CD Reviews


The Venezuelan Zinga Son Vol. 1

(Luaka Bop)

These Venezuelan-born, New York–based boogie bears have spent their last few albums trying to prove how much more "life" and "soul" dance music can exude if you make it with real instruments instead of samplers and sequencers. Unless your name is Nile Rodgers (or you just can't get over how great Luscious Jackson were), this is nearly always a terrible reason to pick up a hollow-bodied acoustic guitar or a 37-string electric bass. Luckily, it hasn't stopped Los Amigos from pumping up a jam or two; more luckily, it didn't stop them from hooking up with the production duo Masters at Work, one of New York house music's institutions, for their third album. The Masters—"Little" Louie Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez—excel at making club jams that feel like radio pop; Nuyorican Soul, a sparkling CD of Latin jazz-house they made in 1997 with a wide roster of guest vocalists and instrumentalists, spirals outward like an endless jam session but packs the kind of detail that rewards close listening. That's how Venezuelan works. None of these 15 tracks really goes anywhere plenty of other feel-good New York dance crews don't, but each is a study in dance-floor chiaroscuro: the wave of marshmallow-soft electric piano "Comodón Johnson" floats away on, for example, or the way a funky drummer ruptures the title track's steady four-on-the-floor. It stays in the background until you find yourself paying attention. Then you move. MIKAEL WOOD

Los Amigos Invisibles play Neumo's at 8 p.m. with Quasi Nada and DJ Derek Mazzone. Wed., June 9. $15 adv.


Lost Light


It's one thing to detune your guitars so that the sounds they make are great big globs of wet mud, play them like you're cutting a switchback trail into the side of a mountain, and then "sing" over them with an dense, growling squall. It's another to rock hooky, pin-in-groove soul rhythms and mystical song-stories in tandem. Your typical post-whatever, math-minded skronk-dump deconstructionists do not usually yield songs as curved and organically groovy as these. Hell, Old Time Relijun do not always yield songs as curved and organically groovy as these. On Long Lost, the Olympia funk-punk triad readjusts the ratio of danceable to difficult: Head deacon Arrington DeDionyso still sounds possessed, and saxophone screeches, jagged riffs, and flattened white noise litter the strangely arranged landscape just as they have on Old Time Relijun's five previous records. But now, for every lurch and shove, there's a cushioned hole to fall into on the other side. "Cold Water" is eight minutes of DeDionyso going down ("Through the trees/Through the roots/Through the mud/Through the rocks/Through the ground/Through the water/Cold water") as his bandmates snap Krautrock modulations. The track is resolved in the instrumental Neu!-esque "Cold Water, Deep Underwater." "War Is Over" is better than anything coming out of New York right now; "Music of Spheres" might have been stolen from the very first Sonic Youth EP. A phenomenal record capable of turning punks into hippies and hippies into punks—now, finally, we can all get along. LAURA CASSIDY


Over the Sun


Singer/songwriter Shannon Wright is one of the indie world's least sentimental assayers of relationships-gone-wrong, the sentimental indie world's pet topic for as long as Lou Barlow or anyone else can remember. Where her demographic peer Chan Marshall (née Cat Power) writes songs like an embedded wartime reporter, sacrificing objective clarity to capture the blunt force of her emotional experience, Wright cuts away all the impressionistic fat from a situation: "No love is here," she sings over a churning electric-piano groove in "Throw a Blanket Over the Sun," a cut from her fourth album; "My man dissolved in my hand," she sings later, "Just like an avalanche he's gone." (Her idea of extrapolation: "Such a mistake/Such a mistake to spend time on you.") What makes Wright's music compelling, beyond the refreshing concision of her lyrics, is the nonverbal drama she builds into her sounds, all of which (save drums) she performs on Over the Sun. In opener "With Closed Eyes," a ragged guitar line, deep and resonant like some of Jack White's, explodes into a power-chorded chorus; in "Black Little Stray," a throbbing fingerpicked pattern keeps changing meter, as if the singer can't make up her mind about something. As drummer, former Swirlie Christina Files anchors Wright's tunes with an aptly brutal economy; engineer Steve Albini does his part for transparency, too. The approach is a canny inversion of the typical singer/songwriter's: Wright shows more than she tells. M.W.

Shannon Wright plays Crocodile Cafe at 9 p.m. with Swords Project and Suffering and the Hideous Thieves. Sun., June 13. $10.


