Mastodon

Also: Monster Magnet, The Killers, Garden State, Geri Allen, DJ Shadow, Merge Records, The Meat Purveyors, and Slum Village.

MASTODON

Leviathan

(Relapse)

Top three reasons that senioritis is a persistent epidemic for precollegiate American scholars: increased alcohol and drug abuse, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. Next to The Scarlet Letter, the lumbering Moby Dick is the most dreaded entry on any teenager's required reading list. Luckily, in an ADD-afflicted burnout's wet dream come true, a killer up-and-coming art-metal band just wrote an entire album from the point of view of Captain Ahab. Amusingly bizarre narrative concept notwithstanding, Leviathan is one of the genre's must-hear summer tent poles, thanks to the tempo-shifting stoner-thrash adventures detailed in Mastodon's 2002 full-length debut, Remission. So chuckle if you must as Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders bark Melville paraphrases like "This ivory leg is what compels me." The musicianship on Leviathan storms right past "evolution" to "breakthrough," rendering their exemplary work of just two years ago obsolete. Until now, the Atlanta-based quartet's lone liability was Brann Dailor's otherworldly-to-the-point-of-distraction kit slaying; he's dialed down the freestyle fill flurries in favor of structural fortitude, and the riffing has caught up big time. "Megalodon" is the major head-turner, advancing from a series of crippling, staccato jabs to a lone, twanging country lick, then erupting into a nasty industrial sprint, a la Psalm 69 era ministry. "Blood and Thunder" and "Iron Tusk" offer condensed, uncompromised takes on the hypermasculine Remission strut, and the 13-minute-plus "Hearts Alive" is a bold claim to Metallica's Opus God throne, cramming countless wild, proficient, somehow nongratuitous solos into its coda. Almost makes me want to re-enroll in high school and submit a new senior thesis. Almost. ANDREW BONAZELLI

MONSTER MAGNET

Monolithic Baby!

(SPV)

Something is harshing Dave Wyndorf's buzz. On Monolithic Baby!, Monster Magnet's vocalist and co-founder seems both listless and restless, as though the sometimes-reluctant Lord of the Infernal Domains shtick he's been tweaking since the band's 1990 self-titled debut were starting to feel even more constricting than his trademark lederhosen. Maybe it's the company he keeps: Baby!'s numerous close encounters of the very fleeting kind seem little more than hastily written vehicles for the stoner rock pioneer's obligatory boasting and bemused revulsion, along with the kind of lust that comes and goes depending on the rhyming requirements of the next line. Consider "Unbroken (Hotel Baby)." Over a riff that hints at recent liaisons with Randy Bachman and Tom Scholz, Wyndbag growls, "Come on down to the hotel, baby/I can be what you want me to be/You can choke on your own medication/I can watch myself on TV/Oh yeah!" What band does he think he's in, anyway—Head East—Ludacris would at least make time to consummate before checkout. But even at his most dysfunctional, Bongdorf finds a place for humor: The first line of "Unbroken"'s chorus is expertly hijacked from Every Mother's Son's "Come on Down to My Boat." Still, the protagonist of that squeaky-clean 1967 hit had enough caulking compound in his gun to dream of sailing away with a cute fisherman's daughter whose dad kept her tied to the dock while he was working. Wyndorf just wants to surf Jersey cable while his date turns blue. That the band's cover of the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs" displays a depth of feeling that easily transcends the original probably has something to do with the fact that it's the only song on Monolithic Baby! where Wyndorf's performance suggests that he might actually be working from life. ROD SMITH

Monster Magnet play Neumo's at 8 p.m. Sun., Sept. 5. $15 adv.

THE KILLERS

Hot Fuss

(Island)

They like New Order so much they named themselves after the fictional band in their "Crystal" video. They like U2 so much they've publicly aspired to produce the next "Where the Streets Have No Name." They like the Strokes so much they, um, dress exactly like them. But stripped of their crushes, who exactly are the Killers? Is it even fair to ask with just one unfortunately titled album to go on, an album that implicitly boasts that they're a wink-wink self-promotional amalgam of hip influences? At the very least, the fashionable Vegas quartet is responsible for two breathtakingly catchy now-wave singles, the first an alternately peppy and mopey riff on jealousy ("Mr. Brightside"), the second full-speed-ahead disco sass ("Somebody Told Me"). The remainder of Fuss is a tasteful, if predictable blend of the Killers' aforementioned forebears. Vocalist Brandon Flowers squeezes a little Cockney pulp into his Casablancas, impassively recollecting "fights on the prah-men-aude out in the rain." He effectively channels the persona of the disheveled barfly player who's never had a real, identifiable emotion about a relationship in his life. Thankfully, Flowers is so consumed with this role that, for the most part, he lays off the cheap revivalist synth that practically collapses "On Top." Guitarist Dave Keuning has yet to develop the effortless signature simplicity of Albert Hammond Jr., but his restrained figures lend much-needed gravity to a band still fleshing hype from identity. Fuss ain't all Killer, but there's certainly no filler. ANDREW BONAZELLI

