CD Reviews

SHIPPING NEWS, Very Soon, and in Pleasant Company (Quarterstick) First take: This is subdued, mildly interesting background music, which wouldn't be so disappointing if the album didn't begin with the attention-commanding, lockstep buzz of "The March Song." Three listens later, "The March Song" seems woefully out of place, a robot in a vast ocean. It's scary how the Shipping News use two normally unreliable tools—restraint and repetition— to carve so sweetly into your subconscious. If I were to suggest that this record is most gorgeous and rueful when vocalist/guitarist Jeff Mueller isn't singing, I don't think the band would regard that as an insult; they shouldn't. Mueller, along with rhythm section Jason Noble and Kyle Crabtree, almost always eschew the logical direction of a song for more intriguing, difficult tangents. This is like taking the long way home well after midnight and savoring the sheer potential of the experience. "Very Soon" peaks in the disquieting climb of "Nine Bodies, Nine Stars," "Quiet Victories," and "Contents of a Landfill," in which Shipping News' skill and confidence in their sad journey is so evident that it's difficult to withhold a most inappropriate smile.—Andrew Bonazelli

THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA, Remixes '98-2000 (Ninja Tune) The best thing about Jason Swinscoe, the mastermind behind London downtempo troupe the Cinematic Orchestra, is that he sounds like he's listened carefully to Out of the Cool and Tauhid and not just admired them because they signified "real culture." Not that he and his five accompanists necessarily aim to be "real" in any sense. Like Teo Macero, Swinscoe records the musicians' jams, then chops them up into fake-jazz soundscapes. But while Miles Davis—who Macero produced—was a lightning rod who extracted inspired, personalized expression from his sidemen, Swinscoe's methods conjure a hushed, generalized atmosphere. That doesn't mean his new remix collection, like 1999's Motion, lacks content. Remixes '98-2000 is soundtrack jazzy without slipping into schlock; unlike many of his downtempo beat-besotted cohorts, Swinscoe doesn't succumb to overripe fuzak fluff ("Paging Jazzanova: Aimless keyboard tinkle on line one"). Instead, he keeps his penchant for lush textures in check with an iciness that melts with repeated listens. The gorgeous baroque house of Faze Action's "Moving Cities" is remolded into a bluesy groove driven by a New Orleans second line-style sock cymbal; Nils Petter Molvaer's "Vilderness" is given gradual overtonal tension atop a lurching bass line. Tom Tyler's reworking of the group's "Channel One Suite" fits right into the mood—a mood that, at 49 minutes, is not a minute overdone.—Michaelangelo Matos

ARLO, Up High in the Night (Sub Pop) It's early in 2001, and already another Los Angeles pop band have been reeled into the artist flophouse at Fourth and Wall. But unlike Sub Pop predecessors Beachwood Sparks, who weaned their crystal sounds on band members' infatuation with Buffalo Springfield and the Kinks, Arlo sharpen their four-piece rumble on gritty Let It Bleed-era Rolling Stones and the crash-and-burn rhythm section of the early-'70s Who. The latter arrived courtesy of Shmedley and Soup, the band's third bassist-and-drummer combo. Formerly of LA's Holliston Stops, they hooked up with longtime Otto duo Nate Greely and Sean Spillane (guitarists and vocalists) just in time to change that band's moniker to Arlo—not for Guthrie, but a local club soundman. Recorded at Arlo's home studio and produced by Philadelphian Ben Vaughn, the 12-song debut plugs into a roller coaster ride of pop songs—from the Humble Pie-like rocker "Nerf Bear Bonanza" to the nastiest of Pixies riffs ("Sittin' on the Aces" and "Lucid"), there are choruses that leave you humming ("Forgotten"), a frolicsome sing-along about a dog that "got run over" ("Kenji"), and the grievous rallying cry of "Loosen Up," in which Greely and Spillane sermonize, "You had it/I lost it/And we'll never get it back again." An auspicious introduction that must be played loud.—Scott Holter

AFRICANDO ALL STARS, Mandali (Stern's Africa) It was originally a Buena Vista idea. Back in 1993, well before Cuban nostalgia gave the world a hit album, Africando was formed to help the careers of African salsa singers by pairing them with the cream of New York-based Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians. Four albums in, it's developed a life of its own, able to attract talent like Malian superstar vocalist Salif Keita while keeping true to its original ideals. Much of the credit must go to musical director Boncana Maiga, whose compositions and arrangements fairly sizzle with life and melody. But ultimately, it's the singers who put it over the top, with glorious performances from Senegal's Thione Seck, while Lokua Kanza, from the Congo, is incandescent on the memorable party anthem "Miye Na We." While salsa remains the order of the day, there are a few touches of rumba and even a sly venture into calypso ("Scandalo"). The Africando All Stars show that the musical distance between Africa and the New World is negligible, and they do it in effervescent style.—Chris Nickson

 
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