Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

MARCH 2, 1998: 

Bedhead, Transaction de Novo (Trance Syndicate)

A slow, sad, three-guitar rock band from Texas, the appropriately named Bedhead established its modus operandi early on. “The bed at night is a life raft, in the ocean of the dark,” proclaimed the opening line of the first song from their first album, 1993’s WhatFunLifeWas. The vision crystallized with 1995’s follow-up single “The Dark Ages.” Singer Matt Kadane summed up the emotional paralysis of a break-up with one perfect couplet: “I can’t stand the way I was that day/Speechless, with so much to say.” Then, in time-honored rock-and-roll fashion (when the world of ordinary language began to reach its limits) the guitars rose up in a torrent and drove the feeling home.

If a record heard by fewer people worldwide than live in Bartlett can be considered a classic, “The Dark Ages” was and is such a record.


Slow-motion indie rockers Bedhead

If Transaction de Novo, like 1996’s Beheaded, contains nothing as great as “The Dark Ages,” it still utilizes the same deliberate strategy. The most remarkable thing about Bedhead may be their ability to make loud music that comes across as quiet and intimate. These are not the “whisper to a scream” dynamics that have become cliché, but a stream of electric noise whose calmness belies a sense of emotional shock. In the vein of bands like Seam and Codeine, Bedhead makes indie-rock-as-cerebral-soul-music for shy white kids. Subcultural to the core, this is hyper-specialized stuff. You know they’re a college band, because who else would have song titles like “Lepidoptera” and “Psychosomatica.” And you know they’re an art band because they still choose sound over sense. Who else would obscure such smart lyrics with whispered vocals and an avalanche of coiling, precise guitars? – Chris Herrington



Kristin Hersh, Strange Angels (Rykodisc)

In April 1997, after years of diminishing prominence, the Eighties cult band Throwing Muses quietly disbanded. For fans, this was not entirely bad news; it meant that Kristin Hersh – always the heart and soul of the Muses – could resume the solo career that had shown such promise with her 1994 debut, Hips And Makers.

The just-released follow-up, Strange Angels, is more folk-oriented than that first album. Hersh gets occasional assistance from a piano or a bit of percussion, but mostly she’s backed only by acoustic guitar, and her simple, rhythmic playing provides the ideal framework for the singsong quality of her vocals. Hersh’s voice is husky and slightly off-key, reflecting her off-kilter view of the world. “I’m not like you,” she sings, and indeed, it’s obvious that her reality differs from ours.

Hersh is now happily married with three young sons, but you wouldn’t know that from her lyrics, which are as accusatory as ever. Her songs return to a consistent theme – variations around “You make me crazy.” She needs men but doesn’t want them – or is it the other way around? “A doormat is good honest work,” she intones sarcastically on “Like You.” And on “Stained,” she makes a declaration of independence: “Use me, I get stronger/I get weaker when you treat me like a queen.” On one of the finest tracks, “Gazebo Tree,” she’s even more blatant: “Your female’s a garbage can/So you haven’t filled her up.” But these venomous barbs are cloaked in such pretty melodies that the sting is softened.

Hersh is wonderful because she’s indisputably genuine, free of affectation (and producer Joe Henry has the good sense not to try to slick things up). Unlike, say, Jewel, Hersh isn’t trying to impress us with vocal pyrotechnics. She sings for herself, because there are demons inside her fighting to get out, and we’re privileged to be able to listen in. Like its predecessor, Strange Angels grows on you with each successive spin. It’s a keeper, and so is Hersh. – Debbie Gilbert



Fred Hersch, Thelonious: Fred Hersch Plays Monk (Nonesuch)

Once considered oddly eccentric works on the fringe of jazz, Thelonious Monk’s compositions are now highly revered items in the mainstream jazz canon. Monk’s compositional gift was an unequaled ability to write tunes that simultaneously bounced with clanking, oddly syncopated rhythms, while singing with bright, catchy melodies. Pianist Fred Hersch, alone at his Steinway, reveals both of these aspects of Monk’s style in these elegantly effective interpretations of 11 Monk classics.

The striking thing about this disc is Hersch’s ability to strip Monk’s compositions down to their simple, quintessential core. Rhythm rules in Hersch’s all-over-the-keyboard rendering of “In Walked Bud,” while the impact of stride piano on Monk’s style is evident in “Let’s Cool One.” Relying on a minimum of notes and chords, Hersch’s “Five Views of Misterioso” even simplifies things down to a one-finger statement of the melody line. Other tunes that get Hersch’s bare-bones treatment are “Evidence,” “Bemsha Swing,” and a beautiful reading of Monk’s ballad “Crepuscule With Nellie.” Hersch has captured the essence and beauty of Monk’s genius throughout this disc, all the while revealing his own gifts as a superb player and interpreter. Highly recommended. – Gene Hyde


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