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October 9th, 2002 Zach Dundas (editor) | Sonic Reducer
 

Heat, Insects and Omaha

Canada's Hot Hot Heat, creepy-crawly Tribes of Neurot, Sinéad's wispy misstep and more.

     
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Hot Hot Heat
Make Up the Breakdown
(Sub Pop)

Victoria, B.C., is known as a pretty traditional town, a geographically and chronologically unlikely outpost of tea-'n'-crumpet Edwardian Englishness on the Pacific Rim. So it makes perverse sense that Victoria's top rock export of the moment, Hot Hot Heat, is an eminently traditional band. In its own way, of course--Sub Pop hasn't gotten around to signing Gilbert & Sullivan cover bands quite yet. Hot Hot Heat ("Triple H" to friends, maybe?) instead follows trails blazed by the likes of the Cure--the Way of the Waifish Rocker, where nothing hurts that doesn't hurt soooo, sooo bad! Singer-keyboardist (a very '80s combination, eh?) Dustin Hawthorne chews the scenery plenty on Make Up, wailing couplets of torment through such would-be teenage bedroom hits as "Naked in the City Again," "Bandages" and "Not Now." The last of which, in fact, is a lost New Wave smash that should have been, yea so many years ago. Other songs come close, but only on "Not Now" do HHH's guitar strobe, rank retro-keys, disco beats and Hawthornian histrionics gel to equal the classics they shadow. (ZD)

Rilo Kiley
The Execution of All Things
(Saddle Creek)

The witty yet wearied title of Rilo Kiley's new album relates wanting to kill everything, being killed by everything, doing everything and the element of performance in everything. It's a weighty pun to live up to, but the album's music and lyrics manage. Execution is the product of a great marriage of label (Omaha's Saddle Creek) and band. The results: more electric and percussive experimentation (acetone, saw, banjo, bells and various strings), coupled with a wider range in Jenny Lewis' honey-marmalade voice. One moment, she's singing in your ear about the beauty and delusion of touring, writing and experimenting with new sounds and people, and by the next song her electrically modulated voice reminds the listener of her distanced, ethereal hipness. In "With Arms Outstretched," a "boys' choir" (containing Nebraskites Conor Oberst and recording mogul A.J. Mogis) backs Jenny up with defiant vocals, rounds of clapping and a glockenspiel. "A Better Son/Daughter" sounds like a Civil War march coupled with long, melodramatic guitar licks, a patriotic ode to the nations and homes within "you" and "me." The title track exemplifies the playful, melodic anger of the album, as Jenny announces, "We'll go to Omaha to exploit the booming music scene, and humility...." (Catherine Kernodle)

Sinéad O'Connor
Sean-Nos Nua
(Vanguard)

It could have been good. The Irish changeling (what is she now, a lesbian-heterosexual-Rastafarian-Catholic-celibate-priestess?) sings a batch of Irish traditionals, including a few in the Irish language. O'Connor's voice remains bright and beautiful, but her taste seems dulled; Sean-Nos Nua labors under the dismal weight of generic Celtic New Age production, a mushy and overprocessed sound straight from a Windham Hill compilation. The sterility may be all right for those who like their music to match their aromatherapy. But it robs O'Connor's voice of its stark power and rips the guts out of songs that should be earthy and direct. The 11-minute version of "Lord Baker" can go on the great list of recordings that should never have been. (ZD)

Tarentel
The Order of Things
(Neurot Recordings)

Neoclassical placidity and patience triumph over the dribbly post-rock instinct in these seven compositions. Pianos shimmer like glass shards on the bed of a reflecting pool, cellos and violins sigh with autumnal solemnity, guitars spin in gentle cycles and an angelic female voice even arrives to sing about virgins in the night. Echoes, squeaks and drones hover in the background like ghosts, though, and an occasional backbeat intrudes just enough to keep the album from evaporating into a New Age aether. (John Graham)

Tribes of Neurot
Adaptation & Survival
(Neurot Recordings)

Though previous recordings swam through hot hemoglobin streams like platelets on walkabout, on Adaptation & Survival the ambient wisemen from Tribes of Neurot work the chatter and buzz of insect recordings into an abstract, unsettling jungle travelogue. Disc 1 collects the album's original vinyl release, whose 5-, 7- and 10-inch formats allowed listeners with multiple players to create their own mixes. Disc 2 offers a 35-minute mix of Neurot's own swarming, swirling design--a design, they say, meant to "align the listener with insect consciousness." If you ever need to pray alongside your inner mantis while trapped in the sweaty grasp of malarial sickness, this could be your processional. (John Graham)

 
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