American Teenage Rock 'n' Roll Machine
Rock shtick has a short radioactive half-life. For example: When was the last time you listened to late-Eighties English dipsticks Gaye Bykers on Acid's Drill Your Own Hole? Somehow, Sacramento-based schlock-rock trio Groovie Ghoulies (bassist-vocalist Kepi, guitarist Roach, drummer Panic) have persisted through -- what? -- four albums, including their most recent, Re-Animation Festival, blithely reconstituting straight-ahead Ramones-style riffs and beats while surgically attaching them to cartoony creature-feature lyrics.
On Festival, songwriter Kepi keeps the winking goofball factor at a fever pitch throughout: picnicking in a cemetery ("Graveyard Girlfriend"), agonizing over alien invaders ("Evading the Greys"), and, on the revved-up "Graceland," resurrecting the King ("Well, we took off like a Sabre jet for Tennessee/Pulled up to Graceland, pulled out my skeleton key/Gonna find out where he's buried, gonna dig him up/Throw his remains on the back of a truck/Perform some kind of voodoo-type ritual thing/And sit back and laugh while we watch him sing").
Kepi intones everything in a nasal deadpan, Roach stokes the melody with relentless chords, and Panic drops cymbal bombs every few beats: in short, Ramones-a-rama. Additionally, the Ghoulies Ramonize Daniel Johnston's "To Go Home" and cover Wilson Pickett's R&B ballad "If You Need Me," although they appear to be working from the Rolling Stones' 1964 version of the same song. Good for some grins certainly, but all the innate horror-show bumptiouness and lowbrow sanctification in the universe won't coax a one-trick pony to perform more than one trick.
As for the Donnas, current pet rocks of the music press, well, on their truth-in-advertising second album American Teenage Rock 'n' Roll Machine, the quartet of adolescent girls from Palo Alto, California, tumbles through ten tunes in 24-plus minutes, suturing the Ramones' aural bedrock to the Runaways' randy sensibilities. Key phrases: "checking it out," "rock, rock, rock and roll," "looking for some party action," and "c'mon and stick it in." Memo to Gary Glitter's attorney: Give a close listen to "You Make Me Hot." Sound a bit like "Do You Wanna Touch Me?" or what? (Lookout! Records, P.O. Box 11374, Berkeley, CA 94712-2374)
-- Michael Yockel
Groovie Ghoulies and the Donnas perform at at 7:00 p.m. Saturday at Squeeze, 2 S New River Dr, Fort Lauderdale; 954-522-2151. Tickets cost $6.
People often misuse the word epitome to refer to the most extreme or notable exemplar of a given type. Actually the epitome is the least extreme, most typical example of something. That distinction is made here with the intention of avoiding any hint of the hyperbolic accolades heaped upon DJ Shadow's fine 1996 album Endtroducing, while at the same time noting that his new Preemptive Strike is the absolute epitome of a singles collection following up an acclaimed debut. But the "new" DJ Shadow album is superfluous, not superlative.
Most of the tracks here were released on vinyl before Endtroducing was issued (some also showed up on that album). Two have come out since -- an extended remix of Endtroducing's "Organ Donor" and one new song, "High Noon." Preemptive Strike also includes a bonus CD that features mixes of some of the same previously released Shadow material -- this time cut up and scratched up by DJ Q-Bert. (He's the star of the Bay Area DJ crew Invisibl Skratch Piklz and was a cameo scene-stealer on Kool Keith and the Automator's Dr. Octagon.)
It would be a waste of time to discuss how Shadow's early tracks offer insight into the development of the major artist who emerged on Endtroducing. As for Q-Bert, his showcase merely corroborates previously demonstrated abilities. To dwell on either disc would be to join them in revisiting well-covered territory.
Instead, it makes sense to note how Preemptive Strike provides evidence for each of two opposing camps' opinions regarding DJ Shadow. To listeners who find contemporary hip-hop abrasive and anti-intellectual, Shadow's laid-back instrumentals present a refreshingly cool and detached alternative. His perspective is no less nourished by beat science than is the work of Gotham's grittiest grandmasters, but he adopts a broader and more calculating approach. Compositions from 1993 and 1995 show Shadow approaching hip-hop with the restraint of a jazz musician, building lush imagery from disjointed melodic forms that he repeats and revises.
