The Hang Ups, soundtracks from American Beauty and Fight Club, and Electro Lounge

THE HANG UPS, Second Story (Restless)—They are one of the coolest pop bands no one's ever heard of. And on their third full-length album, Minneapolis foursome the Hang Ups reunite one of the 1980s top underground production duos, Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, for the first time since R.E.M.'s Reckoning. The story of Second Story goes that Hang Ups songwriter Brian Tighe spent the two-plus years since the band's last record holed up with a stack of Kinks vinyl. That, and bassist Jeff Kearns' move from bass to lead guitar, has added chops to the ever-breezy hooks and harmonies that define the Hang Ups. Nodding to the Davies brothers and other underappreciated pop bands like the Raspberries (on Second Story's "Parkway"), Big Star ("Party"), and Badfinger ("Long Goodbye"), Tighe's wonderful storylines follow innocent youth and whirlwind romances, this time backed with organ, Chamberlain, and harpsichord. From the opening rocker "Caroline" through the swift key changes on "Pretty BA" and the country-streaked "Blue Sky" (featuring Easter on lap steel), there's not a weak link in the bunch. But the album's title holder is indeed its title song, complete with a "woo woo woo" lyric and a melody borrowed (with respect, intentionally or not) from "Carry That Weight." Through shifts in band lineups and songwriting influences, the story of the Hang Ups continues to evolve. And with Second Story, it's time for someone to stop and listen. —Scott Holter

VARIOUS ARTISTS, American Beauty—Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (DreamWorks) As American Beauty continues to receive well-deserved hype, the only major criticism to surface is of the film's adequate but wildly hit-or-miss soundtrack. Rather than going with composer Thomas Newman's delicate but eerie score, the heads at DreamWorks decided to instead highlight their own pop bands. You can't really blame them, since this is the studio's first real success—commercially and critically (though I'm sure thousands are still crazy about that A Night at the Roxbury soundtrack). The acidic Eels track "Cancer for the Cure" and the guerrilla hipness of Folk Implosion's "Free to Go" do a good job representing the movie's young, misunderstood hearts, but Elliott Smith's interpretation of the Lennon/ McCartney duet "Because" is just a little too precious. Overbaked classic rock from Free and the Who are supposed to represent the rebellion of Kevin Spacey's middle-aged madman, but feel dumb without visual aids. Ditto on the kitschy retro selections from Peggy Lee and Bobby Darin; they're better juxtaposed with a fight at the dinner table than crammed next to Gomez. And though the soundtrack is bookended with Newman's greatly disturbing pieces "Dead Already" and "Any Other Name," it's just not enough of what he actually did to raise this movie's horrifying tension. —Kristy Ojala

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Electro Lounge (The Right Stuff) I've always found musical trend packaging and selling insidious, and the recent swing/ lounge packaging is no exception. Electro Lounge: Electronic Excursions in Hi-Fidelity is part of this phenomenon— complete with a sexily clad woman on the cover—pushing '50s and '60s technology-laced lounge tunes to the electronica-diggin' youth of today. But I've got to admit, Electro Lounge is worth its price: Whorishness aside, the album showcases DJ magicians popping a lovely breed of experimental mixes out of hats. The best tracks include "Sway," the Rip-Off Artist's hip-moving remix that pairs the legendary Dean Martin with Julie London, even though the singers never shared a studio together; "Gopher (Mambo)," a fierce and funky up-tempo remix by Q Burns that packs an extra punch to Yma Sumac's dance floor classic; and U-ziq's remix of Dean Elliot's "Lonesome Road," in which spaced-out drum-and-bass adds spark to this sighlike melody. The heavy-hitting names on this album are presumably there for marketability's sake, as the Utah Saints' version of King Curtis' "Watermelon Man" is a fair, not fine, specimen of club kitsch. Brian Gearwhore and Alex Xenophone offer the latest interpretation of Leroy Holmes' "The James Bond Theme," a drum-and-bass-cum-industrial revamp that pales in comparison to Moby's version. I'm not sure that "The James Bond Theme," Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive, an' Wail," or Leroy Holmes' "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (with a mediocre remix by Gus Gus) classify as lounge, but hey, if we're buying, they're selling.—David Massengill

THE DUST BROTHERS, Fight Club Original Motion Picture Score (Restless) Rule number one for soundtracks : You do not try to invoke a catchphrase from the film. Since it's too late for Fight Club, we'd better get down to the nitty-gritty. This is the first major motion picture soundtrack in some time to feature an all-electronic score, and, even more notably, this is the first scoring job done by the Dust Brothers, they of Odelay and Paul's Boutique fame. Listening to the disc after seeing the film, it all clicked perfectly. The nervous rhythmic changes served up on the individual tracks are a perfect foil for Edward Norton's nameless narrator's descent into severe mental instability. Without seeing the film, idiots sitting in your living room are bound to make snide comments like, "I really dig the lead singer." There is no lead singer, there is only a bevy of bouncing percussion backing up the laid-back snakiness of "Medula Oblongata," the bizarre take on Esquivel in "Corporate World," and the three-ring circus of "Space Monkeys." Oscillating Moogs and sniping synth blasts fill in the gaps. Fight Club's dance and trance mix is perfect for David Fincher's dark vision of consumerist rebellion; plus, the dance factor brings the "Let's take off our shirts and beat each other senseless" homoeroticism from the theater right into Neighbours without missing a step.—Jason Josephes

 
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