Emphasis & Flight, 1961


In 1930, when 9-year-old Jimmy Giuffre first embraced the clarinet, the instrument bristled with possibilities. Sidney Bechet and Johnny Dodds had finished pouring the clarinet's cool, woody tones into the foundations of jazz a decade earlier. George Gershwin used it as the signifier of all things low-down, dirty, and desirable in 1924's "Rhapsody in Blue," the pops classic that made clarinetist, bandleader, and fake jazz pioneer Paul Whiteman nearly as popular as Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw would become in the years leading up to V-J Day. Giuffre adroitly navigated the big bands of the '30s and '40s until the postwar bebop explosion turned the entire jazz clarinet game to shit; by the time he went solo in the early '50s, he might as well have been playing the lute. But the intellectually scrappy multi-instrumentalist refused to leave the licorice stick, instead using it to poke out a niche for himself in the burgeoning West Coast scene, experimenting with drumless ensembles, and largely abandoning the glissandi and wide vibratos that had dominated the clarinet's prewar special effects library. Emphasis & Flight, 1961, culled from a pair of concerts with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow, finds Giuffre pursuing a course liberated from both cornball connotations and the conventions of cool. On opening track "Whirr," Giuffre proclaims his spiritual affinity to bop with a salvo of lightning figures that recalls Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time." "Sonic," offered twice on the two-disc set, is both a rigorously rectilinear exercise in free chamber jazz and a compelling example of how mutual attention enhances improvised music. You can feel the members of the trio listening to one another. ROD SMITH




Considering the stereotypical belief that pop is ephemeral and rock is forever, it's ironic that NME–boosted guitar-bass-drum imports seem to crash and burn on American shores with alarming speed. By contrast, England's Sugababes are finally landing here five years after their TRL–friendly debut. Three is boosted by the inclusion of a trio of highlights from their sophomore effort ("Stronger," "Round Round," and the Richard X collaboration "Freak Like Me"). Casting off the girl-as-gang/support group of their debut in favor of rugged individualism and the flirtations with adult contemporary and R&B of their second album in favor of crisp, modern pop, the Sugababes are now confident enough to resist both lecherous boys and trend hopping. Three also avoids a couple of the bugaboos of collaborative pop albums by not cordoning off sonic ideas from one another or featuring a handful of ballads designed to highlight a voice at the expense of a tune. When the Sugababes apply a recognizable influence to a track—whether it's mash-ups/electroclash ("Freak Like Me"), bhangra ("Million Different Ways"), dancehall ("Hole in the Head"), '80s revivalism ("Whatever Makes You Happy"), laptop electronica ("Maya"), or even skiffle ("Situation's Heavy")—they fold it into their own crisp, buoyant sound rather than make it the track's primary focus. And the ballads "Stronger" and "Conversation's Over" are as conversational and discreet as the rest of the trio's increasingly confident work. In indie circles, they've long been considered the teen-pop band it's OK to like, but now that they're finally getting a push in the States, let's hope they gain the audience they deserve. SCOTT PLAGENHOEF


Kerrier District


Despite his connections to aural japesters like Aphex Twin (who runs Kerrier District's label), Luke Vibert's IDM filters have always been set more to "gentle ribbing" than "outright mocking." His soupy, bloodshot recordings as Wagon Christ were often better than much "real" trip-hop. His records as Plug turned breakbeats into Slinkys, a junglist's update of Raymond Scott's pioneering clockwork electronics. Under his own name, Vibert released Stop the Panic, a collaboration with lap-steel guitar legend B.J. Cole; live, the two's reinterpretation of the album imagined a world where King Sunny Adé and Steve Reich recorded for Ninja Tune. Now, as Kerrier District, Vibert retools the current vogue for disco-not-disco for kids who've never heard Taana Gardener's "Heartbeat." From the name on down, Kerrier District nods to artful-not-arty New York electro-house minimalists Metro Area, and the sound is a googly-eyed take on the records released by that duo's Environ label. It should be familiar to anyone who remembers "dance music" before house rules: disco snares, swirling strings, glossy hand claps, flecks of chicken-scratch guitar, New Order–style 16th-note bass, layered synthesizer runs. It's far more congested than Metro Area's sparse singles: the entirety of late-'70s/early-'80s production techniques commingling, 10 pounds of dance in a 5-pound bag. As usual, whether or not Vibert "means it" is largely beside the point. (For the record, after listening to Kerrier District, I think he genuinely loves this music.) Heard "blind," the best of Kerrier District—"Let's Dance and Freak," "Negresco"—moves somethin'. And if it's not quite the N.Y.C. Peech Boys, the good stuff here is as good as anything house producers have tried since remembering that disco isn't a dirty word. JESS HARVELL

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