Wild Mood Swings
HIGH SCHOOL SUCKS. That's where The Cure comes in. Countless teen misanthropes clutched the group's 1986 singles collection Standing on a Beach (their American breakthrough) to their collective chest as a symbol of their alternative nature (before alternative became Alternative). Now that these pasty-faced and messy-haired children have grown to better-coiffed adulthood, The Cure must be wondering: Who's buying our records? Someone, clearly: 1992's Wish, their last studio album, reached number two on the U.S. charts and sold truckloads.
Head moper Robert Smith, now pushing 40, has corralled new and old players together to fashion the new Wild Mood Swings. True to its title, this collection (about 4 songs too many, as usual) plays itself like an updated greatest hits--just the comfort fans need in the year when kindred goths Siouxsie and the Banshees have gone and called it quits. Eleven different mixers twiddled the knobs on Wild Mood Swings, and it shows. Don't worry, though; the group carries schizophrenia well. It certainly makes them listenable, not to mention playful. Try making it through their early monotone dirges like 1982's Pornography, a record on which Smith's newfound irony is completely absent--I guess you've gotta be in high school.
Wild has dirges too, but is balanced (though sometimes overloaded) by pleasant dancepop ditties and twinkling synths. "I feel that good!" Smith purrs on "The 13th," Wild's highlight, a mid-tempo lounge track with a slick mariachi brass section to top things off. Seems like depression's former pinup boy has cheered up. Does that mean the goth children raised on Smith's wails should do the same? (Matt Keppel)
The Roots of Rap:
Classic Recordings from the 1920's and 30's
SHANACHIE RECORDS AND its Yazoo imprint provide an invaluable service: Not only do their CDs preserve many of world folk music's oldest and most seminal recordings, but often the releases' thematic structures enable listeners to hear the music within a historical context. Typical of this approach, The Roots of Rap pulls from rare 78s of the 1920s and '30s songs that fall into the rhythmic speech tradition of African-American folk and blues--a characteristic that would later manifest itself as rap music. Included are various strains of song commonly branded rap precursors--from church shouts, work hollers, and talking blues to minstrel songs, novelty skits, and the dozens--performed by greats like Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Jimmie Davis, and Memphis Minnie.
While anyone looking to find the missing link between a slave's lament and a "Rapper's Delight" on The Roots of Rap may be disappointed, with a little imagination tracks like Pine Top Smith's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" and Speckled Red's "The Dirty Dozens No. 2" come reasonably close. But with a limited focus, the record cannot possibly be the musicological testament it hopes to be. Much more than an outgrowth of a rural blues tradition, today's hip-hop is informed by Jamaican toasting, the beat-worship of modern dance music, the postmodern sound collage, and the uniquely northern, urban, post-war black experience that has only a little to do with the music found here. To call any old music with spoken lyrics a rap root is to ignore the fundamental shift in popular songwriting that hip-hop and related styles introduced. But then, failing to give props to roots music this precious would be equally unfair. (Roni Sarig)
A Message from the Cockpit
WHEN THESE FOUR reformed classic-rock cheeseheads relocated to Minneapolis from Milwaukee some years back, they hardly conveyed the promise and ambition that now oozes from their second CD. But A Message from the Cockpit could be the local garage record of the year. Singer/guitarists Rick Donner and Steve Koester--the latter who claims he's "got an ugly mind/that can read you like a book" in the self-deprecating "Wendy, Pam, Etc."--have found a strong if cryptic band persona. Their lacerating dual guitars cut a groove that's both rootsy and experimental (their self-professed genre is "hard-wave," if that's any clue) with a punkish brevity. Producer Mike Wisti (of Rank Strangers) lends the same rich, urgent tone found on his own band's Mystery Spot; in fact, both records sprang from the same basement eight-track.
If Cockpit lags slightly near the middle, it's only because Punchdrunk is bracing us for liftoff in the last five songs. After a left-turn foray into satire ("Satan Says," "Whitefolks Fight Song"), the boys in the cockpit blast up from the basement into the stratosphere. "Cosmonaut," the disc's finest moment, and the frightened title track toss around air/spacecraft images, gliding into a "hard wave" update of Bowie's Major Tom opus. The arresting "Splashdown," one of two sweet low-key adventures at the finale, likens the headrush of romance to vertigo-free orbit: "Up here, the atmosphere/Is just right, for a day that drinks the night," Donner croons. I'll drink to that, and to the rest of Punchdrunk's soulful space oddity. (Simon Peter Groebner)
Punchdrunk performs Thursday at 400 Bar with 69 and Bent Scepters for a $1 cover; 332-9203.
Mark's Keyboard Repair
MARK RAMOS NISHITA has a riff or two for every season, which makes Mark's Keyboard Repair--his 30-song, 63-minute solo debut--stocked with enough organ-fueled flavor to get us through at least the next couple decades. Taking time off from his day job as the fourth Beastie Boy, keyman Money Mark has been hanging down in the basement, surrounded by his well-worn and strictly analog Moog, Fender Rhodes, D6 Clavinet, and Hammond organ (and even an old yard-sale guitar), setting new standards for the art of noodling. Keyboard Repair is a low-fi feast of hot licks that conjures Herbie Hancock, Bernie Worrell, Billy Preston, Augustus Pablo, and Gil Scott Heron in an ultra-loose swirl that includes '60s breeze pop and acid rock, '70s porn funk and R&B, Santana's Latin groove, art rock, ska, Beasties' hip-hop, and enough action-packed instrumentals to rewrite the theme songs of every cheesy detective TV show ever aired.
While Keyboard Repair can be sloppy, it's this same homemade quality that makes the record as a whole even more than the sum of its two-minute parts. Like everything having to do with the Beasties--including the similarly minded groove-based indie rock of Luscious Jackson--Money Mark's opus is a joy to hear because of its freewheeling take on genre-hopping and because it sounds like it was a shitload of fun to make. With an encyclopedic grasp of vintage sounds and the most basic of tools, Money Mark does for the funky keyboard what Guided By Voices did for guitar-based classic rock: He reinvents it in a way that makes it sound as fresh as it did the first time around. (Sarig)
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