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May 23rd, 2001 Zach Dundas, John Graham , Alexandra J. Hamlett | Sonic Reducer
 

Of Damnation and David Byrne

Reviews: David Byrne, 16 Horsepower, ohGr, EC8OR

     
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DAVID BYRNE: LOOK INTO THE EYEBALL
(Virgin/Luaka Bop)

"...ever suave..."

Let's say you're in your mid-20s, (probably) white and (probably) middle-class, not wholly oblivious to the weirder fringe of the pop charts when you were a kid, not entirely reliant on the radio as an adult. It must seem like David Byrne's smooth/antic croon has been chasing you all your life. My mom used to click Speaking in Tongues into a shitbox cassette player, cleaning our kitchen to Byrne and the band's slicing post-mod funk. In the context of Reagan's America, Byrne's out-of-kilter tales of burning down the house and slippery people seemed completely reasonable.

Two decades later, Byrne has grown into sort of an art-house Sinatra for our generation (though he doesn't quite pack the same cultural heft as the Chairman). On Look into the Eyeball, he demonstrates perfect control and razor instinct for detail, as well as a cultivated, sensual comfort with what he's doing.

Some of Byrne's previous excursions into Latin and African music have been cultural appropriation almost as naked as Paul Simon's similar tactics--maybe more so, since Byrne pandered directly to the Subarus-'n'-El Salvador-stickers crowd. Look into the Eyeball also turns to Cuban and Brazilian sounds, but here the riotous tropical rhythms sound less like cool holiday trinkets and more like organic aspects of an expansive pop sensibility. Byrne himself, ever suave in his funhouse lyrical world, comes off as spectacularly relaxed and playful, which helps this involved stew of flavors slide down.

Byrne's words are as occasionally opaque and arch as usual, but wit leavens his trademark social observation and Dada poetry. "The Great Intoxication," a look at a music nerd who holes up in his bedroom, working on his "masterpiece" and wondering why his girlfriend doesn't ditch his no-account ass, comes across as sly self-satire. The very next song, "Like Humans Do," finds the robotic troubadour of '80s alienation wryly proclaiming "I'm breathing in/ I'm breathing out/ Like humans do."

For unknowable reasons, everyone's zany for the '80s. Look into the Eyeball shows up that fad for the fraud it is--with Byrne as with the world at large, the most interesting things are happening right now. (ZD)

David Byrne plays at the Roseland Theater, 8 pm Tuesday, May 29. Sold out.

OHGR: WELT
(Spitfire)

"...as much sunshine as shadow..."

The last thing you'd expect from Nivek Ogre--the Skinny Puppy frontman famed for nasty, blood-pouring performances and even nastier drug habits--would be an album of pop songs. Yet that, stunningly, is how Welt must be described. Like Puppy, it can be a wet, sweaty tour of duty through jungles of slurping noise, with Ogre's ghostly vocals blowing through the underbrush. It's also a colorful journey with as much sunshine as shadow. Analog keyboards hop about like hyper children raised on the synth-pop of Gary Numan, Soft Cell and Fad Gadget. Ogre's voice skips alongside the electronic blips, singing chipper melodies as often as he howls like a psychopath. The most telling track is "Cracker," which throws a positively gleeful playground taunt towards (one would guess) Marilyn Manson: "You think you're evil but you're not," Ogre chirps, "still sucking life from the mainstream." By using such a buoyant tone, the onetime electro-shock rocker seems to say, "Hey, man, you can have my Spooky King crown. I've got rhythm, I've got music--who could ask for anything more?" Who could, indeed. (JG)

ohGr plays at the Crystal Ballroom, 9 pm Tuesday, May 29. 1332 W Burnside St., 225-5555 ext. 8811. $20. All ages.

EC8OR: THE ONE AND ONLY HIGH AND LOW
(Digital Hardcore)

"...spiked...intense...flesh-rending..."

Sixteen super-aggro teen-techno stompers, spiked with enough distortion to scrub the rust off a '77 Gremlin. Although the world really doesn't need two Atari Teenage Riots, the intense energy, future-shock production values and steel-fingernails-on-chalkboard vocals are sure to rip the Generation Gap open like that flesh-rending robot in the sci-fi anti-classic Hardware. (JG)

EC8OR plays at Meow Meow, 9 pm Thursday, May 24. 527 SE Pine St., 230-2111. $6. All ages.

16 HORSEPOWER: HOARSE
(Checkered Past)

"...pummeling...sin...redemption..."

The third song on this live album by Colorado's helldogs of God-fearing Appalachian goth is a cover of Creedence Clearwater's "Bad Moon Rising." This number had some serious hoodoo to it when Fogerty and the boys first laid it down. When David Edwards and his highway gang of French rhythm players and frontier guitar guns tear through it, the song acquires a darkness as black, fetid and corroded as Dick Cheney's heart.

Heir to a line of preachers, Edwards croaks the lyrics like a man just returned from Doom, his band all simmering twang and pummeling bass behind him. Given the rash of droughts, floods and storms now plaguing our polluted world, Edwards' rasp of "it looks like we're in for nasty weather" sounds just a little too prophetic.

It's a typical moment on an album that harvests tracks from two shows in Denver and one in Paris. The band's avid cult following has elevated Edwards' eye-rolling possession and the band's live wallop to legend, and Absinthe Studios chief Robert Ferbrache's recording makes it easy to see why. Too many live albums are as pale as third-generation photocopies; this is one comes in living color and full of angry blood. Edwards' vocals are emphatic and tortured; here's a guy who meditates hard on thorny issues of sin, redemption and faith, and won't accept the easy answers of the commercialized Christianity that dominates American religious life. The band, anchored by the Gallic rhythm section of Jean-Yves Tola and Pascal Humbert, puts living muscle into Edwards' tense songs, handling traditional folk instruments and a sawmill's worth of sharpened guitars with equal ease.

16 Horsepower songs like "Black Soul Choir" and "For Heaven's Sake" could be called spirituals, though they don't exactly offer much existential comfort. The band does, however, whip up an unholy noise fit to stir the soul. (ZD)

MICROREVIEWS:

XTC's Homegrown: The Wasp Star Home Demos (TVT) presents 20 demos that preceded Wasp Star, full of the pop lyrics and melodies that created the band's still-sizable following. Detailed liner notes describe how songs came together and tell the stories behind the lyrics. A die-hard's dream come true...The Berlin band to rococo rot and I-sound delve into ambient instrumental sounds on music is a hungry ghost (City Slang). The beautiful "From Dream to Daylight" combines computer, Casio, percussion and violin in a soothing calm.... Nas Bar (Crippled Dick Hot Wax!) from The Anubian Lights mixes techno and mambo beats, creating a loungy album. A little grating, but danceable. (AJH)

CORRECTION: Last week's review of Easy Action's self-titled album incorrectly identified EA singer Joe Brannon's former band. We said it was Negative FX; we should have said it was Negative Approach.

 
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