Schoolyard Heroes

Also: Robbie Fulks, Ark, Basement Jaxx, Will Smith, and Edan.

SCHOOLYARD HEROES

Fantastic Wounds

(Control Group)

Sure, Ryann Donnelly is the first thing you notice about Fantastic Wounds. The local 19-year-old diva's vocal acrobatics could turn heads in a vacuum— possibly all the way around. But Donnelly is neither a rock Diamanda nor a mere hood ornament; Schoolyard Heroes' ghastly gestalt feeds on at least four entities. Perky nuclear send-off waltz "Panic in the Year Zero" finds guitarist Steve Bonnell equaling the singer in changelinghood, feint for thrust. He's especially adept at using protean latticeworks and heavy chords that don't so much crunch as resonate like death knells to fortify Donnelly, who, in the course of seeing any number of the album's countless lyrical victims to the afterlife, colors "say your prayers" a dozen different ways, half preceded by "don't." She repays his support with a few nonchalant operatic licks during a wickedly dissonant, triplet-driven solo propulsive enough to let bassist Jonah Bergman assume organ pedal mode, while drummer Brian Turner lurches into a skeletal caveman pound. The rhythm section's refusal to accommodate a cardinal rule of the power trio lineup—that it should always play additional notes during the guitar solo—renders the interlude more tangibly eventlike; there's nothing obligatory about it. Consistent cliché avoidance and measure-to-measure micro-theatrics are the wood and nails of the band's stairway to perdition; the album's mutating genre code makes it deliciously slippery. Various manifestations of metal, punk, and pop, including a thread of English ectoplasm that stretches like saliva from the Cure to Muse—all are thoroughly metabolized by a seriously lighthearted horror-rock monster that could let its collective tongue fall asleep in cheek and still out-vamp Gene Simmons. ROD SMITH

Schoolyard Heroes play El Corazón with Post Stardom Depression and Mon Frere at 7 p.m. Fri., July 1. $6. All ages.

ROBBIE FULKS

Georgia Hard

(Yep Roc)

Up through his ill-fated Geffen one-shot (corporate merger, label realignment, artist purge—you know the drill), Robbie Fulks was so good-humored about his glibness that well- wishers patiently banked on his heart eventually keeping pace with his brain. But as Fulks deliberately courted his weaknesses—first with the bleak Couples in Trouble (though two dimensions suffice for cartooning, they're too sketchy for subtler portraiture), then with the archaeological 13 Hillbilly Greats (as an interpreter, Fulks has the pipes of a born writer)—his unrequited infatuation with the constraints of Nashville convention grew far less endearing. Fulks' breezy charm, then, as he roots beneath the surface of his conceits on Georgia Hard, is a welcome tonic. Sure, he's so handy with kiss-offs like "It's Always Raining Somewhere" and "Goodbye, Cruel Girl" ("And don't forget to hurt") that I was relieved to learn that the gal fending off his drunken advances on "I'm Gonna Take You Home (And Make You Like Me)" is his wife, Donna. On "Countrier Than Thou," however, the author of "Roots Rock Weirdoes" not only flexes his gift for sly subcultural satire, he gets in a dig at that Texas "country sheriff walkin' with a frat boy's brain" you people inexplicably keep voting for. And since Fulks has learned to compensate for his less than spine-shivering vocal gifts with clever tricks of delivery (including husky vowel shadings reminiscent of John Anderson), the heartbreak on ballads like "Leave It to a Loser" and "You Don't Want What I Have" is no longer just rhetorical. KEITH HARRIS

ARK

Caliente

(Perlon)

Ever since Prefuse 73's Scott Herren released the epochal Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives in 2001, click/glitch/ whatever-hop has been a growing market. Herren took the flat boom-thwack of rap producers like Jay Dee and sluiced his samples and voices over the top. The results were funky and beautiful, a mosaic of snatched syllables and chipped jazz, but even one album of the stuff seemed like enough. Herren's methodology mirrored a similar trend in underground house music, the micro-sampling of artists like Todd Edwards and Akufen and the itchy, twitchy rhythms of labels like Perlon. (The house guys arguably avoided immediate redundancy by messing with the beats, not just the stuff on top.) Ark's new album, Caliente, splits its time between click-hop and micro-house, and unsurprisingly, the latter often proves way more interesting than the former. Its best track, the chop-shop stripped, rattling groove of "The Preacher," is the latest in a long line of house tracks sampling fire-and-brimstone revivalists—see Green Velvet's pioneering 1993 tech-house "Preacher Man" single on Relief. Unfortunately, tracks like this and "Egil," another piston-clanking house jam in now- perfected Perlon style, are weighted down by trifles like "R2D2," a tribute to the first homosexual droid sung straight-faced by Super_Collider's Jamie Lidell, and "Hips," a piss-take of husky-voiced ghetto-house perverts like DJ Deeon. This goofiness may have seemed necessary after Ricardo Villalobos' hermetic, astringent Thé au Harem d'Archimède, Perlon's last CD release, but the label should probably think twice about risking its near-perfect hit rate on comic relief and played-out stutter-hop. JESS HARVELL

BASEMENT JAXX

The Singles: Special Edition

(XL, U.K.)

