LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth CAMP Sound by Blair Fraipont PJ Harvey White Chalk Island Records Some consider Polly Jean Harvey a genius, while I consider her a master of her compelling art. Ty
|by Blair Fraipont|
PJ Harvey White Chalk Island Records
Some consider Polly Jean Harvey a genius, while I consider her a master of her compelling art. Typically she rocks vengefully, full of guts and fervor, yet here she is ghostly, pallid by comparison, singing in hushed voices and occasionally soaring to the rafters like a banshee. Vocally, these are some of the most graceful and tender notes she's sung since Is This Desire. She's dropped the guitar in favor of an upright piano. The change has suited her fine, though many of these pieces sound like demos, giving the album a blurred edge. She's found plunking away on rudimentary block chords mostly, which at times can resemble her own guitar style ("When Under Ether"). The trilling arpeggios in "Grow Grow Grow" offer a break from the restrained rhythms.
In under 34 minutes, the record is over, which proves to be troublesome, as some of the songs feel incomplete. However, nothing here is ever phoned in. The gorgeous vocal work on "Silence" is underscored by Jim White's light chugging percussion, but it fades out too soon. The brevity may be the effect of Harvey's creative drive and not weak song writing. That drive is a mystery and should remain so, though it can't justify the co-designed schoolmarm dress she exhibits on the cover.
The Magnetic Fields Distortion Nonesuch
The instrument list partially includes piano, Farfisa organ, accordion and cello, but you don't hear these sounds clearly on Distortion. With one of the most appropriately titled albums ever, Stephin Merritt has taken it upon himself to alter the sounds to create beautifully jarring noise pop. Inspired by 1986's Pyschocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain, Merritt has one-upped that group by adding his own snarling wit and tunesmith grandeur to the mix. Not surprising is that Merritt chose not to use synthesizers again, nor distortion pedals. How one alters a cello to sound like a buzz saw without using traditional technology is anyone's guess. Merritt buries every hummable melody under shards of noise and Phil Spector big beats. He offers some of his most humorous lyrics as well, "They come on like squares and get off like squirrels, I hate California girls" (from "California Girls") to his least inspiring involving bitchy queens ("Xavier Says"). "The Nun's Litany" is musical theatre sans a show while "Zombie Boy" is a 50s horror theme without a movie. From the perky "Three-Way" which opens the disc to the somber charm of "Courtesans" Merritt has made one of his most consistent sounding albums since, 1993's Charm of the Highway Strip, not to mention one of his best.
Fanfare Ciocrlia Queens & Kings Asphalt Tango Records I don't know how I could sell this record other than to declare my love for its brilliant sound, ebullient horns and utterly infectious grooves. Fanfare Ciocrlia are most known for their appearance on the Borat soundtrack singing "Born to be Wild," which is here too. They are a Romanian brass orchestra that has added an auxiliary of Romani talent from across Europe. Serbian Saban Bajramovic's world weary voice sits surprisingly well next to Hungarian Mitsou's cartoonish scatting. If Pyrnes duo Kaloome can't move you with "Que Dolor" this record may not be for you. If you are indeed titillated, you'll probably find it trumped by Esma Redzepova's pained cries and throaty performances.
Blair Fraipont lives in New York City. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 01 February 08, 2008