Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Record Reviews

JUNE 29, 1998: 


Freak*on*ica (DGC)

As four trim cleancuts with high cheekbones, raised proper (harDCore), sent to all the right schools (Dischord, Touch & Go), Girls Against Boys have always been too smart, too good looking, and too loud for their own good. Constantly teetering on the edge of pretension, their crowd turned on 'em like coke whores when they jumped indie ship and signed with DGC. Bigger budgets, higher stakes, more pressure. Not good. Unless you deliver, that is. Which GVSB - in fine corporate style - does; Freak*on*ica is a throbbing, double-bass booming, sonic pulse, guitars like stroblights, drums along the Mohawk, and Eli Janney whispering breathy tales of Studio 54 miasma. Urban nightmares, cheap sex, bad drugs - NYC in a nutshell: "Park Avenue," "Pleasurized," "Vogue Thing." Sounds a lot like 1996's wickedly visceral Top Ten pollstar, House of GVSB, only it's got a high sheen; no more buried vocals,
a-tonal guitar discordance, or thick, murky splatters of avant noise. No more personality. Just steely riffs, shiny walls of synthesizer, and the bad motor scooter sounds of "Speedway." TheKindaMzkYouLike, man. Cool. Uh, huh. Sure. Whatever...
2 stars - Raoul Hernandez


Adore (Virgin)

After the drug-related incidents involving Jimmy Chamberlain in 1996, the Smashing Pumpkins decided to carry on their tour without the massively hard-hitting drummer. Having effected them musically, professionally, and emotionally, the journey down the rocky road of a friend and colleague's drug addiction and the climax of his firing were prophecies of the Pumpkins' direction. The product of the maelstrom is most definitely Adore. The latest in the Pumpkins' repertoire finds Billy Corgan et al. eschewing the power rawk sound of past works with emphasis on Corgan's more introspective, self-reflective songwriting and the band's original drummer, a drum machine. "Ava Adore" is the closest thing to a rocker on the entire album followed by the bouncy "Perfect." Propelled by the drum machine, "Appels & Oranjes" is a Garbage-inflected standout. It's a solid piece of work, but Adore's shortcoming is that it's missing those jagged peaks and spikes that were the meat of the best Smashing Pumpkins anthems, making it slightly less than adorable for fans of the Rawking Pumpkins.
2.5 stars- Leah Selvidge


Dressed Up Like Nebraska (Slow River/Ryko)

Twenty-five year old Josh Rouse has a gift. He can dip into the same emotional well that every young arteest pulls from and pour out pitchers of the standard songwriting leitmotif: loneliness, loss, disappointment, disenchantment, etc. When Rouse does it, though, what comes out doesn't sound bored, tired, self-absorbed, or even sappy. Instead, this Nebraskan turned Nashvillain's debut, a dark roots-pop album, manages to seduce the listener despite its predominantly disconsolate complexion. Part of the draw may be poetic images in miniature like, "I could help you open and unfurl" ("Suburban Sweetheart"), and "A silent phone is all you got" ("Late Night Conversation"). The rest of the charm may be Rouse's hollow yet warm voice, which can go instantly from a Grant Lee Phillips near-falsetto to a Jeff Martin aridity, allowing him to pull off lines like, "I dreamed last night you never not old and gray" without a trace of Stipe pretension. Yep, Rouse has a gift all right. And don't think he doesn't know it, either; the first four words on Dressed Up Like Nebraska are, "I've got a gift."
3.5 stars- Michael Bertin


Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Mercury)

Not many artists can leave their fans waiting six years for a new release and expect them to still care. Lucinda Williams is that kind of artist, however, and thankfully Car Wheels on a Gravel Road delivers in ways that only the work of an exceptional songwriter can. It's certainly no departure from her past work; she's still conjuring Southern rural life, capturing everyday events with startling clarity while continuing to use folk-rock and country blues for a deep-rooted foundation. Yet the images on Car Wheels are a bit more pointed and the melodies reverberate longer into the night than just about anything she's come up with previously. All the songs link to her past in some way. "Drunken Angel," an ode to legendary deceased Austin songwriter Blaze Foley exposes both his tortured soul and her heartfelt grief at his passing. There are also tunes titled after towns from the South like "Jackson," "Greenville," and "St. Charles," and though the subject of each is different, they each connect to a memory from her childhood that is sure to the touch the listener as well. Throughout, Williams sounds convincingly and alternately self-assured, sexy, frail, and distressed, characteristics she's always possessed but never with this much power or charm.
4 stars - Jim Caligiuri


Seeing Things (Rounder)

Of Laurie Lewis' eight offerings, this is possibly the least impressive, which means it's merely damn good rather than great. Everything that has made this Bay Area songwriter one of America's finest purveyors of old-time folk music is still in place: her magnificent fiddling, her warm, sweet voice, and Tom Rozum's outstanding mandolin playing. In many areas, however, Lewis seems to stray from her old-time sound, especially on "Visualize," with its overdone harmonies. A great artist will always want to stretch a bit, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Still, such criticism unfairly detracts from what really is a nice work; Lewis retains her sense of whimsical fun on "Kiss Me Before I Die," and stretches out on "Manzanar," a dark song by her neighbor Tom Rozum about WWII Japanese internment camps, which finishes on a surprisingly optimistic note. And Lewis continues her love affair with Texas (she's been known to wax rhapsodic about Texas bluebonnets, and her management is based in Austin) on "I'll Take Back My Heart," a conjunto number with Austinite Bradley Jaye Williams sounding a lot like Flaco Jimenez. A slump album? Other artists should strive to be this "unimpressive."
3 stars - Lee Nichols


