CD Reviews

ALANIS MORISSETTE

So-Called Chaos

(Maverick)

Four albums in and she'd rather hurt you honestly than mislead you with a lie, ask her if she loves you and you'll choke on her reply, but better her yodel than Shania's yawn. Still torturing vowels like a helmetless goaltender from Chicoutimi, and as for sensitivity, James Hetfield should just go back to the firing range. (We can't do that up here in Canada—they took away all our guns.) Romance and all its strategy leaves her battling with her pride, but through the insecurity some tenderness survives. Just another writer, trapped within her truths—a hesitant prizefighter, still trapped within her youth? This national institution would like to remind you that we're having a national election north of the border, too, and while it might not be as significant as yours, it's kind of cooler because of how amateurish the candidates are; they never face the cameras directly, and they stutter and forget their lines a lot while declaiming on issues like generating electricity from beaver treadmills. (Note: The election has now been decided, resulting in "yet" another easy win for ZANU. They're going to make us all rich up here by scrapping border security and investing our money in pyramid schemes! Whee!) Morissette is no amateur and no one-hit wonder, either, although the trance track "Excuses" should've been the single instead of the boring "Everything," and at times she'd like to break you and drive you to the knees of her bees. There's nothing chaotic about bees, which are frighteningly Canadian in their socialistic efficiency, although as anyone who's ever fallen into a cyclotron will attest, touching both is dangerous, and sometimes when you touch, the honesty's too much. DAVE QUEEN

Alanis Morissette plays White River Amphitheatre, 40601 Auburn Enumclaw Rd., Auburn, 206-628-0888, with Barenaked Ladies at 7 p.m. Sun., July 25. $21.25–$46.25 adv.

DARKEST HOUR

Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation

(Victory)

It's an exciting time for new-not-nü metal: Subgenres are swapping bloody saliva, players are taking unprecedented aesthetic risks, and the fan IQ ceiling of 90 has been temporarily suspended. You wouldn't suspect much of this after a day at Ozzfest, which is understandably playing it safe this year with a "cool grandpa" main-stage tripleheader: Slayer and everyone's favorite wax sculpture restorations, Sabbath, and Priest. Before you join the tweakers and tankheads braying for "Raining Blood," "Breaking the Law," and "Iron Man" in the comfort of the pavilion, do the devil's dance with sunstroke and scope Darkest Hour's second-stage death metal gyro-technics. The D.C. quintet's third full-length, Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation is an expertly crafted homage to–cum–powwow with their Swedish forebears, including members of At the Gates and the Haunted; Darkest Hour famously traveled to Gothenburg to record it, and the sessions yielded one staggering funereal instrumental classic, "Veritas, Aequitas." What of the rest? While guitarists Kris Norris and Mike Schleibaum trade contained thrash brilliance and frontman John Henry is as scabrous as they get in bemoaning the hypocrisy of his countrymen, enemies, etc. (interestingly, he rarely uses profanity), the syncopated four-minutes-o'-hammering approach quickly gets repetitive, even interchangeable. One wishes Henry would find a way to emote over his band's too-rare, sprawling, piano-supplemented meditations, even if it meant alienating their traditionalist core. Lack of differentiation notwithstanding, this is easily the most challenging material on a bill packed with crossover meathead metalcore. Slipknot and Hatebreed, eat your hearts out. Please. ANDREW BONAZELLI

Darkest Hour play Ozzfest at White River Amphitheatre, 40601 Auburn Enumclaw Rd., Auburn, 206-628-0888, with Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slayer, and more at 9 a.m. Tues., July 27. $46–$79.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Crunk Classics

(TVT)

Remember when the South seemed quaint? To most purists, the 1999 beef pitting the then-ubiquitous No Limit honcho Master P against an aspiring Georgia scrapper named Pastor Troy seemed like a fleeting annoyance. But five years later, the stakes of that battle seem much clearer: P's watered-down pop raps were out of step with the raw, bruising styles percolating through Troy's underground South. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Southern hip-hop's rise to ubiquity is that the hard stuff won—crunk, with its open spaces, lumbering, improbably heavy bass lines, and spry raps, is the new norm. Crunk Classics is that rare lunge for canonicity that gets something right. Troy's "No Mo Play in GA" is classic crunk minimalism, all shouts, shuffles, and hi-hats. The body blows and drum rolls of Drama's "Left Right Left" rival the toughest of Miami bass, only a few dozen bpm slower, while the brash immovability of Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz' shouter "Bia Bia" makes you feel hoarse just listening to it. Also check the staple-gun riddim of JT Money's "Who Dat" and the nimble stutter-step of Trick Daddy's "Shut Up," which is haughty enough to make the creaky, shirt-waving sway Timbaland rigged for Petey Pablo's "Raise Up" (also included here) sound tame. HUA HSU

