Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

JUNE 15, 1998: 

add n to [x], On The Wires Of Our Nerves (Mute)

Though they publicly decry the “man-machine” ideal, London’s add n to [x] are indisputably good old fashioned wireheads. On The Wires Of Our Nerves is very much what “tomorrow” sounded like during the heady days of avant-garde synth rock circa the late ’70s thru the mid-’80s, when bands like D.A.F., Front 242, and Kraftwerk inspired Saturday Night Live’s Mike Myers to exclaim “Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!”

add n to [x]: The future was now!
On The Wires hearkens back to the type of “artificial” music which eventually spawned techno – and techno’s various bastard offspring – although there is a definite feel of relative looseness inherent throughout most of the CD. add n to [x] keep the sequencing to a minimum, preferring to manually manipulate their vintage electronic gear in real time, so the pieces get a bit floppy now and then, producing an unexpected organic effect. They describe their process as “bizarre and contradictory.” [x]er Barry Smith declares “It’s a battle between us and the machines, these perfect machines matched against our own human misbehavior…they’re extremely intelligent, and until we figure out how to work them, they’re just sitting there saying, ’C’mon then!’”

add n to [x] call their particular brand of musical cybernetics “avant-hard,” a term they further define as “music abbreviated into intensity,” which seems to indicate a conscious effort to steer clear of traditional melodic treatments in favor of a stripped-down electro-fest for the ears – sci-fi bleeps, glurps, squeaks, squeals, and robotic voice-overs. You know…the sounds of the future.

Yeah, this band obsesses on the future’s past, but add n to [x] incorporate enough ’90s electronica gimmickry to attract followers of Aphex Twin and similarly clever electronic troublemakers. – Stephen Grimstead

Lou Reed, Perfect Night Live In London (Reprise)

This is Lou’s idea of “unplugged”: he’s playing an amplified acoustic, backed by an electric trio.

This is a wonderfully intimate set, featuring re-worked arrangements of 15 tunes from the entire spectrum of his career. His tender side is revealed in the lovely love tune “Perfect Day” and the Velvet Underground classic “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” The setting may be intimate, but because it’s Lou Reed, there’s plenty of intensity. Reed is one of popular music’s most potent chroniclers of the gritty, dark side of urban life, and stripped-down versions of “The Kids,” “Kicks,” and “Dirty Blvd.” document this aspect of his genius with a raw, poetic candor. Other tunes in this excellent set include his reminiscent “Coney Island Baby,” an on-the-edge version of “New Sensations,” (with significantly different lyrics), and in-your-face Reed classics “Vicious” and “Busload Of Faith.”

Drummer Tony Smith and longtime Reed associates bassist Fernando Saunders and guitarist Mike Rathke round out the quartet, walking a tightrope between acoustic intimacy and barely restrained, no-holds-barred rock. This is essential Reed, cast in a setting that highlights his vivid and passionate singing and songwriting. – Gene Hyde

Jez Lowe & the Bad Pennies, The Parish Notices (Green Linnet)

No less an authority than Richard Thompson has called Lowe “the best songwriter to come out of England in a long time.” Heavy praise, indeed, but one close listen to Lowe’s keen gift at blending profound lyrics and traditional instrumentation reveals the truth of Thompson’s praise. Lowe’s brilliance makes The Parish Notices one of the better folk/rock releases in ages.

The Bad Pennies are virtuosos on a dozen instruments, including guitars, mandolins, dulcimers, fiddles, and percussion. Lowe’s songwriting is striking in its powerful ability to comfortably cast contemporary issues in a rich vale of traditional sensibilities, creating a timeless song cycle delivered in his rich, northern English voice. Soft ballads (the title track), rousing laments of the fate of the unemployed (“Propping”), and songs of the lost (“The Limping Drinkers’ Polka”) just begin to hint at Lowe’s depth and variety. To paraphrase Lowe’s song “Tom Tom,” this bard’s tunes are “new but grey with wisdom/wrapped in an ancient song.”

Melodically infectious and lyrically as deep as the North Sea, this is a major release in the genre. Very highly recommended. – G.H.

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