Isis

Le Tigre, Haiku d'Etat, Drive-By Truckers, Lesbians on Ecstasy, The Late Great Daniel Johnston, Junior Boys, Turing Machine, Beastie Boys/DJ Green Lantern, The Hidden Cameras, Ricardo Villalobos, and Wasteland.

ISIS

Panopticon

(Ipecac)

It's not often suggested that metal bands have "entered their prime" once they begin to prominently employ accordions, or even keyboards filtered through an accordion patch. Boston's Isis are a big-time exception, an unpretentious art-rock behemoth who have refined and beautified their lumbering, mallet-hurling approach on each consecutive album without sacrificing a sliver of their inherent, primal power. That aforementioned "accordion" drones dreamily through both channels on the bridge of Panopticon's seven-and-a-half-minute opener, "So Did We," first as atmospheric complement to a series of brittle, sad guitar arpeggios, then as shrieking reply to the coda's hailstorm of detuned doom riffs. The quintet first began tinkering with this ambient/aggro dynamic on 2002's Oceanic (prior albums The Red Sea and Celestial were more content simply nodding to Neurosis' T. Rex stomp), but even that gorgeous effort is amateur hour compared to Panopticon. This is what Tool's Lateralus should have been—a brutalizing, insightful art-metal masterpiece that mines its depth from compositional ebbs and flows, not end-of-days lyrical bombast. You get the best of both worlds in the towering, deceptively simple, four-chord instrumental "Altered Course" (featuring Tool bassist Justin Chancellor), which relies on subtle fluctuations of volume and syncopation for its narrative—which isn't to say notoriously guttural architect Aaron Turner is lacking as a storyteller. By the way, a panopticon is a prison developed by 18th-century London utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, in which inmates would at all times be observed and scrutinized by hidden authorities. The concept obviously doubles as a metaphor for Patriot Act–era America, one of countless inspired nuances that make this album one of the year's finest. ANDREW BONAZELLI

Isis play Neumo's with These Arms Are Snakes and Wormwood at 8 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 18. $12 adv.

LE TIGRE

This Island

(Strummer/Le Tigre/Universal)

For the past five years, Le Tigre have been one of the most inspired groups around. Ex–Bikini Kill frontwoman and DIY poster grrrl Kathleen Hanna, Johanna Fateman, and J.D. Samson (who replaced original member Sadie Benning after the band's 1999 debut) hose down their electro-dance-punk tunes with academic theory, freethinking diatribes, and pep rally synergy. Their third album, and first on a major label, introduces the band to mainstream America, gathering swathes of Kraftwerk-cum-hip-hop beats, chain-saw guitar chords, and boop-beep knob tweakery and sassing the shit out of it . . . with mixed results. This Island is tenacious and boastful, and flaunts a prissy kind of seduction and velvet-rope mentality. If you're down with Le Tigre, you speak their language of feminism, goofiness, gender bending, and sequined headbands; if you have trouble with these seemingly inconsistent elements, you're shoved aside. The band's attitude is pretty members-only. The naughty, body bumpin' "Nanny Nanny Boo Boo" sneers, "It's just a joke man, it's just an interview/You'll never get it, I guess this shit is too new." Samson's here-and-very-extremely-queer shout out, "Viz" (as in "visibility"), paints the singer as a golden child who owns the club scene and lights up the crowd with her butch dyke pal in tow. In other words, Le Tigre are a crew in the same manner as hip-hop high rollers—carving a mighty niche for themselves, taking pleasure in flaunting their grassroots empire (no coincidence that their Web site is LeTigreWorld.com), and looking down their noses at anyone who isn't a playa. JEANNE FURY

Le Tigre play the Showbox with Robosapiens and Lesbians on Ecstasy at 8 p.m. Sun., Nov. 21. $17 adv./$20.