Which can sound pretty boring to hip-hoppers waiting impatiently for the next ferocious Wu-Tang Clan single to drop. And yet none of those devotees could in good faith assail Shadow's drum programming. But his willingness to downplay the power of his beats in the interest of a project as ambitious as Preemptive Strike's four-part "What Does Your Soul Look Like" -- or the whole of Endtroducing -- suggests that Shadow is aiming for something far less direct and emotional than the street music that he claims inspires him. After all, with his predilection for lite-jazz samples, swirling flutes, and majestic chimes, it can be argued that Shadow has more in common with overwrought Seventies prog-rock producers than with rap DJs. The two positions aren't mutually exclusive, and Shadow's ability to split the difference between them can make for rewarding listening. (Mo' Wax, 825 Eighth Ave., 23rd floor, New York, NY 10019)
-- Adam Heimlich
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brook: Remixed
This disc features Asian underground artists reinterpreting tracks from a pair of collaborations between the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Canadian producer Michael Brook (1990's Mustt Mustt and 1996's Night Song). Throughout the set Khan's ecstatic vocals provide a core of spiritual sustenance, while producers, DJs, and sonic adventurers such as Talvin Singh, Asian Dub Foundation, and Aki Nawaz add dashes and pinches of spice and flavor. The results are both challenging and tasty, something akin to classic Pakistani cuisine.
Athough the tracks vary, the basic recipe for Star Rise is as follows:
1 Sufi chant
1 harmonium drone
1 soaring vocal line
1 ethereal keyboard wash
2 fluttering high hats
1 pulsing bass
1 flanging drum loop
1 wet propulsive guitar lick
2 dry snare beats
1 corkscrewing sitar
various elastic space blips and percussive flourishes
Combine Sufi chant and harmonium drone until spiritual vibe is established. Add pulsing bass and fluttering high hats. Heat thoroughly, paying careful attention not to overwhelm the chant and hence lose the vibe. Using separate tracks, combine the snare beats and the guitar lick. Soak thoroughly and add to mix. At this point you may want to turn up the fire and burn off some of the high hat. Stir constantly to avoid clotting. Mixture should thicken but never obscure the original vibe.
Add soaring vocal line and corkscrewing sitar, then cover with keyboard wash. Sprinkle on space blips and percussive flourishes to taste. Feel free to improvise and rearrange ingredients. Used mindfully, the above recipe will yield flavorful, compelling, and nourishing results. Serve hot with favorite intoxicating beverage.
-- John Lewis
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Too little Krautrock makes it to these shores. Let me rephrase that: Too little Krautrock gets released on a major label here. And when it does, it occurs almost invariably only after a specific song has experienced massive commercial success in Europe. Even then, too often that particular German song winds up being re-recorded in English by the artist in question (e.g., Nena's ridiculous, lovable "99 Luftballons") or corrupted by an inferior English-language cover version (e.g., After the Fire's gustless retooling of Falco's comically subversive "Der Kommissar" -- and before you get huffy, yes, I know, Falco is Austrian, not German, so simmer down).
Now along come Germany's newest hitmakers, Rammstein, whose two albums to date, 1995's Herzeleid (Heartache) and last year's Sehnsucht (Longing), have already topped the German charts, also performing well in Switzerland and Austria. So, figures American record company Slash, why not give the U.S. market a spin -- where's the harm? On Sehnsucht the six-man band, led by the stern vocals of Till Lindemann, work mostly in a pummeling metal vein, not too far removed from their German predecessors the Scorpions and Accept, but like so many other artists these days, Rammstein favors a highly hybridized sound. For instance, on the title song, which opens the album, the band peppers its hungry power chords and sledgehammer beat with a background muezzin wail, a nifty hip-hop shuffle during a brief break, and the synth riff from the Who's "Who Are You." Similarly, you can hear echoes of Beck, David Bowie in his late-Seventies Berlin guise, dopey Wax Trax industrial posturing, and Ennio Morricone during the course of "Tier." Elsewhere, glimmers of Jan Hammer, Falco, Giorgio Moroder, Silver Convention, and late-Eighties English "grebo" rockers seep through the metallic throb, and "Spiel Mit Mir" cobbles together bits of Led Zep's "Kashmir" and the Who's "Eminence Front."
All great thumping fun, especially when Lindemann gets guttural. And the tolerance level is greatly heightened if you don't understand German, because the songs function strictly as music -- not, you know, narrative or commentary. Which makes it unfortunate that the band and/or record company felt compelled to include English-language versions of "Engel" and "Du Hast" at the end of the disc. Kind of ruins everything, much like hearing an opera performed in English.
-- Michael Yockel