Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Could be Alex Diaz lives in a parallel universe. His surreal songs certainly come from one. An alternate possibility is that he writes from the other side of the looking glass, which might explain why he sometimes bills himself as Xela Zaid. As he sings and strums (sometimes playing solo using bass as his instrument, other times plucking acoustic guitar, occasionally backed by a drummer or a full rhythm section), one variously hears echoes of Lloyd Cole, Paul Westerberg, Kurt Cobain, even Led Zeppelin in his guitarcentric tunes, which are full of unexpected rhymes and melodies lashed together with rich chording. Take "Honeycomb," which appears on his band Ho Chi Minh's 1997 album Motorama. It begins with a bright and bouncy guitar arpeggio: "Indeed, indelibly keyed, ode to my sweet honeycomb/Oh is that light in your head?" The paean then dissolves into a stormy, minor-key refrain: "Roam, the night as night shines/Hard upon as the river will storm/Creeds and deeds will make ends meet." Huh? Well, like so many semilucid dreams, songs too can have their own nonlinear logic. Diaz matches his mystical lyricism with prolificacy: his repertoire ranges from driving, head-bobbing rock to melancholic, cockeyed love songs, like "Poison Ivy," one of his latest creations (unreleased at press time): "I'll always remember the month of June/When all the kids are out of school/You know that summertime is near/It plays like a song you hope to hear/Then as my heart beats into your arms, I know who you are/You're poison ivy, how I want you still." Diaz creates absorbing, drug-trip songs best described as otherworldly.
The reggae cover bands of Miami probably don't like getting up there and grinding out "No Woman No Cry" for the eight-millionth time. Alas, that's what the mainstream market demands. This is a tough town for an original reggae band, particularly one with a political consciousness, but Benaiah continues to fight the good fight. Vocalist Joseph Williamson, with help from songwriting partner Carlton Coffee (ex-Inner Circle), has led his outfit to modest success, independently producing two CDs and doing a bit of touring. Bucking the dancehall-DJ trend in reggae, Benaiah delivers smooth harmonies and slickly produced roots grooves in the tradition of vital Eighties groups Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, and Third World. With stirring tunes such as "We Nah Give Up" and "Babylon Soft," Williamson wails against the social ills plaguing modern Babylon, and lauds the back-to-Zion messianic vision of Rastafarianism. Still crucial after all these years.
Chugging along for the past eighteen years, this itinerant studio can claim more identities than a fugitive on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. Known in North Miami and on the Beach as Sync Studios, and in downtown Miami as The Studio, MBRS is now comfortably ensconced on Lincoln Road. The nomadic existence may seem a bit unstable, but its owners -- Frank "Rat Bastard" Falestra, Luciano "Looch" Delgado, Ariyah Okamoto, and Dan Warren (all musicians/engineers/producers) -- have managed to establish long and tangled roots in this town. Through word of mouth their co-op has permeated the underground music scene while enjoying a reputation as the place to record noise, pop, progressive rock, electronica, hardcore punk, and then some. A short list of notables who have crooned their tunes through the studio's hallowed mikes includes Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids; the Mavericks; Diane Ward; the Holy Terrors; King Felix; Tom Smith; Harry Pussy; Trip Theory; The Beat Dominator; Space Men; Raw B Jae; Manchild; Snatch the Pebble; Ho Chi Minh; Dr. Yao; Loki; I Don't Know; Maria; Bobby Thomas, Jr.; and, of course, Alex Fox, the King of Ocean Drive. Recordings made at MBRS or one of its alter egos range from numerous albums for local acts (including several live compilations tracked at Churchill's and the defunct club Washington Square) to commercial jingles for international soda pop conglomerates. MBRS's latest evolution: upgrading equipment to become a full service, state-of-the-art computerized studio. Nowadays that's where it's at.
For one sweet, sunny spring day Bayfront Park became Utopia, a symbolic song of freedom and unity you could dance to. Haitian, Jamaican, Cuban, and American flags waved together above 15,000 fans of Fugee chief Wyclef Jean and his rainbow coalition of talent, the Refugee Allstars. The ensemble included fellow Fugee Pras, rapper John Forte, tap dance wunderkind Savion Glover, a crew of DJs, and a Haitian ra-ra band performing an inner city-immigrant hybrid of anthems: Creole ballads, old-school soul, raunchy rap, driving Soca, even a hip-hop version of "Guantanamera." The music rang out all through the afternoon and, later, the power of refugee music electrified the night as all-American fireworks topped the exhilarating evening. In this microcosm freedom reigned.
"The tyranny of the beat" is an apt description of Miami's club culture, a world where creativity, envelope pushing, and soulfulness are increasingly being shoved aside in favor of generic four-on-the-floorisms. Phoenecia stands as one of a handful of local electronic acts bucking that trend, and Odd Job is an outstretched middle finger aimed at the dance floor. You can hear the influence of breaks and early Eighties electro classics such as "Planet Rock" (Phoenecia band members were born and reared in Miami, after all), but these familiar grooves are buried beneath a blanket of electromagnetic radiation. Rising to the top is the sound of a stuttering, buzzing modem, frantically trying to make a connection with someone, anyone. Despite its disjointedness (or perhaps because of it), the approach adds up to an infectious slice of skittering noise. John Travolta-esque body pops may not be the appropriate visceral response; instead try the Monster Mash.
If human evolution had taken this long, we'd still be monkeys. Already celebrated for their intensely engrossing live shows, the Baboons have neglected to record, opting at one point to put their efforts into a video but never making their mark on disc. Patience paid off this year with the arrival of their seven-tune mix of Miami influences, which captures the group's lively originality while also reflecting elements of Angélique Kidjo, Bob Marley, and Santana, with a few touches of Esquivel for good measure. The marathon jams that leave live crowds happily exhausted come across within the ten-plus minutes of "The Temple" and "Made in the Shade," which runs about eight minutes. But the album also contains enough dynamics to obliterate any tendency toward tediousness. Diverse, birring, and tropical as an August day on Virginia Key, Evolution is pure Miami and pure pleasure.