The Killers play Bumbershoot at the What's Next Stage at 6:30 p.m. Mon., Sept. 6. $3 under 12 and over 65; $15 single day; $28 two-day pass; $55 four-day pass.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Garden State

(Epic)

Since its release in February 2003, the debut album by the Postal Servicehas traveled a snaky route to fame, arriving just two months ago at the pinnacle of Billboard's electronic chart, where it stayed several weeks. Word of mouth takes time. Films like Garden State (and TV shows like The O.C., Gilmore Girls, and Six Feet Under)have become alternative pop's most influential cheerleaders; they've essentially co-opted (and commercialized) the homemade mix CD. KEXP acolytes may shrug when they get a load of what album producer Zach Braff (who also directed, wrote, and stars in State) considers required listening. (The Shins? Been there, done that.) But much of the country hasn't yet been exposed to this music, and State is effective outreach: a solid collection of bright-eyed, atmospheric songs to pop into your Discman to make the world more cinematic. Coldplay, Zero 7, the Shins, and Iron and Wine (a.k.a. Samuel Beam, who covers the Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" with great tenderness here) are bands with singer-songwriter souls, and Braff pays homage to their spiritual roots with Simon & Garfunkel's soaring, drum-kicky "The Only Living Boy in New York" and Nick Drake's winsome "One of These Things First." Still, the electro-pop duo Frou Frou are likely to benefit most from inclusion: "Let Go," with its boomerang beats and intoxicating strings, plays over State's closing clinch and end credits, and already word of mouth is taking hold. NEAL SCHINDLER

GERI ALLEN

The Life of a Song

(Telarc)

The shrewdest moment of this powerful comeback by the 47-year-old pianist, whose six-year hiatus comes finally to a screeching halt, arrives when the opener, "LWB's House," smashes a clean, wholesome riff into several dissonant pieces. Shrewd, if not brilliant, because listeners who pegged Allen for a lightweight in the '80s will glimpse the muscle and versatility she offers by firing off rounds of abstract, jagged patterns. There's no more provocative way to announce her return, either, than to spring trapdoors on the first track. Bumps do arise, however. "Holdin' Court," a plain, shrugged-off tune, could have fallen just as easily to the cutting-room floor, and Dave Holland's gorgeously pounding, thickly plucked bass solo on "Mounts and Mountains" virtually overshadows Allen's own playing. Plus, the steadily moving, hauntingly expressive "Soul Eyes," which ends the album, deserves front-and-center placement. Production quirks aside, the gripping choruses and meditative climaxes move the album's tone up to ecstatic, down to somber, and, at times on "Dance of the Infidels," over to bored, with a nice, salty tension between clarity and oddity. For the Detroit-born bandleader, steeped in bebop and looking to reclaim a portion of the unpredictable, ever-shaky jazz market, Allen has rediscovered firm, solid ground. DANIEL KING

DJ SHADOW

Live! In Tune and On Time

(Geffen)

Brixton is London's capitol of glitter in the grime, the perfect setting for a midnight flash of subterranean skill. A CD/DVD combo package, In Tune and On Time chronicles two nights at the Brixton Academy during Shadow's 2002 tour; the set, taken from his three self-billed albums, plus work with U.N.K.L.E. and Blackalicious, among others, doesn't just match beats but blends harmonics. Shadow describes his methods to his audience as though an academic to a classroom; at one point in the DVD, we see the DJ digging through his crate, paranoid that it's out of order, worried that things could go wrong, every bit the control freak. His set, aided by synched, tri-panel projections made by Tino Corp. (Meat Beat Manifesto) partner Ben Stokes, ranges from shlocksploitation collage to stoner art-school videos, and they provide some visual play where Shadow's knob-twittling and CD-J finger walking seem stiff. Less darkly than inheritor RJD2, Shadow pushes his samples to ear-splitting shreds: When he blends the world-weary Richard Ashcroft on "Lonely Soul" into Kool G Rap's "Guns Blazing (Drums of Death Part 1)" (both by U.N.K.L.E.), Kool G's blood-sport celebration still feels light after the treble-blitz of Ashcroft. Not until Endtroducing ... 's "The Number Song," more than two-thirds of the way into the set, does Shadow forget he's the man to watch and just starts to shred, and when The Private Press' "Mashin' on the Motorway" comes in, Shadow's self-reflective stance goes comically loose. It's a relief, really, after all that brow sweat. After all, it's no fun being a virtuoso—that the Shadow knows. DAPHNE CARR

