CD Reviews

CURSIVE

Burst and Bloom EP

(Saddle Creek)

Fairy tales for Fugazi fans—powerful, provocative, and full of purpose.

In the first two minutes of this disc, Cursive's Tim Kasher perfectly—and sardonically—steps out of himself to define his band's aesthetic ("They've got a D.C. sound/Shudder to Think, Fugazi/ and Chapel Hill in the early '90s") and breaks down the tactic behind releasing an EP ("building awareness for the next LP"). He then steps toward his very aware skin and sets up the rest of the recording: "Where melody is completely swallowed/where songwriters chain their songs to their ankles and/sink to the beat." For the remainder of the EP, Kasher keeps that promise. The Nebraskan pounds out his lyrical stories with an alternately passionate and pissed-off fervor, while his bandmates churn, bury, and resurrect their arrangements in a fluid, seamless motion. Add the lull of Gretta Cohn's cello, and the band's admittedly derivative echo becomes increasingly more interesting. Emo gets a lot of shit from a lot of people, but when the manifesto is as clearly stated and as supremely executed as it is here, there's little left to criticize. Laura Learmonth

HEDNINGARNA

Hedningarna

(Northside)

Ancient and contemporary heathen songs from the Norse land.

The Swedish collective known as Hedningarna have been scouring the frigid fjords and scraping below the surface of Norse musical traditions since 1989, when this album was originally issued. What they netted was a catch of old and new tunes that bear far more resemblance to the Celtic songs of the Chieftains or Robin Williamson, and even the airs of southern Appalachia, than anything resembling the heroic strains of Wagnerian opera. Core players Anders Norudde, Bjorn Tollin, and Hallbus Totte Mattson relied on ancient and medieval instruments, including a hurdy-gurdy and antecedents of both the dulcimer and the fiddle, to frame a more strictly traditional sound. In the years since recording this debut, they've updated a bit, adding vocalists to the mix. But this release offers a glimpse into Norudde's early style, as well as the influences on both his own compositions and Scandinavian standards, and it displays his favored instruments, including a small and remarkably unassuming bagpipe. Manny Frishberg

EUGENE MCDANIELS

Headless Heroes

of the Apocalypse

(Label M)

Tight funk, psychedelic rock, and political outrage—basically, what Lenny Kravitz would sound like if he were good.

You don't need to know why this obscure album is being rereleased after 30 years to appreciate (or "dig") it, but I'm gonna tell you anyway: It's been sampled to death (the Beastie Boys, Organized Konfusion, the Beatnuts). Now, just because some hip-hop guy samples an album, that doesn't necessarily mean you should buy it (and if you don't believe me, I have two words for you: Jeff Lorber). The reason you should get Eugene McDaniels' Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse is not because the Beasties like it, but because it's a great freakin' album. While he was clearly influenced by the later songwriting of Jimi Hendrix—which mixed funk rhythms with blues tone and a jazzy harmonic sensibility—McDaniels adds something Hendrix was not known for: unusually clear-eyed lyrics. I mean, check this out: "I really got news for you/there's no amount of dancing you can do/that will ban the bomb, feed the starving children, bring justice and equality to you and me/No amount of dancing's gonna make us free." Harsh! In the end, though, the reason that this album is an underground favorite is its vibe. There's a particular quality to this music that sounds like motion, like change, like freedom. And that's a sound that never grows old. Joe Schloss

FAITHLESS

Outrospective

(Kinetic/Arista)

Dance music's faithful morning-after comedown pill works just as well after the sun sets.

If Americans have heard of music producer Rollo at all, they most likely think of him only as Dido's big brother. In fact, Rollo and his band, Faithless, have sold over 6 million records, and it was thanks to him that the Eminem-sampled adult-contemporary chanteuse got her start; she guest starred on Faithless records, then snagged a record deal of her own. Along with Sister Bliss and Maxi Jazz (the public face of the band), big brother's efforts have yielded not only one very grateful sibling but several international smashes as well, including the driving Hi-NRG club thumpers "Salva Mea," "God Is a DJ," and "Insomnia." Outside of those hits, the band enjoy lofty status abroad as comedown royalty of a sort, and their more thoughtful, downbeat tracks are indeed sleek and smoky morning-after gems. Breakout album Reverence first signaled the band's affinity for an odd amalgamation of up-all-night anthems and intimate, sultry pop songs. Strangely enough, it works, and the formula still succeeds on Outrospective, the group's follow-up to their successful (though not in America, of course) Sunday 8 p.m. The same elements of dance, soul, hip-hop, and blues make their slinky way through the record, a chill-out champ if ever there was one. Dido's contribution, "One Step Too Far," sounds very much like her own material; it's certainly pretty and a prime candidate for play on the WB's next teen drama. More memorable tracks, including the slow, mournful "Not Enuff Love," featuring Maxi's achingly lonely lyrics, and the lilting, gorgeous "Crazy English Summer" with newcomer Zoe Johnston, reveal the kind of transcendent vocal talent capable of carrying dance music past studio cleverness to a place of real emotional resonance. Leah Greenblatt

 
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