CD Reviews

CONSTANTINES

Shine a Light

(Sub Pop)

Anybody who cuffed their jeans 6 inches, faded their balding domes, and sat down with 20 Years of Dischord last year—on vinyl, of course (sniff)—should be pretty non­alcoholically loopy after the first track on Constantines' Shine a Light. It turns out, curiously, that the full-speed-ahead bone saw of "National Hum," all perfectly cluttered with Dueling Angular Guitars and loin-busting bass groove, is all tease, all Springsteen dressing up as Ian MacKaye for Halloween. For the duration of Shine, it seems as if only one member of the Ontario post-punk quintet at a time is really, you know, busting ass. This is actually a huge component of Constantines' smoke-'em-if-you-got-'em, beat-down Beat-poet mystique; their U.S. debut is so awash with veiled innovations that the material could easily—and mistakenly—be thought lethargic in performance. Yeah, vocalist/guitarist Bry Webb's down-and-out narratives have an overwhelmingly anthemic, bloody-fisted spirit ("I will dance through the alleyways with one foot in the gutter, take the city as a sister, the nighttime as a lover"; "O young lions, this is your kingdom"), but the players' unpredictable compositional flourishes—hand claps, brass, and harmonica are rarely employed so jarringly and effectively—make for something far richer. Maybe Constantines are too relaxed in their execution, too self-aware, too constantly "on"—kind of the Strokes of their subgenre. Luckily, Webb's unfiltered clove soul keeps them honest and hungry. Dischord should be bribing them to relocate to the Beltway any day now. ANDREW BONAZELLI

Constantines play the Crocodile Cafe with the Divorce and Audio Learning Center at 9 p.m. Wed., May 5. $10.

MIRAH

C'mon Miracle

(K)

Songwriter Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn recalls no one so much as Eliza Naumann, the 9-year-old mystic at the center of Myla Goldberg's novel Bee Season. Her delicate coo and lyrical abstractions often make her seem like a waifish conduit for transmissions from a dadaist dad. "I am the archipelago," she swore on one of her earliest psalms with such eerie, sedate conviction it was difficult to refute her. So it's too bad that C'mon Miracle rarely rises above the level of charming dinner music. The record's biggest problem is alluded to in its title: Moments of epiphany are longed for more than attained, and when they arrive, they only expose how ordinary the songs that surround them are. Such a moment occurs in the middle of "We're Both Sorry," when Mirah's lacy strumming is yanked aside to make way for queasy trumpets and fibrillating percussion. For four full minutes the whole record wakes up, like someone kicked a hole in the wall of a cave to let the sunlight in. It's also one of the few times Mirah seems willing to fuck with the musical blueprint in the same way she fucks with her Kabbalistic lyrics. That's another problem with Miracle: Mirah's songs require this sort of sonic sleight-of-hand just to keep them interesting. When she keeps the music traditional—a grizzled guitar in "The Light," muted piano in "Promise to Me"—it's difficult to pay more than passing attention. And no one listens to a prophet whose visions only come a few seconds at a time. J. EDWARD KEYES

GARY YOUNG'S HOSPITAL

The Grey Album

(Omnibus)

We now know why Steve Malkmus ended up being the singer. On The Grey Album—not to be confused with Danger Mouse's Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up—former Pavement drummer Gary Young makes his ex-bandmate's voice seem downright charismatic by comparison. Particularly on the cover of Joy Division's "Disorder," Young sounds like one of those unfortunate fellows who, at 48, is still living at home with Mom and eating cereal straight out of the box. It's not that Young's talky, lazy folk-singer slumming is entirely without charm, but it's rather maddening that all of the former Slanted and Enchanted ones are still trading in the same tired clichés. It's been 10 years since Young was dismissed from his duties behind the kit, but The Grey Album doesn't exactly give you the feeling that he has matured much. "Refrigerator Light" is a Sesame Street–style parody of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," and "Fred Named Friend" is absolutely the goofiest song to be issued on an indie-rock label, ever. Young and bandmate Terry Blank don't relegate the funny stuff to lyrics; when their folkier stuff isn't evoking the Red House Painters, Hospital channel prog-rock, Pink Floyd, and Spinal Tap. It would be worse if you didn't know that they're sort of kidding, but even with that in mind, these inanely catchy nursery-rhyme silly songs grow old rather quickly. Maybe we ought not to expect more than this from a drummer. LAURA CASSIDY

Gary Young's Hospital play the Funhouse with the Charming Snakes at 9:30 p.m. Sun., May 9. $5.

