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-- John Floyd

Today Is the Day
Temple of the Morning Star
(Relapse)

Forget Slayer. Forget death metal. The house band from Hell is actually Nashville-based Today Is the Day, and the group's latest disc, Temple of the Morning Star, provides just about all the inspiration anyone without severe mental problems needs to find religion fast. Worse yet, for reasons of national security and personal safety, we'll need to keep an eye on those who think this band has any redeeming value whatsoever.

Today Is the Day's most glaring defect is the vocals of bandleader and tortured soul Steve Austin. (Actually it's doubtful if the concept of vocals has any relevance to Today Is the Day.) His relentlessly pained, notably horrific, and downright annoying shriek arrives from somewhere beyond the grave. Pray it returns, with or without him, sometime soon.

Austin's expressions of rage are so blinding that his guitar playing and the work of bassist Mike Harrel, drummer Mike Hyde (since replaced by original drummer Brad Elrod, who appeared on the group's first three LPs and two EPs on Amphetamine Reptile), and keyboardist Chris "The Savior" Reeser go almost unnoticed. For the most part, that wouldn't be any loss, since the seventeen tracks on Temple more closely resemble incidental music from The Exorcist or some other equally creepy, occult-based horror movie than songwriting with any relation to even the most deviant branch of popular culture.

Throughout most of the disc, Austin's guitar work consists of choppy rhythm patterns and repetitious sequences of high-pitched, poorly tuned squeals. Drummer Hyde is completely out of control and undisciplined, with unnecessary and distracting fills terrorizing every spare measure. Lyrically, Austin's range of topics covers all the hackneyed cliches favored by those who pose as anarchist Devil worshippers: sick sex, suicide, and Satan.

Of course there are some in our society who seek just this kind of band to deify. Unfortunately, their taste in entertainment has little to do with music. Pity them.

-- Adam St. James

Today Is the Day performs Friday, June 19, at Churchill's Hideaway, 5501 NE 2nd Ave; 757-1807, with Converge, Cavity, and Morning Again. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. Cover charge is $7.

Mitchell Froom
Dopamine
(Atlantic)

Producer/arranger Mitchell Froom has shaped some of the best records of the Eighties and Nineties with his graceful touch and artist-centered approach. His obscure 1982 solo debut (the soundtrack to the cult porn classic Cafe Flesh) led to an extraordinary career producing artists such as Richard Thompson, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Crowded House, American Music Club, Cibo Matto, and Los Lobos. Sixteen years later his second solo outing, Dopamine, illuminates the breadth and depth of his contributions.

The dozen songs on Dopamine are a collaborative effort Froom began in 1994 and recorded between his production duties for other artists. He wrote the music here and plays piano, organ, Indian banjo, harmonium, and a variety of other instruments. Former clients, including wife Suzanne Vega, Mark Eitzel (American Music Club), Sheryl Crow, Miko Hatori (Cibo Matto), David Hidalgo and Louie Perez (Los Lobos), and Ron Sexsmith, supply lyrics and vocals, and musicians such as Pete Thomas and Bruce Thomas (the Attractions), Steve Berlin (also from Los Lobos), and studio vets Jerry Marotta and Steve Donnelly also appear on the record.

Froom and co-producer Tchad Blake set out to update the auteur tradition of composer/arrangers such as Henry Mancini and Gil Evans by creating a new, lavishly skewed pop lexicon that incorporates Eastern music, cabaret, jazz, techno, and rock. Froom's fascination with the soundtracks of Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, Psycho, Taxi Driver) also weaves through the tracks, from the spare, lost sound of Eitzel singing "Watery Eyes" to the ominous button cinema organ of the instrumental "Noodletown."

Froom approached the project as a kind of personal soundtrack, and the album plays like a long sequence of one- to three-minute movie trailers. "I'd Better Not" is a snaky, beatnik B movie, as Froom's jazzy piano playing confronts squealing, honking sax runs at every turn. Smoky barfly camp permeates "The Bunny," with a rambling vocal performance by Soul Coughing's M. Doughty. "Wave" blends Hatori's dreamy melody with a spooky Pacific island sway. And "Monkey Mind" is perhaps the most cinematic, conjuring a terror-at-the-carnival feeling as the song shifts abruptly from Sheryl Crow's ranting rock dirge to carousel sounds to slinky lounge music.

At just under 32 minutes, Dopamine is a short but intriguing diversion that succinctly displays the range and ingenuity Froom has always demonstrated as a producer. The generous mixing of styles and performers may render the album so esoteric that only fans of the artists involved may appreciate it, but the record as a whole confirms that Froom's talent and understanding of music is as unusual as those of his colleagues.

-- Robin Myrick

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