CD Reviews

CHICKS ON SPEED, Re-Releases of the Un-Releases (K) The new Chicks on Speed record is a heaping pile of art school trash. The Chicks, of course, can't play. More concept than band, they prove that with some devastating style, a few neat toys, and a couple of musical friends, you too can become an international underground pop sensation. Re-Releases of the Un-Releases is a big, sloppy collage of cheapo electronic pop songs with announcements, interviews, live recordings, and ephemera interspersed throughout. At their best, Chicks reconfigure early-'80s new wave into something fresh with a flair comparable to Stereo Total or Le Tigre. Just try and resist confections like "Gimme Back My Man," "For All the Boys in the World," or "Glamour Girl"—that's right, it's impossible. The Chicks are not content to be simple purveyors of delightfully junky pop, however, so they pile on the experiments in order to demonstrate their credentials as queens of the avant-garde. The result: The Chicks can go from exhilarating to excruciating faster than any band on the planet.—Paul Fontana

GREAT PLAINS, Length of Growth 1981-89 (Old 3C) Despite the Dr. Demento intro, this double-CD containing the complete output of Ohio's Great Plains isn't a comedy record. Yet it's often damn funny—many of the 49 songs are reminiscent of They Might Be Giants, only played straighter, particularly given singer-songwriter Ron House's penchant for running pop-cultural artifacts through an absurdist wringer. (I'm still trying to get the background shouts from "Lincoln Logs" out of my head: "Abraham! Abraham!") House, who went on to form the Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, also had the gift for giving his best songs his best titles. "When Honesty Gets Old," "Martin Luther King and Martin Luther Drinking," "The Wind Blows, the Law Breaks" ("Destroy it with a song/And be free") and especially the priceless "Letter to a Fanzine": "You like everything that comes out on 4AD/You like everything that comes out on SST/You like almost everything that comes out on Homestead/I like everything that I get in the mail for free—how about that?" This being '80s indie rock, the guitars chime enticingly, the organ pumps energetically, and the drums sound like shit. Since Great Plains are the very definition of a great unknown band, only toward the end does this collection's energy and inspiration flag. —Michaelangelo Matos

MOVIETONE, The Blossom Filled Streets (Drag City) The songs on Movietone's new album have titles like "1930's Beach House," "Seagulls/Bass," and "In a Marine Light." The cover art features a painting of a plant sprouting blurry red flowers; opening the CD booklet (which is printed on nonglossy paper with an irresistible scent) reveals black-and-white Polaroids of assorted instruments— viola, clarinet, piano, guitar—and lyrics such as "Now is the time for the bud to burst forth/It's time for the cherry blossoms." In faded typewriter-type, the liner notes identify the six members of the Bristol, England, band, which stars Kate Wright and former Flying Saucer Attack copilot Rachel Brook. Before playing the disc, it's pretty clear how this album will sound: mushy, layered soundscapes invoking old paintings and new dreams; atmospheric arrangements propelled by soporific, anonymous crooning; instrumental backdrops that culminate in swirls of horns and accelerated percussion; ambient music that mimics either water or weather. It would be a stretch to suggest that Movietone sweep listeners to faraway shores on The Blossom Filled Streets, their third album. But the musicians cover their ethereal turf better than most, whether singing a duet with jazzy squeals in "Hydra" or purring over the title track's sparse piano and brushed drum. Fans of this subgenre may know exactly what they're getting into before they pick up the record. Much like psychic hotline callers, however, they'll probably be pleased with the soothing sounds they hear.—Jay Ruttenberg

JEJUNE, R.I.P. (Big Wheel) The label's marketing effort lauds Jejune as "the best indie band ever," without irony I fear. Truth be told, three or four songs on each of their albums really are, uh, nearly that good, awash with genuine, unpretentious longing and incredible sonic heft. The rest, while consistently melodic and melancholy, usually fail to resonate past the first listen. Much of this posthumous odds-and-ends LP is (aptly, considering the title) an epitaph of an occasionally remarkable San Diego trio's inability to maintain a singular identity. The first five tracks—the product of an unreleased recording session for a third album—are pure schizophrenia, running a treacherous, incoherent gamut from Belle and Sebastian all the way to '80s hair metal (the horrifying "The New State"). Thankfully, the remainder, all B-sides, singles, and oddly gratifying remixes, are dramatic, swelling, thorough compositions that shine brightest when lead vocalists Joe Guevera and Arabella Harrison rip into the best indie choruses . . . in recent memory. "Early Stars" and "2000 Miles" have an unmistakable presence that almost justifies the grotesque hyperbole that marketing folks (and even we journalists) sometimes wallow in.—Andrew Bonazelli

 
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