The Homosexuals

Also: Fela Kuti and I ♥ Huckabees.

THE HOMOSEXUALS

Astral Glamour

(Messthetics/Morphius)

The Homosexuals led a strange, short existence in late '70s England, shrouded in myth and rumor. They left behind a mishmash of intriguing but difficult-to-find releases, a mysterious trail of solo projects with weird names like Sara Goes Pop, Nancy Sesay and the Melodaires, and George Harassment. In short, they were the perfect cult band. Earlier this year, ReR Megacorp released a tantalizing taste of the Homosexuals' enigmatic output with The Homosexuals' CD—a fine sampler that was nevertheless frustrating in its incompleteness. That's more than rectified by the gorgeously packaged three-CD Astral Glamour, which collects every last snippet of the band's material, along with pages upon pages of obsessively researched liner notes. The great revelation: The mysterious Homosexuals weren't all that mysterious. Their best songs—"Soft South Africans," "Neutron Lover," "Astral Glamour"—were crunchy sing-along power-punk ditties. The endearingly cryptic lyrics, mostly sung by weirdo vocalist L'Voag, don't really add up (e.g., "Global pupils radiating interference/ PICASSO!"), but the music makes perfect sense: At their best, they were like a fancier British version of Cheap Trick. This is music you can air guitar to. But the Homosexuals could barely hold the attention of their own band long enough to keep "record" pressed down for more than two minutes. There are a lot of half-finished idea fragments on Astral Glamour—bizarro segues, bogus 45-second instrumentals like "Magic Moment Part 2," baffling experimental interludes like "There Are Shy Moons." But that's part of the Homosexuals' charm—and now, for less than 30 bucks, you can fully experience the "cred" that took aging hipster dudes piles of cash and years of scouring crates of ratty vinyl to achieve. Ha ha, suckers! GEETA DAYAL

FELA KUTI (MIXED BY CHIEF XCEL)

The Underground Spiritual Game

(Quannum)

At first I was annoyed with this album, partly because it seemed so willfully obscure—not that you have to try all that hard with Fela Kuti's catalog. Even to Americans who have immersed in it some, his vast output—some 60 albums, usually consisting of one or, if we're lucky, two songs—is alike and unfamiliar enough to be "obscure" even if you can spot his groove a mile off: slow-build, martial-funk bass-and-drum decorated by slightly slanted keyboard that bubbles over after 10, 15, 20 minutes, if that. So for Xcel of Bay Area rappers Blackalicious to deliberately bypass the hookier, more direct stuff that made the 1999 compilation The Best Best of Fela Kuti: The Black President the definitive document of the man's genius felt at first like record-geek snobbery at its most misguided. What took me a couple listens to grasp (which I should have figured—it usually does with Fela) is how persuasively Xcel argues for the artist as tantric groovemeister. The DJ's tiny additions (the flight attendant welcoming us to Africa in the intro, spoken snatches at the top of "Look and Laugh," the occasional scratch segue) are right in line with a pulse that quickens when you're expecting it to slack, and the fact that he keeps his segments relatively short is a godsend: 11 cuts in under an hour, only three of which top eight minutes, which for Fela is positively Ramones-like. The turnarounds are both incremental (from "Ololufe Mi" to the slightly faster "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am" feels as deep as the groove itself by the fifth play) and smart. And when Xcel lets Fela build the tension and bubble it over himself on "Mr. Grammarticologylisationalism Is the Boss," obscurity takes a backseat to a will as titanic as any in music. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

JON BRION

I ♥ Huckabees

(Milan)

Producer Jon Brion has a semi-secret life as a singer- songwriter. He spends most of his studio time producing artists like Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann, and he's also scored numerous films, including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Recently, Brion was part of the team that finalized Elliott Smith's last album, From a Basement on the Hill, which might explain why "Knock Yourself Out"—the unofficial theme song of I ♥ Huckabees—sounds eerily like an Elliott Smith B-side. Maybe the dusty guitar strum and harmonica riff that open the song are Brion-esque touches, but the song's central theme—confused individual, absurd universe—smacks heavily of Smith ("Things begin, things decay/And you've got to find a way/To be OK/But if you want to spend the day/Wondering what it's all about/Go knock yourself out"), as does Brion's use of layered background vocals (his own) to add depth to the chorus. Later in the record, "Revolving Door" drips cynicism and drops clever rhymes like Aimee Mann ("There'll always be someone to replace you/Though they may not have the courage to face you"), and the tune's slinky melody and tightly coiled guitar-drum pulse make it official: Huckabees is a covers album of songs the original artists forgot to write. Which would be fine if Brion's instrumentals were up to his usual standards. While "Cubes," a duet for glockenspiel and vibraphone with a sweeping faux-vocal line, echoes the weird wonderfulness of Sunshine, there isn't much here to inspire repeat listening. If Huckabees—the film—is, as many critics claim, a muddled imitation of Sunshine, then its soundtrack follows suit. NEAL SCHINDLER

 
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