Stereolab Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night (Elektra) Stereolab thrives in the space between perfectly succinct pop hooks and the spontaneous


The post modern world of Stereolab, Deerhoof, Tristeza, and Bluiett Jackson Thiam

Stereolab Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night (Elektra) Stereolab thrives in the space between perfectly succinct pop hooks and the spontaneous aural possibilities of repetition and genre-bending. When it doesn't work, it can be overly precious and cute, reverting to flimsy, bells-and-whistles ear candy. When it does, it ranges from charming to luminous. Once repeated listenings peel away the cobwebs, this record works to thrilling effect. More than a half-dozen albums into their career—along with numerous other recorded projects—Stereolab have gotten braver, delving deeper into more dissonant themes. Along with Tim Gane's meticulous approach, the scrupulous sensibilities of longtime cohorts and musical experimentalists John McEntire and Jim O'Rourke are all over this material. It's a path that they and Stereolab really tackled in earnest starting with 1996's Emperor Tomato Ketchup, continuing through Dots and Loops a year later. But where that last record's wild inventiveness felt forced, this one flows with a natural and fully realized grace. A confidence here takes everything further out, making it riskier and more alive. Witness the twists and turns of "Puncture in the Radax Permutation," as bizarre fuzzbox vocals, jarring horns, and a hypnotic xylophone take the song through several beguiling stages, shedding musical skins along the way. Or the spacey two-note keyboard riff of "Blue Milk," burrowing into the subconscious along with snippets of chanteuse Laetitia Sadier's dry vocal touches and randomly expanding into a wildly atmospheric trance groove. Still, the truly gratifying aspect to this musical wanderlust is that it ends up showcasing the melodic hearts of these songs. Listen to the break towards the end of "The Free Design," when a layered vocal builds fuller and louder, suddenly giving way to a newly focused, rhythm-driven burst of trumpet. The contrast between the '60s lounge-pop side of Stereolab

and the sonically innovative one has never been so symmetrical, and it complements both sides equally.—Matthew Cooke

Deerhoof Holdypaws (Kill Rock Stars) Holdypaws is a lesson in realizing that you really love what you've been conditioned to hate all your life. The whole idea of "it's so crappy it's good" has never appealed to me, and it would be easy to categorize Deerhoof's new album as coyly amateurish. I was almost fooled, but then I gleaned the secret. Deerhoof takes you away to a fairytale land of unicorns, queens, and elfish creatures, where everyone speaks Finnish or some other weird language with too many vowels and unpronounced consonants. On the surface, the band sounds like a deranged Shaggs that learned to play their instruments, was really into 4-track recording and feedback, and was morbidly fascinated with J.R.R. Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons. Below the surface, Deerhoof is a slippery beast—the Zappa-esque lyrics make no sense, the upper-register singing can border on the ridiculous, and the raw instrumentation is fragmented and psychotic. But they are excellent songsmiths. Satome's sweet purr on songs such as "Satan" and "Lady People" could lull the monster under your bed into an eternal slumber, and then, as with "Dead Beast Queen," fracture it into a billion pieces with piercing, Boredoms-like wails. The chant "The Moose's Daughter" somehow conjures images of naked virginal girls jumping over flaming bonfires, and Deerhoof pounds jagged punk rock into your skull with the guitar/Casio/vocal assault of "Queen of the Lake." Holdypaws will annoy the fuck out of your friends and co-workers while you smile secretively, knowing that they may never know why it is so good. I am converted.—Jacob McMurray

Bluiett Jackson Thiam, Join Us (Justin Time). A semi-ecstatic trio session led by the baritone sax giant Hamiet Bluiett, Join Us lives up to its name, reaching out with heart, balls, and brain. Bluiett and his bandmates, pianist D.D. Jackson and percussionist Mor Thiam, are conversant in the breadth of jazz, from its rootsiest to most radical, and they create a kind of free soul that is thick with the blues and yet loose enough—with no drum kit and no bass lines—for some wilder playing. The opener, Thiam's "Papa," is a gospel stomp that slowly spins into some heavenly honks, squeals, and keyboard-pounding. On Bluiett's "Is There a Problem?" the trio shows all those organ-trio wannabes how to bring the '60s spirit into the next century. Each of the players takes a brief solo cut, the highlight being Jackson's fierce "Pentium II Blues." The second half of the disc doesn't quite live up to the first, staying a little too safe and inside. Bluiett plays Jackson's ballad "One Night" with a smooth romanticism worthy of Luther Vandross. But the revival atmosphere returns on the final, title cut. "Don't forget nothing that we told you!" Bluiett exclaims at the end, and you won't.—Mark D. Fefer

Tristeza, Spine & Sensory (Makato) Electronic music has slowly but steadily infiltrated the garages of typical youngsters banging out typical rock. As a result, open space and supple, interweaving textures have suddenly become major considerations when the kids get together for their guitars/bass/drums socials. Spine & Sensory, the debut full-length from the instrumental San Diego quintet Tristeza, is the latest and finest example of lush, guitar-led ambience, but without any of the obvious "rawk" chest-beating. Tristeza's general formula marries emo's penchant for hookless but endlessly pretty melodicism to post-rock's fascination for futuristically enhanced epics. Think Mogwai sans the fury and you're in the stylistic neighborhood. Bookended by two gorgeously cinematic pieces of midtempo, twin-guitar interplay, the album's 10 tracks roll out of the stereo like waves on a beach—crashing with added power (the driving "Memphis Emphasis"), pregnant with an unspeakable melancholy (the piano-led lament "Cinematography"), or ungrounded by trippy studio chicanery (the digitally dubbed out "RMS 2000"). As a whole, this is a statement on the future of "rock" that furthers the thesis Tortoise stated so eloquently in '96, but substituting the Chicago band's professional musician overtones with the pure emotion of, say, Joy Division. In the process, Tristeza comes up with what seems likely to be the finest progressive rock album that indie-dom will come up with in 1999.—Peter Orlov

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