Thinking Fellers Union Local 282
I Hope It Lands
TRUE TO THEIR name, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 make high concept music with a blue collar attitude. Iowa City farmboys (and girl) transplanted into the Bay Area punk scene, TFUL282 are the post-punk heirs to Captain Beefheart's rootsy surrealism, a sort of jug band Sonic Youth. They bang, jangle, and noodle their way through dense sound collages made of just about any ingredient, from free-jazz banjo to psuedo-gamelan clanging, from operatic exhortations to the straight rock roar of guitar, bass, and drums. Like their Frisco heroes the Residents, TFUL282 twist, turn, and stomp on musical convention until what's left is sometimes tough to recognize as music. But like the similar-minded tinklers in TeenBeat's Uncle Wiggly, they keep at least a few toes of one foot in pop bliss.
With their sixth album I Hope It Lands, TFUL282 take a confident, if noncommittal step toward more cohesive songforms. Dispersed among typically discordant and angular instrumentals like "Inspector Fat Ass" and the 17-second "Jagged Ambush Bug" are songs like "Empty Cup," "Lizard's Dream," and "Elgin Miller"--among the most melodic in the band's eight-year recording history. Granted, TFUL282's previous shifts toward accessibility (see the Admonishing the Bishops EP) haven't endured, but this time out the band's maturity and self-discipline (the latter not something usually associated with art-rockers) indicate a willingness to develop songs, where once they were content to simply let song fragments jut out from the cacophony. Like Sonic Youth's own recent coming-of-age, TFUL282's half-step toward center is not a grim concession to the mainstream; rather it's a happy reconciling of their own conflicted impulses. (Roni Sarig)
Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 perform with Low on Thursday, April 25th at 7th Street Entry.
Brasil: A Century of Song
BRAZIL'S SPRAWLING MUSICAL legacy is as vast as its geography and as varied as its urban favelas, rain forests, beaches and arid sertao. Capturing its scope in limited space is a daunting task that, aside from a few inevitable quibbles with selections and omissions, producer Jack O'Neil has managed with reasonable success in this four-CD box (CDs also available separately). O'Neil sticks mostly to tracks currently unavailable in the U.S., showing the range of Brazilian music without picking the most obvious examples. Only the MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) disc suffers by including too much readily accessible stuff, and by indefensibly skipping tropicália innovators Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso.
Still, there are abundant revelations here. On the "Folk & Traditional" disc: Ary Barrosa's scintillating 1939 samba "Deixa Esta Mulher Sofrer;" Orquestra Brasilia's "Yaô," an alluring chìro by master arranger Pixinguinha that mixes European and African sensibilities; Pena Branca and Xavantinho's lilting rhythms and harmonies of lyrical caipira or hillbilly music; and Quarteto Negro's striking mix of Afro-Brasilian polyrhythms, jazzy clarinet wailing and extraordinary call-and-response vocals on "Semba." The "Carnaval" set features "Batuques de Samba," a very African-sounding samba jam session recorded in rural Bahia, and "Cerca de Bakel" from Salvador's very powerful bloco afro group Ilê Aiyê; Raíxes do Pelô's samba-reggae "Reggae Sem O Peter." The Bossa Nova disc includes singer Sylvia Telles' haunting, serene version of Tom Jobim's "Dindi" and acoustic guitarist Baden Powell's dramatic epic "Pescador"; the MPB set is graced by singer Daniela Mercury, whose pop swagger gets propelled by Olodum's thunderous surdo drums on "Swing Da Cor," and Tony Mola, whose santeria-style vocals groove with sizzling Afro-Brazilian rhythms on "Bragada."
The accompanying booklet is full of info, but sometimes skimps on pertinent details (worse, it is sometimes geographically adrift: Recife is in Pernambuco, not Bahia--Bahia is a coastal, not interior state). With over 60 tracks, this is still not a comprehensive history of Brazilian music. But it's an impressionistic watercolor of a rich and complex heritage, painted with some of its brightest colors. (Rick Mason)
Realms of Gold
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO the great lost art of white boy soul? The genre may have been born with David Bowie's 1975 milestone Young Americans LP but, despite the current Bowie revival, it seems to have died a quintessentially late '80s death. Among the top of the "plastic soul" crop were The Blow Monkeys, a largely underrated British band that reigned briefly in the volatile mid-'80s UK pop world. Vocalist and songwriter (Dr.) Robert Howard was their dandy frontman, with the soul vocab and sass to actually team up with idol Curtis Mayfield on the anti-Thatcher, BBC-banned single "Celebrate (The Day After You)." In the U.S., the Monkey's only rumble was "Digging Your Scene," and it was a modest one at that.
