Brother J.T. and Vibrolux
Music for the Other Head
John "J.T." Terlesky has more extracurricular music projects than anyone this side of George Clinton. In addition to his regular gig as frontman for garage rockers Original Sins, Terlesky has released a slew of savagely bent albums and singles over the last few years as a solo artist and with a host of collaborators under names such as Brother J.T., Suffacox, Vibrolux, and Fuzzface. Music for the Other Head finds Terlesky drifting in the lysergic ozone with Vibrolux, a quartet that includes Fuzzface guitarist Wayne Hamilton. If the mood here isn't as scarifying as what Terlesky cooks up on his own (such as last year's brilliant Holy Ghost Stories), this is nonetheless some very wigged-out stuff.
The set opens with "Comet," a twenty-minute creepy-crawler that builds slowly into a churning jam full of swirling groans and freak-out guitar trickery. Both "Comet" and the disc's title cut work in strange but loving tribute to Hawkwind, the long-lived British group who way back in the Seventies helped write the book on acid-tinged rock and roll excess. If Terlesky's guitar-laden epics suggest Hawkwind's willful indulgence, his lyrics are hardly the work of a sci-fi stoner A they're more like the psychotic observations of a man who's been, um, out there for a while and isn't too interested in coming back anytime soon. Witness "Mind (I don't . . . If You . . . Or Rot)," four minutes of bluesy, funk-rock raunch with guitars wah-wahing everywhere and Terlesky sounding like ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons with a mouthful of 'shrooms, drawling the stuporous refrain "I don't mind if you get out of your mind/Do you mind if I get out of mine." From the sound of things, Terlesky didn't wait around for an answer. (Siltbreeze, 727 S. Seventh St., Philadelphia, PA 19147)
By John Floyd
Fleming & John
Delusions of Grandeur
If you're looking for relief from the deluge of cranberries wanna-be's, try this femme-fronted quartet, which produces sonic gems that are heavy on the hooks and riffs and light on the alt-rock dramatics. The key players here are John Mark Painter, whose fretwork slides from bluesy leads to Framptonesque tomfoolery, and Fleming McWilliams, whose supple alto soars over the couple's exquisitely layered compositions. Their collaborations are anchored by a muscular rhythm section consisting of bassist Stan Rawls and drummer Shawn McWilliams (Fleming's brother).
Adding flavor to the mix are two bonus percussionists, an eight-piece string section, and some accordion, trumpet, and wind chimes. Atmospheric rockers such as "Letters in My Head" and "Bad Reputation" throb along at double time, while the rending ballads "Love Songs" and "Rain All Day" spotlight McWilliams's taste for leaping registers and bending phrases. You've heard of torch singers? Well, Fleming is a blowtorch singer, whose tough, aching songs trace the chaos that rules in the Land of L-U-V. But Fleming is equally adept at pegging larger social concerns: In the pulsing "Break the Circle," she snarls, "Lady in Albania works for fifty cents a day/Like her mama's mama did/And if she tried to leave/They'd surely shoot her dead."
Clearly, Fleming and John aren't into making feel-good music, and yet I feel incredibly good when I listen to this album. It has something to do with the brisk rhythms and lush melodies. And also with shared pain. The bruises revealed on this disc are exquisitely colored. And they keep.
By Steven Almond
Native Wisdom: World Music of the Spirit
This eclectic compilation complements Anne Wilson Schaef's book Native Wisdom for White Minds. Described in the disc's liner notes as "mind-expanding [and] deeply spiritual," the book purports to instill a "profound sense of connectedness, from the personal to the global" in its readers by drawing upon the words and ideas of the Earth's native peoples. Dr. Schaef also contributed to the CD's introductory notes, in which she writes, "Listening to native music takes us beyond the wisdom that words can remember and transports us into the ancient wisdom of the universe where words become infused with meaning."
