CD Reviews

Aveo

Battery

(Barsuk)

Talk about not going gentle into that good night! On Battery's penultimate track, "Fistfights With Mr. G.," Aveo singer and guitarist William Wilson anticipates his eventual one-on-one with the deity by vowing to "take him with one kick between his bony thighs" when his time comes. It's not the sort of proposition you expect to encounter in a stately, heartfelt meditation on life's fleetingness, which is exactly why it works as well as it does—especially in the midst of so much unabashed beauty. Like the song that follows it, "3:33 A.M./The Insomnia Waltz," "Fistfights" bears enough melodic fruit to land in some forward-looking classical musician's repertoire a few years hence. Best of all, neither tune betrays so much as a trace of Aveo's three most-cited sources of inspiration: the Smiths, the Smiths, and the Smiths. Sure, comparisons are justified; our descendants'll be cruising around on antigrav Segways by the time Wilson settles his songwriting debt of influence to Morrissey—if interest rates remain low. But it's only Smithian melodic and chordal tendencies that he plunders. Morrissey is pretty modestly endowed in the voice box (see: "singing Mountie"), whereas Wilson tends to sound like he's playing hooky from angelic choir practice. And Wilson writes for his voice—not Morrissey's—making Aveo's songs far richer in the main than those of their Manacunian antecedents. Plus, Wilson is a consistently engaging, highly idiosyncratic guitarist, often deploying fun-house mirror images of bassist Michael Hudson and drummer Jeff MacIsaac's parts (or his own vocals) in situations where some regular yob would just play chords. After you've listened to Battery a few times, matters of influence make no difference; these men would be charming as hell even if the '80s had never happened. ROD SMITH

Aveo play the Crocodile Cafe (CD–release party) with Ester Drang and the Preons at 8 p.m. Sun., March 7. $8.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

The Rough Guide to African Rap

(World Music Network)

Who knows whether this will be the "Rock Around the Clock" of imported African hip-hop, the kind of dam crasher that lets the ocean in. For now, it's proof that the ocean exists: thumb-piano funk from Nigerian London, Wolof ragga from Dakar, Malcolm X samples from Kenya. Altogether, it's more than you could have ima­gined even from 2002's stunning Trikont import Africa Raps, an all-Senegambian showcase that overlaps this compilation by one track. Where Tata Pound's "Badala" is a revelation in either context (the Malian rumba-ragga to supplant Habib Koite's acoustic dansse-rock in the West), the new disc feels even more ready to step beyond the "world music" market: X Plastaz's "Msimu Kwa Msimu" sounds one Jay-Z guest spot away from your neighborhood dance floor in part because it's so exuberantly cocky (beware of the Tanzanian boys) and in part because its beats are more American and its samples more African than previous sub-Saharan crossover tries. There are historical inclusions here that sound dated (Tanzania's Hard Blasters had a 1997 breakthrough with "Blast Nuff") and bouncy new hits that will similarly induce drowse when the buzz dies down (Trybe's "Madau" sounds like north Minneapolis as much as it does South Africa). But even these exceptions retain the rhythmic excitement of applying old languages to new beats, from Zulu to heavily inflected French. With advice from the Web site AfricanHipHop.com, compiler Graeme Ewens has assembled an hour so solidly catchy I could even freedom-kiss the Francophobes who will never play this on the radio. PETER S. SCHOLTES

PRESTON SCHOOL OF INDUSTRY

Monsoon

(Matador)

When Pavement divorced in 1999, their lawyers arranged for a pretty equitable distribution of the union's assets. Primary frontman Stephen Malkmus got the good jokes and the summer-babe looks; secondary frontman Scott Kannberg got the received wisdom of 20 years' worth of indie-rock detritus; drummer Bob Nastanovich got the family pet (in this case a gray racehorse named Speedy Service). What this means for box elders tuning into Monsoon, the second album by Kannberg's Preston School of Industry—a presently Seattle-based outfit he founded in 2000 with on-and-off help from various friends—is a warm, slightly stoned stroll through chiming guitar licks, undersung semihooks, and drumbeats that shimmy like sand in your flip-flop. Search for your favorite Amerindie touchstone and you'll find it: R.E.M. in the acoustic strums of opener "The Furnace Sun," the Pixies in the spiraling guitar squall of "Line It Up," Camper Van Beethoven in the cramped folk-rock of "Caught in the Rain," even, whadda you know, Pavement's sweet shamble in "Walk of a Gurl." Wilco contribute basement-tape bustle to "Get Your Crayons Out!," but they don't distract Kannberg from his mission of brightening underground rock's allegedly neglected corners. Wowee? No. Zowee? Perhaps. MIKAEL WOOD

Preston School of Industry play the Crocodile Cafe with John Vanderslice and Menomena at 9 p.m. Thurs., March 4. $10.

