One Piece at a Time

Cuckoo in a little while.


“I’m a Cuckoo (Avalanches Remix)”

(Rough Trade)

Anyone who’s seen or heard an Avalanches DJ set, which typically juxtaposes everything from old calypso to Guns N’ Roses to late-’60s Beach Boys to whatever’s burning up the hip-hop charts at the moment, knows the Australian sextet love eclecticism for its own sake. That’s what makes their DJ sets great when they work, and what makes 2001’s all-samples all-the-time Since I Left You one of the great albums of the decade so far. The first few times through, this pairing of “I’m a Cuckoo,” one of the folkiest (and jauntiest) tracks from last year’s poppy Dear Catastrophe Waitress, with hand drums, wooden flutes, and a Sudanese kids’ choir apparently playing double Dutch lives up to its detractors’ claims: “A British Sesame Street foreign locale segment,” sneers indie e-rag Pitchfork; “literally unlistenable,” cavils my friend Keith Harris. But the more I hear this, the more I like it. It’s true that the parts don’t line up exactly; the effect is akin to singing along with your iPod while walking through the streets of the Sudan on a weekend afternoon. It’s touristy, in other words. But that’s part of its charm—that, and the fact that it reminds me of a calmer, if frankly lesser, version of the raw syncopation of the late-’70s/early-’80s Senegalese music that’s all over the two brilliant volumes of Stern’s/Earthworks’ The Music in My Head compilations. In both cases, volume helps, the caveat being that while the Senegalese stuff reaches your body when it’s amped, the “Cuckoo” remix reaches your head—the louder Stuart Murdoch’s vocals are, the more the rest of the track coheres.


“Just a Little While”


Start with the Rachel Hunter–fueled video for Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom,” move on to the brouhaha surrounding Liz Phair’s self-titled album, and add on Janet Jackson’s highly personal version of the Super Bowl Shuffle, and, hey, trendlet: the sexual exploitation of late-30s women in order to push effervescent guitar pop. The difference is that the attendant noise in Janet’s case really does threaten to swallow up the music rather than enhance it (Fountains of Wayne) or distract you from what amounts to not enough (Phair). The difference is also that Janet isn’t too well known for her effervescent guitar pop. But her willingness to give it a shot, particularly after her lukewarm last album, seems to buoy her spirits. My guess is she recorded it as an album track and it got bumped to the front of the singles line thanks to “Hey Ya!”—another thing we can thank that song for.