HAIKU D'ETAT

Coup de Theatre

(Decon/Project Blowed)

While a few unusual suspects have been producing club-friendly battle-rap bangers or surrealist beatnik electro, too many indie-rap acts these days are still trying to get by on some outdated Jeru/Premier jock-riding, as if Souls of Mischief's "93 'Til Infinity" referred to how long one could try to tap the same dreary downtempo jazz-poetic vein. Haiku d'Etat aren't much more guilty of this than most other groups left floundering in the post-Rawkus collapse, though they could be made a bit more culpable by their seniority: A supergroup-in-theory comprised of Freestyle Fellowship's Mikah 9 and Aceyalone, along with Abstract Rude of the unpromisingly named Abstract Tribe Unique, all three members have been active on record since the early '90s but sound more comfortable in that earlier context (Aceyalone's All Balls Don't Bounce particularly) than they do in the present day. All three MCs still sound sharp, even while delivering questionable thematic raps (porkpie hard bop "Katz" and awful, awful synthbilly "Dogs," consecutively), and if you like unknotted polysyllabic assonant convolution and lyrics about how the rap game needs to be fixed, then sit your ass down and tie on a bib. Just don't expect to move something: Title track aside, the narcoleptic jazz beats are more US3 cappuccino than Madlib sensemilla, and attempted big club thumpers could barely fill a phone booth. More than a retrograde diversion, less than a party, barely a lesson learned. NATE PATRIN

Haiku d'Etat play the Showbox with Del tha Funky Homosapien, Zion I, and Bukue One at 8 p.m. Mon., Nov. 22. $18 adv./$20.

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS

The Dirty South

(New West)

Double-barreled puns in both band name and album title aside, the Drive-By Truckers don't have much, er, truck with modern rap. Lead Trucker Patterson Hood claims it's too computer-assisted for his taste. But even more than the twisting melodic guitars of classic country-rock and meaty human beat of hard, old-style R&B, the Truckers are in love with words—just like David Banner or Cee-Lo. The characters in Truckers songs are wordy to the point of desperation, coming from a similar place as Hood's disdain for machine music: namely, fear of a "progress" that's displaced a nation. The people in The Dirty South, their fourth album, lament unemployment, worry that "everyone I know's getting cancer every year," fear law enforcement, drink to forget, run drugs for baby formula, and generally feel helpless in Dubya's America (or Clinton's or Reagan's or Carter's). Unfortunately, everyone's so depressed that they sometimes forget to kick out the jams like they used to. (Notable exception: opener "Where the Devil Don't Stay." And live they can still smack the ambivalence right out of my mouth.) The stories on The Dirty South are important, because the plight of the American working poor is still underdocumented (especially, ironically enough, in modern country music). But the overall arc is so bleak, I'd suggest the band take a page from their spiritual brothers John Mellencamp and Bubba Sparxxx—who never forgot that an ounce of hope can make a pound of reality go down—and pen more songs like "Daddy's Car," a NASCAR-ified "Jack and Diane." JESS HARVELL

LESBIANS ON ECSTASY

Lesbians on Ecstasy

(Alien8)

Any group that throws recycled Melissa Etheridge lyrics over some misguided metalhead's idea of techno, accompanies a k.d. lang torch song with Casio presets, interrupts an electro-folk rendition of an Indigo Girls hit with a drill and bass break, turns a Joan Jett tribute into a Public Enemy homage, and refigures a Tribe 8 song as a synths-and-cellos '80s ballad can't be dismissed as a one-joke novelty act. I mean, that's five right there. So figure Lesbians on Ecstasy are aiming for camp sensation. The question is, does it work? Among the tongue-in-cheek tracks, only the pulp novel–derived and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult–inspired "Pleasure Principal" satisfies, because it's over the top rather than merely arch. But intentional camp is difficult to pull off, and the rest of this debut is too knowing for its own good. Honestly, sometimes things aren't so awful that they automatically transmute into wonderful camp. Sometimes they're just bad, and Lesbians on Ecstasy, as Susan Sontag once put it, "want so badly to be campy that they're continually losing the beat." "Pleasure Principal" aside, these ecstatic lesbians' most listenable moments are their most straightforward. So petition for a 7-inch single with "Revolt" (a brawny, breathy, beat-driven outburst that cribs its chorus from Tracy Chapman but owes as much to Atari Teenage Riot) backed by "Summer Luv" (Team Dresch as covered by a well-tempered drum machine and faithful sampler) . . . and hope it's true that they're better live. KRISTAL HAWKINS

