CD Reviews

REMARC

Unreleased Dubs: 94–96

(Planet Mu)

Buried under the avalanche of British press for the slicker-than-your-average antics of L.T.J. Bukem and Goldie's prog-hop theatrics back in the day, Remarc (né Mark Forester) is one of jungle's true unknown soldiers. Wielding the "Amen" break (the neck-snapping, snare-heavy drum sample from gospel group the Winstons' "Amen, My Brother") like a six-shooter, Remarc forced dancers to hold on for their lives, through unbearably funky and insanely convoluted rides. Unreleased Dubs is the second collection in as many years on IDM lightweight µ-Ziq's Planet Mu Records. (The irony of IDM nerds returning like prodigal sons to the jungle they spent most of the '90s mocking is cheap but delicious.) Not as solid as 2003's Sound Murderer (some things, like the ugly stop-start anti-groove and rubber-band bass line of "Suicidal," were meant to remain unreleased), the best tracks here are still thrilling testaments to the golden moment when rave met hip-hop and dance hall. Gunshot-snares rumble, roll, duck, and dive. Bass lines trundle like Mack trucks through clown-car pileups of rude boys, g-funk synths, R&B divas, sirens, disco strings, and rappers grabbing their dicks. The highlight is actually the atypical "Ricky (Remarc VIP Mix)," a "panic song" collaboration with Lewi Cifer that samples Boyz N the Hood and some truly distressing screams over drums like hammers on sheet metal and a bass line that feels like being sucked through a wind tunnel. "Drum and bass" continues on, zombielike, through a tedious living death of syncopated trance, but Remarc's amphetamine-addled vision of an alternate hip-hop (or deranged dance hall) remains a future that still should have been. JESS HARVELL

FENNESZ

Venice

(Touch, U.K.)

The shoe-gaze semigenre that Kevin Shields inadvertently started with My Bloody Valentine—call it "bliss out"—has become an active continuum, thanks in large part to electronic musicians who provide both new blood and a real feel for Shields' unsettling chaos. Austrian performer Fennesz has moved close to the top of that heap on recent albums and side projects, and Venice is a striking summary of his work. The phased guitar haze of bliss out switches over to shimmering, slippery texture here, disconnected from more conventional methods of rocking out. "Rivers of Sand" stumbles woozily through a desert storm in a diamond mine, broken up by miniature percussion fills. The squelchy "Chateau Rouge" and clattering, crackling, metallically staticky "The Other Face" keep Venice from being run-of-the-mill ambient, while the disc's blurriness prevents it from being your average IDM record. Sometimes Fennesz keeps his guitars straightforward, as on the surging, floating "Circassian" or the reflective "Laguna." There's even a nod to early-'90s blissout-plus-beats pioneers Seefeel on the droning "City of Light." Meanwhile, Fennesz's recent collaborative work with David Sylvian continues on "Transit," the latter's elegant voice contrasting strongly with the crumbling, heavily distorted arrangement. NED RAGGETT

THE OWLS

Our Hopes and Dreams

(Magic Marker)

Scale is why the inside of a cathedral is bigger than the Grand Canyon and a Georgia O'Keeffe canvas is wider than the sky. The human body is art's standard of measurement, its yardstick—and when the unit is a human breath, a pop song can sound monumental as well. The boy-gal vocals on the Owls' debut CD have some of the somatic ebb-and-flow of fellow Minnesotans Low even on the more upbeat numbers: harmonies that inflate the songs' verses with the breaths of a body at rest and languid chorus refrains that release them like a lung's capacity slowly exhausting itself. It's a rhythm that feels right, to where it takes a few listens to discover the equally subtle arranging intelligence beyond the narcotic pull of the album's melodies. Piano, strings, and Mellotron lurk beneath "Forever Changing" (Sgt. Pepper–esque, and note the title's nod to Love), while "Baby Boy" evokes the multitrack alchemy of the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle, garnished with two pianos (one in tune, the other exquisitely not), well-placed tympani, and bells. Unlike a lot of indie-pop kitchen sinkery, you're left hearing the songs in your head instead of the band's cool gear, which makes Our Hopes and Dreams—25 minutes, eight modest songs, probably $1,000 of studio time—deeper and broader than albums that sound twice its size. J. NIIMI

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Kill Bill Vol. 2

(Maverick)