VARIOUS ARTISTS

The Conet Project: Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations

(Irdial-Disks)

For days after Sept. 11, all I could listen to was The Conet Project—retreating, as the facts of the new world order piled up, into a compilation of recordings of which no sense can be made. For years the shortwave frequencies have included these broadcasts—endless series of numbers interspersed with electronic jingles and howls. No government or agency has ever laid claim to them, but it's believed that they're one-way transmissions by various covert organizations—spy agencies, drug cartels, and the like—to field operatives and are decoded by a so-far-hack-proof technique called a one-time pad. Some geeks perceive "hack-proof" as a challenge, and efforts have been made to crack the uncrackable. Musicians have worked samples of the recordings into mixes and background tracks. (Irdial recently settled a lawsuit with Wilco over use of the sample from which Yankee Hotel Foxtrot took its name.) Newly rereleased and no closer to decipherment, this set stands on its subtle merits: ghostly, distorted tracks that add up to the ultimate in user-targeted listening—an audience of one. Meanwhile, there's been no letup in the broadcasts, not even since the end of the Cold War (when it was assumed that the broadcasts were the usual red-vs.-red-white-and-blue games); stations continue to come and go, occasionally interfering with air-traffic control or shipping transmissions. Somewhere, for each message, someone is listening hard, and then doing something based on what the numbers tell them—what, we cannot know. All we can do is wait. ANGELA GUNN

THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN

Miss Machine

(Relapse)

When it comes to metal, I prefer basic arithmetic to algebra: whiplash thrash riff repeated ad infinitum – discernible bass + nihilistic Doberman with microphone = perfection. This philosophy has always been too pedestrian for the Dillinger Escape Plan, who prodigiously devise hundreds of independently innovative figures and fills, then puree them into seemingly arbitrary three-minute doses. Technically, the whole enchilada "rocks," kinda like the way a really, really intense game of Galaga does, and the quintet plays more like androids than heshers, rarely hitting the brakes to exploit any of their particularly wicked digressions. On Miss Machine, a math-metal watershed, Dillinger simultaneously wink at, embrace, and shatter their bookworm-brute rep. They dissect 11 songs and spread the entrails over all 99 available tracks on the disc—the stunted synth-thrash of "Sunshine the Werewolf" extends from tracks two through 16, and so on. The measure cutely underscores Dillinger's ferocious distaste for convention, but no sequencing quirk could distract from the long-overdue introduction of new vocalist Greg Puciato, who comes off like Mike Patton starring in Ang Lee's Hulk. The fire-breathing, stage-shitting (see 2002 Reading Festival), Ferrigno-armed howler is math-metal's closest thing to a superhero, dropping an Ol' Blue Eyes croon or self-effacing snarl just as adroitly as a straight-up guttural freak-out. The players diversify, too, especially on the wonderfully melodramatic "Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants" and "Unretrofied," the first Dillinger songs where I envisioned the band rocking through a "feel," not laboriously graphing out signature changes. ANDREW BONAZELLI

NINA NASTASIA

"Dogs"

(Touch & Go)

Novelists have a glib, ancient adage: If you wanna make a character likable, give him a dog. But Nina Nastasia's narrative vision is far too skewed to be inviting, and her pups, while plentiful, are more feral street sniffers than cuddly bedmates. First released by Nastasia's own Socialist Records in 2000, "Dogs" reveals the foundation of a discography long riddled with bleak, swampy fables. Singer-songwriters are often splattered with brash accusations of solipsism, but Nastasia's sense of narrative is sparse and generous, packed with big interpretive holes and piles of awkward pauses. Lyrically, Nastasia is preoccupied with tiny, unremarkable tragedies (kerosene in the wishing well, people who work too hard) and the forces responsible: In "Underground," she half-whispers her hazy, paranoid indictments at the devil ("You're so serene underneath the weeds/ You're watching me trip in my saddle shoes"), before imploring, in an explosive vocal and instrumental crescendo, for an invitation down ("Parachute me down to your cold, cold underground/Save me"). Nastasia's vocals and guitar are backed up by puttering drums and a tangle of yawning strings (the make, year, and origin of her band's gear are duly noted in the sleeve), and producer Steve Albini ensures that their collective puff of dirt has been properly "documented," but Nastasia's debut is still careful to establish the focus on Nastasia-as-gothic-storyteller, an astoundingly innocent purveyor of rotting graveyard-folk. AMANDA PETRUSICH

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