By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
THOUGH YOU MAY not have heard it, Jack Logan's 1994 debut, Bulk, stands as a singular achievement in rock history. A 42-track, two-hour double CD, Bulk collected the best from some 600 songs Logan had written and crudely recorded over the 15 years he worked as a swimming pool motor repairman in rural Georgia. It was a triumph of folk art: honest and powerful rock music made from a purely creative impulse, without any regard to ever being heard by anyone outside Logan's circle of friends. And smart too--Logan's songs had an economy and precision that relayed everyday moments full of extraordinary character and complexity. Critics squealed with glee: a lost treasury of rock had been found.
Of course, Mood Elevator, Logan's first post-discovery release, could never be the rare, pristine finding Bulk was. Logan is now an alternative up-and-comer with piles of press clips, national tours, and access to a real recording studio. But if Mood Elevator stands quite plainly as the work of an earnest Paul Westerberg-type songwriter (with his band, Liquor Cabinet, as the replacement Replacements), it stands proud and tall nevertheless. With an entirely conventional rock structure of guitar, piano, bass, and drums, Logan's songs succeed on their subtle melodies and hearty accompaniment. Messages that work first on a very literal level--"What Was Burned" about valuables lost in a fire, "Unscathed" about surviving a car accident--deepen as metaphors for the hurting soul. With Mood Elevator, Logan ably begins a recording career long in the making--and he's out to prove there's life after anonymity. (Roni Sarig)
Ain't My Lookout
BEFORE I HEARD this record, one of their fans, disappointed, told me "it sounds like the Grifters trying to be the Grifters." After a dozen or so listens, I think that line may be true; I can only answer, "Well, about time."
Until now, I hadn't understood the band's appeal. They sounded too slovenly, the lead singer reminded me too much of Bruce Springsteen, and whether they were lo-fi or arena-rock in disguise, they didn't have many good songs. But now I know the Grifters aren't a song band. Despite what's been written about them, they're not obsessed with tunes like Guided by Voices or into destructo-roots-slop like Royal Trux or the Strapping Fieldhands. What they are into is... Bowie.
Well, not exactly. But what Bowie did for classic rock, The Grifters do for the indie aesthetic: subject it to an abrasive self-consciousness. They're smart guys who fuck with their music conceptually, and still rock out in style. Going for mood rather than pop pleasure; juxtaposing hard riffs, funk rhythms, prog bombast, and mellow noodling; reciting meaningless tropes ("the U.S. Army crash into me"; "forgot about Jesus") until they become motifs; the Grifters disorient. They don't play the blues for boogie power; they update the willful emotional form of the blues and, in the end, capture its irreducible quality. This is indie as AOR, a sound and a mood that enlarges itself over the length of a disc. It fades out, futzes around, sneaks up on you, hits you over the head and, most importantly, is built to last. (Stephen Tignor)
Str8 Off Tha Streetz of Muthaphu**in Compton Ruthless/Relativity
EAZY-E, THE gangsta rap pioneer who died of AIDS complications last year, led a life of mixed intentions and results. As head of both N.W.A. and Ruthless Records, he did as much as anyone to bring South Central Los Angeles's problems to national attention, though his music also helped glorify a culture of violence, misogyny, and criminality that became the caricature of his neighborhood. He gave back to his community through charity, but he also sold out his people by reinforcing racist notions of them. His death was another powerful symbol that AIDS touches everyone, but his life expressed a who-cares attitude that encouraged ignorance. And when he died, for better or worse, a large part of gangsta rap died as well.
But Eazy didn't go out without leaving us one last shot of rhymes and beats: Str8 Off Tha Streetz posthumously releases music from the rapper's final years. Far from being a haunting voice from the grave, the record makes no mention of Eazy's disease--the only deaths here come by way of gun or baseball bat. Instead, "L--kin, S--kin, F--kin" indulges in the kind of behavior that killed the rapper, "Sorry Louie" is less about street violence than serial killing, and "My Baby'z Mama" is Eazy's theme song for deadbeat dads.
On the other hand, Str8 Off Tha Streetz also contains Eazy's spoken defense of gangsta rap ("we're underground reporters," "we do have a serious problem in L.A.") and some of his best songs. In particular, two tracks cowritten and produced by members of Naughty By Nature ("Nutz On Ya Chin" and "Hit the Hooker") contain memorable hooks and impeccable mixing. But having heard him say all he had left to say, it's time to leave Eazy and his contradictions to rest in peace. (Sarig)
FINALLY, ATHEIST COUNTRY.
Unlike most indie label traditionalists, Freakwater play and sing their roots straight. Not because they're purists, really, but simply because they can. Vocalists Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean, out of Louisville and Chicago respectively, come together on harmonies so pure, there's no reason to update or twist their sound for the sarcastic '90s. This is old-time mountain vocalizing, bypassing the usual country-rock influence, Gram Parsons, and going straight to the Blue Ridge sources, the Stanley Brothers and the Carter Family.