Well, excuse me while I finish my tofu burger. This was a good idea, but the folks at Narada could have given us more unadulterated native music and less electrified world music/trance/dance mumbo jumbo. More than fifteen of this set's fifty-two minutes are taken up either by Gabrielle Roth's droning, disco-y "Spirit" or by Hans Zimmer's witless "Millennium Theme." If you abandoned these two musicians in the rain forest without an AC outlet in sight, the outcome would not be pretty.
Samite of Uganda, the Tahitian Choir of Rapa Iti, Scotland's Mac-talla, Bolivia's Rumillajta, and other, less cross-pollinated musicians on this disc show up the synthesized folkies. Still, the overall tone of the compilation suggests a confusion between celebrating the diversity of native musics and grabbing fistfuls of it from here and there to homogenize in the cultural Cuisinart.
By Raymond Tuttle
Rage Against the Machine
Rage Against the Machine -- the name says everything. Rage, after all, is this group's most common emotion: It seethes through Tim Bob's thundering bass and Brad Wilk's pounding drums; you can hear it in Tom Morello's machine-gun guitars and in the anguished screams and sputtered raps of Mexican-American vocalist Zack de la Rocha. The vitriol spewed from Evil Empire, Rage's long-awaited followup to its 1993 debut, owes much to the polemic fury and rapid-fire urgency of Public Enemy's Chuck D, although this band summons its rage using the heavy-duty power tools of rock. But no matter if its music is revolutionary rap, protest metal, or a combination of the two, the band's command of sonic aggression makes Evil Empire a powerful assault in any musical language.
But raging against the machine is like yelling at the TV -- pointless and woefully misdirected. Lyricist de la Rocha has strong political views, particularly when it comes to the plight of Mexicans on both sides of the border. His indignation is vented sharply at times ("Vietnow," "Without a Face"), clumsily and artlessly at others ("Bulls on Parade," "People of the Sun"). While going on and on about the white man's oppression, de la Rocha ignores the reality that tyrannical machines are oftentimes constructed, operated, and sustained by ordinary people like himself. His anger should be aimed at something more specific than an entire race or nation or government; otherwise, his spiels come off as the empty rants of a rebellious post-adolescent. If Rage's raw musical muscles were grinding over a focused message, Lord knows how potent they could be.
BY Roni Sarig
Prettier Than You
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Brian Stevens established his pop smarts as one-third of the singing-songwriting Cavedogs, whose relentlessly engaging Joyrides for Shut-Ins showed up as a blip on the commercial radar screen for a nanosecond in 1990; soon thereafter, following its less-zingy second album, the Boston-based band withered and disappeared. Now here comes Stevens with a bouncy, consistently tuneful solo debut that brims with minor-key melodies reminiscent of Rubber Soul-era Beatles, Skylarking-era XTC, East Side Story-era Squeeze, and, not surprisingly, the Cavedogs' Joyrides -- all chiming guitars, keyboards, and vocals that have been fleshed out with some baroque flourishes (notably Jon Brion's chattering clavinet on "Every Night She Glows" and Marc Lowenstein's downbeat, multitracked clarinets on "The Real Thing"). Instrumentally, it fairly beams. Well, it seems to, anyway.
The reedy-voiced Stevens leads his studio band (which includes XTC's Dave Gregory) through a peck of hooky midtempo pop-rockers ("Comets," "Fall Together" are especially likable) and a pair of funk-dusted songs (the Badfingeresque "The Piper" and the loping "Mixed-up," Brian's tale of a theater production saddled with a stinky script -- in essence, his We Bombed in New Haven), undercutting his jocular-sounding music with oblique allusions to disappointment, disaffection, and dissatisfaction, some of which appear to stem from the Cavedogs' fruitless peregrinations in major-label land. Throughout, Stevens comes across as something of a pop Candide ("Zasu Pitts," "Disillusioned Days," "In the Pink," "All They Do"), painfully aware that all's not really for the best in this best of all possible worlds. (443 Albany St., Boston, MA 02118)
By Michael Yockel