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July 11th, 2001 Robert Becraft, Zach Dundas, John Graham, Jennifer Tatone | Sonic Reducer
 

Detroit, Portland, Tokyo!

White Stripes, Wow & Flutter, M. Ward and Zeni Geva

     
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THE WHITE STRIPES: WHITE BLOOD CELLS (Sympathy for the Record Industry)

The Motor City causes célèbres continue to wander beyond the borders of Garageland.

Suddenly, national media organs are pimping Detroit's White Stripes as standard bearers for a hot! new! "garage rock" movement, evidently centered in the duo's home city. Entertainment Weekly dispatched a reporter to the heart of darkness--Cass Avenue's grimy Old Miami Tavern--to plumb Detroit's depths. In June, Time took it upon itself to Woodward-and-Bernstein the Stripes' "brother/sister" gimmick out of the water: Jack and Meg White, turns out, used to be man and wife.

While it's nice to see such esteemed institutions paying mind to music not branded with the Industry's mark of Cain, something isn't quite right here. No doubt, the White Stripes' roots are buried in filthy gutter blooze. To call to call them "garage," however, implies a philosophy of Luddite anti-sophistication that simply does not apply to White Blood Cells. In fact, this latest lush mutation of Jack White's songwriting has more in common with The White Album than with Teengenerate's catalog, or any stripped-down "garage" benchmark you might name.

As was the case with last year's De Stijl, White Blood Cells shows Jack W., writing and singing and playing guitar to ex-wife's Meg's feral drums, in an unfashionably subtle and flexible songwriting mode. Eager to drop piano, acoustic guitars and unabashed folk-pop melodies into the mix, White shows no regard for the typical retro rules of the genre of which he's allegedly a part. Though some of this album's 16 tracks have an unformed, sketchbook quality, at least Jack maintains generous boundaries on his drawing board. The duo's recent 15 minutes of quasi-fame aside, the most remarkable thing about White Blood Cells is that it threatens to be worth thinking about in a year or five years. And that quality, friends, is more rare than a glossy-mag reporter at a garage-rock show. (ZD)

The White Stripes play Thursday at Berbati's Pan, 231 SW Ankeny St., 248-4579. 10 pm. $10.

For a pre-Time-exposé interview with Jack White, see www.wweek.com/html2/musicb 112800.html.

WOW & FLUTTER: BETTER TODAY THEN

(Jealous Butcher)

The Portland band succeeds with the science of addition by subtraction.

Evolution...or devolution? In the case of Wow & Flutter, Portland's most hesitant pop band, the question has become W.W.D.D. (What Would Darwin Do)? Common belief holds that songwriting must evolve into ever more complex melodic and lyrical forms, so would the zoologist of the HMS Beagle say W&F has stepped backwards by simplifying, minimizing and nearly dropping the vocals altogether? Maybe.

But in this case devolution seems a wise leap: Cord Amato's voice was always a distraction, a vestigial rock 'n' roll leftover that rarely served any utilitarian purpose and, in fact, got in the way during the band's extended foraging on breezy savannahs of abtract noise. That, combined with almost gratuitous nods toward pop-song structures, made Wow & Flutter's last album, Pounding the Pavement, sound strained. Better Today Then lives up to its title--it's more natural, more comfortable, more...better.

Instead of Pounding's four-minute songs of glued-together arpeggios, guitar chimes and vocal whines, Better's songs extend over seven-, 10-, even 20-minute timespans, guitars stretching ectoplasmically across primordial ambient ooze and a mere hint of rhythm. It throbs like an amoeba: simple, efficient and instinctual. Scientific curiosity piqued, it'll be interesting to see where Wow & Flutter goes from here. The Big Bang, maybe? (JG)

Wow & Flutter plays Thursday at the Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside St., 225-5555 ext. 8811. 9 pm. $5.

M. WARD: END OF AMNESIA (Future Farmer)

A winning effort from a Portland singer/songwriter.

Guided by both tradition and instinct, Portland songwriter Matt Ward's End of Amnesia is very human--imperfect and real. Sometimes dreamy and mostly melancholy, this album feels alive with an energy so raw and natural, you can almost detect a heartbeat behind Ward's frog-in-throat croon. Ward's all-acoustic effort shifts from watery dreamstates to foot-stompin' Southern back-porch numbers like "Flaming Heart"--probably the album's best song, thanks to its thumping, bass-heavy drum beat. With the sincere whispers and delicate string arrangements of lullabies like "Ella" and "Half Moon," you might feel like Ward is singing directly to you. Ward's honest approach to creating music and knack for writing songs both touching and pleasantly infectious make for perfect contemplative listening. (JT)

For a feature-length profile of M. Ward, see www.wweek.com/html/musicb080900.html.

ZENI GEVA: 10,000 LIGHT YEARS (Neurot)

Pure Japanese noise sadism.

Billowing hollers are timeless and priceless. So are seismic sonic throes and blows. Zeni Geva, led by KK Null, Japan's premier and unabashed noiserian, remains unruly, composed and furious. Indeed, the band seems to have changed little since the early '90s, when it released numerous ghoulishly titled albums like Total Castration and Desire for Agony. But after all, when a complete and ideal balance is found between noise and poise, swelling crescendos and all-out aural bastinado, what's to change?

Null has become increasingly keen on technology, pushing the limits of digital irregularity and tonal discord with his self-made effects box Nullsonic--but fortunately his band's underlying aesthetics remain untouched. 10,000 Light Years starts with unusual clicks and bleeps, which merge with minimally (mercifully) distorted chords. Distinctive rumbles and sinister sub-melodies build to a quiet fantod, a premonition of what's to come.

What comes is abrupt rapture and relentless rupture--muted chords, pounding drums, deadly bass-less guitar interplay and sheer aggression. At this point, worries of Zeni Geva abandoning its heaviness evaporate. Null's hoarse, dark (but never macabre) vocals in both Japanese and accented English are truly contagious. When Null whispers or sings, you know he's dying to burst into bellows--and so are you. When he does, in a kind of operatic chortling with a scruffy edge, you're relieved and exhilarated.

Zeni Geva's song titles are equally amusing and refreshing. If you think anything "cosmic" or "metaphysical" is passé, think again. What could be more daring and imaginative than spacy titles like "Implosion" or "Last Nanosecond," coupled with ones like "Auto-Fuck"? (RB)

 
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