ALL NIGHT RADIO

Spirit Stereo Frequency

(Sub Pop)

Don't hate them 'cause they're hippies. Dave Seher and Jimi Hey, the principals behind L.A.'s All Night Radio, may filch a few patchouli-laced conventions on their dizzying, dazzling debut. But their chemically altered sound is less transparent than the typical cotton-dashiki tiptoeing of their influences. Along with the hum of "I wanna wake up in the morning" from opener "Daylight to Dawn," the boys rouse to a world where the flower beds really do dance and sing, squirrels line up like Rockettes, and soldiers on television flash peace signs. The rest of Spirit Stereo Frequency is what Revolver prophesied and Hair ruined: a communal boogie of pedal steel guitar, keyboards masquerading as harpsichords, tambourines, and lalalas. "Fall Down 7" runs with reverb and underwater vocals like the acrylics in a Steve Keene portrait, as Seher and Hey exclaim, "I need your love"—hippie-dippy enough, but with a broken stoner delivery that questions the speakers' sincerity. Before the request is granted, the voices drown in vinyl crackle and a Zapp-robot breaks in with the station ID—"All Night Radio"—to remind the listener exactly where you are, though it's easy to get tangled in the group's secret sonic garden. Spirit Stereo Frequency's sweetest sentiments are traced to fizzy centerpiece "Sad K." "We have a love designed to take us to the stars," Seher and Hey sing together. All Night Radio won't hide their love away, but they do play it relatively close to the vest. KATE SILVER

TEGO CALDERóN

El Enemy de los Guasibiri

(BMG)

"Los Guasibiri" are They Who Talk Shit, and they've picked their last fight, because Tego Calderón is here to regulate. He's a Puerto Rican–born American whose name has become synonymous with reggaetón, a magical hybrid of salsa and dancehall, and he's a tough negro loco indeed, name-dropping The Sopranos and authoritatively threatening his enemies in Spanish and occasional English. The ritmos for these 17 tracks are contributed by 10 different beatmakers united by a single-minded devotion to minimalist groove. DJ Blass' track for "Cosa Buena" seems simplistic at first, but the more you listen, the more you can hear the faint Steve Reich–like vibes sounds on the periphery. LuniTunes cooks up a haunting hip-hop circus graveyard thing on "Güasa, Güasa," while DJ Adams conjures the Jackson 5 on the bouncy "El Peligroso de Extinción." As skillful as the music is, Calderón's even more skilled—he's as hot on the microphone as anyone in the world right now. It's been claimed that it's his ability to combine street Spanish with old-time Puerto Rican hipster slang that separates Calderón from the reggaetón pack, but you don't have to speak a word of Spanish to appreciate him. What's important is his sick flow—effortless, complex, daunting. He rips the metamorphic track for "Dame un Chance" (produced by the Majestic) like Rakim en español, and his interaction with crooner Aventura on "We Got the Crown 'Envidia'" is as nimble as any in hip-hop—or music. MATT CIBULA

DJ KOZE

All People Is My Friends

(Kompakt)

Over the past couple years, inclusiveness and dilettantism have become premiums in dance culture, an open-ended approach embraced by Hamburg DJ Stefan Kozalla. On All People Is My Friends, his second mix CD, Koze takes the same free-spirited liberty with choosing tracks as he does with grammar. His warm and, at times, politic approach skirts closely to Smallville, Kompakt labelmate Tobias Thomas' simultaneously cuddly and panoramic mix from last year. But where Thomas' record unfolded with a subtle elegance, Kozalla wanders a crooked path with some blunt tempo and style changes, most regrettably a three-song, eight-minute, beatless overture that seems more like a series of movie trailers than an integral part of the record. Once that's over, though, Koze peppers the heart of his mix with robust tech-house from Thomas Brinkmann, Isoleé, and Jan Jelinek. And the loosening of genre restrictions in microhouse as a whole is echoed in his playful exploration of the dynamic between musician and listener: Johnny Cash, Depeche Mode, Indeep, the Beatles, and Frankie Valli are each sampled or referenced in the mix. The presumably spontaneous (and drunken) sing-along of Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" (from Koze's own "Geklöppel B2") exemplifies Koze's mix: It's sloppy, but it's also spirited and sweet, personifying the ways music permeates our daily lives and collective experiences, and a reminder that, particularly in the communal world of dance music, points of convergence and precision are often preferable to sprawl. SCOTT PLAGENHOEF

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