Listening to a soundtrack before you see the film is a little like reading Hamlet before seeing it performed onstage: You think you know what you're in for, but you really don't. No matter, since KB2 is a much stronger album than KB1, which relied a bit too heavily on the participation of the RZA and the sexy pathos of Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)." As demonstrated by previous soundtracks, Quentin Tarantino has an uncommon gift for reviving semi-iconic music and endowing it with new pop potency. The Pulp Fiction mix was ostensibly a peek at the director's own record collection, but say what you will about Q.T.'s self-absorption: What that album did for "Misirlou" and "You Never Can Tell"—crafting scenes that stuck like glue to the songs without the style-over-substance bullshit of bad music videos—was truly remarkable. This time around, Tarantino makes a few surprising choices, like eschewing the '60s and '70s for the more recent past: Shivaree's underrated 1999 single "Goodnight Moon," whose cheerfully sinister lyrics match Q's sense of humor to a T. After a rich fog of flamenco, Ennio Morricone, and Johnny Cash, the album's other great surprise emerges: Malcolm McLaren's "About Her," a gentle, euphoric electroscape that trounces all remaining expectations of what a Tarantino soundtrack should be. Unless the Bride has an epic acid trip midfilm, there's no way to predict what kind of scene this beautiful track corresponds to—and that's just the way I (and the director) like it. NEAL SCHINDLER

THE GIRLS

The Girls

(Dirtnap)

Ric Ocasek is holed up in a studio somewhere, putting the finishing touches on his seventh solo album, Nexterday. Contrary to what this album often suggests, he hasn't dumped Paulina, moved to Seattle, and founded an ironically monikered all-boy quintet. Yes, the Girls are heavily informed by the Cars' vintage new wave, particularly on "Return to Zero" and "Flesh" (a holdover from their self-released 2002 EP), which have the Candy-O formula down pat: crisp staccato swipes softened by state-fair synth, bunny-hop percussion, and coy-boy cooing. And Shannon Brown's coo is ideal for the sound, bursting with Prince-like, porcupine prick shrieks that make Hot Hot Heat's Steve Bays look like Danzig. So yeah, the Girls can spice up the Cars (and, if only vocally, Devo) for 2004; it's far more intriguing when they plug into their more surreal, grittier impulses. "Decoy" is a potent future shocker buoyed by eerie, carnival-mirror guitar and synth; "Dope Disguised as Nuns" flaunts a tense, oft-repeated three-chord motif that effectively undercuts the nonsensical "monkey hate clean" call-out; "Fast Times" acutely retards Blondie's "One Way or Another" and maintains an agreeable space-drone purr. The Girls' chops and maturity are impressive—they know when to reel in the cowbell and Casio for a hot lead. Their voyage to SXSW this year is more than justified. If they continue to diversify—and this record has plenty of signs that they can—admit it's all over: They'll be the Girls u want. ANDREW BONAZELLI

The Girls play Chop Suey with the Lights, Dalmations, DJ Brian Everett, and DJ Johnny Mayday at 9 p.m. Sat., April 30. $6.

SAM PHILLIPS

A Boot and a Shoe

(Nonesuch)

Sam Phillips' supremely assured eighth album feels like the product of a bygone era that never fully existed. Dense with muffled drum and razor-sharp guitar, a few songs (the infectious "All Night" among them) recall the hot jazz of the '20s. After the unbridled innuendo of "All Night" ("I've been wanting to touch you since we met/You don't give a girl a chance to forget"), Phillips finds her way to a gentle waltz, "Reflecting the Light," whose silky lilt begs to accompany a moonlit stroll. Here the guitar sound is softer, and Phillips' voice is more a purr than a drawl; in fact, some of the music on Shoe is reminiscent of her incidental themes for the TV show Gilmore Girls. The déjà vu starts with "Light" and extends through "Love Changes Everything," which recycles the melodic refrain that acts as a musical touchstone on the show. The best song on the album, happily, is the last—"One Day Late" combines the muted percussion and insistent guitar of earlier tracks with lyrics that tell an all-too-familiar tale: "Help is coming, help is coming/One day late, one day late," Phillips sings. Then, a few lines later, a simple simile to break your heart: "There always has been good/Just like stars you don't see in the day sky." Here's the mark of a first-rate songwriter—the story of how we strive and fail, then look up to catch a glimpse of those hidden stars . . . all snugly contained in a three-minute ditty. N.S.

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