CD Reviews

ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS

The Day the Earth Met the . . .

(Smog Veil)

Finally, some pants that fit.

What's the greatest band in rock 'n' roll history to never release a damn thing? How about Rocket From the Tombs, the semilegendary, much-bootlegged mid-'70s Cleveland outfit that cleaved into Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys. Unveiling a band armed with a potent mix of the former band's absurd wit and the latter's snot-nosed nihilism, this collection of nine demo recordings and 10 live tracks from 1975 goes far in legitimizing the lore. The Dead Boys' finest moments—"Sonic Reducer" and "Ain't It Fun"—were originally RFTT numbers, as were early Pere Ubu classics like "Life Stinks," "30 Seconds Over Tokyo," and "Final Solution." The sound quality here is somewhat limited; nonetheless, the renditions of these songs—particularly the ferocious "Life Stinks"—may henceforth be the definitive ones. Several of the lesser-known originals and the cover treatments of the Stooges, Stones, and Velvet Underground reveal a group whose singular vision could come only from the gut of a rusting, polluted industrial center with a flammable river. Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas handles the vocals on the bulk of the tracks and is the band's dominant presence, but this document goes further in hoisting the legacy of the soon-to-be-deceased Peter Laughner. His writing talent is evident throughout, but when he spits out "Ain't it fun when you know your gonna die young/Such fun/Such fun" with such eerie conviction, there's no mistaking the impending doom. Paul Fontana

SUSANA BACA

Espiritu Vivo

(Luaka Bop)

Afro-Peruvian singer gathers band in N.Y.C. for reflection in the days following Sept. 11.

Though the timing was sheer coincidence, Susana Baca's latest tribute to Afro-Peruvian folk music, recorded in downtown Manhattan right after the terrorist attacks, is perhaps the most heartbreaking, the most ambitious, and the most culturally diverse of her lengthy career. The Afro-Peruvian folk singer was born and raised in a coastal barrio outside of Lima, and her impressive oeuvre draws largely on the traditional rhythms and instrumentation of music produced by her African slave ancestors. While the gentle drumming of the caj�I>, a wooden drumming box, and the chilling rattle of the quijada de burro, a percussive instrument made from a burro's jawbone, add to the cultural verisimilitude of the recording, Baca reaches beyond her heritage to include jazz keyboardist John Medeski and experimental guitarist Marc Ribot. On songs like "13 de Mayo," a Caetano Veloso cover, Medeski adds playful keyboard licks, while Ribot tweaks "La Noche y el Dia" and "Toro Mata" with electric guitar loops that torque the fabric of the music, pulling it in surreal and fantastical directions. In another surprising twist, Baca ends Espiritu with a cover of Bj�s "Anchor Song," a somber ballad that groans and sways like a creaking old ship bound for lands distant and a fate unknown. Espiritu is a delight and a wonder to behold. Adrienne Day

THE SIX PARTS SEVEN

Things Shaped in Passing

(Suicide Squeeze)

Compositions for a diary in which nothing happens.

Other than the Fucking Champs (who, to be fair, operate in a far more aggressive realm), most instrumental indie fare eventually tests my patience for a guiding voice. The genteel, nocturnal melancholia of the Six Parts Seven is the stuff of exit music for a film, not rock. It is sometimes sweeping and beautiful, but, unfortunately, it is always a very familiar brand of sweep and beauty. Most of 6P7's movements are bereft of tempo; a pleasant finger-picked passage blends neatly alongside subdued bass and drums or, occasionally, a tasteful piano lick. Passing is less about establishing momentum or a narrative push than it is simply existing—filling space, if I may be so heedlessly pretentious, on the soundtrack of our lives. While it is accurate to describe the music as "melancholia," there are also long stretches where 6P7 don't inspire any particular emotion. In a way, this is good. The stationary nature of "Where Are the Timpani Heartbeats?" and "Cold Things Never Catch Fire" allows a wide range of listeners to apply the music into a wide range of contexts. That said, here's an unrelated beef: These guys list credits for minutiae like "steel-finger slide at the end of track 4" and "eBow at the end of track 5." Dudes, this is rock and roll, not Legally Blonde; you don't need a pink r鳵m鮼I> Andrew Bonazelli

TOOTHPASTE 2000

Instant Action

(Parasol)

Pure pop for now (and then) people.

For several years, Seattle's Toothpaste 2000 have been trying to make the perfect pop record, and this time they've finally succeeded. Producer Adam Schmitt has given their sound a focus and oomph it never quite had before, and they've responded with 16 songs and performances that make everything up to now seem like a dress rehearsal. The band draws on classic influences like the Beatles and Big Star through to class of '77 punk, but the influences are cleverly refracted through the personal prisms of band linchpins Frank Bednash and Donna Esposito. Esposito's wavering, sultry voice—like Chrissie Hynde playing seductress—makes a song like "Too Young to Know" convincing, and her slower material makes a strong counterpoint to Bednash's rockier bent. Her guitar work is the stuff of ax heroes, while bassist Bednash (a subscriber to the McCartney school of melodic playing) and drummer Kirk Jamieson ensure that the three-piece lineup always sounds full. Toothpaste 2000 don't put a foot wrong forward, from the opening of "Bubblegum" on. Furthermore, along the way they manage to create a genuine classic, "Mona Lisa Overdrive," a song Oasis should offer massive money to cover. In a better world—or maybe a different country—this album would be high on the charts. It simply doesn't get any better than this. Chris Nickson

 
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