Oh, Inverted World
Meet this summer's most treasured companion and prepare for plenty of good vibrations.
The experience of seeing a band live before hearing their recorded material can be telling. Forging a strong emotional connection with the music right away, without the often deceivingly smooth veneer of the recorded material, is like holding on to a pinkie-sworn promise. Oh, Inverted World pays off on the promise that the Shins' early spring live performances left us with—and it pays off big. Sounding at once like recovered Beach Boys tapes, criminally forgotten Kinks tunes, and post-post-grunge millennial-indie-rock gone sweet instead of sour, the pop tunes on this Albuquerque band's debut only require about four short chords each in ramp-up time. James Mercer's vocals trip around corners, his clever, winsome lyrics following close behind. Subtle like a poetically wielded baseball bat hovering over the head of an uninvited ex-lover, Mercer sweetly deadpans lines like, "This is no umbrella to take into the wind," while slicing, slowly surfing guitar notes bring the bounce. Mercer turns a phrase like few others, but it's the combination of catchy, playful keyboard lines, jangly guitars, and waltzlike rhythms that tether the melodies together. While "New Slang" has Hipster Nation Hit Single written all over it, it's tracks like "Caring Is Creepy" and "Girl on the Wing" that allow the Shins to express a rock-rooted pop sensibility worthy of hyperbole, heartstring braces, and history books. Laura Learmonth
SPRING HEEL JACK
The Blue Series Continuum: Masses
Beat freaks and jazz beatniks convene for a musical genetics conference.
The big white whale of modern music is "The New Sound." Not since techno and hip-hop has anything really new come about in music, and even that is debatable. Doing things harder, sloppier, or the way "They" used to do it is not new, nor has it ever been. The hope of newness, then, lies in Darwinism and Mendelian genetics. That process involves repeated trial and error and proliferation of the successful hybrids. John Coxon and Ashley Wales have been working toward such an end for quite some time, often with consistently more impressive results than one-time critical darling Roni Size. They have been forward-thinking in their drum-and-bass approach, enriching the thinning resources of electronic territory. This said, Masses does not really succeed in giving birth to new musical forms; it does, however, serve as a damned cool dialogue between schools of music that have no business being separated. It is a summit of now-school beat freaks and new-jazz beatniks, resulting in a pact for a musical genome project. The larger goal may not have been achieved, but the sweetly effective steps toward it are found right here at the hands of Spring Heel Jack with collaborators William Parker, Matthew Shipp, and others. Gregory Parks
Cocteau Twins guitarist + Mono vocalist != exciting and innovative sounds.
There's always a strange moment of awkwardness when an old friend starts a relationship. When Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie unveils a new siren after 15 years working with pop music's most captivating voice, it's bound to be a bit odd. Violet Indiana is Guthrie's collaboration with Mono vocalist Siobhan De Mar鬠who is no Liz Frasier. Actually, De Mar駳 much bolder, offering sultry wails instead of little-girl vulnerability. The problem is that Guthrie's chiming guitars remain much the same, leaving De Mar頡 limited range of options. Tracks like "Liar" and "Little Echo" sound so much like Cocteau Twins that she seems to adapt those mannerisms by default, and they hang with all the grace of an oversized dress. Indeed, the best moments on Roulette are those where she spreads out into her own timbre. On "Purr La Perla"—which for some inscrutable reason is included only as a video track—her vocals arrange themselves seductively across the murky guitars like a torch singer on a piano. Judging from this, there is one piece of relationship advice that Guthrie needs to hear: Stop encouraging your new diva to masquerade as your old one and just let her be herself. Tizzy Asher
Cruzando el Rio
A blend of medieval and modern, Moroccan and European tonality wavering between predictable and sublime.
Radio Tarifa's third album starts out with the sort of hybrid MOR-folk m鬡nge that threatens to give world music an even worse name than it already has. The first four tracks sound like a kind of Gypsy Kings-meets- Barry Manilow, mixing flamenco and Moroccan sensibilities for entry into the Euro-pop song contest. Radio Tarifa's name, a reference to Spain's closest city to North Africa, reflects their desire to make the blend of disparate musical directions accessible to a mass audience. But halfway through, the Andalusian trio break free of their self-imposed limitations and produce some genuinely surprising results. Working out of a recording studio in a Madrid garage, instrumentalists Fain Due�and Vincent Molino (along with vocalist Benjamin Escoriza) mix the familiar and exotic, from electric guitar and keyboards to the cromornos (a Renaissance-period oboe), a Moroccan banjolike instrument called a guimbiri, and a flamenco tap-dancer named Joaquin Ruiz, to conjure up a series of Iberian ghosts. When Radio Tarifa stop trying to be a combination of anything, such as with the free-form "Alab" or the Japanese Inio song, "Gujo Bushi," the source is so distant from the Moorish and flamenco influences, they can invent their own style. Manny Frishberg