All-star indie lineup apes hip-hop with a folksy, funky, tweaked-out twist.
When musicians get together and form so-called supergroups, the whole is too often less than the sum of its parts. That laid-back, we're-all-friends-here vibe doesn't always make for compelling stuff—or maybe it's just that a surplus of talent tends to cancel itself out. Undaunted, Gorillaz walk straight into the fold with their hipster-cream lineup: Blur's Damon Albarn, Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori, the Tom Tom Club's Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz, and producer Dan the Automator have proclaimed themselves the world's first "virtual hip-hop group." What? Well, that mostly just means you won't be seeing their faces on a cable box or club stage near you; instead, they've replaced themselves with vaguely mythical cartoon characters and rough-hewn animated scenarios. Hip-hop's actually a pretty loose term; dubby, narcotic beats, atmospheric vocals, and Beckish guitar interludes aren't exactly making the Wu-Tang Clan beg for mercy. Damn, though, if first single "Clint Eastwood" doesn't burrow into your brain's squishy parts and set up camp there. The track's up-tempo mix, tucked away at the far end of the record, is by far the most buoyant thing on an otherwise pretty "let's get stoned and see what happens" excursion. Not that the low-key style isn't appreciated, but "Eastwood" hints at something Gorillaz could really nail if they quit the monkey business and went all out. Leah Greenblatt
Steven Hantel's crisp and elegant production electrifies the global village.
A few years ago, producer Steven Hantel left his hometown of Frankfurt for the sunny shores of Tel Aviv, where he stripped down his studio, hooked up with a variety of local musicians, and began work in earnest on the follow-up to his 1998 LP Higher Than the Funk. With his mix of crisp electronics and live instruments, Hantel traffics in the same pleasant global-village sounds that made the Thievery Corporation so popular among people who like obscure Polish liqueurs and a good pair of trousers. But his previous works—fantastic as they were—went largely unnoticed by the jet set. Let's hope Great Delay, his mature and elegant fourth album, will not suffer the same fate. Shantel's signature minimal production style is at its best on tracks like "Crystal" and "The Baby," where intricate melodies and quirky noises wrap themselves around bossa and electro rhythms, live strings, horn ensembles, and sweet, childish vocals. Meanwhile, on "View" and "Tiens," he branches out into purely acoustic productions, with properly scored instruments and broad, filmic arrangements. Mature, relaxed, and engaging, "Great Delay" jumps effortlessly from style to style, combining classical strings, Middle Eastern vocals, jazz keys, and body-rocking Bronx drums without sounding like an aural food court. Matt Corwine
Dusted, distorted rhythms for a society in decline.
This CD is essentially a series of musical set pieces, each of which uses percussive energy to create a mood and then tells a story within the world that it has created. "Roadblocks Here and Here," for example, begins by establishing a backdrop of interlocking, hypnotic midtempo acoustic and electronic drums. Once laid down, this percussive matrix drops into the background to be overwhelmed by the sound of a car driving back and forth between the speakers. Suddenly, the car screeches to a stop in the right speaker, the door slams, and a guy jumps out, yelling "Dammit!" His footsteps echo for a while before he jumps back in the car, slams the door, and tears off to drive back and forth between the speakers again, faster and faster, until the drums rise in the mix and take over again. By casting the stereo speakers as the "roadblocks" of the title, the piece becomes an allegory for the way music can be trapped by recording technology, with the driver standing in for a frustrated musician unsuccessfully trying to escape from your stereo. It's not for beginners, but if you've ever wished that industrial music were more like French new wave cinema (and who hasn't!), then this is just what you've been waiting for. Joe Schloss
New York indie all-stars conjure sudsy pop sounds for your curbside convenience.
The roster of Brooklyn's Champale reads like a who's who of New York's brightest indie-rock and country-flavored pop bands: Luna's Lee Wall, former 44 songwriter Mark Rozzo, Clem Snide's Jason Glasser, and Ira Elliot from Nada Surf are just a few of the ensemble castmates on the group's lustrous debut album. From the sweet, meandering slide guitar that kicks off opener "Hard to Be Easy" (which has a melody that could easily be a sequel to Big Star's yearning ballad "Daisy Glaze," as sung by Joe Pernice), to the lulling string-and-horn romps driving "Black Telephone" and "Holiday Inn," Simple Days is much more than a crew of musician types killing time between small club gigs. Each song is carefully textured with cool, crisp shots of vibes, dizzying downtown jazz percussion, and the engaging harmonies of singer Rozzo, who sounds especially sweet on the jaunty "See You Around." Thoughtful fans of Teenage Fanclub and Lambchop will adore "Special Guest Star" and "Dramamine." Thankfully, Champale's sounds have nothing in common with its hangover-inducing, ghetto fab namesake, except in one respect: The rich "team player" efforts on Simple Days are as welcome as a gulp of that ice-cold malt liquor on a steamy summer day. Just this once, feel free to indulge in Champale. Kristy Martin