Issue June 17, 2008

Music Reviews

Run Run

Interstates

(THE RECORD MACHINE)

<instrumadness>

After Louisville instrumental band Of Asaph called it quits (or did they?), Alex O’Nan and Kyle Noltemeyer probably discovered they had entirely too much talent and creativity to stop playing altogether. This week they reboot under their new project, Interstates, for the release of Run Run, 50 minutes of mind-bending, electro-inspired instrumental rock.

The influences vary on many of the songs, but most of the tracks start off with a stripped-down, slower melody that eventually builds into an explosive jam. “Open Your Ears” feels like a primer for the rest of the album, but doesn’t hinge too much on the electronic backbeats of many of the other songs. “Sudan” is ambient and earthy, with a euphoric, harmonious climax.

“Hip Hop On My Mind,” a standout, seamlessly blends all of Interstates’ influences into a five-and-a-half-minute flurry of synthesizers, melodic guitars and funk-inspired bass. The closer, “Dress Looks Nice,” starts small and slow but transforms into a beast of radiant synths and atmospheric effects. 

One hiccup: “Alas,” featuring trumpeter Greg Leppert, tries to combine too many genres and ends up like something Broken Social Scene would’ve left on the cutting-room floor. All told, though, a great first hit. —Aaron Frank

Mixtape 2.5 “The Prelude”

1Life

(SELF-RELEASED)

<baited breath>

Cincinnati, Ohio is hardly known as a center of hip-hop. Outside of the mid-’90s group Mood, which gave birth to producer Hi-Tek (later to partner with Talib Kweli and Dr. Dre), it’s easy to bypass the Queen City completely.

The Prelude is an attempt by rappers Varquis and Dris to change that. As siblings who spent most of their lives rapping, they’ve been releasing mixtapes and singles throughout the city for much of the last decade, and are ready to take their show on the road.

This is a mixture of original tracks and new lyrics over popular tracks from Kanye, Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes and 50 Cent. By the second listen, it’s difficult to imagine these cuts belonging to anyone else but 1Life.

Varquis and Dris have found that rare balance of street-level imagery with blue-collar living and thoughtful reflection only found in the upper echelon of today’s emcees. There’s a lyric here for everyone. You don’t have to be a hip-hop “head” to feel the hunger and desire dripping from this disc. If this is the prelude, I’m looking forward to the real thing. —Damien McPherson

Sonidos Gold

Grupo Fantasma

(HIGH WIRE)

<solid gold>

Grupo Fantasma is the best unknown band in the States. The best going now, too. They have the sophistication and arrangements of a classic Latin orchestra, with energy reminiscent of James Brown’s raunchiest funk. They’ve backed Prince, Talib Kweli and Marc Anthony all in the same show, and Brown Out, Grupo’s horn section and one of the great side projects in music today, would rip Tower of Power horns on any given night.

It’s all brilliantly showcased on Sonidos Gold. The band operates seemingly independently of trends or fads, steered by the traditions of cumbia, salsa, funk and, on the new release, dub and psychedelia (“El Desconocido”). Without a doubt, they’ve forged a new standard of excellence in Latin music. Special guests include legendary saxophonist Maceo Parker, Fania All-Stars pianist and arranger Larry Harlow and trombonist Greg Boyer (Prince, Parliament Funkadelic). ¡Despierte! Don’t sea un seguidor y descubre que la mejor venda de los Estados Unidos … incluso su mamá gorda tendrá gusto de ellos! —Mark R. Bacon

O

Tilly and the Wall

(TEAM LOVE)

<cute overload>

Tilly and the Wall’s new album, O, is forcing me to revisit my prohibition on all things overtly adorable. Replete with references to ice cream, layered female vocals and tap-dance percussion and cute-like-a-baby otter fighting cotton candy, their third effort will melt the heart of even the most hardened listener. All the precious add-ons should be irritating, but somehow aren’t.

Lead singer Kianna Alarid makes her lists of lady-centric slurs and elaborate plans to ruin parties endearing and “aww”-inducing. The “do-do-do-do” refrains of multiple songs make you want to bop your head rather than change the disc. The intricate dance routines executed by tapper-not-drummer Jamie Pressnall somehow make you want to dance. Tilly and the Wall’s gimmicks would be corny and stupid if someone else tried them, but are somehow just right in this context. They have mastered the sweet-to-salty ratio that makes O a nice treat rather than a stomachache. —Kirsten Schofield

Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea

The Silver Jews

(DRAG CITY)

<thud>

This is just terrible, just inexcusable. This is not good as indie rock, alt-country or even as an ironic Ween kinda tribute (and Ween did their suck-city/isn’t-Nashville-hilarious record years ago … and look at them now).

Band-leading lyricist David Berman (I won’t say who writes the music; I don’t want to be too insulting) fancies himself some sort of a poet, apparently, and his “character study” lyrics about people who are big losers are Carver-esque in a college sophomore way. “Sarcastic hair” and “candy jail” aren’t entertaining or relevant. Maybe at Bonnaroo … 

Even worse, though, are the vocals: His are flatter than Joe Don Baker’s movie career, and the ladies’ backing vocals are sub-middle-school talent show. It’s not the early ’70s anymore, you’re not an outlaw, you’re not Bob Dylan, and you’re not ironically funny, so please stop making horrible records. —Peter Berkowitz

The Devil, You + Me

The Notwist

(DOMINO)

<risks pay>

On the one hand, there’s “Sleep”: a beguiling and bittersweet love song about not leaving when you should (thus the sinking ship of a relationship goes on and on and on, like the chorus suggests). 

On the other hand, there’s “On Planet Off,” which trades luminosity for a dirty, slinking bass line that clearly has some kind of salacious agenda. Such is the light-dark duplicity of The Notwist, a Bavarian foursome who once dabbled in metal but switched to electronic-oriented musings for 2002’s Neon Golden and never looked back. 

Six years in the making, the new album is worth the risk. Their specialty of aching, electronic minor chord melodies is, at times, somnambulistic. Not to be nailed down to one strategy, The Notwist often interrupt the meditation with a blast of strings, as they do in the contemplative “Hands on Us” or a full orchestra in the manically unpredictable, yet darkly seductive “Where in this World.”

All this simplicity (bass, beat, melody, droning lyrical poetry) should be easily dismissible, but it’s not. There are clever hooks in those compositions that climb into the ear and stay. —Shawn Telford