THE DEAD SCIENCE
One listen to "Batty" leads me to guess that all three members of the Dead Science regularly listen to U.S. Maple's Talker from 1999. Produced by the Swans' Michael Gira (who is likely an equally important Dead Science inspiration), Talker is both a very fine example of and an even better departure from the rock-fucks-jazz Chicago sound. Submariner manages to bring one more party into the bedroom; this rock fucks jazz and cabaret. Singer/guitarist Sam Mickens has a trapeze voice that goes from Jeff Buckley–esque falsetto to quiet androgyny to steady, deep resonance, and back again; brothers Jherek and Korum Bischoff complement his range with somber stand-up bass and theatrical percussion. Violin and cello make appearances throughout the record, and on "Batty," a synth shows up to mock a tuba in a bathtub. As musicians, the Dead Science sound well trained enough to know how, when, and why to depart from structure and tradition. As textured and imaginative as the songs on Submariner are, they're also relatively simple. They're pop songs, but they also don't fit neatly into any one box, and the near fits (Chicago jazz rock and late-'90s indie) aren't particularly in vogue anymore. Allow me one more guess: The Dead Science don't give a shit. And why should they? LAURA CASSIDY
The Dead Science play the Hideaway with Brent Arnold and the Spheres and the Papercuts at 9 p.m. Fri., April 23. $6.
Solar Disco Box Set
Trojan Records' Box Set series have always been curious things—oddly configured vault cleanings, repository for some of reggae's more curious corners, great gift ideas that the recipient probably won't be listening to a whole lot. But the same formula—three CDs, 50 songs, not-all-that-informative liner notes, $20–$25 retail tag—works excellently with record companies whose goods haven't been exploited as blatantly and for as long as Trojan's. Take L.A.'s Solar, a label that straddled the soul-disco divide for a decade starting during the latter's mid-'70s peak. Does Solar have 50 songs and three CDs' worth of great-great-greatness? Of course not—Motown they weren't, though their earliest releases did put a (now dated) disco gloss on classic Holland-Dozier-Holland. But with disco, the weirdo stuff is often as or more interesting than the hits, and there's plenty of both here—the music of Dynasty's "I Don't Want to Be a Freak (But I Can't Help Myself)" is even more self-explanatory than the lyrics, a nutty percussion break invades Carrie Lucas' otherwise smooth "Gotta Keep Dancin' (Keep Smiling)," and the megamixes that end the first two discs are amazingly potent distillations of the label's disco-era highlights. The hits were pretty great, too: Shalamar's "Take That to the Bank" is a money-as-love riff on a par with Michael Jackson's "Working Day and Night," with which it also shares the most unstoppable hi-hats ever recorded. And Solar weathered the fall of disco proper just fine: Collage's "Romeo Where's Juliet" is a Prince rip as shameless as Ready for the World's "Oh Sheila," while the Whispers' "Rock Steady" is a stone synth-funk classic that sounds like a happy, male version of Janet Jackson's "Nasty." Not perfect, but a bargain anyway. MICHAELANGELO MATOS
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
One of the better breakup movies ever made deserves a soundtrack just as bewildering as the mind-bending rift depicted on-screen, and the Eternal Sunshine soundtrack captures both the film's surrealism and its tenderness. Producer-composer Jon Brion's work here differs notably from his established producing style (for Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, et al.); the simple, plaintive piano melody that anchors his "Theme" evokes thoughtful melancholy, eschewing his usual wry theatricality, before a ragtag assortment of pop songs barges in. Cheery tunes from E.L.O., the Polyphonic Spree, and legendary Indian vocalist Lata Mangeshkar (whose Bollywood ballad "Wada Na Tod" is easily Sunshine's most incongruous track) contribute to the sense that Brion browsed a neo-hippie yard sale to round out the album. Toss in two raucous songs from barely legal garage rockers the Willowz and a cover of the Korgis' calling-card single, "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes" (covered here by Beck), to sink yet another pigeonhole. Sonically twisted and fuzzed throughout the film, Beck's desperate plea for reconciliation ("I need your lovin'/Like the sunshine") is a companion piece of sorts to his stunning breakup anthem "Lost Cause," from 2002's Sea Change. Filled with brief, moving instrumental glimpses of a strange relationship like Brion's minute-long "Elephant Parade" and out-of-nowhere cuts from some all-knowing jukebox in the sky, Sunshine the album is nearly as adventuresome as the film it so richly—and weirdly—illuminates. NEAL SCHINDLER