|by Blair Fraipont|
|R.E.M. Accelerate (Warner Bros.)
This may be one of their most cohesive and well executed records: eleven songs in thirty five minutes, no arty excursions, just even-paced, succinct rock (or R.E.M.'s version of rock). There's a social-political theme that harkens back to 87's Document and 88's Green, and this one is specifically about society moving too fast for its own good. Michael, Mike and Peter sound like they've got their gloves on ready to fight, ready to prove they're still relevant, which they are. However, I can't say this is a great record. They speed their songs up, but that doesn't mean they're memorable. Well, except for the song that goes: "death is pretty final. I'm collecting vinyl."
Exuma was McFarlane Anthony McKay. Born on Cat Island in the Bahamas, he moved to New York City in the early 60s to perform in the Greenwich Village folk scene. He later returned to the Bahamas and was re-born Exuma. This debut from 1970, re-released in 2003, sounds like Richie Havens on acid, evoking voodoo with an acoustic guitar, surrounded by a bell shaking chorus, stomping beats, singing about zombies, Bahamian folklore, satan and spirits. It sounds like it was recorded around a campfire on some mystical night. Exuma is not for everyone. His voodoo jive is slightly irritating and his extended freak-out ("Seance in the Sixth Fret") sounds like a bad Halloween record. Additional Note: Nina Simone liked Exuma, so she covered two of the seven songs here. You can find them on 1974's It is Finished.
Hot Chip Made in the Dark (Astralwerks/DFA)
In 2006 Hot Chip declared they would break your legs. The threat could suggest they're a violent mob of musicians, but more likely a menace for those on the dance floor. The latter proves to be partially true on Made in the Dark. It is a catchy collection of off-beat dance songs where a fourth of the record is consumed by slower songs. The title track is a tender breakup ballad and the delicate elegy, "Whistle for Will" sounds like Paul McCartney. The timbre of Alex Taylor's voice does carry a resemblance to Sir Paul though it is slightly smokier and more subdued.
Keyboardist Joe Goddard's lower, deadpan British register also pops up more often offering a counter-balance to Taylor's more poetic moments. It's his voice that brings a creepy touch to the doomed ending of "We're Looking for a Lot of Love" and makes, "Bendable Poseable" charming. "Wrestlers," which could be an analogy for a violent and physical love, is genuinely about wrestling. It's hard not to like a song that contains the lyrics: "Here we come/drop kick/half nelson, full nelson/Willie Nelson, Willie Nelson." Goddard's dry listing of the sport's paraphernalia and terminology takes the song to different heights.
For all its resilient electronica, dance, pop and matured lyricism, Made in the Dark still comes up short of greatness. They utilize percussion better than similar acts, their hooks are addictive, their production both edgy and fun, but there's something missing that draws me only to certain songs, and not the whole album.
Stay Away From:
Last weekend I attended a free concert in Brooklyn that showcased The Metropolis Ensemble performing: The Rite: Remixed which was Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring "re-conceptualized through the lens of the latest sounds and technology from electronica." In other words, what would Igor sound like if he had a laptop and a hankering to dance?
Admittedly, this was an admirable feat, but composers/producers/performers Ryan Francis, Leo Leite and Ricardo Romaneiro took a synthetic dump on one of the greatest works of music of all time. The Rite was reduced to a disc-jockey electronic mush which putrefied the sticky summer night air. You've been warned.
Blair Fraipont lives in New York City. E-mail him at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 10 July 25, 2008