January 25, 1999
CitySearch Music  
by Tanya L. Edwards and Lissa Townsend Rodgers
  april march April March
"Chrominance Decoder"
(Ideal Records)

Los Angeles-based April March has said she was "born on a planet exactly like this one, except it was Paris in 1962." March (nee Elinor Blake) strives to make that notion abundantly clear through the Gallic exotica stylings of her first release for Ideal Records (pet project of those knob-twiddling Dust Brothers). "Chrominance Decoder" is a love letter to French Ye-Ye music—even when she's not singing in French, she sounds French. The Franco-fixated March was purportedly an animator on the infamous "Ren and Stimpy" show, and it's hard not to draw parallels between twisted animation and the crossbred pop of "Chrominance Decoder."

Having recently toured with club-pop practitioners Air, April March is the latest artist to emerge from the international cross-cultural pop underground. Her breathy vocals could be likened to Pizzicato 5's Maki; even her phrasing is fairly similar. The title track, one of several sung in English, spreads blasť vocals over layered analog-synths and moogs galore. "No Parachute" employs similar instrumentation to create a more upbeat, melodic dance number. Another standout, "Mon Petit Ami" has a strange sing-song quality to it, backed primarily by a simple, staccato drumbeat.

At its Bacharachian best, a pure pop song can go straight to your heart, but in spite of its entirely too sweet manner—or more likely because of it—"Chrominance Decoder" doesn't. It's melodic, well-constructed, and pretty, but the overriding exotica doesn't excuse its fairly soulless nature; as pure sound over substance, ultimately it's nearly meaningless. That said, pop music doesn't have to mean anything—like sushi, "Chrominance Decoder" is tasty going down, but will leave you craving further sustenance.—Tanya L. Edwards

 

April March
"Chrominance Decoder"

Big Rude Jake
"Big Rude Jake"

Jose Serrano & Antonio "El Agujetas"
"Two Cries of Freedom"



past reviews

Big Rude Jake
"Big Rude Jake"
(Roadrunner)

big rude jake Big Rude Jake, a sort of cabaret-inspired jump blues act, is essentially frontman and songwriter Jake and his handpicked backing band. Jake has a reputation for being somewhat outspoken—in a recent interview he purportedly referred to schlock-rocker Marilyn Manson as a "pantywaist"—and his humorous, literate lyrics reflect that sensibility.

The darkly swinging "Gotham City Serende," opens the self-titled album with a punch—it's a love letter to Jake's adopted hometown. Lyrics like "I wish you could be here with me on this night in New York City/I wish you were standing here as Broadway opens up her arms," imply that perhaps the recently transplanted Jake wishes he had someone to share the Big Apple with. "Mercy for the Monkey Man" channels a demented rumbling burlesque groove—it's a rare song that fills you with the urge to strip while singing along about getting "monkey tail." "Let's Kill All the Rock Stars," is a rollicking, hilarious punk-swing number—the title is presumably a lifted quote from Courtney Love (or "Princess Smartypants," as she's referred to here).

Canadian heritage be damned, Big Rude Jake have the old southern swing sound down pat—maybe they have bourbon flowing through their veins, maybe it's just Jake's bad-ass attitude, whatever it is, it works. Bawdy, loud, and intelligent, Big Rude Jake is a raucous yet thoughtful spin around the dancefloor.—Tanya L. Edwards

 

Jose Serrano & Antonio "El Agujetas"
"Two Cries of Freedom"
(Roir)

Gypsy Flamenco from the Prisons of Spain The subtitle of this album is "Gypsy Flamenco from the Prisons of Spain," which it quite literally is, being the result of a nationwide talent search for the best incarcerated flamenco vocalists, with a reward of 5,000 pesetas (about 35 bucks!) and a reduced sentence. Gypsies are recognized as the finest flamenco artists in Spain, and a disproportionate number of them are in jail—so it's natural that the contest's two winners, Jose Serrano and Antonio "El Agujetas," would be gypsies. So, if you want a recording that was made under armed guard by artists who were led to the recording studio in chains, this is it.

The songs on "Two Cries of Freedom" are backed by nothing more than clapping hands, stamping feet, the occasional shout of response, and one, sometimes two, guitars. Serrano opens the album with "Bulerias" a seven-minute epic of subtly shifting speeds and moods. The guitar work is remarkable, the two instruments face off, joust, slide into a duet, chase each other through downward spirals as Serrano's vocals move from a traditional, florid flamenco style to a riotous, abrupt ending. His muezzin-like wail on the lamenting "Solea" recalls southern Spain's Moorish heritage over a minimal, stately guitar background. "Alegrias" would be a high-spirited dance tune if it weren't for the edge of melancholy.

"El Agujetas" comes from a long line of flamenco artists, but is far from the usual flamenco sound. In "Seguiriyas," his rough-edged voice drags out the words (sorry, no lyric sheet ) painfully, punctuated by sudden guttural cries over a simple single guitar. "Malaguenas" uses the same technique, but with even less guitar and more self-distortion on the vocals, sounding like the death throes of a wounded animal. The two vocalists join on the melodramatic "Fandangos," a song that cries out to be on a movie soundtrack.

The raw emotion and simple instrumentation of these recordings recall Delta blues more than the usual worldbeat excesses. And both Serrano and "El Agujetas" are out of prison now, due to the fame this recording brought them (though they've still got those pesky electronic monitoring devices)—rather in the way that America's own Leadbelly once sang his way out from behind bars.—Lissa Townsend Rodgers

 

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