JOHN VANDERSLICE

Cellar Door

(Barsuk)

John Vanderslice remembers the 1970s that everyone else forgot, an era that, with the ascension of FM radio, encompassed not only the baroque pop-rock of Badfinger, Genesis, and Queen, but also the waning days of AM radio's three-minute imperative: one verse to introduce a character and his dilemma, another for exposition, and a third to wind it all up and barely jump out of the way of the next song. Then there's the other, less-radio-friendly '70s: foreign intervention as national pastime, murder as introspection, heroin as the new LSD. On Cellar Door, his third album, Vanderslice puts concise psychedelia and FM-radio aesthetics to the service of vivid character-driven fables—disquieting vignettes that are compassionate where lesser songwriters would settle for shock value or trite moralizing. As a guard whose job is to lead prisoners into a torture chamber in "Heated Pool and Bar," Vanderslice projects himself into the soldier's frayed moral universe with the ease of a Nathaniel Hawthorne, or maybe a CIA agent. But fictionalizing and policy making get confused in a storm of weird percussion and distorted acoustic guitar, and Vanderslice's rapturous voice has sung everything you've already thought. It's a world that's nasty, brutish, and short, where the potentially suicidal ("June July") are as disinterested in death as anything else. But there's solace in Vanderslice's melody-tinged naturalism, a relief in giving in to larger forces we can't understand or control—a perplexing joy, like a great, sad novel. J. NIIMI

John Vanderslice plays the Crocodile Cafe with Preston School of Industry and Menomena at 9 p.m. Thurs., March 4. $10.

THE SLEEPY JACKSON

Lovers

(Astralwerks)

The Sleepy Jackson's frontman, Luke Steele, doesn't broadcast his ethnicity in photos; based on the sleeve of Lovers, the Australian outfit's 2003 debut, where Steele's clutching a super furry animal while surrounded by a couple of willowy, blank-looking babes, I've heard folks wonder if the dude is of Asian, Latino, or Eastern European descent. Steele's musical heritage, at least as represented on the extravagantly arranged Lovers, is similarly difficult to gauge. In opener "Good Dancers," he's a slide-guitaring Beatles freak assuring himself that all things must pass; in "Vampire Racecourse," he's a falsetto-flying new-wave geek; in "Miniskirt," he's that guy who stole Gram Parsons' body and scattered the ashes all over Joshua Tree, Calif. And in "Morning Bird," he's a grammar-school girl accompanied by amateur-hour piano chords (unless that's actually a real grammar-school girl named Gemma Burnside, as the liner notes suggest). This kind of stylistic mutability is shaping up to be the birthright of indie guys Steele's age, for whom perhaps hip-hop's pervasive collage aesthetic is less a threat to rockist homogeneity than an invitation to mix things up a little, allowing All the Right (and Obvious) Influences to swirl into newish formulae. M.W.

The Sleepy Jackson play Chop Suey at 9 p.m. Tues., March 9. $10 adv.

MARY LOU LORD

Baby Blue

(Rubric)

"Look at me laughing, look at me joking, I'm having such fun," chimes Mary Lou Lord over strummed chords on "The Wind Blew All Around Me." The opening track of her new album features drier production than its studio predecessor, 1998's layered, multitracked Got No Shadow. Baby Blue, on the other hand, has more in common with 2001's Live City Sounds, which the veteran busker recorded straight to DAT on a Boston street corner. "The Wind Blew All Around Me" is one of nine songs on Baby Blue written solely by Nick Saloman, the eccentric frontman of the Bevis Frond and Lord's long-standing co-conspirator. Saloman's swirling pop arrangements are ideal for Lord's delicate, forlorn voice on the hooky folk number "Cold Kilburn Rain," the four-by-four rocker "Inhibition Twist," and "Someone Always Talks," which takes Lord back to her busking days. "Turn Me Round" and "43" (both co-written with Lord) recall Lord's pal Elliott Smith, the former featuring a wistful piano-led melody and the latter a double-tracked vocal and straight acoustic eerily similar to the late singer's XO. While Lord's noble attempt at the title track, Badfinger's "Baby Blue," falls flat, the highlight is another cover. Pink Floyd's Meddle-era "Fearless" is an ominous, oppressive, and beautifully crafted effort in which Lord scarcely whispers, "You say the hill's too steep to climb? Climb it." And she has. SCOTT HOLTER

Mary Lou Lord plays the Tractor Tavern at 6:30 p.m. Sat., March 6. $10.

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