Overcome by Happiness (Sub Pop)

With a hard jerk of the songwriter's steering wheel Joe Pernice comes swerving off the Great Americana Highway and skidding into one of those sleepy subdivisions of pretty pop houses that all look alike. His former band, Massachusetts minimalist hicks the Scud Mountain Boys, were around from the beginning of the neo-country appreciation boom, and they carved a unique niche for themselves with their stark arrangements and musical somnambulism. Three highly lauded albums full of ultra-slow and gloomy tunes later, Pernice is ready to wake up and smell the melody. His new project for Sub Pop, the Pernice Brothers (including brother Bob) is as much a departure as is conceivably possible save shaving his head and joining a ska band. It's an unabashed pop album, pretty and mellow, with all the sounds and tricks of the Byrds and Big Star, but none of the fun. "Monkey Suit" is nice, the string accompaniment to the guitar solo one of the more natural moments on the album. "Clear Spot" and "Chicken Wire" have their bits of pure pleasure too, but for the most part it just seems like the same old thing. Boring. Pernice's lilting voice bumps awkwardly on its new path, making Overcome by Happiness seem like a wrong turn.
2 stars - Christopher Hess


Roll Back the Rug.... It's the Horton Brothers (Texas Jamboree)

The recent explosion of the revival scene has led to something of a semantic split among its chroniclers. Take Austin's hillbilly honky-tonkers the Horton Brothers: welcome throwback or tired copycats? Derivative or just traditional? Unimaginative or respectful of the form? Even their 10-gallon-hat-and-a-string-tie look is outdated - er, authentic. At any rate, the Horton Brothers do their damndest to make you believe the last 40 years never happened. On Roll Back the Rug.... they do faithful imitations of their heroes, which surely include the Everlys, Louvins, and Buddy Holly: short songs - 14 of 'em in 33 minutes - tender harmonies, and a sweet-natured innocence that's damn near precious. That said, they do it smartly; the mostly original Roll Back the Rug features fine singing (that's Billy with the sentimental tenor, Bobby with the gutsier baritone), solid rhythm, an appropriately reedy guitar, and some good guestwork on the piano by way of T Jarrod Bonta. Bygone, true to their roots, old-fangled - whatever you call it - the Horton Brothers do it well.
3 stars - Jay Hardwig


Mambo Yo Yo (Putumayo)

So you're hosting a party and having a hard time choosing the music. Sure, you want to please everybody, but without resorting to the lowest common denominator (radio). And fer chrissakes, you want to dig it, too. The solution: Mambo Yo Yo, the second release from Congolese born Los Angeles resident Ricardo Lemvo. Aided by his crack band, Makina Loca, and producer-player Niño Jesús Pérez (a prime component of L.A.'s mid-Eighties salsa scene), Lemvo mixes Congolese rumba and Cuban son montuno into tropical delight on Mambo's 10 tightly-edited tracks. Packed full of party hoppin', hip swingin' goodness, Mambo Yo Yo is bound to itch everyone's party scratch, from the soukous shuffle of "No Me Engañes Más" to the easy tropical rhythm of "Él de la Rumba Soy Yo (Afrika Mokili Mobimba)" to the danceable groove of flute-inflected "Biloló." The secret: Lemvo's golden voice floating over Makina Loca's serious Latin and Central African rhythms. It's hard to imagine anyone listening to Mambo, a Congolese term that translates as "an event" or "gathering," without cracking a satisfied smile. And if they don't, you can bet you don't want them at your party.
3.5 stars - David Lynch


Angels With Dirty Faces (Island)

Incidental music for botched suicides, sloppy miscarriages, and the hateful rutting of ex-lovers, Tricky's third outing is grim, grimmer, grimmest - a slow dive backwards into the bubbling morass of urban dread and seething beats. Aided and abetted this time out by Polly Jean Harvey, Anthrax's Scott Ian, and longtime collaborator Matrina Topley-Bird, Angels With Dirty Faces is a thicker, phatter take on the strains of his previous Pre-Millennium Tension. Part monotonal crooner with stillborn heart on his sleeve (check out his (mis)appropriation of Billie Holiday's "Carriage for Two"), part unsullied psychopomp rage ("I wanna blow my head off in Seattle" he slurs in the nasty "Tear Out My Eyes"), Tricky is the sly, sick, dog-end of illbient bad news. All three of his releases, Maxinquaye, Pre-Millenium Tension, and now this have been marked with headlong growth and a distinct stylistic "can you top this" feel. Amazingly, Tricky outdoes himself again: Angels... is filled with knotted loops and debauched programming that leaves the listener alternately anxious and wildly expectant. It's nothing that you'd want to smile about, but a scowl and a boot to the kidneys go a long way these days.
4 stars - Marc Savlov

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