|April 21, 1998|
|by Lissa Townsend Rodgers and D.X. Barton|
"Solex vs. the Hitmeister" (Matador)
I hate one-person "bands." I hate sampling. I hate machine music. Then why do I love Solex, which consists of a lone Dutch woman (Elisabeth Esselink) sampling a bunch of secondhand records and squeezing them through machines? What's the explanation? Actually, there are two: rough edges and space. Most stuff of the technology-driven genre is so smooth you can't grab onto it and so impersonal you don't want to. Solex is all rough edges--perhaps because it's recorded "at home." And rather than offer up a synthetic approximation of real instruments, it twists real instruments into approximations. The bouncy, angular "Waking Up With Solex" is powered by a piston-driven hook that could pass for either a looped buzzbomb guitar, epileptic sleigh bells, or a dying tape machine. There's space on this record--there aren't 48 or 72 or 96 tracks crammed into every song. There's room for beats to bang together, cymbals to bump into tambourines, a bassline to get a good running start. The vaguely reggae guitar shuffle lurking behind the synth twinkle and childlike recitation of "Solex for a While" can suddenly kick out front and center; the Indian horn on "One Louder Solex" can curl through the song like smoke in a coffeeshop.
Esselink's voice is a blend of Bjork, Astrud Gilberto, and that girl (Harriet Wheeler) from the Sundays. But, unlike the usual wispy-voiced lass fronting an effects board, she is unafraid to distort her voice--synthetically or naturally--by speaking or by shrieking. Her lyrics tend to be snapshots of the prosaic ("I can't feel my leg/I got a snag in my best tights") and she breaks up phrases, strings together disparate bits of the same picture, rendering them with utter disregard for their meaning. I suppose part of what makes Solex different is those shifted perspectives: sounds bent into new shapes, then turned around again, and lyrics tilted to highlight what would initially seem unimportant. Their music doesn’t sound like anything else. Which, I suppose, is the real reason I love Solex.--Lissa Townsend Rodgers
The millenium approaches, and you know what that means: pronunciations of doom, prophecies of final days, predictions of the apocalypse, blah, blah, blah.... As if the Ultimate Being isn't clever enough to end the world when nobody sees it coming. Then again, with middle-school massacres in Arkansas, "Titanic" winning 11 Oscars, and Giuliani trying to stop people from jaywalking, perhaps this is a good time to bring down the final curtain.
Into this turbulent milieu comes "Heavy Mental," the first solo album from Wu-Tang associate Killah Priest. The Rev. Priest, who had some crisp lines on GZA's "Liquid Swords" and Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Return to the 36 Chambers," is a self-styled hip-hop prophet, dropping religion and the fear of God on all of us unbelievers.Throwing down more biblical references than Billy Graham on a roll, Priest, like so many sermonizers before him, decries the excess of our times and warns us to repent. But, since he's a hip-hop prophet, he's not too busy predicting the apocalypse to dis other rappers or to heap laurels upon his own rhymes. "I write shit sick as Shakespeare trippin' on acid/Roll you like John the Baptist with a rusty hatchet," he pronounces at one point.
But much of "Heavy Mental" doesn't support his claims of deity-like supremacy. Sure, it's a decent rap album; there are quite a few points where it's got the mad flow and the boom-bap; take, for example, "One Step," which gets the disc off to a bouncy start with a smooth guest vocal by ghetto diva Tekitha. The real highlight, however, is "Cross My Heart," where GZA and Inspectah Deck raise the material to a new level of awareness, lifting the background to rank with the sermonizing. But let's face it, any 74-minute program of music is going to have some slow points, and "HeavyMental" has quite a few. If you've sworn loyalty to the Wu and must own every CD put out by everyone who's ever drank a 40 with them on Staten Island, by all means, help yourself. Others may decide to take a pass. Don't worry, God will forgive you.--D.X. Barton