Lesbians on Ecstasy play the Showbox with Le Tigre and Robosapiens at 8 p.m. Sun., Nov. 21. $17 adv./$20.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered

(Gammon)

This has been a watershed year for the various-artists compilation. March brought the groundbreaking TV-show soundtrack Music From the OC: Mix 1, an enhanced CD featuring scenes from the teen drama in which the songs were used. And now comes this tribute to Texas outsider icon Daniel Johnston, which contains not only one disc of covers and one of originals, but CD-ROM access to lyrics, artwork, and a video—all for a reasonable price. (Wake up, RIAA, if you still want consumers to care about your wares.) The format works particularly well for Johnston, a man whose songwriting talent is unquestionable but whose delivery is, to put it politely, polarizing. Some find his adenoidal yelping and manic guitar strumming to be the epitome of all that is pure and good in this world. Others would rather listen to car alarms go off all night—or their favorite indie-rock stars, like Beck or Bright Eyes or the Flaming Lips, interpreting Johnston's heartbreaking odes to unrequited love and persistence against the odds. Discovered satisfies both. Think Johnston's a cappella "King Kong" is unbearable? Let a beatboxing Tom Waits turn it into "Rock & Roll, Pt. 2" dredged up from the depths of hell. Want to vomit when Guster neuter "The Sun Shines Down on Me"? Take comfort in the original. And when you make your friends guess which version of "My Life Is Starting Over Again" is by Teenage Fanclub with Jad Fair (perhaps the only person on the planet with a voice more nasal than Johnston's), you win both ways. AMY PHILLIPS

JUNIOR BOYS

Last Exit

(Kin/Domino)

There are critics' darlings, and then there are Junior Boys. Posted online, the Manitoban duo's rejected demos shot round the blogosphere last year, generating buzz enough for fledgling Canadian label Kin to issue two singles, "Birthday" and "High Come Down," and this album, now licensed to bigger indie Domino. Their appeal is not hard to discern: Jeremy Greenspan and Johnny Dark (recently replaced by Matthew Didemus) top micromanaged programming with sure-handed verse-chorus-verse. Comparisons to the Postal Service are inevitable, and fair, but Greenspan's vocals are rougher and quieter than Ben Gibbard's, and the pair's thoughtful beat-making draws on current R&B styles as well as the cerebral end of dance production and, yes, synth-pop nostalgia. ("Under the Sun" borrows a voice-as-percussion trick from OMD's "Tesla Girls.") The already-named singles are the housiest cuts, using face-slapping snare and four-on-the-floor kick to structure, respectively, a love-hunt through the urban grid and a loner/loser soliloquy as glumly tuneful as any indie mopester you'd care to name. The title track (originally a B-side) is moodier still, mounting night-drive details ("The fog shines off the hospital") against near-goth synth-washes and skeletal dub rhythms. Not all of the tracks new to this release blend song and sound quite so effectively, but "Bellona" gets the balance right. Surrounded by trancey flanging, trippy panning and sophisticated chord voicings, Greenspan gives with blank-eyed soul phraselets ("all this time . . . I'll stay for you") worthy of Scritti Politti's Green Gartside or ABC's Martin Fry. There's a name for music as knowingly manipulative and genuinely affecting as Last Exit: pop. FRANKLIN BRUNO

TURING MACHINE

Zwei

(Frenchkiss)

