Black Box Recorder, Basement Jaxx, and more!

Black Box Recorder England Made Me (Jetset) Ex-Auteurs frontman Luke Haines recently proclaimed onstage in London that Black Box Recorder's first single, "Child Psychology," contains the "best chorus written in the history of pop music." He's got every reason to gush over his new band's debut, the sardonically titled England Made Me, and its most notable track. Typically morose and British, and sung by wispy vocalist Sarah Nixey (with backing mumbles from Haines), the line goes, "Life is unfair/Kill yourself or get over it." Tucked within a darkly evocative monologue and surrounded by glistening guitar-based accompaniment, it is a grabber of a chorus, a subdued cousin to Radiohead's "Creep." More importantly, it's the high point of a record that's spectacular in its subtlety. Haines and instrumental collaborator John Moore, a former drummer for the Jesus and Mary Chain, construct brittle melodies with chiming notes and spare percussion, allowing them to build steadily. Nixey plays counterpoint, reeling off sharply worded and often morbidly detailed narratives. It's a style that's well suited to the cover of Terry Jacks' deceptively downcast classic "Seasons in the Sun," which surfaces toward the end of this sly collection. The album places Black Box Recorder under the same partly cloudy skies as the Smiths, Belle and Sebastian, and perhaps the Cardigans. But the best chorus in the history of pop music? I nominate the Smashing Pumpkins and their brilliantly pithy, culturally poignant, "Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage."—Richard Martin

Nerves New Animal (Thrill Jockey) I've got one of those big CD changers, and sometimes it's hard to tell what CD I'm playing. After popping Nerves into the machine, I kept hitting what should have been the right button, but if you were walking past my window, you would've heard me yelling things like: "Dammit, why does Mission of Burma keep playing!?!", "Shit, I thought I sold back all my Volcano Suns CDs!", and "I hate it when my girlfriend puts one of her lousy Television albums in my player." Imagine how stupid I felt when I realized that it was Nerves playing—punchy bass, a drummer using rhythms as much as beats, thin "whank whank whank" guitars, and a singer that sounds alternately like David Byrne imitating Iggy Pop and then Iggy Pop imitating David Byrne. Some bright points include the goose-stepping "Twilight Blvd.," where whichever vocalist it is (both the bassist and guitarist sing) does some impressive yodel tweaking over Muhammad Ali-sized bass/guitar uppercuts. "Dying Arms" has a bunch of cool chanting at the end, but they should have used it through the whole song. I also liked the animal sound effects (fine, I'm a dork) on "New Animals," but other than that, nothing really slammed me in the gut. The album rocks—they put the beats in the places to move your feets and their laces. But dammit, I want more than competency! I already have records that sound like this. I bet these guys rock live, but my stereo has better things to do for the time being. Now, where was that "Signals, Calls, and Marches" record?—Mark Driver

Basement Jaxx Remedy (Astralwerks/XL Recordings) Straight outta Brixton, with Phantom Menace-like hype, come DJ/producers Felix Burton and Simon Ratcliffe. Known collectively as Basement Jaxx (also the name of their recently departed London club night), the duo's anything-goes dance tracks have earned them the right to call themselves "punk" (as in rule-breaking, not Sex Pistols/Ramones-sounding). They concoct garage tracks with elaborate funk bass loops, peppy salsa workouts with disco phazers and simulated maracas, and thick ragga raps with bubbling, liquid-mercury breakbeats. None of this is groundbreaking in itself, but to combine these elements on one record is to bait the purists (and there are a lot of those on the dance floor—just ask Todd Terry). For the past five years, Basement Jaxx have pumped out EPs and singles, but Remedy, their first original full-length, has been delayed since last summer, when Ratcliffe and Burton decided their finished recordings needed a revamp. The resulting 15 tracks are near genius in their boldness and accessibility. Like dance floor Springsteens, Basement Jaxx churn out anthem after anthem; nothing on Remedy just disappears into the mix. They even manage to create coiled energy from the measured rhythms of dancehall on "Jump 'N' Shout." The Jaxx take wistful diva Yvonne John-Lewis on a tour of the Timbalandscape for "U Can't Stop Me," the supa-dupa pop song missing from Missy Elliott's new world. On the slinky closer, "Being With U," the mood shifts to smooth soul, with nods to both Burt Bacharach and Prince. If you're looking for purity, Basement Jaxx aren't your men, but if you like a little peanut butter with your chocolate, they've got a pretty amazing Remedy.—Jackie McCarthy

RZA The RZA Hits (Epic) RZA is among the most respected and influential hip-hop producers of the '90s. His style—a rugged gumbo of true-crime magazines, the divine mathematics of Father Allah, Hong Kong action-movie aesthetics, and the entire back catalog of Stax-Volt records—has become so thoroughly woven into the fabric of hip-hop production that it's sometimes hard to remember that it was the creation of a single individual. This greatest hits album aims to remedy that. Culled from his work with the Wu-Tang Clan and their innumerable offshoots, The RZA Hits is a virtual museum of '90s hip-hop production, and it comes complete with an annoying tour guide, RZA himself, dispensing not-entirely-useful commentary between songs. But it's no accident that more than one of these interludes ends with the phrase "and the rest is history"—because it surely is. Which raises an interesting question: Since almost any serious hip-hop fan will already have all of these songs at their fingertips, who's the intended audience for this collection? I will say this: Buy this CD if you're the least bit interested in hip-hop and don't already have these tracks, or if you're an institutional librarian with vision.—Joe Schloss

 
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