Pop punks have time of their lives on singles set.
'Tis the season to release "best of" collections. Among alumni of the 1990s alt-rock explosion, Green Day vie as top contenders for such a treatment. That's because the East Bay pop-punks are, at heart, a singles band. Though Dookie, their 1994 breakthrough, stands well on its own, the band's three subsequent releases have all suffered from a mismatch of ambition and ability. Those sets miss awareness that the single song, not the full-length album, is the ideal vehicle for songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong to pair his gifts for penning infectious melody and lyrics of longing and anxiety. International Superhits!, then, may represent not just the band's greatest hits but their greatest album. In addition to gathering radio favorites such as "Basket Case" and "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" onto one disc, the collection also throws deserving light on cuts that were overlooked in their original settings, such as "She" and "Nice Guys Finish Last." Here, "Minority" and "Warning" are transformed from packages of platitudes on last year's Warning into engaging chunks of daily revolt. Two new songs, "Maria" and "Poprocks and Coke," aren't immediate standouts but offer enough that they may prove worthy over time. Most "best ofs" do more for an artist's wallet than a music fan's understanding of the craft at hand. This is one stocking stuffer that will satisfy both. Chris Nelson
THE KINGS OF CONVENIENCE
Genre bending of folk and electronic music results in Frankenstein-sized catastrophe.
In Act II of William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Caliban utters the grim proclamation: "Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows." This truth is expertly illustrated in Versus, a fairly miserable remix collection in which Norwegian folk duo The Kings of Convenience share the sheets with a series of mordantly uninspired U.K. DJs. The union is passionless, and the fault belongs as much to the source material as it does to the remixing. The Kings are decent songwriters, but their melodies are fey and wan, and if they're shifted around too much they crumble to powder. Consequently the DJs are left to pepper the tracks with straight-ahead, linear rhythms and synth lines that are as chintzy as a street watch. Evil Tordivel's remix of "Leaning Against the Wall" is bloated with bad MIDI brass, while Bamboo Soul's take on the same song leaves it virtually untouched. Only Ladytron makes the marriage work, and they do it by stripping away the Kings' guitar track and laying Erik Boe's Cottonelle voice square in the center of a spiky bed of Kraftwerk synths. The others prompt recollection not only of The Bard's definition of misery but also the words of another poetic Brit, those being simply: "Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ." J. Edward Keyes
FUTURE PILOT AKA
Tiny Waves, Mighty Sea
Glaswegian expression plus Ganges experimentation equals dreamy raga pop.
Don't tell Sushil K. Dade that you can never go home again. Best known for looping through synth pop trash/twee tracks as Future Pilot and adding his bass lines to bands like Soup Dragons, BMX Bandits, and Telstar Ponies, on Tiny Waves Dade returns to his Indian heritage, blending the warm, twinkling textures of the not-so-Far East with vocals and instrumentation from the not-so-far north. Friends from Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, the Delgados, the Pastels, and various other locales show up to pipe up; their rich talents add indelible hues to the colorful tapestry of Dade's homeland. Although nary a sitar was recorded on Tiny Waves, the circular song cycles (sung in both English and Hindi), wavy guitars, piped organs, bare tabla, hammered dulcimer, and precise percussion give the release a dreamy and exotic flair. The lush instrumental "Maid of the Loch" launches the album, churning all sorts of longing and hopefulness in its wake. From there, the tracks take either the sweet and semistraightforward route (check Isobel "Belle" Campbell's vocals on "Ananda Is the Ocean") or the trancey, transcendental route (exemplified on the 10-minute "Om Namah Shivaya," featuring B & S's Stuart Murdoch chanting in Dade's native tongue). But the album really breaks the waves on tracks like "Witchi Tai To," in which rounds of vocals blend with culture-bending instrumentation, yielding to a lovely and innovative brand of pop. Laura Learmonth
THE WITCH HAZEL SOUND
This World, Then the Fireworks . . .
London. Paris. Rome. Kent, Ohio?
Ever wonder what Stereolab might sound like if they weren't international hipsters but some dudes from Ohio? "Music Becomes Vibration," the opening track on This World, Then the Fireworks . . . is as close an answer to that crucial musical question as you're likely to find—the keyboard and horn parts aren't much different, but there's a certain gee-whizness lurking in the vocals that could only come from the American heartland. It's a terrific song, just as the other hook-heavy up-tempo numbers on the record are; ringleader Kevin Coral synthesizes the melodic flair of Brian Wilson and Arthur Lee along with his own soft psychedelic style to ultracozy results. The slower numbers are a little less successful. Musically, there are some lovely ethereal moments courtesy of some carefully repackaged '70s AM radio sounds, but the increased focus on lead singer Mark F.'s reedy voice during the more languid tracks doesn't exactly do the band any favors. Still, it's a problem only in isolated spots—the Witch Hazel Sound has the power to transport you to strange and distant lands. Maybe even Wisconsin. Paul Fontana