Carnal dalliances having earned them the boot from Jade Tree soon after the release of 2000's DFA- produced A New Machine for Living, Brooklyn's Turing Machine have since been trapped in a four-year purgatory of bartending (guitarist Justin Chearno), 9-to-5ing (bassist Scott DeSimon), and schooling (drummer Gerard Fuchs). Not exactly the stuff of rock star dreams or comeback narratives, both of which need narrators willing to spin the yarn in the first place. Turing Machine have never found fame or even mild interest inside or—does it need to said?—outside the indie-rock community. Chearno and DeSimon were once minor deities within that scene, thanks to their '90s math-rock outfit Pitchblende, but having grown older and being bereft of the elfish qualities needed to impress the indie (w)imps, the two men now play for themselves, churning out metal-tinged math-rock anchored by an impeccable rhythm section and Chearno's lyrical guitar licks. Those four years of workingman life bring a working-class rock sense to Zwei, the trio's excellent new instrumental album. The melodies are thick and obvious, the rhythms hard and driving, and the whole thing doesn't move so much as steer. See the epic "Bitte, Baby, Bitte," a rocker that's part early '70s Detroit, part mid-'70s motorik. "Rock. Paper. Rock."—perhaps math-rock's greatest song title in a whole lineage of 'em—pairs Emerson, Lake & Palmer with Giorgio Moroder as elliptical prog riffs tightly orbit the thwap of an open hi-hat. A band like the Fucking Champs tread similar ground ironically, but Turing Machine don't smirk when calling their shit gnarly, nor should they. YANCEY STRICKLER

BEASTIE BOYS / DJ GREEN LANTERN

New York State of Mind

(djgreenlantern.com)

The Beastie Boys are not hip, though they were once supreme arbiters of that slipperiest of adjectives. The Beastie Boys are not street, nor have they ever been, even as undeniable rap pioneers. So imagine a record that briefly renders Ad Rock, MCA, and the Crypt Keeper not only hip again but street as well. After his frontline reporting from the Eminem/Benzino beef and squeezing the last drops of interest from 2Pac's corpse, DJ Green Lantern's writ for New York State of Mind has the whiff of EZ Cheez about it: Throw the history of the Beasties over hard-core rap instrumentals and poof! Instant snack food. But it's got far more replay value than you'd guess. How gully is the redo of "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun" over the twitterpated soul and thousand-pound bass of Jay-Z's "U Don't Know"? How instantly party rocking is "Hey Ladies" over Biggie's "Hypnotize"? Think the new album sucks? Yeah, get in line. But Liquid Liquid's "Cavern"/Grandmaster & Melle Mel's "White Lines" bass line is immortal, and at least some of that pixie dust gets sprinkled on "Triple Trouble." I suspect if DJ Toejam from Topeka had mixed this that Busta Rhymes, Clipse, and M.O.P. wouldn't be on it. But Busta riding the original "Paul Revere" beat proves that in a post- Neptunes world, everything old skool is new again; and Clipse's Pusha T sounds good and chilly on the freeze-dried dorm room funk of "Pass the Mic," while M.O.P.'s ultra-aggro reading of "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn" amounts to icing on a jelly doughnut. Now Boys, please—just never make another album. JESS HARVELL

THE HIDDEN CAMERAS

Mississauga, Goddam

(Rough Trade)

