IN THE AGE of alternative, we've gotten used to bands doing everything up BIG: BIG productions, BIG concepts, BIG hits, BIG hype. The only thing that's not enormous is the inspiration. A welcome contrast is the self-titled debut by Krist Novoselic's new band, Sweet 75--a small album, humble in its goals but big in chutzpah, the way that albums by underground rock bands used to be in the mid- to late-'80s, before Novoselic's old band Nirvana helped refashion the universe.
Unlike Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters, Novoselic doesn't grab the spotlight on his first post-Nirvana album. In fact, you'd never know he was there if it wasn't certain to be mentioned in every review, this one included. The star of the show is Yva Las Vegas, a former Venezuelan street singer turned Seattle busker with a gutsy voice that brings to mind a South American Joan Jett. She plays bass, Novoselic backs her on electric 12-string, a hired drummer drums, and the focus stays on a pretty solid collection of songs instead of an ultra-sellable sound. (Sorry kids, no grunge or electronica here.)
Stylistically, the band veers from straightforward rock ("Fetch," "Six Years") to pseudo-lounge ("Dogs" and "La Vida," featuring guest trumpet by Herb Alpert), and from the Monkees-play-country ("Ode to Dolly") to traditional Venezuelan folk music ("Cantos de Pilon," which has Peter Buck on mandolin and Novoselic on accordion). As you might expect from a group that takes its name from a Theodore Roethke anecdote and works to incorporate bits of world music in its mix, the lyrics are like those poems they used to run as filler in the Utne Reader ("Even the monkeys fall from the trees/I'm always watching so they won't fall on me," Yva sings in "Japan Trees").
None of this is embarrassing, and none of it is life-changing either. It's charming, pleasant, and made for college radio (if there is such a thing anymore). It's small, but cool, like an old Volkswagen Beetle. Modern-rock radio, MTV, and the glossy rock mags will hate it, and those are three more reasons to dig it.
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