You Am I is a Sydney, Australia, trio that has achieved an oddly impressive distinction during its six-year history: It has somehow managed to build a zealous American fan base without actually releasing anything in America. Hourly, Daily, its third album (following hard-to-find imports on labels like Timberyard and RooArt) was released a year ago in the band's homeland, but only now is it within reach of our collective mitts. As such, it's more than a first-rate collection of retro-pop clamor -- it's a belated stateside introduction to one of the most endearing bands on the planet.
You Am I exhibits such mastery of that inexhaustible late-Sixties Brit-pop jangle that it makes you question your motivations even as you sway your head to every sing-along chorus. Singer/guitarist Tim Rogers, the band's only original member, even looks like a digital morph of Ray Davies and Pete Townshend. This mod from Down Under displays considerable chutzpah in building the ebullient "Mr. Milk" around the bridge to XTC's "Senses Working Overtime" and goes so far as to ape that tune's background woo-woos. Just to push the audacity meter into the red, Rogers fades out with chiming "A Hard Day's Night" arpeggios.
Try searching for a dud among this album's power-pop nuggets and you'll come up emptier than Geraldo at Capone's vault. "Good Mornin'" may be a by-the-numbers chronicle of a working day, but hooks like this don't sprout on every tunesmith's fretboard. And the title song is the kind of achingly beautiful acoustic-cum-string-section track that Noel Gallagher was shooting for with "Wonderwall."
You Am I is a band that you'll fall in love with instantly, then spend hours debating in your mind: Is this music as good as it seems, or does it merely remind us of rock's young and innocent days? What is the value of a band that so skillfully re-creates the vibe of great recordings when those recordings are still in print? You can try building a case against such retro aesthetics, but eventually you'll succumb. A mere band can be resisted, but You Am I is a walking Poptopia festival.
-- Gilbert Garcia
For the Love of You
(N2K Encoded Music)
While the Barbie doll of the 21st Century has changed her bodily proportions, the music of Candy Dulfer shows you what Barbie might sound like if she were a Dutch saxophonist corrupted by Minneapolis funk. For the Love of You is Candy Dulfer's fourth solo release and the most recent addition to an impressive musical resume. The Amsterdam native has worked with Prince, Aretha Franklin, Living Colour, Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, and David Sanborn.
And yet Dulfer is not squeamish about going straight for the pop jugular. For the Love of You comprises eleven full-blown grooves whose vocal arrangements and funkified production recall the work of her mentor, his Royal Purpleness. Dulfer opens the title track with nine minutes of slap and snapped bass groove, then downshifts into a deep grind. For this Isley Brothers cover, she spices the groove with a dizzy guitar riff, synthesized keyboards, spoken poetry, and a soulful harmonized vocal refrain. Dulfer follows with "Smooth," a straight instrumental whose whistling synthesizer calls to mind the melodic confections of the West Coast rap establishment. The boom-bap drum track of "Give Me Some More," which mimics a more corporeal form of friction, demonstrates how thoroughly Dulfer has cottoned to Prince's libidinous grooves. The grooves, in turn, serve as unlimited vamps for Dulfer's unobtrusive sax solos.
Unfortunately, these solos are often a bit too unobstrusive. While her horn playing is sexy in a languorous way, it rarely dazzles. Fortunately, her devotion to the low-end is enough to send the unwitting listener sailing into a McDonald's drive-thru. If that ain't special sauce, I don't know what is.
-- Victor Cruz
It's rather poignant how desperate Gavin Rossdale and his minions are for respect. For the act's previous package, Razorblade Suitcase, they hired producer Steve Albini, a man even Kurt Cobain thought was too extreme at times. Now, on Deconstructed, the lads have lined up every hotshot studio jockey on the A-list to make their iffy tunes as current as trip-hop. Since the first step toward a strong mix is strong material, this task was a difficult one, but a few dial-twisters were able to come up with some intriguing concoctions anyhow -- especially those who took the quite logical step of tossing out as much of the songs as they could. "Swallowed" becomes a moody but still danceable sonic slab after being overhauled by Goldie and Rob Playford; "In a Lonely Place" is infused with creepiness by Tricky; and "Everything Zen" is completely subsumed in beats and beeps cooked up by Derek DeLarge. (A second, far less drastic variation on "Everything Zen," refurbished by Greg Brimson and Pete Coyte, leads off the disc.)
Despite such exertions, this undertaking remains a waste of time -- the sort of thing record companies put out for no reason other than to assuage bruised egos. Why? Because people who actually like Bush are apt to hate the changes, and people who don't like Bush will see Deconstructed as the vanity project it is and leave it on the store shelves. Coming soon to a cut-out bin near you.
-- Michael Roberts
Brown Eyed Soul: The Sounds of East L.A., Volumes 1-3
Decked out with car dice and shots of Whittier Boulevard, this three-pack of low-rider music isn't solely the work of Latin artists. Rather, it's a collection of music embraced by the Latin community, which explains the inclusion of the Marvelettes, the Safaris, Bo Diddley, and Jesse Belvin alongside Thee Midnighters, Ritchie Valens, and El Chicano. Each volume splits time between all-out frat-rockers like the Blendells' "La La La La La" and doo-wop ballads such as "Please Baby Please" by Cannibal and the Headhunters.
These slow-moving tracks evoke what it must've felt like strolling empty L.A. streets on Sunday afternoon back when all the stores were closed and all the iron gates were pulled down. That Sunday kind of love is best evoked by Billy Stewart's "Sitting in the Park," which is included here amid some compelling sound-alikes (the Romancers' "My Heart Cries" and Thee Midnighters' "Dreaming Casually," to name two). If you're out to prolong that romantic mood, volume 2 works best. Volume 1 is a tad too heavy on Fifties doo-wop, much of which sounds pedestrian compared to the shimmer of later vocal-group works like Bloodstone's "Natural High," found on the more upbeat volume 3.
-- Serene Dominic
Jump Start and Jazz: Two Ballets by Wynton Marsalis
For most of us, ballet is like the restaurant where we have to wear a tie, order in a language we haven't spoken since high school, and enjoy the food without knowing exactly what we're eating. But for Wynton Marsalis it's just a cool place to hang out between his other high-profile gigs. It's not surprising that Marsalis's favorite food is gumbo, for his compositions here offer a strange and daring stew of American and European musical idioms. Both Jump Start: The Mastery of Melancholy and Jazz: 61/2 Syncopated Movements veer from moments of sad beauty to Ives-like strangeness, from marching-band tempos to blues to something recalling the scores of Ennio Morricone. Jazz begins with a light-hearted movement titled "Jubilo," but by the second movement, "Tick-Tock" (subtitled with a nod to Tchaikovsky as "Night Falls on Toyland"), we're in the middle of a thoroughly trippy New Orleans funeral. The last full movement, "Ragtime," is pure celebratory romp.
Jump Start is actually the jazzier of the two pieces, and more fun. Composed for choreographer Twyla Tharp, it's less a suite than a series of pieces built around different dance rhythms. Recalling the dance music of the Thirties and Forties, the first track, "Boogie Woogie Stomp," is exactly what its title says. Even when Marsalis looks for inspiration in an ancient Japanese musical genre, as he does in "Gagaku," it's not his musicologist's knowledge of non-Western music that impresses, but rather his willingness to loosen his tie, kick off his shoes, and make whatever music sounds good. -- Seth Hurwitz