A warning: Some of Basement Jaxx's double-CD best-of- so-far (also available as a single disc, but who wants half an ice-cream cone?) is ordinary. Namely, a new tune called "U Don't Know Me," which sounds like an outtake from 2003's Kish Kash, plus oldies like the acoustic versions of "Broken Dreams" and "Romeo," and the live version of "Good Luck." That covers any reason you might have for not wanting it, apart from one: The duo's American label, Astralwerks, decided to invest its wares in cut-rate hipster doofi like Radio "not actually the Gang of" 4 and the dork from Silverchair's electronic side project, dumping the Jaxx duo within days of Kish Kash being awarded a Grammy for Best Dance Recording and a couple months before they dropped the most dizzying compilation of its kind since, why not, The Immaculate Collection. Here are the reasons you want it: "Oh My Gosh," the other new song, is Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe's most effervescent Prince rip yet. "Red Alert" remains the only end-times shakedown as righteous as "1999," even if the bass line and chanted on and ons are pure Clinton and Collins. "Where's Your Head At" actually sounds like the end times, despite it being a self-help lecture. "Good Luck" is what Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep Mountain High" might have sounded like if Phil Spector had let drum and bass don Doc Scott sit in. "Bingo Bango" is the best Latin-house record ever made by English pastyfaces. "Fly Life" is the best rush-your-head-off rave track that postdates 1993. "Magnificent Romeo," which pairs the bounce-along lead cut from 2001's Rooty with the Clash's "Magnificent Seven," is still my favorite mash-up bootleg. Sure, you could quibble. For one, Buxton and Ratcliffe are (even) weirder than is revealed by second-disc fripperies like "I Beg U" and "Mere Pass" (a remix of "Red Alert" scored for ascending strings, French vocoder vocal, and kazoo). But they've got three perfect albums and an

ace 12-inch compilation (1998's Atlantic Jaxx Recordings: A Collection) for that. What more do you want, blood? This is pop. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

WILL SMITH

Lost and Found

(Interscope)

The '80s straightedge movement's aggressive puritanism and evangelical exclusionism paved the way for the current political climate. But even Minor Threat were notorious for swearing—an indulgence Will Smith denied himself in his righteous sXe zeal during that decade (although early singles "Parents Just Don't Understand" and especially "Girls Ain't Nothin' but Trouble" accurately predicted later, cathartic emo developments). Like the Clash, Smith early on expanded his vision from the prosaic to the planetary, then went beyond—his reward for saving the Earth in Independence Day being persecuted as an Enemy of the State, he still owes you (or SS Decontrol) nothing. On Lost and Found, he talks about his career: According to him, if he survived "Wild Wild West/[He] must have an 'S' on [his] chest." Sometimes his bottled violence threatens to blow the cork—"I Wish I Made That" recalls Smith's evil Illadelph twin Schooly-D's "I'd rather sell drugs/ Selling drugs is easier." But then, Smith has claimed to wish he could be like his Bad Boys character in real life, so maybe the next album will be more like Smoke Some Kill. Besides, what exactly have you done? Meanwhile, "Loretta" explicitly criticizes religion with a concluding speech that could be from a Maximumrocknroll letters page, though probably not from Ali. DAVE QUEEN

EDAN

Beauty and the Beat

(Lewis)

Turn your back on a cat after getting burned out on lyrical '88-isms, and the next thing you know, he's gone all Arthur Lee on you. Not like Edan's previous joints weren't twisted: The gleefully belligerent stumble-drunk atmosphere of 2002's Primitive Plus hinted at bigger, weirder things on the horizon for the Boston MC/producer. But what makes Beauty and the Beat such a startling, charismatic record is its nearly unprecedented focus on '60s-vintage psychedelia as sample fodder, taking the promise of Danger Mouse's Grey Album and pushing it to the murky depths of acid pop and weapons-grade proto-metal. The easy focus point is on "Rock and Roll," which backs its GZA-as-Crawdaddy!-subscriber wordplay ("Living things coexisted with crimson kings/We on the moon's dark side painted pretty things") with the squall of Zeppelin at the Fillmore in '69. There are stranger touches, too: "I See Colours" sounds like an expansion of indie rap's fixation on Electric Prunes arranger David Axelrod, neatly reconfiguring his baroque-slash-funky hippie jazz-rock without directly quoting it; and the superstar roll call of rap's first decade on "Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme" boasts Ego Trip knowledge over a weeded-out megaton break with warped calliope accompaniment and a Kanye helium chorus from some unknown post-Donovan Brit-folkie. Even the Marley Marl/Bomb Squad–embossed funk breaks on "Funky Voltron" and "The Science of the Two" have trails coming off the drumsticks. Edan's voice occasionally sounds a little too preposterous—his throaty, hyperexclamatory cadences can sound awkward belting out twee lyrics like, "The sun splits the waterfront causin' prismatic effects/Butterflies come alive, they have sex" ("Beauty"). But you can't help but be preposterous when you're sticking daisies down the barrel of your own gun. NATE PATRIN

 
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