After 5 years of sporadic solo singles and major label grief, Dr. Robert has remodeled his brand of white boy soul on Realms of Gold. Dumping the dance music cliches that made the Blow Monkeys both catchy and dated, Robert now embraces a more pastoral, bluesy sound: Hammond organ swirls and moody harmonica color back-to-nature messages ("Sanctuary") and paeans to spiritual renewal ("Have No Roots"). Returning the favor of Robert's session work on his own albums, fellow white soul boy Paul Weller adds vocals, guitar, piano, etc. on almost half of Realms' dozen tracks, which reflect the Thoreau-with-a-guitar sound of Weller's present work. Over the course of the disc, Robert takes his soul out of the city, away from computerized keyboards and Mariah Carey-isms and into a folk and blues-based arena that's both artistically charming and politically positive.
From the man who used to give Billy Bragg a run for his socialist money while singing ballads like Smokey Robinson, Dr. Robert has avoided the '80s landfill with a smart '90s rebirth. Realms Of Gold is low-key, delicate, and humanist enough to melt the plastic from the "soul" that gave him his first grasp at the ring. (Matt Keppel)
ELEANORA WHITLEDGE, VOCALIST for NYC garage punks the Goops, doesn't pretend to be a vomiting monster like the frontbabes in Babes in Toyland or L7 or a cutesy kindergartner like the ones in Veruca Salt or the Muffs, so she rocks me more. In last year's B-side remake of "Build Me Up Buttercup," she started out absolutely pretty but kept getting louder and higher-pitches until she twisted into a hoarse, powerful sexy Joan Jett snarl. On the new CD she's funnest when yapping "candy stowah" like a tough Laverne and Shirley-via-Debbie Harry bowling-alley chick.
I never really listened to "Build Me Up Buttercup"'s words when late '60s soulsters the Foundations (featuring future NYC garage punk Ivan Julian of the Voidoids!) first did it. But the Goops' version totally connected with me (way more than any of their supposedly more "serious" originals or Alison Krauss's concurrent bluegrass cover of the Foundations' other hit "Baby Now That I've Found You")--especially the line that goes "most of all you never call baby when you say you will." Maybe it just came along at the right time: I first heard it last fall around the time I was losing a potentially close friend after I kept getting anxious and irritated by her repeatedly promising "I'll give you a call tomorrow (or later this afternoon, or Thursday)," then never following thorugh. To me, that sort of thing always seems inconsiderate, but maybe I was just taking her too literally--maybe "call you tomorrow" is no more precise a promise than "I'll be finished in a minute," and maybe my hermit-like lack of social interaction makes me not unlike a foreigner misinterpreting a linguistic idiom.
Anyway, most of 1994's The Goops was about revenge and drunkenness. "Booze Cabana" had Eleanora being slapped around by her alcoholic dad; "The Day I Met Iggy" had her leaving a lasting impression by being pickled by noon. Lucky has healthier production and subject matter (girls wanting boys), and thus less dark, slimy pissed-off shtick, but it moves too much toward powerpop perfunction. What with this band's blatant bar-hack tendencies, lyrics-you-won't-forget are a must. Maybe to be safe they should always cover a few '70s glam classics, like Joan Jett and Girlschool used to. "Hard Candy" is angular like Elastica, "Don't Wanna Be Like You" seems to be aimed at Kurt Cobain, and the boy-sung "Cut The Rug" is an equivalent of Tre Cool's dipshit skiffles on Green Day LPs. But only "Build Me Up Buttercup"s flirtatious old A-side "One Kiss Left" and the fast funkabilly of "You Wish" about passing out in a puddle of puke in the powder room, really work; in the latter, the person covetous of Eleanora's tits, ass, brains, and class in the latter is female, and it scratches like a catfight. (Chuck Eddy)
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