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Old Enough to Know Better: Ten Years of Merge Records

(Merge)

Superchunk weren't my first brush with indie or artist-owned labels, but they were the first band I identified with enough that the label seemed like an extension of my love. If you trusted Superchunk, you could trust Merge. And for a long time, I did. At 16, when they were 5, I was enraptured. At 21, when they were 10, they were critics' darlings even as my attention drifted elsewhere. And, now that I'm 26 and they're 15, we've both settled into our comfortable, albeit worlds-apart, niches. Old Enough to Know Better is an apt title for a label that made its name on proto-emo and twee whimsy. But what stuffing the whole catalog together reveals is just how diverse Merge were and are, moving from Third Eye Foundation's post drum & bass skank on "In Bristol With a Pistol" to the super-deformed anime shoe gaze of Polvo's "Tragic Carpet Ride" to the whole Elephant 6 sunshine-'60s avant-pop revival thing to the dive-bombing post- hardcore of ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's "Mistakes and Regrets" to-naturally-plenty of flimsy indie-pop. Merge and I may have drifted apart, but in that time they've also released records by the Clientele, whose "I Want You More Than Ever" is worth the (very reasonable) asking price for the whole collection. If you had told me five years ago there'd be a Merge act that meant as much to me at 26 as the 'Chunk did at 16, I'd have laughed. But the best kind of friends always (pleasantly) surprise you. JESS HARVELL

THE MEAT PURVEYORS

Pain by Numbers

(Bloodshot)

After bowing to the throne of the King on its debut, mashing three Mary Louise Ciccone songs into one on 1999's "The Madonna Trilogy" 7-inch, and paying tribute to the entire nation of Sweden with a glorious cover of Abba's "S.O.S.," this Austin quartet still hasn't run out of ways to yank your tractor chain. The Meat Purveyors alternate between displaying cheek and turning the other cheek on their fourth album with a 50-50 split of covers and originals. But here's the bee in the bonnet: it's the covers (Johnny Paycheck's "It Won't Be Long (And I'll Be Hating You)" and Bill Monroe's "One I Love is Gone") that sound completely reverent this time around. Honey-voiced lead Jo Cohen lays claim to Fleetwood Mac's "Sunday Morning" as her own tearjerker. Meanwhile, crafty mandolinist Peter Stiles blows the roof off the barn dance with "Heartbreaker," a song fast enough to be included on Moonshine's next Happy 2 B Hardcore compilation. Guitarist Bill Anderson is the group's most prolific writer, with five keenly melodic, old-timey novelties about cheap deaths, cheaper haircuts, and the cheapest moonshine. The key, of course, is to actually listen to the words that are coming from their mouths. Anderson's midalbum revelation "Pain by Numbers" made for such a great ambient background soundtrack that Cohen's persona as a jealous ex-husband didn't sink in until after repeated plays, squashing my hopes for a (shut up, Beavis!) genre-defying lesbian revenge fantasy. NICK GREEN

SLUM VILLAGE

Detroit Deli: A Taste of Detroit

(Priority)

Slum's debut, 2000's Fantastic Vol. 2, was part of a brief moment where post Native Tongues hip-hop attempted to reconcile the pleasure principle of cocaine rap. (Best example: Q-Tip's underrated Amplified.) The Village genius, producer Jay Dee, a.k.a. Jay Dilla, then decamped in one of rap's few true tales of downward mobility. Largely produced by the remaining duo of Young RJ and Black Milk, the spirit of Detroit Deli is captured by the ODB on "Dirty": "Girl, if you flexible, intellectual, bisexual, can I get next to you?" It's the "intellectual" that sticks out; Deli reeks of the incense of bohemians getting freaky. "Do You" is a passable Bootsy's Rubber Band homage, though it's nowhere near OutKast's best. "Closer" is actually quite good faux dancehall that transcends how cheap and trendy it feels. "Old Girl/Shining Star" is the we-love-you-baby's-mamas track. "Selfish" is the obligatory Kanye West guest spot. But sit through this pleasant marshmallow fluff, and the back end of Detroit Deli is stuffed with goodness like a blintz. "It's On" could just as easily be titled "I Can't Believe It's Not Just Blaze." The guitar on "The Hours" taps the too-fast beat like a dartboard. "Count the Ways" is a retarded sex rap over a sublime beat like Detroit techno legend Carl Craig sippin' on some syrup. And "Reunion" welcomes back Jay Dilla with a palsied shaker, urban jungle caws, and a heart-stopper snare hit. Detroit Deli is more or less the low-cal College Dropout: not as mawkish or pretentious, but not as fleetingly brilliant either. But if you see 'em in the club, go give 'em a hug. JESS HARVEL

 
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