Record Roundup

          Komeda, another Swedish "image band" on the international rise, has yet to show a crack in its lustrous veneer. I first heard their music this summer on the sound system in a Chicago bar, and as soon as I began paying attention to it, the surroundings took on the sardonic yet uplifting contrivance of a Kubrick scene. I was suddenly gleaming, made of mylar, being distractedly lofted on high by spangled cocktail partiers in a 1950s sci-fi space station.

          Named for '60s film composer Krystof Komeda, the group's cool melodicism has earned them comparison to Stereolab, but the effect is strikingly unique. That is, don't come here looking for fuzzy drone and one-chord vamps. With almost Doors-style drama, this is pure revved retro, full of groovy, Kraftwerky machines that go bing and low, sharp go-go kicks. Unlike Stereolab's pretty dispassion or even Nico's smoldering vacancy, Lena Karlsson's rich contralto is deliberate to the point of dare. Where the Cardigans Life invites us to effortlessly tingle in a glamorous ultra-brite bubble, Komeda's ominous undercurrents evoke the suspense of a sexy secret, the courted danger of the surreptitiously suggested party game. Grab a drink, spin your spinner, and dig the genius--while it lasts. (Laura Sinagra)


John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey

Dance Hall at Louse Point



          I DON'T KNOW where Louse Point is, but it's not near the sheep farms of Yeovil where Polly Jean Harvey grew up, nor the English beach house that she currently calls home. It more closely resembles the landscape of war-torn Bosnia, where even the most private acts are vulnerable to danger and betrayal. Listening to Dance Hall at Louse Point is like reading a first-person account of slaughter and atrocity, only the subject is love, not war.

          A collaboration between Harvey and longtime friend Parish, Louse Point is a new PJ Harvey album in everything but name. Parish, who co-produced To Bring You My Love and contributed guitar, organ, and percussion throughout, has written the music here; but it's Harvey's lyrics and vocal contortions that carry the day. The angry guitar attack of "Taut" and "Heela" are like blasts from an open furnace, to which Harvey adds a claustrophobic sense that lust edges her closer and closer to damnation.

          Even more harrowing is "Rope Bridge Crossing," a psychotic blues shuffle that finds Harvey trying to navigate herself to safety while cursing the assurances of a fickle lover who stands on the other side. Even when Harvey attempts to put a cold, distant spin on a sour relationship, she works herself into a froth: On "Civil War Correspondent," she tells a lover to "save your tears for the next who dies" and then promptly loses her patience, growling her blueswoman's complaint that "I shout but he don't hear."

          Whether it's the near-hysterical falsetto on "City of Sun" or the quiet, seething anger of "That Was My Veil" ("Give me back my veil/Give me back my life"), Harvey seems distraught over the wreckage of yet another love gone wrong. The only song where Harvey completely keeps her cool is a cover of Peggy Lee's bit of nihilistic kitsch, "Is That All There Is?" The church-revival organ is a bitter joke, since Harvey knows, in a way that Lee only suggested melodramatically, that love, life and even death fail to deliver salvation.

          Accepting this, Lee chose to drink and dance the night away, while '80s art-superstar Jean-Michel Basquiat drugged himself into oblivion (Harvey's version of "Is That All There Is?" also appears on the Basquiat soundtrack). On Louse Point's closing track, "Lost Fun Zone," Harvey sounds like she's settled on her own course: She expected love, but she's willing to console herself with one last round of rough sex: "Take me one more time," she repeats over and over, each line working its way higher, until the slide guitar that's driving her wild stops cold and her voice goes silent. (Keith Moerer)


Agenda Item 1

Severed Records

          A WORD ABOUT Own's violin/cello instrumentation: With much underground rock getting so boring lately, musicians, fans, and critics have adopted an instant fetish for anything that isn't guitar-bass-drums. You don't need fresh ideas to get attention now--just work a Moog, violin, cello, et al. into the same old formulas. That's not what Jane Anfinson, electric violinist of Own, is about. Not merely copping trad instruments for novelty, this trio comes from the opposite direction to prove the gee-tar isn't the only kind of strings that can tie down pop.

          Not that you would really call Own "pop," either. Anfinson's deceptively simple vocal phrasings bypass verse-chorus conventions, and the songs run from three to nine minutes long. The mix tries to bridge the gap between chamber music and rock noise, though it sometimes comes out raw, echoey, and strange. Anfinson's violin is alternately mystical, anxious, and ambient, while Michael Severens's electric cello cuts a fat groove like a grungy, distorted bass. Agenda Item 1 is at its best ("Queen," "Agenda Item 1," "Rocks") when the shifting dynamics between Anfinson, Severens, and drummer David Lewis build into explosive peaks.

          Anfinson's first major appearance as a singer/lyricist is a fair success. It's hard to forget the exuberant alto's artsy roots when she sings a dissertation on the animal nature of human lust ("Appetite"), but Anfinson's lofty muse never reaches embarrassing proportions. Own seems to thrive on the contrast between beauty and ugliness--and Agenda Item 1 is for those willing to hear pop on a higher creative plane. (Groebner)

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