (loose inside the package) contains lyrics for all of the songs in English and plenty of other notes in Japanese. The back features a nifty looking map of the Caspian Sea and a drawing of an angry looking bear with ‘despot’ emblazoned across his chest. But I digress.

The one track only available here (as an official release at least) is a live version of ‘2+2=5’ recorded at Earl’s Court, London. That entire show is readily available through less official sources, and this track is a strange inclusion since it’s probably the most poorly mixed of the whole show. The low E string of the intro guitar line is extremely loud, thereby distorting the rhythm of the melody. Gripe. Gripe. Gripe.

The two remixes on the disc are Christian Vogel’s ‘Remyxomatosis’ and Four Tet’s version of Scatterbrain. Both feature relatively spare beats and the latter introduces some chaotic chimes and metallic clangs to the proceedings. Not quite a remix, but rather a different version of ‘I Will’ appears, this one labeled the ‘Los Angeles Version’. It’s less electronic than the original, and ambles along with a smooth, Norah Jones-ish style. Another alternate version is ‘Fog (again)’, a live version from a London studio session that presents a solo piano take of the song previously released as an Amnesiac b-side.

What everybody wants though, are the new songs. And there are five here. ‘Paperbag Writer’ (get it?) begins with tinny, funky drums in the left channel accompanied by bizarre, synthetic wave sounds on the right. The song builds from there as Thom Yorke’s disembodied voice floats around you and Colin Greenwood’s two note bass stings start appearing. ‘I Am A Wicked Child’ starts like Radiohead’s imagining of a 60’s garage band, and I could swear I heard a harmonica in the song. Though guitarist Johnny Greenwood is a tricky sot, so it could’ve been a guitar enhanced to sound like one. ‘I Am Citizen Insane’ builds a weird underwater sound over a looping melody until a beat reminiscent of Kid A’s ‘Idioteque’ kicks in to get your feet tapping. ‘Where Bluebirds Fly’ is an ambient techno groove that was heard as the band’s intro music during their recent stateside tours. ‘Gagging Order’ is a bit of an anomaly amidst a collection of more or less electronic musings. This track consists of a Dylan-esque acoustic guitar line and Yorke’s voice. Oddly reminiscent of the track ‘Lozenge of Love’ from their pre-The Bends EP ‘My Iron Lung’, this is a really good tune that lets us know that it’s safe to ‘Move along. There’s nothing left to see. Just a body.’

And on that ominous note, I’ll let you know that this Japanese release is definitely worth looking up if you’re a Radiohead fan. Newcomers should probably examine the studio releases first, but there’s some crackin’ good stuff here.

Another interesting recent release is Rasputina – Frustration Plantation (Instinct Records). Rasputina is/was a group of young ladies who like to rock out… on the cello. I caught them live with Bob Mould in the mid-nineties, and since then they’ve released a handful of studio albums and EPs, lead singer Melora Creager being the only member of the Ladies’ Cello Society to appear on them all. And once again her newest release sees all members of the last album Cabin Fever jettisoned in favor of new cellist Zoe Keating and the male drummer Jonathon TeBeest.

Rasputina’s sound has remained intact, with distorted rockers like ‘Possum of the Grotto’, ‘Saline the Salt Lake Queen’ and ‘If Your Kisses Can’t Hold the Man You Love’ which includes the brilliant advice “Neglected girls shouldn’t worry – that’s what God made sailors for!” Melora also explores her tendencies to create faux-historical musical essays with ‘My Captivity By Savages’, a reading of the diary of a young girl kidnapped by Indians. And forced to endure their advances, which she apparently does not mind after all. Other tunes include ‘The Mayor’, a slow, dreamy number, and how can you resist the wiles of a song entitled ‘Momma Was An Opium Smoker’? Early releases of the disc are housed in a doublewide digipack with a second CD containing remixes and alternate versions of the Plantation songs, and at least one outtake from the Cabin Fever sessions. Some may find the distorted cello rock on this disc an acquired taste, but I love it.

Another talented woman rocker is ex-Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur, and her first solo release Auf Der Maur (Capitol/EMI) is a pleasant surprise. Don't necessarily expect a new Courtney Love, since Melissa oftentimes sounds more like PJ Harvey, Kim Gordon and (specifically on the track ‘Head Unbound’) Siouxsie Sioux. If the instruments are mainly focused on rocking you at all times, the vocals tend to shift gears to a more melodic pop sensibility during most of the choruses. Hosts of worthy session musicians helps bring this project to life, and just about every member of Queens of the Stone Age appears at one point or another. Queens’s front man Josh Homme co writes three tracks with Melissa, and you can clearly hear his influence. ‘I’ll Be Anything You Want’ sounds like some of the weirder Queens material, and ‘I Need I Want I Will’ has Homme singing background vocals as Melissa delivers her own Rasputina-like story about people erecting a building dedicated to loud stereo sound. The Chris Goss/Homme penned piano ditty ‘Overpower Thee’ showcases Melissa’s voice at it’s best, almost reminiscent of a Portishead song. But if you want to rock the rest of the material will do you justice, with ‘Real A Lie’, ‘Followed The Waves’ and ‘Taste You’ being the standouts that come to mind. A bonus, French language version of the latter song lays buried at the end of track twelve.

And last but not least, we have the release that I have already deemed the BEST ROCK ALBUM OF THE YEAR! The Eagles of Death Metal – Peace Love Death Metal (AntAcidAudio) Once again we are forced to deal with one of my favorite bands,
the Queens of the Stone Age, and their many side projects. This time Queens’s leader Josh Homme has dropped his voice, guitar and name (here he’s billed as both “Baby Duck” and the brilliant moniker “Carlo Von Sexron”) in favor of a set of sloppily played drums. The star of the show here is Homme’s friend John Hughes (or J. Devil Huge), who has crafted a pile of magnificent garage rock anthems that will make you shake your moneymaker. I swear. The opening track ‘I Only Want You’ rocks too danged much, so if you’re listening to it in your car you may get a traffic ticket for the lead foot it will create. The rest of the numbers are relatively bluesy, especially the frightening ‘Midnight Creeper’. A cover of ‘Stuck in the Middle’ (retitled ‘Stuck in the Metal’) rears its head, surrounded by anthemic monstrosities that praise the devil, the wonders of whorehopping and the beatific land of San Bernardino. Not to mention the many moments of lyrical genius, like the song ‘Bad Dream Mama’ and its line “I Want to be your Monkey.”

If you’re expecting a death metal album, don’t. If you’re expecting garage rock ala The Strokes (ad infinitum), don’t. These guys aren’t trying to recreate a sound from the past. They’re just doing it naturally. If you’re expecting the best rock album of the year, go ahead and do it. And on that note, I’ll disappear back into the sediment only to arise and rock out anew. When that will be, who knows? But in the meantime, spin and enjoy!

Copyright©WWUH: September/OctoberProgram Guide, 2004

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