The new Hidden Cameras record sounds exactly like the old Hidden Cameras record. Good. Last year's The Smell of Our Own was a glorious indie-pop celebration of sex as religion, played by Belle and Sebastian's potty-mouthed, homosexual Canadian cousins. Head Camera Joel Gibb led his ramshackle orchestra through 10 lush hymns to Eros, singing the body electric in a shaky, precious moan, and fans of sun-kissed melodies and salacious irony wanted more. Hence Mississauga, Goddam: sprightly soft-rock walls of sound buoyed by swelling strings and heavenly choruses ("Doot Doot Plot," "Fear Is On"), tender, prayerlike pledges of devotion ("Builds the Bone," "Music Is My Boyfriend"), and, of course, lotsa references to gay sex. "So he seduced me in my dream/I kissed his ugly gangly greens/He swallowed my pee," Gibb sings on "Music Is My Boyfriend." Mmm-mmm good! This concept might begin to wear thin if stretched to a third record, but thankfully, this one ends with a step into territory the Cameras have previously hidden from their fans, a slow, mournful title track that contrasts with the anticipatory jitters for sexual or spiritual encounters of everything else here. "I'm wearing my disguise/Until I rid my life of Mississauga, goddam," sighs Gibb, dreaming Springsteen-like of escaping his dreary Toronto suburb. After all, there's more to life than rosy sing-alongs and golden showers. AMY PHILLIPS

RICARDO VILLALOBOS

Thé Au Harem D'archimède

(Perlon, Germany)

Music, for electronic producer Ricardo Villalobos, is like evolution—change comes slowly. On 2003's Alcachofa, he breathed the words to his first track, "Easy Lee," 25 times over 10 minutes, each aspiration a new take on this adverbial pun. These maddening mutations are the essence of his method, the absence of harmonic interference and the vast space between beats allow listeners to concentrate on the creeping melodic phrase. The changes are micro, the beats are house, but Villalobos' obsession with sound shaping is more akin to midcentury Columbia and Princeton boys than anything currently banging out of Germany. Fitting, then, that the title of Villalobos' newest is an homage to a French film about two doomed urban drifters whose days are filled with sad, gritty incidents. The opening track, "Hireklon," is nine of the year's most gorgeous and lonely minutes, its barren clicks and rattlesnake slithers eventually hosting an unsettling melody played on breeze-blown flamenco guitar. The album continues, but the tension doesn't leave: On the title track, a brushed snare beat and the pleasant bounce of ping-ponging metal are disconcertingly tape-spliced with shouting crowds and cross-rhythms, sounding like an intentional train wreck. Even on "Miami," where little swimmy sounds and polyrhythmic percussion get funky, clouds of grimy synth force the party indoors. Villalobos, then, is the scientist giving artificial intelligence to his works. Most begin innocent, behave badly, and get themselves straight. A few, following the album's namesake, just keep blundering on. DAPHNE CARR

WASTELAND

October

(Transparent)

Dirt-dance lifers DJ Scud (London) and I-Sound (N.Y.C.) have built modest but impeccable careers out of the moments when the club gets nasty. Their trans-Atlantic partnership as Wasteland is best summed up by the contents of their recent bootleg mixtape, Vulture Culture: cinematic New York rap, scattered Southern bounce snares, London grime, old-skool rave, and grungy dub techno. Their first album, 2002's Amen Fire, nimbly juggled the body-caressing imperatives of slow-jam R&B with extreme noise terror. The Spirit Shots EP from earlier this year was so loaded with bass, it felt like your lungs were filling with black sludge. And the new October is a perfect nine-song, 40-minute distillation of all of the above. Opener "Sandwood" is ambient grime, the place where battleship-sized bass-line drops are replaced with a ghostly maze of feedback trails. The Ativan-chilled dancehall of "Hourglass" is overlaid with what sounds suspiciously like the horrible grinding noise my car makes when I try to start it on a January morning. "Rain and Fine Weather" does much the same, except with little Mego Records–like mites of hiss and static weaving through bleeps from an old Q*Bert machine. "Much Is Certain" evokes Merzbow cutting up Neptunes tracks on rusty, tetanus-ridden wheels of steel. In a world where ice-cold tracks like Terror Squad's "Lean Back" and Lil Scrappy's "No Problem" are summer anthems, a cleaned-up Wasteland could be huge. But that's missing the point. The noise is the lead voice, carrying the weight of a rapper and/or singer. And if it's more impenetrable than slang about New Orleans projects or East London estates, it's not by much. JESS HARVELL

 
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