|August 15, 1998
by Lissa Townsend Rodgers and Anicee Gaddis |
"Around the Fur"
I probably have the world's most tolerant neighbors, but I'm pretty sure they hate both me and "Around the Fur" by now. They don't really make many records like this these days, records that channel a sort of violent intensity into deafening cathartic glory. God knows they're necessary, and not just for those who aren't old enough to vote.
The Deftones filled that empty place on my turntable right
from the opening track. "My Own Summer (Shove It)" kicks
off with a repetitive, behemoth-sized guitar buzz behind
half-whispered vocals. Then all sonic hell breaks loose
over maniacal screams of "Shove it! Shove it!" Each time
the soft-loud contrast is played out, the subdued parts
grow even quieter--no guitar anymore, just bass riffing--and
the chorus accelerates, steadily louder and more crazed
over ever-multiplying six strings.
The Deftones may bring to mind the Bad Brains, initially
because of the vocals--the wailing chorus of "Lotion" is
as close to HR as you can get without the dreadlocked howling
servant of Jah himself actually being on the mic. But the
real resemblance is in the Deftones' rhythm section, which
puts V-8 power behind the chaos and gives it a solid wall
to fall back on. These guys are relentless, driving, and
tighter than Celine Dion's asshole. They also conjure up
old Soundgarden in the sheer walls of black sound and the
presence of a standout lead singer--Chino Moreno's wail
isn't as ear-piercing as Chris Cornell's, but it's just
as clear, and he has a throat-tearing, bloodcurdling screech
that nobody else does.
His best moment comes in "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away),"
a song that sticks in your head like some unforgivable offense.
The crooning vocals and heavily melodic guitars hypnotize
at the outset, breaking into almost-soothing, shimmering
bridges before the chorus kicks in and knocks you to the
ground. Moreno repeatedly shrieks, "I don't care where--just
far," like a man running from something he can't even name,
much less escape. It's the sort of irrational, electroshocked
lunatic/wounded animal pain that everyone's felt at some
point, but damn few possess both the vocal chords and the
balls to transmit.
Not that "Around the Fur" is one overwhelming, exhausting
sonic attack upon eardrums and sanity--there ain't no acoustic
ballads, but there is variety. "Masacra" is a comparatvely
stripped down slow burn. "Headup" slams out Cali-rap thrash
while "Rickets" is a great speed-metal ass-kicking, with
low-end guitars and a Danzig-ish growl circling like vultures
before diving in for the eye-gouging kill--perhaps the greatest
mosh pit tune in years. "Around the Fur" is a good album
to have in your collection--and not just when you're angry
or driving fast. It's pretty good for cleaning the house,
too. --Lissa Townsend Rodgers
"Around the Fur"
Mary J. Blige
"Mr. Brubaker's Strawberry Alarm Clock"
Chocolate Genius, The Fieldstones, Dimtri from Paris
MC Lyte, Fastball, Marc Ribot
Amon Tobin, Pullman, Jesus and Mary Chain
Mark Shim, Brian Blade, RL Burnside
Massive Attack, Tricky, The Lounge Lizards
Eric Reed, Kim Lenz
Solex, Killah Priest
| Mary J. Blige
the rather canned-sounding backgrounds, the generic backup
singers, and the wack MC who comes bouncing out every few
minutes to shout "say what" or "wave your hands from side
to side," and despite her own ragged edges and missed notes,
Mary J. Blige shines through "The Tour" in all her imperial
majesty. The best hope for what remains of the soul singer
tradition takes us on the "regular routine journey" through
hits off her three albums in classic nonstop R&B revue fashion.
The material still isn't quite worthy of her and the music
can get a bit trite, but Mary J. is one of the few remaining
singers who has the magical ability to let her life experince
shine through her vocal cords and posesses the sort of authority
that uplifts banal material and demands you sit up and pay
attention--even on record.
"The Tour" will make you wish you'd made it to one of
her sold-out shows, because Miss Blige clearly gives her
all and then some for 70-plus minutes--her hoarse shout
of "Where's my fu$%in' water?!" on this disc is already
legendary. Sometimes her voice does break down, often when
she's riffing over her backing chorus, but sometimes the
rough edge is welcome: when her voice goes ragged on the
he-left-me-and-good-riddance epic "Not Gon' Cry," she lets
it break into an old-school blues shout. Oddly, it's at
show's end that she delivers her smoothest performances--a
honeyed, soothing version of Aretha Franklin's "Daydreaming"
and a gospel-flavored rendition of "Misty Blue" that would
make Ree proud.
The enormous banks of synths and trite bass noodling are
somewhat annoying--an approach that works for the old-school
R&B numbers from her first album, such as "Sweet Thing"
(originally by Chaka Khan) and "Mary Jane" (based on the
Mary Jane Girls' "In My House"). It's also appropriate for
"I'm Goin' Down," where Mary croons smoothly over minimal
raindrop-like backing during the verses; when the entire
band threatens to drown her out during the chorus, she sounds
ragged and desperate at first, but gradually rises above
them with the sort of towering agony that you thought no
one could pull out anymore--by the end they've all backed
off and Mary goes into a phenomenal round of vamping glissandoes.
Given Mary's tendency to scat and the way she sings on the
beat, this record can't help but make you wish to hear her
with a smaller, less electrified soul combo or maybe a jazz
band. But, given that Mary J. Blige seems to be one of the
few musicians that you know will still be making records
and drawing crowds in twenty years, I have a feeling she'll
get to it. --Lissa Townsend Rodgers
"Mr. Brubaker’s Strawberry Alarm Clock "
hard to tell whether Riz Maslen--who goes by the aliases
Neotropic and Small Fish with Spine--is a B-girl just hanging
out, or a smart girl using the B-Boy's tools. The half-Burmese,
English West country native has been the only female on
Ninja Tune’s electronic label N-Tone since 1996; she handles
a turntable as well if not better than her fellow Ninja
men, and her last album, "15 Levels of Magnification," drew
wide praise. Beyond that, she’s a bit of an enigma. Maslen
is a talented electronic musician with a cinematic imagination;
or if the multi-faceted music she makes reflects her own
personality, she has many sides . . . dark, subversive,
sensual, humorous. Her instruments are a sequencer, a sampler,
and occasionally an FX unit, although she has something
of a reputation for improvising--with everything from a
fax machine to filtered Moog swells.
album, "Mr. Brubaker’s Strawberry Alarm Clock," album, takes
up where "Magnification" left off. Just as "Magnification"
seemed to be a study of Maslen’s own paranoid dreams, "Alarm
Clock" feels like a recording of a fictional everyman’s
nightmarish run of consciousness. Each song reflects a mood,
a mindset, a moment in the alleged “Mr. Brubaker’s” day.
We hear him interacting with an urban environment in the
opening title track and we witness his observations and
realizations through reversed, distorted, and generally
insightfully interpreted loops. The single “Ultra Freaky
Orange” sounds just like its name--ultra funky (there’s
that electric organ) and laced with psychedelia. “Insane
Moon” has haunting Nina Simone-like vocals over hardish
syncopated beats. “Beached” is the most complex, with ethereal
Vienna Boys Choir-like vocals echoing over erratic sine
waves mimicking his subconscious thoughts (Mr. Brubaker
in the REM sleep state?). “Sideshow Man” is Brubaker’s moment
of epiphany, followed by “Vent,” and the last track is--you
quite simply an extremely innovative musician who would
do well to hook up with an similarly innovative filmmaker--she
seems to be moving in that direction. Only who would be
a likely choice? --Anicee Gaddis