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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
"The Tour"

"Mr. Brubaker's Strawberry Alarm Clock"

August 3
Chocolate Genius, The Fieldstones, Dimtri from Paris

July 20
MC Lyte, Fastball, Marc Ribot

July 6
Amon Tobin, Pullman, Jesus and Mary Chain

June 16
Mark Shim, Brian Blade, RL Burnside

June 1
Jeff Buckley,
Massive Attack, Tricky, The Lounge Lizards

May 7
Eric Reed, Kim Lenz

April 21
Solex, Killah Priest

Mary J. Blige
"The Tour"

Despite 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 "

It’s 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.

Her newest 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 guessed it--“Cremation.”

Maslen is 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

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